Posted on August 10th, 2010 at 10:53 AM by admin
After a brief stop in Santiago I took off for my final south american travel destination – Bariloche, Argentina.  Since this was originally one of the places I was considering moving to when I decided to do a year in South America, I had to see what I missed out on by choosing Santiago over this lovely argentinean resort town.  This place is a nature lovers heaven with the winter highlight being skiing and snowboarding. I regret to inform that I abandoned my typical photographer’s duties on this trip as I was afraid of biting it on my snowboard and breaking my precious camera.  But I will attempt to describe what I saw and experienced through my writing. The white snow covered mountains were complimented nicely by patches of trees here and there. Atop the mountains you have a view of and irregularly shaped lake of deep blue color. I remember getting to the top and having to take a few minutes in my butt looking out at the view in complete awe. Wow what a beautiful place!

The landscape alone made me think that I may have made the wrong choice of south american homes, but then I had the pleasure of staying with 2 argentineans who were some of the nicest people I’ve ever met traveling. We ate dinners together and exchanged many ideas about our cultures and lifestyles, but most importantly we shared a lot of laughs. Thanks to Paula and Agusto for showing me such a great time in Bariloche. I won’t soon forget such a wonderful experience!

my new argentinean friends Paula and Agusto

Posted on August 2nd, 2010 at 5:12 PM by admin
When choosing a night bus from Puno to Arequipa Wendy and I were careful not to make the same mistake twice….or so we thought. We chose first class this time and wore considerably more clothing to shield us from the nights’ chill.  When we saw our seats we were painfully reminded of life’s relativity. It turns out that first class in this bus was just about the equivalent to the economy class on the last bus – go figure!

We arrived in Arequipa at about 3 am and headed to our hotel which I had communicated our potential late arrival earlier that day.  When we arrived, however, the hostel owner knew nothing of our late arrival nor our reservation.  As luck would have it, he had no space for us and had to call another hostel.  Luckily there was a hostel that had just opened recently and they were able to take us.  The next day we went searching for a tour to Colca Canyon.  We stupidly ignored the hostel owner’s advice and went to a closer tour agency that was listed in Lonely Planet.  We ended up paying almost twice as much as the people that went to the agency he had recommended but by this point we were so tired that we couldn’t even muster up the energy to be too angry at ourselves.

The Colca Canyon tour itself was good although slightly less active than we had thought. The first day we bussed from place to place with our overly chatty tour guide babbling all kinds of information in Spanish and English about the surrounding area and local people. We were able to see quite a few vincunas (llama mixed with alpaca), which I didn’t even know existed. When we were about to reach the highest point he guided us through altitude sickness prevention by chewing coca leaves. What are coca leaves you ask?  Well, coca is what is used to make cocaine when mixed with other chemicals, but in its natural form it is quite healthy and does seem to prevent altitude sickness and give you a burst of energy. It doesn’t taste wonderful but it’s certainly bearable given the benefits. I even brought some coca tea home for everyone to try!

Once we arrived at the hotel we had about 20 minutes to get ready for our 1.5 hour hike to the thermal baths. The local tour guide who took us seemed in a bit of a rush.  He didn’t speak English at all so I had to translate what little he mumbled to everyone else. The sun was setting quickly and we still hadn’t reached the thermal baths.  As you can probably imagine we had very little sun by the time we reached the baths and as nice and hot as they were, we all suffered quite a bit on the ways in and out.  But hey… sacrifices will be made for natural thermal baths now won’t they? We only had a half an hour in the baths and then our guide insisted we had back before it got too dark out.


The next morning we up early again and headed out on the bus to catch more of Colca Canyon’s main attractions.  The highlight was probably the lookout of the canyon where all the condors liked to hang out. I was sad to not have had a zoom lens for this event but I have some cool, albeit distant, shots of the condors flying by.  In comparison to the Grand Canyon I was a bit disappointed with Colca. It didn’t seem quite as special nor beautiful although it could be because I was visiting in the dry season. Apparently the canyon is much more colorful in the wet season. But even still, Colca is a very narrow canyon and is therefore quite difficult to appreciate its great depth. But you can’t beat the coca sampling now can you?!?

Nearing the edge of Colca Canyon

At the end of our Colca Canyon trip, Wendy, sadly, had to head back to California. I decided to change my itinerary and hang out a while longer in Arequipa just so that I could try and recover from the craziness.  In my extra time in Arequipa I did a couple of exciting excursions -white water rafting and downhill mountain biking. White water rafting was something I had wanted to try for as long as I could remember. I was a bit hesitant to do it in the cooler season but was told I’d be comfortable in the morning sun so I signed up for the morning time slot. The agency then called me later that day to tell me that I needed to switch to the afternoon as I was the only one signed up in the morning. I knew I was in for a rough day but I reluctantly agreed to the switch.

The weather was nice when we started out but the sun quickly hid behind the rocks and every little splash sent chills through my body.  The level 3 waves seemed very calm and I was even a bit disappointed with the lack of excitement, however, I could imagine level 4 and 5 waves really giving me the rush I was craving. The worst part was getting stuck on some rocks in such a way that the waves were pouring into our raft in such a way that we couldn’t get unstuck to do the weight and force of the water. Now, had it been a beautiful hot sunny day this would have been but a minor inconvenience but that water that was now covering us all from the waste down was FREEZING cold. It felt like a thousand knives were stabbing me over and over again for a good 8 minutes straight until we were able to get free from the rocks. I actually thought I might have permanently lost feeling in my feet after that but my body recovered remarkably with a towel and some warm tea afterward.  That night I even hung out with the chilean and argentinien tour guides over a few drinks.  Mission accomplished!

White water rafting the Chili River in Arequipa

Me and the guides afterwards!

The next day I was to downhill a local volcano known as Chachani. The bus ride up the volcano was slow yet charming and at the top I bundled up a bit before putting on all the necessary padding. It took us about 2 hours to get down with a bit of walking in between for uphill sections of pure sand. The highlight, though, was when we hit the beautifully paved open road near the bottom. I must have been going 35 mph on a mountain bike. It was a little frightening but VERY exciting. After a nice taste of the outdoors in Arequipa I packed up my stuff and headed back to Santiago to prepare for the last stop in my south american tour: Bariloche, Argentina.

Mountain biking down the Chachani Volcano with the Misti Volcano in the background

Posted on July 4th, 2010 at 11:22 PM by admin

          After a few days in Vilcabamba the truth is that I really did not want to leave but having to make it all the way to Lima in a matter of a few days to meet Wendy procluded me from extending my time.  So I first took a bus back to Loja and then boarded an overnight bus to Piura (a coastal city in Peru near the border of Ecuador and Peru). This bus was indeed quite a bit more comfortable than the one I took previously from Guayaquil to Loja.  I slept fairly well until I was awoken at about 3:30 in the morning to go through customs/immigration in order to enter Peru. Of course I got back on the bus after about 45 minutes to go back to bed as quickly as possible.

          Upon arriving in Piura I had only two tasks to accomplish. Get some peruvian soles from an ATM and get on another bus to Chiclayo. Fortunately something rare happened when I got off the bus: a friendly taxi driver advised me where I needed to go to catch the next bus, offered to drive me there and stop at an ATM on the way AND he only charged me 10 soles for everything (like $3.25 US).  I was pleasantly surprised to say the least after experiencing so many greedy taxi cab drivers that make a living off of ripping off the tourists.

          It took about 2 hours to get to Chiclayo at which point I had a new set of objectives: find a hostel and buy a peruvian chip for my cell phone. It turns out that my luck was to continue.  As I was getting off the bus I saw a Movistar store right across the street.  I lugged my backpacks across the street and left a swarm of eager taxi cab drivers bewildered as I confidently told them that I did not need a taxi at that moment.  Card in hand I headed  to one of the hostals that lonely planet had recommended and met one of the nicest hostal owners. He not only gave me advice on where to go to lunch, but also personally walked me into town to see if I could exchange chilean pesos into soles.  It turns out that I couldn´t but I really appreciated his efforts and kindness.  Such things do NOT happen enough when traveling alone.

          For lunch I had a uniquely flavored fish-stuffed zucchini along with soup, appetizer, juice and dessert -all for $3.50 US.  I think the large, yet cheap and delicious lunch ¨menus¨are my favorite part of multiple countries in South America.  Afterwards I went to an internet cafe to check if my only contact in Chiclayo, Diego, would be available to meet up for dinner.  Poor guy so graciously offered to host me in his house but due to my horrible scheduling and inability to call him before I had the peruvian chip, I wasn´t able to call him in time.

          Since it was my lucky day (overall) Diego was, in fact, able to meet up with me. I took a few pictures (literally only a few) of the main square in Chiclayo which was somehow both peaceful and lively while waiting for Diego to meet me for dinner. We got to know each other a bit over a nice dinner and even moreso over a few drinks afterwards. I tried a very refreshing drink called a chicha morada, which I believe is made from corn, sugar and some herbs.  It was delicious!

The main square in Chiclayo

          Unfortunately I had to catch a flight the next day to Lima to meet up with my friend Wendy but I really do wish I could´ve stayed a bit longer in northern Peru.  The people were kind, the atmosphere welcoming and the climate quite comfortable. Maybe I will find my way back some day and Diego – you´ll have a chance to host me after all! Thanks for everything – I will not soon forget such a pleasant experience.

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.