Lake Titicaca

Reed Islands on Lake Titicaca

Reed Islands on Lake Titicaca

This is our last night in Peru. It has been a great visit to this country, and Peru is certainly a place worth returning to and spending more time in.

We went for our last dinner in Cuzco at a very cool restaurant called Fallen Angel. Our table was a bathtub turned into aquarium covered by a glass table top. In the morning we did a good walk around the city and I also did a city tour to visit the nearby ruins. The following day we took a bus through the Andes from Cuzco to Puno. The highlight of the bus trip, besides some great scenery, was stopping at our highest elevation to date, 4338 Meters. Arriving in Puno I explored the local markets. Late that evening I became extremely ill with food poisoning from some bad poultry I ate. After getting it all out of my system I started feeling better by morning. The others we are travelling with did an early boat trip on Lake Titicaca while Leanne took care of me at the hotel. In the afternoon Leanne and I did our own trip on the lake to visit the reed islands. It is certainly a highlight of Peru and different from anything else I’ve seen. In the evening we met up with the others and tried the local meat of choice, Guinea Pig.

Tomorrow we are off to Bolivia.

Machu Picchu

Michael at Machu Picchu

Michael at Machu Picchu

There has been a two day strike (protest) against the government across Peru. It was related to the proposed privatization of the water supply and fears that costs would go up four fold. The protesters effectively closed down all intercity travel by blocking roads with a crazy amount of debris and threatening those who still tried to travel. We were fortunate to be based in Cuzco, and rushed in trips to nearby towns on our first full day here before the strike started. To still see what we had hoped to while staying on schedule we took a private transfer bus in the evening the day the strike was to end. It was only 67km to our destination. We left at 7PM and didn’t arrive until midnight. In the pitch dark we drove in a convoy of vehicles driving off the road over and over again to get around obstacles. We could not believe the extent of the blockade that had been done. Every 50 meters or so there was a significant blockage of some sort. Boulders created from dynamite blasts, full trees toppled, large rocks spread everywhere, broken glass and more. We even drove by something burning. We were told to close the drapes in the bus to hide that we were inside and to prepare to move to the middle of the bus if necessary. Our tour leader had a call midway along saying another bus ahead of us was attacked. It was a bit stressful thinking we could be putting ourselves in danger. While some on the bus found it exhilarating, and I know I too would have felt that travelling on my own in the past, I now found myself finding the situation a bit unnerving.

some of the debris blocking the roads

some of the debris blocking the roads

We arrived at our destination around midnight knowing we needed to be up at 4AM the next morning. With very little sleep we got ready in the morning for the first train ride of the day to Aguas Calientes. We took a bus from town to the Machu Picchu just as the sun was starting to rise over the mountains. Our harrowing drive the night before paid off as we practically had Machu Picchu to ourselves for the first few hours of the morning. It would have been nice to have explored it a little more rested, but it was still a good visit. We wandered up the Inca trail towards the Sun Gate for some panorama views, and later in the morning we had a tour with an excellent guide that had us enthralled with the impressive Incan culture. The ruins themselves are not necessarily that impressive, but the location of them certainly is. I could not get over the scenery of this high perched place surrounded by chasms and other mountains. In the late afternoon we caught our return train and took the same bus back to Cuzco. On the return trip the roads had been completely cleared, which must have been a massive undertaking. And as for the bus that was attacked, a rock had been thrown at the road from a hill above and broke a window. No one was injured and there was no confrontation of any kind. Closing the roads is apparently the norm during strikes and they appear to be well organized as we knew in advance when it would start and when it would end. It was an exciting adventure.

More photos (brace yourself for an unpleasant one from the local market) are posted here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=97386&id=673382190&l=26a4c811f0

May 22. Updated the link above for the album, not just the photo.

Cuzco

An elderly lady resting in a doorway on a back alley in Cuzco

An elderly lady resting in a doorway on a back alley in Cuzco

At Leanne’s birthday dinner, the restaurant turned out the lights and the entire place (customers and staff) sang happy birthday. Fortunately someone else had planned this without me knowing (Leanne would have killed me if it was my doing). The dim restaurant lights kept her redness from being too obvious.

The following morning we had a good walk through Cuzco. We took care of some errands and wandered some back roads. We took a break on a shady park bench in a nice park and decided to head to the restaurants across the way for lunch. I was looking for photo opportunities and Leanne was looking towards the restaurants. A lady ran across the road to show her the menu for her restaurant. Leanne looked at it and I joined her and in less than a minute we had 5 other people from different restaurants sticking their menus in our face. With little preference on where to go I said we would go with the first person who talked to us. The lady was beaming with a huge smile on her face for her little victory. On the walk back I asked someone holding a small animal if she would pose with our stuffed mascot, Topo. She and her friends laughed and laughed and she said yes. The animal nibbled on Topo a bit and her daughter thought it might have been a gift but her mom quickly explained.

The afternoon was a bit disappointing. I was supposed to go on an ATV excursion but it was cancelled due to a nationwide transportation strike. Leanne was going to go horseback riding with some of the other ladies, something I’ve never much enjoyed. I ended up joining them in a last minute decision which in hindsight was a mistake. It caused Leanne to get a different horse than originally set aside. They didn’t fit me well for the horse and I was terribly uncomfortable. Leanne had a bit of an incident with the guide when he grabbed the reigns of her stubborn horse that was trying to walk back to the start. He reared it and almost causing her to fall off. We left the tour at that point and walked an hour back on the Inca trail to Cusco. Fortunately the walk was great, except for walking past a pack of wild dogs that were fighting with another dog. In the evening we went out for another great dinner at an actual fairy tale restaurant (it was like something from Disneyland).

We have travel plans this evening and tomorrow and we are hoping the nationwide transportation strike doesn’t interfere with them.

Happy Birthday Leanne

6 of 8 of us who will be travelling from Peru to Chile

6 of 8 of us who will be travelling from Peru to Chile

Happy Birthday to Leanne! Last year we were in New York and went for a Peruvian dinner. This year we are going somewhere a little more authentic.

We flew to Cuzco after a lengthy delay at the airport. At least there was enough wireless Internet to have posted the last entry. Our first afternoon here was spent exploring and relaxing. We had lunch with everyone from the group and in the evening we ran into 4 of the other travellers who joined us for dinner. We found a nice tapas restaurant to share food and enjoy the company. Today we went to the Sacred Valley of the Incas, the ruins of Pisac, and Ollantaytambo, which were great to visit. The day was long and a bit rushed. There is a nationwide two day train strike that has altered our original plans, but we should still be able to see everything we want to. Tonight we are going out for dinner with everyone (8 travellers and the tour organizer). We like the people we are travelling with, which is important since we will be together through some rough travel over the next few weeks. All is well.

Photos are available here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=96865&id=673382190&l=66d4916b45

Amazon adventure

Michael on a precarious bridge in the Amazon Jungle

Michael on a precarious bridge in the Amazon Jungle

Early morning on the 14th of May we flew to a very cool ramshackle of a town called Puerto Maldonado. About the only means of transportation here is motorcycle. We went through town to the river and boarded a motorized canoe. After 45 minutes of travelling downstream in the murky brown waters we arrived at our destination, a beautiful eco-lodge nestled deeply in the Tambopata region, part of the Amazon Rainforest. We had our own private hut and it was stunning. In the afternoon we did a walk through the jungle looking at the unique plants, insects and the occasional timid animal endemic to this part of the world. In the evening we did a twilight boat trip searching for wildlife along the banks. We were immediately rewarded with a number of caimans resting in front of the lodge area. The day had been a bit cloudy and it was hot and humid. In the evening the skies cleared revealing the most dramatic sky I think I have seen yet. No sign of light in any direction and without the moon above the stars were as bright as they could ever be. Clear views of the Milky Way star clusters, and both the Southern Cross and the Big Dipper.

During the night thunderstorms rolled in. It was loud and the rain pelted down on our hut. We arose very early in the morning to join an organized trip to a lake within the park reserve. There were 8 people who were supposed to go, but it had rained heavy in the night and the skies were cloudy and only Leanne and I were still interested in going. After a boat trip up river we got off on a muddy bank and started the trek with our guide. We checked in at the ranger station waking him in the process. The three of us were the first to arrive for the day. We sludged through 6 kilometres of mud on the round trip to the lake. When we arrived we took a large canoe through a channel out to an incredible lake fully surrounded by jungle. It is apparently a very popular spot in good weather, but we were lucky enough to have the place to ourselves. We took turns paddling and spotting birds around the edges. The strangest was the “missing link”, a bird that is also part lizard. When it hatches it lives in the water. As an adult it maintains it lizard scales and has the diet and primitive digestive system of a reptile. When we made the trek back it started to rain. We were soaked and muddy by the time we returned but invigorated and happy at the same time. I should also mention that I had a tumble into the mud during the trip. After my rubber boats slide sideways I was so concerned with protecting the camera I wasn’t able to protect myself. A minor bruise to my hand and ego is all I suffered from. The camera is fine.

In the late afternoon we did another trip highlight, a canopy walk through the jungle. We walked across suspension bridges 30 meters above the ground and had stunning views of birds and the jungle below. In the evening we did a night walk not far from our room seeing a huge amount of creepy crawlies including tarantulas.

The lodge we stayed easily falls within my top 10 accommodations of all time. You look forward to going back to the room and you are in awe when you wake up each morning. Our little adventure in the Amazon has been phenomenal. The following day we visited a butterfly sanctuary before going to the airport to return to Lima. In the evening we met the six other travellers and our guide who will be accompanying us on our trip through the Andes and desert on the way to Chile.

Lima

Leanne at our hotel in Miraflores, Lima, Peru

Leanne at our hotel in Miraflores, Lima, Peru

We had a morning flight to Lima. We landed 40 minutes early and were surprised to find a driver sent by the hotel waiting for us at the arrival hall. We are staying in a hotel full of character in the Miraflores district. We got along well with our driver and organized for him to give us a tour of Lima for the afternoon. The sky was foggy early on but cleared later in the day. We visited the bohemian district of Barranco, and went into town to the Plaza des Armes and toured the San Francisco Monastery and its Catacombs. One of the real highlights was the amazing lunch we had. Mouth-watering, phenomenal, I’m drooling just thinking about it, Ceviche. And the mains Lomo Saltado, and Aji de Gallina were great as well. It is a big change how important food has become in my joy of travel. As a backpacker it is always about finding cheap, filling food. The same goes for finding comfortable and preferably unique accommodation. It is currently early morning and we will be off to the Amazon shortly. We are excited, but also a little nervous about what to expect there.

Galapagos

Galapagos

Galapagos

May 5th

We had and early morning flight out to the Galapagos. Heading out to the boat we were greeted by Sea Lions and Blue Footed Boobies. In the afternoon we went to North Seymour to admire the abundance of bird life, and in particular the Red Bellied Frigates. In the evening our boat was accompanied by more than twenty of these birds flying at such close range you could reach out and touch them. It was a bazaar experience.

 

May 6th

Española is a beautiful island. The beach we were at was stunning. Topo, the little stuffed mascot we are travelling with, had a near death experience when a young sea lion took interest in him and decided to pick him up. We thought he might be brought out to sea, but he was left ashore. A true highlight, ranking with my all time best travel moments, came when we went snorkelling into and around a lava cave. There were 20 or more playful sea lions in that area and any time I dove underwater many would follow and perform twists and turns and come within inches of me to take an inquisitive look. Leanne splashed one from the dingy when we were getting out and it returned with its own thunderous wave back using its fin. In the afternoon highlights included watching pelicans perform a mating dance and sitting by the cliff side to watch the birds fly around and to see a blow hole that spewed water every time a wave rolled in.

 

May 7th

Floreana. We visited post office bay. There is a barrel on land used by people to collect and leave mail for other travellers. We also had a small taste of the joys of spelunking when we went into a deep cave filled with cold water. Later in the morning we went snorkelling at Devil’s Crown, a rock formation jutting out of the water. The marine life was good, but the currents were so strong that it was often hard to enjoy. It was nice to swim with sea turtles, and the cool, ugly looking bullhead fish, but it certainly lacked the excitement of interacting with the sea lions.

 

May 8th

Santa Cruz. It was strange to dock at such a populated island. Up until this day we had been visiting protected areas. This did not feel like the Galapagos we had started to know. We had a morning visit to the Charles Darwin Institute, which is home to many Tortoises including the famous Lonesome George. The visit was nice, but it was like visiting a zoo. In the afternoon the real highlight came from visiting the highlands and seeing the tortoises in the wild.

 

May 9th

Santa Fé and the South Plaza. We had a visit to another shore to see more of the wildlife that dominates the Galapagos Islands. There wasn’t much new in the morning for us, but it was pleasant. We went snorkelling and saw an abundance of fish and I got to play with a few more sea lions. While this is fun it didn’t live up to the time in Espanola. In the afternoon we went for a walk around South Plaza and its beautiful landscape with cactus and red and green brush.

 

May 10th

Bartilome. Incredible volcano landscapes in this area. We had a nice day of snorkelling and visiting the wild penguins. We hiked to the top of the lookout around sunset for a stunning view. Back on the boat we had a laugh fest with the friends we’ve made on board.

 

May 11th

Rabida has a beautiful red beach. We saw furry sea lions for the first time today. I swam with a 2 meter white-tipped shark for a while. I was able to keep pace as I swam above it and it circled for prey. There were also a lot of playful sea lions in the area. In the afternoon we went to Puerto Egas. This had a black sand beach and a lot of lava rock formations. The terrain was interesting.

 

May 12th

The day started with a morning dingy trip through mangroves in Black Turtle Cove. We saw numerous sea turtles and sharks in this impressive water and greenery landscape. In the afternoon we made the long trip back to Quito and in the evening we went out for a huge meal with 4 other friends from the boat. Leanne is currently in bed and we have an early start tomorrow as we fly from Quito to Lima, Peru. We’ve driven all across Quito a few times, but did not have time to explore the city. Our return flight was delayed due to extreme weather. It hailed in Quito and we could see snow on the ground when we finally landed despite the +12C temperature. I’ve been trying to upload photos, but the Internet here is terrible. We will have to try again somewhere else. Galapagos is an amazing place where the wildlife has no fear of humans. It was an incredible trip and we can certainly recommend what the must-sees are.

I did get some photos posted through facebook. The link to see them is here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=95750&id=673382190&l=ae22e67f4f

 

Bogotá, Medellin, Quito

Leanne in Medellin

Leanne in Medellin

We spent our last morning in Bogotá wandering the Zona T, having a latte and breakfast outside at the Juan Valdez Café. Later, we went by La Parque de la 93, which is a nice park in an affluent area of town surrounded by some impressive restaurants. Later we flew a short 50 minute flight to Medellin. There were only a few moments when there were breaks in the clouds below us to reveal some of the beautiful countryside. We landed in very low level clouds and rain. We were thinking of hiring a taxi to tour us around Medellin, but decided against it and stayed around the airport for our flight to Quito. Unfortunately our flight to Ecuador hasn’t arrived, and if I understood the last announcement correctly it will be very late. So I’m writing this while sitting in a crowded wait room with the rain pouring outside the windows as we all hope to see a plane arrive. Next in our adventure is a tour out to the Galapagos Islands. The group meets tonight and we leave Quito first thing in the morning. We are expecting to be picked-up from the airport, but since we will be quite late we probably won’t meet our travelling companions until morning. Hopefully I’ll get to post this from the Hotel in Quito. I don’t expect we will be in contact for over a week until we return from the Galapagos Islands.

 

 Some closing comments about Colombia, Bogotá is a very cosmopolitan city with all the major international shopping you find in Vancouver and it contains world class restaurants. We felt incredibly safe and would certainly recommend it to others. People seem to be very honest. Twice we have been helped with not overpaying when we misunderstood the cost. Once they made sure we crossed-out a tip on a restaurant bill, telling us that we were already charged a modest service fee. On another note, I wanted to say something about the picture of the Taj Mahal knock-off we posted. While it is tacky and lacks the ornamental beauty of the real thing, it was quite a shock to see a full sized replica out in a small countryside town in Colombia. The park is huge and intended for families with children. We wandered around the outside trying to get a photo, not having the time, or interest, to go inside. I suppose that is all for now. No sign of the plane yet. If we post this tonight you will know we made it safely to Quito.

 

We are now in the comfort of our hotel in Quito. And we met one lady around our age from the UK joining us on the trip.

Exhausted and Happy

Plaza de BolivarWe’ve had a full day in Bogota. We started with a funicular ride up the Cerro de Monserrate. At over 10,000 ft. above sea level we could notice the impact of the altitude change on us as we walked the rest of the way to the top. We later wandered through La Candelaria (Old Bogota) and Plaza de Bolivar and past the Casa de Nariño. We visited the impressive Museo de Oro, The Donacion Botero with Botero’s collection of paintings and sculptures of very plump people. We also stopped in the Casa Museo Quinta de Simón Bolívar. To cap it all off we drove out to Chia to a restaurant that is one of the highlights of the country (http://www.andrescarnederes.com/). We were there for a few hours of drinks, food and entertainment. I’d give it the following ratings: eye candy 8/10, food 9/10, atmosphere 11/10.  We are exhausted and relaxing at the hotel, just in time to avoid a downpour outside. You can find photos of our day here: http://mcwilliams.ca/photos/Colombia.

 

Esta es Bogotá

Arrival in Bogotá

Arrival in Bogotá

 

 

 

After 12 hours of transit we arrived in Bogotá. It was a little troubling to see all airport employees in face masks and latex gloves. There was sign at immigration that steered all inbound Mexico flights to a private screening area. The customs officers were struggling with their masks, and most people were wearing them below their nose, so they had all the discomfort and no protection. Arrival was fast and smooth and it was a nice welcome to Colombia. Our hotel arranged transportation for us from the airport which was great after a long day. It was dark on arrival but it the weather was nice, dry and pleasant, we could see some lightening in the distance and there was a slight smell of wood burning in the air. Stepping into the country was everything I hoped it would be, an immediate realization that this is all new. My spine tingled with the rush of excitement I get from travel, and I could see Leanne was feeling the same way. Our eyes were wide open taking in everything on the 40 minute drive to where we are staying the next couple days. Our hotel is stunning and certainly a splurge for the area. We are in a great location next to amazing restaurants and nightlife. We went out to explore the area and admired all the beautiful people who were dressed with a great sense of pride and style, out celebrating their Saturday night. The occasional party bus is quite amusing. A few drove past us with disco lights going and people dancing in a bus without seats. We found a great restaurant and I drank margaritas and ate steak while Leanne had one of the best enchiladas I think I’ve ever tried. The Bogotá Beer company is near our hotel and I hope to pay it a visit tomorrow as well as the nearby Juan Valdez Café to get some local Columbian coffee. Our Spanish lessons helped a bit, but we struggle a bit understanding when people speak to us quickly. We are thankful to some very patient people that have been willing to do some charades with us to clear up any confusion. Leanne is sleeping while I’m writing this. I’m still on a buzz from the great start to our adventure. Tomorrow we are getting up early to explore. We have arranged to have an early dinner at Columbia’s most famous restaurant which is an hour away from Bogotá in the town, Chia. Tiredness is finally setting in and it is hitting me hard. I’m off to sleep.