I had a fun day around Lake Titicaca today. This morning I was in Puno, Peru where I caught a boat to the floating reed Islands of Uros. These are fun little floating islands spread around this marsh like area. It was interesting to walk around as there is an extra bounce to your step. The port of Puno was very strange also as the lake in that area was covered in this green algae like stuff that you would find on a stagnant pond. From Puno I made my way around the lake to the Bolivian side and enjoyed a much more pristine looking lake with white snow capped mountains as a backdrop.
After four intensive days of hiking through the ever impressing Andies, early this morning the group I was with made it to the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu. We were tired (from waking up at 4:30) and soaked from the morning downpour, but excited to reach the climax of our journey. At the Sun Gate we gazed over the valley below only to see the heavy mist of the amazon region that the Machu Picchu resides in very close proximity to. Thankfully it did clear up throughout the morning to afford some classic Machu Picchu pictures. Overall the Inca trail was an amazing hike over three mountain passes that continually produced incredible vistas every step along the way. The trail itself was a challenge, but taking it in pace any reasonably fit person has little trouble along the way (other than a bit of huffing and puffing from the altitude and thousands of steps).
I'm off for the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu early tomorrow morning for 4 days. I had a great day of rest today in Cuzco and am back to a normal state of health, which I am extremely thankful for. Have been trying to plan my next couple weeks worth of traveling. (So I can make it to Rio de Janerio for a flight I have down south on the 9th along with visiting a few familiar faces along the way - relatives in Buenos Aries, Argentina and the Sawatskys in Sao Paulo, Brazil).
The guardian volcano of Arequipa, El Misti (5822 m), was my latest adventure along my journeys and boy oh boy was it an adventure. At an elevation such as it is, it is a tough enough climb on its own, but the night before I went to climb it I came down with a good case of the flu (and all its symptoms). I had already paid so I was going to give it a go. About 500 meters into the hike the Gatorade and piece of bread I had that morning where no longer inside me. I can only imagine what the guide and other 2 guys climbing with me must have thought. Only 500 m in and already getting ride of his breakfast. I have to say I felt like turning back many a times, but all I could think of was that I have to make it to base camp to have a nap and everything will be all right (along with quoting Isa 40:31 many times). Base camp's elevation was close to 5000 meters so being that I am not acclimatized to that altitude I laid in the tent from 2 pm to 2 am and got at most 2 hours of sleep and could not get anything down. Somehow though at 2 am when we were off for the summit I was feeling somewhat better and me, one of the other guys and the guide trudged through snow, rock, ice and thin air to make it to the top to view the famous El Misti Cross (It was very much to my surprise that I made it). Here are a couple pictures from the Colca Canyon (Cruz del Condor) from a couple blogs back.
Nazca's call to fame is a number of drawings that were done over about 500 sq km in the desert plains by the Nazca tribe many years ago. I have to say when I got dropped of at the Miridor (observation tower) and took a look out to see what I could see I was quite disappointed. I was suppose to be able to see 3 different objects, but I really only saw 1 (look at the picture and venture a guess as to what it is) and a faint outline of another (lizard). I think to truly appreciate them the need to be viewed from an airplane, but after my original disappointment I was not going to invest any more money in this venture. My only other point of interest in Nazca was I ordered a meal of Ceviche which I knew was fish, but found out when my plate of random raw fish arrived that it is that, raw fish. It was not like sushi either. I was hungry, but I only manged to put down about half of the plate.
Officially I have been in and out of the Andies, but this is the first time that I have seen some really rugged terrain. My bus ride from the coastal deserts into the Cordillera Blancas through the Canon del Pato was incredible. The terrain was amazingly rugged, I don't think I have ever seen anything like it before. The road itself was nothing special it was a simple 1 1/2 lane dirt road, but with the surrounding mountains, the ragging river below and at least 40 tunnels cut into the canyon walls it is one trip that will not be soon forgotten. Something that is always interesting while traveling along the roads in the mountains are the very frequent landslides/mudslides. This was just a small rock easily removed, but just around the corner there was a huge bolder that took at least 20 men with poles to get off the road. Along the same road something I found very sobering was passing by a village (of 18,000 at the time) that back in 1970 was decimated by a rock slide caused by an earthquake. I was able to visit a monument that they have constructed over the old town that displayed a few buildings and vehicles that were involved in the rock slide.
I have to say almost all of my memories of Ecuador will be of the protests that were going on during my stay (and that are surprisingly still going on after 10 days. Ecuador declares state of emergency). I still had a very enjoyable time in the country, but I will have to return some day to do a few of the things that I had to skip over. Quito itself had a few major roads block (one of which was the road to the Equator sign). Compared to the roadblocks outside of town these were very tame. Cuenca thankfully was far enough away from Quito (were most of the roadblocks were setup) that my travels were unhindered. There were still protest (at the time I took this picture there were about 1,000 people walking around the square with signs and whistles in protest. I did feel a bit on edge since they were in part protesting against the West [free trade deal with America]). Needless to say after a few frustrating but interesting days I made my way to Peru (I will not get into crossing the Ecuador boarder to Peru).
Despite a bit of rain the Colca Canyon was a really interesting area. From Arequipa (The White City) I made my way to the town of Chivay, which is a wonderful little city with a great mineral hot springs, where I spend the night before making my way to the canyon. For those trivia buffs out there the Colca Canyon (3191m deep) is the second deepest canyon in the world (a nearby canyon is about 175m deeper). The weather thankfully co-operated for long enough to get a good view of the canyon before a thick bank of clouds moved in again. (I am unable to post picts today, but will hopefully find a place in Cuzco in a couple days that will have the capability to upload some. I'm starting to get behind in that area). In the morning I have a trek to El Misti (5822m) planned for a couple days. I honestly was hoping to hike Chachani which is just over 6000 m, but was unable to find an outfit that fit to my time frame. I'm also getting excited for the Inca trail hike to Machu Picchu I have planned (I have been hearing a lot of good things about it).
OK, I'm skipping a couple days here (from Quito to Lima), but I will get back to them at some point. Peru has been a very interesting and diverse country. Basically all of the coastal plains are vast deserts of dirt, rock, sand and an ever present haze. Today I made it to Huacachina, which is this really cool little oasis in the desert surrounded by these massive sand dunes. It was a scorching hot day today, but I didn't really care I was determined to go sand boarding. Sand boarding is an interesting sport to say the least (much like snowboarding, but when you fall you get scoarched from the sand vs froze from the snow). Next time I try it though I think I want go with a tour group so they take you to the top by sand buggies verses, trudging up through the sand. Wow, was that tiring. I only got like 5 runs in then I was done. I had to go for a dip in the lagoon (a nice cold lake).
After being stuck in Tulcan for a 24 hours I have to say I was ready to get out of there by whatever means. I met up with two other travelers who spoke some Spanish and we were trying to come up with a scheme to get out of there. We thought if we could take a taxi to the roadblock then walk through it (and hope we didn´t get stoned as some locals said might happen) then get another taxi (collectivo) to the next and so on till we could get a bus the rest of the way to Quito. The other two kind of swayed away from this idea after talking to a number of the locals who were also stuck that said that it wasn´t be the best idea (very risky in a number of ways). Needless to say that didn´t happen. Later in the evening I noticed some commotion at the bus terminal so I checked it out. They said OK, we can get to Quito now. Right on I thought. I quickly packed up and got on board. BIG MISTAKE. Well the first 3 hours were all right, just a normal bus ride. Then we made it to Otavalo (a town famous for its Saturday market). This is were I saw my first signs of trouble. The roads were blocked with these raging fires and mobs of people yelling something in Spanish. So The bus went back to a gas station to decide what to do. The driver told us we could go another route, but we would have to pay another $3 and it would take an extra 2 hours. After much debate we were off for $2. This route was also blocked with protesters at one point. However the police made a route through and we were off again. We then proceeded to ascend this small mountain trail made for tractors in the bus. I think it was the scariest ride of my life. There were several times that I was sure we were going to role over and end up at the bottom of the mountain (and from the yelps of everyone else I wasn't the only one in fear of that). Then trying to pass other vehicles was also a hair raising task. I have to say a lot of people on that bus were praying that they would make it safely through that pass. I have to say I was honestly scared for my life. Needless to say (since I am writing this) we made it without injury. Even if it was 10 hours (3 am) later unlike the supposed 5 hours. I have to say I took a flight south to Cuenca that afternoon verses anther bus ride through those protests around (and in) Quito.
In the excitement of learning what was happening with the protests I forgot to post the last couple days worth of travel. Medellin was an enjoyable city to walk around. The streets were clean and the people friendly. A famous Colombian artist came from this city and his works and sculptures could be found throughout the city (Picture of Plaza of Sculptures). Before I left for my travels Bev Farrer, who was a missionary in the Medellin area, gave me a guided picture tour of the area so I was excited to see a number of the sites in person. Panamerican Highway through Colombia was a great drive cutting through the Andies, very scenic. My last stop in Colombia was to Santuario de las Lajas, an incredible neo-Gothis church built on a bride spanning a river gorge. As I mentioned in my last post once I arrived in Ecuador I was held up in the boarder town of Tulcan. I have had lots of time to check out this little town and the only major point of interest that I noticed was the topiary garden in the cemetery.
I made it into Ecuador last night to find out that no buses were going to Quito from Tulcan. I thought that strange since all the schedules showed multiple buses heading out that evening (The agents at the ticket counters kind of laughed at me and said no Quito). I could not understand what was up so I opted to get a hotel for the night (I found this a bit more difficult to do than planned since all the cheapest places in my guide book were full. This was also curious). Again I woke up early this morning and tried to get a bus with the same response. At least I got something like the road is closed (I assumed landslides since I have seen a number of half road closures already from them) and they did not know when they will re-open. I tried to get a flight but right now they are all full so I am kind of stuck in this little Ecuadorian town. When I got on the Internet I thought I would do a quick search to see if anything comes up on the road closures. Sure enough in the Washington Post "Ecuador Indians protest free trade talks with US ". Upon reading the article I realize the roads are closed because the natives have setup roadblocks. So I am currently sitting here with no idea when I will be able to leave (flights only every other day). I really wanted to get to Banos (a town with nice hot springs and mountain scenery) today then Riobamba in the evening to catch the morning train called the Nariz del Diablo (only runs three times a week) which I have heard is a sweet ride. My only hope of making it is if I can catch a bus this afternoon/evening, but I have my doubts it will be happening.
I did not know what to expect from Parque Nacional Tayrona, but I was happily surprised by this pristine location along the Caribbean. It does take some work to make it there (some hiking through the jungle, which was wonderful as well). The coastline was very undeveloped. Only a few palapas here and there to string up hammocks under. I had a very relaxing time walking along the countless beaches, in numerous coves, enjoying the cool breeze and watching the waves crash against the coast. And of course being along the Caribbean coast the sunrises are always beautiful. Cartagena is a cool colonial port town a few hours west of Tayrona. It has a large old town that is completely walled in. I was told that the walls were built because back in colonial times this city was constantly being attacked by pirates. On from Cartagena I made the long bus ride to metropolis of Medellin that I am about to explore.
I have to say that this town was quite the disappointment. Don´t get me wrong this town was very beautiful and I had an enjoyable time, but the Teleferico was down for repairs (The Tram to the top of a nearby Mountain) and the weather did not allow for paragliding or canyoning that I was planning on doing while in town. Needless to say I moved on quickly.
This was the site of our first campsite (hammock site). With white (possibly a hint of pink) sand beaches and across a small lagoon to a few beautiful waterfalls that were well worth exploring. This is the dugout canoe (boat) that our group took up river to Salto Angel. This was the only spot we had to walk around on our way up. The rest of the rapids we somehow made it up in the boat without swamping, amazingly. However we did get soaked (including my camera) so this was the second last picture my camera was able to take until it dried out on my way back to Caracas. So I was unable to get any picts of angel falls myself, but the people I went with said they would send me theirs (once I get some I will post a couple). You don´t know how disappointed I was about my camera not working. I missed at least 20 sweet shots, but I am very thankful that it did dry out and is working again now.
The little Cessna that took me deep into the jungles of Venezuela. Some of the falls around the hamlet of Cainima. This last falls, along with a few others in the area, had trails that allowed you to walk behind the curtain of water.
The lovely town of Boquete set in the moderate temperature coffee growing hills of Panama. From Boquete I was in the sweltering town of David for a few hours (it was 42 degrees and this was at like 5:00 in the evening). The modern metropolis of Panama City. The first country along my travels I have been allowed to flush the toilet paper (something that is definitely worth noting).
This picture is from a few moments before it started to downpour along the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica (Manzinolo). A typical house along the boat ride to Bocas Del Toro in Panama. Yummy.. A typical meal of beans, rice and pollo (chicken).
I have to say that I have some seriously mixed opinions of South America so far (I doubt I should judge all of S.A. from what I have seen in Venezuela so I will retract that to only Venezuela). It really has been a very large step from Central America. The tourism infrastructure is simply not here (possibly because they have few tourists) which is amazing seeing the great diversity and beauty of this country. I am also starting to realizing the immense size of South America. It takes a long, long time to go from place to place (10-15 plus hour bus rides look like they will be the norm). I am extremely excited to start getting into the Andies and hopefully go to the highest point I have ever been (4050 meters) sometime tomorrow. I still am unable to upload photos, but hopefully in the next couple days I will find a place that I will be able to post a few from. I should get some food before yet another bus (It's a good thing I don't mind riding buses). For those who don't know I have a number of friends in traveling in Israel right now, check out some of their picts on their blogs at the right of the page under Noel Bondt and/or Troy Barton.
I made my way through Panama then caught a flight to Caracas where I had planned on quickly heading toward the Angel Falls area. After trying to find my way to the bus station unsuccessfully (found out that it was closed) I got a place to stay for the night in the City. I have to say I felt fairly safe around Caracas. The mall I went to felt like any mall that would be in the states (all the same stores and same atmosphere). In the morning I made my way to the bus station after a bit of confusion again then to Cuidad Bolivar. The next day from Bolivar I caught a flight in a small Cessna to Canaima were I started my journey to Angel Falls by boat. The boat ride was amazing in itself up a fast flowing river with many rapids for 6 hours with the large Tepuis (large vertical cliffs to a flat top) found. Then finally we made it to Angel Falls itself were the group I was with camped for the night. WOW, it was almost unbelievable. Just simply incredible. The water falls over 800 meters before it hits the bottom. I plan on posting more about this but have to go for the now.
Following a short stint in San Jose (about 3 hours) I headed to the Caribbean town of Puerto Viejo. It was a beautiful bus ride through some more jungle and an unbelievable number of pineapple and banana plantations then finally along miles of palm tree lined Caribbean coast. This morning I rented a bike and biked along the coast then through some jungle. I have to say the howler monkeys are crazy. They make these loud moaning grunting noises that are really strange. I was biking along when one must have been just on the side of the road and it started making that noise. I almost fell of my bike. It is to bad it was pouring out so my glasses were fogged up and I couldn´t see anything, but the monkeys were out in force all over the place. I was thinking they were going to jump me and steal the coconut I had in the front basket of the bike. I also saw the grossest thing so far on my trip during that bike ride (A Vulture eating a dead monkey - I will leave the description there, inquire later if you really want to know more details). After crossing the boarder into Panama and a short boat ride I made it to my current local of Bocas del Toro. Another fun little Caribbean Island town with beaches never far away and surfers by the dozen.