A Travellerspoint blog

South America - Week 16 & 17

Ecuador

semi-overcast 25 °C

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(Franck)
After leaving the Galapagos we landed at Guayaquil around midday and headed straight to the bus terminal to escape this town as soon as possible! After I had my first Big Mac in almost 10 years we got on the "El Dorado" bus to Baños. The journey was supposed to take about 6 or 7 hours but it took almost 9 with frequent stops to get passengers on and off. The guide book described the journey as a spectacular one, especially when driving passed the glacier of a volcano at an altitude of about 4000m but unfortunately we got there after dark and it was misty, cold, rainy and miserable anyway. Bus transports in Ecuador are probably the worse we have experienced so far in our trip. Though other travellers have warned us about some more scarry moments to come in some parts of Colombia and central America in the months to come!

Upon arrival in Baños, we haggled hard to get a good deal in a decent hotel for 4 nights. Walking around a town you don't know at night in search of a hotel you like and for the right price has become a common feature of our trip! We decided to stay 4 nights as every travellers we met kept going on and on about how amazing this place was. Well.... it was an okay town and we eventually had a good time but we didn't find anything extraordinary about this place. This is a small thermal town surrounded by mountains, volcanos and waterfalls with numerous possibilities for hikes and extreme sports.
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On the first day we looked up in vain at the sky to see the volcano but like in Pucon a few months ago we couldn't see anything because of the clouds.
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After visiting the zoo where we saw jaguars and pumas, we went for a hike around town that took us 5 hours to go up and down about 1100m each way.
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On the second day it rained quite a bit and we postponed our planned bicycle ride. We then decided to go to the public hot springs but as we got there we didn't really feel like going into what looked like a muddy pond with almost half of the town's population in it!
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At this point we realised that we were sick of mountain sceneries, hot springs and rain in the Andes so we decided to move North towards Quito Eastwards i.e. going through the region bordering the Oriente (the jungle) and not Westwards in the much more touristic area of Cotopaxi and Quilotoa in the Andes! On the way back to our hostel we walked passed a private spa, which looked quite good and which was fairly cheap too. We went there and spent 3 hours being pampered in steam showers, saunas, jaccuzi and we also had a big swimming pool just for us. The day turned out to be better than when it started. After this, we walked up the 700 steps up to the statue of the Virgin that overlooks the town and thought afterwards that we should have done that prior to going to the spa as we didn't have any energy to get up these stairs!
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On the third day, the sun and the blue sky finally showed up and after yet another huge breakfast (we loved this town for its cafes and restaurants)
we set off with our rented mountain bikes on "las rutas de cascadas", a 60-70k road mostly downhill (not according to Charlotte though!) on the way to the jungle with many waterfalls and green scenery. We had a perfect day cycling and hiking towards the waterfalls.
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As we got further and further away from Baños in the afternoon we decided to stop a bus to take us back to Baños with our bikes. The first bus we flagged didn't stop so we hitch-hiked and the first pick-up truck that we saw stopped and took us in the back with the bikes for the hour journey back into town. Brillant!
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On the next day we left Baños and stopped for 2 nights in the small village of Misahualli on the edge of the jungle.
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The scenery was quite spectacular as the high mountains scenery gave way to green dense jungle vegetation with tropical heavy rain at times. When we arrived in Misahualli we spent our time finding a hotel, organising our trip for the following day and observing the group of small monkeys, called capuccino, which is permanently living on the main plaza and which draws a lot of attention with their funny behaviors.
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(Charlotte)
On the following day we left at 9.30am on a motor canoe going down the river with 5 other people and our guide to explore the nearby jungle. We first stopped on a beach where a woman was looking for gold. It was interesting to see how it was done. A lot of hard work for less than a few grams. Then, we went to the local museum of animal traps. Some of them were quite crual; a lot more than our traditionnal glue mouse trap.
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We then walked in the jungle for about 2 hours and understood better the reason of having a guide with us. The vegetation was dense, and it felt like plants were growing back as soon as we cut them to open the path.
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We didn't see much insects or animals but the noise they were making was loud. Before going to the jungle, I was looking forward to taste the numerous fruits that our guide talked about the day before...we indeed were very fortunate to find a bunch of ants that tasted like lemon juice, miam! After this tiring walk, Franck swam in the Rio Napo and experienced tubing, which is a sort of buoy for grown up, or a tyre for very big trucks. Franck hence enjoyed a relaxing time drifting down the river.
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After lunch and a heavy tropical rain, we went to an animal rescue center.
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There was for instance a jaguar that was found by the police in a hotel as it was travelling with a peruvian couple. We also saw a tarentula hiden inside a leaf!
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It took us about two hours to go back to the dead town of Misahualli. The sun set was amazing.
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(Franck)
On the next day we decided go to Quito and took 2 buses with a connection in Tena. We arrived mid or late afternoon and spent a good hour going from one hostel to another to find a decent one within our budget. We initially said we would stay four nights there. We stayed in La Mariscal area, which is where most hostels are located and where all the bars, restaurants and all the "gringos" can be found. It is indeed a very lively and overpriced area but if this is what you are after you might as well go to a dodgy party town in England as you wouldn't really notice the difference and it would save you the airfare. Before dinner we headed to several tour agencies to see if we could organise a trip to the Amazon rain forest as we intended to do for a while now. All the agencies we saw were either too expensive or too cheap with poor service and we decided in the end not to go to the jungle... After an early dinner in the cheapest place recommended in our guide book we headed towards the historical centre to see the momuments lit up at night. The area was deserted and fairly small as well. We were not very impressed by our first couple of hours in Quito.
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(Charlotte)
On our second day we decided to check another travel agency that was recommended to us for jungle trips (we changed our minds again overnight) and after a lot of haggling over we managed to get more or less the price that we wanted and decided to take the 5 days trip that they offered us. We then went back to the historical centre and actually found it rather more pleasant during the day as it was more lively. We especially realli liked going up the gothic Basilica del voto nacional, where you can not only enjoy the view but explore the platforms of various heights and see the scary gargoyls.
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We finally changed our minds again and decided that we had seen enough of Quito and that we would leave for the small village of Mindo in a cloud forest 2 hours from Quito, where a lot of tropical birds could be observed. We arrived in Mindo the following day and as we did not expect, it was raining a lot. Fortunately, I had my poncho! Anyway, the bus dropped us miles away from the town center. After walking for about 20 minutes in the rain, a car kindly stopped to let us know that the town was another 7km away. The driver called us a taxi. We stayed at hostel Armonia, which looked like a wooden chalet surrounded by dense vegetation and hummingbirds.
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We walked to Mindo Lago to attend the very famous frog concert.
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We were so excited that we arrived an hour early to get our seats at 5.30pm. At 6.30pm, we were the only ones there and were wondering where the frogs were. At dark, we went for a walk with a guide with a torchlight around the ponds and eventually saw few little cute frogs, some big fat toads and various insects.
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The next day, we left early, at 6am, to go birdwatching. It was still raining, which is not so good to spot birds. We eventually saw few toucans and other exotic birds.
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On our way back, we stopped at the Mariposario to observe amazing and colourful butterflies and flowers.
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We ended up walking for a very long time and we are now enjoying some quiet time writting the blog. The plan for tomorrow is first canopy, which is like going from trees to trees hooked up on a zipline; we will then go back to Quito to catch a night bus to Lago Agrio, which is the starting point of our trip to the Amazon.

Posted by lebrunfo 14:16 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

South America - Week 15 & 16

Cuenca & Galapagos Islands - Ecuador

35 °C

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We arrived in Cuenca in the evening and checked in at the Posada del Rio, a pleasant hostel where we had agreed to meet with Nath, Nico and Hugo, the French family who we have spent some time with since Chachapoyas in Peru. On the second day we all wandered the streets of this lovely colonial town in search of some cheap breakfast. We ended up having a nice time eating humita – a kind of corn pastry - and drinking strong local Ecuadorian coffee.

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After waving goodbye to our friends who were ending their year of travelling around the world, we decided to check a few tourist agencies for last minute deals to visit the Galapagos Islands. The deals we found were more expensive than what we expected and it took us most of the day to discuss and decide the way we wanted to travel to these islands. As we finally decided not to make a decision and to wait for the following day, we entered another travel agency where we found a slightly cheaper deal for the 5 day cruise that was recommended to us by two Swiss travellers we had met in Iquique a few weeks ago. We decided to take it and that meant that we had to fly to the Galapagos Islands within 36 hours, from Guayaquil, a town about 6 hours away from Cuenca by bus. Hence, we only had half a day to spend in Cuenca and were left frustrated by this situation as we felt really well in this town and would have liked to spend more time there.

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We arrived in Guayaquil late afternoon and headed straight to the renovated sea front, which was allegedly the main tourist attraction in this otherwise pretty boring town. The weather was hot and humid and the walk along the sea front was not enjoyable. The only place we found to relax for a little while was in an air conditioned food mall opposite the imax cinema! Not exactly what we are after during our travels! In what is the second biggest town in the country, we couldn’t find a bar nor a decent place to eat so we headed back to the hotel after only eating a yogurt for dinner.

We took a taxi to airport before 6am and everything went smoothly until we landed in the Galapagos Islands, which are located about 1000km off the coast of Ecuador. We saw a couple of iguanas on the runway and it nicely set the scene for the days to come. We were supposed to meet Juan of Gap adventures but we met another guide from the same company who didn’t know we were coming. We then had to wait for the other travellers who were flying from Quito and all in all we must have waited for about 2 hours outside the airport in the heat of these tropical islands.

After a ferry and bus transfer to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz we boarded Queen Beatriz, a wonderful luxury boat that was going to be our home for 5 days (perfect for honeymoons).

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We were the outliers of the cruise... No heavy suit case but 2 backpacks! We were 11 on board, a pleasant mix of interesting people from different parts of the world: the American-English geographer couple, the Danish king of oil, the honeymooners from London, the German doctor from Hong-Kong living in Australia, the two retired English ladies passionate about wildlife and the two French backpackers!

On our first day, we visited the Darwin research centre, where we could see different species of turtles and iguanas. We also met lonesome George who is the last turtle of its kind. Poor George is about 100 years old and is not so vigorous anymore when surrounded by young lady turtles!!! People are trying to preserve his DNA but he is not cooperating.

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We then had a short walk in the city centre back to the dinghy while enjoying a tropical shower in the midst of the rainy season. Back on Beatriz we had a welcome glass of champagne and had our first taste of the food from our cook. It was excellent. Each day on board was spent according to a well defined schedule: wake-up call at 6.30am, breakfast at 7am, first activity of the day from 8am to 12 and lunch at 12. The second activity of the day was usually between 3pm and 6pm with a briefing/lecture from our excellent guide Edgar at 6.30pm and dinner at 7pm. After 8pm we didn’t have any energy left to do more than a couple of card games before going to bed quite early.

On the first full day on board we went to Cerro Dragon in the morning, to the North of the Island of Santa Cruz. Each volcanic island in the Galapagos archipelago has its own specificity with different terrains, plants and animal species. Cerro Dragon was one of the main area to spot land iguanas and we didn’t have to wait long to see them. Animals in the Galapagos Islands are used to human presence and since all species are preserved in this national park and have not been hunted for many years, it is possible to get very close to the wildlife i.e. within a couple of centimetres without bothering them much.

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Later in the morning we went snorkelling for the first time and I (franck) saw a sea lion swimming quickly under me in the water as I was looking for numerous species of colourful fishes. In the afternoon we went snorkelling near a tropical beach as the rain soaked us all within seconds. When getting back to the beach we unexpectedly saw a sea turtle - who had just laid eggs in the sand - getting back to the sea as quickly as it could. This was quite a special sight.

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On the second day we went for a walk on a lava field on the island of Santiago: it was bit like walking on the moon in this vast area of black volcanic rocks.

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From the dinghy we saw our first penguins and on the shore we saw a marine iguana welcoming us.

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The air was very warm and the following snorkelling session was very refreshing and also unforgettable: we swam next to a group of 5 penguins who were less than half a meter from us in the water.

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The magic of the moment was interrupted by our friend Vera who didn’t see the penguins and bumped into them while swimming! During this session we also saw a sea turtle in the water, swimming elegantly next to us. Priceless. On the way back to the cruise ship, Edgar stopped the dinghy and suggests that we swim to the ship which was anchored in high sea. Charlotte, Vera, Edgar and I decided to dive off the dinghy and swam for 500m towards the boat. When getting back on the boat we were welcome by a sea lion passing by and learned from one of the crew member that sharks were spotted close to us while we were swimming!! A few hours later, we saw a group of sharks following the boat to eat whatever food was thrown from the kitchen and attacking the pelicans that were also after the leftovers.

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I really don’t believe that these sharks were vegetarian as we were told by some crew members! In the afternoon we went on another snorkelling session with the image of the sharks in mind... Everything went well. Finally we hiked to the summit of Bartolome Island to admire the most photographed panorama from the Galapagos Islands, while at the same time we could see a large group of dolphins in the distance at sea.

On the third day we visited the island of South Plaza, possibly our favourite island. It is famous for its cactus, sea lion colony and land iguanas. The colours from the landscape are amazing: red,yellow, orange.

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There are cliffs with several species of birds such as the tropic birds and frigate birds. In the afternoon we went to the island of Santa Fe and got on shore from a magnificent white sandy beach where sea lions were taking a nap. Another type of land iguana with a pale yellow colour could also be found here.

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Later on we attempted to snorkel at sea during high tide but the current was too strong. We nevertheless managed to see a sea lion, a turtle and an eagle ray.

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Late afternoon, the captain announced that dolphins could be seen at sea. We all rushed to the front of the boat and saw in awe a group of dolphins jumping in the air and following the boat.

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On our last day we have an early trip (6am) to the Island of North Seymour, which is a mating area for frigate birds. The males are black with an inflatable red sac in their neck under their bills. During the mating season they inflate their sac to impress the females. We were lucky enough to see that happening while we were there.

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We also saw blue footed boobies (another type of bird) dancing on their blue feet trying to impress the females. That was quite hilarious.

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After leaving the cruise, we went back to Puerto Ayora to organise the rest of our trip. We got an excellent offer from GAP adventures to go on another cruise around the islands, which we haven’t been to, but it was still a big sum of money for just another 5 days and we decided not to take it. We took instead a package of 3 nights, 2 days to the Island of Isabela (the biggest in the archipelago but not much populated) where we headed in the afternoon on a speed boat for two hours. Upon arrival we were taken to a natural lake where we saw flamingos and headed to our hotel for a good night of sleep.

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On the first day on Isabela we went hiking on the slopes of the active Sierra Negra and Chico volcanoes. The 10km diameter crater of the Sierra Negra is the second biggest in the world after the N’gorogoro crater in Tanzania. This vast area of black lava surrounded by green vegetation around the crater was very impressive.

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In the afternoon we went snorkelling in the bay of Concha y Perla at high tide. We saw 2 young sea lions playing in the water next to us and 2 different species of rays. We also went to an area where yet another specie of marine iguanas could be seen (I think I love iguanas as much as I like puffins!).

On the second day we took a boat to visit the nearby islands of “Las Tintoreras” where we had a glimpse of a white-tip shark in a small channel. We also saw numerous marine iguanas and sea lions. We then went snorkelling and while I was chasing a group of five sea turtles, Charlotte saw a small shark swimming just in front of her. We also saw a big manta ray. On the way back we stopped at a white sandy beach surrounded by palm trees, iguanas and pelicans.

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We felt like we were in paradise. In the afternoon we visited a breeding centre for turtles and while driving to our next destination we saw our first land turtles in the wild by the side of the road.

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Isabela Island had everything you would expect from a small tropical island: amazing beaches and wildlife, great weather and a small town with dirt roads and very few inhabitants. Life is really hard for us at the moment...

After again an early start of the day at 5.30am we went back to Puerto Ayora for our last day of sightseeing on the archipelago. We went to see Tortuga bay and the nearby lagoon, which are two magnificent white sandy beaches. We spent most of the day there enjoying the sun, the sea and of course the sight of numerous marine iguanas walking on the beach.

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Back to Puerto Ayora we bumped into Marcelo, our excellent tour coordinator during our cruise, who was going to start again the cruise we did. Both Charlotte and I are after Marcelo’s job!
The time we spent in the Galapagos was truly amazing and we wish to anyone reading this blog to have the chance we had to visit these islands. On the day prior to getting back to the continent we felt like our holidays came to an end and that we had to resume working i.e. sleeping in night buses, eating bread for breakfast, lunch and dinner and staying in cheap hostels...

Posted by lebrunfo 22:10 Archived in Ecuador Comments (3)

South America - Week 14

Peru-Ecuador

semi-overcast 30 °C

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(Franck)

We left Cajamarca on the 6am bus to Chachapoyas. This journey was described in the lonely planet as being treacherous because it consisted of 12 hours on a dirt road with hardly enough space for two vehicles to drive at the same time on the precipitous and winding mountain roads. The scenery was spectacular amid high mountain peaks, lowland oasis with scorching heat and huge low altitude white clouds that characterise the weather during the rainy season.
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Despite being the capital of the Amazon region, Chachapoyas is situated at an altitude of about 2000m and is surrounded by more mountains than jungle. The town seemed more like a big village than a state capital and was our base for 2 days while exploring the nearby sites of interest such as the ruins of the pre-inca citadel of Kuelap and the sarcophagus of Karajia.
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Kuelap was as big in size as the ruins of Machu Pichu but are totally deserted by mass tourism because of its remoteness from the main tourist areas. I should say than since leaving Lima we have hardly seen any tourists on our way and we really feel like we are discovering still unspoilt areas.
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The sarcophagus were actually 4 statues guarding the entrance of a tomb that was discovered inside a mountain cliff by rock climbers. The sight was quite impressive.
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We then headed towards Ecuador on yet another epic journey that was one of the most specacular since we started our trip. We had been told that it was not possible to reach Vilcabamba in Southern Ecuador in one day from Chachapoyas and that we needed to break the journey in two days and to spend the night in the last town before the Ecuadorian border. We left Chachapoyas at 7am and took a shared taxi (4 passengers) to Bagua Grande (3h), then we took another shared taxi (5 passengers) to Jaen (1h) where we took a moto taxi that took us to the next shared taxi (6 passengers) to San Ignacio (3h).
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We were supposed to spend the night there but as it was only about 2pm we took the next moto taxi to where we could get the next shared taxi (6 passengers) to the border town of La Balsa (1h30). The scenery along the way was again very spectacular and tropical with rice fields, banana and palm trees, cloud forest and a definitely more jungle-like feel compared to Chachapoyas. Many of the roads described above were unpaved and steep across the jungle. We thought that we were in South-East Asia and not in South America.
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Once we got the the border - a couple of houses in the jungle on either side of a bridge - we got to the imigration and were greated by the topless custom officer who had to interupt his volley ball game to stamp our passport!
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We found out that the shuttle to the closest town in Ecuador would only depart at 5.30pm so we waited 2h in the heat in this out of the world place before getting on a 4 by 4 truck that took us to Zumba, another hour and a half from there accross the rain forest.
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At 7pm in Zumba, there was noway that we could have stayed there so we decided to get on the night bus to Vilcabamba that was leaving at 8pm. After 5.5h on another unpaved road, the bus driver dropped us - and no other passenger - in what looked like a ghost town at 1h30am. Since most hotels were closed or had no bells, we contemplated sleeping in the park on the main square... but we found by chance a hotel that opened the door to us at 2am. We tried to negociate the price but we had no strong arguments at 2am after 17h of travelling so decided to pay the 25 us dollars that they asked for. The hotel is actually really nice and I'm writting this blog by the pool!!

On the two days we spent in Vilcabamba we went hiking in the surrounding tropical national parks and spent some relaxing time in the hotel.
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PS: please don't hesitate to write some comments so that we know that all the hard work we put into this blog is not vain and that someone is actually reading it!

Posted by lebrunfo 14:38 Archived in Ecuador Comments (2)

South America - Week 10, 11, 12 & 13

Chile-Peru

rain 14 °C

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(Franck)

Hola!

We are back with a brand new keyboard (¡ a spañññish one!), almost as big as our laptop, but at least we can now write about our adventures again! Before trying to resume our normal weekly update we will quickly update you on what we have done during the last month.

Santiago:
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After spending almost a month in the wilderness of Patagonia, arriving in Santiago during rush hour early morning in the metro felt a bit like a shock. Fortunately, the town was pleasant enough to wander around and enjoy its numerous parks and hills. We also enjoyed the lomito italiano, our first meal in a local bar/restaurant, Fuente Alemania. We met by chance Anthony, a french traveler who we had met a few times in various places in previous weeks. We went for a few drinks and tried the famous "Terre Moto" or earth quake, which is a mix of bad white wine, fernet (see section about Buenos Aires) and pine apple ice cream... After a few of these drinks, local people got mad.. Girls were falling like dead flies and men were fighting each others: I think that this sight was much worse than anything an Englishman has ever seen, even in the rowdiest Weatherspoon bar in England. All in all, we had a pleasant stay in Santiago, which we found more pleasant than Buenos Aires to stay in even if it lacked of touristic sights.
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Valparaiso:
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We then headed to Valparaiso where we stayed at hostal "La Bicyclette", owned by Gilles from Toulouse. He greated us with the names of all past and present french presidents he loathed i.e. all of them! He was a funny character and gave us a few tips on things to do and see around Valparaiso. The town - an active commercial port - is very picturesque with its colourful houses and steep cobblestoned streets a bit like in San Francisco. We took a day trip to the old whaling port of Quintay where I was delighted to watch pelicans and nice coastal scenery. We also visited the excentric house of Pablo Neruda, chilean poet and politician, Isla Negra.
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La Serena:
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After an 8h bus ride along the coast, we arrived at La Serena, where we weren't sure whether we should stay or not. Our first impression wasn't so good but we stayed there 2 days and visited the Elqui valley on the first and a nature reserve around an island off the coast on the second. The town itself wasn't bad with some colonial architecture but not too spectacular. We particularly liked the trip to the Elqui valley where we visited a Pisco factory and sampled some of it. It was extremly hot and we walked for a while before getting a lift back to the village from the guy from the factory ! (thanks to Charlotte, who made a deal with the owner: 2 bottles of pisco against a lift back to town) The trip to the Humboldt penguin colony was a bit disappointing. We saw a couple of penguins but not dolphins as advertised. We also saw a lot of sea lions but after seing a lot of them in Patagonia we weren't very impressed.
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Iquique:
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Expresso Norte, the bus company we took should be renamed... It took us about 18h to get to Iquique versus 12-14 as advertised. The scenery along the coast in Chile (and up to Northern Peru) is more or less the same all the time: desert, sand, dunes and more sand. Iquique looked like an oasis in this desert with very impressive views from the town and the surrounding sand dunes when we arrived. We decided to spend Christmas here in hostal "La Casona 1920". The hostel was in a nice house with an open courtyard inside but our experience here wasn't the best. On Christmas eve, we took a day trip to the nearby desert to visit the impressive sights of a disused salt factory and a mining village, Humberstone. We also sampled fruits from local farms. Fruits are delicious in Chile and also in Peru. Imagine buying 4 big ripe mangos for about 80p... That's breakfast or lunch done for 40p each! After this trip and back at the hostel, we were waiting for our Christmas dinner to be served... we were all drinking and chatting and enjoying ourselves but at about 11-12pm, still without food, we all started wondering when dinner would be served, especially when nobody knew where the owner was and that all the food she had prepared had also disappeared! She re-appeared after midnight (probably after eating all the food with her familly) and started preparing a lot of cocktails but still no sign of food. Just before 1am, I almost collapsed because of all the drinks and the absence of food) and disappeared in my room where I fell asleap until the next morning. Charlotte had a little bit of untasty food after 1am and joined me in the room not long after. We then spent Christmas day on the beach and left on boxing day for Arica, without paying for the Christmas dinner (which I didn't have anyway).
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Arica:
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Arica is another Chilean beach resort near the border with Peru. The main reason for us to come here was to visit the Lauca national park. We visited it on a day trip from Arica despite the warnings from all guide books with regards to potential sickness due to altitude. Obviously, I got a very bad headache and Charlotte was fine! The scenery was not unlike the one we had seen 4 years ago when we visited the Salar de Uyuni (salt desert) in Bolivia. There were amazing views of a volcano with flamingos on a lake and llamas grazing in the backdrop. We went from sea level to an altitude of 4600m before going back to sea level in the evening. The headache disappeared as soon as we went down. We crossed the border to Peru the following day and went straight to Arequipa where we had already been 4 years ago during our first trip in South America.
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Arequipa:
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Arequipa was nothing like we saw it 4 years ago. Most of the local restaurants, where you could have an almuerzo (3 course lunch) for a pound, have been replaced by pollo a la brasas, which is a quarter of grilled chicken with fries. The colonial architecture was however still amazing. On our first day, we visited the musuem santuarios andinos , where the mummy Juanita, a young girl who was sacrificed by the Inca, was found in perfect condition inside a volcano. We next enjoyed wandering around the convent Santa Catalina. We then decided to stay a bit longer and spent NYE in the middle of nowhere, the colca canyon. We booked a 3 day treck with an early start, 3am. The first stop was high up in the valley where we were supposed to see condors. I was quite disappointed as we only saw 2 of them... we recommend going in May-August as we saw loads of them when we last came. This was confirm by our guide Yudy. We then walked in the canyon all day, while sampling fruits I have never heard of. We also stop at Yudy's parents for more local fruits and vegetables. We spent the night in a very small village in the canyon. Franck had his best birthday cake, a nicely decorated snickers bar, and a bottle of champagne, which tasted like cider. The following day was a short walk to an oasis, where we spent NYE. The site was paradise: a sunny day by the pool, surrounded by mango and palm trees. We tried to stay up till midnight playing cards with our new frinds from Colorado. At midnight, Yudy and the guides put yellow garlands on everything and everyone (yellow being the colour of luck) and burnt a scarecrow to celebrate the new year. After few hours of sleep, we woke at 5am to hike up the canyon and return to civilisation, Cabanaconde. The walk was not easy but the scenery was amazing. After 2h, we were enjoying the worst nescafe I ever tasted and resting at the Plaza de armas. We returned to Arequipa late afternoon and caught a night bus to Lima.
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Lima:
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We arrived in Lima by lunch time and headed to Miraflores to meet my cousin, Achille. We had a really relaxing time with Achille and his mum, Adelina. After a really nice Peruvian meal, Achille took us to Lima to see the city centre by night. The Plaza de armas is surrounded by colonial buildings,which made it one of the most beautiful place I have seen in South America. We then headed to Baranco for a short and pleasant walk. This is more turistic than we last time we saw it but still worth it. The next morning, we enjoyed the homemade fruit juice we had for breackfast and spent the day wandering around Miraflores. We also sorted few things, like shopping and getting our money back from TAM, which did not make Franck happy at all as we are still waiting to get reimbursed... The next day was also quite relaxing. We took a local bus, a combi, to the city centre and visited the covent San Francisco in Lima. We then enjoyed the homemade ceviche, which is fresh fish cooked in lime and chili that Achille made us. Late that night, we took a fancy bus to Trujillo. It felt like being in business class. Thank you Oltursa.
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Trujillo:
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We arrived in Trujillo early morning. Trujillo is, together with Arequipa, the second biggest city in Peru, which is located by the Pacific ocean. People can hence enjoy fresh fish and the famous ceviche. We stayed two days in Trujillo to visit the ruins of the Moche civilisation. On the first day, we visited the Moche temple, Uacas del la luna. The temple is well conserved and houses amazing paintings and frescos. In the afternoon, we went to see more ruins in Chan Chan, which is also a temple of the Moche civilisation. On the second day, we chilled out by the ocean in Las delicias, a charming village not far from Trujillo. We enjoyed some time off from the horns and the noisy and crazy traffic of Trujillo. We then took a combi to Huanchaco. The sunset was amazing. This surfing spot is also famous for traditional inca boat, which are made of dried corn skin and still used. We headed the next morning to Cajamarca, which is further north across the mountain on a ten hours bus ride.
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Cajamarca:
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We arrived in Cajamarca late afternoon. The rainy season started a few weeks ago in this region so the weather was sunny and cloudy with some rains. We found a nice hostel, Las Jazmines, which employed people in need. The hostel was particularly clean and the people very helpful. The next morning, we went on a tour to see Cumbe Mayo in the morning and the ventanillas of Otuzco. Cumbe Mayo is a site up in the mountain which particularity is the irrigation system that was constructed many years before Christ. We also enjoyed meeting local people wearing the tradionnal costume. The ventanillas are ancient tumbs, which looked like small windows. Cajamarca is also famous in Peru for its dairy products as there is a lot of cows. There was some references to Swiss cheese, which was okayish . Franck discovered Maranja, which made him forget Nutella. Our last day was about chilling out. We wandered around the city in the morning, seeing the prison of Atahualpa, the last Inca king who was killed by the Spanish general Pizarro. We then headed to the Baño del Inca where Atahualpa used to relax and enjoyed the hotsprings. After going back the hostel, Franck forced me to write this blog so please enjoy it!
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Posted by lebrunfo 21:01 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

South America - Week 9 & 10

Argentina-Chile

sunny 22 °C

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(Franck)

From El Chalten, we took the bus going North to San Carlos de Bariloche along the notorious Ruta 40 that goes several thousands kilometers accros Argentina from the South to the North of the country. The journey consisted of two full days of bus (12 hours each day) with a stop for the night in the uninspiring town of Perito Mreno. After 10 minutes on the bus we had pretty much seen all that we were going to see for 2 days i.e. desert-like landscape with bumpy and dusty dirt roads. The 30+ hours direct bus journey with an overnight stay on the bus suddenly appeared more appealing to us but we had to complete our 2 days ordeal on the bus we had picked!

Uppon arrival in Bariloche we found a nice hostel where we were planning to stay for a little while in order to enjoy the warmer weather and all the sights in the Argentine lake district region. Unfortunately, our arrival in town coincided with a shift in conditions from warm and sunny to windy and rainy! The town of Bariloche has little interest in itself but the region attracts a lot of people seaking outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, rafting, etc.. There is a strong Swiss/German influence in the lake district, not only with the scenery that looks very Alpine but also with the numerous chalets, Saint-Bernard dogs, chocolate and beer factories and restaurants selling cheese fondue and appel strudel.

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On the first day - despite heavy wind and patches of rain - we managed to go on a very nice bicycle ride of about 40km arround the lakes and finished the day with a steep hike to the top of a hill wih an amazing view of the numerous lakes and surrounding snow-capped peaks.

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On the second day, the wind was even stronger so we decided to take it easy and did not much else than to go to the bus terminal in order to purchase our ticket for the town of Pucon in the Chilean lake district where we decided to go the following day becasue of the dreary weather forecasts in Bariloche.

After another 10 hours bus journey through amazing scenery which we couldn't see becasue of heavy rain and fog we made it to Pucon where we were relieved to notice that there was no wind anymore but ... the rain was the heaviest we had experienced for 2 months!

The main activity to do in Pucon is to climb the Villarica volcano but with the rain and fog there was no way to do it. We then decided to stay in Pucon for as long as needed, waiting for the ideal conditions for the climb. At breakfast on our first day we met David and Lindsay, an american couple, with whom we have spent most of the time for the next 5 days.

On day 1, we went to the nearby natural hotsprings which was for sure the best activity to do on a cold and rainy day. There were 6 natural pools near a river in the forest and it was very pleasant to spend a few hours there in the afternoon. Then we went back to our hostel to cook some food and drink some Chilean wine as we tend to do most days in Chile!

On day 2, the weather cleared up a bit but the conditions were still not good to climb the volcano so we went on a short hike to see a nice waterfall near town with a strong powerful flow. In the afternoon, while we still hadn't caught sight of the volcano that is supposed to be seen from town, David told me to turn round and to look up. Charlotte and I were very impressed by the sight in front of us: a towering snow-capped active smoking volcano could be seen and seemed dangerousely close to the town. In a second I knew that I would get to the top at all cost, whether I had to wait weeks or not for better weather! We then went to the travel agency recommended by the hostel to enroll on the excursion to the top. They told us to try to climb it the following day as the weather was supposed to improve. Never in our lives before had we felt so dependent on the weather. Everybody in town has his favorite websites to check-up the forecasts and it seems that it is everyone's main activity to check it regularly throughout the day. David and I went into another agency that turned out to be French owned and - all in french - the guys from the agency were telling us that excursions may not get to the top the day after because of the wind. In the evening, while drinking a bottle of wine, Charlotte, Lindsay, David and I decided to call it off with the first agency we went to and use the french agency which had better equipment and who didn't rush us into trying to climb the volcano the following day.

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On day 3, after going to the French agency who recommended us NOT to hike up "Cani" on that day (because of the weather again!), we decided to go to Cani anyway as we had been told that the view from the top was fabulous. We were supposed to see 4 different volcanos in a 360 degrees view point that could be reached after a very steep 4 hours climb. We had also "recruited" Sabine for the hike, a swiss girl who was staying in our hostel. So after about 2h going up, the 5 of us were walking on superficial snow as we had been warned, unfortunately it started snowing again and what was superficial before turned out to be ankle high and the five of us were continuing the ascent under a heavy snow fall without proper gear. The scenery was stunning because of the snow but obviously there was no sign of amazing view from the volcanos becasue of the snow and fog. David and I were enjoying taking photos while the 3 girls were desperately waiting for us to decide to call it off and go down in the valley again! We did that after having lunch in a small shelter while the snow was getting stronger and we were all wet and frozen! We got back to the hostel and we all cooked together and made mulled wine while preparing for the volcano climb the following day.

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On day 4, the 5 of us woke up at 6 in the morning to be ready in front of the agency at 7. When we got there the french man told us zat despite zee early fog, zee weazer waz going to be perfect today so we left in a mini van with a group of about 15-20 people to get to the base of the volcano. We couldn't see the volcano at all until we got above the clouds that were right at the base of the volcano. We were really excited as the sun was shining up there and there didn't seem to be much wind. When we got off the van, the guides told us that the toxic smoke was blowing exactly towards the path that we were supposed to use for the ascent and that such rare westerly winds usually only lasted one full day. So he gave us the choice to gamble and try the ascent anyway or pay for the transportation for the day only and try the day after. We all decided not to gamble and it turned out that it was the right decision as the few people who went up didn't go very far.

When we got back to Pucon, we took a taxi to Huerquehue national park and only made it for about 11am with the only bus returning being at 5pm. We started our hike which we thought would be gentle but the terrain was very muddy and quite steep at times. We walked around several pretty lakes and at times we had greats views on the Villarica volcano. It was a very warm and sunny day and we felt a bit frustrated to have missed out on the opportunity to climb the volcano on that day. Soon realising that we wouldn't make it back on time for the bus, we started walking faster and faster, running at times, and made it to the bus just on time. After spending 2 days with us doing what Sabine called "speed hiking", she decided not to attempt the volcano again the following day. DAvid and Lindsay also decided not to do it as they didn't want to risk to waste money on transportation if we couldn't climb it again so the only 2 left were Charlotte and I - the hard core ones!

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After preparing the sandwiches for the next day again - how do you say in English? Deja vu? we went out with David and Lindsay who had decided to leave Pucon the next day. As the evening went on, and the beers flowing, I was fading more and more thinking about the climb that was waiting for us the next day. Charlotte enjoyed her Pisco sour without thinking too much about possible consequences.

We didn't sleep much! There was a joint party with our hostel and another one and although we didn't go, people came back in the middle of the night without the key and Charlotte went down at 1h30 to open the door. So after just about 4-5 hours sleep, we were at the agency again at 7 in the morning at the start of Day 5 for yet again another atempt to climb this volcano, which we started to be sick of!

From the van, at the base of the volcano, we saw the smoke blowing straight up in the air and we knew that on that sunny day we would finally start the climb we had been talking and thinking about for almost a week. We got all geared-up wirth crampons, ice picks, etc.. and started the climb. The pace was really slow and steady. It was icy in some places but since all tourists from all agencies were following the same path, the snow was melting a bit and the ascent never felt too hazardous. The views were great but we could only enjoy them whem we were stopping at dedicated places along the way to the top. During most of the climb, all you can see was your feet as you needed to stay focused on your walking and do not risk falling down. At the top we see 5 or 6 volcanos from the area, numerous lakes and also the crater from which the smoke was blowing. We couldn't see lava as it was very deep into the crater.

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For me, going down was the real challenge. It was a lot of fun to sledge down very steep slopes but I also felt much more in danger that I was on the way up. In some places we could use a small plastic sledge and at other times we were simply sliding on our back with a protection that was provided to us from the agency. It probably took us less than 45 minutes to get back down - all wet as opposed to the 3-4 hours needed to go up.

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After all the excitement of the past week, we had no problem falling asleep on the night bus to Santiago where we have just arrived. Charlotte has been sleeping for the past 2-3 hours while I am writting this blog!

Posted by lebrunfo 08:11 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

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