Thursday, 22 May 2008

Boobies on the Galapogas Islands

What a way to finish my trip. The Galapogas Islands is one of the best places i have visited. I know this sounds cheesy but the Galapogas i would have to say is 'teeming with wildlife'. All the animals are really friendly and let you get quite close to them. We had beautiful 30 degrees weather throughout the 5 full days i was there and i pretty much saw most of the animals and marine life that these volcanic islands had to offer. With 2 friends travelling with me, we decided not to take a 5 day guided tour as we all were trying to make this part of our holiday cheaper as it is quite expensive as well as we would be paying for activities that we would not be interested in. The way we did it was fantastic, we got to see what we wanted to see and with the help of the hostel we were staying in, we got to see as much as possible in the time we had left. We joined day tours as well as do our own thing and explored the islands of Bartolome, Floreana and fully explored the island of Santa Cruz, where we enjoyed bay and land tours. We were lucky enough on our last day where we had a boat to ourselves and our guide and captain took us anywhere we wanted to go.

Frolicking with Sea Lions
This was one of the best experiences i have had ever had. We swam in a small lagoon where around 30 or so sea lions live. They are just as curious as you are and so they all come over to have a look and play. With my snorkel, we twisted and turned, did back flips and played. They swam so close to me that i touched a couple of them feeling their leathery tail. At one stage i was swimming with 6 of them, watching them catch fish, pose in weird positions as if to say "can you do that?" and see them jump in and out of the water like dolphins. I was having so much fun that i didn't want to leave and when we did make our way out, they would all make attempts to show off one last time by following the boat and making noises telling us to come back... or to 'F' off.

Animals, animals and animals
Everyday we went off in search of animals that we hadn't seen yet. I was lucky to see countless sea lions, sea iguanas (i swam with a couple), blue footed boobie birds and many other types of Avery, giant 150 year old tortoises (one tried to eat my shorts as i was taking a photo of another one), i swam with sea turtles, sting rays, witnessed pelicans trying to steal the fish off the local fishermen back at the port, bright red crabs that are everywhere even running across my foot which freaked me out and every type of fish. Sharks too where i saw a white tipped shark and Galapogas shark (both harmless). There is a place called Gordon Rocks on the island of Santa Cruz where if you have a diving certificate you can dive with hundreds of hammerhead sharks! Speaking to the people who had gone had said is was the best experience that they had ever had. That's something I'm going to have to do for next time. As well as seeing a lot of the fauna, we also visited lava caves, huge craters climbing to the top and trekking in thongs (flip-flops) across sharp and jagged lava rocks to get to lagoons. The Galapogas Islands is as good as everyone sais it is and i cannot recommend it more.

Quito... The centre of the world
With my one day to spend in the capital of Ecuador , i decided to visit the Equator. Before GPS systems, Quito was the only place in the world where a French expedition could measure the Latitude 00.00'00". Taking a cheap 2hour bus ride to get there due to me staying on the other side of this huge city, i finally got to the museum where you can complete many experiments to prove that it is the Equator line. We spun water on the north and south sides seeing which way the water spins and then placing the water trough directly on the line and watching the water flow straight down with the help of a leaf. We balanced an egg on a nail head, did physical strength tests where on the line, forces pull you down and learnt and played with many others things which turned out to be a fascinating day. Also while i was there, i joined a short 2 hour tour that went to the summit of another active volcano. I didn't climb this one, yet it wasn't all that high as Quito is already 2800m above sea level. What made this volcano interesting is that there are many inhabitants living inside the crater and they have been doing so for thousands of years. Recently the government installed a road in case of an emergency for them to get out as recent measures of this volcano shows rumblings that it could blow anytime soon.

Well that's the end of what has been an unforgettable trip that I'm always going to remember. I have countless memories and stories that i haven't had time to mention in my blogs. I'm excited to go home and i have 2 days of plane flights and waiting in airports. Thank-you for reading as i have loved sharing my stories and can't wait to catch up with everyone and to hear what's been going on.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Perusing around

Machu Picchu
This is one of the major things i wanted to do on my world trip and i am so glad i did it. While trekking the popular Inca Trail just over 3 days with the 4th spending it at Machu Picchu. I had baby wipe showers at the end of each day and we witnessed many archilogical ruins such as Winaywayna (pic 2), Runkurakay (pic 3), and other sites such as Sayacmarka, Phuyupatamarka and Patallacta.

Day 1: The weather during this trek was blue skies and patchy clouds. We had a bit of rain as we arrived to our first camp site but that cleared up soon after. Excited and ready to go, we began our ascending trek from kilometre 82 into the valley. This day was the easiest of all 3 but was 7 hours long which was a good introduction. I was in a group of 16 where we all had porters carrying our 5-8kg of extra stuff as well as all the camping equipment (tents, chairs, tables, cutlery, food for 4 days etc). Each porter carries up to 20kg! Whereas before the new regulations they used to carry up to 80kg!

Day 2: Today was going to be tough. With a 3.45am wake up call, we climbed 2 passes today, one being ¨Dead Woman's Pass¨ at an altitude of 4200m and the other just below the 4000m mark. A freezing cold morning turned into a scorcher of a day where dressing in layers was an excellent recommendation from our guide. Feeling light headed was the worst i felt. Others in the group wern't as well off as me. Some felt quite sick with stomoch problems from mild food poisening and a poor girl was hobbling the trek with a recovering knee from a dislocation 3 weeks ago. However we all made it after 12 hours of walking and after a fantastic meal on arrival, we all went straight to bed soon after.

Day 3: Once again, we were woken up early with a hot cup of coca tea and a cooked breakfast. Today was pretty much all downhill for 5 hours, this may seem easy but it´s a lot harder on the knees. I am being very brief writing about this trek as on the way, there are amazing views that a photograph cannot capture. Llamas, cows and locals pass you all the time as well as the super fit porters that march past you as you huff and puff along. Our guide explained the importance and relevance of all the old Inca ruins along the way and explained the history of the Inca´s and the Spanish invasions.

Day 4: Machu Picchu... wooo hooo!!! So excited! We were up before the sun and off through the dark trekking through the jungle. It was a very cloudy morning with rain. Eventually the 500 of us reached Sun Gate and once we got there, what did we see?... NOTHING (pic). Cloud and rain everywhere! However we made offerings (coca leaves, sweets, Snickers) to Pacha Mama (God of Mother Earth) as a sign of respect to Machu Picchu and around 2 hours later the cloud lifted in what turned out to be a perfect day. Wow, i can´t fully describe how impressive Machu Picchu is. It is jaw dropping, eyebrow lifting stuff. We had a city tour as well as time to look around and take a bucket load of photos. I also climbed Wayna Picchu which is the tallest mountain beside the city which is a story in itself. An interesting fact about Machu Picchu is that the shape of the mountains around it look like an Inca face lying down. The small mountain being the chin and Wayna Picchu being the nose then the forhead. (You can have a look in pic 1)

New regulations on Machu Picchu
For anyone wanting to go here please be aware that rumour has it that soon (by 2010) you won't be able to walk onto the site of Machu Picchu due to too many tourists destroying it. 500 people a day are allowed on the Inca Trail and if you wish to climb Wayna Picchu, they now only allow 400 people per day to climb it. By 10am this number is reached. I was unlucky at the start as i turned up at the gate at 11:20am being told to go away, but with persistance pleads, made up stories and just waiting at the gate for 30min, the guard let a few of us in without anyone else seeing. Bribing will get you kicked off the site. Also arguing that this rule is stupid and waving your arms in the air will get you no-where as well as i saw many people flip out and fail to get by the gate. If you are late, be nice and be patient and you may have a chance like i did.

Lake Titicaca
Arriving at the town Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca on the Peru side, we all got to see and stand on a few of the 40 floating reed islands where around 2000 Uros people live. All these islands are man-made and it was really interesting to see how they live here, how they go to the toilet, and what they do all day to survive on the water. We also got to take a cruise on a reed boat between islands where they have to rebuild the boats once a year and the islands every few weeks due to them rotting in the water.

On the island of Amantani, i had the oppurtunity to stay with a local family at their house for 2 days where i helped to cook and tried to speak the local language of Quechuan with my little translation sheet that our guide gave us before we arrived. For dinner i had potatoes, fried cheese, orca (a poor mans sweet potato), corn and coca tea. My hosts Ruberta and Rupert were lovely and their house was really nice. No electricity though. That night i watched the storm clouds come in (pic) and we quicky made it to the dancehall where i met with the rest of my group who had different families to go to. Rupert chucked a poncho on me and sold me a beanie that Ruberta had made and we danced the night away to a live Peruvian band. (pic). I remember Ruberta grabbing me with her man-hands and leading me around the hall. It was a fun night for everyone where after a good sleep, i was woken up with more coca tea and pancakes for breakfast. I was nervous at the start of my stay, and it ended up being a very worthwhile experience learning about my hosts and how they live.

Volcano Misti
I missed out climbing Volcano Pucon in Chile due to bad weather 2 days in a row (not the one that just erupted) and i was so dissapointed. However i had another opportunity to climb here in Peru! Volcano Misti in Arequipa is famous for a discovery in 1995 where the world´s most preserved mummy (Inca) was found. This was a 2 day trek where i dissapointingly couldnt reach the smokey top. The height is 5875m above sea level and due to altitude sickness i barely made it to the base camp at around 4600m. I was also carrying 10kg of stuff (water weighing the most) where i had chest pains, lack of air, crying for no reason and dizzyness. So i stopped. It took me 7hrs to reach this height where the others in the group travelled a further 6 hours the next day to reach the summit. Misti beat me. I slept in thermols and my awesome sleeping bag where it was -6 degrees outside. It took only 1 hour 30 minutes to get back down as you moon jumped down the volcanic ash and sand. Still ´I CLIMBED A VOLCANO´... but didnt make it to the top.

Nazca Lines
Arriving in the town of Nazca, i had the opportunity of viewing the pre-Inca lines in the desert plains. Having to take a 4 seater put-put plane to see them was bumpy experience that left the poor bloke sitting behind me spewing all over himself. We passed 13 of the main drawings that range between 60m and 200m in length. Some were easy to see and some had to be pointed out by the pilot while he turned the plane 90 degrees on its side (face in the glass door). My favourits are the humming bird and spider (pics). No-one knows exactly why these lines are drawn and we all watched a documentary after on many of the theories. Some making sense, like offerings and reminders to the Gods to give them water as there was a drought at the time and unbelievable ones like aliens etc. But hey, you never know...

Dune buggies and sand boarding
A few hours from Nazca in the town of Huacachino, as a group we went off roaring through the desert, up and down massive dunes like an out of control roller-coaster. This was so much fun. Our guide/driver would speed up on the downhill to get up a dune where once you were approching the peak, you didn´t know how steep the other side would be until you creeped over and then... WHOOSH... down you went. Boarding was fun too. Setting yourself in postion, seeing the downhill slope in front of you and with a big push from the guide, down you went making sure your mouth is closed. Needless to say by the end of the day there was sand everywhere... everywhere!
My final country to visit is Equador. Quito the capital and the Galapogas Islands for the remainder of my trip.

Sunday, 13 April 2008


Bolivia has been an unbelievable place to visit. Travelling over the bumpiest roads, breathing in dust all day long and drinking 4+ litres of water a day to help prevent altitude sickness has all been a part of it. All the towns that i have visited except the jungle have been around 3000m - 4000m above sea level. Breathing is difficult as you have to inhale a lot more often and just walking a flight of stairs makes you puff. The scenery between each town has constantly changed with narrow mountain roads, valleys and out in the middle of no-where towns. Ive experienced many highlights here and some of these include: Riding a mountain bike 4 hours down the World's Most Dangerous Road (pic), playing Hacki-sack on the salt flats, exploring a train graveyard(pic), watching what i would have to say is the best sunset i have ever seen (pic), witnessing the hardships of the miners in the mining town of Potosi, blowing up a pumpkin with dynomite (pic), Anaconda hunting and more piranha fishing in the Pampas (pic), hanging out with the locals in a few discoteque Bolivian clubs, eating Lama, chewing coca leaves and other traditional foods as well as absorbing the Bolivian culture in many of the witches markets and poverty streets in the capital La Paz.

Bolivian Salt Flats (Colchani)
1200 square kilometres in size. A blanco sheet that went on forever is what we got to explore over a full day in the eye squinting lands where sunglasses are a must. As a group we learnt how the local town processes the salt for commercial use as everything is hand processed. We also took many photos in funky and funny possitions as a must-do activity. We were lucky enough that we could actually drive in 4x4s across the flats to a cactus island as a lot of the time the flats are under water. Here we could see a 360 degree view of the surroundings from the top as everyone struggled to catch their breath. Blue Skies and sunshine made sure the sunscreen was lathered on as we then travelled to a salt hotel completely made of salt except the roof. Chairs, tables, walls, beds and sculptures amongst many other things was an interesting site to see. This is where we all witnessed one of the breathtaking sunsets i have ever seen. Salt flats, water pools, salt trucks and mountains in the distance as well as weirdly shaped clouds with colours changing every second was amazing as we all were blown away at what we were seeing.

The mining town of Potosi
Potosi the town itself is quite big where 15,000 - 20,000 miners go to work everyday of the year. Silver, tin and many other minerals is what´s up for grabs in many of the hundreds of mines in the area. The sad thing is over 8 million people have died mining these mines due to no controls over health and safety and where a miner can dig. Everyone is in competition with each other to find what they have come to look for and accidents happen often as well as the mountains gradually falling due to the rat warren tunnels that arnt planned beforehand. If a miner doesnt find anything, he gets no money where an average days work (if you are succesful) gets you around $10 a day (a minor also has to purchase his own dynomite and all materials.) Children as young as 12 work in these mines and the average life expectancy is 45. Cancer from the smells and dust or getting crushed are the main causes of death. Learning about what these Bolivians have to go through to make such a small amount of cash was a sad day but very informative. Towards the end of our tour after working and crawling our way through the rock we got to fill a pumpkin with dynomite and watched it get blown to smitherines as the BOOM rocked the valley as the orange mist was swept away by the wind. A statue of the devil (pic) is inside the mine and the miners give alcohol and coca leaves so that the devil is happy (and drunk) and will give them good luck and safety within the mine. Throughout this tour, many donations were given to the minors including coca leaves, dynomite and food.

Welcome to the jungle
A tiny plane landing on a grass runway, muddy, bumpy and rocky roads getting bogged and an open boat ride 3 hours in the pouring rain is what it took to get to our cabin dormatory accomodation in a jungle wetland that leads to the Amazon river. It was a horrible start as we stumbled in at night soaking wet with no hot showers and no-where for anything to dry. The toilets are disgusting and i didnt shower for the 2 days we were here as it would have been cleaner not to. Mosquitoes, bats, frogs, monkeys and weird South American bugs were kept out by our Mosquitoe net beds which was an unexpected comfort as i slept pretty soundly as it had been a 12 hour day travelling from La Paz to Rurrenabaque to the Pampas. The weather the next morning was overcast with glimpses of sun evey now and again, so after a great breakfast we went of ANACONDA HUNTING! Through the boggy wetlands we went, fighting our way through the knee high mud marshes looking for anything resembling a snake, however it was not to be. Walking for 2 hours we didnt get to see one, but was a different experience trekking the wetlands nearly developing trench foot. That afternoon we went off in the open boats again to go SWIMMING with the PINK DOLPHINS! This was amazing as one swam under me in the Piranha infested waters as well as a few metres away where they keep bobbing up for air. These dolphins i would have to say are the ugliest dolphins i have ever seen, the adults are light pink in colour with really long snouts and the babies are more pinky grey. Still i had a great time and worked out i need to get fit as tredding water for about half an hour tired me out. That night we went out in the boats with spotlight torches and tried to spot Aligatiors and other animals as their red eyes lit up when the light flashed over them in the bushes on the side of the river. It was a jammed packed day and that didnt stop as the next morning i went PIRANHA FISHING where i finally caught 3!!! The teeth on these things are so sharp and they could easily take off your skin. We threw all the ones we caught back into the river, as they are what the dolphins eat. Just like arriving, it was a long journey back to La Paz, but a very worthwhile trip.

I survived Death Road!
Starting high in a misty cloud of the Bolivian Andes, the steep and bumpy La Paz to Coroico road goes down 3,600 meters on its spectacular 64 km path to the lush, sub-tropical Yungas and to the town of Coroico. The history of The Worlds Most Dangerous Road is unbelevable. An average 100-200 people plunged to their death every year in sections where the road is wide enough for one vehicle... just. Trucks would try and pass each other on these dirty, rocky, wet and unstable tracks. Thanks to a new, paved, safer road, this track no longer is open to the crazy drivers that cheated death every-day as their job. What the road is mainly used for now is adrenalin junky downhill mountain bikers! As a group with a tour company, we raced down the first paved section in a cloud. Depending on how much you weighed and how much you crouched into the bicycle, we got up to speeds of 80km/hr! After this the road begins to get rocky and shear cliff faces appear where we all tried to hug the cliff walls to our right as much as possible. We had double suspension Canadian Rocky-Mountain bikes with full safety gear for the occasion where i felt it was safer to go a little fast on this track, otherwise the slower you go, the more chances of the bike skidding on loose rocks whereas you end up just flying over them having more control the faster you go. It took 4 hours to get to the bottom, brain tired of concentration, wrists hurting from all the braking and releavement from one hairy moment.
Next is Peru for around 3 weeks.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Falling Rapidly

I have never White Water rafted before and with a bit of peer pressure i was off doing a Grade 3-4 on a river in Bariloche - Argentina after making sure my travel insurance covered this activity. Blue skies, warmish weather and cold glacier waters was what was ahead of us as we travelled to the starting point where we all got kitted up and briefed on what to do. Excitment and adrenalin was pumping as we went through the first couple of grade 3 rapids unscathed and having a lot of fun. There were different names for each of the 10 or so we went through and some of them included, "Devils Stomoch", "Devils Tongue", "Vascelene" and the only Grade 4 rapid... "The Devils Throat" (pics). This is where things got a bit out of control for 3 of us in the raft. The path we took made the raft bump into one of the rocks tilting the raft onto its side immediately flipping me in the air and sliding/falling into the water. After holding my breath and coming up for air, i was then dunked a few more times as it was a lengthy rapid on the way downstream. The rescue canoe was there straight away to resue the 3 of us but as we all desperately lunged for the same handle on the back of his canoe, he ended up tipping upside down and so now there are 4 of us in the water uncontrollably. With more dunkings and movements which felt like a washing machine i was able to once again grab hold of the rescue canoe (when he flipped himself back up) and got back into the raft. The 3 of us looked liked drowned rats by the end of it, but WOW i had a fantastic time. No-one on the trip got badly injured, just a few lost shoes and earings. Everyone at the end of the day had a story to tell as we ate a massive meaty lunch that replaced all the energy used up in the water. (If you would like to see any of my photos larger, just click on them)

Saturday, 22 March 2008

More Glaciers and Fitz Roy

Mount Fitz Roy is absolutely spectacular. I didn't actually climb this mountain in Pategonia - Argentina but to a lookout that ended up being quite strenuous to get to the top. Professional rock climbers are the ones that tackle this challenge as its full of ice, snow and vertical rock. It took me around 3 hours to get to this point (pic) where the first 2 hours were spent walking through a forest in the valley and 1 hour climbing a steep rocky path that was just as hard to get back down as it was quite dusty and slippery. An aqua blue lake, a retreating glacier and icy clouds whisping off the top made a few fantastic photos and a view that i will never forget. We got to this point earlir than expected and so 2 of us decided to continue on around the lake to see if we could make it to the glacier. There is no path and nothing on the map telling us which way to go. Obviously you arn't meant to go there but hey, we went anyway. From the photo we went around to the right as you couldn't from the left and although it doesnt look that far, it took us another hour to get there. Loose boulders and gravel, steep rock sections and icy water waiting for us to fall in as we scrambled slowly making sure every planted foot was secure. And when we did arrive, WOW, there was a huge ice sheet with caves and waterfalls where you could hear it cracking and moving/melting slower than a snails pace down the mountain (pic). We spent a bit of time here admiring this awesome spectical with no other noisy tourists or people around. Getting back had its moments of peril, but we were back at the hostel safe and sound just as it was getting dark getting the most out of the day.

Glacier Perito Moreno is to me the most spectacular glacier out of all the ones that i have seen. Not much effort to get here as we took a bus to a lookout point for this one. But upon arrival it was jaw dropping. A mass of compacted ice as far as you could see right in front of you. The face of it is 60 metres high where usually once every 2 years a huge chunk breaks off and comes crashing into the water making an exploding sound. We certainly saw many small bits and pieces break off and fall but the next predicted huge crash is meant for winter next year. We also got to hop on a boat that takes you pretty close to it to view it from a different angle and all throughout the day you could hear it moving as it scratches and carves its way dow from the mountains. Love it!