Archive for October, 2018

Part 5: South America – San Pedro de Atacama to Santiago, Chile.

Tuesday, October 30th, 2018

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January 15, 2018. Hotel Desert Tayka Ojo de Perdiz, Bolivia to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

I got up at dawn to get the early light over the High Dessert, before we crossed over into Chile. We were told that the there was no rush over breakfast or checking out of the hotel – so we didn’t.

Poor planning and a selfish attitude by Lillian, who wanted to sleep in, meant that we were chasing our tails all morning. 

There seemed to be a degree of panic between the driver and Lillian. We were then told that we had to be at the Bolivian, Chile border by 1pm, before it closed for lunch.

Now we were driving way to fast on roads that were not designed for speed.

We felt rather unsafe so I told the driver, to slow down.

Lillian was probably one of the worst guides we have ever had. So much so that she could be the subject of an entire blog.

However I won’t be that cruel.

We were very glad to reach the Chilean border and see the last of Lillian.

Before we arrived in Chile we did get to quickly pass by a few interesting places.

Lake Colorada was alive with more flamingos, the Sun of Tomorrow Geysers or Geyers Sol de Mañana and the Thermal Springs of Polques were squeezed in before we had to cross into Chile.

Entering Chile the road suddenly changed from a dirt track to a sealed road. 

And there was no Dakar Rally.

 

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January 16, 2018. San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

Max was the guide for our tour to Salar y Laguna/Piedras Rojas con Entrada. 

We were on the edge of the Atacama Desert, the driest, non polar place, on earth.

This plateau is a 1,000 kilometre strip of land on the Pacific coast. It’s aridity is as a result of a constant temperature inversion of the cool Humboldt ocean current meeting a Pacific anticyclone. This causes the temperatures to rise with altitude, not fall as they normally do.

Our first stop was to see the Jére Oasis, a verdant patch of green in the brown of the desert. This small strip of land is well farmed with fruit trees and crops running along the river’s edge.

Next was Chaxa Lake in the National Flamingo Reserve. 

The name Flamingo comes from the Portuguese and Spanish and means ‘flame-coloured.’ Their colour ranges from pink to bright red. The brighter the colour the healthier the bird.

The species dates back to the Cretaceous Period, 130 million years ago.

For at least 20 million years Flamingos once wandered Australia. About one million years ago they disappeared as the centre of the country dried out and their watery habitat vanished.

Back then there were more species of Flamingos in Australia than there are currently in Africa or South America.

There are a number of lakes within the reserve and we wandered around the edge of Altiplanic, Miscanti and Miñiques Lagoons.

This was relatively ‘soft’ travel compared to what we did in the High Desert of Bolivia. 

A lot of It was in paved or salt roads. There was some corrugated dirt roads as well, especially on the climb to the Flamingo Reserve, which was at 4,272 metres. 

We had lunch at Cocinería Bartolomé, in the small town of Socaire. The tour group was made up of a number of nationalities and not surprisingly most of them spoke English.

Mining towns like Socaire received bribes from the mining companies like new churches and schools. This is a small compensation for the environmental damage that they cause. 

The town had two churches, the newest being funded by the El Laco iron ore mine.

On the return drive to San Pedro de Atacama we stopped off at Toconao. The main feature of this small town is Saint Lucas Church and the nearby bell tower which was built in 1750.

 

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January 17, 2018. San Pedro de Atacama to Santiago, Chile.

Yet another early start, this was for a 4:30am pick-up, as we were off to see the sun rise at the Geysers del Tatio. 

We were rugged up for below freezing temperatures, even though it was mild in San Pedro de Atacama. 

The drive to the Geyser was about 90 minutes, in the dark.  

Most people slept and so did I. 

When we reached Geysers del Tatio and got out of the bus, it was rather chilly so we were glad of the warm clothes. 

Our guide was Francesca and she had very good English. We were the only non Spanish speakers on the tour, so all the English commentary was directed at us. 

After being escorted around Geysers del Tatio for 35 minutes we returned to the bus for breakfast. 

This was a rather meagre spread. 

We were then given time to explore the Geyser field. The sun had risen by now and the early morning light behind the billowing plumes of steam was stunning. 

El Tatio sits at 4,320 metres above seal level. It is the third largest geyser field in the world and the largest in South America. 

Geyers are caused by a build up of hot subterranean water pressure. This is released through cracks in the earth’s crust. The water can reach temperatures of 85° C. The fumaroles or steam vents are created when the steam meets the cold air. They can reach a height of 10 metres.

El Tatio is part of the Central Volcanic Zone and there are over 50 volcanoes in the surrounding area.

From the geysers we then visited the Putana Wetlands, an oasis in the dry desert. It was swarming with water birds and there was even a group of Vicuñas who came down for a morning drink. 

Vicuñas are related to the Llama and one of two wild South American camelids, the other is the Guanaco. They have been a protected species since Inca times. They are valued for their wool, which can only be shorn every three years and has to be caught in the wild.

Vicuñas wool is both soft and warm and therefore very expensive.

Next was the Village of Machuca with just 20 houses. The people of this tiny settlement seem to rely on the tourists, who pass by after visiting the geysers. 

There were far more tourists than villagers, who were busy selling, singing, cooking and generally finding ways to separate the tourists from their Chilean Pesos. 

The village did have a quaint white church, San Santiago and the tourists were also swarming over that. 

After that it was a short stop to see the flamingos at the Machuca Wetlands. 

We were a little over flamingos by now.  

We returned back to the hotel around noon and went to our new room to change, as our old room had been booked out. We were flying to Santiago late in the day and needed a late check out. Firstly to get out of our cool climate clothes. It was 30°C+ when we arrived back and we both had thermals on, we also needed to re-pack for the flight. 

There was confusion at the airport in Calama. We didn’t get a boarding pass and our electronic ones didn’t have the departure gate indicated – and there were no monitors. 

Fortunately there were only five gates, so I wandered around until staff turned up and then I asked them where they were going.

 

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January 18, 2018. Santiago, Chile.

We were in Santiago for four nights. We needed to do some ‘housekeeping, as well as sightseeing. 

Thea needed a trim and I a haircut. We also had to book the last of our trip before Antarctica. 

Then there was a power cut, apparently the entire city centre was effected. We later discovered a truck had flattened a power pole.

It’s a good thing that hairdressing is predominately a manual operation.

However we had to pay for our haircuts with cash as the credit card machine wouldn’t work and Thea had to leave with wet hair as the dryer needed power. Then we couldn’t get any more cash out as the ATMs were closed. 

We couldn’t afford lunch with the money we had left, so we went for a walk instead. 

Santiago, the capital of Chile, has a population of nearly 8 million people, making it one of the largest cities in the Americas.

There are nearly 18 million people in Chile, so Santiago is an important social, economic and political centre. 

Santiago produces over 50% of Chile’s GDP. 

It was founded by the Spanish in 1541 and sits within the central Maipo River valley, about 500 to 650 metres above sea level.

This was an enjoyable change from the high altitudes we had experienced over the last few weeks.

Time to breath easy and no hallucinations.

Our walk took us to Santa Lucia Hill which is situated in the centre of Santiago. There is a 65,300 square metre park containing buildings, statues, stairways, fountains and a viewpoint, sitting 69 metres above the city.

The hill is a remnant of a 15 million year old volcano.

 

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January 19, 2018. Santiago, Chile.

We had booked a wine tour in the Casablanca Valley which involved visiting three different wineries, including lunch at the last one.

Our guide for the day was Ayelen, which means Blue Ribbon or The Girl That Smiles.

It was foggy and rather chilly when we arrived at Bodegas Re, our first vineyard. Ayelen assured us that the weather would get better during the day. 

The Casablanca Valley is situated on the coastal plane between Santiago and Valparaiso. It is the newest and fastest growing wine region in Chile and produces some of their best wines.

Cool climate whites such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are a specialty. They also make some excellent reds such as Pinot Noir, Merlot and Syrah. 

The climate is similar to parts of the Napa valley in California but the prices are no where near as inflated as they are there.

The Humbolts currents, which plays such an important role in the Atacama Desert, also influences the style of wine that is produced in the region.

The Spanish conquistadors and missionaries first brought vines with them from the newly conquered  Peru around 1554. There was then an influx of French winemakers in the late 20th century. Now Chile is the fifth largest exporter of wine in the world and the seventh largest producer.

Only a very small number of Chileans consume wine with most of it being exported.

Bodegas Re prided themselves on their individual style and alternative approach to wine making. They employed the old methods of clay barrels and hand crafted wines, similar to what we had seen in Georgia.

They only keep 8% of their grapes and only 10% of their wine is for export.

Next was Loma Larga Vineyards or Long Hill, which was an entirely different story. 

Their approach was typical of the area with a very contemporary approach using modern methods and stainless steel tanks.

80% of their wine is for export.

Lunch was on the verandah at House (House of Morandé Casa de Vino), overlooking the vineyard. As promised the sun was now shining and the sky blue.

We returned to Santiago late in the day and had a brief walk around the Bellas Artes district near our hotel.

In fact the Academia de Bellas Artes was almost opposite.

This Neo Classical building was designed by the Chilean architect Emile Jéquier and built in 1880, It was the first art museum in Latin America and currently there are over 3,000 pieces in its collection.

 

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January 20, 2018. Santiago, Chile.

Today was set aside to explore more of Santiago, so we joined the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus. We purchased the Premium ticket which included the Teleférico up to Cerro San Cristóbal. This has an excellent view of this sprawling city. 

Normally you would take the Funicular but that seems to have had more downtime than the Arthur’s Seat chairlift. 

It takes 2.5 hours to do the complete trip and it was well worth it. The tour not only covered the central city area but also included a number of the more interesting inner suburbs. 

The bus is run by Turistik, as is is everything else on the tourist agenda in Santiago. 

They run both the Teleférico and the Funicular as well as operate a large number of tours around and out of the city. 

Santiago is the most European City we had visited so far in South America. Due to the warmer climate and huge Spanish influence there are many parks, gardens and outdoor cafes. 

We tried to eat outside every night we were there.

Part 4: South America – Bolivia.

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018

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January 10, 2018. Puno, Peru to La Paz, Bolivia.

Yet another early start. This time on the ‘Tourist Bus’, read backpacker bus, from Puno to Copacabana and then La Paz in Bolivia. 

It had rained all night so the skies were grey – again. 

At least we got mainly fine weather for our Lake Titicaca tour. 

It was about three hours from Puno to the Peru and Bolivian border points. 

We were offloaded from the bus to go through Peruvian immigration. Then we walked up the road and went through the formalities on the Bolivian side. 

Apart from the queue, it was rather painless and fast. 

Another stamp in the passport. 

It was a short drive from the border to Copacabana. 

We were picked up at the bus station and transferred to the Hotel Rosario. There was about 45 minutes before the bus to La Paz, so we had a short walk along the Titicaca waterfront. 

It was geared up for the local tourists with dozens of boats waiting to take the punters onto the lake. 

When we returned to the hotel we found that we were in a 12 seater mini van to La Paz, not a coach as we thought. 

The views of Lake Titicaca from the bus were stunning. 

We were driving on a peninsular and the lake would appear on either side of the van as we snaked our way along the ridge. 

As we had seen in Columbia, Ecuador and Peru gum trees were everywhere. 

At the end of the peninsula we reached San Pedro de Tiquina and then crossed by ferry to San Pablo de Tiquina. 

The coaches, vans, trucks and cars all went on large barges, while passengers took a power boat across. 

Titicaca was now only on our right. 

We finally arrived into La Paz at 5:30 pm, Bolivian time and 4:30 pm, Peru time. 

We had made our first time change since arriving in the US. 

In La Paz there was a mix up with our hotel. We thought we were staying at the three star Casa de Piedra but instead we were in the five star El Presidente. 

I liked the look of the Casa de Piedra. 

Searching for our hotel we had to walk through a street demonstration and on the way back to the El Presidente we walked through it again. 

Apparently demonstrations are a daily occurrence in La Paz. 

 

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January 11, 2018. La Paz, Bolivia.

Jimena was our guide for the La Paz city tour and Lucas our driver. 

As we were driving to our first site Jimena told us that there are 200 rivers running through the city. They don’t have earthquakes but they do have many landslides caused by flooding. 

Much of the city is built on clay and this is where the working class have to build their homes. 

They are the ones who suffer most. 

La Paz is an ‘est’ city.

Apart from being the highest major world city, it also has the highest golf course, football stadium, ski field, tennis club and international airport.

As we were told: ‘The football club in La Paz win games, not with attitude, but altitude.’

The 2018 Dakar Rally was again being held in South America, this was its tenth time there. The course took the competitors through parts of Peru, Bolivia and Argentina.

They race everything.

Cars, bikes, quads, UTVs and trucks race over gravel, dirt and sand for 14 days. They started on January 6 and were going until January 20.

And we were right in the middle of the Bolivian stage.

Our city tour with Jimena  took us to the Valley of the Moon. This is a popular tourist attraction and there were plenty of people there to share the experience with us.

Erosion has worn away a large part of the mountain, which is composed largely of clay. This leaves tall spires, similar to Göreme National Park in Cappadocia, Turkey, but not nearly as dramatic.

Mi Teleférico or My Cable Car is a public transport system that has been uniquely designed to suit this mountainous, high altitude city.

It’s a brilliantly simple and inexpensive answer to moving the people of la Paz around with the minimum of fuss.

I was so taken by Mi Teleférico that I wrote a blog specifically about it. You can see ‘The subway in the sky’ here.

On the way back to the hotel we wandered through the Witch’s Market. There are stalls full of weird and wonderful items all devoted to the spiritual well-being of the people. Run by the local witch doctors you can buy dried frogs, potions and medicinal plants. The most popular item of them all was dried llama foetuses. These could be seen hanging in a lot of the shop windows.

Apparently many Bolivian house have these buried beneath the foundations, as an offering to the goddess Pachamama.

We got back to the hotel and it started to pour. Lucky we took the morning tour.

The Dakar Rally was due to pass our hotel at about 2pm. There were a few people who braved the rain to watch the first of the vehicle pass by.

The majority of the crowd was made up of protesters. 

They were determined to cause strife and get publicity for their cause.

Then the police and army arrived. It was a cat and mouse game between the two sides.

We watched in amusement from the safety of our hotel room on the 13th floor.

The protesters tried to interrupt the proceedings as best they could. They pulled down banners and threw chairs onto the road in front of the passing rally and support vehicles.

Then the army arrived on motorcycles and drove through the crowd, scattering them in all directions.

This continued for some time.

As more and more rally vehicles arrived the crowds of supporters increased and the protesters lost interest.

By 5pm most of them had gone home.

We had a late afternoon coffee and another wander around the streets of Le Paz. We then went out for dinner.

When we returned there were still rally and support vehicles passing and honking their horns. Only a handful of spectators remained.

We hoped they wouldn’t go on all night.

 

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January 12, 2018. La Paz, Bolivia. 

Today was a day off as we had been on the go for weeks. 

Since we starting the 13 day tour of Peru and Bolivia we have had some very early mornings and long days.

It was also a day to plan the last of South America before the cruise to Antarctica. 

Our only real tourist adventure was to the Coca Museum, which was just around the corner from our hotel.

Its main goal was in presenting the differences between the use of the coca leaf, among indigenous South Americans, an it’s illegal use as cocaine. 

The display reinforced the belief that coco helps people in adapting to life in high altitudes and that there are a lot of medicinal values to the plant.

It also points out that it wasn’t until the Spaniards arrived that the evil side of coca, cocaine, was discovered.

One display pointed out that, “Coca leaves have been consumed for almost 5,000 years without damage to the human body. This suggests, or rather should prove, that the problem arose once the Western world left its mark on the coca leaf – and converted it into cocaine”(J. Hurtado 1982)

It also made the point that the US represents 5% of the world’s population, yet consumes 50% of the cocaine that exists on the planet.

The exhibition also mentioned that Coca-Cola originally contained cocaine and it wasn’t until 1929 that it was removed as an ingredient.

Even today coca leaves are still one of Coke’s ‘secret’ ingredients.

Bolivia is a landlocked country bordered by Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina and Chile.

At last count there were 11 million people, with 70-75% of them being indigenous Bolivians.

Before the Spanish conquest Bolivia was part of the Inca Empire. The first call for independence came in 1809. There was then a 16 year war before the Republic was named Bolivia, after Simón Bolívar. This gentleman was also a key player in the establishment of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Panama and Bolivia as sovereign states, independent from Spanish rule.

 

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January 13, 2018. La Paz to Uyuni, Bolivia.

It was another early start, this time for our flight to Uyuni. 

We weren’t the only ones up early, as the Daka Rally were also on the road. 

Ironically they were also headed to Uyuni. 

When we first arrived in La Paz our guide, obviously knowing our love of coffee, recommended Alexander Coffee. 

It was about 100 metres from our hotel. 

We returned there twice more over the time of our stay. 

Imagine our joy when we found an Alexander Coffee at the airport. In fact there were two and one was right next to our departure gate. 

It was only a 45 minute flight from La Paz to Uyuni. 

When we arrived there was an honour guard of police and security waiting for us at the airport, plus one very playful police dog. 

I think he was a sniffer dog in training. 

Once all our luggage had been off-loaded, and lined up, he was instructed to sniff. 

His handler used a tennis ball as an incentive. 

He had a ‘ball’ – pardon the pun. 

No sooner had we left the airport than we ran into the Daka again. 

All the streets were blocked off, waiting for the rally to pass through in the afternoon. 

Lillian was our guide for the next couple of days. 

Our first stop was Colchani, a salt town with about 500 residents. This doubles easily each day with the number of tourists that pass through.

Lunch was at the Palacio de Sal, the world’s first salt hotel. 

This part of the Bolivian trip included breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

I was going to be ‘buffed’ out by the end. 

The salt flats at Uyini, or Salar de Uyuni, are the world’s biggest measuring 10,582 Square kilometres and sit at 3,656 metres above sea level. This salt is exceptionally rich in lithium, in fact the salt flats contain 50-70% of the world’s known reserves.

The afternoon was spent driving around Lake Minchin, as it is known locally.

At 6:00pm we went and found a spot, facing west, and waited for the sunset. 

It was a long wait. 

The wind had sprung up, so any chance a getting good reflections were gone. 

Once the sun dropped so did the temperature. 

 

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January 14, 2018. Uyuni to Hotel Desert Tayka Ojo de Perdiz, Bolivia.

It was a normal ‘working’ day as we had a 9:00 am start.

Due to the Daka Rally, which had now passed through, we had to return to Uyini. This was so we could visit the Cemetery of Locomotives, which we should have done the previous day. 

We started to get a feeling that Lillian hadn’t really planned our tour and was just winging it. 

She seemed very surprised that the Dakar Rally was interrupting our travels. Which was strange considering that it would have been planned, and known about, for a long time.

The Bolivian Railroad was active between 1842 and 1879. It was primarily developed to transport minerals to the Pacific coast for export. 

The war with Chile (1879-1883) or the War of the Pacific, resulted in Bolivia loosing access to the Pacific. An important area was known as the Litoral Department.

Most of the railroad system became redundant and the result is the Cemetery of Locomotives. 

The experience was somewhat spoilt by the ‘Selfie Generation’ who climbed over everything trying to get the perfect shot of themselves – not the trains. 

We stopped at San Cristóbal for lunch. This is one of the villages on the Pueblos Magicos or Magical Villages tourist route. 

Due to the Daka Rally we were off road again. 

We had 400 kilometres to cover to get to our next overnight stop. Much of the main road was closed so we had to take the alternative route, which ran along side. 

We realised that we should have started much earlier in the day.

Racing to get to our hotel we briefly visited Stone Valley, made from petrified laver. We then saw flamencos on Lake Hedionda, altitude 4,121 metres and then finally a stop at Lake Honda at 4,114 metres.

When we finally reached the Hotel Desert Tayka Ojo de Perdiz the sun was low and it was time for dinner.

There was no Wi-Fi, no mobile coverage and the solar electricity was only available between 6pm and 10pm.

We were in the High Bolivian Desert, the world’s highest, and both of us were feeling the altitude.

I didn’t dream that night but hallucinated.

Part 3: South America – Peru.

Monday, October 15th, 2018

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December 29, 2007. Guayaquil, Ecuador to Lima, Peru.

Our flight from Guayaquil to Lima in Peru was at 8:25am, so it was an early start at the airport. 

Our hotel in Lima, The Best Western Urban Larco, was about 100 metres from the Larcomar Mall, the Miraflores shopping and restaurant area. 

We actually had a view of the Pacific from our hotel room. 

After settling in we then went for a wander around Larcomar Mall. The mall is perched right on the cliff edge overlooking the Pacific Ocean, a long way below.

Because of their height, the cliffs are a favourite spot for Parra Sailing over Miraflores. I was fascinated by the reflections of the flyers in the windows of the Marriott Hotel and Casino, that was just opposite the mall.

 

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December 30, 2017. Lima, Peru.

We were in Lima for a few days and staying at a hotel that was a little more upmarket than we were used to – well it was New Year. 

Lima is as huge city with over 10 million inhabitance – that’s one third of the population of Peru.

We felt it was just too large to explore by foot, so we hopped on the Lima City Tour. This was three hours, sitting on a bright yellow bus, being herded from site to site by our guide. It wasn’t the Hop-on-Hop-off sort but just a lot of driving around the city streets.

There were parts we couldn’t even get close to, like the main square, Plaza de Armas. It was closed due to the Pope’s visit, which wasn’t until January 18 – almost three weeks away. 

Saint Francis Church, which is very close to the city centre, was built in the Baroque style in the late 1600s. The associated Catacombs were part of the the original cemetery in Lima. It is estimated that there are 75,000 bodies buried under the church.

Lima was founded by the Spanish in 1535 and is home to the National University of San Marco, the oldest educational institution in the New World.

Lima was always the principal city of Peru but became the official capital following the War of Independence which ran from 1811 to 1826. Peru claimed its independence in 1821 and secured it in 1824. This was following a successful campaign by José de san Martín and Simón Bolívor at the battle of Ayacucho.

We were to hear a lot more about these two gentlemen, as we continued our journey in South America.

With numb bums from the morning bus ride we headed out, on foot, to explore the area around our hotel.

There are walks along the Miraflores cliff top, through parks and along winding pathways. 

The cliffs are 64 metres above the beach, so you really get the feeling of being high up. 

It was dusk and there were many people enjoying the last of the day. 

Lovers Park was very popular with cuddly couples. There were hints of Park Güell, Barcelona, in the tile-work.

Another fascinating aspect to the coastline was the surfers. There were waves full of them, all trying to get a ride on the rather small swell.

It did make a great snap at dusk.

 

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December 31, 2017. Lima, Peru. 

New Years Eve in Lima was something of a mystery. We wanted to be in a large city, as we figured there would be more on offer. 

This wasn’t necessarily the case. 

After asking the hotel staff and wandering around the Larcomar Mall we settled on Mangos, a restaurant in the mall. 

We ate there on our first night and it was great. 

Mangos offered dinner and dancing. The dinner started at 9pm and the night went through until 5am.

I didn’t think we would last that long.

As the mall is built on the cliff tops, most of the restaurants have spectacular views. Unfortunately they are spoilt by the constant sea mist rolling in from the Pacific.

It was dark when we were in Mangos, so it didn’t really matter. 

Our dinner wasn’t until late so we went for another cliff top walk in the afternoon. The sun did break through but there was still a sea mist.

Walking in the opposite direction to the previous day, we discovered the less attractive part of Miraflores. 

Descending off the cliff top we got down to sea level. We then wandered along the pebble beach area to the pier and surfers at Makaha Beach. I felt sorry for the surf school pupils as they made their way awkwardly over the rocky foreshore. We are spoilt in Australia with our sandy beaches.

Down on the shoreline it was interesting to see the Larcomar Mall from a different perspective. 

Mangos was decorated for New Year’s Eve with balloons, streamers, silly hats and horns.

We were seated on a table for four people but had no idea who the other two would be.

Then Oliver and Olivia turned up.

They were English, so at least we weren’t going to spend the rest of the night playing charades in an attempt to be understood.

They were a delightful, well travelled, couple who were in Lima for a friend’s wedding and were making a bit of a Peruvian holiday out of it.

Oliver was educated in the US and had friends around the world. 

And they were all getting married.

They had ten wedding invitation in 2018 so more travel was on their agenda.

At midnight there were fireworks on the Jose Olaya, the headland facing Larcomar Mall.

It was a good evening and even though the restaurant was open until 5am, we were back at our hotel by 2.

 

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January 1, 2018. Lima, Peru.

It was a slow start to the morning even though we hadn’t had a particularly big New Year’s Eve. 

Heading inland from the coast we wandered around the urban areas of Miraflores. 

Being a public holiday the streets were crowded as were the public parks. 

We visited the John F Kennedy and 7th of June Parks, then walked down the Diagonal back to the water. 

Late in the day we went to the mall for an afternoon drink.

During our stay in Lima I discovered Curaka, a local Peruvian craft beer or Artisanal beer as it’s known locally. 

And very nice it was too. 

Great label with foil printing and excellent graphics. A real break from traditional beer labels. 

Another find, unfortunately on our last night, was Barbarian 174 IPA.  This was an India Pale Ale in the US style, hoppy with a lot of citrus overtones. 

 

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January 2, 2018. Lima, Peru.

The outing for the day was a visit to the Larco Museum (Museo Rafael Larco Herrera) This was a pre-Columbian Museum about 11 kilometres from our hotel in the district of Pueblo Libre – a taxi was needed. 

The museum is in an 18th century colonial house and built on the site of a 7th century pre-Columbian pyramid.

It was a very comprehensive and well curated exhibition that covered the indigenous cultures, from before the Spaniards arrived. 

There was a small section, dedicated to the post-Columbian era, concentrating on how the indigenous cultures adapted. 

History has concentrated on the Incas as the dominant civilisation in the New World. 

It’s true that the Incas were in power at the time of the conquistadors but there was so much more that preceded them.

For 400 years, from the 16th century to the start of the 20th century, mention was only made of the Incas in Peru. They only governed for the last 150 years, before the arrival of the Spanish. In fact there were cultures in Peru 10,000 years before that.

The museum was created in 1925 by Rafael Larco Herrera who bought a collection of some 600 artefacts from his brother-in-law, Alfredo Hoyle.

The arrival of the collection sparked the interest of his son, Rafael largo Hoyle who proceeded to become one of the pre eminent academics on pre-Inca civilisations.

He discovered and researched a number of cultures that pre dated the Incas. Among these were the Virú, Cupisnique, Moche and Salinar cultures.

As described in the exhibition: We live in the here and now or the ‘cult of life’ while ancient cultures, including Peruvian ones, practiced the ‘cult of the dead’. 

In these times there were three divine worlds on earth. 

The Sky, where the rains came from, the Land, which had to be worked and the Subterranean World, where growth came from and where the dead went, known as the Underworld.

They also worshipped various species from those words. Birds from the sky, animals on the land and serpents beneath it. 

One of the interesting aspects of the exhibition was how symbolism changed from the pre-Columbian to post-Colombian eras.

Symbolic images on pottery and artefacts started with a feline attacking a deer, (the feline representing a god) then moved to man carrying the deer (man controlling the world) and ended with man carrying the feline (man ruling over the gods).

This empowerment of humans is known as the Extirpation of Idolatries.

Later in the post-Columbian period there was an attempt to amalgamate the European and indigenous cultures. This was done by introducing symbolism from the very Catholic Spanish Church. This is known as Syncretism.

Metals such a gold and silver were thought to contain supernatural powers. Gold represented the sun while silver the moon. 

They were only allowed to be worn by the ruling class. 

Rare gemstones and shells were also valued and only worn by the elite. 

The entire exhibition was an eye opener. Not just the history but the diversity and craftsmanship that was evident in the exhibits.

Visitors even had access to the storage area of the museum. There were hundreds, in not thousands, of pottery artefacts stored away.

They claimed to be the only museum in Peru and one of only a few in the world that allowed this.

 

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January 3, 2018. Lima to Cusco, Peru.

Today we were flying to Cusco to start the second part of our stay in Peru.

After much searching we found a local tour company that could provide a bespoke itinerary, covering the places we wanted to see.

After a delay leaving Lima and arriving in Cusco we got to our hotel, the Hotel Royal Inka 1. 

It was a classic colonial building with balconies, verandas and internal courtyards. 

It was only 100 metres to the main city square, Plaza de Armas or Armoury Square. 

This was a vast square, in the Spanish style. Free of traffic with churches and colonnades on four sides. 

After a wander around we ended up at Norton, a motor cycle themed pub. There I discovered another Peruvian Craft Beer, Sierra Andina Shaman IPA.

Part of the tour was a pick-up and drop-off service from the hotels. The guide taking us to our hotel in Cusco had an interesting take on Lake Titicaca, the famous high altitude lake south east of Cusco.

Lake Titicaca, is ‘tities’ for some and ‘caca’ for others. It all depends whether you’re from Bolivia or Peru. 

I’m from Peru so we get the ‘tities’.

We ended up at Tunupa grill, bar and restaurant, all with a very Inca theme. I had the Guinea Pig and Thea had the Alpaca – we ate like a local that night.

The evening was over by 9:30, a big difference to Spain that doesn’t start until then. 

Sometimes a piece of music gets stuck in your head and it just won’t go away.

The introduction to the Simon and Garfunkel hit “I’d Rather be a Hammer than a Nail” featured the Pan Flute – we heard it everywhere.

 

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January 4, 2018. Cusco, Peru.

Today was set aside to explore Cusco before we headed off on our 13 day Peruvian tour.

We wandered around the church complex, which was just off the Plaza de Armas. 

The Basilica Cathedral of Cusco definitely suffers from the, ‘Mine is bigger than yours’ syndrome. 

Built over the site of an Inca monument, it’s huge. 

The Spaniards destroyed these sites and used the materials to build their own edifices. They also superimposed their own Catholic meaning over Incan festivals. 

Unfortunately no photos were allowed in the church. 

Ironically in the centre of the Plaza de Armas is a fountain, featuring an Incan warrior. He is faced, on two sides, by churches. 

I wonder if he is paying homage to them, or vice-versa.

We sat in the square for a while and were entertained by the number of hawkers who approached us. 

They were selling sunglasses, jewellery, shoeshines, fruit salad, art, selfie sticks, umbrellas, ponchos, dolls on a key ring, hats, scarves, tours and restaurants. 

All this was despite the fact that there were officials everywhere trying to stop them.

 

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January 5, 2018. Cusco to Sacred Valley and Aguas Calientes, Peru.

Adriel was our guide to the Sacred Valley. He was an enthusiastic native of Ollantaytambo and a devout believer in the powers of the Incas. 

He continually reminded us of this.

Our first stop was at Mirador Taray which overlooked the Sacred Valley of the Incas. This gave us a good opportunity to view, from above, the area we would be travelling through.

Next was the Pisaq Archaeological Park with its fine examples of Inca terraces.

The terraces were multifunctional, they offered protection in times of conflict, enabled agriculture in steep locations and helped stop erosion. Terracing was developed in South America by the Wari culture before 1000 AD. This was centuries before they were adopted by the Incas.

Terracing made more land available to produce food, which was important to feed the Inca Empire at that time.

The Incan Empire was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America and possibly the largest in the world in the early 16th century.

It has been estimated that there were 10 million Incas when the Spaniards arrived. A number that was soon reduced by war, destruction of their habitat and introduced disease.

Pisaq or Pisac was a mining town for gold, silver and brass. Today it is better known for its souvenirs, weekly markets and the Inca ruins that are nearby.

The bus stopped in Pisaq for a shopping opportunity.

There was a Canadian couple sitting in front of us on the bus. He was more interested in drinking beer than shopping. I agreed with him, but at 11:07am it was far too early for me, so I let him go and find a drink on his own.

We didn’t want to buy souvenirs either, so we went to the produce market. There is usually no pressure to buy there. 

Driving along the Urubamba River, a tributary to the Amazon, we headed to Ollantaytambo. This is another archaeological site and as Adriel described it, “The icing on the cake.”

Ollantaytambo, located on the Patakancha River, was where the Incas made their last stand against the invading Spaniards. The Battle of Ollantaytambo took place in January 1537 and resulted in a win for the Incas.

The Incas were finally defeated in 1572.

It was a 1 hour 40 minute trip, most of it running along the Urubamba River. 

The scenery was spectacular. 

Inca Rail offer a very efficient service and even provides soft drinks and nibbles along the way. 

We were staying at the Inti Punko Machu Picchu Hotel, which was right next to the railway station. It was only a short walk into the main part of Aguas Calientes. 

This is a tourist town. 

Catering to western tastes, there are any number of places to get an espresso, eat pizza and drink craft beer. 

It’s very easy to get around as there are no cars. Everything is transported by hand, wheelbarrows or hand carts. 

Being Australian we were intrigued with the number of Eucalyptus trees we had seen so far in South America.

They were first introduced into Uruguay by Antonio Lussich in 1896 and came to Peru in the first part of the 20th Century. They were initially planted to replace the native Andean trees that were disappearing as a result of European development.

The Eucalypts were used as a building material but later the oil was used for medicinal purposes. As the trees spread, their timber was used for firewood and in the charcoal industry.

 

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January 6, 2018. Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu, Peru.

It was a 6am start for our visit to Machu Picchu. Nelly, our guide, said we needed to start early to miss the crowds. 

Everyone else had the same idea.

When we got to the bus station there was a queue, stretching for 130 metres, of anxious people who’d also got up early.

It was about a twenty minute ride to the Inca Ruins of Machu Picchu. Climbing higher and higher into the clouds, around tight bends with treacherous precipices at ever turn.  

Just after we arrived the clouds turned to rain. 

Tourists are very silly people. There were thousands of us visiting Machu Picchu, in the rain. 

Not just drizzle but at times, heavy rain. 

The poncho sellers were making a killing. 

We finished our morning guided tour with Nelly but opted out of staying for the afternoon. 

We were soaked to the skin and she didn’t think the weather would improve. 

Machu Picchu is situated 2,430 metres above sea level. This Incan citadel was built in approximately 1450 but abandoned a century later, at the time of the Spanish conquest.

Unearthed and revealed to the western world by Hiram Bingham in 1911, it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

In 2007 it was made one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, along with the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, the Great Wall of China, Petra in Jordan, the Colosseum in Rome, Chichen Itza in Mexico, the Taj Mahal in India and Christ the Redeemer in Brazil.

Once we returned to our hotel the main task was to change our clothes and get the wet ones dry. 

Fortunately there was a small portable radiator in the room, so we managed to hang everything around this. 

Our room looked like a Chinese laundry.

 

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January 7, 2018. Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo and Cusco, Peru.

Today we were returning by train, back to Ollantaytambo and then by bus to Cusco. 

This time we were on Peru Rail rather than Inca Rail. This was a win as it was much easier to get from our hotel to the Peru Rail station. 

When we arrived on Inca Rail it was a struggle, as the platform was at the bottom of a long, steep set of stairs. Fortunately one of the train passengers took pity on us and effortlessly carried Thea’s bag to the top.

A lot of the railway line runs besides the Urubamba River. This is a raging torrent that descends from the Andes, flowing north and eventually joining the Amazon near the border of Peru and Columbia. 

This water is destined to flow into the Atlantic Ocean in Brazil. 

The drive back to Cusco was along the Sacred Valley again. The clouds were still blanketing the mountains. 

There seemed to be a lot of old VW Kombi Vans and Beetles still on the road in South America. This isn’t that surprising, as the last ‘old style’ Beetle rolled of the production line in Mexico in 2003. While in Brazil, production of the Kombi, or Type 2 Microbus, only stopped in 2013.

We turned off at Urumbamba and climbed to Chinchero at 3,750 metres. 

The closer we got to Cusco the more ‘Chicken Buses’ slowed down the traffic. (A Chicken Bus is local transport that carries everything, including livestock)

After arriving back in Cusco we went looking for lunch for Thea and a coffee for me. 

We found Jack’s Café on Google. Purportedly owned by an Australian, it had Avocado on Toast and a ‘long black’

The avocado was fine but the long black was an Americano and the staff didn’t know the difference.

We were told that, being a Sunday, all the museums were closed, then we discovered Museo Quechua. It wasn’t really a museum but a shop. 

However just up the road we found the Convent of Santo Domingo – Qorikancha. This was a real museum and it was bursting at the seams.

No wonder all the other ones were closed.

The museum is a combination of an old Inca temple and the St Dominic Priory of Cusco. Founded in 1534, it was the first Dominican Priory in Peru.

Qorikancha also known as Coricancha was the centrepiece of a vast astronomical observatory. The Convent of Santo Domingo is built over the top and you can still see parts of the old structure.

The Spanish who first entered Cuzco tell of the temple and describe it as, ‘beyond belief’ There were reportedly 4,000 priests, working around the clock, at the site. The carved granite walls were said too be covered in 700 sheets of pure gold, each weighing 2 kilograms.

The gold was very quickly acquired by the Spanish conquistador, Francisco Pizzaro, who melted it down and then built the church.

St Dominic Priory of Cusco, founded in 1534, was the first Dominican Priory in Peru.

 

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January 8, 2018. Cusco to Puno, Peru.

It was 395 km from Cusco to Puno, in a large, bright green tourist bus. 

There were four scheduled stops along the way, plus lunch.

Marita was our bi-lingual tour guide, however I think she may have a few more languages up her sleeve.

There were about 30 people in the group and we were herded like a flock of Llamas. Marita was our teacher and we were her unruly students on a school excursion. 

She delivered her commentary with passion and an obvious belief in the spirituality of the Andean cultures. 

Mysticism has been a constant theme in Peru. A belief not in the here and now but in a world that goes beyond an earthly realm. 

The Church of St Peter and St Paul, at Andahuaylillas, was our first stop. Due to it’s richly decorated Baroque style, it is referred to as the ‘American Sistine Chapel’ 

The paintings, murals and sculpture were all done by locally trained artists. 

No photos were allowed but we were given a CD containing some shots. 

How good they are will remain a mystery until we find a reader and download them. 

The CD was produced by the Society of Jesus in Cusco and the Route of the Andean Baroque. 

They are involved in the restoration of churches along the Andean tourist trail. The money that is raised in tourism goes towards social work amongst the local people. 

Just next to the Church was the Alien Mummy Museum. 

This was a very questionable exhibit that believes they have the mummified body of an alien. 

Yet another example of their spirituality. 

Next was a stop at the Inca archeological site of Raqchi, also known as the Temple of Wiracocha. It was believed to have been built sometime during the 12th or 13th centuries.

Our last stop was the tiny Pukara Museum, unfortunately no snaps were allowed, yet again. 

Pukara was a pre-Incan culture north of Lake Titicaca. It dominated the lake region but was most active from 500 BC to 300 AD. As well as hunting, agriculture and fishing they were artisans. creating finely made pottery, textiles and ceramics.

Some of this work was on display in the museum.

It didn’t take long to see this very small museum, so there was time for a coffee. Fortunately there was a reasonable espresso available, just up the road. 

Their tiny automatic machine was working overtime. 

After about 10 hours on the road we reached Puno. Positioned on the banks of Lake Titicaca, at an altitude of 3,827 metres, it is one of the world’s highest cities. 

It was founded in 1668 by the Viceroy Count Lemos and named ‘San Carlos de Puno’ in honour of King Charles II of Spain.   

 

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January 9, 2018. Puno and Lake Titicaca, Peru.

Yet another early start, this time to explore Lake Titicaca. 

This alpine lake borders both Bolivia and Peru and is the largest lake in South America and the world’s highest navigable lake.

Five major river systems feed Lake Titicaca, with over twenty smaller streams also flowing into it.

Our guide today was Bloody. As he said, his parents made it up but didn’t know what they were doing.

The Uros floating islands, made from a type of papyrus, were our first stop. There is one family per island, consisting of a number of different generations. 

They are a pre-Inca culture and speak their own language, Quechua, plus an Inca derivative, Aymara, and Spanish. 

There are 97 of these islands holding 1,200 people. They have an overall leader who is the the president, plus every island has a chief. 

The island we visited had the only female chief. 

The Uros tribe developed their island communities to defend themselves from rival tribes. 

We were given a demonstration of how the islands are created and shown how they live. 

There was an opportunity to buy at the end. 

We were then taken by the island’s reed boat to another island where there was a chance to buy snacks and use the WC. 

This was followed by a two hour boat ride across Lake Titicaca to Taquile Island. 

Due to its high quality textiles (knitting and weaving) it has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

On Taquile the women weave while the men knit. 

This community operates on three principles. Don’t lie, don’t steal and don’t be lazy. 

The lake is rich in fish, with Llamas and Vucuna grazing on the shores. Various civilisations have been in the area for over 3,000 years.

By the time we arrived at the island the rain had as well. 

After a very steep climb we reached the village perched on the summit. As was to be expected the views from the top were spectacular. 

The local woven and knitted products were all for sale in the craft market. 

From there we walked around the island to the other side. This was on a good stone path and nowhere near as steep as the the one we climbed up on. 

Again the views of Lake Titicaca were amazing. 

Lunch was in a local restaurant, that seem to be suspended on the cliff face. 

There were about 25 in the group and we all sat at one long table overlooking the lake. 

The rain had vanished and we could enjoy the bright blue sky and lake while eating our lunch. 

After lunch the family who ran the restaurant put on a show. They demonstrated making soap and then proved how well it worked by washing some dirty sheep’s wool. 

Then there was a bit of singing and dancing before we descended to the wharf below. 

The boat ride back to Puno was much brighter than the ride there. 

We were dropped off in the town square, Plaza de Armas de Puno, and then wandered back to the hotel. 

It had been another long day. 

Part 2: South America – Ecuador.

Monday, October 1st, 2018

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December 16, 2017. Bogotá, Colombia to Quito, Ecuador.

We were up early for our flight to Quito in Ecuador. 

The hotel staff had been fabulous but failed on the last day. The shuttle to the airport didn’t turn up on time, so they had to call us a taxi. 

And I loathe taxis. 

When we arrived in Quito we were expecting another hotel shuttle, that also didn’t show up. 

Again we caught a cab.  

The hotel Sebastian apologised profusely and upgraded us to a suite. 

It was a good result. 

The hotel was a fair way out of the old town and this seemed like a problem at first. However after we wandered around the old city we discovered that it wasn’t a great place to stay. There were very few restaurants and even fewer hotels. 

In the end the hotel Sebastian was a excellent choice. 

Ecuador as its name suggest is on the equator. Officially it is the República del Ecuador. Which, when translated from the Spanish, means the Republic of the Equator.

Ecuador has a very diverse ecosystem, which includes the Galápagos Islands. In recognition of its unique ecological heritage, the 2008 constitution legally recognises the Rights of Nature. This means that the environment has legal standing.

Ecuador was the world’s first country to follow this course of action.

 

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December 17, 2017. Quito, Ecuador.

Though online sites we had learnt that renting and driving in Equator was both expensive and dangerous. The hotel suggested that one of their staff could arrange for an English speaking driver to take us on a day trips out of Quito.

Enter José.

Our first tour was to the indigenous market town of Otavalo. 

On the way we stopped for coffee and a local specialty called Bizcocha cookies. Bizcocha means biscuit in Spanish.

They are a buttery biscuit that comes with a local stringy cows cheese, that’s a bit like mozzarella. 

They have been baked there since the Spaniards conquered the area. They are made of yeast dough that must rise first and they hardly taste sweet at all.

We then detoured to Lake San Parlo and then drove onto the market. 

It is open seven days a week but it’s busiest day is Saturday. 

This was Sunday so everything was a little quieter – even the traffic. 

At the market there was very little pressure to buy, which was good as we rarely do. 

After the market we drove to Penuche Falls, a beautiful area surrounded by eucalypts.

We were glad that we had heeded the advice and not tried to self-drive in Ecuador – the roads were frantic and the drivers mad.

 

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December 18, 2017. Quito, Ecuador.

On our next trip with José we headed north out of Quito. Crossing the equator we climbed to 2,800 metres and then descended and headed towards the coast. 

We were accompanied by a wide variety of music. 

In the morning it was Rock n’ Roll and Classic 80s’ and 90’ Pop. 

In the afternoon, Latin Pop. 

José seemed to love waterfalls and wanted to share his passion with us.

After visiting the Mindo National Park and taking the La Tarabita cable car across the Mindo River we went to the Sanctuary of the Cascades.

There were plenty of waterfalls here and we went to them all.

The Mindo Valley is a mountainous watershed in the western slopes of the Andes and one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. Here the Chocoan lowlands meets the Tropical Andes. Much of the area is in cloud, so there is a constant mist in the air.

It was then onto the Mariposario Butterfly Park, where there was also a variety of bird, including the illusive hummingbird.

On the return trip to Quito the cloud dropped and we were in heavy mist, which is understandable, as the area is called the Cloud Forrest. 

José predicted that the weather would be fine in Quito. 

He was right. 

 

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December 19, 2017. Quito, Ecuador.

Our last morning in Quito was a bit more leisurely. We hadn’t planned to do too much other that a little bit of sightseeing and booking some advanced accommodation. 

After breakfast we went looking for a coffee and discovered Isveglio Cultura del Café. 

This was a truly Third Wave coffee house. Well designed, with their own coffee brand and a barista that knew what he was doing. 

From near our hotel we could see the Teleferico de Quito and decided to take a look. This is a cable car that climbs 2,237 linear metres, from near the edge of the city, to the Cruz Loma lookout, on the east side of Pichincha Volcano. The lookout is just under 4,000 metres above sea level so we were getting a full high altitude experience. 

At the top there are many walks and lookouts, or miradors, so we could get a great view of Quito and the surrounding landscape.

The Teleferico de Quito was built by the French company Sigma and opened in 2005.

After our high altitude adventure, we went back to Isveglio Cultura del Café. It was another excellent coffee for me and lunch for Thea, which included a juice made from the fruit of Soursop. 

 

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December 20, 2017. Quito to Tena, Ecuador.

While we had been doing our day trips we had arranged for José to show us more of Ecuador. 

We engaged him independently from the hotel, so there was a bit of clandestine activity involved in our pick up. 

We were collected from our hotel by José Dos who then drove us to another hotel where we met our José. 

As it turned out the Renault Sandero, that we had been picked up in, was the one we were to use on our trip.

It wasn’t a patch on the van we had been using over the last few days, but then were weren’t paying nearly as much either.

The first stop was Papallacta Hot Spring, but it was wet, cold and crowded, so we kept moving. 

Just down the road was a small café, so we stopped for a coffee before heading off again. 

They had a fire and a very friendly dog, who sat, leaning up against my leg. 

I would like to think he was getting attached to me, but I really think it was the warmth of the fire he was drawn to. 

Having done little but drive, José suggested we visit Zoo El Arca. 

Unfortunately it was a zoo in the old model, with caged birds and animals that looked a bit sad. 

There were two monkeys that had obviously escaped but were still hanging around for the free food. 

They were the only animals that looked happy. 

A saving grace for the zoo was that they did take in abandoned animals.  

There was even a group of lions that had come from a circus. 

In the evening we walked around Tena. Firstly to the Parque Amazónico ‘La Isla’ which is on an island in the Tana River and then around the town.

It was getting close to Christmas so the town was decked in lights.

 

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December 21, 2017. Tena to Baños, Ecuador.

Our first stop for the day was at Misahualli on the Rio Napo, a tributary to the Amazon. 

José negotiated for us to take a boat ride up the Napo and our fist stop was at a local village.

The Kichwa Shiripuno Community was started in 2005 and now has 50 families. It is primarily a tourist development, but one that benefits the entire village. 

We were introduced to Marina who was our local guide. She demonstrated making a local fermented drink from the Guayusa plant. Then there was a demonstration of local dancing and we were invited to participate, which we did  very clumsily. 

Continuing on we went a little further along the river to Jamal Maki, which was a combination of a museum, botanical garden and zoo.

We then stopped at Puyo for lunch. My usual lunch is a coffee, but sadly there was only Nescafé – I had a juice. 

The Stray Dog Brewpub in Baños was a strange place. 

It was recommended by the owner of the La Posada del Arte Hotel – who was the father of the chef at the pub. 

The beer was fine but Thea’s wine was disappointing and the staff seemed disinterested. There were a number of stray dogs hanging around, so at least the name had some authenticity.

We had been told that the food there was a fusion of US Brewpub and Ecuadorian. We didn’t find many signs of cross culture in the menu, it was mainly burgers and fries.

Disappointedly we continued on and found an Italian place that was close by. It wasn’t trying to be anything but Italian. 

It did it very well, as the food was delicious. 

Baños gets its name from the Spanish word bath. Which is understandable considering the main feature of the town is the nearby hydrothermal springs.

The local basilica also has a link to the springs and is known as the Church of the Virgin of the Holy Water.

Our hotel was just on the edge of the town and we could see the Cascada de la Virgin for our window. The waterfall empties near the thermal baths.

 

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December 22, 2017. Baños to Alausí, Ecuador.

Driving out of Baños, heading towards Alausí, we were leaving the jungle behind. 

Our plan was to stop off at Chimborazo, the earth’s highest active volcano, standing at 5897metres.

Everything was dependent on the weather. 

Ecuador is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. This area of volcanic eruptions stretches from the south of South America and curves up over North America, Canada, across the Pacific to the coast of China, through Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia and down as far as New Zealand.

Fortunately Australia isn’t included.

This is a 40,000 km horseshoe that contains more than 75% of the world’s dormant and active volcanoes.

About 90% of the world’s earthquakes occur along this line.

Today were we going to be driving along the Avenue of the Volcanoes. 

Our first stop was at the Salasaka Craft Fair. I was hoping to get some good portrait shots of the local traders. The place was empty and I stood out too much to get any sneaky long lens-shots. 

On the road to Chimborazo we got some great views, but as soon as we got to car park, the cloud moved in. 

We then drove to Alausí, where we were staying for the night. 

The last 18 kilometres were in cloud, until we got into Alausí, which was under it. 

When we arrived in Alausí it seemed busy enough but when we went to look for dinner we found that everything was shut.

Well at least the places that looked interesting to us.

It was the Friday before Christmas and I think this was a family time. As most of the restaurants are owned by families they were off with them, rather than looking after the odd annoying tourist.

After a very average meal in a small local cafe, we retired to the Hotel Noris.

The main purpose of our visit to Alausí was to take the Devil’s Nose train ride.

Regarded as one of the 10 best train trips in the world it travels through the Ecuadorian Andes.

It was an 8am start, so an early night was fine with us.

 

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December 23, 2017. Alausí to Ingapirca, Ecuador.

First thing in the morning we took the Devil’s Nose train ride, which was a return journey from Alausí to Sibambe.

The railway provided a guide, Gabriella, to brief us on the railroad.

The Devil’s Nose Mountain is also known in the local language as Cóndor Puñuna, or Condor’s Nest. This is where these majestic bird, would have lived, before the intrusion of civilisation and the railroad.

The railway was started by the then president, Eloy Alfaro, in 1899 and completed in 1908. Its purpose was to connect the capital, Quito to the coastal city of Guayaquil.

Thousands of foreign workers, mainly from Jamaica and Puerto Rico, were brought into the country to help build Alfaro’s dream.

It has been reported that at least 4,000 workers died building the railroad. They perished from yellow fever, snake bite, but mostly dynamite. 

Legend has it that Alfaro made a pact with the devil to complete the railway – hence the name.

Half way through the journey we stopped at Sibambe Station where we were entertained by local dancers and a young, very enthusiastic, guide called Angelo. He also contributed to the colourful history of the Devil’s Nose.

Apart from the tragedy of its construction, the railroad is in fact as a huge feat of engineering. The rail line snakes its way through the rugged Andean terrain, with steep ravines and towering cliffs.

The most difficult part of the construction was at the El Nariz del Diablo, the Devil’s Nose, where a series of zigzags had to be carved out of the rock. This allowed the train to climb 800 metres with a gradient of 1-in-18.

Not long after leaving Alausí, heading towards Ingapirca, we were back into cloud. It got thicker and thicker and José had his hazard lights on for a lot of the trip. 

The usual road idiots like taxi, truck and bus drivers ignored the danger and drove in their typical manner. 

We passed what appeared to be a fatal accident between truck and a motorcycle. 

As you would expect the bike came off worst. 

Later in the day we visited the Inca Ruins at Ingapirca, which were a short walk from our accommodation.

These are the largest known Inca ruins in Ecuador.

Just looking at the way the buildings were constructed, we could get an idea of how advanced the Incas were in their engineering techniques. There was one wall in the Temple of the Sun that had joints between the stones that were so close you couldn’t fit a sheet of paper.

After visiting the ruins we took the Sun Valley Walk, around the outside of the ruins, before heading back to our hotel.

We were staying in a 200 year Old farmhouse, Posada Ingapirca. 

The property, formerly an old hacienda, was on 10,000 hectares of land. Some of the building materials have been appropriated from the Inca ruins, just down the road.

At dinner we were the only guests, in fact I think we were the only people staying in the hotel. We had the full attention of the ‘front-of-house’ staff – who consisted of one guy.

He waited our table and was on the front dest when we arrived. He even provided us with a hot water bottle when we retired that night.

It was very welcome.

 

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December 24, 2017. Ingapirca to Cuenca, Ecuador.

We have had continual money issues in Ecuador. Firstly with the ATMs and then transferring money to José. So, after failing to pay him with a bank transfer, we decided the only other option was to give him cash. 

This meant a daily visit to an ATM, once we could find one, that would cough up the cash. 

Having succeeded in paying José we were off for another day of exploration. Our first stop was at the Santuario de la Virgen del Rocío (Virgin of the Rock Church)

This meant a climb of 144 steps up the hill to the entrance of the sanctuary.

This Gothic church was started in 1893, using stones from the river that lies far below, near the town of Biblán. That year a devastating frost killed the animals and the crops. The local believe that a miracle changed the weather after a small image, of the Virgin, was placed on the Zhalao Hill by the local priest, Father Daniel Muñoz.

They then built the sanctuary on that very spot.

We then came back down Zhalao Hill and visited the town of Biblán and the Church of San Francisco. 

They were holding a Christmas Eve mass and the church was full.

The local indigenous people were lined up outside hoping to get some rewards from the Christmas spirit.

La casa de la Makana was next, which was an opportunity to buy. They were selling hand woven scarves and other clothes and everything was hand dyed, using natural colours. 

Following a brief stop at Ecuagenera, an Ecuadorian orchid showroom, where no photos were allowed, we went to José’s home town of Gulaceo. Lunch was in the local market area where roast pork was the specialty. 

The crisp pig carcasses were lined up waiting to be carved. Right opposite our table was the award winning Mamá Suca. I know she was an award winner, because she had a large sign telling me.

Next was the highlight of the day, the Parade for Baby Jesus. It was the complete story of the bible – both Old and New Testaments. We stayed long enough to see Jesus going to the desert for 60 days and 60 nights. 

This was the most religious Christmas Eve I had ever had.

Chordeleg, a small town and Ecuadorian Jewellry Centre, was our next destination and an opportunity for me to get a coffee – there was none to be had in Gulaceo.

We then ran headlong into another Christmas parade. 

It was a big day of touring and the Renault Sandero was suffering. The more we travelled the more parts were falling off.

It was held together with more tape than you’d find in a Gaffer’s truck.

 

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December 25, 2017. Cuenca, Ecuador.

It was Christmas Day in Cuenca and the place was dead. 

José decided we would be better going to the country as nature doesn’t close for public holidays. 

But it doesn’t necessarily try very hard, as there was cloud covering Cascade El Chorro. These were the waterfalls we had come to see.

The misty weather didn’t deter the locals, who had come to look at, and stand under, the cascading water. 

The falls drop 100 meters, so it would have been exhilarating and cold – not my idea of the best way to spend Christmas Day. 

Our next stop was Laguna da Bussa, which wasn’t far from the waterfall. There were quiet a few people enjoying the holiday break, walking, fishing and using the paddle boats. 

The lake was small and not much to look at but the walk around it was very diverse. 

Boardwalks, forest trails and grasslands were all contained in the 2.5 km circumference. 

Christmas night was spent at the restaurant in the hotel next door, which was rather ordinary.

It had been a quiet Christmas Day.

 

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December 26, 2017. Cuenca, Ecuador.

This was our day to tour Cuenca, a UNESCO World Heritage city, with José. 

Cuenca was founded in 1557 and is regarded as Ecuador’s most European city, due to the abundance of Spanish colonial architecture.

However archeological evidence goes back much further. Remains have been found, in the local Cave of Chopsi, suggesting hunters inhabited the area as far back as 8060 BC.

We spent some time in the Metropolitan Cathedral. Built in 1885, it one of the biggest churches in Latin America.

After our city visit we made a short drive up to Baños, a small spa town that also overlooks Cuenca. 

Then the rains came. 

We found Gozo, a very nice café that served an excellent espresso. 

The rains continued so we drove down to the tourist office, which was in the bus terminal. We were there to arrange a guide for a tour of the Cajas National Park the next day. 

The bus terminal car park was chaotic with people being dropped off after the Christmas break. 

We finally got to the tourist desk, only to be told that we didn’t need a guide, as the park is free. 

José was even given a number to call if someone demanded payment. 

We will wait and see what happens tomorrow. 

 

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December 27, 2017. Cuenca to Guayaquil, Ecuador.

We woke to find half of Cuenca covered in cloud. Well at least the rain had stopped – for now. 

By the time we were ready to leave the rain had returned. 

In a way I was glad to be leaving Cuenca, not the city but the Hotel Presidente. 

Our first room was so noisy that we had to move, the WiFi was non existent, breakfast was meagre and the hair dryer went bright red inside and smoke poured it when it was turned on. 

It was certainly not fit for El Presidente, let alone simple tourists like us. 

We drove the 30 kilometres to Cajas National Park, and after a briefing from the local guides, we walked the Camino de Garcia Moreno.

On the walk we met Yap a nurse from Singapore and she accompanied us for the 2 hour hike. It was only 2.75km but we had to do a lot of backtracking as many of the tracks were dead ends.

On the road from Lake Toreadora to Guayaquil we ascended over 4,100 metres. Much of it was in thick fog. 

There was the usual array of idiots who passed on double lines and blind corners. 

Once we were out of the mountains the temperature and humidity jumped – we were now in the tropics. 

 

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December 28, 2017. Guayaquil, Ecuador.

We settled into the Hotel Continental, a far more enjoyable hotel than the one in Cuenca. The morning was spent planning the next stage of our trip in South America. 

Right over the street from our hotel was Parque Bolívar. This is the strangest inner-city parks I have ever visited.

Iguanas of all sizes mingle with the people and pigeons. They wander around without a care and are fed by hand even petted. Some found refuge in the trees but most just stroll, very slowly, around the park.

At night they all go into the trees. 

The park was first established in 1895, after a bequest from Miguel Suarez Seminario. And was known then as Parque Seminario. Today it is Parque Bolivar or Iguana Park, for obvious reasons.

In the afternoon we walked along the Malecón Simón Bolivar. This is a boardwalk, along the Guavas River, that was built in 2000. It runs from near the centre of the city for about 2.5 kilometres down the west shore of the river. 

It is full of shops, bars and food courts. At the end of our stroll we found the La Perla, which was only completed in 2016. This is a giant 57 metre high ferris wheel that has a great view of Guayaquil from the top.

In Ecuador Christmas decorations are a strange fusion of biblical piety and American commercialism. 

Santa and his elves sit side-by-side with the lavish nativity scenes. 

At the Hotel Continental breakfast was available between 1am and 6am.  Which was good as we had an early flight the next morning.

We were off to Peru.