A Travellerspoint blog

1st - 25th June, Peru

An exploding volcano on the West coast of Ecuador delayed our journey to Guayaquil in Ecuador after the Galapagos Islands. Our flight was re-routed to Quito, then Mansa and from there a bus dropped us off into Ecuador´s biggest city late at night.

We checked into La Casa Romana which was essentially just someone´s apartment and ended up staying 3 days, during which we did little more than sort out photos from the Galapagos, try to arrange various tours in Peru, relaxed and ventured out to the church 444 steps up overlooking the city.

On the afternoon of the 31st we boarded a bus bound for Lima and the following afternoon we arrived. The time actually went reasonably quickly - a few films, a book, some sleep and some truly stunning scenery. The road followed the coast down much of Peru. Endless dunes to our left sweeping down to the deserted Pacific ocean. At one point the road builders in their wisdom had decided to construct the road a few hundred metres up these mammoth dunes. As we looked out of the window we came perilously close at times to the edge of the road and the sloping sand dune. Having been on dunes before I´m not convinced it was particularly safe and sturdy. Anyhow, we made it to Lima and checked into the Flying Dog Hostel.

Once a flight had been organised for very early the next day there was little time to do much exploring. The Miraflores area of Lima where we were staying was very pleasant. Our understanding was that the rest of Lima was not quite so nice - hence our speedy trip out. We ate at a lovely little Italian place (time enough for Peruvian cuisine later on we reckoned) and then turned in early.

2nd/3rd June
Alarm call at 3am. At the airport by 4am. 'You must be there 2 hours early', we were told. And so at 4.05am after checking in, we had a long wait until 6am.

The flight took us over the Andes. Snowy mountain peaks seemed to provide a natural air route to Cusco for us. The landscape a little below the wings was fantastic.P6035795.jpg

Cusco is the most touristy destination in South America. Even before picking up our bags at the airport we were inundated with hotels and tour agencies offering their services. Pictures of Machu Picchu proudly adorned every available wall space reminding us as to why people came here. Getting a taxi in Peru is no easy business - or at least getting a fair(ish) price for one is difficult anyway. $20 US was met with laughter. $10 US was politely declined and eventually we got one for somewhere near $4 US - a little more than the going rate.

We checked into Pirwa Del Corregedor on the Plaza Del Armas - the main square in Cusco. It was early but still the shops were open for business - as were the touts on the streets offering us extraordinary deals to Machu Picchu. The main aim of the day was to organise a trip to Machu Picchu as well as a tour out to the Amazon Rainforest. This was made easy to an extent by the sheer volume of places offering tours - but, the enticing cozy little cafes and the events taking place in the square meant that our attention was often drawn elsewhere.

We had arrived at the beginning of the 2 day religious holiday celebrating Corpus Christi. The square was awash with dancing, music and parades for 2 days. The first day was mostly dancing. Well, dancing of a sort. One dance originating somewhere from the highlands involved nothing more than a couple of men whipping each other as hard as possible round the legs with knotted rope...! It was painful just to watch.

Other dances and bands had people dressed up coloufully waving cloths and rattling about with each other, twisting, turning and singing in time to the music. Everyone was enjoying themselves and seemingly oblivious to the onlookers many of whom were tourists.

The second day of festivities went long, long into the night. In the morning a mass was held outside of the main cathedral. Hoardes of people filled the large plaza and the place was excitedly charged - even throughout the mass. Balloons, ice-cream sellers, bands, dancers, locals, tourists, dressed up children, the endless flashing and whirring of cameras all filled the air under the blazing sun.

After the mass about 12 large floats with religious figures atop were carried around the square. Each one took about 3 or 4 hours to get around. They looked heavy and it took up to 50 men to carry them. At times the pain was etched on their faces as they struggled to keep these floats aloft. We managed to score ourselves a balcony view of the proceedings for much of the time.

Each float belonged to a particular village or group of people and was followed by a brass band, several flag and banner waving townspeople and preceded by a bunch of suited up and medal decorated dignitaries. The noise and the energy and the excitement of the day was incredible - and utterly absorbing.
The Corpus Christi Parade, Cusco

The Corpus Christi Parade, Cusco

P6045831.jpgP6045861.jpgMass before the parade, Cusco

Mass before the parade, Cusco

P6045882.jpgEnjoying the parade?

Enjoying the parade?

P6045899.jpgP6045900.jpgP6045901.jpgP6045902.jpgP6045915.jpgP6045916.jpgP6045918.jpgCarrying a float. The Corpus Christi Parade, Cusco

Carrying a float. The Corpus Christi Parade, Cusco

P6045922.jpgP6045925.jpgP6045931.jpgP6045950.jpgP6045961.jpgP6045970.jpgP6045974.jpgSmall boy gets sidetracked during the parade

Small boy gets sidetracked during the parade

P6046003.jpgWatching the parade from the Cathedral.

Watching the parade from the Cathedral.

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The 2nd of June was our 6th wedding anniversary. It was a lovely place to spend it. Although, Cusco is well over 3000 metres high and once we´d awoken in the morning our heads felt the result of the wine and altitude mix. We tried to eat in the Inka cafe but it was full and so ate next door at an Italian place.. Very nice though. The following evening we ate at Paddy´s Bar - for no good reason other than the shepherd´s pie and bread and butter pudding etc... We kept telling ourselves that we must eat local....

And so, in a nearby square we found a food market. Now, I used to enjoy trying out all sorts of different foods - over the years I´ve had: ostrich, crocodile, emu, kangaroo, wart hog, reindeer, bugs, dolphin!, buffalo etc... etc... , but, like in China when snake, locust, seahorse and various animal anatomy was on offer, I find myself these days preferring what I know. And so at lunch time we walked by the endless stands of baked Guinea Pig and ended up having a salad somewhere.

4th June
The square was relatively quiet. The excitement of the previous 2 days was over. A perfect opportunity to catch up with Marsha´s writing, all the photos and videos from the Galapagos etc.... Besides, the previous 2 days had been frenetic, and, some fairly energising days lay ahead...

5th/6th June
We hired a taxi for the day and headed out to see some of the sights in the neighbouring regions of Cusco. Only a few minutes up the road smoke started bellowing out of the bonnet and we pulled in to the nearest garage. Despite the driver assuring us amidst the smoke that his car was just fine, we ended up with another taxi.

We visited Incan ruins, ancient terracing, salt pans and further incan ruins set high in the hills with beautiful mountains as a backdrop. The Spanish on their arrival many years ago destroyed many buildings and also built new ones upon the foundations of the Incan efforts. The result is a chaotic assortment of buildings encompassing many different eras and styles.

The terracing was built in concentric circles and we walked down and around them. The Andean mountains peaked over the hills behind. It was a stunning setting. As we drove from place to place we kept stopping the car to take photos of the scenery as we passed. Fields of golden wheat with snowy mountains behind. Crystal clear lakes set amid hills. Incan ruins built into hillsides. The salt flats were probably as impressive as anything we saw in the day. They filled a valley - these small rectangular white basins in which salt collects. We walked along the edges and around them for ages.

We were eventually dropped in the town of Pisaq just as it got dark and we checked into the Hotel Pisaq. Early the next morning, by the time we got up, the huge Saturday market was in full swing. Local people from miles around, all dressed in their traditional clothes, descend to Pisaq market every Sunday. It was colourul, noisy and chaotic. The smell of Barbequed meat wafted over the stalls. By about 10am hoards of tourists arrived - many of them Americans with huge cameras pointing them in the faces of the market sellers. It has been the French and the Americans that have for us been the worst. Pointing cameras in faces without so much as a ´do you mind´or an offer of payment. It´s as though the Peruvian peole were just their photographic subjects and nothing more - no respect at all. There, got that off my chest.

Anyhow, once these tourists arrived we set off on the long walk up to the Pisaq ruins 600 metres above the town. It was an exhausting walk - steepness and altitude adding to the difficulty. But as we climbed higher, we passed more and more Incan ruins and the scenery became ever more spectacular. Steep terracing filled the sides of the hills, and mountains appeared over the hills towering above us. Incan remains

Incan remains

P6066048.jpgIn the foothills of the Andes

In the foothills of the Andes

P6066054.jpgTerracing in Moray

Terracing in Moray

P6066060.jpgP6066070.jpgP6066073.jpgSalt flats outside Cusco.

Salt flats outside Cusco.

P6066079.jpgP6066087.jpgP6066100.jpgP6066101.jpgIncan ruins

Incan ruins

P6066118.jpgPisaq market

Pisaq market

P6076138.jpgP6076143.jpgP6076150.jpgP6076155.jpgMarsha en-route to Pisaq ruins.

Marsha en-route to Pisaq ruins.

Peruvian lady on the walk to the Pisaq ruins.

Peruvian lady on the walk to the Pisaq ruins.

On the walk to Pisaq ruins.

On the walk to Pisaq ruins.

P6076176.jpgPisaq ruins and terracing.

Pisaq ruins and terracing.

P6076189.jpgPisaq ruins.

Pisaq ruins.

After eventually making it to the top and wandering the main ruins for a couple of hours we caught a taxi back down and then headed back to Cusco. We had a meeting to attend - for we were off to the Amazon in the morning...

Posted by Patrick H. 13:25 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

19th - 28th May, The Galapagos Islands

We spent 2 days on the island of Santa Cruz where we went scuba diving for a day before joining the Estrella Del Mar for an 8 day boat cruise that took us around Santa Cruz and then on to the islands of Genovesa, San Christobal (where we went scuba diving again), Espanola, Floreana, Isabella and back to Santa Cruz.

Photos first, some of which were taken diving and others with an underwater camera.
Greetings from the Galapagos Islands...

Greetings from the Galapagos Islands...

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Queuing for fish at the market. In the Galapagos Islands

Queuing for fish at the market. In the Galapagos Islands


Pelicon. In the Galapagos Islands

Pelicon. In the Galapagos Islands

Lonesome George. The last of his species...

Lonesome George. The last of his species...

P5225148.jpgP5225151.jpgP5225153.jpgP5225158.jpgP5225160.jpgP5225163.jpgP5225166.jpgA Blue Footed Boobie. In the Galapagos Islands

A Blue Footed Boobie. In the Galapagos Islands

Land Lizard. In the Galapagos Islands

Land Lizard. In the Galapagos Islands

Crabs in the Galapagos Islands

Crabs in the Galapagos Islands

P5225219.jpgFrigate in the Galapagos Islands

Frigate in the Galapagos Islands

A puffed up Frigate bird. In the Galapagos Islands

A puffed up Frigate bird. In the Galapagos Islands

P5245310.jpgP5245324.jpgBoobies. In the Galapagos Islands

Boobies. In the Galapagos Islands

P5235299.jpgP5255341.jpgFrigates join us as we cruise between islands

Frigates join us as we cruise between islands

View over the Galapagos Islands

View over the Galapagos Islands

Sunset in the Galapagos Islands. Our boat is closest.

Sunset in the Galapagos Islands. Our boat is closest.

P5235269.jpgP5235271.jpgUs on Genovesa.

Us on Genovesa.

P5245303.jpgFrigate in flight. In the Galapagos Islands

Frigate in flight. In the Galapagos Islands

P5245317.jpgSealions? In the Galapagos Islands

Sealions? In the Galapagos Islands

Marsha and an Iguana in the Galapagos Islands

Marsha and an Iguana in the Galapagos Islands

Sleepy sealion in the Galapagos Islands

Sleepy sealion in the Galapagos Islands

San Christbbal beach at night

San Christbbal beach at night

P5255364.jpgP5255366.jpgP5255374.jpgP5255376.jpgP5255404.jpgP5255406.jpgP5255411.jpgP5255417.jpgP5255423.jpgP5265441.jpgSealion near San Christobal. In the Galapagos Islands

Sealion near San Christobal. In the Galapagos Islands

Marine Iguana on San Christobal. In the Galapagos Islands

Marine Iguana on San Christobal. In the Galapagos Islands

P5265453.jpgAlbatross on Espanola. In the Galapagos Islands

Albatross on Espanola. In the Galapagos Islands

P5265461.jpgMarsha and an Albatross on Espanola. In the Galapagos Islands

Marsha and an Albatross on Espanola. In the Galapagos Islands

Albatross mating dance. On Espanola in the Galapagos Islands

Albatross mating dance. On Espanola in the Galapagos Islands

The coastline of Espanola

The coastline of Espanola

P5265475.jpgAn Iguana on Espanola. In the Galapagos Islands

An Iguana on Espanola. In the Galapagos Islands

P5265501.jpgP5265502.jpgUs in Espanola. In the Galapagos Islands

Us in Espanola. In the Galapagos Islands

P5265509.jpgA snake on Espanola. In the Galapagos Islands

A snake on Espanola. In the Galapagos Islands

Us and a Blowhole on Espanola. In the Galapagos Islands

Us and a Blowhole on Espanola. In the Galapagos Islands

Isabella island. Galapagos

Isabella island. Galapagos

P5265538.jpgFlamingoes. Galapagos Islands

Flamingoes. Galapagos Islands

P5265548.jpgMarsha on the island of Floreana

Marsha on the island of Floreana

Post Office Bay. In the Galapagos Islands.

Post Office Bay. In the Galapagos Islands.

Marsha posting our cards at Post Office Bay in the Galapagos Islands

Marsha posting our cards at Post Office Bay in the Galapagos Islands

P5275570.jpgSunset in the Galapagos

Sunset in the Galapagos

Galapagos penguins on the island of Isabella

Galapagos penguins on the island of Isabella

P5275592.jpgP5275593.jpgP5275601.jpgP5275615.jpgUs in the volcanic island of Isabella

Us in the volcanic island of Isabella

White Tipped Reef Shark on Isabella. In the Galapagos Islands.

White Tipped Reef Shark on Isabella. In the Galapagos Islands.

P5275624.jpgP5275640.jpgP5275654.jpgHeron. In the Galapagos Islands.

Heron. In the Galapagos Islands.

Lava Lizard. In the Galapagos Islands.

Lava Lizard. In the Galapagos Islands.

P5285718.jpgP5285719.jpgFlamingo on Isabella. In the Galapagos Islands

Flamingo on Isabella. In the Galapagos Islands

P5285729.jpgP5285731.jpgP5285732.jpgP5285735.jpgP5285745.jpgMarsha having a drink. In the Galapagos Islands

Marsha having a drink. In the Galapagos Islands

Galapagos 2010!

Galapagos 2010!

Marsha on the island of Isabella

Marsha on the island of Isabella

Waiting to dive off Gordon Rocks in the Galapagos Islands

Waiting to dive off Gordon Rocks in the Galapagos Islands

Barracuda. Diving off Gordon Rocks in the Galapagos Islands

Barracuda. Diving off Gordon Rocks in the Galapagos Islands

White Tipped Reef Shark. Diving off Gordon Rocks in the Galapagos Islands

White Tipped Reef Shark. Diving off Gordon Rocks in the Galapagos Islands

P5200059.jpgGreen Pacific Turtle. Diving off Gordon Rocks in the Galapagos Islands

Green Pacific Turtle. Diving off Gordon Rocks in the Galapagos Islands

P5200057.jpgSting Ray whilst diving off Gordon Rocks in the Galapagos Islands

Sting Ray whilst diving off Gordon Rocks in the Galapagos Islands

Patrick diving with the Sting Ray off Gordon Rocks in the Galapagos Islands

Patrick diving with the Sting Ray off Gordon Rocks in the Galapagos Islands

Marsha diving off Gordon Rocks in the Galapagos Islands

Marsha diving off Gordon Rocks in the Galapagos Islands

Marsha in a Giant Tortoise Shell. In the Galapagos Islands

Marsha in a Giant Tortoise Shell. In the Galapagos Islands

P5285783.jpgSunset in the Galapagos Islands

Sunset in the Galapagos Islands

P5285769.jpgP5285765.jpgP5285758.jpgP5285759.jpgP5285763.jpg

A video of a white tipped reef shark on the island of Isabella.

A video of a rarely seen Albatross mating ritual

A video of thousands upon thousands of birds on Genovesa

A video of us diving at Gordon Rocks

A video of the 3 Hammerhead Sharks we saw in the 2nd dive off Gordon Rocks

A video of one of the sharks we saw whilst diving

Some of our own pictures taken whilst snorkelling:
Marsha (and others) snorkelling in the Galapagos Islands

Marsha (and others) snorkelling in the Galapagos Islands

Sealion. Snorkelling in the Galapagos Islands

Sealion. Snorkelling in the Galapagos Islands

Untitled-19.jpgUntitled-18.jpgPatrick and a turtle. Snorkelling in the Galapagos Islands

Patrick and a turtle. Snorkelling in the Galapagos Islands

Untitled-12.jpg
White Tipped Reef Shark

White Tipped Reef Shark

Untitled-1.jpg
Green Pacific Turtle. Snorkelling in the Galapagos Islands

Green Pacific Turtle. Snorkelling in the Galapagos Islands

Untitled-24.jpgUntitled-23.jpgUntitled-21.jpg9Untitled-19.jpgSealion. Snorkelling in the Galapagos Islands

Sealion. Snorkelling in the Galapagos Islands

Untitled-15.jpgUntitled-17.jpgStarfish. Snorkelling in the Galapagos Islands

Starfish. Snorkelling in the Galapagos Islands


I would very quickly exhaust my supply of superlatives in trying to describe completely the wonders of the Galapagos Islands and our fantastic 10 days there. It certainly lived up to all the hype - and then some.

Arriving on the island of Santa Cruz we were left waiting for some time at the airport before then being squeezed onto a rattling old bus and driven the length of the island to Porto Ayora. Excitedly we scanned the scrubland as we drove by. Our excitement turned to impatience and then desperation as there appeared to be absolutely no sign of wildlife whatsoever. The town of Porto Ayora is much larger than we imagined and this dusty concrete jungle was again, not quite as we'd though it would be. But, our disappointment ended there - the next 10 days exceeded all expectations.

Once checked in to Hotel Salinas for 2 nights we ventured off to book ourselves a dive for the following day. Walking along the water's edge we encountered our first of very many sealions. One was queuing happily in the fish market. This exemplified the utter fearlessness of all of the animals for humans and the casual acceptance of the local people towards the animals that we encountered throughout the trip. Where else in the world can you literally be within touching distance of birds, reptiles and mammals of all description without them being in the least bit bothered by you.

Pelicons swooped above us, sealions splashed in the harbour, a huge heron mingled sociably with the dock workers and an iguana swum across the water to join countless others on the rocks sunbathing. Oh, and huge crabs scuttled about everywhere.

Our dive to Gordon Rocks was difficult. There was a strong current and it meant that we had to hold onto rocks under the water to keep us from being swept away. But, the sealife was fantastic. Huge numbers of fish swam around in shoals easily coping with the currents as we clung desperately to rocks. Loads of Barracuda swam passed barely acknowledging us. A couple of large turtles drifted by and we spotted a sting ray flapping about in the sand. 2 sealions cruised by us and reappeared on the 2nd dive seemingly bemused by our struggles in the water. White tipped reef sharks scowered the sea bed - always fantastic to watch these immense, powerful creatures prowl underwater.

We all excitedly chattered away on board about all that we had encountered after the first dive. 'But we want Hammerhead Sharks', we moaned - quite unreasonably I think, looking back, especially after everything we'd seen. Anyhow, down in the water again and more of the same - turtles, sharks, huge numbers of fish, sealions etc... And then, in the distant gloom 3 Hammerhead sharks lazily swam by. Mission completed.

We joined the Estrella Del Mar the following day and stayed until our departure from the islands on the 28th. A First Class rated boat - we had decided to splurge this week. And it was worth it. The food throughout was excellent - large lunches followed large breakfasts and we ended each day with a 3 course meal. In the evenings we often sat on the top deck, drank a couple of beers and watched the starry sky as we cruised to our next destination. It was always good to wake up each morning, having travelled overnight, and find ourselves at a new island. Of course, seasickness was an issue - but we took pills each night and generally slept well.

Each day brought something new. At the end of each day we'd sit and chat with each other and the other passengers about how amazed we were with what we'd seen and how surely the next day couldn't be as good or probably more of the same. And every day we were wrong - the trip just got better and better.

Everyday started with a coffee on deck and then breakfast. Throughout the day there would then be excursions organised. These would be walks on whichever island we'd arrived at and usually a couple of snorkelling sessions. We also managed to fit in another scuba dive one morning. The wildlife as we walked on the islands was brilliant. Giant Tortoises - far, far bigger than me or you. Lonesome George - the last tortoise of his species hung out - looking a bit dejected actually. Thousands and thousands of birds - especially on the island of Genovesa where we could hardly move for them. Blue-footed and Red-footed Boobies littered the rocks engaged in their mating rituals - completely undeterred by us nearby. Frigates with huge red swollen puffed up chests tried to impress each other. Large Albatross sat and stared at us as we stared back. We were lucky to spot a couple of owls on Genovesa. We were incredibly lucky to catch 2 Albatross in the middle of a pre-mating performance which involved the clacking of beaks, weird whooping sounds and various neck movements and dances. Flamingoes later in the trip stood serenely in the lagoons.

All the time various herons and finches and pelicons were swooping all around us. They would feed by plunging into the sea from metres above, eventually surfacing seconds later gobbling down fish. At one point whilst cruising between islands we were joined by about 8 or 9 Frigate birds gliding in the wind just feet above the boat. And, on the island of Isabella we snorkelled with penguins. Clumsy they may be out of water but they were incredible to watch below the waves.

We couldn't make any landing without sidestepping sealions or spotting them playing in the water around our boat. Everytime we went snorkelling they would come and investigate us. Before our 2nd scuba diving day we had half an hour in the water snorkelling whilst another diver was given some extra instruction. About 10 sealions came and swam and played and splashed with us in the shallow water. It was one of the most unforgettable and incredible few minutes either of us had ever experienced. On land they are cumbersome, loud, smelly and ungraceful, yet, in the water they are the most beautiful, strong, streamlined and athletic creatures you're ever likely to encounter.

They dozed on the beaches and barely gave us any attention whilst on land. They were equally unbothered by the thousands of Iguanas and lizards that populated the waters and the rocks. Unlike anywhere else, these reptiles didn't scatter as soon as we approached but simply sat and watched as we came as close as we were allowed. They hung about together in huge groups, sprawled all over each other - some small and others huge. They occupied some of the best viewing places in the islands - overlooking magnificent cliffs on Espanola and lazing on beautiful sandy beaches on other islands.

No less impressive at times were the creatures we took for granted by the end. Not just the numerous birds, but, the millions of big red crabs that lined the high water mark. The large crickets that hopped from bush to bush and the fish that we encountered every time we snorkelled. And it was under the water that we were probably most amazed. During our dives we had come across sharks, rays, turtles and sealions. But, walking in the sea's edge on Floreana we had to stand still suddenly as 15 or 20 stingrays joined us in ankle deep water. Being thrown back and forth in the small waves they brushed against our feet.

On Isabella we looked down into a water filled gully only a few feet deep and saw a white tipped reef shark circling. Apparently there are sometimes upwards of 20 sharks there. On Santa Cruz we went onto land for the evening - to have a couple of drinks. On arrival at the pier we noticed a shark in the water. As we watched it in the water we noticed others. There were about 6 or 7 sharks swimming in the lit up waters around the pier - amazing. And then sealions would come and join in the fun - not wanting to be outdone. In the end we only had time for 1 drink once we were done watching - and that was partly due to a big pageant taking place in the town which we observed for a while as well. Snorkelling at Bartholome a large reef shark passed us only a few feet away. And, on Genovesa Marsha came face to face with another big shark in very shallow water - a little bit unnerving that one....

On Floreana we posted some postcards into a post box. Nothing too unusual - except that no postmen or postwomen exist on the island and the delivery of the cards relies upon other travellers taking cards and delivering them to people near to where they live once back in their home country. We also left a card which we instructed not to be delivered - addressed to ourselves - which we hope to collect again on our return in a year/5 years/10 years/whenever.... Afterwards we wandered to a beautiful little bay. 'You might find some turtles in the water here', our guide told us. And so, snorkelled up we entered the water only to find countless huge turtles competing for space. At one point 3 turtles (all far bigger than me) seemed to bump into each other. Absolutely stunning as well as near unbelievable.

The Galapagos Islands are relatively new and still look bleak and volcanic in areas. Large volcanoes reach for the sky in Isabella and the landscape has a surreal lunar like quality to it in other islands. We climbed up a peak and viewed the surrounding area in Bartolome as the sun set. As always on the way down iguanas and lizards lined our walk and sealions greeted us as we neared the water. Red Mangroves were all over the islands providing hideouts for bugs etc....

A wonderful place - we couldn't recommend it more - and have already decided to return one day in the furture. The wildlife is so incredibly plentiful and so fearless. We came nose to nose with Giant Tortoises, turtles, fish, sharks, Albatross, Frigates, Penguins, Boobies, Sealions, Rays, Pelicons, crabs, Lizards, Iguana, countless other birds and even a snake. The beaches are beautiful and the volcanic scenery stunning. Snorkelling with sealions and turtles and penguins in the same 5 minutes. In one dive encountering Hammerhead sharks, huge turtles, sealions, Sting Rays, Reef Sharks and Barracuda. Going for a walk and having to walk around Albatross, Frigartes, Iguanas, Heron, Sealions and other birds because they refused to move or be in the least bit bothered by you. It is a place unlike anywhere else we've been....

Posted by Patrick H. 07:38 Archived in Ecuador Comments (1)

14th - 29th May, Ecuador

14th May
A 2 hour bus journey from Pasto is Ecuador. Customs was reasonably straightforward on both sides of the border and we were soon on the way south in Ecuador. The scenery as we headed towards the little town of Otavalo was stunning. We glimpsed our first view of snow-capped jagged Andean mountains poking through the cloud. The bus winded upwards and downwards following the contours of the various river gorges and mountain sides. Beautiful it was, but it was all a little too much for a couple of passengers as the smell of vomit drifted through the bus...

We stopped for lunch whereupon the 2 sickly characters from the bus decided in their dubious wisdom that the best way to combat the sick-making journey was to stuff themselves silly. Not surprisingly, shortly after we set off again up the mountain, twisting and turning, the lunch re-emerged.

Anyhow, the town of Otavalo was very pretty, set in a valley amongst towering volcanoes and mountains. We stayed at the Rincon and once checked in strolled around the town and the main square eventually dropping in for some food at a little organic cafe overlooking the market.

15th May
Otavalo has a huge Saturday market. Early morning the animal market kicks off proceedings. Cows, cats, dogs, chickens, pigs, horses, rabbits and guinea pigs (they eat them here...!), were all for sale. The lowing, grunting and squawking filled the air and seemed to echo around the valley. We overheard. $10 US dollars for a large pig. We were almost tempted. The birds were stuffed into cages and the cattle seemed a little disgruntled at times occasionally making desperate bids for freedom, but, as far as animal welfare goes, I´ve seen plenty worse.

Well, that was until I passed someone struggling with a pig, knife in hand etc, etc, etc..... It was messy.

After a breakfast at the hotel we visited the main market in town. It was huge and spread from the main square down neighbouring streets like tentacles. Strolling around the stalls, practising our Spanish and haggling over various pieces of clothing and hats etc... All very pleasant. Streetfood smells drifted over the colouful square as the sun blazed down upon us all. The Panama hat originally comes from Ecuador!!! Anyhow, this was impressive enough for Marsha and so she bought one.

After a very enjoyable morning - our first in Ecuador - we happily wandered back to gather our stuff and head to Quito by bus. And, it was on the bus that we encountered the rather less pleasant side of Ecuador, this continent and their people. Having been warned about keeping close guard of our stuff we had no choice but to stow away our big bags underneath and kept our small bag on the bus between our legs. Some way into the journey - which was again beautiful with more snowy Andes mountains coming into view, Marsha rearranged herself and the bag. Unwittingly, she had prevented further loss by doing this. We still were yet to notice anything. But, the 2 people behind us got off at the next stop and when we eventually got off we noticed that the bag had been slashed and a lot of expensive camera equipment taken. Fortunately they had been stopped inches short of removing the computer, passports and about $700.

Angry and upset we checked into the Chigao Hostel and then set about filling in police forms and downloading our insurance documentation.

16th, 17th, 18th May
Determined not to let the theft of the camera stuff overshadow our time in Quito we set off into the old town and visited the many churches and plazas and squares etc... The city has a wonderful setting - hills surround it with various religious icons standing proudly on some of them. On Sundays all cars are banned from the city centre and it was very peaceful and pleasant strolling about. It sits at an elevation of 2800 metres and we found ourselves gasping for breath at times and constantly thirsty.

By the afternoon we felt we had done justice to the old centre and so spent the afternoon finishing off all the insurance stuff for the cameras.

Over the next 2 days in Quito, we sent the insurance things, bought a new bag as well as a new camera. Also booked ourselves a Galapogas trip to cheer ourselves up. Well, that wasn´t the only reason we did it, but it did cheer us up. We also found a great little Lebanese cafe which we visited a couple of times, called Hassan´s. Lonely Planet came up trumps with a recommendation for Cafe Mosaico on top of a hill with a tremendous balcony view and it was there we watched the sun set and tried to forget all about the thieves and the loss of the camera - at just the wrong time (before the Galapogas - perhaps the most photogenic place we will have visited all year).

We also caught a cable car up 4100 metres to a point overlooking Quito and much of the surrounding area. The Andes proudly stood behind the foothills of Quito and visible from the height we were. It was surreal to think that we were effectively on the equator (it is how Ecuador derived its name) and yet here was a snowy panorama. We walked around at the top feeling the chill and the freshness of the air and sat on the grass and watched the huge sprawling city miles below us. A plane took off from the airport and we looked down upon it as it rose and rose eventually gathering enough height to be above us.

There was a path leading to a peak over 4700 metres above us. However, armed thieves were known to patrol the area and so we stayed within the tourist zone - cursing thieves once again...

There was a cheap little eatery next door to where we were staying and it served as dinner a couple of nights. Very standard fare - meat, potatoes and veg - but very good. And, on the night of the 18th we came back early and packed, set the alarm and slept as best we could. The Galapagos Islands awaited...

Posted by Patrick H. 16:31 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

3rd May - 13th May, Colombia

3rd May
A new continent. Viewed firstly from afar out on the ocean it comprised of a bunch of skyscrapers. As we neared the land and the town of Cartegena took shape. The Ave Maria sailed quietly into the harbour under a crimson sky and we anchored down about 6ish. We sat on the boat and had a couple of drinks in celebration of our arrival. The city of Cartegena seemed asleep from where we were. As darkness enveloped us lights onshore served to remind us that we were indeed in the middle of a city. It was a very peaceful and relaxing welcome to South America.

We were all soon ashore and checked into the Hostel Marlin in the old town. The previous night had been a little sleep deprived and once we´d had a pasta at a cheap place just around the corner, we slid gratefully into bed and soon drifted off to sleep.

4th-5th May
2 days in the walled city of Cartegena. Reputed to be the most beautiful city on the continent, it only took a few hours wandering around to see why it had earned such a reputation. We followed the old wall as it overlooked the water and the old fort beyond. Old canons pointing out to sea were a reminder of a less than peaceful past. We darted into the old town and got lost in the maze of old streets. Cafes, restaurants, plazas, churches, shops and market traders all competed for space. It is a very picturesque little city - in the old centre at least. A couple of old wooden galleon ships, now serving as restaurants, proudly stood in the harbour.

The 2 days were very peacefully spent wandering the streets and trying out the street food and several local cafes and bars. The first night we met up with everyone else again in El Bistro and had an enjoyable evening and good food. Photos and e-mails were swapped and relief was shared that the constant swaying of the boat under our feet since hitting dry land had finally left us all.

Towards the end of the second day we found the posh part of town. Beautiful little restaurants and cozy little bars lined the cobbled streets tempting us in. In the midst of this area a grand old church had been converted into an expensive hotel. Guests were lining up outside where a long line of horses and carts were awaiting them. I had not expected Colombia to be like this... And, of course, most of it isn´t...

6th May
Having recharged our energies and caught up with sleep and having had 2 lovely days in South America's most beautiful city, we decided to move on. Travelling 3 hours further up the north west coast was the town of Santa Marta. It is unremarkable in itself as we discovered on arrival as we checked in to Hotel Aluna. A short wander through town and down to the beach and we'd pretty much covered the sights. We had a couple of things to do ' booking of tickets and so on which also filled up the afternoon.

We ate at a little street BBQ stand on the corner of the road near our hotel. Great tasting kebabs and fresh juce. The highlight though was these small cheesy mashed potato type bundles into which we poured salsa. Very tasty. There's something very pleasing about sitting on a pavement, surrounded by local people, eating street food for next to nothing, salsa dripping down our chins. Wonderful.

7th - 8th May
The real reason to visit Santa Marta is that it is the easiest jumping off point into Tayrona National Park. This coastal national park attracts thousands of visitors annually for its magnificent jungle and beautiful beaches. We caught the bus out to the first of its 2 entrances and trekked for 5 hours through the rainforest to the coast beyond. The trees boast a fantastic animal life but we actually saw very little. Some birds and a couple of absolutely huge centipedes. The most magical feature for us was the complete immersion into the rainforest. The path was almost non-existant at times. It lead us up and over huge boulders from which we had wonderful views into the canopy of branches high in the trees. Little streams gurgled through thick vegetation and Tarzan roots hung temptingly down from the high trees. We tried swinging - Marsha, annoyingly, doing a far better Tarzan impression than me.

Eventually we caught sight of the sea and the path lead us down to the beach. The coastline was stunning. Sandy beaches, clear blue water and coconut trees and and thick jungle behind. There were countless little bays each of which could easily be considered a little piece of paradise.

It was so nice that we returned the following day - this time through the 2nd entrance which meant a shorter walk to the beaches and so more swimming and sunning time. We stumbled upon a nudist beach - or at least presumed it to be, as the few people there were certainly acting as such. It was the best beach of all, and so we stayed. Marsha collected some 'fishtank' stones and I got burnt reading my book.

The sea was refreshingly cool, and alternating between land and water for several hours the time passed very pleasantly. As we left the path took us past several other little coves. We looked longingly at each knowing that in all likelihood, this was the last of our beaches this trip. We had ended with a very good place though...

Each evening we ate street food from the BBQs on the road near the hotel. Marsha took a photo of the cheesy potato chef. Best street food since China. And, late on the 8th we were hurled through the Santa Marta traffic by the world's most impatient taxi driver to the airport. A flight to Bogota. The flight proved to be only marginally more expensive than the same journey by bus but saving about 15 hours of time.

9th - 10th May
It was after midnight by the time we arrived wearily at Alegria´s Hostel. The lady answering the door welcomed us in and showed us up a couple of flights of stairs to a little room with the most amazing view over the city of Bogota. The lights stretched far off into the distant hills. The view was completely unexpected and so we had a couple of drinks before bed and simply stared out over the city from the massive full length window.

The morning.
Bogota is at 2600 metres above sea level. We put on trousers for the first time since February. But, when the sun came out it was actually very warm. Bogota was not as I expected. A very beautiful, walkable city stuffed full of grand buildings, churches and inviting cafes, shops and bars. It is in the foothills of the Andes and green hills surrounded the city many of which had religious icons or churched precariously perched on top.

Over the 2 days we visited a little flea market and came away empty-handed. We caught the Fenicular railway several hundred metres up to the church overlooking the city and then the cable car down. An impressive feat of engineering. We wandered through the governmental buildings and through to Bolivar Square where several low profile and fairly low budget political rallies were taking place. We spent an afternoon in the main art gallery in town. All was fine until I came across some terrible constructions passing off as art apparently (eg, chairs stacked together) and Marsha stumbled across a bunch of photos taken at an autopsy. Hmmm... Time to go.

We found an Israeli cafe - a little disappointing though, a pizza place that was huge and completely empty bar us and a great French Patisserie where we spent far too much money on far too much food.

Best of all though, was wandering the streets of Bogota - a city with a somewhat wretched reputation - and being safe and comfortable and marvelling at all we saw. You have to look up in Bogota. Countless little statues sit quietly on top of obscure buildings.

We nearly stayed longer, but time pressure and a Galapagos boat trip are not too far away and so we had to move on. But, we nearly bypassed Bogota and we're glad we didn't. Even though we hardly did it justice in the short amount of time we had, we were both considerably impressed by everything we saw and did there. A city desperately trying to pull itself away from the bad reputation it once deserved. But we moved on. An overnight bus trip to Cali.

11th May
Arriving in the morning to Cali after the bus trip we wearily found our way to the Iguana Hostel in the posh area of town. Our rooms weren´t yet ready and so we popped out for a wander around the local neighbourhood and finally found a place for some breakfast.

Back to the hostal by midday and neither of us quite had the energy to do much else with the day other than relax there. We did go out for some drinks later on - we found a British pub, albeit without Harvey´s Bitter, but still, we enjoyed a few hours there....

12th May
I had a wander around the town whilst Marsha worked on the computer during the most part of the day. Now, Cali is famous for its beautiful people. Plastic Surgery is a big, big business here apparently. But, it wasn´t very much in evidence as I wandered about. Either the surgeons weren´t particularly good, or perhaps they had very little to work with in the first place. Or, maybe, these newly constructed people remained indoors during the day for fear their plastic faces might melt in the heat of the sun.

The town, like its people, was fairly plain. A park in the centre through which a brown river ran was the highlight. There were a number of pleasant looking churches and plazas around which people sat lazily and watched the world go by - something I did too for a while. But, it was real Colombia. No tourist, besides me, in sight. The stores were all local - no American fast food chains polluting the streets with their smelly hamburgers.

It was interesting in the sense that there was nothing really to see - it was just a real town in the centre of a little visited country. And, it was only later as I was getting lost finding my way back to the Iguana, that I realised I´d been gone for several hours.

Cali residents love their Salsa dancing. We ventured out to an area where bars, restaurants and dance floors lined both sides of the street and enjoyed a few drinks whilst watching some very experienced dancers strut their stuff. Having only a few lessons of experience we were reluctant to join and were content to watch in envy at the graceful twirls and turns.

After a couple of drinks and dinner at a Mexican we arrived back to our room and were surprised to find the time was after midnight. Apparently the party wasn´t even getting going either....

13th May
From Cali to Pasto in the south of Colombia. A stunning road through the Andean hills. We kept trying to spy the snow capped Andes - but to no avail. Still, we were very high, and even close to the equator the elevation meant it was chilly at times.

Little else happenned during the day - one of those travel days. But, it was a beautiful drive through some fantastic scenery. In Pasto, we found a town that appeared to be in the midst of a love affair with shoe shops. We could hardly move for them... Interestingly, in stark contrast to Cali, everything closed down early and all we could find in our short search for food later on was a local fast food chicken place that served humungous portions.

We then lay on our bed and watched tv for a couple of hours - something we hadn´t done in months... Perhaps not the most exciting way to spend the last night in Colombia. Ecuador tomorrow...

Posted by Patrick H. 10:17 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

29th April - 3rd May, San Blas Islands, Caribbean

Panama links 2 oceans and divides 2 continents. The last stop before South America. Travelling by land to Colombia would require a passage through the Darien Gap. Unfortunately this wilderness is the hangout for bandits, murderers, drugs traffickers and anyone attempting to cross usually ends up kidnapped. We were advised only to make an attempt to get through if we had about $200000 Dollars in cash on us to pay out for the ransom demands that would soon come.

And so we travelled to Colombia by other means - a sailing boat. Early on the 29th we left the hostal in Panama City and travelled north to the Caribbean coast. Heavy overnight rain had saturated the ground and at one point, with bags on our laps, we plunged into a river that had formed across the road. The driver apparently knew what he was up to and we were soon over the other side.

After a couple of hours driving and then a very short boat ride we arrived at our home for the next 5 days - the Ave Maria. A 50 ft sailing boat, captained by an Australian named Paul and ably supported by his French assistant Chloe. We along with 5 others were going to be sailing from Panama out into the Caribbean Sea to the San Blas Islands and from there onto Cartegena in Colombia.

Having sorted our stuff out on board Paul then took the helm and we set out for the open sea. Then it began to rain. Anxious glances were exchanged as we all foresaw 5 days of wet, cold sailing. But the rain soon disappeared and we neared the first of the islands. Whilst our captain sorted out our passports with Panamanian customs we all jumped into the clear water and soaked up the sun's rays.

Shortly afterwards we were again on our way, cruising through the countless tiny islands that consist the San Blas. All were only a few feet high, completely covered in sand and with coconut trees throughout. Hardly any were inhabited at all. It really was a paradise. We eventually pulled up to one and dropped anchor. Our home for the night was a tiny sand island that took about 2 minutes to walk around. The water was a beautiful clear blue colour and we were soon all in with snorkelling gear on.

And that was our life for the next 3 days.

Snorkelling in turquoise waters in amongst the coral and fish, lying on the sandy beaches in the Caribbean sun and wandering around the islands marvelling at the starfish and huge shells. We moved to a different set of islands the following day which were even more stunning. In the water we came across a barracuda and Marsha and I saw the most gigantic Manta Ray. Black with white spots, it circled us with its 12ft stinger before flapping peacefully off into the murky depths. One of the best things we've ever seen under the water - a truly magnificent creature. What made it even more incredible and exciting was the unexpectedness of seeing it.

The birdlife was interesting - hawks, herons, pelicons and mnay other birds zipping about in the coconut trees and on the water. A couple of other boats were also around the islands nearby but otherwise we were completely alone - out in the international waters - a setting more in keeping with the notion of paradise would be hard to find.

Each meal different people cooked. Marsha and I cooked up a vege curry on the first night and followed it up with some breakfasts in the days following. I think that Marsha's pancake breakfast was the culinary highlight of the trip for most people! One evening we feasted on octopus and lobster - brought to us by local fishermen in tiny boats. We also lit a campfire on the island our 2nd night and drank rum and ate steak whilst watching an amazing sunset take place before our eyes. After the colourful display the starry sky then took over and continued the entertainment. The Southern Cross was visible for the first time in our travels.

After too much rum and festivities around the campfire Marsha and I (well, me really but Marsha joined me in support) made the dubious decision to sleep on the island under the stars. It all seemed perfect until the first flash of lightening. The wind then picked up, the affects of the rum wore off and we shivered our way through the remainder of the night until we gratefully embraced the morning sun.

After 3 days of sea, sun, sand, snorkelling, fantastic sealife, wonderful food, Caribbean drinking, campfires and general relaxation in the beautiful San Blas Islands, it was time to make the crossing to Colombia. As the islands retreated into the distance and we all looked longingly back at them, we crossed the reef and entered the Atlantic Ocean. With no protection from reefs or islands the swell of the sea was uninhibited and the boat began to roll threateningly up and down the waves. Our captain was happy though, "It looks like it's going to be an easy crossing", he announced as we lurched and slewed down yet another wave. Thing is - he meant it.

As evening approached a rota was sorted out for steering the boat throughout the night. Paul cooked some good dinner - no-one else quite having the stomach to stay down inside the boat for that long. We ate and cracked open some wine and watched the sun set over the Atlantic Ocean. As darkness came it became more difficult to pre-empt the rolling of the boat on the waves. Marsha was absolutely fine - I felt a little seasick, but managed to keep the contents of dinner down.

Our steering shifts were late evening and then from 4 'til 6 in the morning. We managed a little sleep inbetween - firstly out on deck much to the consternation of the captain who isisted on tying us on by rope. But then it rained and so we ventured inside. As the sun rose later, whilst steering, it was eerie to look about and see nothing but open water - no land in sight, no boats in sight. Everyone else was asleep - it was very peaceful... And then, of course, our stomachs were thrown into turmoil yet again as we lurched over another wave.

By afternoon we sighted land. And, with sails flapping in the wind we cruised into Cartegena harbour about 5pm on the 3rd of May. The trip had been fantastic. Th San Blas Islands in the Caribbean were everything you'd imagine a remote tropical island paradise to be. The overnight trip on the water was a little sick inducing but we'd arrived safely - and it is not every day you sail into a new continent...

Posted by Patrick H. 15:39 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

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