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Bolivia

Copacabana - La Paz - Uyuni - Salt Flats Tour - Potosi - Coroico

sunny 5 °C
View Bolivia on Kate_Seb's travel map.

Bolivia is the land of altitude - with it comes some Andean traditionalism (bowler hats and big flowing skirts return) and splashes of colour from vibrant hammocks, juicy fruit salads and all the way to pink volcanoes. For the winter traveller the stark reality is the super dry cold. One of our travelling hi-lights is the unusual scenery of the “Salt Flats tour (Salar de Uyuni)”, the landscape is so diverse and unusual... it was spectacular.

29 June – 1 July 2009

It’s 6am in the morning and we (with Kate’s parents, Mike and Sue) are waiting for our connecting transport from the bus drop off point (in the middle of nowhere I might add), it arrives – a real clapped out old combi van, similar to the old South African mini van taxi. We are on our way to the final border crossing in Latino America, with much luck given that the strike is due to hit the roads in 24 hrs. There are already signs of blockages with small rocks piled along the road. Unfortunately on arrival at the Bolivia border crossing we have a bit of waiting to do due to a time zone change. Damn it was freezing! Kate had her duvet wrapped round her and was fully kitted with llama wool hats and gloves.

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We had expected a bit more from the Titicaca lakeside village of Copacabana, but it slowly grew on us. Especially when we were able to find those little sunny spots to soak up the sun. There was definitely a difference in wealth between Bolivia and Peru, even at Bolivia’s premier 'beach resort' town. Given that it is only 3 hours drive from La Paz, many family’s spend summer days along the shores of Lake Titicaca.

Copacabana

Copacabana

Bolivian popcorn

Bolivian popcorn

Sun basking

Sun basking

Kate, Sue and Mike headed off to Isla de Sol for a day whilst Seb caught up on some PhD journal reviews. If you think of a moon like landscape with the odd dotted mealie field, tree, goat, donkey, stone and grass house, then you are a goodway along to imagining what Isla de Sol looks like. The Quechua people of Peru and Bolivia largely believe that their creation came from this Island, as according to history this is where the “sun” was first born, and consequently from direct order of the “sun” the first Incas “appeared” on this island. That said there are many spiritual pilgrimages under taken to this very location. The island is not much bigger than 8km in length and sits at an altitude of 4000m, so the walk we did along the length of the island took a good 4.5 hours – and even on straights we found ourselves out of breath.

Isla del Sol

Isla del Sol

Isla del Sol

Isla del Sol

Isla del Sol

Isla del Sol

Isla del Sol

Isla del Sol

Isla de Sol

Isla de Sol

The taxi boat back to the main land did a small little tourist loop past the famous floating islands. The ones we saw are token tourist islands, kept a float by large plastic drums, cleverly hidden with reeds. But nevertheless we were able to get a good idea of what floating island life was like. These islands came about when the Inca’s became the dominating power and other indigenous tribes wanted to escape their control by floating out on their new little pieces of territory away from mainland.

A real “fake'” floating island

A real “fake'” floating island

Fake Reed Island

Fake Reed Island

Traditional fishing boat

Traditional fishing boat

1 – 4 July 2009

It's not often in Dad’s life that he has been able to call himself tall, but in Bolivia this would be how he is described – Bolivians are generally really short, and as they get older and the harsh living environment takes it toll they get even shorter with a slump. We guess this is why the buses are made for mini people, cause leg room was not a consideration during their manufacturing process. A 5 hour bus ride took us from the shores of Lake Titicaca to La Paz – the city with the highest commercial airport in the world. La Paz is a vast city. Thinking back three colours come to mind – brown, blue and white – brown being the endless brick coloured buildings which lie in the dip between huge lifeless mountains – blue being the daily clear cloudless sky – white being the snow capped mountain tops surrounding the city.

La Paz

La Paz

Hotel Room View

Hotel Room View

La Paz and the Spanish influence

La Paz and the Spanish influence

As Mom and Dad were travelling with us in Bolivia and flying back to SA from here, we were free to shop and not have to worry about the weight of our backpacks for once – what a pleasure. Being a tourist in a foreign country isn’t half as fun when you can’t shop (watching our backpack weight). We stocked up on some wonderfully colourful table cloths, hammocks and other odds and end. We also wondered through the “Witch Market” - not much more than a variety of dried plants/herbs, some stones and then the poor dried baby llama. Shame man, poor little things - hung to dry out like biltong, except whole and completely recognisable. As the legend goes it brings good luck when building a house to place a dead, shrivelled up llama under the foundations. We spent our time here to book a Salt Flats tour, bring our flight date to Aus earlier and wonder around eating huge fruit salads and yummy saltenas (a juicy pie). We also visited the Coca museum – really interesting and well presented. Covering the history of coca, and the various uses including Coca Cola and Cocaine.

Fresh fruit juice which we took advantage of

Fresh fruit juice which we took advantage of

Witches muty

Witches muty

Witches muty

Witches muty

5 – 9 July 2009 Salt Plains and Pink Volcanoes

A day of travelling was ahead of us, first by bus (La Paz – Oruro) then by train, heading towards the southern tip of Bolivia. We stopped briefly in Oruro, and thank goodness it was only briefly – not much in this little town. We then caught a real chilly train to Uyuni, arriving at 2am – hello minus 20 C. To our surprise, Johnny, our tour guide, was waiting to drive us literally across the street to our hotel.

The salt flats tour is all about driving 1000km in 3 days on dust and salt roads through beautiful scenery by day, attempting to stay warm at night and sleeping in houses made with “salt” bricks - everything beds/chairs/tables/walls...salt.

Brisa Tours - Johnny

Brisa Tours - Johnny

Train Grave Yard

Train Grave Yard

The 2 Boliviano's who joined us on the tour

The 2 Boliviano's who joined us on the tour

Muscle woman

Muscle woman

On day one an early morning start was the order of the day, with sun basking and a cup of hot chocolate topping the agenda – we know we’ve mentioned it already - but damn this place is cold and dry. Then we headed out with Johnny, the tour guide/driver/cook, 2 Boliviano tourists and the 4 of us, to the train grave yard. A large open piece of land used as a dump for heavily rusted old trains – giving it an eyrie/fun feel. Being so close to the salt flats cars and trains don’t have any chance of avoiding rust.

We then headed off in the direction of the salt flats, obviously making a stop at the token tourist market. With Mom and Dad heading back to SA in a few days time, we were not shy to have a look, sending them back laden with our goods, and guess what we came across – a Sharks Rugby cowboy hat – yes that is right, a South African Natal Sharks Rugby hat – in the middle of absolutely no where.

Sharks hats on sale in the middle of the Salt Flats

Sharks hats on sale in the middle of the Salt Flats

With all the salt cars have no chance not to rust

With all the salt cars have no chance not to rust

A typical Salt hotel

A typical Salt hotel

The salt flats are naturally occurring, rejuvenating its salt supply annually. For environmental purposes only certain areas can be harvested for salt, whilst the rest must remain untouched = in theory all is good. Thousands of years ago the salt flats were part of Lake Titicaca, hence the salt factor and being so flat. One of the wonders of the salt flats is that no perception of distance is possible.

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Cacti are one of the few plants that can withstand the harsh salt worldThey were even hardy enough to form a little Cactus Island. Here we had our first lunch stop – llama steaks. That night was spent in the best accommodation – the new salt backpackers – and nothing better than a bottle of plastic “whisky” to keep you warm and a game of shithead with some Dutch guys – oh ya and don’t forget those minus 20 deg sleeping bags.

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You would’ve thought with the tour being called “ salt flats tour” there would be more of the white stuff, but day 2 and 3 were spent driving through alleys of volcanoes. Majority of the volcanoes still emit sulphur so all the tips have beautiful colourings – white/yellow/pink. With the odd one spewing out some smoke.

The area is mineral rich with borax rising like icebergs out of the red lagoon. Chincillas are the token rock rabbit which inhabit the dessert like surroundings, whilst flamingos in all their pink glory make up for monotony in the dessert brown.

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Our next nights accommodation was not quite as luxurious as the first so we found ourselves early to bed to try and keep warm.

Our 3rd and final day saw us with a 5am start. We arrived before sun rise to the witches cauldrons – a bubbling mud pot caused by escaping volcanic gases from a volcano in Chile 35km away. With the faint light at that time of the morning, the scene was spectacular. Luckily for us, a little way on there is a natural hot spring, oh it looks so inviting, but to get naked in those temperatures was quite a challenge – just to give you some idea of how chilly it was - Kate had icicles forming on her wet hair.

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Our final stop was rock city – a valley of unusual rock formations which have been compared to cities due to the appearance of buildings and alley ways.

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It was then a good bye to Mom and Dad, who were heading home to South Africa!

10 – 11 July 2009 Silver Mines

The bus trip from Uyuni to Potosi can definitely go down as one of the worst bus trips ever. For 6 hours we travelled on a dirt, corrugated road with no ventilation, so windows had to be open. Kate’s jersey turned from black to brown, literally, with the amount of dust that was blown in.

Quiz Night Question: Q-What is the highest town in the world? A- Potosi

We stayed at a well equipped hostel and cooked our first dinner in 4 weeks, a small feat, but when you gotta eat every meal out, it becomes tiresome. A volunteer group of Frenchies were at the hostel – they were working with the miner’s children trying to help with their learning and development. The learning and attention span that the kids had was sadly shocking, with lack of stimulation from their also uneducated parents – not a town one wants to have to be born into.

Mining tours have become the tourist must do in Potosi, with ex-miners playing tour guide. All “suited up” – overalls, gum boots, hard hat and torch – we headed to miners supply shopping street. Here we were able to buy gifts for the miners – coca leaves (wakes ones up and reduces hunger), cooldrinks and DYNAMITE, yup real life dynamite and its not illegal – anyone can buy this stuff! Before heading over to the actual mine, we stopped at a metal extraction plant. Old technology, but with heaps of raw silver powder just lying around in piles drying. Imagine little heaps of silver sand!

The best way to describe the mine entrance, is by comparing it to an old Western movie when they are gold mining. The mines are not regulated, engineers are not consulted when digging tunnels and anyone can work in the mines, no specific training needed. Men start mining at an early age of 13 and up, and generally learn the skill from their Dad’s who are also miners. Miners work in teams, all having specific jobs, which are rotated on a weekly or so basis. The diggings and extraction from the week are then shared amongst the team. The earnings are small, with miners being happy if they earn R1500 a month (approx USD 200) for 6 days work a week. As no regulations are in place, breathing masks are not law. The miners can’t afford to replace the filters on the expensive masks every 3 days, so instead they endure the inhaling of dust and a variety of gases/chemicals. This exposure is so damaging to their health that after working in the mines for 10 years, they have an expected 10 more years to live, dying from silicosis pneumonia. That makes the average life expectancy of 30-40 years, depending when one starts working in the mines. The dust/sulphur smell were so intense that from the one hour that we were underground, with Kate wearing a makeshift bandana mask, her voice was hawse for 2 days after the mine tour!

On entering the mine we visited the mine God’s shrine to pay homage, offer our respects and ask for our protection. We then continued on along the passages which are dimly lit, have narrow fresh air pipes lining the ceilings and rail tracks for pushing the heavy stone bucket loads. Walking on a level was okay, as the passages were relatively wide and high enough – but going in between levels was extremely scary (at least Kate thought so). The small passages were barely big enough to crawl along, with minimal support structures, and coupled with the fact that no engineers are involved in the construction brought along an unknown fear of Kate’s claustrophobia. She nearly turned back, but managed to level 2 after a few tears. Luckily we didn’t venture to any of the other 3 levels.
Along the way we met miners, they demonstrated their work to us with a few tourists offering a helping hand. As there is no entrance fee to the mines, we showed our appreciation to the miners by handing out the gifts which we had bought previously - of course keeping a little stick of “bang” for our entertainment when on the outside.

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It was an emotionally taxing morning seeing what working conditions people are exposed to and the feeling of entrapment, so we thought the hot springs we had heard about from a fellow traveller would be well worth a visit. Our journey brought us to an interesting “hot spring”, or cow dipping pond – we weren’t quite sure, but either way we ventured in. Not quite as hot as we had hoped but a good little laugh and adventure to reminisce about.

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A short stay in Potosi as we headed on a night bus to Coroico, can you believe we are doing another one, we hate these damn night buses.

12 – 15 July 2009 Green Coroico

We couldn’t quite believe it but if you drive 2 hours east from La Paz over a mountain range you hit the tropics. Coroico was a warm oasis of a town, where 5 layers of clothing were not needed, green valleys roll down below you and there was even a swimming pool at our hotel. A swimming pool in Bolivia, woweee, completely not like the last 2 weeks we had spent with cracking skin and frost bitten toes. We chilled, read our books, had a massage, ate a tasty steak (good meat is rare in Western South America) and even ventured into the hotel sauna – much needed “reheat” time!

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16 July 2009 Hasta Luego South America

A typical long haul travel day flying: 5.30am taxi to airport - La Paz – Lima – San Jose – Los Angeles – 3am bed.

And we got whacked with exit tax at both La Paz and Lima, even though in Lima we were just in the airport - $100 each thanks for visiting!

Bolivia Tips

Copacabana

Accomo: We stayed at Hotel Cupula ($24 double,priv bath), great to relax. Heaters and good showers.
Food: Food on strip not great, but Cupula restaurant decent. Cheese Fondue Yummy
Activities: Day trip by boat to Isla de Sol. Good day walking, chilly, take a packed lunch. I was happy not to stay on the island. Caught the 3:30 boat back and saw the “token” reed islands, floating on plastic drums but the effect was there
Bus: From Cuzco to Copacabana we travelled with Litoral – old seats but spacious and comfy to sleep.

La Paz
Accomo: Hard to find, settled for Hotel Condeza, very central just up from artisenal street, decent rooms ($27 double room, basic bfast incl). Adventure Brew apparently good, but was full, gotta book in advance, so we didn’t check it out
Food: 100% natural - huge sandwiches, Angelo Colonial good reasonable food

Oruro – only passed through thank goodness, to catch train to Uyuni

Uyuni
Accomo: Before tour stayed at Avenida, comfortable, cheap, but cold rooms (Bols 100 double), across from train station so convenient as arrived late 2am. After tour the managers of Avenida were ridiculous and so bitchy, my parents couldn’t leave their luggage in the room while we went to a restaurant for dinner before their train! So we left and went to Tonita Hotel- friendlier, warmer, and great great pasta pizza restaurant on site. The breakfast is simple but great fresh bread and kitchen staff are very friendly (Bols 240 double). Try not stay at Avenida if you can.
Activities: Salt Flats tour – gotta do it. Did the 3 day tour with Johnny from Brisa ($100 per person). His English was basic, good food. 1st night accomo in the new salt hotel, 2nd night really chilly, taking a -20C sleeping bag is a must (rented from La Paz)! We saw everything except the City of Rocks and the Green Lagoon “green”, apparently to see it green you have to be there around midday and we were there early morning. But we did see the Geysers in the early morning, beautiful, before the sun comes up is a must! Lots of driving on 3rd day, would maybe consider doing 4 day tour in future. Most ppl we spoke to didn’t have much time on the salt flats, so as soon as you get to the hotel with flags, and then cactus island take lots of photos.

Potosi
Accomo: Koala Backpackers, warm rooms, decent kitchen, free internet (Bols 150 double ensuite)
Food: Ate at 4200 – good chicken wings
Activities: Mine tour, just did it through Koala, decent equipment, and guides all seem to be well treated. Scary!

Coroico
Accomo: We stayed at Hotel Esmerlado, old school family hotel but big suite room, and warmer than rest of Bolivia!
Food: Great steak at an Alemania restaurant on bottom of square. El Cafecito was slightly disappointing. Tasty pizza at Hotel Esmerlado, good deal buffet salad, chocolate fondue

Bus: tourist buses generally small, but better than the ones in Costa Rica. Eldorado kama (sleeper) very comfy for trip from Potosi to La Paz
Food: Saltena – juicy pie tasty!

Posted by Kate_Seb 07.08.2011 11:37 Archived in Bolivia Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Trekking Peru

Huanchaco - Lima - Huacachina - Nazca - Arequipa - Cusco - Machu Pichu

semi-overcast 18 °C
View Trekking Peru & Ecuador Flowing Skirts and Bowler Hats on Kate_Seb's travel map.

A dry desolate change from the north. Driving down to our next stop we found the northern part of Peru similar to Egypt with desserts and poor nothing towns. This dryness continued through to the southern coast with greener areas starting in the inland higher altitudes. The traditionalism just stopped after crossing the Ecuador-Peru border, only starting again in the historic centres around Machu Pichu.

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6 – 10 June Surfing in Huanchaco

It was time to hit the coast again and try out some more surfing. We loved this spot! A hamlet sized town situated on a strip of land between the dessert plateau and the chilly coast. We found one of favourite backpackers here and another travellers reunion began as a huge group from Ecuador followed us due south. The swell seemed perfect for us so Kate took up some seriously good surfing lessons while Seb paddled around the edges enjoying some “sick waves”. We also managed to throw in a half day of culture by visiting the dessert castles of previous Kings in Trujillo. After thousands of years the original decorated walls are still in tact and colourful!

Oh yes and how could we nearly forget – our first super market since Panama – and what do we find? Fanny Tuna!

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11 – 14 June The Capital: Lima

Not the prettiest capital in the world, but still contained the modern luxuries that we craved. This included a first night out dining on sushi and kicking back in a cinema. The Old City and Chinatown had some beautiful buildings and yummy Dim Sum, followed by some feet regenerating reflexology by the blind.

This was also the time where Kate's boet, Trevor, joined us for a 2 week vac. It was a crazy busy 2 weeks to follow with tonnes of road time – Peru is one big country with a few local disgruntled farmers to help make the journeys that much longer (explained later).

15 June Dune Bugging in Huacachina

A fleeting visit of this little oasis town, Huacachina – famed for its sand boarding and crazy life threatening tummy turning feet tingling dune bugging. So we did what backpackers do and joined the craziness. Words to describe the dune bugging: jet engine attached to an aluminium frame with huge ass tires which speeds over dunes becoming airborne over their 60+ deg edges, or does a hairpin bend just before taking flight so we land up motoring it down the mountainous dune instead. We also challenged our fitness, which was literally zero at this stage, negative for some of us, as we headed up a 60 deg vertical sand dune.

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16 June Nazca Lines

Another short stop, in Nazca to take a chartered flight over the famous Nazca drawings in the sand – can you spot the astronaut, humming bird and pair of hands?

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This was followed by the coolest bus trip ever – well for 90 year old geriatrics anyway – but we still loved it – free bus entertainment BINGO with the winning prize being a bottle of Pisces (40% pure). Seb had the winning numbers, so with cheeks blushing and a voice yelping – B.I.N.G.O – we had won the infamous Cruise Del Sur BINGO tournament!

17 – 19 June White City Arequipa

We arrived in the city surrounded by volcanoes, one of Peru's gems. This was our adventure capital where we headed out for some river rafting run by a crazy bunch of mate drinking Argentineans. A key learning tip – never white river raft at the foot of a glacier capped volcanoes where the river is fed by the melt-waters. Our toes literally froze in the first 4 min's and all we could think was: get us out of here.

Another session of altitude training was the order of the day (Arequipa sits at 2400m) as we hired bikes and rode around the terraced farm lands – many of the terraces are still in tact from when the Incas first conceptualised this farming technique over 1000 years ago.

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20 June Road Block Nightmare

Not sure if any of you saw the news reports on the protests happening in Peru, initially for land rights in the Amazon and then subsequently land rights in southern Peru. When the voice doesn't work in negotiations the locals turn to chaos and disruption – road blocks. And they are patient, a 3 week, 24 hour manned roadblock is not unusual in this country.

It was time for us to make our journey from Arequipa to Cusco, and we had to be there at least 2 days before the Inca Trail began as altitude acclimatisation is key to being fit during the trek. We had heard that there were some protests going on, but we really didn't realise the extent of them until it was too late. We got chatting to the hostal owner and mentioned that we were planning on heading to Cusco in a few days. She was like – “have you heard about the hectic road blocks, they have been protesting on the main bus route to Cusco for the last 3 weeks, so you may have trouble, there are a few options though”. Basically it boiled down to 4 options:

1. Take a flight via Lima to Cusco but which would cost $500+ each
2. Retrace our steps and head back up north via Lima to Cusco – a mere 30hrs more bus time! Not very appealing.
3. Chance the standard 8hr bus route where there have been road blocks for the last 3 weeks. And on arrival at the roadblock walk the reported 20min across the blockades and catch transport on the otherside to complete the balance of your journey to Cusco.
4. Take the rural backroads, switching buses a few times and maybe hiring a private taxi, basically winging it as it is not a very well travelled route – estimated travelling time 9 hrs.

Option 1 and 2 were definitely out, too expensive and no way we could deal with another 30hr bus trip. Option 3 risky cause we weren't sure about the violence and the true extent of the blockades. So option 4 was the obvious choice – and then the day before we were due to leave – road blocks on route 4!!! Headache – what now? In the end we tossed a coin and tried our luck with option 4, thinking that the road blocks would be less severe given that they are only 1 day old and not 3 weeks old.

Our trip started off well on schedule, 5hr bus ride, 4 hr taxi ride, a blockade which our local Peruvian fellow passenger was able to talk our way through - stop time = 30min! Yey we were home free, or thats what we thought until we arrived at the next one. Shit another one! But given the time at the last stop we were hopeful for another quick get away. After about an hour it looked like we were on the home straight as all the massive boulders and tree logs were cleared from our path and the taxi started to edge forward. Suddenly, screams and shouts and the locals stopped the removal and completely reversed their actions – full force road blocks again. The Peruvian, fellow passenger, found out later that a mini bus of American youngsters started yelping “its against our rights not to have water and be stuck in the car”, commotion commotion, with the end result of us being blockaded for another 6 hours!!! Total travel time 20hrs as opposed to the normal 8hrs.

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In Cusco we met some travellers who had taken option 3 – their journey was so much worse – an 8hr overnight bus ride followed by a walk over the blockades with all their baggage strapped to their backs with each local saying “the blockades are only another 30 minutes, you can catch a bus soon”, this story repeated for the next 14 hours. Can you imagine 14hrs of walking with a 15kg+ bag on your back?

21 – 23 June Cusco

On hearing of the roadblocks we got news to Kate's folks, who were due to join us in Cusco after the Inca Trail, travelling from Bolivia via bus virtually the same route as option 3. They, Mike and Sue, were lucky enough to find a cheap flight from La Paz and with a little bit of rescheduling arrived in Cusco earlier than expected – unbeknown to us (our mobiles were not working, and email was not an option) we would be sharing breakfast together the very same morning after our arrival in Cusco. After 5 months on the road and away from family it was a great surprise! Especially the biltong that came with them too!

Cusco is a lovely city, once the capital of Peru, which has maintained its ancient Inca and Spanish architecture. Our time here was spent enjoying the R30 (USD3) 4 course meal deals, perusing over the colourful fabrics and sipping fresh fruit juices in the local markets. There were also big celebrations in Cusco, as 24 June marks the Sun Festival of Inti Rayma – so many a festivities were enjoyed too!

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24 – 27 Inca Trail

The only way to do the Inca Trail is through an organised tour, and what a blessing cause the luxury of having your tents carried, food cooked and cinema quality popcorn at the end of each days walking made the hike so much more enjoyable. Like our guide, Rubin, would say “you're on holiday this is not a serious Mount Everest climbing excursion”.

It was a 4 day epic trail, the walking was relatively easy (we copped out and hired extra porters for our sleeping bags and clothes) as Rubin would make sure we only walked as fast as the slowest person, so walk an hour, rest 30min was the general order of the trek. Frustrating for some, but a really good way to make sure we enjoyed our surroundings and didn't finish the Inca Trail thinking – all I saw was my North Face walking shoes! The walking stick was a blessing too and saved Kate's knees.

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The first day we met our team in Cusco and took a 2 hr bus ride to Ollantaytambo. Once all the formalities of trail licences were taken care of, we spent the rest of the day hiking a relatively flat path along a river. We were also lucky enough to have permits to not camp in the main camping ground but an hour or more walk ahead of the majority of the hikers. This gave us the advantage of having a more peaceful campsite, and when hiking the following day our view of the surroundings wasn't marred by strings of other trekkers.

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There were 2 to a tent, so Trev shared with Danish Jasper – we are not sure who was worst off – Trev with Jasper's nuclear toxic hiking shoes or Jasper with Trev's hot air balloon tent warming techniques! Each morning we were woken with a cup of hot tea and a hot basin of water set outside our tent for the morning wash. Royalty! The oldest porter was responsible for hot water basin duty, and can you believe this tiny 60 year old still does the Inca Trail in record time whilst carrying a 20kg pack! It puts us youngsters to shame.

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The second day was the toughest walking as we spent the morning climbing to the highest point 4200m. Seb and Trev motored ahead, whilst Kate took a more 4-step-breath-rest approach! At around this point the original Inca stone pathway also began and many archaeological sites were visited along the way – including what is assumed to be the Inca University. Unfortunately no written records were left by the Inca's so all historical information is based on archaeologists best guess.

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A daily treat was being met at the nights campsite with tents set up, cinema quality popcorn, “kulu pita” biscuits and a hot cup of coffee. A yummy hot toddy we had on the 2nd night, the chilliest night, was “Te Machu” a mix of black tea, sugar, lemon, sliced apple with whiskey being the key ingredient. Shithead (card game) was the order of most evenings followed by early to bed, cause it was always early to rise!

What a beautiful rising we had on the third morning, on top of a hill surrounded by snow capped mountains, low lying clouds, crystal blue sky and with the sun creeping through a crack in the mountain lighting up the Inca University spectacularly. It was an easy day walking and we arrived in time for lunch at our final camp. As we always camped ahead of majority of the trekkers we had the afternoon to shower (another luxury) and chill in the sun, whilst some hikers only arrived at 7pm.

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It was an early start on the final day to make sure we reached Machu Pichu for sunrise and before the bus loads of non-trekking tourists. But on arrival it all made sense, why we had walked for the last 3 days. What struck us at Machu Pichu were not necessarily the extensive buildings but the physical setting. The Inca's lived on top of a mountain peak, surrounded by even higher jagged glacier carved out luscious green mountains. The views were spectacular. That said the actual architecture and positioning of each building was all designed with the rising sun in mind. Through certain doorways/structures the sun on specific dates shines through perfectly lighting the doorway golden. Specifically on 24 June (Hence the Inti Rayma Festivities) the sun shines perfectly through the sun gate! We missed this by only a few days so could see the slightly imperfect version.

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We met up with Mike and Sue here, and successfully hiked up Waynu Pichu – well done Mom and Dad, an even higher peak which over looks Machu Pichu. If one hadn't arrived by the trek it is the all essential view, as one gets a perfect birds eye view of Machu Pichu. We then headed into Aguas Caliente town for a cold beer just before catching the train/bus back to Cusco.

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28 June Road Blocks...not again

We said farewell to Trev – back to the real world of slave labour articles! And the rest of us had planned on spending a few more days enjoying Cusco, but over a late lunch got wind of the fact that road blocks had been stopped for 3 days (whilst we were on Inca Trail) and were due to start again tomorrow and cover the entire route to the Bolivian border town! So a little mad rush, tickets were bought, bags were packed, hotels were checked out of and we were on a night bus crossing into Bolivia. No way we were going to risk being caught in one of them again!

Good bye Peru we're off to freezing cold Bolivia!

Tips for other travellers

Huanchaco
Accomo: Naylamp Hostel great option, from outside nothing much, but room 19, ocean views, priv bath (Soles 55 double)
Food: Naylamp restaurant has a great female chef – the pastas are excellent! Otherwise the chicharon at one of the local restaurants is tasty
Activities: Surfing, and for those that need lessons head to Chicho (something like that) surfing school on the main road. He is so thorough, really helped me improve my technique. (Soles 20 board and wetsuit whole day). We also did a day trip to Trujillo, Sol y Luna archaeological site. Worth the visit to see the paintings, Chan Chan apparently not that good.

Lima
Accomo: Difficult to find available accomo, only place battled the entire 5 months in South America. Expensive for what you get. Stayed at….., but an option which we like but booked out was…….
Food: Had good sushi at the restaurant in Miraflores shopping mall on the cliffs. Good Chinese at….in China Town
Activities: Catacombs at San ….Church is worth a visit

Huacachina
Accomo:
Food: Foreign owned restaurants way over priced, Menu of the Days in the local restaurant tasty and good value
Activities: Go on a sand boarding dune riding jeep tour. Adrenaline 101. Clamber up the huge sand dune and watch the sunset

Nazca
Accomo:
Food: Restaurant above
Activities: Take a 4 seater plane over the Nazca lines ($55 per person). We didn’t get to visit the open burial grounds but wish we had.

Arequipa
Accomo: La Casa de los Pinguinos, great rooms and owner very helpful ($35 triple room, incl bfast)
Food:
Activities: We went river rafting, but never again – so freezing after 5 mins my feet were dead and we just wanted it over with. Enjoyed the cycle around the terraced farm lands, the visit to the mill along the way was a waste of money!

Cusco
Accomo: Stayed in San Blas at Home Sweet Home (rooms right on common areas so a little noisy, rooms are chilly, but views are great). Also stayed at Amaru 2, great rooms and bfast. But our luggage was broken into and our medicine and cell phone stolen, best hotel we had stayed in Peru so was very disappointed.

Inca Trail
We went with SAS and were very happy with the service. Maybe slightly more expensive than other companies, but would go with them again, especially because the porters appear well treated. All wearing proper hiking shoes, decent backpacks and good north face gear to keep them warm on those chilly nights. A lot of other companies let the porters walk with rubber homemade shoes, make shift backpacks and basic clothing. Llama Path is another company who looked decent.
The food was tasty and always plentiful, popcorn in the evenings done to perfection. Suggest taking a few extra chocolates, toilet paper, face wipes to “bath with”, but water purification tablets a bit pointless we all drank the boiled water and no one got sick. SAS was also one of the few front groups so we got to camp an hour walking ahead of majority of the hikers, great because it was more peaceful on the trail and in the campsites, this might change though so check it out at booking.
We caught the late train back 6pm, try and book an early train in advance so you can get some daylight viewing on the train ride. Might mean sitting in Ollantaytambo waiting for the rest of the SAS group but look like some nice restaurants in the area. Aguas Caliente looks like a nice town to chill in if you have a day to spare, but apparently the hot springs aren’t that great.

Bus Companies – Northern Peru: Linea, Southern Peru: Cruz del Sur – expensive but v good service
Strikes – if you hear of strikes in Peru check out travel routes and road blockages – may be worth booking flights, especially around festival time

Posted by Kate_Seb 05.04.2010 11:40 Archived in Peru Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Yachting Galapagos

Isla Santa Cruz – Isla North Seymour – Isla Santa Fe – Isla Espanola – Isla Floreana – Isla Santiago – Isla Bartolome – Isla Genovesa

semi-overcast 22 °C

24 – 31 May 2009

Southern Route

So this year is all about once in a life time travel experiences and what better than spending 7 days sailing around some sunny, white sand beaches in crystal blue waters whilst some funny blue footed birds fly over, inquisitive sea lion cubs play whilst you snorkel and iguanas lay in big orgy groups basking for heat on the beach . Not far from the mainland and an entirely different world lives thriving in the unique Galapagos Islands. The islands remain mostly unspoilt, the skyline missing the normal sky-high million dollar hotels which one would expect for such an exotic place and where the best postal service is still to leave unstamped letters in the beachside wine casket where passing ships or travellers pick them up for hand delivery in their home countries.

We knew this would break our budget, 2 days were spent in Quito asking ourselves if it was worth it, and eventually we decided its only going to get more expensive, more regulated and more touristy, so whilst we are only a mere 1000km away we should take the opportunity!

Day 1 Sunday

We flew from Quito early on Sunday morning, arriving at Baltra Airport by midday, and luckily just missing the Iguana who had found a great place to heat up on the runway tarmac! A hefty little entrance fee, $110, and a little worried about the fossils Seb was carrying from Colombia, but all went off well and we were granted entry!

We were greeted at the harbour by the a couple of sealions and the Eden Yacht crew and quickly whisked off to the start of our 7 day cruise. On arrival at the boat we were given a short welcoming, intro to the crew members and other traveller’s. We were then shown to our cabins – and lucky us landed up with a top deck cabin - super for those hot nights.

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After a yummy lunch we headed to Las Bachas Beach on Santa Cruz Island. Here we were given our first taste of the tame wildlife. We were just returning from viewing pink flamingos, when we noticed a flock of birds hovering above the beach. Immediately we thought – prey - there must be something going on so we hurried closer to see what was up. The birds were after a fish which a sea lion had caught. The sea lion was slamming the fish onto surface of the ocean to break it up into biteable pieces. With all the commotion a shark was attracted to the scene as well. So now the sea lion, after catching the fish had both the birds and shark trying to get the fish from his mouth. In his attempt to escape the shark the sea lion hurried onto the beach but this did not seem to frighten off the shark and the shark just followed the sea lion onto the shore. In the end the sea lion out witted the others and triumphantly displayed his catch, posing picture perfect.

Wow, wow, wow! This is 50/50 material.

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We then headed back to the shore for a tad of snorkelling. A bit unlucky with the vis that day but there were still big schools of angel fish swimming about. The next thing we bumped into some sharks, with the vis being shitty we could only see them when they became inquisitive and swam right up close, then there were 2, and they kept on coming back, Kate's heart starting racing and all she could think about was not to pee and get out of the water. Turns out that they were only Galapagos white tip sharks and are not considered dangerous.

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Day 2 Monday

We awoke to find ourselves staring at a huge volcanic wall – a straight even wall which had risen up to form North Seymour Island. With pancakes in our tummy we launched in the dinghies on the island and headed off to see sea lions and blue footed boobies up close for the first time. We were even lucky enough to find a frigate bird puffing out its normally testicle looking throat sack into a striking red balloon to attract a mate – the poor male hadn’t seen any action the whole mating season and was still desperately trying in the last few days of the official mating season.

Frigate Birds

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Blue Footed Boobies

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In the afternoon we headed to Santé Fe Island - all about the snorkelling, sea lions and cacti! Taking advantage of the midday sun we slipped into swimmers, propped a snorkel and mask on our head and flipped overboard – snorkelling time. It was so great to be swimming in the sea again after our last month in the interior of Colombia and Ecuador. The coral was not as bright as we had expected but there were so many colourful fish, and then the darting nearly face plunging sea lions arrived and we were sold. Snorkelling in Galapagos with the sea lions is so much fun; they are so cute and inquisitive with their big eyes and armless bodies.

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After lunch, we launched on a beautiful white sand beach, completely dominated by sea lions basking in the last afternoon sun. Amazing that they just lie like a big lazy sausage whilst we all walk around - just making sure we stay away from the big beach master and moms’ with pups.

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At the end of each day before dinner we had a briefing from our Guide. He was rather funny and always insisted on acting out the animals which we would see the next day. Seb is rather good at the courting Frigate Bird impersonation - ask him to give you a show one day!

Day 3 Tuesday

A bit of a chilly day, but Kate had to try and overcome her fear of snorkelling with sharks, so we found ourselves plunging into the open ocean and swimming around Devils Crown. Devils Crown is a small blown out volcano which has not risen very high out of the water, so in the middle of the ocean there is a circle of rocks, weathered in such away to look like a crown. The vis that day was excellent and just snorkelling we could see 20m and the sharks circling below. At one stage we even snorkelled into the middle of the crater which is very shallow and found ourselves less than 5m away from Galapagos White Tip sharks.

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A little bit of a warm up was in order, so after the snorkelling we headed to Suarez Point where we had a giggle at the “Albatross Airport” – such clumsy birds which always manage to trip during their takeoff or landing. On the rocks below the poor sea iguanas tried to swim out of the sea with waves continuously bashing them against the rocks – poor little critters, especially when a huge unsuspecting wave comes and drags them off their rock perch.

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Day 4 Wednesday

A little adventure was under way as we headed into a dark cave in search of the underwater lake. Torch in hand we crawled and scampered, a few unworldly screams later and we had arrived at the chilly lake for a quick dip in the darkness.

Post Office Bay – exactly what it says it is. Back when sail boats were wooden and email didn’t exist an old wine casket was set up as a post box. All ships passing by would pick up the mail to take back to the “modern” world. Today its still in operation for tourist humour, except sailors with parrots don’t stop by, instead tourists fly them home. The tradition being that as a tourist you leave your postcard in the box, and then when another tourist comes along from your home town or near enough they will collect it and then hand deliver it. In reality, the postcards which we sent were taken home to South Africa and then posted to our friends, but we think all have now arrived.

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A fun morning but way to short on the island! Tourists can either take the Eden tour for the full 7 days or 3/4’ days. A stop at the Santa Cruz mainland was thus in order to say goodbye to some (the Angelic Canadians, Rowdy Abby and the Vino Blanco Americanos) and hi to others (Adventurous Marie and the photographic mad Jap and Spanish), our salvation during the trip - the Irish – thank god they stayed the full 8 days with us.

Day 5 Thursday

An off boat day! After some dodgy pink drinks last night, a day with out constant rocking motion is much welcomed.

We spent the day at the Darwin Research Centre and in the Highlands of Santa Cruz. Darwin Research Centre is largely a breeding project for the various Galapagos Tortoise species. They have some really large fellows there including Lonesome George, who is yet to find a suitable mate at the age of 90.

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In the last 4 days the vegetation on the different islands has been similar, small shrubs with a couple of Cacti, but no large lush green trees. The Highlands thus came as quite a surprise, by no means the Amazon Jungle but still worlds apart from the rest of the foilage we had seen. Amazing that with in a few km’s such a change occurs. They even manage to grow coffee!

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Northern Route

Day 6 Friday

Back on board the boat we had travelled over night to arrive at James Bay (Egas Port, Santiago Island). The coastline was really beautiful due to excavations made in the rock by the sea, creating crystal clear dipping pools that are nicely protected from ocean swell. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to snorkel due to stupid tourist predecessors causing havoc, resulting in stricter regulations on what and what not we are allowed to now do.

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We did however head back to where the boat was anchored and swim off the near beach. So many turtles and of course the ever playful sea lions.

The morning had again flown and we headed back to the boat to make the lunch time sailing trip to Bartolome Islands. A great sight was the dolphins which came to play with the boat sternum during the journey. What a spectacle they put on ducking and diving, and flying in the air!

Bartolome Islands was one of our favourites because the landscape is so different to any of the others. The reason being that the island is relatively new compared to the others with volcanic eruptions only being 1 million year old instead of 4 mil. Due to the island being in its infancy, vegetation has not yet bloomed and the whole island feels like it really is a volcano with pumice rock all around. It is amazing how light pumice rock really is.

We also enjoyed snorkelling with the Galapagos Penguins – Seb was so amazed seeing Penguins which he largely associates with Antarctica (bar Boulders beach) at the Equator – 2 extreme weather temperatures.

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Day 7 Saturday

Our last full day – triste (sad), going to miss this unique place! And our last day to try and see hammerhead sharks – can’t believe that we are going to voluntarily jump into a section of the see infamous for these sharks – they look so scary.

We started the day waking up in the middle of a blown out volcanic crater – Darwin Bay, Genovesa Island. We enjoyed a small walk on the Island, entering by Prince Philips steps, can’t even escape the Royal influence in Galapagos. For the first time we saw Red Footed Boobies and were also lucky enough to see the Galapagos Owl, generally very difficult to spot, all army gear should be manufactured after this bird.

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We then headed out hammerhead shark hunting – but due to terrible vis were “unlucky” and didn’t get to say hi. The swim was rather chilly so the afternoon beach lounging session was welcomed. A cute little sea lion pup lost its mom, and in its search came across us. They are so tame and actually landed up taking over our beach towels - Kate wants one!

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Day 8 Sunday

A really early morning and we were out on the rubber dinghies by 5.30am heading for Black Turtle Cove. A little inlet surrounded by mangrove swamps and home to many a black sea turtle and schools of sting ray. Seeing the sting rays swimming by in such large groups and so close to the dinghy was fabulous – so graceful!

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The early start left us all famished so we headed back to the yacht for a last breakfast and then back off to Baltra airport. Where we said goodbye to the lovely Irish, and happy snappy wildlife photographers!

Just before boarding the plane we heard a shaky Spanish accent over the loud speaker – “Sebastiaan Swart, Mr Sebastiaan Swart”. As Seb rushed off my heart sank, the fossils! His face told it all on his return – they had confiscated them. After 3 months of lugging these dam rocks around in the backpacks they were taken. Aaaaggghh.

Tips for other Travellers

You need a bit more than spare change in the pocket when going on the trip so it’s best being ready with a bit of info. These are some tips which might make it an easier decision for you.

Where to Organise?
You have the option of booking the trip before arrival in Ecuador via the internet etc this is generally a lot more expensive, but if time is limited and you are going in the busy season it could be the best. We had a few days to play with so opted to see what deals we could find either in Quito or on arrival on the Islands. Mariscal Sucre in Quito has many tour agencies; we shopped around a lot and eventually booked through Happy Gringo Tours in Quito. The tours offered were generally similar at all the tour agencies, but the service at Happy Gringo was better.

We also had the option of arriving at Galapagos and booking, but in the end we figured the money we may have saved ($200 per person) we would’ve maybe spent waiting around trying to organize a trip from the island, waiting for space on boats and a decent itinerary. We later met a lady who had arrived on the island, she had hoped to speak to the boat owners direct and view a boat before choosing a trip, it turned out that the boats were nearly always on tour so she never saw the boats before and she found it rather difficult to find owners to chat to them directly – she waited a week before finding a tour – but she got an excellent deal on a luxury boat!

What type of Boat?

Tourist – basic, small boat, v small cabins, food ok not great, guides level 1 only, itinerary lmt to islands near Santa Cruz, 8 day cruise ($750 – 1200)
Tourist Superior – (Eden, our boat) cabins were small but comfortable with priv bathrooms, rooms cleaned every day, food was excellent, crew always helpful and friendly and the guide was level 2, lounging room such as deck chairs and indoor TV room was very comfortable, more itinerary variety not only lmt to islands close to Santa Cruz, 8 day cruise ($1300 – 2000)
1st Class – similar to tourist superior, but rooms slightly larger and potential of getting a level 2/3 guide, itinerary’s could allow for Isabella and Fernandina visits, 8 day cruise ($1700 – 2500)
Luxury – level 3 guide and itineraries often include Isabella and Fernandina, 8 day cruise ($2500 – 5000)

Cash?
Paying in cash is optimal as with CC add another 5% or so, which really adds on $100’s

Boat names?
Eden – our tour – recommended
Others that we saw which looked good – Aida Maria, Guantamera
Avoid – Amigo and Flamingo

The itinerary?
You can either do day trips, only to close islands, or take a 3/4/8 day tour.

In terms of routing there are 4 basic options – doing the northern islands, southern islands, western islands (Fernandina and Isabella) or a combination. Only luxury or 1st class boats do Fernandina and Isabella so we couldn’t afford this, even though it would’ve been lovely with fewer tourists. We thus did a 8 day tour of the northern and southern islands – the downside with this is that we spent a day on Santa Cruz at Darwin station which one could easily do by themselves with an extra day after/before the tour spent independently on the island, but it was good to have a break from the boat, and their weren’t really any other options.

Must see sights according to Kate and Seb?
The islands which we enjoyed the most – North Seymour, Santé Fe, Espanola, Floreana, Bartolome, snorkelling at Devils Crown – a good mix of most of the animals and landscapes

Costs?
It’s expensive:
Tour cost ($750-$4000), guides and crew expect ridiculous tips (the guide recommends approx total $120 per tourist for the guide and crew), park entrance fee ($110), drinks on board – BYOB, flight ($400), snorkels/flippers/wetsuits sometimes incl., sometimes not

Flight?
Our flight was due to leave at 12am, but others on the boat had a 9am flight so we all had to leave the boat and head to the airport in time for their flight! Really irritating as we had booked our flight through the boat and had expected to have the whole morning on the boat doing an activity. Make sure you are on the earlier flight 9am, and you can change for free later.

Last day?
The 8 day tour advertised is somewhat a farce – we had a really early start 5.30am and by 8.30 we were on the way to the airport, so really it is a 7 day tour.

Repetition?
We were concerned that there would be a lot of repetition in explanation etc when the new tourists joined midway through the tour, we didn’t find this was a problem though

Beds?
Don’t ask for a double, as they are really small. Request 2 single beds on upper deck – fresh air, esp. if the aircon breaks

Posted by Kate_Seb 08:51 Archived in Ecuador Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Ecuador Flowing Skirts and Bowler Hats

Quito - Latacunga - Quilotoa Loop - Guayaquil - Cuenca - Vilacabama

semi-overcast 17 °C

109 days after leaving South Africa, we arrived in our 5th country: Ecuador! And wow what a change from Colombia. We found Colombia somewhat westernized – what people wear and eat etc., compared to the bowler hats and big flowing skirts which the local Ecuadorian women wear – even when working the potato fields. Ecuador was so mini in size. We found we were easily able to get from one side of the country to the other in a day. The topography was somewhat similar as the Andes run right down the country's spine, flanked by ocean jungle on the one side and Amazon jungle on the other. We spent most of our time amongst the volcanoes of the highlands.

Quito 15 – 19 May 2009

Quito is a typical South American city – largely run down, with a hodge podge of buildings - styled on a Spanish Colonial basis. We stayed in Mariscal Sucre – the high point for night life and most importantly, Galapagos tour agencies, which all seem to conglomerate around this area.

Most of our time in Quito was spent deliberating/organising Galapagos. We did however enjoy a morning walking around the old historic centre and taking in some of the memorable sights, including the large silver angel which watches over the city.

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Quilotoa Loop 20 – 22 May 2009

With a bit of time to spare before Galapagos, we caught the bus down from Quito to Ecuador’s massive volcano alley. We stopped off in a little Dutch-run hostel in Latacunda – a good base for Sasquila market and a 3-day hike around the Quilotoa Loop, destination: Quilotoa Crater.

A little unplanned adventure: a 2am hospital visit! Kate had been battling with a sore tummy for the past 2 days. We hopped onto the interenet to check the symptoms. Perfect recipe for Appendicitis. So at 2am, we had to wake the hostal and rush off to the ‘local’ hospital. In broken Spanish, after failing to learn the ‘emergency hospital symptom’ vocab, we pointed, proded and acted our way through a seen from ER. In the end, being asked to return the next morning for blood test. In the end it wasn’t appendicitis but rather parasites which we were told was likely contracted from eating faeces…hmmhmm, thumbs up to lovely South American food!

So, after the hospital scare, we missed the bus to get us to the start of the Loop and had to make some alternative plans. We headed to the market in the nearby town, Sasquila, which was a great surprise: it was a full-on local animal market where all the traditional dressed locals meet to trade llamas ($80), pigs ($50), cows ($120+) and whatever else belongs on a farm. Seb tried some fresh goats milk, right out the warm udder. Basically, you name a service/commodity you need and you could probably find it at this market.

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For Kate’s bday, we treated ourselves and headed off to stay at Tigua Farm. It was something slightly different from the rest of our travels. We enjoyed a relaxing rest of day living a farmers life – riding llamas (Seb’s feet managed to touch the ground while riding), kissing llamas, milking cows and sipping some wine in front of the wood burning fire.

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With Kate not dying of appendicitis, it was time for some high altitude exercise – Inca Trail was coming up and we had to get used to climbing in the Andes. We hitched a ride into town on the milk truck and then to the Quilotoa Crater - at least we would be able to see the last day of the 3 day hike. What a mesmerizing natural sight – a green expanse of water, huge steep walls and perfectly round.

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Its not everyday we have the opportunity to walk into the belly of a volcano, so we scampered down the dusty path towards the lake – only to be surprised by some crazy bubbling water – even though the volcano is considered non-active – it seems the gas was still escaping and kept the surface water bubbling away.

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Our time here had flown by and we found ourselves on yet another bus heading back to Quito for our flight to Galapagos Islands. Galapagos, great memories, but it gets a whole blog on its own (to follow). After 8 days in Galapagos we returned to a more southerly part of Ecuador, to the city of Quayaquil.

Quayaquil 31 May - 1 June

Quayaquil was a surprisingly big city, with a great river-side promenade. The promenade leads up to a quaint part of the city, developed on a hill which overlooks the city and its waterways. The area reminded us somewhat of BoKaap in Cape Town, if only SA could replicate this - cafes, vibey bars, families enjoying a Sunday ice-cream and kids swinging in the play grounds.

1 – 5 June Cuenca and Vilcabamba

Heading south to Peru we broke the journey with a little stop in Cuenca and Vilcabamba. Vilacabama is a superb little mountain village perfect for hiking, a lazy afternoon massage treatment, and an evening game of pool with fellow travellers. Along the way we met up with aspiring Aussi news reader Jono and tiny pony Belinda, as well as surprise - we bumped into Abi from our Galapagos boat trip as well as a few others we had met in other parts of Colombia and Ecuador. It was like a super travel reunion.

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And again, no matter how many times we swear not to take one we found ourselves on yet another night bus, and with another successful border crossing...into Peru.

Tips for other Travellers

Quito
Accomo: Crossroads in Mariscal Sucre ($23 double, common bathroom), central to restaurants, night life and Galapagos Tour agencies
Food: Magic Bean – great Maracuya smoothies and other food
Galapagos: we organized Galapagos from Quito through Happy Gringo tour agency. We shopped around and in the end were very happy with their offers and service. May have saved $200 each by going direct to Galapagos, but we didn’t try that option so maybe would’ve had to spend a lot more time on the islands so the saving may have been wiped out.

Quilitoa Loop
Accomo: Started at Latacunga and stayed at Tania Hostel Fine simple accomo, wifi, communal bathrooms. Useful information about the Quiltoa Loop
Food: Simple good food at the hostel, excellent Dutch Apple Tart
Activities: Quiltoa Loop – 3 day hiking option. But complications for us so landed up only headed to Tigua Farm and then did a day trip to crater. Thursday S….market

Quayakil
Accomo: 9 october, on 9 Ocotber st ($14 double, priv bathroom, clinical but cheap for a night)
Food: Hamilton by Hitlon down the road served a good burger, with free wifi
Activities: A lovely walk, esp around sunset up on the water front and up the brick road. Character and atmosphere

Cuenca
Accomo: We stayed at Posada del Rio, clean and very friendly staff.
Food: We didn't eat out much here, but cooked with food from the local market as we had been waited on hand and foot in Galapagos.
Activities: Museum with Shrunken Heads

Vilacabama
Accomo: Izhcayluma Hostel, $26 double ensuite, great restaurant, massages and good group of travellers of all types
Food: Mexican on corner square, stroganoff yummy at hostel
Activities: Hiking around the hills, massages at the hostel

Border crossing
Piauras – quiet and easy at night
Avoid BC close to Mancora – very busy and apparently lots of walking

Posted by Kate_Seb 11:53 Archived in Ecuador Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Amazon Jungle Trekking

Palmari Lodge, Amazon River, Brazil

sunny 30 °C

We knew a trip to the Amazon was on the cards sometime during our South America trip, we just didn’t expect to meet Axel one day and the next be flying out to the big green jungle. A luxury whirl wind of a trip making a few more lasting memories.

23 - 28 April 2009

When you read this you should be thinking –

Massive, green, lush
Trees so thick it’s a wonder how the Spanish ventured through them
Unpredictable rain bursts
Flowing, murky brown, expanse of water
No idea whats living under the boat but after watching Grey’s you know that the “Penis Fish” exists and then of course there are the infamous Piranha's too

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Day 1- Travel Day

Getting to the jungle from Colombia is not as easy as a hop, skip and bus trip away. Most sane people wouldn’t test the untamed areas a little west of Bogotá as this area is renowned for still being under the control of FARC (drug rebel group). So the only option really is to take a flight from Bogotá to Leticia and fly over all the problems.

At Leticia airport we were met by Axel’s crew who helped us through border control...and a sign showing the extensive FARC wanted list. Yey, for good South African and Brazilian relations – another country Kate doesn’t need a damn visa for! We were then dropped off at the Brazilian water front and caught a water taxi to Marubus and across the Amazon. We then had another taxi to catch and made a quick little stop at a typical, but obviously more modernized traditional village – yup you guessed it all the kids were playing soccer. But the old grannies still walked around in their traditional dress, and the best form of entertainment for young kids was being rocked on the hammocks with their moms.

Finally we reached a village where the Palmari boat with an engine that looked more like a weed cutter than an engine for a boat - met us and took us upstream for a good hour to the lodge! Wow, the water ways and short cuts that the locals know are bewildering, its so easy to get lost in the water for days. We have never seen a river that snakes so much, flying into Leticia let us see how all the water ways bend around each other.

On arrival we were met by none other than Lauren the Macaw and Touc Touc the territorial Toucan, then settled into our private wooden lodge room, mosquito nets, white linen and all. No electricity of course, only paraffin lamps in our room and then a generator until 9pm each night in the dining room area.

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Day 2 – Jungle Walks and Pink Dolphins

We started the day with a fresh breakfast, including some local Amazonian fruit. No idea what it was called, but they like to use it in everything – a drink, a dessert or just the simple fresh fruit. As expected they were very proud of their local fruit and always interested in our opinion, unfortunately not our favourite, but we grinned and swallowed!

We met our private guide, yes folks private just for the two of us. We headed out, gum boots on feet for a walk through the jungle. Wow, so hot and sticky! And the best thing to wear is a long sleeve top and slacks, don’t want them funny insects/animals biting you. So as hot as we were we didn’t do the whole nearly naked running around the bush vibe, but stuck to the African safari type clothing. The guide was very informative, only Spanish though so was good practice for us. Telling us about the different plants and insects we saw along the way. We were very unlucky and didn’t see many animals. But in a jungle where the animals are still hunted for food what more can be expected, at the first sight or smell of humans the animals move away. So people that actually see monkeys and jaguars are apparently the rare few or just plain fibbers! Or maybe it was just our guide trying to make us feel better, coming from Africa where a trip to the bush almost guarantees you a wildlife spotting maybe our expectations were a bit high.

We spent the rest of the afternoon kayaking in the waters around the lodge calling the pink dolphins. A little whistle and they always seemed to surface. We didn’t quite know what to expect but they were largely pink dappled with grey. Smaller than the common bottle nose and also not as playful – always only popping up for a second and not ever coming too close to the kayaks. But what a cool sight!

The great deal with the lodge is that everything was inclusive – so in the evening we found ourselves settling into the hammocks with Caprinahas or Cuba Libres and enjoying the amazonian vibe!

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Day 3 – Piranha bite

Today was the day we were crazy enough to go Piranha fishing, catch a tonne of piranha and then agree to have a swim in the river as well!

We headed out on the little weed cutter propelled boat to one of the tributaries and in between the trees. The piranhas seem to like being in shady areas, makes sense as insects and stuff generally live amongst the trees so more food around. We were in the amazon in the rainy season so there were plenty of fishing areas as the forest had been swallowed up by swollen rivers. We came across some houses that during the rainy season are literally submerged to the roof and then in dry season re inhabited.

How to catch a Piranha 101
1.Get hold of a fishing line, a bamboo stick, and some hooks
2.Buy some good ready bloody steak and chop it into tiny baby bite size bait pieces
3.Slap the water with the top of the bamboo fishing rod, making lots of splashes and act like a dying desperate animal
4.Bait the rod and drop in the stick
5.Wait a second or too until you feel a nip and yank it back
6.With a fish on line BEWARE the FINGERS – the little things are viscous and slimy so don’t let it slip and take a nip

The fish played game and within an hour we had a good stock for the nights dinner Seb 11, Kate 9 and Michael (the guide) 8. One of the yummiest fish we have eaten – not much meat but done fried makes them real tasty!

On the way back from the fishing, no better timing - Michael asked if we wanted a swim. Seb game, jumped in, Kate a little bit more hesitant, the water is so brown and murky the thought of knowing what was under there was a little scary. However got in!

That night we experienced our first Amazonian downpour – wow when it rains it rains. The rain in such sheets that you can barely see in front of you. But with the lightning it was really beautiful cause it lights up the river and makes the whole experience rather mystical. Puke!

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Day 4 – Crocodile Dundee

On the hunt for the infamous Amazonian Mono (monkey for you stupid dimwitted Spanish illiterate retards), but no luck so we had another quick swim and then headed out kayaking with the pink dolphins.

That night we reenacted Crocodile Dundee hunting for Cayman by blinding them with torches. But just a few of them in the distance.

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Day 5 – Amazon Life

Today we spent the day making amazon jewelry, getting tattoos using the juice of a local berry and walking along the river to a local village, San Pedro. One of the locals was into honey making, 90% of which is sold to the pharmaceutical industry as it is used as an antiseptic.

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Day 6 – Return to City Life

A big group had arrived whilst we were at the Lodge so we joined them on a 3 hr boat ride to Leticia in the pissing rain. From where we caught our flight back to Bogotá, only to see all the locals wearing their face masks, as while we were away the piggy flu hit.

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Posted by Kate_Seb 02:01 Archived in Brazil Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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