A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: ichbinmatt

Mainland Ecuador

all seasons in one day 27 °C

After the flight to Quito our bodies still felt the sway of the boat for a day and a half, not to mention adjusting once again to altitude. We took advantage of Quito to get some good food and stayed in probably my favorite place of the trip so far- Casa Hebling. Its an old wooden building with unexpected corners and large volumes of sunlight.

My favorite part of mainland Ecuador was taking a biking tour of Cotopaxi. This massive volcano forms a nearly perfect cone and its upper reaches are covered by snow and ice year round despite lying nearly on the equator. We drove up to the highest parking lot with a tour, then hiked on up above 5000m, reaching the ice and snow. The views were spectacular and we proceeded to slide down the snow most of the way back to the parking lot. Here we unloaded our bikes and started a mad dash down 11km of rough road to the base of the volcano. One German girl in our group crashed and started bleeding. It was thrilling, but Mirja and I aren't adrenaline junkies so we took it pretty relaxed. Let the kids defy death. Afterwards we ate some amazing guacamole with the group and relived our adventures while being happy to be back below4000m.

Our last excursion in Ecuador was to visit the cloud forest in Mindo. Mostly we were happy to just get out of the city. Big cities in South America, like the rest of the world can be very dirty and smoggy and loud. Quito also has a reputation for being quite dangerous as far as muggings and minor crimes are concerned. We stayed at the the Hostel Rubby in Mindo, which is probably the best name I could imagine for a hostel. While in town we mostly relaxed- skipping the thrill seeker activities like rafting and zip lines. We walked out into the countryside, visited a butterfly farm and an orchid farm.

Ecuador is a pretty amazing place, but we were so overwhelmed by the Galapagos Islands that the mainland almost seemed like a bit of a letdown. Everything the mainland has to offer is also available in Peru and Bolivia- mountains, jungle, Inca history, so since we had already been to those places, mainland Ecuador got the short end of the stick.

Posted by ichbinmatt 19:00 Archived in Ecuador Tagged quito cotopaxi mindo Comments (0)

Galapagos

sunny 25 °C

I'll start by saying straight out that the Galapagos is probably the most unique and exciting place I've ever seen. It helps that I like to be outside and observe nature. Just imagine all wild animals sort of playfully behaving like pets. Or imagine walking around in a nature documentary, but nothing is trying to eat you. Sea lions spun circles around us while snorkeling- almost everyday. Penguins shot right by us in the water like darts. A colony of dolphins raced on the bow of our ship while others jumped 20-30 feet out of the water doing seaworld tricks. A bird landed on a guy's head from our boat. A pelican clipped my shoulder with its wing as it flew by me on a sea cliff, then turned skyward and dove straight into the ocean to catch a fish. Sea turtles, giant iguanas, blue-red-footed boobies, giant tortoises, pelicans- its all there and all right in front of your nose. I'm not even a big fan of beaches or being on boats, but this was something remarkable that I will never forget in a life of pretty unforgettable experiences. That being said, now I'll get back to complaining and making fun of the hard times of the travel.

We actually got to the main town Puerto Ayora without too many snafus. We decided to go total south american style and plan nothing in advance. Well, okay we bought our plane tickets, but that was the only frame we had to plan from. Getting from the Baltra airport to Puerto Ayora involves a bus followed by a ferry followed up another public bus- par for the course. In Puerto Ayora we found a decent hotel, then wandered around and visited agencies to look for a cruise leaving in the next few days to visit the uninhabited islands where most of the wildlife action is. After about an hour we had a good idea of our options. We also were solicited by a 'captain' of a boat who tried to sign us up for a cruise, only to later see him bussing tables at a cafe. We decided on the Samba which left in a day and a half, leaving us time to spare to explore a little around Puerto Ayora. No one should leave town without seeing the Darwin Research Station, which is where they raise giant tortoises for all to see up close. These were the only tortoises we would see. We also explored a couple of beaches within walking distance and saw plenty of black marine iguanas, which I still call "imps from hell" after reading historical accounts of their description, beautiful bright red sally lightfoot crabs, and various birds. At one very small fish market we saw a cluster of gathering animals- various pelicans, a frigate bird, one blue footed booby and suddenly a sea lion who jumped up onto the dock as if summoned in a magic trick.

We ended up paying $1250 per person for a 7 day cruise on the Samba- about half of what everybody else on the cruise paid when they pre-booked from home. I highly recommend this strategy for flexible backpackers. We had plenty of good options. Our fellow passengers consisted of a group of 6 friends from the west coast, another Californian, an Itailian, an Australian couple and a crabby Dutchman. I really enjoyed the company of the group and it made for a more rewarding trip. The cast and crew on the boat was over the top firiendly as well. The only thing lacking was our guide who was a last minute replacement for a more reputable guide who couldn't make the trip due to an injury.

Day in and day out we'd typically snorkle once or twice per day and visit an island for a short hike to see more wildlife. In between activities the crew would ply us full of fresh fruit and sweets and nuts. Mirja and I enjoyed sharing our cozy little cabin and never really felt any affects of motion sickness. Every day offered up something a little different. Most days we would see sea lions. I remember one flipped sand in Mirja's face when she got a little too close. Another day we saw nesting Albatrosses and their giant eggs. Yet another day we saw a lizard eat a baby Galapagos pigeon. Then pink flamingos, then snorkling with a shark, then a hawk, then land iguanas, then a giant manta ray, then... it went on and on. I honestly could have done another week long cruise to the islands we missed. We never made it to Isabella- the largest island. I wouldn't have regretted spending the extra money and time staying there. But life moves on and we flew back to the mainland to Quito.

Posted by ichbinmatt 19:56 Archived in Ecuador Tagged galapagos Comments (0)

Northern Peru and journey to Ecuador

sunny 28 °C

Buses upon buses is how we made it from Huaraz all the way to Guayaquil- the largest city in Ecuador. Some bus rides were easy 3-4 hour jaunts, some were mega 10-14 hour marathon ordeals. There are many worthy sites on the route we took- impressive archeological ruins, pre-inca sites, beaches, remote mountains and so on, but for the travel weary it was more like ground we just had to cover to get to Ecuador. Most of the terrain is dusty land that seems more like the middle east than Peru. We spent a day in Trujillo and visited Chan chan. Go ahead and google image chan chan. Impressive, no? Its also really fun to say. Chan chan. It sounds like a fun dance. My biggest take away from Chan chan were to hairless dogs that were all over Trujillo and around the ruins. Our guide kept saying Obama got one of these dogs, but that was the first I'd heard of such a thing. The dogs seemed pretty creepy to me, but I couldn't stop watching them.

The rest of the journey to Guayaquil was a blur. Just picture the Indiana Jones red line moving up the map to Guayaquil. Play the music, splice in some images of Mirja and me waiting in some lines, sitting on buses, sketchy guys at bus stations trying to sell us illicit tickets among other things... You get the picture.

Ecuador and Guayaquil were a breath of fresh air after so long in Peru. First off, $US$ money!! There's no longer any danger of sketchy conversions or learning what all the bills look like. Apparently Ecuador had some economic problems in the past. These problems led to the government defaulting and the collapse of their currency. For stability they made a deal with the US to use dollars. I wonder if any Ecadorians know who Lincoln, Hamilton, Jackson and Washington are. Stragely, they use both US coins and their own mixed together.

In Guayaquil we treated ourselves to a nice hotel in the fancy part of town near the airport and ate in western restaurants for the day before our flight. We were headed for the highlight of our South American trip- the Galapagos.

Posted by ichbinmatt 19:42 Archived in Peru Tagged chan guayaquil Comments (0)

Lima to Huaraz (still Peru) and the Santa Cruz Trek

all seasons in one day 15 °C

We did manage to stay in Lima for as little time as possible. But even so, in that 12 hours I managed to offend the disgruntled officials at the US embassy and be refused access to get extra pages in my passport. It's encouraging to see how our embassies abroad adapt to the local customs by matching the level of ineptitude of the local officials. When in Rome...

After a pretty decent all night bus ride northwards we found ourselves in Huarez, the gateway town to the Cordillera Blanca. After finding a place to stay in a zombie-like state from the night bus, we set about planning a trip into the mountains. We soon found the local trekking agencies lacking. One Czech couple described the horrors of their experience with the 'best' trekking company in town. I've planned a few treks in my day- like the 2500 mile CDT, so we talked it over and decided to try to hire mules to carry our stuff and a mule driver at the trailhead and do all the rest ourselves. We rented a tent, cooking gear and a stove and carefully planned out how much food we'd need. Our Salkantay guide was adamant that Peruvians all love rice and beans so we stocked up on plenty of those as well as other provisions for ourselves and our yet to be found mule driver. Tough decisions on what to bring? Oh, we'll have mules so just pack it!

The following morning we went through the typical Peruvian gauntlet of 'public transport' (shared taxis) and 2 rides and 3 hours later we found ourselves in the thin mountain air of Cashapampa- a village of a few farms and supposedly plenty of mule drivers to accomodate tourists like us. Only there were no mule drivers or mules in the village. All of them were hired out by the agencies and unavailable. On a lot of trips this seems like a total plane-crashing-into-the-mountain-disaster, but in Peru this is just another normal day of travel. Without much disdain we simply sorted out most of the rice and beans set aside for the phantom mule driver, as well as a lot of heavier food items the luxury of a mule made possible- apples, oranges, avocados, carrots, zucchini... and gave them to a peasant woman and a couple of kids. Jackpot for them! And only a few dollars of extra food costs for us. With that we paid the man standing on the trailhead (entrance fee to the 'park') and started hiking with our still too-heavy packs.

The following 3.5 days were marked by a lot of hiking, some rain, some misery and some breathtaking views. When the weather was clear the jagged snow-covered peaks pierced the blue sky and the contrast of colors made it all worthwhile. Almost everyone else hiking was with a group, but the way was nearly impossible to lose and I appreciate the added freedom and sense of adventure. I highly recommend skipping the guided hikes.

The way back to Huaraz was longer than the way there due to the direction we hiked. After 4 hours of collectivos and sitting in very uncomfortable positions over 4700m passes we made it back to town. A hardy group of Czechs also hiked the trail independently and made for good company for the trip back. Petr spoke the best English and talked enthusiastically about hiking legend Andy Skurka and the PCT and CDT (long distance trails in America). Thus concluded the independent adventure that was the Santa Cruz trek.

Posted by ichbinmatt 18:44 Archived in Peru Tagged trek santa cruz huaraz Comments (0)

Better Late than...

For completeness sake and to practice writing a little bit I'm going to fill in more of the world trip. I found my excellent little moleskin book (thanks Ute and Dominik) with detailed notes on everyday up until October 2011, so I'll provide a rough sketch of our trip. I'm sitting in a nice warm living room in America with a hot cup of tea, not in a 3rd world internet cafe with a bunch of rowdy teens playing world of warcraft, so I'm not sure my writing will be up to snuff, but here goes...

Posted by ichbinmatt 18:36 Archived in USA Tagged again blogging Comments (0)

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