Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Part 7: South America – Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Thursday, December 13th, 2018

February 9, 2018. Ushuaia to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

It was great to get a good night’s sleep on the ship without it rocking. 

Now it was back to the business of travelling. Initially to to Buenos Aires for four nights and from there we would plan the last part of our trip. 

It was a long day of travelling. 

Firstly waiting to get the bus to Ushuaia Airport, then waiting for the plane to actually take off and finally waiting to disembark at Buenos Aires. 

When we arrived it was a balmy 25°C and didn’t drop much below that in the evening. 

I do prefer the warmth to the cold. 

We were staying at the Hotel Pulitzer in the heart of Buenos Aires. On our first night we weren’t wanting to venture too far so we found a great Spanish restaurant, just around the corner.

The hotel had a rooftop bar and we did go there a few times during our stay in the city.

The staff were friendly and there was a real mixture of tourist and locals. In fact the Hotel Pulitzer was a delight, everyone was friendly and went out of their way to help.

Even the breakfast was good.

 

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February 10, 2018. Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

After eight day without the Internet in Antarctica, we found that our hotel in Buenos Aires was ‘down’. So much for how good the hotel was.

Florida Garden came to the rescue. 

This large café not only had good internet but excellent espresso and it was also just around the corner. 

We then did the The Hop-On Hop-Off Bus tour of the city. 

There were three lines, Red, Blue and Green and took about 3.5 hours to complete all three. 

It’s a city of wide avenues, parks, statues and Neo-Classical architecture. 

Buenos Aires sits on the Río de la Plata. This is the confluence of the Uruguay and Paraná Rivers and considered as the world’s widest river span at 220 kilometres. 

A fact disputed by Brazil who believe the Amazon is wider. 

Only in the incredibly Catholic South America would you find a theme park dedicated to the life of Christ.

Tierra Santa or Holy Land claims to be the world’s first religious theme park. Here you can walk the streets of Biblical Jerusalem. They even have an 18 metre high likeness of Jesus who rises from behind a rock every hour.

We didn’t bother to go but just read about it.

Despite this over-the-top religious extravagance there are very few grand cathedrals within the city.

This might have something to do with the size and devoutness of the indigenous peoples who inhabited the land before the Spaniards arrived. 

Unlike the west coast of South America, there were no large civilisations such as the Aztecs or Incas. In the east there were only small groups of hunter-gatherers. 

Typically the Spaniards built their churches over the sites of the indigenous temples, thereby offering a continuity of location. As there were no large temples in Buenos Aires, there were no corresponding cathedrals.

Just down the road was Galerías Pacífico, a mall devoted to the religion of shopping. This was as grand as any church we had seen. There was even a central dome with excellent frescos by the local artists, Berni, Castagnino, Colmeiro, Spilimbergo and Urruchúa.

The building was designed in 1889, in the Beaux Arts style, by Emilio Agrelo as a department store for a store known as the Argentine Bon Marché.

It was used as a torture centre by the military junta from 1976 to 1983 and declared a national historic monument in 1989.

Having been abandoned for years it was remodelled and opened as a shopping mall in 1991.

 

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February 11, 2018. Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

As we still had a few hours remaining of the 24 hour Hop-On Hop-Off Bus ticket we caught the Red Line down to Palermo. We found a great café near the Armenia Gardens and after a coffee started the walk back to our hotel. 

It was about 10 kilometres and we stopped at the Botanical Gardens and the Floralis Genérica, among other spots, on the way. 

In the evening we caught up with the remaining Antarctic group members for dinner. 

 

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February 12, 2018. Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Thea’s new computer, that was only 58 days old, had a fit in Antarctica and wasn’t working. 

After some research she discovered that there had been a recall of that model in early January. 

There was apparently a problem with the battery. 

For Thea, being without a computer is like being without air. 

We had to get a replacement of some kind so we booked another night in the hotel to give us time to see the sights and to shop. 

On the Sunday night we discovered there was a public holiday on the Monday. 

All the computer stores were closed, so shopping would have to wait until the Tuesday 

We continued on the tourist trail and found ourselves in the old part of the city. Much to our surprise we stumbled across of yet another The Thinker by Auguste Rodin.

This must be a least the fourth we have seen on our travels.

 

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February 13, 2018. Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

Expecting to spend most of the day sending our package of clothing and Thea’s broken computer home, then buying a cheap replacement, we were shocked to find that it was yet another public holiday. 

Carnival goes for two days, not one as we thought. 

In the morning we wandered around Puerto Madero. This development, in the waterfront area, is relatively new and there is a mixture of modern architecture and old warehouse buildings.

It runs along the banks of the Río de la Plata and covers an area of about 2.1 square kilometres.

Work started on the port in 1882 and was carried out by the local business man Eduardo Madero, hence the name.

After completion of The New Port of Buenos Aires in 1926, Puerto Madero became superfluous. Then in the 1990s there was a massive redevelopment along the river bank. Now there are shops, restaurants and apartment blocks.

We stopped and had lunch overlooking the river.

In the afternoon we went on a walking tour with Nicolas Hidalgo Frigo, an enthusiastic local guy who runs walking tours as a living and gets paid according to what the tourists think he is worth.

Under the banner of ‘Critical Thinking Tours’ it covered 400 years of Argentinean history, from a Buenos Aires perspective. 

We started and ended near the Pink Palace, the seat of Presidential power. 

The reason, according to Nicolas, that all the public buildings in Buenos Aires are so grand can be attributed to gloating. 

After gaining independence in 1816, the new Argentina wanted to prove to the world that they could build anything the Europeans could – but bigger and better. 

The Argentine War of Independence was fought from 1810 to 1818. This was between patriotic forces, looking for independence, against those loyal to the Spanish Crown. The independence movement was under the command of Manuel Belgrano, Juan José Castello and José de San Martin.

This guy just keeps popping up.

 

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February 14, 2018. Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Now the shops were open, this was going to be the day to get the chores done. 

First cab off the rank was buying the trip to Uruguay. This meant a walk down to the ferry terminal and visiting the Buquebus travel agent. 

Then we went shopping for another computer. 

It was a balance between memory, size and cost and was a lengthy, drawn-out process. 

Next was the DHL to send our Antarctic jackets, thermals and waterproof pants home. 

And of course, now the non functioning computer. 

After a very long day walking up and down Calle Florida and some side trips we managed to get two of the three tasks completed. 

A new computer was just too hard. They were either too large, too expensive or the stock was too old.

There appears to be no market for small, relatively inexpensive PCs in Buenos Aires.

I wonder what the students use.

Calle Florida, the main walking street near our hotel, should really be called Cambio Street. There are money sellers every few metres and on every corner. All you can hear is, “Cambio, cambio.”

Antarctica, the last continent. (The highest, driest and coldest continent on earth)

Saturday, November 24th, 2018

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February 1, 2018. Drake Passage to Antartica.

There wasn’t much to do today, as we were sailing south towards Antarctica. 

We received a briefing on what birds we might encounter and another on ‘Zodiac operations aboard the G Expedition.’

There was a safety drill and we were then checked for ‘bio security’. We were then given our waterproof boots and G Adventures expedition polar jackets in the ‘Mud Room’. 

The jackets were ‘free’ and bright red – we certainly wouldn’t get lost in the snow.

As Antarctica is a wilderness area, great care is taken to ensure that we tourists don’t contaminate it. Everything that you wear on leaving and boarding the ship is cleaned. We even had to dip our boots into a disinfectant wash. 

I felt like a ram going through a sheep dip.

Normally we don’t do escorted or group tours but Antartica, like Egypt in 2012, was different. And like the Egypt trip we had booked this trip through Hampton Travel and Cruise.

They in turn had gone to G Adventures, who specialised in small group adventure travel.

G Adventure was formally known as Gap Adventures and was established in Toronto Canada in 1990.

Gap which stood for Great Adventure People was forced to change its name in 2018. This was after Gap Inc, the American clothing company, sued Gap Adventures for appropriating their name.

How litigious are the Yanks.

I don’t think it did the company or its founder, Bruce Poon Tip, any harm, as they currently employ 1,500 people and travel to 686 destinations in 134 countries.

They certainly do live up to their old name as Great Adventure People as the staff aboard the SS Expedition were fantastic.

As was the ship.

Formerly a car carrier, the SS Expedition has been converted into a fast, sturdy and well appointed cruise ship.

There are only 145 passengers, which meant that everyone had an opportunity to get off the ship and explore. There were also 69 crew so we were well looked after.

Our off-board adventures were done both on land and in the Zodiacs.

There were also the creature comforts, like a private ensuite in every cabin and excellent views of the rolling seas through a large panoramic port hole.

There were two bars and an excellent restaurant serving international cuisine. 

I even tracked down where to get a half reasonable espresso.

G Adventures pride themselves on their environmental credentials, which was very important considering where we were going.

Antartica is the last wilderness.

It was also the last region on earth to be discovered and was unseen until 1820.

It is governed by the Antarctic Treaty System, which was ratified in 1961 and currently has 53 signatories. The treaty prohibits mineral mining, nuclear explosions or dumping of nuclear waste and military activities.

It does support science, as there are currently about 4,000 scientists conducting research into its delicate ecosystem.

The treaty is due to expire in 2048 and it will be interesting to see what takes its place. Especially considering the expansionist ambitions of countries like China and Russia.

 

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February 2, 2018. South Shetland Islands, Antartica.

We made a very fast journey across the Drake Passage, which enabled us to get our first trip ashore much earlier than usual. 

Our first stop was at the Aitcho Archipelago, South Shetland Islands, where we visited Barrientos and Cecilia Islands. 

Both were very different experiences. 

Barrientos Island was all about the penguins and there were thousands of them. 

Their smell reached us on the ship, well before we arrived on the island. 

There was also a group of moulting elephant seals lazing on the beach as we landed. 

From there we caught another Zodiac to Cecilia Island. This one was all about the birds and also involved, for those who were willing, a short walk to the top of the island. 

The walk was good as we had been on the ship for almost 48 hours and needed a bit of exercise. 

The most we had done so far was walk from our cabin to the dining room. 

For some of the passengers this was a very regular trip. 

After our island excursion, the ship set sail again and we headed for Errera Channel in Antarctica proper. 

We were now at 62° south and heading towards the Antarctic Peninsula.

 

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February 3, 2018. Antartica. 

The morning Zodiac adventure was to Danco Island in the Errera Channel. 

Even though there were plenty of penguins, the views were the hero of this outing. 

It was a slippery walk to the top of the island, but well worth it. 

Apart from the ship and the attendant Zodiacs there were icebergs, islands and mountains in the background. 

On several occasions it started to snow. 

In the afternoon we sailed to Georges Point and had another trip in the Zodiacs. The point was named, like so many places in Antarctica, by people involved in their discovery.

Georges Lecointe was the second-in-command of the Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1897 to 1899.

Here we came face-to-face with the brutal reality of life and death on the ice. We were witness to an attack of a Skuas on a penguin chic.

Penguins are not the brightest birds on the ice and the poor chic had no chance against the relentless predator.

Skuas are strong and aggressive birds living off carrion and the occasional ‘fresh’ penguin.

Later in the afternoon we sailed to Leith Cove In Paradise Bay. We were here for the evening as this was our night on the ice.

I have always held the belief that you really haven’t visited a place, unless you have slept there.

After dinner all those that were going ashore hopped into the Zodiacs and took the short ride to the   ice island in Leith Cove.

We had been equipped with a tent, ground sheets and a sleeping bag, which we had to lug up the hill to the camp site.

Then we had to pitch our tent.

At this point I was wondering if sleeping in Antarctica was such a clever idea.

I hadn’t pitched a tent since I was in the scouts and I had certainly never done it on ice. We only hoped that it would stay up for the night.

There were 23 tents, each with two people, all arranged in a large circle. There were two portable toilets off to one side. I had made a pact with myself that I wouldn’t need to visit them during the night. The temperature was about -4° to -5°C and my sleeping bag was where I intended to stay for the duration. 

A few younger campers joined Blaise, the resident ‘muso’, in a number of songs around a non-existent campfire.

We remained in our tent, in our sleeping bags, with our legs crossed.

 

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February 4, 2018. Antartica.

We were woken at 5:40 am and had to quickly pack everything up. Then it was down to the Zodiacs to be taken back to the ship.

The rest of the morning was spent at Leith Cove. We then cruised through the Lemaire Channel and back again as our path to Pléneau Bay was blocked by icebergs. 

In the afternoon our Zodiac ride was with Sergey Nesterov, the captain of the SS Expedition. The sky was blue, the sea calm and as one of the crew said; “This is just the sort of day that the captain likes to pull rank and take out a Zodiac.” 

It was an experience with amazing icebergs and lots of seals – I think Sergey knew many of the seals personally.

He also had a typical Russian sense of humour which made it all the more enjoyable.

That evening we had an Antarctic Barbecue Dinner and like all good BBQs, it was outside.

There was flame grilled meat of all varieties as well as salads and hot vegetables.

We all sat at the stern of the ship, wrapped in our bright red G Adventures jackets, and ate as quickly as we could, before the hot food got cold.

An experience never to be forgotten – or repeated.

 

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February 5, 2018. Antartica.

Breakfast onboard catered for everyone. 

There were even jars of Vegemite for the Australians and Marmite for the Poms. 

Which isn’t surprising as the Aussies, then the Brits, made up the largest groups. 

The morning was spent in the Zodiacs, cruising around Paradise Harbour and then we visited Brown Station.

We were now on mainland Antarctica.

Brown Station was surprisingly not British, as you would expect, but Argentinian. Named after the ‘Father of the Argentine Navy’ Admiral William Brown (1777-1857). Brown was an Irish born Argentine Admiral who was creator and first admiral of the country’s maritime force.

Brown Station was established in 1951 and is one of 13 Argentinean research bases in Antarctica.

Many of the group made the difficult walk to the top of the hill overlooking Brown Station. The views were spectacular.

I think we were all dreading the descent, as the snow was deep and looking down, it seemed like a long way.

That problem was solved brilliantly by some of the crew who suggested that we didn’t walk down, but slid down.

It was an exhilarating trip, sliding on our bums, down the hillside.

In the afternoon we went to Port Lockroy to visit the British Antarctic Survey’s historic Base A and the Penguin Post Office.

Situated on Wince Island, Port Lockroy was named after Edouard Lockroy, a French politician and Vice President of the Chamber of Deputies. He assisted Jean-Baptiste Charcot in obtaining funding for the French Antarctic Expedition of 1904 to 1907.

Today Port Lockroy houses a museum, souvenir shop and the Penguin Post Office, the most southerly one in the world. We, like most of the passengers, sent post cards or letters home.

From there we went to Jougla Point, on Wiencke Island, just around the corner from Port Lockroy. There was a colony of Blue Eyed Shags and a collection of random whale bones that had been arranged into an almost complete skeleton.

The Polar Bear Bar on the SS Expedition was very popular, especially with the young North Americans, after dinner. They were ‘whooping’ to music that was at least a generation older than they were. 

Blaise, who had entertained us on the island sleepover, performed hits from Simon and Garfunkel, Cat Stephens, Don McLean and even Leonard Cohen. 

It was being lapped up by the ‘kids’ and they could sing the old stuff – word for word. 

 

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February 6, 2018. Antartica.

When referring to the weather, Alex, our English tour leader often said: “Antarctica has the last word”

For our final day on the continent we were greeted with foul conditions. 

Forty knot winds, gusting to sixty knots, rain and low cloud. 

Not ideal for launching and landing the Zodiacs. 

Our planned afternoon trip to Hannah Point, Walker Bay and even plan B, to Elephant Point, were all cancelled. 

We then opted for plan C and sailed to Deception Island, which is still regarded as an active volcano.

In the morning Thea accidentally slid down one of the external stairways on the ship and bruised her back. 

The ship’s doctor suggested she rest up, so I went ashore alone.

The bay of Deception Island is a caldera, with a very narrow entrance. This means that it is considerably more protected than the surrounding sea. 

The volcano last erupted in 1969 and then again in 1970 and has left a large crater. 

That’s what we were on Deception Island to see. 

It was foggy when we set out from the ship and got worse as we climbed up to the crater lip. 

It was an eerie sight as the passengers appeared out of the mist, all in their red coats, walking along the crater’s edge. 

We were warned that crossing back over the Drake Passage wasn’t going to be as easy as when we came six days ago. 

The swell picked up over dinner and by the time we retired our beds became a moving target. 

The ship actually provided wedges to put under the mattress. These were designed to stop you falling out of bed with the big swell. 

After dinner there was a Black and White themed fancy dress. Some people made an effort, I wasn’t one of them. 

We then went to the Polar Bear Bar where the Monkey Eating Eagles were playing. 

This is a six piece band with five of the group staff members from the Philippines. 

Apart from passengers, there were a  lot of staff in the bar. 

I had a feeling that this was their night off. 

It was interesting to watch the band perform, with the ship rolling from side to side. But even funnier was seeing people trying to dance. 

February 7, 2018. Crossing the Drake Passage from Antartica.

It was a rather turbulent night as we forged our way north into the Drake Passage. 

We awoke to blue skies and rough seas. Half way through the morning the captain decided to shut the deck. This meant I couldn’t get my daily shot, over the bow of the ship, looking forward. 

To keep us entertained there was a series of lectures. They covered topics like Antarctic animals and birds, history, geography, geology and photography. 

Most of the staff seem to be an expert in one or more of these areas. 

The SS Expedition is small, compared to some cruise ships, and in rough seas this presents unique challenges to passengers and staff. 

Staying upright is one of them.

Showering, cleaning your teeth, getting your buffet meal, or just walking around, are all that much more difficult. 

The only people who could handle us bobbing around like a cork in a bottle were the waiters. In classic waiter style, they could still carry a tray, loaded with dishes, all balanced in one hand. 

By now the conditions had got much worse, there were seven metre waves and 60 knot winds. 

On board the G Adventures staff are divided into three sections.

The ship’s crew, including engine room, navigation and deck hands. They look after how we travel.

The adventure and activities people who look after organising excursions, landings and lectures. They are in charge of what we do. 

And finally the hotel staff, who run the accommodation, laundry, kitchen, restaurant, bar and accounts. They look after how we are housed, fed and make sure we pay for it all at the end. 

And, as we found out, there is also a doctor who is there to look after your physical wellbeing.

At the start of the cruise we were told that the Drake Passage was going to be rough. The doctor suggested that we take sea sickness tablets.

The last time we had been in rough seas was back in the mid 70s’, crossing the English Chanel in a force nine storm. We were OK then but didn’t know how well we would travel now, so we took his advice and swallowed the pills.

We didn’t feel any sea sickness, only hallucinations.

On the return trip, across the Drake, we decided to leave the pills. This was the right choice as we were both fine, even though the crossing was far rougher.

 

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February 8, 2018. The Drake Passage and Beagle Channel.

We were ‘weathering the storm’ all night and in the morning we were still not allowed up on deck. 

At noon the captain headed the ship towards the north east. This resulted in two things, firstly the rolling almost disappeared and secondly we rounded Cape Horn, sailing from the Pacific to the Atlantic. 

We were now headed towards the Beagle Channel and Ushuaia, with hopefully much calmer weather. 

On our last evening, after a cruise de brief, we had a group dinner, then a few of us headed to the Polar Bear Bar for one more evening of ‘classic’ music.

We were now back in Ushuaia and would disembark after breakfast in the morning.

We had travelled 1,695 nautical miles and seen one of the most remote places on earth.

What an adventure.

 

Part 6: South America – Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas, Chile and Ushuaia, Argentina.

Thursday, November 1st, 2018

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January 21, 2018. Santiago to Puerto Montt, Chile. 

The drive from the hotel in central Santiago to the airport was done at breakneck speed. Most of it is on freeways, which seemed to have no speed limit. 

We covered the 19 kilometres, door-to-door, in 15 minutes. 

The flight to Puerto Montt was a relatively easy 2:45 hours, as was picking up the Peugeot 301 from Avis at the airport. 

Puerto Montt is in the Lake District of Chile and it seemed like a good opportunity to self drive for a few days.

We were now a lot further south, and the days were stretching out, so we had an afternoon drive to get a feel of the area. It also gave me an opportunity to get my ‘driving brain’ activated. 

We drove about 20 kilometres east along the Pacific coast to Quillaipe. 

In the evening we walked along the Puerto Montt waterfront and found the Club de Yates for dinner.

The food was good, the location excellent, but it was empty.

 

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January 22, 2018. Puerto Montt, Chile.

Today was devoted to lakes and volcanos. 

First we drove towards Lake Llanquihue, with the very imposing Osorno Volcano looming over the lake.

Lake Llanquihue is the second largest lake in Chile and covers an area of approximately 860 square kilometres. We drove around the edge of the lake and got some spectacular views of the volcano. 

Osorno Volcano is described by some as the Mount Fuji of South America and you can see the similarities. It has a classical snow-capped peak standing 2,652 metres above sea level. It is also one of the most active volcanoes in the Southern Chilean Andes.

We drove to the foot of Osorno and took the chairlift to the top-most lookout. The views of both the volcano and the valley with lakes below were stunning. Apart from the Orsorno Volcano we could also see the Calbuco Volcano, which erupted as recently as 2015.

We continued our lake drive on to Lake Todos los Santos and the Petrohué River. Then it was back to Puerto Montt in the late afternoon.

Puerto Montt is an ugly town, but that is to be expected as it suffered a massive earthquake in 1960. The quake destroyed the port, train station and much of the civic and domestic buildings.

The resulting ‘modern’ architecture lacks the style and substance that you get from the colonial era.

The port rose to prominence during the 1990s and 2000s as Chile’s second largest salmon producer.

 

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January 23, 2018. Puerto Montt, Chile.

More nature today as we headed off to the Island of Chiloé to see penguins and other bird life. 

We crossed the Chacao Channel and then stopped at Ancud for a coffee.

Ancud sits on the banks of the Chacao Channel which has been dredged out by glaciation, separating Chiloé Island from the mainland and the Pacific Ocean.

The 30 minute boat excursion was a very slick affair. 

No sooner had we paid our money, than we were fitted out with life jackets and sent off to board an inflatable boat. These were moored in the shallows and we were pushed out on specially designed wheeled platforms to reach them. 

At Point Almenao we caught glimpses of penguins, various sea birds and South American Sea Lions, as we motored around the the Puñihuil Islands.

There were both Humboldt and Megellanic Penguins on the rocks but I couldn’t really tell the difference.

We drove 551 kilometres around Puerto Montt and each day was a totally different experience. 

It was well worth the car hire.

 

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January 24, 2018. Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas, Chile.

We awoke to find the window, in the hallway outside our room, hanging precariously from its hinges. 

Who knows how it got like that. 

Today’s flight, from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas, would take us even further south, at 54° below the equator. 

Our hotel in Punta Arenas, the Cabo de Hornes, was right on Plaza de Armas, the main square. 

There were a lot more colonial buildings and had obviously not suffered from earthquakes like Puerto Montt. 

The Cabo de Hornes was alive with expectant people, all waiting to board their ships to sail to the Antarctic. Punta Arenas was a major embarkation point to the frozen continent.

This gave us an insight into what we should expect when we reached Ushuaia in Argentina in a few days time.

Using what was remaining of the afternoon we wandered around the town and the waterfront. 

Apart from the old colonial buildings the rest of the town was rather pedestrian, except for the graffiti. 

Some of the waterfront buildings had spectacular murals painted on their facades. 

 

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January 25, 2018. Punta Arenas, Chile.

We had hired another car, this time a khaki coloured Renault Duster from Avis. It was a good colour for tanks, but not cars.

The day was spent at the Straits of Magellan Park, which is about 55 kilometres south of Punta Arenas. 

Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521) was a Portuguese explorer who, in 1520, was the first European to find a navigable sea route between Chile, in the north, and Tierra del Fuego, in the south. This allowed sailors to safely navigate from the Pacific to the Atlantic Oceans.

This was a very important part of the history and development of the New World, especially southern South America. It allowed for sailors to circle the globe, without having to venture into Antarctica and the dangerous waters of the Drake Passage.

Fuerte Bulnes is situated on the Straits of Magellan and is 65 kilometres south of Punta Arenas.

The fort, built in 1843, was designed to help Chile ward off attempts by other nations to claim the straits for themselves.

In 1848, after the founding of Punta Arenas, and due to the remoteness and harsh conditions of the settlement, the fort was abandoned and the buildings destroyed. Between 1941 and 1943 the government ordered a reconstruction be built of the historic site.

Today the replicas include the church, chaplain’s quarter, jail, gun powder room, post office and stables.

 

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January 26, 2018. Punta Arenas, Chile.

This was our second day of nature.

About 8 kilometres out of town was the Magellan National Park. Yes more things named Magellan. 

Created in 1932 this national reserve of 13,500 hectares is on the coast and offers great views of the surrounding area.

We walked about 8 kilometres through forests, bush-lands and windswept pathways. The wind was gusting to about 80 kph and a couple of times we nearly lost our footing, especially when we climbed to the Mirador Zapador Austral. 

Our hats did find themselves in the bushes on a few occasions. 

 

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January 27, 2018. Punta Arenas, Chile to Ushuaia, Argentina.

Our international flight from Punta Arenas, in Chile, to Ushuaia, in Argentina, was in a Beechcraft King Air 100.

It was an adventurous flight with a lot of turbulence on take off and landing. 

The in-flight briefing consisted of the pilot turning around from the cockpit and explaining all the procedures. 

It’s strange how even a one hour flight, in a light aircraft, can still take an entire day. 

Even though the six of us on the Beechcraft had our own immigration officer in Punta Arenas and Ushuaia, it still took time. 

We even had our own baggage claim on arrival in Ushuaia. 

The Beechcraft King Air 100 did look rather small on the tarmac at Ushuaia Airport. Especially in comparison to the nearby jets.

After settling into our hotel we went out into the main shopping street of Ushuaia. We needed a few things for our Antarctic trip, so a visit to the local outdoor stores was needed.

 

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January 28, 2018. Ushuaia, Argentina. 

El Tren del Fin del Mundo (The Train of the End of the World)

It operated between 1910 and 1947 and was primarily used to transport freight, especially timber, to the prison in Ushuaia and is now a tourist railway.

We travelled 7km, of the original 14km, that was once the originally track.

At the end of the hour’s journey from Ushuaia we walked from the station down to Ensenada Zaratiegui Bay, which is on the Beagle Channel. From there we did a short walk along the coastal path in the Tierra del Fuego National Park. 

It was then the long haul, back up the hill to the station, and the return train trip to Ushuaia. 

This only took 40 minutes as there were no stops. 

There are a number of ‘ests’ in Ushuaia.

It is the most southern city in the world, as is the international airport and golf course. The railway is the world’s most southern functioning line.

Ushuaia was founded in 1884 by Augusto Lasserre, an Argentinian naval officer, and is on the shores of the Beagle Channel.

Today Ushuaia is a key access point for tourists and scientific expeditions to the Southern Ocean and Antarctica.

As an interesting aside, in 2014 the cast and crew of Top Gear, who were filming in Ushuaia were chased out of the city. Apparently reference to the Falklands War was encoded in the registration of Jeremy Clarkson’s vehicle.

January 29, 2018. Ushuaia, Argentina.

“Don’t cry for me Argentina.”

Just next to our hotel there was a monument to Eva Peron (1919-1952). Eva was born into poverty and rose to become the First Lady of Argentina in 1946 until her death. She was immortalised in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Evita and is a loved figure in Argentina, even today.

There are Eva Peron monuments everywhere.

Other than a brief walk around our hotel, it was a quiet day. 

Over the next 48 hours the Antarctica tour group would start to arrive, so we decided it was time for a day of organising. 

Backing up computers and sorting out paperwork was boring, but it had to be done. 

 

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January 30, 2018. Ushuaia, Argentina.

This was the last full day of being on our own (freedom) before joining the Antarctic cruise. 

The others, who arrived the previous day, were off doing the ‘El Tren del Fin del Mundo’. 

We spent some time on last minute shopping for the cruise and a bit of sightseeing around Ushuaia. 

On the edge of the town is a memorial to the Falklands War.

As mentioned previously, this is a very touchy subject in Argentina. 

The only people to call it the Falklands War are the Brits. The Argentinians refer to it as Malvinas War, in reference to their name for the Falkland Islands, or Guerra del Atlántoco Sur, meaning South Atlantic War.

Just off the coastline is the wreck of the Saint Christopher. Originally built in the US in 1943, as a rescue tug, she was transferred to the Royal Navy and was renamed HMS Justice (W140). She returned to the US at the end of WWII and then sold for commercial service in Argentina and re named the Saint Christopher.

After suffering engine trouble and rudder damage, she was laid up and eventually beached in Ushuaia in 1957.

 

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January 31, 2018. Ushuaia, Argentina, then sailing towards Antartica.

After breakfast we packed and left our bags in reception. The next time we would see them would be on the ship. 

Even at ‘The End of the Earth’ you can get good coffee. On our first day in Ushuaia we discovered Dali Café, it was just around the corner from our hotel. 

We made one last visit – who knows what the coffee would be like on the ship.

We then had one more sight seeing excursion.

The End of the World Prison in Ushuaia holds four museums and an art gallery. The Prison Museum, Maritime Museum and Antarctic Museum. 

The ticket gave us 48 hours to visit and you would certainly need all that time if you wanted to read all the notations. 

Every cell in the prison was an exhibit. 

They covered everything from the prison itself to prisons of the world and a raft of other topics. 

There was an entire cell dedicated to Australian prisons. Even Pentridge in Melbourne was featured. 

Antartica, explorers, aviation, natural history, oil exploration the armed forces and police, all had exhibits. 

It was a big prison. 

Then there was the Historic Pavilion, which had left the cells in their original, cold, condition. 

Even the gallery and gift shop utilised the cells to exhibit art and souvenirs. 

The building was an amazing complex with five radiating arms of cells, each with two levels. At the centre was a large enclosed hall which was used to muster the prisoners. 

After the cultural experience of the prison/museum we returned to the hotel and joined the group.

Next was boarding and the start of our Antarctic adventure.

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.

Part 1: Central and South America – Panamá City, Panamá to Bogotá, Columbia.

Saturday, September 1st, 2018

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December 10, 2017. Montego Bay, Jamaica to Panamá City, Panamá.

It rained again on our short drive to the airport for our flight to Panamá and then Bogotá and South America. 

We were with Evan and Stephanie, as their flight to NYC took off not long before ours. 

Our Copa Airlines flight to Panamá City took 1:40 hrs. 

In 2015 we flew with Copa, when we finally escaped from Cuba. This was after we missed a connection and had to camp out at Havana Airport for the night. 

The flight was easy with excellent cabin service. 

Yes, there are still airlines with cabin service. 

Getting through immigration was another matter – it was tediously slow. Which was surprising as they had 14 counters servicing the passengers. But there was at least three or four aircraft that arrived at the same time. 

Immigration was the least of our worries.

We got a cab from the airport and were told, as soon as were on board, that we wouldn’t be able to the dropped off at our hotel.

Apparently there was a Christmas street festival and the area around our hotel was blocked off.

The dash from the airport to the city was bad enough but when our taxi started to tail-gate other drivers through the toll station, to avoid paying the fee, we knew he was a typical taxi arsehole.

He eventually did drop us off, leaving us a one kilometre walk, in the rather warm sun, to get to our hotel.

When we arrived we were shocked, but certainly not surprised, to see that plenty of taxis had made the effort to go around the traffic to get to the old town.

Never trust a taxi driver.

Before dinner we went for a stroll around our hotel and were glad that we had decided to stay there, as it was full of character.

In the evening there were fireworks from the Christmas Festival. At first we thought that it was cannon fire as it was so loud.

The local dogs and cats were running madly from the noise.

Once we got closer to the waterfront, we had a great view of the display, from right in front of our hotel.

That night, Thea’s computer died. 

December 11, 2017. Panamá City, Panamá.

Having visited Panamá City before, we had a day to ourselves, without the need for sightseeing. 

Initially we were going to look for a GoPro. With all the water, snow and ice ahead of us it seemed like a good addition to the photographic armoury. 

But now, with Thea needing a new computer, buying a GoPro might have to wait.

After breakfast we headed off to Albrook Mall, which was not that far from the old city. 

In the end we bought both a new computer and the GoPro. We shopped around but eventually settled on a reasonably large electrical store, Multimax. They were willing to give us a good discount on a bulk buy, so it seemed like the practical thing to do. 

We did however have to make a return trip to the mall, as the GoPro’s battery wouldn’t charge properly. 

Four Uber rides through Panamá City is a brain numbing experience. The traffic is horrendous and the 6.6 km trip took over half an hour each trip.

In the end they exchanged the GoPro, thanks to the sales guy. We were lucky to find the only person in Multimax who spoke English and he was great. Both in buying the computer and replacing the GoPro. 

The Albrook Mall was vast.

It has named all the entrances after animals and there were 13 of them. Ironically we were dropped off at the Entrada Koala. 

Each entrance had a large sculpture of the animal in question – we got to see a lot of the Koala. 

This time in Panama City we stayed in the old town or Casco Viejo. 

We had regretted not being there in 2015, so this was a good opportunity to make amends.

The area is fast becoming the premier hotel and tourist destination in the Panama City. Buildings are being renovated and new hotels and restaurants are popping up everywhere. 

It was only two years since we were here but we noticed a big difference. 

On our last night we ate at Santa Rita, a brand new restaurant, just down the road from our hotel. 

We had tapas and it was excellent. 

 

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December 12, 2017. Panamá City, Panamá to Bogotá, Colombia.

The flight to Bogotá was with Avianca, the Colombian airline. 

We were 90 minutes late in leaving. 

Again, as with Copa, it was a full service flight. 

The hotel in Bogotá had arranged to have a shuttle pick us up from the airport. The poor guy had to wait two hours due to our delayed flight. 

The drive was an easy 25 minutes from the airport and the traffic seemed much less hectic than Panamá City.

By comparison there seemed to be a calm about the city. 

After checking into the Casa de la Vega we went for a stroll around the old town or La Candelaria. 

One of the main features is the town square or Plaza Bolívar with the imposing Cathedral of Colombia. 

There were more pigeons than people to begin with but as the time went on it started to fill. 

We then took a stroll down the walking street, by this time it was very busy. 

It was too early for dinner so we stumbled into Café Pasaje a combination coffee shop and bar. 

But a bar that only served beer, much to Thea’s dismay. The atmosphere was vibrant so we stayed and Thea even had a local Club Colombian Larger. 

The male and female toilets were differentiated by white underwear pinned to the door. 

Very unusual but fun. 

From there we went to find dinner and found La Puerta de la Catedral, (The Cathedral Door) just off the square. 

The main fair was typical Colombian. Thea had a stew of meat and beans and I had a concoction of five proteins; blood sausage, beef sausage, roast pork, minced beef and a fried egg. This was on a bed of rice and arepa, a Columbian corn-meal bread, which was accompanied by a slice from the biggest avocado I’ve ever seen. 

It did lack the flavour of the smaller variety. 

 

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December 13, 2017. Bogotá, Colombia.

In the morning we went in search of the tourist information centre. 

After asking at the hotel and being sent to the wrong place, we finally tracked it down. 

It was just off the main square, as you would expect. 

Before that we found Café Escuela de Baristas and had an excellent Colombian coffee. Which isn’t surprising as it was a barista school. 

The Botero Museum houses 120 works by the world famous artist, Fernando Botero.  

Botero was born in Medellín, Colombia in 1932 but it wasn’t until the late 1950s that he developed his now famous ‘Inflated’ style of figurative art and sculpture.

This was after spending time in Madrid, Paris, Florence and Mexico City, learning from the masters in those cities.

In his early years he trained as a matador but soon gave that up for art after discovering a book of modern art when he was 15.

After an exhibition in 1955 he was criticised for not having his own style. In 1956, soon after moving from Bogotá to Madrid he started to develop his distinctive look.

In the foyer of the gallery is a very large sculpture of a right hand, that’s missing part of a finger.

Tragically Botero was involved in an auto accident in 1973. The crash claimed the life of his son and seriously injured Botero’s right arm and severed the finger.

Botero had painted his son repeatedly and continued to do so after his death.

The Gallery also had 60 pieces by artistic legends from the 19th and 20th centuries. 

One room had drawings and lithographs from Degas, Picasso, Moore, Matisse, Klimt, Freud and a couple from Botero. 

Another had paintings from Picasso, Miró, Beckmann, Ernst, Chagall, Braque and more. 

One room even housed a Salvador Dali sculpture. 

There were also paintings from the 19th Century artists, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Bonnard, Monet and Pissarro. 

All this culture and it was free. 

The gallery was in an old two story colonial era building with a beautifully cultivated formal courtyard garden. 

After spending at least three hours in the gallery we walked around the old city.

Then the rain arrived and we found Jiménez, a bar that served wine. 

This wasn’t easy as most only serve coffee and beer. 

After the protein hit from the previous night we decided to find something lighter for dinner. 

Just down the road from our hotel was Bao, a Japanese fusion restaurant with an amazingly contemporary fit-out. 

Somewhat like the food, the decor seemed to combine traditional Japanese with urban modern. 

 

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December 14, 2017. Bogotá, Colombia.

Bogotá is the sprawling capital of Colombia and is home to over 8 million people. 

It is located just 4° north of the equator – yet it’s cold. 

It’s a high altitude city, sitting at 2,640 metres, this gives it a cool climate with little differentiation between seasons. 

Bogotá was founded in 1538 by the Spanish as the capital of the New Kingdom of Granada. 

Our morning and part of the afternoon was spent arranging to have Thea’s broken computer sent to Evan in NYC. 

It had done a Lazarus and shown a brief spurt of life in the cooler climate of Bogotá. 

There may still be hope for it. 

With the help of the hotel receptionist we found Deprisâ, a forwarding agent associated with UPS. 

Two guys at the counter worked for 90 minutes to solve all the issues. 

They were fabulous. 

One even took our US Dollars to the bank to exchange them for Colombian Pesos. 

We are now crossing our fingers that the parcel arrives. 

After lunch we headed for the famed Monserrate. 

The church and mountain dominate the skyline over the old city. 

On advice from the hotel we caught a taxi to the funicular station. This cost us CP7,000, about A$3.50.

Considering the traffic, that the drivers have to negotiate to get anywhere in the city, we felt this was reasonable.

On our return journey we picked up a cab near the cable car station. He wanted CP8,000, we insisted that we would only pay CP7,000.

Then a strange thing happened.

A motor cycle policeman spoke to the driver and then wanted to talk to us. He reached into the taxi and, from a seat pocket, produced a printed sheet with locations and taxi fares. 

He then told us that we should only pay CP5,000 for the return trip.

When we got back to the hotel the driver pointed to the meter and told us we should be paying CP8,000. We told him we would only pay CP5,000, just as the policeman had suggested.

A$2.50 is a very cheap taxi ride.

Police are everywhere in Bogotá, as are the military and private security companies. We were warned by the hotel to stay away from certain areas but on the whole we felt safe.

The police presence is understandable considering that the city and the country have been on the no-go list for many years.

In the very recent past the drug lords ruled Colombia. Apparently they are now starting to admit defeat and handing themselves in. 

Well that is the story that is being put out.

In Bogotá the government is obviously making a huge effort to get the tourists back. This is good news for tourism as the city is certainly a great place to visit.

It probably explains why currently the tourist industry is so underdeveloped. 

There seems little on offer as far as organised tours either around or out of the city. 

In the evening we went to the Bogotá Beer Company (BBC). 

Yes I found craft beer in Colombia. 

They had 14 taps, but not all of them were in use. 

This is only the second time that I have had draught beer since leaving the US but it was the first craft beer. 

I had a Monserrate Roja, which was described as a Pale Ale – yet it was red. 

It was exciting to discover a craft brewery in Colombia, a country that is dominated by SABMiller. 

This one company controls 99% of the country’s six billion dollar a year beer industry.

BBC was set up by Berny Silberwasser. He started in 2002, with $40,000 worth of second hand brewing equipment from Portland, Oregon.

 

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December 15, 2017. Bogotá, Colombia.

Going for a morning coffee we met two young policemen. 

They were promoting the Police Museum. 

One had very good English and was in for a chat -  I think he wanted the language practice.

We discovered that the police force is included, as part of the compulsory draft, into military service. 

This explains why there are so many young police officers in the city.

If you have finished school and are about to go to university, you only do one year’s National Service in the police force – if not, you do two. 

These guys were very bright, so they had only done one year.

We spent a lot of the day panning the next few weeks. With Christmas and New Year coming up we wanted to be staying in places where we could enjoy the festivities.

Late in the afternoon we took the new GoPro out to give it a test run.

I wanted to see how it would go shooting a ‘pigeons-eye-view’ of Plaza Bolívar. I had also set up to operate the camera using the iPhone as a remote control.

A number of reviews of the GoPro software said that it was a dud and that you needed to be connected to the internet to use it.

That wasn’ the case.

The GoPro creates it’s own WiFi network and you just connect the phone to that, the same way you would with any WiFi.

Jamaica and the big 7Oh!

Wednesday, August 29th, 2018

December 2, 2017. Montego Bay, Jamaica.

After an easy flight to Montego Bay we met Ev and Steph at the airport. They had a flight that arrived just after ours. 

We were then met by Melly, who was our driver.

And as it said in the house information sheet, ‘he can do anything except cook’. 

As it turned out Melly was doing everything except driving while we were there. That task was taken over by Otis for most of our stay. 

Once we reached Ladywood Villa at Russell Villas we were introduced to the rest of the staff. 

Dinnis was the Housekeeper, Emsley the Yard Man and Cook and Latoya, the Assistant Customer Service Manager and Massage Therapist. 

Hayden and Andrea were arriving late in the evening, so we went to the supermarket and got provisions for that night and breakfast. 

We had a great Jamaican Chicken Curry and saved some for H&A. 

The AirBnB provided the staff and we had to buy the food. 

This was a great opportunity to eat Jamaican cuisine without leaving the house. 

 

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December 3, 2017. Montego Bay, Jamaica.

The house had four double bedrooms, three of them with ensuite bathrooms, a large indoor and outdoor living area, and included two tennis courts. 

Ryan was the owner of Ladywood Villa and a former tennis professional and now a coach, so the courts were to be expected.

Everything in the house was painted in bright colours. The walls were purple, green and blue, with yellow trim in some areas. 

There was also a good sized pool and cabana on a lower level. 

Everything overlooked the Caribbean Sea. 

On our first full day the weather was warm yet there was a cooling sea breeze. 

After shopping for the next few days we spent the afternoon by the pool. 

This was a day to just ‘chill out’ as they say in Jamaica ‘man’. 

 

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December 4, 2017. Montego Bay, Jamaica.

The Arawak and Taíno indigenous people, originated in South America and settled on the island between 4000 and 1000 BC.

Christopher Columbus claimed Jamaica for Spain, after landing there in 1494. Spain then ruled from 1509 to 1655. There aren’t many of the indigenous people left on the island, due to the spread of disease that was introduced by the Spanish.

Needing someone to do the work, the Spaniards then brought in African slaves as labourers.

After the British invasion of 1655 they ruled until 1962, when Jamaica gained its independence. 

The name of Montego Bay, the capital of the Parish of St. James, was derived from the Spanish name Manteca Bahía (or Bay of Lard), alluding to the lard-making industry based on processing the numerous wild boars in the area.

The population is over 92% African, a result of both the Spanish and English slave trade. 

The Spaniards freed some slaves when they were invaded by the British. Then the British fully emancipated all slaves in 1838. 

Late in the morning we made a trip into Montego Bay and had lunch at the Sand Bar at Doctor’s Cave Bather’s Club. 

This was very Jamaican with reggae music and ice cold Red Stripe Beer.

The old town felt a lot like African towns we had visited in Namibia and Tanzania. 

Red Stripe is the beer of Jamaica – in fact it’s hard to find anything else.

Originally brewed there in 1928, by Desnoes and Geddes, it is now brewed in the UK and USA.

Red Stripe is a 4.7%, lager style and really very boring, compared to some of the beers I have discovered on our travels.

 

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December 5, 2017. Montego Bay, Jamaica.

This was our adventure day and it was a long one. We started at 8am and got back to the house at 6:30pm.

The first stop was at Columbus Park at Discovery Bay. This is an open air, roadside, museum that was built in 1968 to commemorate the spot where Christopher Columbus landed in 1494.

Our next stop was at Dunn’s River Falls at Ocho Rios. The silliest, yet one of the funniest, tourist experiences I’ve ever had. 

The idea is that your buy a pair of non-slip rock shoes then, starting from the base, climb the 55 metres to the top. The falls are a natural staircase with a number of routes upwards, some more difficult than others.

There were hundreds of people on the climb, many of them in groups. There was just the six of us so we could pick and choose our path of ascent, dodging the groups on the way up.

Historically the falls were the location where the British defeated the Spanish, at the Battle of Las Chorreras, in 1657.

The Jamaicans have a wonderful turn-of-phrase such as: ‘A bleak morning always becomes a fair day in Jamaica, man.’ and they describe rain as: ‘Liquid sunshine.’

The next attraction wasn’t on the agenda but Otis, our driver, thought that we might be interested.

It was somewhat off the road and hidden in the bush, not far from St Ann’s Bay. It was a natural phenomena of fire burning on water in a natural spring. It’s called ’Fire Water’ or ‘Fire on the Water’ and the burning water is actually naturally occurring sulphur gas, which is highly regarded for its healing qualities.

Seville Heritage Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is one of the most significant cultural heritage location in Jamaica. The area has been occupied since prehistoric times and has remains of the indigenous Amerindian or Taino people.

It is also the place where modern Jamaica was established. In 1508, the Spanish government gifted the island of Jamaica to the Columbus. Columbus’s son was appointed governor of the island.

We visited Seville Great House, which was built by the British in 1745 as part of a sugar plantation. It is now a museum displaying artefacts from Jamaican history, including the Spanish Governor’s castle and a water wheel.

There was a side trip to Silver Sands at Duncan’s Bay. This was really an opportunity for Otis to catch up with his son. We were shown around a rather splendid holiday house that overlooked Duncan’s Bay.

I have often wondered what the owner would have thought about that.

On the way home we passed Falmouth Port. It’s here that the mega cruise ships stop on their Caribbean adventures 

I am glad that we were on the island and not the ship.

There were four international quality golf courses within 10 minutes of where we were staying at Ironshore. In fact the Jamaican Open was on at the Half Moon course, which was right next door. 

Each day we had to negotiate the traffic at the entrance, as we headed out of the estate.

Some days were busier than others.

There were even a few of the ‘lesser pros’ staying near us.

 

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December 6, 2017. Montego Bay, Jamaica.

We spent the afternoon at the Rose Hall Beach Club. This was associated with Ladywood Villa and Ryan brought us down so we could get in. 

The location and pool were fantastic, however the rest was a little tired. 

A hotel group had bought into the beach area and were slowly squeezing out the Rose Hall members. 

We were only allowed to use certain beach seats and weren’t allowed on the cabana at the end of the breakwater. 

Still we could either swim in the pool or the Caribbean, or both. 

By the time we left the clouds had rolled in and it had cooled down to a pleasant 28°C. 

In the evening we drove east along the coast to Glistening Waters inFalmouth’s Luminous Lagoon. This is regarded as Jamaica’s only night time attraction.

This marvel is only found in 4 places in the world, however, this lagoon is the brightest of them all due to more consistent climate.

Here, the fresh water from the Martha Brae River meets the salt-water ocean and this amazing creation is formed.

The water is filled with phosphorous which allows it to illuminate so brilliantly when disturbed.

The glow is formed from small microorganisms that emit a flash of light when touched. The microscopic organisms live and create a natural phenomenon, known as bioluminescence.

We took a small boat out into the lagoon and swam in the shallow waters, emerging ourselves in the sparkling aquatic lights.

 

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December 7, 2017. Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Today was going to be another big day, as we headed west to Negril. This was about a 90 minute drive each way. 

At Stephanie’s insistence we found and then ‘invaded’ the Negril Royal Palm Estate. 

The land is owned by the Jamaican Petroleum Corporation and was originally developed for the peat that’s in the wetland. 

That enterprise failed and the management of the area was taken over by the Jamaican conservation trust and turned into a nature reserve. 

They built a boardwalk and tourist area, but no one came. 

The petrol company took back the land and shut the park. 

It’s such a shame as it’s in a beautiful location. 

Luckily, after barging our way in and despite the sign at the front gate warning us not to enter, we found a former guide. 

He showed us as much as he dared, under the suspicious eye of the young security guard. 

The Negril Royal Palm Estate is part of the 289-acre Royal Palm Reserve and stretches along the southern side of the Great Morass.

Next we went to Kuyaba Beach Club on Negril’s 7 Mile Beach. 

The beach was crowded with ageing American tourist but we managed to get some back row sun lounges. 

The view wasn’t as good as the front row, but at least we weren’t hassled by the passing parade of hawkers. 

Late in the day we went further west to Rick’s Café, which was established in 1974 by Richard Hershman. Rick purchased the cliffside location form a local doctor who was the son of the first Governor general of independent Jamaica.

This, apparently, world famous bar is known for its high diving platforms and sunset viewing. 

We watched people of all shapes and sized dive off the rocks into the very deep pool below. 

Both Evan and Hayden took the leap. 

The jumping was interesting but the sunset was a failure, as it just faded into darkness with absolutely no colour in the sky. 

December 8, 2017. Montego Bay, Jamaica.

It was decided that today was going to be my official birthday. After all I was 70, in Australia, before I was in Jamaica. 

We returned to the Rose Hall Beach Cub for a swim.

Evan and Hayden arranged for the three of us to take a Catamaran ride off the Rose Hall Beach. 

This required a bit of bribery as the ‘cats’ were meant to be for hotel guests only. 

The trip to the beach club was a guise to get me out of the house. When we returned there at 4pm the staff had balloons, birthday decorations and a huge Black Forest birthday cake. 

It was certainly a surprise. 

That evening we had dinner at the Houseboat Grill. This was situated on the other side of Montego Bay on Bogue Lagoon, which is part of the Montego Bay Marine Park. 

There was a small ferry that took the guests the 15 metres from the shore to the boat. They rang a bell each time guests arrived or departed. 

 

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December 9, 2017. Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Even though this was officially my birthday, we were up at 5am to say goodbye to Hayden and Andrea. They were on an early flight back to Berlin, via Miami and Zurich. 

The rest of the day was spent by the pool. 

Late in the afternoon it poured down. The rain stayed with us until the next morning, with more torrential rain overnight. 

The rainy weather had caught up with us again. 

In the evening we had our last Jamaican meal at Scotchies. This was a traditional jerk restaurant that was a short drive down the road from our house. 

It was a meat fest. 

We had Pork Rum Ribs (Scotchies secret recipe), Jerk Pork, Jerk Chicken and Spicy Pork Sausage. 

I did like the jerk. 

There was very little in the way of fresh vegetables to chose from. 

We had Festival (deep fried sweet dough), Roast White Yam and Breadfruit. 

It all tasted like starch. 

In Jamaica you can practically ‘jerk’ anything. Jerk chicken, pork, beef or fish were always high on the menus. 

Jerky is meat that has been trimmed of fat and then dried and cut into strips. It often includes salt, to prevent bacteria, and can have spices added and can even be smoked.

The word ‘jerky’ comes from the Quechua people, a Pre-Columbian tribe from South American. It means ‘to burn meat.’

It had been a great trip to Jamaica  - made even better by having the family with us for my 70th. 

While the weather fluctuated, there was one constant – the nightly melodic chorus of the tree frogs. 

I am sure, given enough time, they could be taught to sing “Happy Birthday to you…”

Part 2: USA again – Titusville to Miami, Florida.

Monday, August 20th, 2018

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November 26, 2017. Orlando to Titusville, via Melbourne, Florida, USA.

On our way to Titusville and after more excellent Googling from Thea, we found the Drunken Monkey for a morning coffee

They had great coffee and a very interesting approach which separated them from the run-of-the-mill coffee chains.

Their positioning was funky, relaxed and very ‘hipster’ They even boasted Anzac Cookies. I wonder if any of the locals had any idea of what the  acronym, ‘ANZAC’ stood for?

This bohemian café was just out of the Orlando CBD and on our way towards Titusville.

We had head of Melbourne in Florida many times. Mainly from people wondering if we came from there, when we told them where we were from.

We also hired a car in the US that came from Melbourne.

So now it was time to visit.

Both the town of Melbourne and Melbourne Beach were nothing to boast about, but at least we have been there now.

We discovered a great Brew Pub for dinner with, as we have come to expect, no stress, great food, excellent, non grovelling, Staff and exceptional beer. 

As they say in their publicity: ‘On any given day, you’ll find at least 20 rotating craft beers on tap…’

This makes choosing one very difficult.

The Playalinda Brewing Company has two pubs in Titusville, the Hardware Store, in downtown and the Brix Project, which is six miles south.

We found the latter, which is their main brewery and distribution centre.

Like so many of the good craft breweries we have visited in the States the different approach isn’t confined to the beers. At the Brix Project the lighting, furniture, taps and signage is either locally sourced or repurposed from the original building, that now houses the brewery.

 

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November 27, 2017. Titusville, Florida and the Kennedy Space Centre, USA. 

The room and facilities at the Days Inn were fine but the breakfast was yet another ‘disposable affair’. 

The only items that didn’t end up in the bin, were the things you ate. 

And they really should have been there as well. 

The main reason for being on this side of Orlando was to visit the Kennedy Space Centre. 

Sputnik and the Space Race were part of my upbringing. 

I still remember standing outside our home in North Balwyn in 1957, waiting for the blinking lights of the Russian satellite to pass over. 

Then in July of 1969 I took a half day off University to come home with some friends to watch ‘man walk on the moon’

Since 1968 the Kennedy Space Centre has been NASA’s primary launch centre for human spaceflight.

It has been involved in or witnessed the Apollo, Skylab, the Space Shuttle, Constellation and the International Space Station projects.

Our tour of the Kennedy Space Centre took us past the launchpad for the new reusable Space X project and into the control rooms used for the Space Shuttle and the Apollo Five launch.

One of the most impressive sights was the Rocket Garden. Here there was a display of at least seven rockets, none of which had ever been launched. Which isn’t surprising, considering that in those days rockets we only used once.

The stats for the 25 year operation of the Space Shuttle Program were also interesting and impressive.

There were 33 missions flown between 1972 and 2011. There were 207 astronauts that flew 202,777,343 kilometres and spent 307 days in space.

That night dinner was at Bapa’s Bistro and Bar at the Holiday Inn. This was American dining at its most average.

We should have returned to the Playalinda Brew Pub.

 

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November 28, 2017. Titusville to St Petersburg (St Pete Beach), Florida, USA. 

This was a day of driving.

We were heading east to St Petersburg and had a detour to Tampa on the way. 

Tampa, like Orlando, is a 20th Century city. 

Although the history of the Tampa area dates back to 1,000 AD, the main growth of population and industry was in the later part of the 1900s. After World War II there was a major expansion of bridges, highways and tourists. The mild Florida climate was a magnet for holiday makers and retirees escaping the bitterly cold northern winters.

In the evening we found, yet another, fabulous brew pub. 

The Sea Dog Brewing Co. was only about 5 kilometres from our hotel at St. Pete Beach. 

We looked for an Uber but the app didn’t seem to respond. The receptionist at the hotel suggested that we use the ‘almost free’ local service.

Free Beach Ride is like an Uber but the only payment that the driver receives is tips. The drivers have to pay for their petrol, while the van is owned by a separate company. They make their money from the local advertising that’s emblazoned all over the van. As they say on one their website it, ‘Tips for trips.’

We caught it there and back.  

 

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November 29, 2017. St Petersburg (St Pete Beach) to Miami, Florida, USA. 

We had breakfast at a great little café and bakery right over the road from the hotel. 

Café Soleil was French and the pastries were as good as you get in Paris – light, fluffy and very fresh. 

The best we have had in the US. 

We had heard about the famous Don CeSar Hotel and, as it was on our route, decided to stop off and get some snaps.

Developed by Thomas Rowe and opened in 1928 it quickly became a retreat for the rich and famous. At its prime it was frequented by F Scott Fitzgerald, Al Capone and Franklin D Roosevelt. It is also known as the ‘Pink Castle’ or ‘Pink Lady’ – as soon as you get close you realise why. 

It’s pink, very pink.

It has both Mediterranean and Moorish influences in the architecture, with the final building costs escalating a staggering 300% over budget. 

After the death of Thomas Rowe in 1940, it had a number of different reincarnations. It was a military hospital, airforce convalescent centre and a veterans hospital. After nearly falling under the wreckers ball in 1969, it was refurbished and returned to being a hotel, reopening in 1973.

It was a 430 kilometre drive from St Pete Beach to Miami, which took us over the Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Known locally as the Skyway it is over 6.7 kilometres long and spans Tampa Bay. It was named after the politician who came up with the idea of a bridge and was completed in 1987.

That night we found the Batch Gastropub in Miami. It had great food, wine and beer but unfortunately there was uncharacteristically bad service. 

 

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November 30, 2017. Miami, Florida, USA. 

I worked in the morning then we caught the free aerial rail service to Downtown. This is a great transport system that ran from just near our apartment in Miami.

We were booked in for an Airboat tour of the famous Florida Everglades. The bus left from the Holiday Inn at the port and it was about a 65 kilometre trip. 

The Everglades are about 1,900 square kilometres of tropical wetlands. It’s the only place in the world where there are both alligators and crocodiles. 

Our Airboat trip was aboard the Bush Whacker, which was ‘piloted’ by a young girl who was determined to show us a good time. We went slowly at first then sped up, flying over the water, leaving a rooster’s tail of spray in our wake.

We managed to see lots of birds but only one alligator, or was it a crocodile?

 

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December 1, 2017. Miami, Florida, USA. 

Miami was founded by a Cleveland woman, Julia Tuttle, in 1891. She purchased 259 hectares of land on the north bank of the Miami River.

She gave away some of this property to the railroad magnate Henry Flager. This was in exchange for him bringing a rail line and development to the area.

After the railroad arrived in 1896 the township boomed and it was incorporated in the same year.

In the afternoon we took a 90-minute sightseeing cruise on Miami’s Biscayne Bay. 

It was an interesting way to see Miami and get a feeling for how the rich and famous, and just the filthy rich live. 

There were some pleasure boats in the marina that were worth as much as some of the waterfront properties. 

After that we walk around downtown Miami and then back to our apartment.

December 2, 2017. Miami, Florida, USA to Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Today we were flying to meet the family in Jamaica. 

But first we had to drop off the Hertz rental and before that we needed to fill the tank. 

Using the traveller card to get petrol isn’t always that easy. That is when they require your zip code (post code) as verification. 

Hampton’s, 3188 didn’t work. 

Once we found a petrol station, that would take our card, the next challenge was to find the Hertz drop off point. 

We found the signs directing us where to go. Then the signs ran out and we found ourselves heading out of the airport. 

Eventually we asked for directions, at a staff car park, and got put on the right road. 

Even checking in at the American Airlines counter had its issues. 

It was all automated which resulted in long delays, as the kiosk was not that intuitive. 

Again we needed help and eventually got our baggage checked in and our boarding passes. 

I am very sceptical about this type of automation. It’s designed to help the airline’s bottom line, not the customer. 

When we finally got airborne, our path took us over Biscayne Bay. We then got to see the boat trip we took yesterday, from the air.