A Travellerspoint blog

November 2011

Argentina – Parque Nacional Los Glaciares

The icy side of Patagonia

overcast 6 °C
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We had a few days up our sleeves before needing to get down to Ushuaia so we grabbed out the Lonely Planet and looked to see what was interesting further south than Bariloche. Reading about the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares ticked all the boxes – incredible glaciers, great hiking, breathtaking scenery. So after 28 hours on a bus, crossing the country to Rio Gallegos, then back over to the mountains we were in proper Patagonian landscapes.

The first stop was the town of El Calafate, just outside the boarders of the national park. It’s not overly large, but it doesn’t have much of a South American feel to it. It even has a flash new casino in town. However it is the prime location for visiting the main attraction Perito Moreno Glacier. After some shopping and washing on our first afternoon in town, we headed out to the glacier the following afternoon. There are two busses that go out to the glacier each day, however we chose the afternoon one as with the daytime sun, you are more likely to see ice carving from the face of the glacier in the afternoon.

Its an impressive hours drive out to the glacier past the massive glacial lake that El Calafate sits on. After paying the 100 peso entry fee at the national park, you get the first views of the glacier from the bus ride up to the viewing platforms. The bus stops at the boat docks for an optional boat ride to the face of the glacier. We spoke to some people at the hostel the previous day who said that the views from the viewing platform were better than the boat, so we weren’t going to worry about doing it.

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Getting to the glacier itself was incredible. We didn’t actually see it, we heard it. These loud cracks like lightning every so often. We got to the first viewing point and the enormity of this bit of ice comes to life. 74 meters high, 5km wide and stretching 30km as far as you can see up to the mountains above it. It comes from an ice cap that is the 3rd largest reserve of fresh water in the world. And unlike most glaciers around the world, this one is actually growing...

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The first viewing platform is quite high so you get to see the whole thing before going down the walkways to the point where you can’t see anything but the towering ice above you. It was really hard to get a perspective on the small bits of ice that were falling off the face. A bit that looked like it was no bigger than a soccer ball would fall off but make a really loud sound when it hit the water below.

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The glacier is quite unique in that it comes right down to a headland that is in the middle of the glacier path. The obstacle means that the glacier slows down but still has lots of pressure behind it, making big bits of ice fall off. We sat on a viewing platform for a while trying to record a clip of some ice falling off. Not much happened for a while but then there started to become some pretty regular cracking sounds. We started recording and the video below is what we got. Amazing!!

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Now you see it

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Now you don’t

After getting the video we were pretty happy so we went and got a hot chocolate to have a break from the cold. We looked around a bit more still in awe of that amount of ice just sat in front of us. The sun even came out for a bit to shine on the glacier before we got the bus back to El Calafate.

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El Calafate doesn’t have much more to offer, so we headed up to the smaller town of El Chalten which is nestled further into the national park. Our aim for the few days up here was some walking amongst the mountains. The first walk we did in the afternoon we arrived was just up a little knoll above the town. It was windy, cold and a bit of rain around, but good to get out in the air.

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Condor flying above us on the walk

We then did an 8 hour walk up to the view point for Mount Fitz Roy, the biggest peak in the area. Bearing in mind that ‘summer’ is only a few days away, it was still windy (not as bad as the prior day) and some sprinkles of snow meant we were still in our winter gear. The walk was great, it started out really cloudy and we couldn’t see the peak, but it did clear a bit as we were walking. As we headed uphill after a few hours of relatively flat terrain, we got up to the snow line and then had to walk through some pretty thick snow to get to the end. We were certainly not expecting to be walking through snow with more stinging snow being blown into our face.

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Woodpecker that gave us a show on the trail

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All we could see (Fitz Roy is somewhere in the cloud behind)

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Getting to the snow line

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As far as we are going today...

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On the way back down, it started to clear up and ended up quite nice by the time that we got down to town. We got some good shots up to the peaks from the town as we enjoyed a hearty dinner after the day of walking.

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Clearing now that we are back in town...

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The following day we went to Corre Torre which was another 6 hours of walking. The weather was a bit worse, so again we couldn’t see the peak on the whole walk. This one did finish right up at a glacier lake where we sat and had our lunch. Although the wind was pretty strong so we didn’t stay for long.

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We got back to town and waited for our bus which took us back to El Calafate where we then had to wait around for a 3am bus that would take us down to Ushuaia at the tip of the continent ready to got our boat to ANTARCTICA!!

FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – A great stop on the journey. The Perito Moreno Glacier was awesome. We have been to glaciers in Norway and Iceland before which were also great, but the way this glacier stops just at the headland is so unique and a great way to see such a wonder of nature. The walks from El Chalten were also great and a better place to base our self after seeing the Glacier

Tanya – The glacier was sunning, the way it engulfs the headland made for a perfect viewing platform – ideal for Dan to patiently wait for the perfect video opportunity. It was amazing to hear the glacier creaking and moaning away constantly. There wasn’t much else on offer in El Calafate so we were lucky for the tips from other travellers suggesting El Calafate the 3 hikes we did there were incredibly rewarding and very enjoyable (blisters aside).

Posted by dbgomes 09:49 Archived in Argentina Tagged argentina round_the_world Comments (3)

Argentina – Bariloche

Or is it Baril-ash???

storm 12 °C
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Another 20 hours on a bus got us down to the Argentinean Lake District. We were looking forward to coming down here as the English Lake District is our favourite spot in the UK. The drive down looked a little different though. It was blowing an absolute gale outside of the bus, and it was really hard to see. At first I thought that we were some clouds, and then I thought it might have been snow, but it wasn’t until we got into the town and someone mentioned the volcanic ash, did it make sense. You know that volcano in Chile that shut down a lot of southern hemisphere airspace including Australia, well that is just over the border.

We got to our hostel which was in a great location right next to the lake. We had also opted for a superior room (an extra $10) which was on the top floor so we had these amazing views from our bed

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The wind was relentless and the lake was full of white cap waves, but there is something quite nice about being in these kind of places when the weather isn’t great. We find the same in the English Lake District when it’s raining and dreary – The hills and lakes always look a little mystic and threatening, but still beautiful.

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The following day the wind had dropped a bit so we took the opportunity to head up the lake to where there are a bunch of smaller lakes and hills. The area is called the Chico Circuit and the way we were going to do it was on a bike. After getting the rental bikes we headed off on the road. There weren’t many cars going round given it’s just a big loop at the end of a dead end road. So we could quite easily just enjoy the scenery cycling around. We had a nice picnic lunch at one viewpoint before heading to a Swiss village. The scenery around here did remind us a lot more of Interlaken in Switzerland than anywhere else with the peaks and the lakes being very similar.

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Luckily the wind wasn’t too bad which made it a good day. The roads were really up and down, but that what makes the views over the lakes as good as they are. We found a nice spot at the hidden lake to enjoy some left over cakes from our lunch before completing the circuit with a free beer at the bike drop off point.

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Back at the hostel we soothed the sore legs by making use of the nice Jacuzzi that the hostel has. It was great to sit in the hot water looking out over the lake!

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The next day we had a day off!! We had looked into doing some kayaking on one of the lakes, but the company said to us that the weather forecast for the day was turning sour. So instead we slept in, caught up on the blog and just took it easy while the wind and rain lashed the bedroom window. The views were still great, even with the weather.

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We got an early bus the next day and drove through more of the stunning lakes on our way to Southern Patagonia.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – The lakes are really nice and reminded us of a few places we have been to over the years. We might have to come back in winter next time as the maps of the ski resort above the town made us start to look forward to snowboarding in the States in a few months.

Tanya – Aside from getting volcanic dust in my eyes quite often, the ash was quite a novelty for us. Bariloche itself had not been too badly affected compared to areas that we had seen on the way there on the bus. I really enjoyed biking through the beautiful scenery and am glad we didn’t pick a windier day for it!

Posted by dbgomes 08:31 Archived in Argentina Tagged argentina round_the_world Comments (0)

Argentina – Mendoza

For the Love of Wine

semi-overcast 25 °C
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The sole purpose for coming to Mendoza... Wine!! Argentina´s principle wine region they are famous for their red wines especially the Malbec which is particularly good from this area. We settled into our hostel after the 14 hours overnight bus from Buenos Aires. The hostel was exceptionally good simply down to their service. They showed us around the whole hostel, said that we got free wine at night, ran activities every day and were generally really friendly and helpful. After spending months in and out of hostels, its these little things that make all the difference.

We spent this first afternoon just looking at the main blocks in town which is a lot larger than we expected it to be. It’s more of a commercial centre with all the vineyards in surrounding smaller towns and villages. We got a few things from the cheap markets like new shoes for me and warmer clothes in anticipation for the colder temperatures down south. Back at the hostel I watched the Argentina vs Colombia football game in the lounge with Joe who was from England. Later on at 9 the hostel put on a Argentinean BBQ and wine evening so we enjoyed more great meat and plenty of wine. We mainly chatted with Joe and Hafsha. They have got a years travelling just in Central and South America and being 7 months in have been to a lot of the same places as us. They were really nice and were also intending to do the biking and wine tasting the following day so we said we would go out together.

Our destination was the winery town of Maipu about 40 minutes bus ride from Mendoza. Everywhere you look online and in the hostel the recommendations are to do the biking with Mr Hugo. He’s like a local celebrity now with the success of his business. Hafsha isn’t used to riding a pushbike so they were going to get a tandem bike. Tanya and i thought it would be fun to get one too. We were welcomed with a free cup of wine after getting our bikes from Mr Hugo and then shown on a map where the best wineries were.

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The first stop was just around the corner at a chocolate, olive oil, marmalade and liquor producing place. Strange combination, but they had great stuff. We then went to the wine museum which we stayed at for 5 minutes before moving on. The first winery that we intended to go to was Trapiche which is the biggest producer from the area. The town has all sorts of wineries from small traditional family run ones, new modern small vineyards right up to the industrial one of Trapiche. However we got there for the hourly tour and tasting to be told that the next one was in a couple of hours... We decided to go to a beer brewery around the corner to have some lunch instead. The beer was good, but we were a little worried that it was already getting to 2pm and we still hadn’t got a drop of wine yet.

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We headed to one of the small family vineyards and after looking around the original buildings we finally got to sample some wine. After this we headed to another couple that were close by which were both quite modern but still small vineyards. There were some really good wines and they all had a good array of Malbec’s, Cab Sav´s and Chardonnay all of different ages.

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We were still finishing off our final wines at 6.30 when the vineyards closed. We made our way back to Mr Hugo´s to be greeted with unlimited wine for the evening until the last bas leaves at 9pm. I can see why Mr Hugo is so popular :-) All in all a great day, and we had fun with the 4 of us just cruising around on our tandem bikes and drinking the good wines. Joe and Hafsha were great company and we will hopefully meet up with them when we are trekking in Chile next month.

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The next day was our treat day. Being that we were in the principle wine area and the food here is great too, we thought we would splash out on a fancy pants meal for the day. After all we are on our honeymoon right! After a search of the internet we came up with a winery a little further out of Mendoza called Ruca Malen. The online reviews we saw had everyone raving about the lunch and paired wine experience. We got taken out to the winery and luckily we were a little early so we got to have the pick of the tables. We chose the primo spot looking out over the manicured lawns, rows of vines and distant Andes.

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So the lunch consists of a 5 course meal each with its own specifically paired wine (2 with the main course even). We sat down for the first 2 appetisers before going off for a tour round the winery. The tour was good, very informative and they definitely have a really modern well run vineyard from what we saw. They were also in the process of expanding so that by the time the next harvest comes in March, they will have doubled their output to 1 million bottles.

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The wine tasters – what a job

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The meal was absolutely fantastic. Each dish itself was top class, and then to add the specifically chosen wine for each one just topped it off. We had a great day and between the meals we had those moments just looking out onto the vineyard with a glass of wine in our hand, thinking how different a normal Thursday afternoon would be. Here is a rundown of the meal, not wanting to make you too jealous...

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Small Uco Valley trout salad with Granny Smith apples and azahar crème paired with a 2011 Torrontes

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Grapevine leaf small rolls, sautéed tenderloin and Argentinean cereal with olive oil infusion, cinnamon and sun dried tomatoes. Served on a lime stone paired with a 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon.

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Roasted beetroot and fresh ricotta malfattis with a smoky thyme cream paired with a 2009 Reserve blend

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Grilled beef tenderloin medallion with smoked tomatoes, anco pumpkin croquette and spunta-sliced potatoes with onion chimichurri. Paired with a 2009 Malbec and 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon

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Citric fruits bavaroise with orange peels and season fruits paired with a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay Brut

We couldn’t have had a more relaxing and enjoyable day. It was perfect and a good way to treat ourselves to remind us that we do have to have some luxuries along the way. Getting married has been a good excuse blow the budget out every now and then anyway :-)

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I didn’t enjoy that at all...

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FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – Perfect wine, food and good times really made Mendoza a great stop. I think i could have spent another few days just going round the wineries enjoying the food and wine!! Our meal will be one to remember for a while. We have had lots of really nice meals, but this was a special day and it was a great way to remind us that we are still travelling on our honeymoon.

Tanya – Well I discovered how good my Spanish was when I found myself speaking fluently (or rather confidently) to some locals on the bus going home from the vineyards! Biking around the wineries has been one of my highlights, it was great fun - biking and drinking wine (not to mention tasting chocolate, olives, liquors and marmalades) a few favourite hobbies combined. The meal the next day was a great treat and soooo good!

Posted by dbgomes 05:19 Archived in Argentina Tagged argentina round_the_world Comments (1)

Argentina – Buenos Aires

The capital for great steak, intriguing history and plastic surgery.

sunny 27 °C
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Buenos Aires (BA) was a cool city! Hip, modern yet old school, historic and glamorous. It could easily be sat somewhere on the European continent. In fact the Porteños (Buenos Aireans) themselves think that they should be in Europe, not the arse end of a third world continent. This is because they are snobs according to our Porteno guide (more on this later)!! :-). After settling into our hostel in the old cobbled streets of San Telmo district we went for a walk to see the sights of the neighbourhood.

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Our first thing we figured we would do was one of the Free Walking Tours. As we said in the Santiago post, we always find these tours great. True to form, this one was no exception. They always have really enthusiastic, funny, young local guides to take you round. Here in BA the company does two different tours so the first one that we did was the 5pm tour which starts at Plaza San Martin. The guide was Gaston (as in Beauty and the Beast) and he said that this tour goes through the aristocratic areas of town whereas the morning tour goes through the historic downtown area. He said that the morning tour is much better whilst winking (he also said the afternoon tour is much better on the morning tour). It was a decent sized group, and a lot of the people had done the morning walk and came along to complete the set (more of an indication of how good the tour was than anything else)

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Gaston leading the way

We got the low down on San Martin (the liberator for Argentina, Chile and Bolivia) and how he was the only president that everyone liked according to Gaston. Down through the park we came to the memorial for the 400 odd dead soldiers from the Falkland War. It was interesting to hear the Argentinean perspective (myself being British). Basically the dictatorship military government at the time was struggling and decided to play the nationalist card to get support. After taking the islands and then getting the full force of a pissed off Margaret Thatcher who also could use some political help for her leadership, the Military government was shown up for being the inept group that it was. The casualties from the war (mostly young, ill trained soldiers) are national heroes, but with the loss of the war finally bringing down the military government and restoring democracy (the longest period in Argentina’s history), the country doesn’t have much respect for its military for entering such a silly war.

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The only president everyone liked

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The British tower – present for Argentina´s 100th birthday (they got nothing for their 200th)

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The Falklands Memorial

We then walked through the neighbourhoods of Retiro and Recoleta which is the aristocratic part of town. Argentina was the richest country in the world back at the turn of the century with exports to Europe. A lot of people had money and through the inspirations of Europe (and Paris in particular) they spent that money on building grand buildings in the Parisian styles. When we were walking through these streets we most definitely could have been somewhere in Paris!

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The Israeli Embassy memorial which was bombed in 1992

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Drinking from las Ramblas fountain gifted from Barcelona

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Gaston told us the people from BA are really friendly but they are snobs (its alright for him to say as he´s a Porteño too). He said that the Argentinean women are the most beautiful in the world but they have the highest rate of cosmetic surgery in the world to try to be even better. The country has free health care, but if you take out private health insurance you get a free cosmetic procedure every 2 years! He said that in this part of town it would be like going on Safari, you will see rich old blokes with glamatron girlfriends who have definitely used a few free operations. We would call these ´tigers´ on the safari and spot as many as we can :-)

The tour ended at the city’s famous Recoleta Cemetery. The richest people in BA lived in these neighbourhoods in its heyday and not only did they try to outdo each other in life, they also wanted to have the best tombs for their death too. By the time the tour got there, the cemetery was closed but Gaston recommended going in to see it if we had time. There is supposedly some of the best stained glass in the world in the tombs, which is a little strange given that stained glass is something that is only appreciated from the inside... hmmm

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We walked back through the city to San Telmo until 8pm when all the museums in the city threw their doors open for the annual National Museum Night. Every museum in town is free for one night only between 8pm and 3am... 3AM, that´s got to be an interesting thing to do on your way back home from a Saturday night out in town (actually the Porteños usually finish dinner after midnight and only start to get partying by 2am and finish up when the sun rises). We visited a few places which weren’t overly great, so luckily we didn’t pay for them. There were certainly a lot of people out and about though and Gaston had said that there would be lots of partying tonight.

We weren’t too worried about partying but instead were hanging out for a steak dinner. Above everything else, the number 1 thing that i was looking forward to in Argentina was the steak. The rest of South America had be terrible for steak, so I gave up on it until we got here. Right next to our hostel was a steak house that looked decent. As it turned out it was great. You order your cut of steak and how you want it cooked, then any side dish that you want with it. The steak comes out BBQ´d by itself and presented to you then the side dish separately afterwards. I had a Bife de Chorizo steak and Tanya had ribs. One word AMAZING. So worth the wait, and I think that I might go on a solo meat diet for the next month!

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Heaven on a plate

The following day was Sunday and the day of San Telmo´s famous antique markets. We strolled round the markets for a few hours and then went for lunch at a tango show. It was a free show when you had lunch, so we got another steak and enjoyed watching the performances.

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The crowded streets on Market Day

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We then headed off for the cemetery to have a look through there. On the way we stopped at one of the Freddo ice cream shops. Gaston had said that Argentina has some of the best ice cream in the world thanks to the Italian migrant influence, especially the Dulce de Leche flavour. The ice cream was amazing as promised.

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The cemetery was an experience. The rich from BA certainly liked to be extravagant. Evita´s tomb is somewhere in this cemetery, however it is very plain and reserved, especially in comparison to her neighbours. It is so dwarfed by the other tombs that we couldn’t even find it in amongst them all. We then walked out to the ‘flower’ for a few pictures and back to San Telmo for some dinner and an early night after all this walking.

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Street art in San Telmo

The next morning we walked up to the Parliament square which is the meeting place for the morning tour with BA free walking tours. It was nice to see Gaston was our guide again so he asked how our weekend was and what we got up to. This tour goes through the historic part of town and we got the low down on the 200 yr history of the city before walking down the main street between the congress and the president’s residence. We stopped on the main avenue which the Porteños like to tell everyone that it is the widest avenue in the world with much pride and snobbery. Gaston said, that if you meet a local and they tell you this, don’t tell them that actually there is one in Brazil which is almost twice as wide. At the time it was built it was the widest in the world, and the locals don’t like to move on from that.

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We also stopped at Cafe Tortoni which is the oldest coffee shop in BA. Gaston definitely recommended coming back if we had a chance as they have tried to keep it originally furnished and decorated inside and its only a couple of peso´s more expensive than elsewhere. They are famous for their ‘submarino’ which is a traditional Argentinean drink – Hot milk with a chocolate bar to drop into it. At Cafe Tortoni they even have their chocolate bar in the shape of a submarine.

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The tour walked to the square out front of the presidents building where Gaston told us about the ‘Dirty War´ and the ‘Mothers’ who were a group of mothers who lost children amongst the 30,000 people that disappeared during the military dictatorship. The ’Mothers & Grandmothers’ still march around this square every week to seek to find their lost children. The tour finished at the obelisk back at the avenue. Our bus to Mendoza was leaving at 8pm so we went back to the Tortoni cafe to try out a Submarino which was really nice before getting the underground from the Peru underground station (the oldest in the Southern Hemisphere) which is kept in the same style as it originally was.

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The symbol for the Mothers campaign

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Peru station

FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – Loved BA actually! Perfect weather for a few days to look around the place. Lots to see and enjoying the steak and tango shows. The two free walking tours were good ways to see a few parts of the city and Gaston was a cool guide to show us round.

Tanya – A great city, very European. We had a great few days there and would have liked to spend some time in the new port area but didn’t get the time. I wasn’t quite sure why you would want to visit a cemetery but we went to find out and then understood, it was incredible. Not sure why stained glassed windows became popular for tombs though! The antique markets were great, particularly the stalls that had stretched for many blocks away from the main square and the tango show was a fab performance while we ate our lunch.

Posted by dbgomes 11:55 Archived in Argentina Tagged argentina round_the_world Comments (2)

Brazil/Argentina – Iguazu Falls

A New 7 Wonder of the Natural World

sunny 30 °C
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Iguazu Falls are located on the Iguazu river which forms the border between Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. Paraguay lucked out though as the waterfalls are only on the Brazil/Argentina part of the boarder and are a major attraction in South America. We flew into Brazil with the intention of seeing the falls from both sides as people always recommend doing both.

The town on the Brazil side is called Foz do Iguacu and WOW, you can see the effect of the tourist $ here!! We got into town around 9pm and so went for a walk to get some food. There are lots of hotel resorts, high rise apartments/hotels, all the usual western takeout places in brand new glass buildings and several steakhouse pubs. We could have been walking down a street in the US or Australia. We didn’t mind though as a few western comforts are not a bad thing after a number of weeks in remote towns.

In the morning we got the bus out to the falls. In the nice information centre we saw some information showing how the falls were created by fissure volcanism when South America and Africa were separating. Molten lava spread out over the plain and stopped at this point forming a cliff face between the two levels. Then another lava flow spread out on top of the first one and also came to a stop a few hundred meters short of the first one creating a step formation between the three levels. Add some water to the mix and you have an impressive natural phenomena.

There is a bus that goes from the information centre to the falls. We got off at the first point where you can see the falls and with some anticipation walked down the path to the lookout. WOW, impressive indeed. The Brazil side gives a great perspective view of the falls and at this first point we were surprised at just how big they actually are. The mist that is being thrown up from the falls gives some indication to the power of the water going over the edge.

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From this first view of the falls there is a 1.2km path that goes up the falls. As we walked along the path we couldn’t believe that there was more. The first view as massive as it is, only shows about half of the total falls. We got a bunch of pictures along the way taking in the amazing thing we were looking at. We were both quite excited to be visiting the falls, but they still blew us away! The falls stretch over an amazing distance of 3km.

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The path finishes right up at the devils throat part of the water falls. Quite a lot of the water from the upper plain filters down in this part so the falls are really powerful here. This is the only part where you can walk out onto the falls via a boardwalk on the Brazil side. There is so much mist from the falls that you get a good soaking walking out onto the boardwalk but it was refreshing on a beautiful warm day.

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You can see the boardwalk going out to the edge

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Up this close, you get a real appreciation for just how much water is going over the edge! There is so much going down the devils throat that it is permanently hidden in the mist. It is a good view point from here as you are on the middle level so you have falls coming down from above as well as being able to look over the edge of the lower falls.

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Amazing views over the edge of impressive falls

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There were some cafes and restaurants at this final part of the falls so after getting right up close to the upper falls we sat by the calmer upper river eating an icecream. We thought that we might try to stay until sunset, but after going back and forth to the information centre is was only 3pm and the sun was still high in the sky so it would probably be closed before sunset anyway.

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View to the Argentinean Side

Back at the hostel we met 2 other couples that we went out for some drinks with. The steakhouse bars in Foz Do Iguacu served beers in these big things that held 2.5 litres of beer and had a tap on them. We got few a few of them whilst chatting about travels.

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We crossed the border (after 3 different busses) in the morning to get to Argentina and its town of Puerto Iguazu which was much more like we were expecting the town to look like. Less developed and more of a South American feel. We got our bus booked for Buenos Aires and then chilled in the hostels pool.

Next day it was out to the Argentinean side of the falls. It was a little bit of a walk from the information centre to the falls on this side. The advantage that the Argentinean side has over the Brazil side is that most of the falls actually sit on the Argentinean side, meaning that you get up close to a lot more of the falls. However you don’t get the same perspective as in Brazil. There are a number of different trails that you can walk on to see different parts of the falls. Our first trail was the lower falls trail as we wanted to get down to the river to get a boat that we had booked.

This lower trail takes you past some of the isolated far waterfalls and then up to the first part of the main falls. The alternate views from here were just as impressive as our first views over the other side. There were many viewpoints and at some parts the spray from the falls gave us a refreshing shower.

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View up to the devils throat and the Brazil side

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We then got down to the river where we had booked for a boat ride that takes you out to the base of the falls. The give you a waterproof bag for your belongings as it´s a guaranteed soaking! It was good we got right up close to the falls in the u shaped part of the pictures above where the sound of that much water is incredible. We hopped off dripping from head to toe.

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We walked back up to the higher falls path and quickly dried off in the heat. This path walks along the very edge of the upper falls which again gives another perspective of this amazing place.

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Farting is strictly prohibited in Iguazu Falls – maybe it disrupts the water flow... :-)

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The final path on this side of the falls went up to the Devils Throat. You catch a train out to this part and while we were waiting for the train Tanya got bitten on her toe by this really ugly looking bug. We assumed it wasn’t poisonous, but i took a good look at it so that i could describe it to someone if she keeled over later in the day :-)

Seeing the Devils Throat on this side is completely different to the Brazil side. Being on the upper level, you can get more of an appreciation of how much water is funnelling down it. We got our final pictures and took in the awesomeness of this natural wonder for a final 5 minutes then headed back to the entrance to get the bus back to town in time for our 5.30pm bus down to Buenos Aires. Over the two days of visiting the falls there was lots of promotion about voting for it as one of the ´New 7 Wonders of the Natural World´ The announcement that Iguazu Falls was declared one of the 7 Wonders was actually made on the 11/11/11 which was the day that we were on the Argentinean side so we can always say that we where there when it was quite rightly declared a Natural Wonder of the World!!

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So much water filtering down here

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FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – There is no doubt that this should be one of the 7 Natural Wonders! It blew away our expectations. The pictures can´t emphasise how massive they are and the incredible sound that is made by that much water. I think that both sides were completely different perspectives and doing one without the other is like watching a film without any sound – your missing the total experience. If you were absolutely pushed for time and could only do one side, then the Argentinean side probably gives you more for your money.

Tanya – Yes I had a bug bite, but Dan forgot to mention that we saw a toucan up close flying between the rafters of the info centre (Brazil side) – that was really lucky although he wouldn’t sit still for a decent photo. There were also loads of other animals, and it felt like we were in a butterfly park all of the time. The falls were totally spectacular. The answer to the most common question I hear – the Argentinean side was my favourite.

Posted by dbgomes 06:24 Archived in Argentina Tagged argentina brazil round_the_world Comments (3)

Colombia – Amazon Slow Boat

The slow and winding river to Peru

sunny 34 °C
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Leticia is a really small isolated town on the Amazonas River where the boarders of Columbia, Peru and Brazil meet. It is so isolated that there are no roads that lead to it, you can only arrive by boat or air. It was raining when our plane landed, but walking to the terminal, the rain was actually hot, I´ve never been in hot rain before but it was a weird sensation! Maybe Leticia is so isolated that they never got told that rain is supposed to be cold...

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After checking into a hostel we headed straight down to the river to try and secure the next slow boat out of town. The purpose of coming out here was to get back down the continent without retracing our steps. So this way, we could take a 3 day boat ride up the Amazon back into Peru. There were lots of little motor boats waiting at the river to take people across to the small island of Santa Rosa (which is Peruvian). We hopped in one and the kind driver told us that the boats leave every day of the week around 7pm. He took us to the place where they depart and there was one moored up. We spoke to a man who was near the boat, and after saying that we wanted to make a reservation for one tomorrow, he said there were no reservations. Fair enough.

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We went back into town and made our police report at the police station before walking back into the main streets for some food. Today was Halloween, and it seemed like EVERYONE in town was out. People were dressed up, but it wasn’t so much a theme of something scary, just dressing up as anything was fine. There were lots of really fat blokes walking round dressed as women though, that WAS very scary indeed!!!

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A contest... for large blokes apparently.

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This kids outfit was good

The following morning we had to get our passports in order. It´s not a straight forward process here to cross the boarders officially (even though we crossed it yesterday to go to Santa Rosa). First of all we had to head back out to the airport where the immigration office is for Colombia. We got our exit stamps there before walking back to the hostel to pick up our backpacks and head down to the river again. We crossed the river to Santa Rosa and walked into the small town on the island. We weren’t sure where to go, but after asking a couple of people, we found it on the main street. We filled out the landing cards and got our entry stamps for Peru without too many problems. The slow boat wasn’t in yet, so we waited in a little cafe with some lunch.

While we were waiting, we saw three people who were on the plane yesterday with us. They asked if we knew where to go for the stamps, so we directed them to the building and then chatted when they returned. Dee, Donal and Mikkel would be our boat buddies for the time on the river. We were the only gringos on the boat along with all the locals, the chickens, the fish and other produce that was making the journey.

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Fellow passengers

We went down to the river and our boat was there now. The boat is a very simple transport boat for goods and people to go up and down the river. It has a lower level for a lot of produce, and then two upper levels for the passengers. However these levels are just a big open area that people have to sling up their own hammocks. We were intending to get one of the few cabins that are on the upper most level. The main reason being for security purposes, as your bags are prime targets to go for a walk while you are sleeping.

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After getting onto the boat, there wasn’t much of a process for booking, we just told a bloke that we wanted to travel and was after a cabin. After a couple of hours waiting not really knowing what was going on, someone let us into the cabins. The cabins had been described as jail cells, and that’s not too far off – two thin bunks and nothing else. With the heat and humidity though, it’s not the kind of place you want to spend the day. We strung up our hammocks on the deck to relax in during the days and waited around until the boat left at 7pm.

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The boat slowly chugs its way up the Amazon day and night and it took us 3 nights to make it all the way to our destination in Peru. It stops frequently along the way to offload and pick up goods and passengers. People will come onto the boat to sell you food and drinks at these stops, however this is the only real distraction from the main activity of sitting in the hammocks relaxing, reading and chatting while you watch the banks of the river pass by. It was forced relaxation!

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The view from the hammock

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The Amazon – wider than i expected

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Some refreshing watermelon from the local sellers

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The nights were cool, and there was always mist around in the mornings from the humidity of the days. We were lucky that there weren’t too many storms in the afternoon where we were, but once if fell dark, there was always some lightning off in the distance. On the final night there was a big storm off to the south and i sat there with the camera trying to get a picture. I got a pretty decent shot of one strike and it was great to watch the awesome power of the storm from the boat.

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Pretty happy with the lightning shot...

One thing that we noticed was the awful attitude to litter on the river. Any time that someone had a bottle of coke or packet of crisps the bottle or packets went straight over the side of the boat. It was both adults and children doing it without any kind of second thought. The river is the lifeblood for the people, but they don’t seem to have any appreciation of the impact that the litter has. There was a bin on the boat which just went straight overboard, so we kept all our rubbish to take off with us.

It was a great experience though to be travelling on the river like we were one of the locals. On the final afternoon i went up the front of the boat to watch the sun setting. A local man offered me a seat and after telling him that i only speak a little Spanish, I ended up sitting and chatting with him for about an hour. It was one of the strangest experiences of the trip. Firstly, i surprised myself that actually my Spanish is ok for holding a conversation with someone. However the main reason was that it was a bizarre conversation in English let alone Spanish. He was telling me about aliens and how they are super intelligent and come to earth to do tests on humans. Also how there will be a war over water because it is running out. He said he knows about all these oil reserves under the Amazon and the corrupt dealings that have happened in the government. It was a great experience to just chat with him like that watching the sun go down, even if it seemed like he has watched a few too many Hollywood movies.

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We got into Iquitos in Peru at 4am which posed a little bit of a problem. We had been told by a few people on the boat that Iquitos is Muy Peligroso (Very Dangerous). So when we got into to boat port and started packing our gear up, more people were saying to wait until the sun comes up to get off the boat. I had also picked up some food poisoning from the chicken and rice the night before (you get served 3 meals a day on the boat – two of these meals are always chicken and rice) so i was throwing my guts up making the prospect of dealing with the dangers even harder. We followed their advice and got off once the sun was shining. They also said to watch our bags so when we got up to a tuk tuk I put a plastic bag which had my shoes in underneath my big bag and held onto my little backpack with our important stuff in. When we got to the hostel though, my bag with my shoes in was gone. I think the tuk tuk driver must have taken it out and given to someone else when he was tying up the gear. Another lesson on the annoyance of being a target in these countries.

I spent the rest of that day in bed getting over the food poisoning at the first hostel. We changed hostels the following morning to a much better one and then the 5 of us looked around the town doing a few jobs like haircuts and washing. On the final evening, the hostel owner told us about a festival that was in town and he would take us there if we wanted. I was still knackered from being ill, but the other 4 took up his offer. Tanya had a good time dancing and chatting with the group of local people that the hostel owner knew.

In the morning we got our flight to Lima where we spent a couple of nights in the lovely neighbourhood of Miraflores before getting another flight over to Iguazu Falls

FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – The slow boat was definitely a good way of getting back to the south. We got to feel like locals for a few days. Watching some river dolphins around the boat, the way of life on the river and chatting with everyone was great. We shipped our hammock back to Australia so im hoping that when we lay in that in our back yard, i will remember the days on the river.

Tanya – The slow boat was a great experience other than all the ‘peligroso’ warnings – nice people to warn us at least. We were lucky to get cabins (mainly to lock our valuables in) for only 10 Pesos extra. It had been difficult to negotiate in our broken Spanish and after a few attempts we were taken off the boat and up the river bank to shake hands with the captain who came back with us to give us the keys, we didn’t quite understand the process but it worked out as we hoped. The first hostel in Iquitos was horrible, never stay at a place when the owner says ‘Well you probably don’t want to stay here...’ thats a long story though. The next hostel was fab, no aircon but plenty of fans and being invited out to the local music festival was great. We had a few dancing lessons from the locals (us westerners use our upper body not lower body to dance) and all danced around our milk crate of beers and blocks of ice. Its the done thing to all chip in for the beers and then share them one at a time (in separate cups). I forget the name of famous Columbian singer who was headlining. It started with S, but we found out that the Columbians class Shakira as American.

Posted by dbgomes 18:38 Archived in Colombia Tagged colombia round_the_world Comments (0)

Colombia – Tayrona Beaches & Cartagena

Life´s a Beach

sunny 28 °C
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After some gruelling kilometres on the lost city trek, our original plan was to spend a few days on the Tayrona beaches to relax. Having decided to spend a few days extra in Ecuador and then having our missed flight (which meant we started the lost city tour a few days late), our time was reduced to just a day trip out. James and Andy from our lost city group were also heading out there to spend a few days.

The four of us found where the ´bus station´ was on the map and after walking though the chaotic markets we found people shouting out ´Tayrona´ at a random intersection next to a small old bus. It was an hours drive to El Zaino at the base of the Parque Nacional Tayrona. After sorting out the park entrance, we got in a van which took us to the point where you need to walk to the beaches. There are a number of beaches dotted along the northern coastline that are only accessible on foot. Our destination was the furthest one called Cabo San Juan.

We started walking along the pathway which at first started out on a wooden boardwalk, but quickly changed into 2 hours of walking through bush, mangroves, army´s of ants, coconut tree fields and muddy tracks that rivalled the prior 5 days on the Lost city trek. We weren’t prepared for the walk to be as difficult as it was, and our flip flops had numerous blow outs along the way.

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One thing that we did notice were the massive granite boulders in amongst the jungle and along the beaches that we came across. These were worshipped by the local tribes of the area, and it is easy to see why, they were rather impressive. We passed a few of the earlier beaches along the walk which are really nice, although this area of the coast is notorious for its strong currents which have claimed the lives of many a foolish tourist taking to the inviting sea. We had to cross a river that was joining the sea which meant a waist deep wade to add to the fun of the journey.

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'Forbidden to swim in these waters. More than 100 people have drowned here. Do not become part of the statistics'

We arrived at Cabo San Juan beach after 2 hours of walking and we welcomed by a pristine beach that made it all worthwhile. In a way, its good that it is this hard to reach, as that is probably what makes it so clean and beautiful. If it was easy to access then it would no doubt be spoilt like the beaches we saw at Taganga and closer to Santa Marta. At Cabo San Juan beach there is a little camping area and better still, a rocky outcrop which has a gazebo on it with hammocks and cabins for you to sleep in if you are staying at the beach. It was our original intention to stay in there, but now we were only visiting for the day, we had the prospect of the walk back out of the park to deal with. Luckily when we got to the little cafe that is at the beach, a bloke came up to us offering tickets for the speed boat back to Taganga. This 40 minute option would mean not having to 2 hour walk back and get the hour long bus – a no brainer decision there!!

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So now that we knew how we were getting back, we could relax and enjoy the amazing beach that we had before us. It was almost a w shape with the rocky outcrop breaking up the two beaches. We went for a swim as this bay is one spot along this coast where the currents are not dangerous. The water was so warm, just like when we swam at Taganga. It was definitely a slice of paradise!

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Cabo San Juan Beach

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The views of the two beaches from the rocky outcrop

We had some food and met up with Andy (We left James and Andy at one of the earlier beaches as they were getting a reservation there). He told us that when he crossed over the river, he almost stepped on a Caiman which was floating in the water. Someone said that with the heavy rains, its not uncommon for the caiman to be washed downriver to the beach. He said it freaked him out and after backing out of the river slowly, he went a little further along to cross hoping that it was not following him! He waited on the other side to see if it really was what he thought and managed to get photographic evidence to show us.

After our food, we had another swim with Andy and chilled on the sand until our boat was ready to leave at 3.30. The boat sped along the coast with us and another 15 or so passengers. It was cool to see all the coast line from the sea. There looked like there were a number of private beaches or something in a few of the bays, as there were lots of sizeable yachts moored up in them but no apparent roads when you look at the maps. We got into Taganga at sunset and got the bus back around to Santa Marta. We booked our bus for the morning to get us to Cartagena and called it a night.

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Our Santa Marta Hostel

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The pool rules, very important

The bus left at 10:30 and was a straight forward 4 hour trip to Cartagena. It is a beautiful old city that still has its ancient wall surrounding it. The walls were constructed after Cartagena became a key target for both Pirates and aggressive Spanish opponents including Sir Frances Drake of Britain. The walls finally stopped the relentless pillaging after Spain pumped in the equivalent of 2 trillion dollars in today´s money to secure the key port by bolstering the defences into the most extensive fortifications in South America.

We left our bags at a hostel to look after for a few hours and then headed straight for the walls. We walked through the old town to get there and then up onto the walls. It was actually a grey dreary day, which we have not had too many up to this point, but walking along the walls certainly had our imaginations going with thinking what it would have been like to see a pirate ship coming from the sea. After getting off the walls, we tried looking for somewhere to eat, but today was the election day for the national government, so a lot of places were closed. The best we could find was the Hard Rock Cafe which was not a cheap option, but we were kind of desperate to have some food as we needed to head to the airport shortly.

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Old Town square

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Beautiful streets of Cartagena´s old town

After picking up our bags we headed off to the airport on a local bus. The flight was a short hop back down to Bogota. We got a taxi back to the hostel we had stayed at previously for the night. We had a flight again the following afternoon down to Leticia in the far south.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – The Tayrona beaches were stunning. They were paradise and a good way to spend a day after finishing the lost city trek. It was unfortunate that we couldn’t stay there for a night, but at least we managed to still get out there to see them. Cartagena was a nice little city and only spending an afternoon there was also not long enough but time is running away from us at the moment!

Tanya – If only we could have stayed in Tayrona for more than the day! On the bright side we were so mosquito bitten already that I don’t know if we could have taken much more living amongst the little buggers! We didnt get photos on the worst of the trek out there as we were too busy repairing our flip flops - if only I had dressed as if trekking to the Lost City again. The beaches were just stunning, and the water was warm, it really was perfect. Im so glad we got out there even if just for a day. Cartagena was a lovely city although the few hours we spent there were strange, it was a ghost town. I loved this part of Columbia!!

Posted by dbgomes 16:00 Archived in Colombia Tagged colombia round_the_world Comments (0)

Colombia – Ciudad Perdida

Looking for the Lost City

all seasons in one day 32 °C
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The Lost City of the Tairona´s is hidden somewhere in north Colombia and kept concealed by the dense jungle. It dates to around 800AD, 650yrs earlier than Machu Picchu. The city probably became abandoned during the Spanish times possibly from diseases brought to the city by the invaders. It was rediscovered in 1972 when treasure hunters found some steps and followed them to the city. After treasures started turning up on the local black market, the authorities followed the treasure hunters and finally revealed the site. We would see if we could find this lost city after some gruelling hiking for 5 days...



We got to the tour company office and met up with James and Andy who were two blokes from Solihull in the UK who were with us in our tour. We then picked up Joel, from Estonia, from his hostel and drove the hour out of Santa Marta to the entrance of the Sierra Nevada national park. We then drove for another 45mins on a gravel track away from the coastline and deeper into the Jungle. After a few stream crossings in the land rover we got to the little town of El Mamey where we had our pre walk lunch and chatted with the other 3 getting to know each other. At lunch there was another group with another tour company that were also starting the tour today, and their group had about 12 people in it, who were almost all Irish. Maybe that company had been recommended in the Irish Lonely Planet or something. Us five agreed that we were quite happy to have a small group to share the journey with.

We set off for the first 4 hours of the trek aiming to get to our first camp at 5pm hoping that the rain would hold off till then. The walk started off with a couple of river crossings so we had to take our shoes off and wade across knee deep in some rivers. This was already a bit more hardcore than the other trekking we had done! After about an hour or so on relatively flat terrain making these river crossings, we started a 1.5hr slog uphill. It was steep, but the biggest problem was the heat and humidity. We were all sweating buckets before we even got to the uphill and at our first little break for oranges, us blokes abandoned our shirts which were now made up more of water than cotton.

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23km to the Lost City

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The trekking team

When we reached the top of the uphill section we stopped for a break at a house where our guide Jose got us some watermelon. Now I’m not a huge fan of watermelon, but I happily demolished a few big slices, it was so refreshing after the long climb. The next part was on undulating ground and then a downhill walk though a path that resembled a river bed more than a path, it was really rutted out from the heavy rains that frequently come through the jungle.

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We got into our camp which was actually Jose´s own house. We were hot, sweaty and ready to hit his natural pool that he told us about. Only a couple of minutes from his place was a waterfall and nice deep pool of water in the stream that ran through his place. We jumped off of the rocks into the pool and just enjoyed the cold water which was so refreshing for the end of the day. After some dinner and a bit of rum, we went to play some pool on Jose´s billiard table. We cant believe that he transported a billiard table out to here, but it passed some time on the evening. Jose was an absolute shark on his table too, he knew the rolls as well as he knows the trails.

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Jose´s house

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This night was spent sleeping in hammocks, which are an interesting experience. We just had the hammocks and mosquito nets to keep the bugs away. It got quite cool overnight though and a few layers needed to go on during the night.

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Camp for the night

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The second day was similar to the first day, more river crossings, 1.5 hr uphill slog and some undulating ground trough some denser forest. As the trail got deeper into the forest, it got thinner and was fairly steep and again rutted from the rains. After a few hours we got down to a smaller stream where Jose cut up some pineapple for us and we took a break for a swim. Both the fruit and the water were incredibly refreshing.

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Dense jungle now

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A fresh coffee bean which smells nothing like coffee.

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We passed through some indigenous peoples villages on our way back up and down the ridges. At the top of one of the passes, this bloke just walked out of the bush with a basket with some oranges. We weren´t sure if he wanted us to buy them so we declined, but then Jose got some and gave us one each. They were the juiciest, sweetest oranges I´ve ever had. Again so refreshing, none of us turned down a second one!

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The Orange man – best oranges in South America

We got to our second campsite and this time we had beds to sleep in for the night. We went straight down to the river for a swim, this was a much more powerful river with lots of rapids and white water in it, but there was a little bit that the water swirled around in so it was fine to have a dip there. The water was really cool, but that was refreshing after another 4.5 hours of sweaty, hard walking for the day.

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Another refreshing end of the day swim

It was lunchtime by the time we got into camp so we had lunch after our swim and then just sat around chatting and passing the time until dinner. Lunch and dinner usually always consisted of a soup to start with and then rice, beans and meat. It was always filling and our cook Samir did a good job with it. There were a couple of indigenous children that came into the camp with their father to get some firewood, and they just sat and stared at us for a while before having some of the leftovers from our lunch. With not much to do and having already passed the time since lunch, we all had a ridiculously early night at 7pm!

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It was a 6am wakeup the following morning and we were out of the camp at 7. We walked along the riverside for a short while and then hopped onto a manual cable car to cross the river! It used a person on each side pulling the car back and forth while we went one by one. After crossing the river it was another long uphill slog for an hour and a half. Towards the top of the hill we were passing lots of banana trees and at the peak the man was selling some. Jose got us some and they were incredibly sweet. The farmer was telling us that they are chemical free, which obviously makes a difference!!

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After leaving the banana man, we crossed a bit of an open plain, which was really hot after we had gotten used to the cooler but humid jungle path. We were shortly back into the jungle, and making our way downhill over another hour and a half. That got us to another big river, which we had to wade across. This was much stronger and higher than the previous river crossings that we made with the water almost up to our waist.

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After crossing the river we had about 30 minutes walk to get into the final campsite before the lost city. This part of the trail was insane however. Up to this point the path had become just a single thin track through the jungle, but from here it didn’t even have a track at points. We walked on cliff sides, edged across flowing waterfalls, climbed over boulders, crawled under fallen trees and balanced along thin logs to cross gaps. It was a lot more hardcore than we had expected.

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We got into camp a lot earlier than expected, Jose said that we were fast walkers. After another swim in the river here and then our lunch, we all went for a nap for a couple of hours. When we woke up, the Irish group had just got into the camp. On the other nights they had stayed at their own camp, but as this was the campsite that was at the base of the stairs to Ciudad Perdida, all groups stay here on the third night. Over the last few days it had chucked it down with rain in the afternoon, but because we had been making good time, we managed to avoid it. We chatted with them over dinner and played some cards until later in the night.

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Taking a ride in some of the rapids

Another 6am wakeup and out of the camp at 7, but this time we were going straight for the lost city, so we could leave our bags at the camp. The 20 minutes from camp to the river crossing was even more insane than yesterdays track. More waterfalls and cliffs combined with slippery rocks! A proper track was virtually nonexistent here.

We crossed the river again, and at this point i was relieved to see a rope going across that we could hold onto to help our balance. I was going to go first and just as i was going to grab the rope, I saw that these massive red army ants were using it to cross the river. Jose shook the rope to try and get them off, and it looked fine where we were. As i started going over though there were still some on there and one bit my finger. I took my chances with the river current after that!

So now we were at the first step that leads to the lost city. Frome here there would be 1200 steep steps leading straight up the mountain. We started the climb and we were joined by the dog that was at the last campsite, he must have followed us and crossed the river after we did. After the climb we arrived at the first of the circular foundations of the city. The walls and paths are covered in thick moss, with the jungle trees closing in around the small clearings. It was like stepping into a scene from an Indiana Jones movie.

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We started to climb the royal stairs that lead up to the main part of the city. At the base of the stairs is an interesting rock that has lots of lines carved onto it. Its not clear what it is, but the main thought is that it may be some kind of map representing the rivers and paths of the area. Walking up the stairs and further into the city where the bigger foundations are found was really special. We had beaten the other group up to the city so it was just the 5 of us, Jose and the dog alone in the remains of this massive ancient city. Standing there taking in the scenery by ourselves really made it feel like we were the first people to stumble across the ruins.

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The royal stairs

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The circular foundations of the city

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We arrived to the grand ceremonial centre of the city. On these massive foundations, the city´s halls and main meeting places would have stood. There is one that has the Sharman´s chair where he would have addressed the citizens during rituals and ceremony’s. From here you get a view out of the canopy over the rolling mountains with dense jungle. There is a waterfall on the other side of the valley which is in view from the ceremonial centre. With this view all to ourselves to take in, we all sat there eating our lollypops that Jose had brought up for us not really saying much, just absorbing the serenity.

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Addressing the congregation from the Sharman’s chair

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The ceremonial centre

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We found it (along with our faithful dog)

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We left the main part of the city and went off a side path down through residential sections to get back to the entrance of the city. I wasn’t expecting the city to be as big as it is. I expected just the ceremonial centre, however the city is like a leef with the ceremonial centre at the top of the central spine that runs up the ridge of the mountain. But on either side of this main stem, there are hundreds of paths that run into the jungle where people would have lived. The city is believed to have had around 3000 residents. A lot of the city is still completely covered by the jungle, and the authorities have only allowed the bits that we walked through to be cleared (which was still a lot more than i was expecting)

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The local Sharman is the only person (other than military control) that lives in the lost city

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We left the city blown away by it, went down the 1200 steps back to the river with our faithful dog, crossed the river and got into the campsite from the last night to have our lunch at 11. The 4 hours in the city went by so quickly. We left the campsite at 12 knowing that we had the 4 hours from the prior day to cover in the afternoon. Given it had rained every afternoon on the trek, we were hoping to make good time to avoid getting soaked (rain would have been refreshing from the heat, but it’s the bags getting saturated that is a bigger problem).

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Butterfly with a racing number on...

As we went along the really difficult section crossing waterfalls and the big cliffs, I was the last one to cross one of the waterfalls with Samir the cook behind me. I couldn’t get a good footing on the rock as it was slippery and smoothed out with the running water. As I went to take another step, I slipped. Samir grabbed my arm within a split second and i managed to get some footing and get myself up. At the time I knew that the waterfall was on the edge of the track, but i just got myself across and didn’t really look back to see what was below me. When we got to the camp later though, James said he saw me slip and that there was nothing below me but the big drop to the river below!! I brought Samir a few beers that night, I think I owed him!!

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Where Tanya is about to step is where I slipped...

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Crazy trekking here!!

After the difficult section and crossing the river again we powered through the walk. We weren’t really talking, just head down pounding out the steps. It was strange because we were walking through parts, where we said to each other, do you remember doing this yesterday? Maybe with the steep uphills and tricky downhills we just got into a trance to get through it. We got to the Banana Man for another sweet banana and continued on. We started to hear thunder rolling in the background so it was a race against the advancing storm clouds. What took us 4 hours yesterday only took 2.5 hours for the return journey. After a quick swim again to cool off the rain started to come down hard with lighting close by just as we got under cover and settled in at the campsite which was the same one as the second night. The other group passed through about an hour later looking like drowned rats still with 20 minutes longer to get to their camp. Jose said we were crazy trekkers to make it back so fast. Given it was our last night on the trek, we played some cards with a few of the guides and locals, buying rounds of beers and bottles of rum. I called it a night at about 11, but James, Andy and Joel got through more bottles of rum until 3am.

The boys were only slightly paying for the ´Mucho Ron´ from the night before, but a 5.30 wakeup for a 6.30 departure didn’t help them. Also we had to cover the first 2 days all in one day today. That distance took us 9 hours over two days on the way up... Again we just walked pretty solidly with uphills that we couldn’t remember going down on the way there, not even stopping long for breaks or fruit. Andy had a classic quote when he said, “A two headed gorilla could step out of the bush right now and i wouldn’t even give a f#*k”. We got into Jose´s place after 3.5 hours of solid walking, knowing full well that this was only the half way point for the day.

We didn’t stay long for juice and fruit before heading off again. We all definitely remembered that on the first day, we had gone downhill for a while before getting to Jose´s place. That meant we were in for a final hard slog uphill. It seemed relentless, and we had forgotten how exposed this part of the trail was. The sun and heat made us all curse every bend that revealed another steep bit of track. We did pass two dead snakes on the path to break up the walking. There was a red one with black rings and a black one. It looked like they had been fighting or something, one was missing its head. Anyway Jose said that if the black one bit you, you would have to amputate the limb, if the red one bit you, you would be dead within a couple of minutes, there is no anti venom. Glad they were dead then!!

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Deadly snakes

We got into the town of El Mamey again just before 2pm meaning we had managed the day in just over 6 hours, another good effort according to Jose. Again it started to rain just as we were getting stuk into our lunch and COLD beers!!!

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5 days and 47kms after passing here on day 1, WE DID IT

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The best guide there is!

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Shoes have seen better days

We left town in the 4wd and the rain was torrential. The track out to the road was completely mud. The driver was sliding all around the place as we were going up the hills. We crossed what was a stream on the first day, now it was a proper river with the water nearly coming in the vehicle. After an hour of hanging on in the 4wd we got back to the main road. We stopped for some refuelling and as we were stood there waiting, there was a massive flash of lighting that took out the electricity and cracked with thunder micro seconds afterwards. It must have been incredibly close. Andy threw himself behind Tanya to take cover which was pretty funny. He said he was just going to protect her :-) It chucked it down all the way back, and when we got into Santa Marta, the roads were rivers and it was like an apocalypse scene. The driver says its always like this, and to be fair, people didn’t really seem to give a toss. There were motorbikes, pushbikes and tuk tuks just cruising round.

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The 4wd transport

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Andy & James – top blokes, enjoying a final trail beer

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Crazy conditions for riding a bike!!

We got back to Santa Marta and checked into the hostel that we were in before the trek. James and Andy also checked into this one, so after a welcome shower and internet chores, we played some pool with some beers in the hostel bar already reminiscing about the trek. What a fantastic 5 days – hot, sweaty, intense, insane, tiring but above all else UNFORGETTABLE!!!

FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – Ciudad Perdida exceeded all expectations I had. The trek itself was mental at times especially on the third and fourth days! That wasn’t in a brochure anywhere. The lost city also was bigger and more intricate than I had thought. The other guys were asking us if it was harder than Machu Picchu. Its hard to compare the two though. The heat and humidity of this walk was completely different to the higher altitude cooler conditions of the Inca trail. The Inca trail is also made more difficult with the altitude making the going harder on the body. However the trail to the lost city is a lot more difficult compared to the wider, well maintained Inca trail. I loved both treks and i just think they are different. Our group of 5 was great, the 3 other blokes were all down to earth and a pleasure to chat with on the way. Definitely something that shouldn’t be missed if you are in the north of Colombia!

Tanya – The lost city trek was amazing! It was hard to find out much information before hand so we just had to wait and see. We were hoping that some other travellers would be able to translate for us but found ourselves translating for Jose which I was a bit shocked at. Chatting with Jose was great for practicing my Español. This was a very different trek that the Inca trek, you cant compare the 2. Leigh and Carley – you would have loved this trek as there was swimming every day and hammocks/bunk beds not to mention toilets and showers. The heat, humidity and the killer mosquitos (and that horrible bug that bit Joel before his arm grew twice its size) made it especially tough going though – but that made it so rewarding too.

Posted by dbgomes 12:18 Archived in Colombia Tagged colombia round_the_world Comments (3)

Colombia – Santa Marta

Colombia´s Cool Caribbean Coast

sunny 32 °C
View Round The World on dbgomes's travel map.

We were supposed to be doing our first update in Colombia from Cartagena, however this was the start of a run of bad luck that we started to have. We got on the bus at 7am in Quito expecting that our 28hr bus ride would get us in to Bogota at 11am, which would give us plenty of time before our flight at 8pm up to Cartagena. For some reason or another, the bus took way longer than expected and when we asked the driver at 1pm what time we would get in, he said 9pm!!!! Normally we take a bus to some destination then have a few days there before moving on, so a delayed bus wouldn’t be a problem. So it was really bad luck that the first time we actually had something booked, the bus was so late. 38 hours on a bus, a missed flight and $120 down the drain. After a failed attempt to find another bus going to Cartagena that night we got a taxi into Bogota to find a hostel.

We didn’t do much in the morning as we just organised another bus for 3pm that afternoon. This would be a 20hr bus to get us to Santa Marta, which is a little further up the cost from Cartagena and where the lost city treks start from. It would mean that we would have done 38hr and 20 hr bus rides back to back, but because we extended our time in Ecuador by a few days, we were starting to run low on time to fit in what we wanted in Colombia, so it was a necessity.

The overnight ride to Santa Marta wasn’t eventful, however the view out the window got more jungle like the further we kept going north out of the highlands. As soon as we got into Santa Marta, we went to book our lost city trek. It was a Saturday when we arrived, and the next departure was on Monday morning, so we booked onto that. We got into a hostel in town and relaxed getting a few things sorted after being on busses for 3 days. We went down to the beach and had a nice meal for dinner to make up for the bus meals (at backwater truck stops).

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It was good to be in a proper bed again and after we had a slow morning waking up we caught a taxi over the hill to the little fishing village of Taganga. The town doesn’t really know what to do with itself as it is not really big enough for the travellers and local tourists that flock there. It is a bit nicer than the city in Santa Marta, but it has a massive problem with litter. The beach is covered in so much trash to the point where its not tempting to set foot on the sand or water. I don’t know if the mentality is that someone else will clean up the rubbish, but no-one does. It´s a shame because it would be a beautiful beach. Tanya rightly said that if a wealthy person owned the beach it would be pristine and awesome, but they would then make it a private beach and we wouldn’t be able to enjoy it either. We read that a 20 minute walk over some rocks gets you to Playa Grande which is a nicer beach, so we headed straight for there.

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Taganga beach

The walk wasn’t difficult and the beach was indeed much better than Taganga but there was still rubbish behind the beach. The beach itself was fine though. We parked our stuff on a deck chair and went in the water. The first thing you notice is how warm the water is. Definitely the warmest water we have been in. This stretch of the coast is on the northern coastline of South America and it definitely has a Caribbean feel to it. We stayed in the water for a while and I started throwing a ball around with a couple of local children. After a couple of hours i tried to tell them that i was going to have a break for a while, and they could keep throwing my ball together. My message was lost in translation and i think they thought I said they could keep it because when I got out, they ran out to their parents showing them the ball. I went up to get a juice and they came over to me to say that they were going, so i asked for my ball back. They gave it back, but I think they were a bit sad to give it back. I would have let them have it, but i now there will be times over the next year when it will come in handy for some entertainment.

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A new take on an icecream man

One of the best things about this area (and generally for South America) is the fresh fruit. Here was definitely the best we have had. At the beach, the lady blended fresh passion fruit and ice. Awesome, next time i tried passion fruit with Lulo – a new fruit a little bit like a few fruits rolled into one. Bit like guava, but perfect and refreshing. Exactly what is needed for chilling on the beach.

We got back to Santa Marta and went down to the beach to watch the sunset before getting back to the hostel to pack for our trek in the morning.

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FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – Santa Marta and Taganga were good for a couple of days relaxing before we headed off on the trek. The litter is a big problem around the place, which is a big shame because they have some great stretches of coastline that could be a benefit. And its not the tourists that make the litter either, you see the locals all the time just chucking wrappers and stuff on the ground. We have seen that in most places in South America, but here it was just more noticeable. In saying that, Playa Grande was good and the fruit juice was second to none!!!

Tanya – Once you get your bearings Santa Marta is a nice smallish costal city – most things are closed on a Sunday though. It is a hub for a lot of activities and also for many long term backpackers who seemed to be living at the hostel we stayed at. Its worth heading out to Playa Grande for a swim, but the best reward is to be found in Tayrona...

Posted by dbgomes 17:41 Archived in Colombia Tagged colombia round_the_world Comments (2)

Ecuador – Around Quito

Journey to the middle of the world

sunny 23 °C
View Round The World on dbgomes's travel map.

Our weekend was here and after a solid week of studying we headed off to Otavalo- It is famous for its large markets on a Saturday, so along with our ´School Friends´ Claire and Jeremy, there was no better time to go and check the place out

The bus was a couple of hours ride north from Quito and we just chatted amongst the 4 of us about past travels. Jeremy´s claim to fame is that his parents are in the current series of The Amazing Race in the USA. The amazing race was one of our favourite TV shows, so it was really interesting to hear about what his parents did to be picked and the stuff that happens off the camera. At the point when Jeremy was telling us, the series was about 4 weeks in and his parents were still in the competition. The contestants all sign confidentiality agreements along with their families, so Jeremy had no idea how well they went. We might have to watch the series when we get back home to see how they did.

We got into Otavalo, and true to form, the markets were all systems go. Along the many streets there were so many stalls, with quite a lot of them selling the same kind of things, but only in a certain section. Kind of like there is a street with all the same clothes stalls, then another street with similar paintings etc. The markets stretched for many blocks. Some of the squares were taken over by the markets, and it was easy to get lost amongst the stalls, as everywhere looked very similar with brightly coloured textiles, pottery and other souvenirs.

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Claire making a purchase

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After some lunch we headed slightly out of town for the Condor Park. It has a number of birds of prey and the symbol of South America, Condors. It was quite funny, as they were doing some alterations around the park and some bird cages had been moved but the signs were still around. It was ironic that the Lesser Spotted Eagle was nowhere to be seen. We got to see the condors which have a wingspan up to 4 meters. They are pretty damn ugly though!

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The condor in flight

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A face only a mother could love

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The view from the condor park

The next day we did another road trip with Jeremy and Claire. This time we went to Mitad del Mundo which is in a town which sits right on the equator. We took a few buses in the morning to get to the station for the longer distance buses. We were expecting the trip to take over an hour, so when we drove past a big sign 40mins in saying something about Mitad Del Mundo, we all thought it was an advertisement for it. Another hour down the road when the bus conductor asked for our money and we said we were going to Mitad Del Mundo, he said that we had already gone past it... Doh!!!

We waited until the next town that we came across and hopped off the bus, crossed the street and got on a bus 2 minutes later going the opposite direction. Once we got back to Mitad Del Mundo we got a taxi up to the Volcano. It is a pretty old volcano rim with a town in the crater. Even though it doesn’t resemble much of a volcano now, you could tell it would have been massive when it was active.

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The town we visited for 2 minutes

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Our school friends

We got back to the tourist attraction that is Matad del Mundo in the town. This is the site where the Spanish first recorded that the equator must be here. They erected a big monument to mark the spot. Unfortunately, modern GPS has shown that they were 200 meters to the south of the real equator. Never mind, the monument was still good for some photos. However the site as a whole is a bit tacky and seems a bit like a theme park. There is a big stage area and with it being Sunday, there were some bands playing and lots of people from Quito were there with their kids to enjoy an afternoon out. There was also some Cuy being spit roasted to wet our appetite...

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After leaving the monument we went a couple of hundred meters up the road to the alleged place where the equator is measured by GPS (apparently this may also be inaccurate according to Claire´s Lonely Planet book). Here you can do a few experiments that are only possible on the equator. Before we got to the experiments though, the guide took us into the reconstructed village of the pre inca indigenous people that lived around the area. There were even some live guinea pigs in the house as the people would keep them in their houses (almost like pets) before eating them.

They also showed us some a shrunken head from one of the amazon tribes. They would shrink the heads as trophy´s from battles. The process involved removing the skull of the decapitated head, boiling the head in an unknown concoction of plants and water, then putting a rock the size of your fist in the skulls place. The mouth would then be stitched up and then you had yourself a nice little head trophy. WIERD!! We were also shown insects and animals from the amazon, including the infamous Penis Fish... This is the one that is attracted to urine, so if you piss while swimming in the river (men or women), the larvae swim up the urine stream, latch onto you and live off your blood. Surgery is the only removal method. Seeing the size of this fish, i am never ever going to pee in water again!!!

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Our first ones we have seen alive in South America

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The process of shrinking heads, and an original one from a jungle tribe

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The Penis Fish – possibly the worst animal ever!!!

We then got to do the ´experiments´ that the place is better known for. Im not convinced about the experiments to be honest. There was a sun clock which was telling the time correctly, a tub of water which did indeed drain straight down without a vortex spinning either way. Then we were shown how an egg can balance on a nail head, supposedly easier on the equator because the yolk settles directly in the centre of the egg (due to the same Coriolis effect like the water). The guide did it first time, before Jeremy and I spent 5 minutes failing in our attempt. I think it had more to do with the shape of the nail head than any effect of the equator. There was also a weighing scale which shows that you are lighter on the equator (you are further away from the centre of the earth so less gravitation effect) but quite how much lighter is only about 0.2% rather than the 2% that the scales show. We skipped that anyway as we had come mainly for the egg experiment and had to get back to Quito for dinner

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Proof it can be done

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Quito´s main square at sunset

The next day Tanya and I wanted to go out to a town that we were told about. Banös is a few hours away from Quito so we caught another early morning bus out there. The drive heads out to the amazon side of the mountains past Cotopaxi (one of the worlds highest active volcanoes) and into the luscious vegetation of the Orient. Banös itself sits below an active volcano which only sprang into action back in 1999 and required the town to be evacuated.

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Cotopaxi bubbling away

One of Banös´ biggest sights is the cascades. It sits on a river that leads to the Amazon and has a number of big waterfalls close to town. When we got in to town in the afternoon we went looking for somewhere to do tours. We were originally just going to hire some pushbikes and ride downhill/downstream to see them, but the weather looked a bit dark and the time was getting on. We got to one place and they said they had a tour leaving in 30mins at 3pm. We booked onto that as well as making a booking for some canyoning in the morning and a night tour to the volcano.

The cascade tour was good. We were taken around in a strange party bus with music blaring for the 6 of us who were on it. We got some cable cars across the massive ravine of the river to see a few of the waterfalls. They were quite impressive.

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The party bus

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The final one that we did on the tour was called the Devil´s throat and by far was the most impressive. We saw it from one side where we were basically on top of it and you could see into the pools of the upper waterfall, then we got back in the bus to drive around the other side and walk 40 mins down to the bottom of the waterfall. It was really humid and the walk back up the hill was hot and sweaty. The waterfall was impressive because it was big, powerful, and we got to see it from so many angles. We even crawled on all fours through a long cave to get to one of the lookout points. It was really crazy.

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We passed a couple of hours in town before getting on a similar bus to go for a night viewing of the volcano. We don’t know if it was because the volcano isn’t really doing much at the moment, but we didn’t actually go to the volcano, we just went to a lookout above the town, had some tea and food and returned to town. Not really what we were after.

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The following morning we were off to do some canyoning. We did it a few years ago in Switzerland and loved it, so thought we would try it again. It was a little different than in Switzerland. For starters, it wasn’t an overly professional trip. The guide was a little sketchy and on the second waterfall didn’t even rig up a safety rope. Maybe he thought that we were competent enough without it, but still. There were only 3 of us on the trip with an English girl joining us. We went down two waterfalls on ropes, then slid down the third before the final waterfall which was an abseil under the falls. The finale was pretty awesome as it was an impressive waterfall to go down.

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We left Banös at 1pm. There was a bridge that was damaged on the normal road, so we had to divert through Riobumba and change busses to get back to Quito. We stayed with Amelia for our last night and then got a taxi at 6am out to the bus depot for our 28hr bus to Bogota, Colombia

FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – A cool few little trips from Quito. Otovalo and Mitad del Mundo were not amazing, but definitely worth the trip out to see. Banös was cool though with the impressive waterfalls and good fun on the canyoning trip.

Tanya - Banös was a lovely town, although a bit touristy. Banö is the Spanish word for bathroom – if you need the toilet you ask for the Banö. Dan managed to figure out that it must have got its name from all the local hot springs which we unfortunately didn’t have time to enjoy. It was a shame to miss out on biking to all the waterfalls, but we just didn’t have the time (plus the bus worked out the same price). Canyoning was the highlight – going over that cliff to find out that there was no wall to abseil down was a bit scary but a great buzz!!

Posted by dbgomes 18:12 Archived in Ecuador Tagged ecuador round_the_world Comments (2)

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