Monday, March 20, 2017

Hello sunshine!

Last country on this trip

I'm in Ecuador now, my last stop on this Epic South American journey. I've gone from the middle of Chile all the way up here, and worked it out so I have a few weeks to explore and get a taste of this small country on the equator. It is on the modern,  efficient and expensive side of the scale, not to the level of Chile,but it's a contrast from Bolivia and Peru. Similar vibes at the markets, but just more organized with laminated menus and higher prices. I love eating at the local markets, feeling like a local and getting to try unique foods, and drink fresh cheap juices.

I started in Cuenca, which is a city full of great architecture and history. This is a great place to meet other travelers as most people coming to or from Peru stop off here. Pretty much everyone at my hostel were fresh into country on their way north to Columbia. The gringo trail!

The walking tour was unique in that it wasn't very good and used private transportation. The van took us to a Panama hat factory,which had a museum and shop (always pushing products on these tours).  We did learn some cool things about the history of the hats and there was a live woman sitting in an exhibition, weaving a hat. Not really my style, but still some sweet hats.

The best part of Cuenca was the zoo. This was the most natural zoo I've been to, sitting on a large hill mountain outside the city. No paved path or normal cages, we had to hike through dirt trails, often full of mud from the train. The monkeys pretty much were just running wild with water being the main barrier from escape. There were bridges built out of wire for them to go to a large variety of habitats. The Andean bear had a large plot to himself. Amazon animals were all over. There were relatives of the tiger, pumas, condors and animals I hadn't seen before. My two Finnish friends and I were pretty much the only people there and it felt like a walk in the hills with animals all around us. Jungle tour!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Beach time

I've been in the north of Peru for a few days now, relaxing in the beach town of Mancora. My hostel is right on the beach, so I literally roll out of bed, get in the water, and then have breakfast. Just can't beat that. Or the fact that my hostel is made up of 4 cabanas,and that there is saltwater in the outdoor showers.

I've been surfing, hiking, doing yoga and reading the last few days as well as meeting some new friends. The surf was small and sadly this week in Peru's surf capital was lacking. Still good to get out in the water though. Yoga near the beach is always a pleasure, and the hot weather has already made me quite flexible. Feeling good!

This town is a sandals only kind of place. Warm, sweaty nights under a mosquito net don't exactly rest you up though. Still,  it's been a nice change from the cold weather in the Andes. No alpaca sweaters needed here. Just sunscreen.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Off to Lima

To save on time and hassle,  I decided to fly from Cusco to Lima.  For just a few dollars more, I was able to avoid a 22 hour bus, and fly there in 1 hour and 20 minutes. The budget backpacker in me was totally fine with this, as first off, I love to fly and be in airports, and secondly, after many long South American bus rides, I've grown tired of bus travel. Of course,  I still have several buses to take in the next few weeks to continue my journey north to Ecuador.

International airports are always fun. You get crazy looks when you ask if you should take off your shoes (got to keep them on).  Bringing a bottle of water through was no problem (in a land where you buy all water, I prefer to keep some for the journey).  And making peanut butterand jelly sandwiches on the airport floor just seems normal. I'd found a squeeze pack of both pb and jelly,  making for a light snack.

Cusco has been awesome. I got to know a lotof people here, and know my way around. I spent the rainy morning exploring free museums. The Museo de Cafe was awesome. Great to learn about the industry and history here in Peru, the 3rd largest producer of coffee after Brazil and Columbia. I've had many great cups here and the espresso at the museum was spot on. The chocolate museum was simular in pointing out that there are now more coffee and chocolate crops than coca plantations. Some great samples showed the different taste from chocolate in the high mountains, to the coast, to the jungle. Awesome stuff.

Here's a picture of me drinking a great cup of coffee. Lost a bit of weight along the 6 day hike through the Andes to Machu Pichu, but never fear, I am back to feasting like a king.

Monday, March 6, 2017

On top of Machu Pichu Mountain

On top of spending 11 hours exploring Machu Pichu, I decided to hike to the top of the highest mountain in the park. Machu Pichu Mountain is over 800m above the main part of the city below. It's a super steep climb, up small rock stairs built by the Incas. This hike literally takes your breath away, as it combines using a stairmaster for 1 hour and going up high altitudes. Starting at Machu Pichu, you end up at the same altitude of Cusco.

Epic views on the way up are rewarded with accomplishment on top, with full 360 views of the area. You can see Hidroelectric, where the buses to Cisco leave from, and is a 3 hour hike away, and you can see Aguas Calientes, a 2 hour hike away where I am spending the night.  Mountain views all around, covered in a rich jungle of trees. Sadly the view became clouded over soon after I arrived, so i snacked and met some other hikers in a white haze.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

On the trail

Right now, I'm in the small town right outside of Machu Pichu, 4 days into the Salkantay Trail. It's a long trek, with hours of hiking each day, camping in tents along the way, and tonight for the first time, we will be in an actual bed in a hostel. And tomorrow is the big day, waking up early to go spend a full day amongst the ruins. Pretty damn excited for it.

Our group is made up of 8 people, all from the northern hemisphere. 3 Germans, 4 from the country Basque,and one sexy American. With knowing a bit of Spanish and German, it's been a great mix. No secrets from me! 

The first day was filled with an early start, a sweet hike along an ancient irrigation ditch to our campsite at the base of some epic snow covered mountains, with a lake to hike to. The alpine lake, a bright turquoise color, was up a steep trail, and well worth the tough 45 min climb. Surreal, tranquil and beautiful, it takes your breath away. And once I dove in, it literally took my breath away. You see the waterfalls above, pouring water from the glaciers right into the lake. Cold and amazing. Feeling alive.

Our guide, Juan, likes to joke a lot, and so we had baby condor legs (chicken) for dinner. We spent the first night camping at 3900 meters,so I had all my clothing on for dinner, and was glad I had rented a very warm sleeping bag. And the next day we got to hike to one of the highest places I have hiked. Second tape pass is at a altitude of over 4600 meters high. Always good to start the day off with a good incline, through streams and in the mist. Felt great up on top.

It was raining off and on for most of the day, so the cheap ponchos we had were in full use. After the pass, the next few hours were spent going down, with the rocky landscape going from rock to flat meadows and down to a jungle level. Much warmer and tropical, with lots of moss and trees, plus a huge river, with lots of waterfalls. Amazing.

Day three moved us along the way, through jungle and across many streams. Waterproof boots are amazing.  Great views and lunch at a coffee plantation made for a fun day. I had my best cup of coffee in South America and had some decent guacamole with lunch to keep the energy up. Later on, hot springs to sooth the body and have a sweet dark lager after. Bonfire at the campsite and some fun Peruvian games. The life is good!

Rafting outside of Cusco

So I'm in Peru now and have been in Cusco for the last few days. It's a great base to get to know the area,the country and get out exploring on many adventures. Of course there's Machu Pichu nearby but there also great hikes in other ruins nearby the city and some great fun adventure sports to take part in. Along with two Israeli friends, we had an awesome day out rafting and zip lining.

The river was super full and fast. So many crazy rapids, some of the biggest I've been on. Water was hitting us from all over. No one fell over, but we each were knocked into the raft at least once. Feel the power of the river!

We stopped and played some fun games along the river bank and my dead toe nail was ripped off. Don't have to worry about the nail any more. At least the foot was numb from the river. We named ourselves Team Alpha and had many a raucous cheer along the way. Great crew and lots of laughs, fun and adrenaline along the way.

Rafting outside of Cusco

So I'm in Peru now and have been in Cusco for the last few days. It's a great base to get to know the area,the country and get out exploring on many adventures. Of course there's Machu Pichu nearby but there also great hikes in other ruins nearby the city and some great fun adventure sports to take part in. Along with two Israeli friends, we had an awesome day out rafting and zip lining.

The river was super full and fast. So many crazy rapids, some of the biggest I've been on. Water was hitting us from all over. No one fell over, but we each were knocked into the raft at least once. Feel the power of the river!

We stopped and played some fun games along the river bank and my dead toe nail was ripped off. Don't have to worry about the nail any more. At least the foot was numb from the river. We named ourselves Team Alpha and had many a raucous cheer along the way. Great crew and lots of laughs, fun and adrenaline along the way.

Rafting outside of Cusco

So I'm in Peru now and have been in Cusco for the last few days. It's a great base to get to know the area,the country and get out exploring on many adventures. Of course there's Machu Pichu nearby but there also great hikes in other ruins nearby the city and some great fun adventure sports to take part in. Along with two Israeli friends, we had an awesome day out rafting and zip lining.

The river was super full and fast. So many crazy rapids, some of the biggest I've been on. Water was hitting us from all over. No one fell over, but we each were knocked into the raft at least once. Feel the power of the river!

We stopped and played some fun games along the river bank and my dead toe nail was ripped off. Don't have to worry about the nail any more. At least the foot was numb from the river. We named ourselves Team Alpha and had many a raucous cheer along the way. Great crew and lots of laughs, fun and adrenaline along the way.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Bolivia thoughts

Couple quick thoughts on the amazing country of Bolivia. I've had a great couple of weeks here, traveling from the south to the north. People have been really friendly and the landscapes have been amazing. Super high altitudes, deserts, lakes, jungles and mountains. I've been in small towns, large cities and tiny villages. Sure the wifi normally doesn't work,and the streets are full of potholes, but hey, the country goes on.

Houses in Bolivia are mainly made from brick or adobe. Most are left like that, without a stucco finish or paint. Some appear half built, although lived in. Top or bottom layers await work to finish them. They're efficient and normally are just 1 or 2 levels. In the countryside, you see more adobe and some that appear to have been built numerous years ago. After seeing some Inca ruins, it almost appears that some farmers still use walls built by the Incas.

Eating in the markets is always an adventure. The sights are amazing, as anything and everything is for sale. That is, not a lot of packaged food, but everything else such as meat and veggies abound, with piles of pastas and grains. The smell of the meat can be overpowering with it sitting out, unrefrigerated,but if you get over that, it is feasting time. A normal set lunch entails a soup and then a main, for around $2.  The peanut or quinoa soups are the best, quite filing with potatoes and veg. The mains vary from chicken or beef along with potatoes, rice and a salad mix. At Lake Titicaca, the main was trout. Been good times feasting for cheap!   Works out cheaper than cooking for myself.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Lake Titicaca

At over 3800m, Lake Titicaca is impressive right there. Then with the scenery, color of the water and the friendly people in Bolivia, it is a darn outright stunning spot to visit. It's my last stop in Bolivia, and a good one to finish on.

Unlike the more popular Cocacabana, the small town which is the main place of entry to the Bolivian side, is not all sand and party. Surrounded by mountains, and full of hotels, this town pumps tourists from the world out onto the lake and to the Isla del Sol, the place where Incan mythology began.

Along with my two traveling companions,  Barak and Dan from Israel, we set off on a very full, slow ferry out to the island. Took 2.5 hours to the north part of the island where the Templo del Sol is. Quite the long, windy ride stuck on top of the boat. We hiked to the Sacred Rock, saw the sacrificial table  (was there a red hint?) and explored the awesome ruins of the temple. Those Incans were good builders!

The other two had to head back to catch the boat back, while I hiked to the highest point on the end of the island. Great views all around, with Peru in sight as well as the snow covered royal mountains of Bolivia. Very peaceful up there. Then it was time to head across the island to the south.

A steep, long path goes across the island, often looking like the Great Wall of China in its length and ability to see it from afar. Great sights on both sides, and I had a good chat with a local youngster while overlooking the middle village. I learned that quinoa and corn are the main two crops, and also learned those and potatoes are the only crops I understood in Spanish.

Reaching the southern end, I worked my way through a few hostels til I got a great price of $4.50 for a private room. Right outside was a cafe with a rocking chair at the table overlooking the lake. Needless to say, I stayed there the whole night, watching the sun set and eating a huge plate of trout. And that was day 1 on the island.

Day 2 entailed hiking to the southernmost end for more ruins, relaxing, chatting up some English girls and eating more trout. Then another show ride back, to stay 1 more night in Cocacabana. I tried camping, but 15 minutes after my tent was up, it began raining. So I'm at a vegetarian hostel, and falafel is on the menu tonight. Well done Bolivia, well done. Tomorrow Peru.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Salar de Uyuni

There is now another amazing highlight from my world travels. The Salar de Uyuni in southwestern Bolivia,  is one of the most breathtaking sights out there, from the flamingos and lamas, to the multi colored lagoons, to the brightly colored mountains. This place is a paradise of nature, from the lush green wetlands, to the dry deserts. Words cannot describe this place, from your feeling of awe,to the feeling of being just a speck in this universe. Always something amazing to look at out the window of the 4x4.

We started the 4 day tour from the quiet, friendly city of Tupiza and worked our way north to the touristic town of Uyuni. Each day was different, with amazing food along the way, provided by the awesome cook,  Augustina.  We had a good variety of food, from the usual chicken and beef dishes, to prickly pear cactus fruit as the main protein source. Feasting and exploring took up the days, and with the high altitude, we hit the sack early. The average altitude of our 3 nights was 4000m. During the days, we would climb mountains, go down into deserts and chill by lagoons full of wildlife.

I've hiked in high altitudes before, but this was defintely the highest I'd been, and fire the longest time. We passed 5000m on our 3rd day and didn't we notice a major difference. Just keep drinking that water and also we tried out the coca leaf,which our driver was quite fond of.

I was blown away by the colors. Shimmering orange and red mountains above a golden desert that has rock shapes just like in Dali's imagination. Orange, green and black lagoons. Pink and white flamingos with black tipped wings that could fly. Wet, green, spiky grass filled with life in the middle of a dry part of the country. Just pure epicness.

Here are a few pictures of the amazing nature. Much more coming.