A Travellerspoint blog


overcast 17 °C

We reached Guyaquil - Ecuador on Sunday night (8 October) after a 4 hour delay. On the bus, we met a local lady who kindly offered us and a couple of other tourists a lift to town. Her niece came to pick us up in a van, with its doors literally falling off and the van could only be started by hot wiring it.

The next day, after breakfast we decided to go look for a tour to the Galapagos and plan the rest of the itinary around the tour. The plan was to go to the nearest agency, have a feel for the prices and then research on the net as to which is the best tour to do. On entering the first agency (Galasam - www.galasam.com) at 10.00am, the guy there said there was a tour leaving that same day, with the plane leaving at 12.00 noon. He explained the tour, gave us a special last minute price, we haggled it down abit (but not as much as we should have - mainly due to the fact that we were running out of time), rushed back to our hotel to pack up and get our money, rushed back to the tour agency, made the payments and signed the contract, and were driven to the airport by the tour agent. We got there with about 20 minutes to spare - talk about last minute!!

We managed to get a decent deal and at a higher class then we intended to do the tour - so we effectively upgraded from tourist class to first class but still staying in our budget. The flight was an hour and a half, and we were picked up by a panga (motor boat) and taken to our yatchImagen_018.jpg. There we had the first of our many 3 course meals, met our fellow travellers (there were 15 in total) and got geared up for our first snorkelling trip. The snorkelling was ok as it was a cloudy day and visibility was not that great. We were also swimmimg with wetsuits as the water was very cold!! It was definitely not the caribbean sea. After snorkelling we stopped at our first island - North Seymour where we had a small walk to catch the sunset and saw sea lions and some frigate birds (alot of other names escape me) This was our first (of many) experiences with the sea lions and it is amazing how they can be totally oblivious of all the tourists. It was really good watching them at close quarters and already we could feel the magic of the Galapagos - even though this was only a taster of things to come. Both of us were still in some kind of a shock as 24 hours earlier we had no idea what we would be doing and now we were up close to sea lions in the Galapagos!!Imagen_437.jpg

The next day we stopped of at Gardner bay in Espanola Island for a closer meeting with the sea lions (there were hundreds of them there) and snorkelling from the beach. The guide gave us a talk on the sea lions and in the middle of the talk while we were all sitting down on the beach, a baby sea lion wandered into the middle of our circle and decided to join us. Imagen_041.jpgThe young ones are the best as they are the most curious and playful. The beach also had mocking birds who always look for handouts from tourists, marine iguanas (who look very pre-historic) Imagen_058.jpgand bright red Sally lightfoot crabsImagen_050.jpg. They were an amazing sight to see the red against the black rocks. Again snorkelling was ok and the water seemed even colder from the beach. Unfortunately, the cold currents and El Nino has wiped out most of Galapagos´s coral population. It was back on board for lunch and then to Punta Suarez for the afternoon trip. Here we saw the Albatross and had our first (again of many) encounter with the blue footed boobiesImagen_4631.jpg. These birds are also called Kamikazee birds due to the way they dive in head first at great heights - with speeds aproaching 100 kms/hr into the water to catch their fish. These birds are the most popular amongst tourists due to that sight and the graceful way they fly about - and they are also the most plentiful. Inevitably, the most poplular tourist t-shirts in the Galapagos are ´I love boobies.´ Wonder what genius thought of that.

For Day 3, we travelled to Floreana island which is the southernmost Galapagos island. We visited post office bay in the morning which as the name suggests was and still is a post office. A long time ago someone came up with a plan to have a mail exchange at Floreana, whereby sailors who were sailing around the Galapagos could leave letters for their families at the island in a box, and others who were returning home, could take letter destined for their country back and post it from there. In time the families of the sailors also started sending letters with people travelling to the Galapagos for anyone who was sailing around there, and this bay became a fully fledged and very effective post office!! Someting very simple but very important to sailors and their families who would not see each other for months or years. The post office still exists today, and we all wrote postcards and put it in the box, and had a look at any postcards already in the box which we were for our destinations. Obviously we didn´t take any as we are travelling, but others in our tour took a few for their countries...We went back on board and did some snorkelling before lunch at a place called the Devil´s crown which is a ragged semicircle of rocks and we swam with sea lions here before heading to Punta Cormorant for the afternoon excursion. Here we saw some very beautiful pink flamingoes Imagen_149.jpgand sting rays very close up to the shore. We could see the rays from the beach. There were also a few other birds including boobies, pelicans and the Galapagos hawkImagen_433.jpg.Imagen_1931.jpg

We sailed to Isabella island on Thursday where we stopped off to see marine iguanasImagen_058.jpg, white tipped sharks swimming in coves, and flamingoes. However, the highlight was in the morning when, while we were having breakfast, thousands of blue footed boobies decided to have theirs near our yatch and it was a great sight to see them all diving in to catch their fish. Imagen_216.jpg They would circle the fishes from above and once they had a group to aim for they would dive in - and they seemed to do it in groups so we would see about 30-40 diving in at the same time. That was when I really wished I had an SLR as mine was just too slow to get a decent picture. In the afternoon we set sail for Santa Cruz where along the way we would have a lookout for whales and dolphins. However the sea got choppy, the weather worsened and not only did we not see anything, but most people had to go to sleep to prevent being sick. We docked off Puerto Ayora for the night - thats the biggest town in the Galapagos, and were given the treat of going to mainland after dinner. We did feel abit woozy on terra firma - i guess we got sea legs!!

Friday was the last day for many of the travellers who had taken the option of a 5 day tour. In the morning we were back to Puerto Ayora and visited the Darwin research centre where they are breading tortoises who were in danger of extinction on a few of the islands due to alien animals introduced to these islands by humans. Also, tortoises were very popular for meat amongst the sailors in the early days due to the fact that they could last a long time without food and water, and apparently they have sweet meat. Hundreds of thousands of tortoises were eaten by the sailors, but now the tortoise population is increasindg due to these breeding centres and the fact that they live for a bloody long time. Some people predict they can live for more than 200 years - some say it can even be nearer to 400 years - obviously we will never find out as its very hard estimate how old a tortoise is and records only go back 80 years. Maybe my great grand kids might know for sure!!! After lunch, we got 9 people replacing the 10 who left - these people booked for the shorter 4 day cruise. We visited the highlands in the afternoon to see the tortoises in the wildland then went back on board for dinner.Imagen_354.jpg

We visited dragon´s hill on Saturday to see land iguanasImagen_430.jpg and sea lions of course and we also got to do some snorkelling in the morning. This was the best snorkelling we had so far in the trip with plentiful of fish, a few playful sea lions and a couple of sharks swimmiming nearby. In the afternoon we stopped off at Bartolome Imagen_373.jpgwhich has a great beach and we also walked up 368 (Aarti counted) steps to get a good sunset view. This island also has some of the best lava landscape.

On sunday, we were at Santa Fe island to see more land iguanas (unique to this island and and not seen anywhere else in the world), sea lions, a few birds and 10m tall cactii. We did manage to spot a few iguana after abit of difficulty (a bit of a pain as we were spoilt by seeing all the other animals every day without having to search for them). We went back to the boat and had a small swim near the boat and made a jump from the top of our boat - 20 metres high!! And it hurt!! We snorkelled in the afternoon and visited an interpretation centre on San Cristobal island. This documented the history of man on the Galapagos islands - very interesting.Imagen_366.jpg

Monday was the last day and we had a panga ride before breakfast near a mangrove cove where we saw turtles, rays, sharks and our friends - the boobies!! Plus there were the hawks and other birds. It was back on board for breakfast and that was the end of the tour as we were dropped off where we started from - Baltra island!! We stayed for a couple more days at Puerto Ayora where we visited Tortuga bay and basically chilled out.

I am not sure if I have done justice to the Galapagos with this post - as I have got tired of writing now. However, the islands are really great, its extremely easy to see the animals and you can interact with them at close quarters, we saw some really unique animals, our natuarlist guide was great and gave us alot of information on virtually everything, the boat, crew and food was good (I guess it helped being on a first class boat) and the islands are as good as everyone makes them out to be!! I am gonna miss those boobies. Well I deserve a beer after this - adios amigos. Hasta luego.

Posted by AartiHemal 13:22 Archived in Ecuador Comments (2)

Moving up to Ecuador

sunny 23 °C
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Hola amigos!! This update was meant to be done earlier but due to the last minute booking of the Galapagos tour (to be told in the next post) this could not happen.

Anyways, we spent 2 days in Cuzco relaxing after the Inca Trail where we also took up our former tutors invitation to go to a Cuyeria - this is a restaurant which specializes in Cuy - or Guinea Pig in English. This is a delicacy in Peru & Ecuador. Needless to say, the Cuy was really nice - will try and upload photos soon. We have uploaded some photos so if you look back at the prvious entries you will see them.

After Cuzco, we took a night bus (15 hrs) to Nazca. The buses here are fantastic with great leg room and reclineable seats. Nazca is a small town in a dessert which has been made famous by the Nazca lines. We took the stomach churning plane ride to see the Nazca lines from air and also visited a dug up cemetry in the afternoon. It was amazing to see that the mummies were still intact after all these years.

Our next stop was Huaccachina which is a small place for sandboarding. Its a pretty small town, and there isn´t much else to do there apart from sand boarding. This was fun, and we took the easy and fun way out by going down all the dunes on our stomachs head first !!

Then it was back to Lima where we spent one night and break up the journey to go up north to Trujillo.

In Trijillo we have the oldest pre - Columbian ruins and loads of casinos. It was funny to see people gambling away at 9 in the morning on a weekday before the shops had opened...After spending 2 days there (at the casinos ;-)), we then headed for the beach near the Ecuador border.

It was a relief to finally hit the beach and some warm weather in Mancora. Unfortunately, what we didnt realise was that there was a Peruvian holiday and all the places we tried to stay were fully booked. So we had to go slightly upmarket and go to a yoga retreat. The place was really nice and I guess it wasn´t a bad place to shell out some money. A resident there got really excited at seeing some ´Spiritual Indians ´ come to a yoga retreat but on learning that the only spirit I liked was Rum - she turned away disappointed. However the owners were great, food was lovely, beach was nice and the sun was out and it was a very refreshing 3 day break after slogging through the Peruvian winter. I tried my hand at surfing but its was too energetic a sport for me - I didn´t mind the surfing - it was the swimming back with the board to catch waves which was a pain. They really should invent a surfboard with its own motor - windsurfing is more my kind of water sport.

The next stop was Guayaquil in Ecuador - that and more in the next update!!

Posted by AartiHemal 08:49 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Camino Inca & Machu Pichu - Done!!

all seasons in one day 10 °C
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Hola amigos. We are back to civilization and survived the Inca Trail with no broken bones. The trail is wonderful, with lots of lovely scenery, passing through different micro climates over the 4 days, and seeing a few ruins along the way. Ofcourse, the cherry on the cake was seeing Machu Pichu on the last day - although only after the fog lifted. Someone commented that the fog was probably the reason it took so long for Machu Pichu to be re-discovered.

When we booked our tour, there were only 2 of us going on the trek that day with Llama Path (www.llamapath.com) - our tour company. That was way back in June, and we hoped that by September the group will have got bigger. But when we had our meeting with them 2 days before the trek, they said that no one else had booked the trek for that day, so it would be only 2 of us in the group. We had to pay a sursharge for the privilege, but on the upside - it became a private trek. We would have 6 porters including a chef plus a guide. Just for the 2 of us. Talk about royal treatment.

We started off on Sunday morning - the tour company picked us up at 4.45 and we made our way to Olantaytambo for breakfast. After breakfast its a half an hour drive to ´Kilometre 82´where the present day Inca Trail starts. We cleared the checkpoint, got our passports stamped, took the photos and got started on our trail at about 8.00.

The first few hours were pretty easy with gentle slopes and we slowly got settled into a pace. We got to our Lunch camp at about 1. By the time we got there, the porters - using the same route and carrying 25 kilos each had passed us by, set up the dining and kitchen tents and had prepared the food. Our respect for the porters grew by the day. They were simply amazing. Imagen_463.jpgLunch on the first day was soup, spaghetti with a choice of a tomato based sauce and a cream based sauce. The food was really good and got better everyday. Infact I would have probably paid to eat the food at a good restaurant in London.Imagen_442.jpg

The trek after lunch was where the hard work really began. The trail starts its climb and its pretty much uphill for the rest of the day. Although we were slightly behind schedule (Llama Path likes to cover most of the hard trek on the first 2 days so the 3´rd day is pretty relaxing), we covered 14 Km on the first day. And it was a good thing we camped before our scheduled one, as it started to rain promptly as we reached camp. We had afternoon tea with popcorn and crackers and dinner was a 3 course affair with Soup, rice, vegetables for Aarti, chicken and beef for me and chocolate pudding. Obviously everything was setup by the time we got to camp. It was early to bed for us as we had catching up to do on Day 2.

Day 2 started early for us at 5.30. The uphill continued for 3 hours to the highest point of the trek - Dead woman´s pass. This is the most difficult part of the trek. The trek peaks at 4,215 metres and then it was downhill for us to lunch camp. How the porters carried 25 kilos up to Dead woman´s pass is beyond me. Now, although downhill is supposed to be the easy bit, it started to rain on our way down to make it harder. It rained pretty much everyday and all night just to make it that bit more interesting for us. We booked the trek for September as the wet season is supposed to start in November.....Lunch was soup, a kind of couscous with beef, chicken and vegetables. After lunch was another uphill to the 2´nd highest peak of the trek and back down to campsite. I sped ahead on the downhill (where it started to rain right on cue but this time the rain was accompanied by hail) and got to camp at 5.30. Aarti and the guide followed behing and had to walk the last half hour in the dark, and got to camp at 6.30. However, that was the most difficult part of the trek over. Again we had popcorn for tea with wantons and dinner was soup, chicken, beef and vegetables wrapped in mash and a desert of apple with sweet hot milk.

Day 3 started off with omlette, fried cassava and banana chips and hot chocolate. Then it was downhill all the way to the last campsite before Machu Pichu. Obviously, it started to rain again. However, there was no rush as this was a half day trek due to the long hours put in the first 2 days. We got to campsite at 2 in time for lunch. The campsite also has a restaurant and hot showers which Aarti took advantage of. I had my first beer in days - a well deserved one too!! For tea we had a surprise waiting - the chef had baked a cake (on a gas cooker) - yeah a cake!!! Incredible. Imagen_517.jpgAnd of course we also had popcorn and tea. Dinner was soup, chicken , beef and vegetables with some kind of rice with mulled wine!! And for desert we had jelly with pineapple - how the hell did the chef make jelly at camp?? As it would be an early start the next day we were in bed by 10.

Day 4 started off early at 4.00 as we had to cue up at the last checkpoint which opened at 5.30 for a mad dash to Sungate to catch the sunrise over machu pichu. Breakfast was porridge with chocolate pancakes. We got to sungate, but it was way too cloudy and foggy to see either the sun or machu picchu. So it was a walk down to machu picchu and the ruins do take your breath away. Imagen_545.jpgImagen_611.jpgI just wonder how it would have been in all its splendour. We had a 2 hour tour of the ruins, and then spent some more time exploring it by ourselves, before taking the bus back to Agua Calientes for lunch, and catch a train to Ollantaytambo and get back to Cuzco.

It was worth it... and I would do it again just for the culinary experience!!

Posted by AartiHemal 06:04 Archived in Peru Comments (4)

La escuela de español

semi-overcast 13 °C
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La primera semana...oops wrong language...

Phew. We are glad to have finally finished the working part of the holiday - ie 2 weeks of intense one-on-one spanish lessons (http://www.machupicchuschool.org/). Don´t think we realised how hard the learning would be - but it got easier in the second week as we started to have a basic grasp of the languange. We were also getting homework everyday, although admittedly, I got less than Aarti. Probably because the teachers knew I would be less likely to do it then Aarti. We had an exam on the last day where we both passed with flying colours - I got 17 and Aarti got 18.5 out of 20.

Other than school, there are lots of lovely little Inca ruins around Cuzco and thats where we have spent our weekend. You have to buy a tourist ticket that covers most of the ruins and a few museums, churches and a folk dance. The ticket is valid for 10 days so there is plenty of time to see all the sights. On Saturday we saw 2 ruins - Pisac & OlantaytamboImagen_159.jpg. Pisac is quite huge and it involved abit of walking - at altitude and we were soon out of breath on the uphillsImagen_155.jpg. I guess that was abit of practice for the Inca Trail. They were both pretty impressive ruins, built on steep hills, and really does make you wonder how they built it without any machinery. We had a really nice fire baked pizza for lunch at Olantaytambo. On Sunday we took a collectivo (matatu) to Tambomachay (another small ruin) and walked back down to Cuzco (8km!) also seeing Pukapukara and Saqsaywaman (more ruins). Unfortunately there was no sign of a sexy woman at the latter, however there was some kind of a celebration there and hundreds of school kids were puting up a show. It was very colourful and grand. Imagen_040.jpgOther than that we visited a few museums and saw a folk show (which I found really boring). Imagen_184.jpgImagen_187.jpgImagen_101.jpg

The homesatay we have been at has not been anything like what we thought it would be. Its more of a students house. We have hardly eaten with the family, as they seem to like to eat their food in their room. But its not been bad and we have met quite a few students who have come and gone over the last 2 weeks. Not to mention the fact that our facebook friends are growing..... We have been out to a couple of local bars and a local ´discoteca´ Its also been much colder in the second week, and I have found drinking gettind me really tired the next day - probably because of the altitude. In a way we are glad to be finished with Cuzco as homestay is now getting aboit boring - the cold weather is not helping as well. Inca Trail ( Camino Inka ) starts tomorrow and we can´t wait for it.

Hasta Luego.

Posted by AartiHemal 13:41 Archived in Peru Comments (4)

Arrived in High Cuzco

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Thanks for all the messages before we left...we´ll we arrived in Lima .. via a 6 hour stop over in Miami...
The flight from Heathrow to Miami all went fine - good seats with lots of leg room in normal cattle class - my veggie meals didn´t get messed up for a change either.... too good to be true....until we got to Miami... if you can help it never travel with a shah born in mombasa - he was stopped and we had to wait for 3 hours until they finally got round to asking him the security questions I guess they have to go through - you know the usual ones i.e. have you ever travelled to the Middle East?, have you ever had any military training?, are you part of a terrorist organisation?....So then they wanted to search our bags - they had fun doing drug tests on our items like our masala chai. Our Lan Peru flight to Lima from Miami was at 1.30am... No problems there... mighty glad to be out to America!

We had two days-nights in Lima, we were staying a bit out of the centre in an area called Miraflores. Our first hostel (http://www.lokihostel.com/lima/hostel) was quite a good one as its hopefully going to ease us in to the travelling before we have less luxury... We spent our first two days doing very little, relaxing and checking out the local area...

Then Sat morning we had a very early morning flight to Cusco at 6am - check in time is two hours earlier but in Peru I think we need more like three as everything was happening so slowly.. We were picked up from the airport by a representative of the Spanish school (http://www.machupicchuschool.org/) where we were going to spend the next two weeks..

We were dropped off at our family homestay..very nice home about 20 mins walk from the main square. Its pretty good here. We have 3 maids who are fantastic - we don´t need to do any work and are given 3 meals a day. The family we are staying with is the manager of our Spanish school and her 2 kids. And they have other students in the house - 8 in total. Its a very cosmopolitan mix as well - there is a Russian, French, Asian guy from Brixton, a German who doesn't drink (go figure), a Brit, an American and us. It was the German´s birthday last night and since he doesn't drink we had a fiesta infantile - lots of sweets, chocolates, and softdrinks - I absolutely loved it. It was like our welcome party too as we got to meet a lot of other students and teachers at the party, and as we had all these different nationalities there was Happy Birthday sung in 8 different langauges.

Its 11,000 feet up here and Hemal has been struggling with the altitude since we arrived and I think its just about hitting me now.

School starts tomorrow at 9am sharp.

Posted by AartiHemal 13:55 Archived in Peru Comments (5)

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