Posted on June 27th, 2010 at 10:39 PM by admin

          Although not quite feeling like I had enough time for Quito, I continued on my adventure and headed to The Galapagos Islands.  I must admit that I was a bit worried, not having had time to plan any accomadations or tours ahead of time but I figured I´d show up and see what kind of deal I could get.  Luckily enough I ended on first-class yacht that holds about 16 people and I´m certain I paid less than the passengers that booked it in advance.  The cruise was one extra day in The Galapagos and I made the compromise in my schedule by pushing my return flight out one day so that I could make the most of my time there.  I arrived on a wednesday and was to join the other people on the cruise the following day.  Of course I did what I do when I have a day to spare – figured out the town, ate and went to the internet cafe to update my blog with the previous destination.

          Since I arrived in the Baltra airport, my first day was spent on Santa Cruz island in the city of Puerto Ayora.  It was a cute little city and I ran into a guy in the street that offered me a private room for $15/night.  I walked about 30 feet down the street with my 40lbs of luggage thinking I was going to find something else and promptly turned around to take him up on his offer. The hotel/hostal was called Hotel Elizabeth and the friendly gentleman did deliver on his promise. I regret slightly not going to the Charles Darwin Research Station but I really just wanted some R&R before I embarked on the ¨super cruise.” I know i´m young and all but this thing was so jam packed that I started wondering if I was going to fall asleep right in the middle of a snorkeling session!

          So let´s talk about this jam packed yet highly enjoyable 3 day cruise. In Santa Cruz we went to a park area to see the giant tortoises and what a sight they were!  We also went to see a large crator with lush vegetation. The daring Australian, Tom, and I followed the guide down a crevice that led to the face of one of the sides of the crator.  The view was spectacular and I was happy to engage my rock climbing skills even if for only a few minutes.  Once we returned to the boat I was presently surprised by the very lovely dinner the cook had prepared. My time in Ecuador has made me a lover of plantains cooked and prepared in every way possible.  There seemed to be no trouble avoiding wheat products – YAY!

The giant tortoises that can be found on Santa Cruz Island

          Day 2 was my first full day on the ship and it kicked off with a bang, well a rooster call, at 6:15am by our very entertaining guide. First we went to Rabida Island to check out the sea lions, full seals, pelicans and crabs. Once we returned from this little early morning excursion we quickly suited up in snorkeling gear to sea the rest of the animals that live underwater. I unfortantely do not yet have an underwater camera but I did see a white tipped shark, a black manta ray and many beautifully colored fish. Later that day we headed to Santiago Island for some more snorkeling.  At this point I finally started getting used to  only breathing through my mouth and I even dared dive down 5 or 6 feet to get some closer looks at my water loving friends. For the last event of the day we ended up on Chinese Hat Island. Being one of the more recent island´s created by the ever continuing volcanic eruptions from a hot spot that lies beneath The Galapagos, we were able to see how the lava had formed the island.  What a day!!!

Sweet slumber of a sea lion on Chinese Hat Island

Loving the iguanas on Santiago Island!

          After day 2 I wasn´t sure if I´d make it through day 3 but I still managed to get up early wanting to catch some good pictures of the sun rising.  Completely unbeknownst to me there was a beautiful view of the moon at about 5:35 am.  Closer to 6 am came the sun and I was happy having had a 2 for 1 photo op.  After the morning rooster call and blaring music, the first stop on day 3´s agenda was Bartolome Island where we climbed to the top of the highest point of the island, with the help of some wooden stairs, to see a beautiful few of some near islands. Here I spent much time trying to master the jumping off a fence picture.  I finally get a descent picture but my quadraceps are still sore from how many times I jumped!  Afterwards we went snorkeling again.  I didn´t see many new things in this snorkeling excursion but I did chase down a swimming penguin which was one of the highlights of my day.  I was swimming nearly as fast as I could just to keep up with the penguin who was swimming casual. I didn´t realize this of course until he sped up and was out of sight in about 3 seconds.  After that hard work I had a much deserved break laying on the beach after a brief trip to see some sharks swimming near a nearby shorline.  Having walked around in my bathing suit most of the day I managed to get many mosquito bites on my back and upon returning it was quite apparent that I was about to break the island rules of not carrying sand from one island to another.  I had sand EVERYWHERE and even after the unexpected hosedown upon returning to the boat, I still had sand in unreachable crevices that I will spare you the mentioning of.

Sunrise from the cruise ship

The life of a pelican on Bartolome Island

The view from Bartolome Island...along with my 43rd jump!

          Day 4 was really only a morning excursion but I found it to be one of the most enjoyable.  We took a dingy, just like every day, to North Seymour Island, where we went on a little hike to see frigate birds, blue-footed boobies, sea lions and iguanas.  I was able to get some great pictures of all of the above and I truly enjoyed playing with my settings on this day to get great pictures after having learned from all my mistakes of the previous 3 days. Photographer in progress but I still have much to learn!  I will miss the warm weather, the amazing scenary and animals, the very entertaining guide and all my newly made friends on the Yolita II.  Thanks everyone for making it a memorable experience!

The first thing I saw on North Seymour Island was this friendly bird who clearly wanted to tell me something!

Frigate birds - the male is trying to attract the female by puffing up his little red balloon

Posted on June 24th, 2010 at 12:09 AM by admin

          I arrived in Quito on Fathers Day and not surprisingly had very little to do.  Having read a bit about Quito during my layover in Santiago I knew that the city was pretty darn cheap.  But as a foreigner, I have to admit, that every single taxi driver tried to rip me off. I got out of one cab when the  driver refused to give me a fair price and on my way to the airport upon leaving Quito I pretended I didn’t have the extra 40% “stupid foreigners fee” and left this taxi driver awfully upset with me.   In any case, let me back up and talk a little bit about my experience in Quito.

          I kicked off sunday night with a few drinks with my host, Luis, and promptly went to bed. Monday was the first day I could really do anything. It was very cloudy so I opted to explore the historic downtown. Some of the architecture was quite stunning and I must say that I love that so many of the buildings are painted in beautiful bright colors. Charming. My tour was cut short by rain clouds but it was a good thing I had just bought some rain gear!

I love to see the mix of the architecture with historical monuments!

This street was particularly colorful and cozy

          Tuesday I wanted to do EVERYTHING but the late start that I got having felt the need to sleep in a bit definitely prohibited me from doing it all. In any case, I first went to the TeleferiQo – a tram that takes you to the top of Cruz Loma (4100m). The view was great and the weather was also much better than the previous day’s. I took some pictures, had an empanada verde (cheese empanada made from plantain instead of wheat), and strolled around a bit. I would have liked to have hiked but time did not allow it. On the tram ride down I met some very nice ladies from Guayaquil (an ecuatorian city south of Quito) who were also heading to my next stop – La Mitad del Mundo (The Middle of the World). Yes, for those of you who haven’t worked it out yet, this would be the GPS point 0′ 0′ 0′. No doubt it’s an excellent tourist attraction. Here I had a wonderful lunch (2 course meal for $2) with my new Guayquilian friends, watched a planetary show in Spanish and went to the museum inside the  monument that is to represent the center of the world. The museum depicted all of the indigenous peoples in various parts of Ecuador. It was very interesting to say the least since I knew next to nothing about these cultures before.  And let’s not forget the mountainous view from atop the monument – spectacular as always!

The view atop Cruz Loma

My new friends from Guayaquil that accompanied me to La Mitad del Mundo

Me straddeling the equatorial line

          That night Luis and I had indian food and beer (or rather I had the two and he just had beer) and shared our views on life, people, happiness. I felt such peace in knowing that there are people all over the world that share my views. Suddenly geography seems so insignificant. And i´m off totThe Galapagos Islands!

Posted on June 20th, 2010 at 8:48 PM by admin

To kick off my seven week trip I got on a plane from Santiago to the ever mysterious Easter Island. Although owned by Chile, it`s 2300 miles from Chile´s coastline making it one of the most remote islands on earth! Upon arriving at the airport I received a lay and at first thought to myself – well of course i´d get a lay, i´m on an island after all, but then I realized it was a REAL lay made of fresh flowers and stems. My day was immediately brightened after a just so-so flight.

I met my friend Christina, who arrived a day earlier, at our hostal – Camping Minihoa and we quickly headed off for some grub. Afterwards we wandered up the southwestern coast of the island and saw a few Moai -the native culture´s (Rapa Nui) name for the islands´ famous statues. Lonely Planet chapters in hand then lead us to a cafe called Micafe for some wonderful homemade ice cream. At night we couldn´t find the restaurant we were looking for and I was very disappointed with my extremely expensive yet unpalatable beef dish at Haka Hono and the service was equally unpleasant.

The next day we did a half day tour with an anthropologist to see some of the sites just north of the island´s only city – Hanga Roa. Our very knowledgeable guide first took us to Puna Pao, the site where the indigenous people constructed the Pukao (the red cylindrical shaped looking hats that are found atop some of the Moai). Nobody knows for sure what these ¨hats¨ signify but polynesian culture apparently associates red with royalty, which has become a popular explanation of the Pukao.  This was the point where I realized that I pulled a major Julie idiocy as I had left my camera at the hostel. I hit myself a few times and then continued to our next stop, Ahu Akivi, to see the only original Moai on the island that face the ocean. One of the theories as to why this might be is to act as a lunar calendar. From there we briefly looked at the remains of the boat shaped houses the people used to live in. The foundations were still very apparent even in some of the houses that hadn´t been restored at all.

The next two stops were the most exciting of the day for me because they were in caves. The first cave had an opening in the top that let it sun and water and clearly was a place to grow plants and food. This cave, Ana Te Pahu, was very large and very dark at some points (very glad to have had my camping headlight with me). We entered from one end and climbed out the other passing a fire pit at each end that was clearly used for cooking purposes – nothing like adding a little adventure to our learning! After the tour we decided to take a little break since we were planning to see a cultural show at night and have a full day in the morning. The second cave was called 2 Ventanas and was situated near the face of a cliff that meets with the Pacific Ocean. There are two openings to the ocean hence the name 2 Ventanas. The view was stunning and slightly scarey at the same time. Getting back to the cultural show – it was, well, testosterine-packed to say the least. While there were woman as well, the dance very much revolved around the men. I enjoyed the show but would´ve liked to see a better male/female mix but maybe this is representative of the culture. Who am I to say?

Christina and I in the 2 ventanas cave

Cultural Show

The following day we got up nice and early to head out on horseback to the highest point on the island – Maunga Terevaka. The horse guide was a little crazy but amusing. He asked us both if we already knew how to ride horses and we said yes but then he asked a few more times to make sure which made me a bit nervous. Finally I admitted that I had only done it a couple of times and Christina said she did as a kid but that she couldn´t remember anything. Apparently her explantion was better than mine because she got the ¨automatic pilot¨ horse while I got the 2-time award winning fastest horse on the island that needed a ¨strong¨ rider to control him. Grrrrrrrreeeat I thought. I almost fell off that horse 3-4 times but was proud that i did eventually learn to control him (or so it seemed). I still can´t properly move most of my body but it was certainly an experience. And not JUST the horseriding. The guide had no shame in asking me about my sex life (or lack there of) in south america and tried hard to convince Christina to hook him up with an English woman. Needless to say, the horsebacking ran late and we hurried back to the hostal to eat a quick snack and then head back out with our favorite guide. At this point we definitely realized that 2.5 days is just not enough to see the whole island but our guide promised to take us to the most important points in our remaining 1/2 day.

Me and Easter Island´s fastest uncontrolable horse

Maunga Terevaka – Easter Island´s highest point

First stop – Rano Kao – a volcanic formed crator filled with water and interesting plant life just off the island´s coast. What a site! The guide books don´t lie – it does, in fact, look like a giant witches cauldron. Afterwards we headed to Orongo – one of the most well-known ceremonial sites. Here we could see a different style of house that was built later than the boat shaped ones on the other part of the island. These were made with stones and topped with soil again making them appear somewhat underground. The constructions were very unstable but definitely looked like what you might build if you really only had a bunch of rock to work with. From Orongo you can see three small islands – a spectacular site. This part of the island requires you to pay an entry fee which is quite hefty for foreigners at $60. Luckily we were able to get the chilean rate ($20) since we had residency in Chile.

Rano Kau Volcano

Semi-underground stone houses in Orongo

After Orongo, which is located on the southwest tip of the island, we headed up the east coast to Rano Raraku – the volcanic site where the Moai were built. This place is truly one of the most impressive on the island. You can see hundreds of Moai at various stages of the sculpting and transporting process and many of the Moai are 2-3 times bigger than they appear since the ground has covered many of their bases over time.

Rano Raraku - the birth place of the Moai

Lastly, with the sun just barely still peaking through the clouds, our guide took us  to Tongariki. This is another very impressive presentation of ocean side Moai – the biggest on the island with 13 Moai lined up in a row. Only one of them is wearing a Pukao but apparently this was a restoration project funding by the Japanese that was never quite finished.


Posted on June 9th, 2010 at 5:10 PM by admin

UPDATE: Due to a bit of travel exhaustion the following stops unfortunately had to be eliminated from the itinerary below: La Paz, Bolivia; Santa Cruz, Bolivia; Sucre, Bolivia, Potosi, Bolivia; Uyuni, Bolivia; San Pedro de Atacama, Chile; La Serena, Chile. The trip in Arequipa was, however, extended by several days.

While I generally limit myself to actual trips, today’s blog will be a bit of an exception. I’m currently planning (better late than never!) a trip through a large part of South America. I leave one week from today and still have plenty of planning to do but I wanted to write a sneak peak of sorts to evoke jealousy from my fellow traveling buddies. Hehe! So here it is my friends. If I make it through it alive it will be my longest trip EVER at 50 days or just over 7 weeks.
1. Santiago, Chile – 0 days                               14. Cusco, Peru – 1 day
2. Easter Island, Chile – 3 days                      15. Puno (Lake Titicaca), Peru – 2 days
3. Quito, Ecuador – 3 days                              16. Arequipa, Peru – 3 days

4. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador – 3 days       17. Santiago, Chile – 2 days

5. Guayaquil, Ecuador – 0 days                     18. San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina – 5 days

6. Vilcabamba, Ecuador – 2 days                  19. Santiago, Chile – 2 days
7. Chiclayo, Peru – 1 day                                 20.  Detroit, MI USA
8. Trujillo, Peru – 2
9. Lima, Peru – 0 days
10. Iquitos, Peru – 3 days
11. Lima, Peru – 2 days
12. Cusco, Peru – 2 days
13.  Machu Picchu, Peru – 2 days           

Specific lodging and activities have not yet been planned so please feel free to offer me advice and/or your blessings!