WHERE THE HELL IS KODAK
The day for my trip to the reed islands is perfect. Clear skies with the sun out. My tour van picks me up and off we go. I am with a tour of about 14 people from all walks of life around the globe and so to the floating islands of Uros. I’m only doing a day trip (about 5hrs) but you can stay overnight with one of the families. It’s really weird to walk on these islands made of reeds. To me it seemed like a lot of hard work to live on them. They have to get everything fresh each day, no refrigerators here, or dry the fish and other meats out in order for them to last and then there are the problem of getting rid of their excrement. This is done everyday also with boats coming in and taking it away for them.
Lake Titicaca is very clean and you could see the bottom of it for a long way out until it got to deep. Some countries could take a leaf out of Peru’s book in this regard. And the other thing is they are so tolerant. Families live right on top of each other so to speak and if there is a dispute then they all have to sit, discuss and resolve before they can go. Well when you see how they live you understand this rule. I had however at the end of the day decided that if it weren’t for the tourists that go see these islands they would have ceased living on them years ago. To me it didn’t really seem practical at all but it was totally different and very interesting. All in all it was an enjoyable day and I can now tick of the Floating Islands of Uros on Lake Titicaca, Peru. As I’m writing this up my mind is drifting back to there. Wow it seems so amazing that I have been to this place and so many others.
Next on the list for Kodak and I is Copacabana, still on the shores of Lake Titicaca but further around and in Bolivia. I must say that the whole of Peru is so well set up for tourists and apart from the little bag thing in Nazca there was to be no other concerns when taking any other buses within Peru. The same can be said of Puno. The bags are tagged and put on the bus as soon as they have tagged them. The bus station was a buzz with buses and people and friendly helpful Peruvians. Most of the people on my bus are backpackers with a few locals and Bolivians.
But for this trip which is to be around 8hrs there is no toilet. After 3hrs one of the guys, (Canadian I think) asks the driver to pull over as he needs a toilet stop. The bus driver ended up being out the door first as he was busting to and then the whole bus just emptied out. Everyone went to the toilet. Ladies just got out, down trousers, up skirts and did their business. Can’t be shy in these circumstances! The men did wait with backs turned for us all to finish though. Back on our merry way and the next toilet stop goes the same way and then we reach the border. There are toilets here that everyone makes full use of.
To get over the border you have to first go to the Policia (police) and have a stamp put in your passport and then go to immigration and get the exit stamp out of Peru and a ¼ km walk over a small rise to Bolivian immigration. Get stamped into Bolivia and join your bus again. Easy. Accept if you don’t listen like one guy didn’t and neglected to get the Policia stamp out of Peru so he got left on the road in no man’s land. Bolivia wouldn’t let him in as he hadn’t been stamped out by Peruvian Police and Peru wouldn’t let him back in because he had the exit stamp from immigration and as far as they were concerned they weren’t going to stamp him in to get the Policia stamp out. What a goddamn awful situation to find yourself in, but at the end of the day his fault for not listening and how he mucked it up I will never know as everyone followed the bus driver to the Policia building first, then to the immigration office second. What he was doing while we were doing that god only knows. After waiting for a ½ hr to see if they would let him through one of the guys he was travelling with just told the bus driver to go. We left him standing with immigration officers in the middle of the road at the Bolivian border.
Another lesson learnt, listen and keep your wits about you. Kodak and I finally arrive in Copacabana around 8pm. It was a long day and after a very nice meal we hit the sack for some much needed sleep.
I seem to have struck it just right weather wise as the next morning is brilliant again. My thought of following the summer weather from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere is paying off. Today we are off to the Island of the Sun on a day trip. Down to the little jetty, buy your ticket, hop on and off you go. It’s a nice cruise to the island and takes us around an hour. They isn’t really much to see here but this island has been inhabited since the beginning of Bolivian and Peruvian history. Again they have a home-stay programme running and fill you in on all the myths and history of the island and teach you a traditional dance. A Canadian girl I sat next to on the bus did the overnight stay and enjoyed it.
On getting back into Copacabana I then strolled up a hill behind the town to take in the magnicent view. All tourists that hit the town tend to take the walk up here. There is the local plaza and churches and small souvenir shops to see and all in all an enjoyable little town. The restaurants are good to. Lovely people, I like this place.
Next morning sees us on the bus again and off to La Paz. It’s a great trip to take. Like every other place there is so much to see. The scenery is out of this world. The lake, the dry desert-like fields with green crops that are irrigated. The climate is surprisingly dry up here yet you are so high up. I always thought the opposite would apply. Wrong again. We get to Kasani and have to disembark and buy a ticket for a ferry across the lake to Tiquina. The bus goes on a separate barge. On the Tiquina side we have time to have a quick look around, get something to eat and go to the toilet. It’s always a good idea to carry toilet paper with you but most places you will find a lady at the toilets who asks for a few coins in exchange for toilet paper. I don’t mind this, as for some of them it is their only source of income.
Back on the bus and into La Paz. Wow, you come around the corner at the top after going through what I would call the outer residential area and there below you is La Paz. You wind down the hill and into the centre of it all. People, cars, vans and buses. It’s another metropolis. Australia is on my mind again when I see how many eucalyptus trees there are. South America just loves these trees. Getting to the hostel is a breeze as the taxi driver knows exactly where it is. Turns out I am in the most popular hostel in La Paz, the Loki. This hostel will turn out to be the best one I have stayed in to date. 177 beds and the whole time I was there it was full. The girl I sat next to in the bus from Puno to Copacabana (Nicole) and another English girl I met in Arequipa (Katie) are both staying here. The night of course we just had to spend in the hostel bar catching up and swapping stories. Great way to spend the evening/night.
The following day I head to the famous Witches Market. Anything you can dream up I’m sure you can buy here and it’s so cheap. I reckon they must fly it in by the plane load. You can even buy dried lama foetuses, not that you would have a use for them, but the Bolivians bury them under their houses as they are supposed to bring luck. Hmmmmm. And finally I get to buy a new camera. That was rather a laugh as the shop attendant didn’t speak English and my Spanish is still hit or miss. Usually miss but I’m getting exceptionally well at charades. We get the camera onto English so I’m ok and the book has over 10 languages, including English, as I brought a Sony Cybershot. Cost; $US 40. Priceless. Memory card included. I’m happy. Walking around La Paz, as you can imagine, is hard work as it’s at 4000mtrs above sea level. Now everyone says it’s the highest capital city in the world but actually Sucre is the capital of Bolivia. However it is the highest city in the world. At the hostel is a girl from London who has been living and working there for a year and after seeing a notice she has posted a decided to take some Spanish lessons with her. I also book to do a mountain bike trip on the World’s Most Dangerous Road.
Next day starts with getting up at 5.30am and heading down the hill for breakfast at our meeting point in a restaurant to do the mountain bike ride. There are 6 of us from the Loki and others. With breakfast done we get on the bus and go. We climb even higher to our start point at one of the mountains that you can see from the La Paz streets. Sh.t it’s cold up here. There’s snow on the ground and by the time we get to the first stop point to let everyone catch up the ends of all my fingers are numb. I then have one hell of a time trying to hold onto the handle bars for the next hour or so. The first part luckily is on sealed road so I manage to keep going. Once we hit the metal part of the road my fingers have thawed and I’m really in my element now. Everyone is looking at the drop-off which is 300mtrs down the bottom and into the river. If you lose it here and for the next 30kms or so you aint coming back. People have been killed doing this ride but that doesn’t faze me and when it’s time to start this part of it none of the guys are willing to go first in behind the guide. That gave me the opportunity to get right behind him and that suited me. When we got to the first stop, to again let everyone catch up, the guide turns around and says to me ‘you’re right up my butt and pushing me hard, you must have done this before.’ When I explain that yes I have heaps and that my son, his mate from school and I used to scream down this certain hill at 80kmph he then understands that I am not going to let up and intend to be right behind him all the way to the bottom.
Next stop he simply calls me Bloody Crazy. The rest of the guys in the group just can’t get over the fact that I’m pushing so hard and one says to me that’s he’s jealous of the fact that I’m better than him. It wasn’t a matter of me being better than him just a matter that I have done mountain biking lots and know my limits. Give me a good stiff wind on top of a hill and I simply get pushed over by it. (Yes this happened once and left everyone around me in fits of laughter, but it was funny) I’m a very petite person. Practise and technique make all the difference. Anyway I put so much into going done at break neck speed that when it came to small hills I didn’t have the power in my legs to get up them. The end was a welcome sight as by now we have discarded as much clothing as we could and the rest is wet with sweat. We get a shower and change into our spare clothes, have a meal and watch a video of the ride then on the bus and back to La Paz. Our guide, an Irish guy keeps us amused with stories from other rides and the best one he had up his sleeve was a girl who did the ride and when at the bottom asked ‘are we at the place where we left this morning’. Oh my god, 45kms downhill all day, never laughed so much in all my life!! We got back to La Paz at 8.30pm. Slept like a log.
Now I don’t know why but Bolivia has really captured me. Maybe because I’m a giant in this country. Well 5ft6 is giant as they are all 5ft nothing. No, on a more serious note they are a friendly and happy people. They aren’t in your face when you go shopping unlike Cusco in Peru and they help you out best they can. There’s just something about Bolivia. I made a comment to Kodak that I would return again and the following year I did just that.
Love it here, even though when walking down the street you get a fright from Policia with machine guns at the ATMs and the shoe-shine boys with balaclavas on. Kodak and I make a night trip to Uyuni on the bus. God the road was like corrugated iron all the way. Didn’t get much sleep. In the moonlight I could see desolate landscape like I imagine the moon to be. We went through several villages that where just slums really. All the buildings were made from pieces of old boards and rusted sheets of iron. For such an amazing and interesting destination it still is one of the poorest countries in the world but at the same time draws you in with what it has to offer. I wouldn’t actually mind living here.
As soon as we get to Uyuni the bus is surrounded by tour operators. I took a few pamphlets and headed off to get breakfast and decide which company I will go with to see the Salt Plain. You have the choice of doing a day trip or 2 days and some even do 3 days and will drop you off at the border of Argentina in the south. After I had talked with others in the Loki hostel I had decided before getting here that I would do just the day trip. Most had said the 3 days was too much and you spent alot of your time in the vehicle just belting along all day with a few stops here and there that are interesting but its a long trip.
I end up in a vehicle with a French and Danish girl and off we go. First stop is a train grave yard, then to a small village on the plain then out onto the salt plain itself. Wow it is so blinding. 12,000km square of salt at what seems the top of the world. Don’t make the mistake of lowering your sunglasses to see how bright it is. It’s bright!! It wasn’t till a few days later that I really take notice of how many blind people there are in Bolivia, and there are lots. I got some great photos from the plain and Kodak ended up going head first into it and came up looking like he had been playing in snow. We made a visit to the salt hotel before driving for an hour in a straight line to this huge rock which pokes out of the salt and has cactus growing on it. This is where we had lunch. There were tourists all over the place and even tour buses. Mirages everywhere you look and it also deceives your eyes at close range. Someone would walk away from you about 10steps and they looked like they were a ¼ km away. It came out in the photos like this to.
I just ended up with being fascinated at something every day. Doing the day trip was enough for me. It was hot, bright but so worth it. The next day in the town was a fiesta in honour of some god that I didn’t quite get to the bottom of but all the school children were dressed up and there were celebrations in the street. Their clothes and costumes had all the colours of the rainbow and there was traditional Bolivian music from adults accompanying them as they went through the streets. It was great fun to catch this and my camera is working great to. After watching this for some time I go sit in the main plaza and have a look in my Lonely Planet book trying to decide where I will go when I get to Ecuador. That night Kodak and I bump our way back to La Paz. I have decided to stay another week and take Spanish lessons at a school. My teacher has no idea what is about to hit her. I’m already feeling sorry for her.
My first Spanish lesson goes ok and I’m getting ahead of myself thinking I might get the hang of this. I was to end up doing 4hrs each morning for a week. One afternoon while walking in one of the streets up behind my hostel I bump into Mike. Mike is Canadian and we hit it off immediately when we met in Argentina. He’s around 6ft4 and the easiest guy to talk to but will he send you an email – hell no – and that’s why I had no idea he was in La Paz. The first thing he asks me is to help him. Why, what has happened. Well turns out he met this girl in Chile and she decided to follow him to Bolivia and he didn’t like her to the point where he wanted to see her again. But she invited herself along anyway and he wanted my company the next night at dinner as he wasn’t too sure what he was going to talk about with her.
Mike also had lost his backpack. No I should rephrase that, he had it stolen by making the biggest mistake in the book. He was the only one in the taxi and had paid the driver before getting out and while Mike was walking to the boot of the car to get his pack the driver took off. That has to be the oldest and most heard of trick in the book that taxi drivers use. Put the bag in the backseat with you, get it out and yourself then walk to the driver’s window and pay him, then shut the door you got out of. I have done this many a time now. The dinner goes off ok and this girl seems nice but the first 2 seconds told me she was not Mike’s type. The rest of this story I think is better left unsaid.
I was to have my own encounter with a pint sized Israeli that decided he would like to get into my pants. What is it with guys when they are away from home and especially the younger ones? I mean I’m old enough to be their mother!! The day of our departure to Quito in Ecuador comes around and Kodak and I have a wakeup call at 5am.
Thankful I don’t have many early morning flights on my trip. On getting into the plane the head steward puts out his hand to shake mine and comments ‘what amazing coloured eyes you have, so blue’. We end up talking like we have known each other for years and in the end I have to sit down as everyone is in their seats and waiting on me, bit embarrassing. It wasn’t till later when I got off the plane I realised I didn’t get his email. The flight is good though as it follows Lake Titicaca more or less right up the middle. I have a 2 ½ hr stopover in Lima and this is where I find the one and only place to smoke in all of South America. Yes it’s at gate 23. There’s a cafe there and you have to buy a coffee or tea and you can sit and smoke for as long as you like and go on wifi to pass the time.
Arriving in Quito and getting to the hostel goes without a hitch. Oh but it is colder here and it is at altitude also, only 1000mtrs lower than La Paz. Quito was to turn out to quite fun. I was to stay at a very popular hostel and meet and make friends with people from the US, Canada, England and Belgium. Some people think that I’m a live wire and leave them for dead with the energy I have but this Canadian Sean out did everyone. He was living in Sydney, Australia and had also live in Gisborne, New Zealand. He was into climbing, surfing – well you name it he had tried it.
One day there he decided he was going to climb the high peak up behind the Teleforica. Stupidly Pat and I said that we would also give it a try. The ride to the top of the teleforica takes a half hour and takes you up 1km. When you get to the top you are at 4000mtrs above sea level and it is so cold up here. Pat and I were wrapped up well but after walking only a short distance give up and head back to the cafe and toilets. Sean and the others didn’t last much longer realising the going was tough and there was no way they would reach the top before dark and get back for the last trip down in the cable car. Didn’t matter and the photos from up there turned out great. You get the most wondrous view over Quito and because we had all been to lots of places within Quito we are able to point them out.
I also decide to take another week of Spanish. Oh my poor Spanish teacher!! I think he found the going harder than me. One afternoon I head off with a group of people to go ice-skating. At first no-one even believed me when I said that you could go ice-skating in Quito but you can. It took us awhile to find the place but it was the best fun and what a laugh. I have never done it before and in the 2 ½ hrs I spent on the ice I only ended up on my butt 3 times. The arrival of 3 kiwi girls at the hostel allows me to have some company on a visit across to the coast and a place called Puerto Lopez. I had been thinking of going this way and when these 3 turned up and said they were going there I asked if I could join them. Their answer – yes. Great so a few days later we head to the bus station for a night bus. Great thing about Ecuador, you don’t need to book a bus as they are heading to all sorts of destinations nearly every 20minutes. Apart from that there are several companies to choose from.
Wow the road to Puerto Lopez is something else, well the first part of it anyway. Huge hills that the bus winds up for ages. The jungle areas that we go through is where all the banana passionfruit comes from that I had been buying in the street and introducing to hostellers whom had never heard of it let alone seen it. There are lots of Ecuadorians with their children on this bus and when we get only 10minutes into the movie I am wondering why they are showing it. If you have seen Mel Gibson’s ‘Apocalypse’ then you know what I mean, if you haven’t seen it well I can tell you it is rather violent. God even I couldn’t look at some parts of it and I know for sure that there is no way I would let my granddaughter watch it. I’m sure those poor kids must have had nightmares for a week but none of them seem to cry, scream or even flinch when this movie was on. Getting to Puerto Lopez was an all night affair with some of the roads quite rough, especially the last bit leading into our final destination. It was heavenly to finally get there.
Our first day in Puerto Lopez we were introduced to an Italian who had lived in this small town for so long he had nearly forgotten how to speak his native language. He became our tour guide for the day. First off was to a lovely secluded beach. We spent just hours swimming and sun-bathing. Then we were taken to a thermal pool. God it smelt, reminded me off Rotorua in NZ, and it was only luke warm but we got to meet locals and we a place I’m sure not to many people have been.
Then we headed in the opposite direction and bumped our way along to another beach. I must say the beaches out here are stunning and the water is crystal clear and warm. Never have to ask someone if they are hopping in. A lookout point we went to was amazing. It is owned by a German gentleman and he had also been there for many years. His eldest son attended highschool in Guayaquil but came home every weekend. He was a very interesting man to talk with. The sun is piercing hot all day and there was a ton of suntan lotion used. When we got back to our little town later in the afternoon we were in time to see all the fisherman come in and the off-loading of the days catch. There are pelicans for miles (as you can see from my pic). Boats are rowed out to the bigger ones then rowed to shore. No wharf here to make their jobs easier. That evening our guide for the day invites us all to his home for dinner.
There are some stunning and very modern homes in Puerto Lopez. Yet another place I decide I wouldnt mind living! After a pleasant meal and conversation we are taken back to our hostel. I like this place with its Great Dane dog, lizards and these over-sized looking rat things! The cockroaches I could have done without especially when they crawled into my bag. Hope they get smouldered!!
The following day we head down to the beach to meet up with a guy we organised the night before to take us to an island for a look around then snorkelling. A guy we meet the night before on our wanders is coming with us. Marc was his name and he turned out to be quite the photographer, and his was his birthday to boot. I wasn’t feeling the best all day so didnt do the snorkelling bit but still had a great time. On getting back to shore we invite Marc to dinner and head back to shower and change. When I walked into my room, which I had to unlock first, I notice my bag unlocked. I quick look at my wallet, little bit on cash, passport, yellow fever certificate and a few other pieces puts my mind at rest that nothing is missing and it all looks the same. Clothes haven’t been moved, thrown out and put back in, but I swear I locked it.You know one of those nagging thoughts that stays with you because you just know you locked it!!
Anyway off to dinner we go and Marc I know, very much appreciated company on his birthday. I am still friends with Marc and keep track on Facebook and have even stayed at his place in Williamstown. I told him I would love to visit one day and over a year later I did. HI MARC. The following day the other three girls decide they are going to head further south so Marc and I head to Manta. We bump our way back to Manta. God it seems to take hours and its so hot. Marc is going to stay the night but when I tell him I’m heading to the airport to see if can get a flight to Quito he decides to come along. When I just rock up to the TAME counter and ask if its possible to get on the next flight to Quito and buy my ticket there and then Marks like ‘what the hell, I might as well come to’. He was amazed that I could and did just rock up and buy a ticket. We turn around to see this lonely red and black backpack being pulled along by a small tractor on one of those baggage carts all by itself. Not 2 minutes later we are getting on the plane and heading to Quito. If memory serves me right its only just over an hour and a half to Quito.
Anyway there was no way I was going to spend another 8-10 hours on the bus from Manta to Quito and this way I can still catch a bus and be in Riobamba well before dark. Brillant! So I get to the bus station in Quito and buy a ticket and then I’m off to Riobamba. Yes, just like that. I love the fact you can do that everywhere in South America and Quito is so easy. There’s just buses to everywhere all the time and a load of bus companys to choose from. No worries and inexpensive and also just as comfy as anywhere else and the roads are better than in Peru. The countryside along the way to Riobamba is flat of rolling and cultivated with many crops. I didnt get to see many tractors but I dear say they where there somewhere. I arrive in Riobamba and find myself next to a market. Couldn’t help but take a photo of all these poor hens stuffed in a box. The noise was more like a scream, well it wasnt a cluck thats for sure.
After arriving in Riobamba and finding out that the train trip I wanted to do is only on a Thursday (its Tuesday) and that I would be needing to get up at 5.30am and travelling to Alausi and then catching my train and then having to travel all the way back to Alausi and then getting on a bus and back to Riobamba all in one day I decide to give it a miss and spend the one night in Riobamba.
So the following morning I get up and head out. This town is like most others with markets and shops to buy just about anything you can think of. The streets seem to be narrow but it is a smaller city if you like and in the centre of the country. I decided for lunch to follow the locals. By this time I had learnt that the best places to eat of course is where the locals go. Good food, good prices. After lunch Kodak and I head to the bus station.
Next lesson – always tell the taxi driver where you are going to. Saves a lot of time and in this case in Riobamba lots because there are two bus stations. One at the south end of town and one at the north end of town. The rest is self explanatory. So from the north station we head off to Banoś. It only takes about 2 hrs and it goes very fast. It was rather hot when I got into Banoś.
After booking into my hostel off I go for the usual look around and head back to the hostel. For some reason that I can’t explain I decide I need to look at my travel cards. I have 4 and also my debit card from the UK and another NZ card and 1 credit card. I only have this many because of being away from home for so long. On pulling half my clothes out of the backpack I discover my money belt is gone. Panic set in and I just went blank. After sitting for a half hour trying to get my head around it I know that it had to be in Puerto Lopez that it was stolen. At this point I have a bit of a cry. The frustration got to me and it has been the only time in 2 years of travelling that I have cried. After pulling myself together I getting phone numbers and travellers cheque numbers etc….I head down to an internet cafe to make phone calls and try to put a stop to things.
This was really frustrating because of the time difference. To my surprise my traveller cheques $US4000 had been cashed in Puerto Lopez the day I had gone to the island snorkelling. Yes the day I came back and swore I had locked my bag. Well they where good – REALLY GOOD because they had to go right down into the bottom of a second pocket that you don’t know is there unless you take half my stuff out. To this day I still don’t know how they did it. They obviously knew the person that worked at the bank to in order to cash them and get this 2 hours later they got another $500 off the same cheques. American Express figured the bank teller themselves then went back and did this for themselves somehow. Needless to say they were just as amazed as I was.
They had also tried to use my NZ card but when the pin number was wrong a second time it was overridden by my bank and stopped immediately. They didn’t bother to try my UK one. All in all the first night I spent 4 hours on the phone and the following night another 4. My stay in Banoś was not what I wanting it to be. The 3 other kiwi girls turned up and after telling them they were just as surprised. They had all their stuff all over the room and nothing had got from their packs at all. After a long night on the phone it is decided I will head back to Quito and hire one of the Spanish teachers there and head back to Puerto Lopez with them as my interpreter to get a police report. More money. I get back to the Secret Garden Hostel and get an interpreter and 2 days later we are flying into Manta. Then it’s on the bus again to bump my way back to Puerto Lopez. We are told it is a direct bus but then find ourselves inland and having to change buses.
It just seemed to go on forever and we don’t get into PL until 2pm. Then the fun starts. First I have to go to the Policia and make a report. He then goes to the Political Policia and tells them what has happened, and then it’s to the Camasaria to ask their permission to do the report and ask if they will sign it. When he has permission we then go back to his office and he hand writes what I tell has been stolen. Next I have to pay him for this and then it is back to the Camasaria and they have a look at his report and I then pay them so they will sign it after he has had it typed up on official Policia Report paper. You get the drift.
All this time I’m thinking if this was NZ I would be done for bribing the Police. You don’t dare suggest payment to the Police in my country yet here I am paying the Police in Ecuador. I can say honestly that the whole thing made me nervous. Anyway after walking between offices and 3 different lots of Police, Jackie then tells me the report will be sent in a few days to her so she can deliver it to me at the hostel. I’m now thinking that I might not even get it and another lot of money has just gone. By the time we finish and get back to the bus station the last bus to Manta has left. What now! This man at the bus station knows another who has a good car and will drive to the airport. Out comes my wallet again and for another $US60 off we go. This poor guy is driving like a bat out hell so we can make it in time and he keeps saying ‘this is Ecuador, nothing is on time’. Well up to this point every bus and plane I have taken has always been on time. And you guessed it.
We get to Manta airport and our plane had left on time 10 minutes ago. So out comes the credit card (they didn’t get this one) and another lot of money gone. SHIT what the hell else is going to go wrong. We catch the next flight and finally 9.45pm that night we get back to Quito. I’m starving by this time and to tired so go straight to bed, not that I got to sleep in a hurry. God let tomorrow be a good day!!!
Photo compliments of Marc Freeman
Well the following day turns out to be OK. I went up to a statue of the Virgin Mary on a hill overlooking the older part of the city. Then to soccer match with a group from the hostel. I’m back at the Secret Garden Hostel. A real find this one. Anyway this soccer match is a real eye opener. We had a guy from Scotland with us. My god did he get into it in a big way and none of us could actually understand a thing he was saying. We spent more time laughing at him than looking at the game. After the game had finished we make our way outside and then watch the happenings that are going on.
Supporters are trying to start a riot and low and behold the Policia are just backing off big time. We nearly find ourselves in the thick of it so move away and then watch all the bottles start to get thrown at the Policia. Must say that I got nervous there for awhile. This goes on for 20 minutes before we move on and leave them to it. We catch a bus back to the nearest drop off point to our hostel and then sit to talk about the whole afternoon. Ever noticed that everyone everywhere always goes home and talks about the day especially when it has had the heart pumping. We just can’t help ourselves can we.
So to what am I going to do next? Kodak and I think it must be time to see the Galapagos Islands. This is something I have always wanted to do and I need time to get my mind off the last few days and have some fun and meet new people. So the following day I head down to the corner and catch the tram downtown. It’s really good having it so close by and all I have to do is walk over a block and turn left and I am at the agency that I had googled that has last minute spots for these trips.
At the same time I get some passport photos down as my spare ones had been stolen along with me drivers license, international drivers license, a letter from Canadian immigration and other bits and pieces. I get all booked and paid and have to go back the following day to pick all the tickets up. So now I have the next thing to look forward to and I must say it was good. My enthusiasm for all things Ecuadorian is starting to grow again. I went window shopping for 2 hours and brought some souvenirs before catching a taxi back. By this time I am so far away from where you catch the tram I can’t be bothered walking all the way back. My taxi driver speaks a little more English than most and between my Spanglish and his English, Jose and I have a pretty good conversation. He was a really nice guy.
Next morning I head downtown again to get all my tickets. Yes I am off to the Galapagos Islands. On walking back up the street I want to have another look at something I had seen the day before and I have to cross the street at the lights. As I am doing this a taxi starts tooting madly at me. I’m just about to let rip as in Quito it is a past time off all drivers to relentless toot all day like it is having some effect on getting the traffic to move again. Noise pollution, anyway I look around and who is grinning at me but Jose. What are the chances? There has to be close to a million taxis in Quito. No kidding. Not many people can afford their own cars so public transport and taxis are just everywhere, so I reckon it has to be around a million to one chance of seeing the same one again.
This same night I get an email from my daughter saying the parcel I posted in Peru has gotten there and everyone is stoked with their presents. Anyway to get some sleep as I have to be at the airport for a 7.30am departure. Our flight takes us to Guayaquil first to pick up others that are on the trip and then onto the Galapagos. Flying in you can see how clear the water is. It looks so inviting already. I am on the ship ‘Santa Cruz’. The young girl sharing my cabin is from Guayaquil and works for Metropolana Tours who does the bookings in Guayaquil. This is her 3rd time as she gets a trip once a year if she wishes to take it. For lunch we have buffet.
Following that we are put into groups and the afternoon we get to go ashore and practice our snorkelling. I haven’t down this in years but it took no time to get the hang of it again. The water is so clear and warm. I could have stayed there all night. That night at dinner I am sitting at a table with a guy from Germany. He is sponsored from companies in Germany and has a t-shirt on with ‘Mike the Bike’. He is cycling around the world. (In January 2009 I was in Tokomaru Bay, NZ and meet another guy from Netherlands who had met him on his travels. Small world.) Getting to sleep is no trouble and I have now found the smallest showers in the world. The next morning when we wake up we find ourselves at a different island. Cont…..18
A new day dawns. I have already seen sea lions, birds including flamingos and fish of all sorts and taken a photo of a seahorse. Breakfast is buffet and the selection is great. We head ashore to a new island. This island we get to see iguanas by the hundreds. The big male albatross sitting on the nest while his partner is out to sea. We walk on hardened lava that has formed amazing patterns and see the blue-footed boobies. Their feet seem oversized for their body.
But the best part of the day is snorkelling. The fish and manta rays by the dozen, but best of all was just floating in the sea with a turtle no more than 4 inches from my face. We floated just looking at each other for 10minutes before he decides to move on. The fur seals go whizzing past your face at 50kmph or more and give you such a fright and they do it continuously. I don’t know how many times I got a fright but it was loads and to just watch them is so invigorating. If only we could swim like that. They twist and turn and invite you to try it and there is no way you can keep up with them.
By the time you have turned around they are already behind you again and I swear they are having a good laugh. I went over right by the rock face as the fish tendered to be over there and when you drifted to close to the rocks all you had to do was pushed yourself off. The surf was amazing gentle and the water so warm. I don’t know how long we were there but it wasn’t long enough. Never is when it is something you are having so much fun doing. I have more photos again and even some of penguins. After we were all back on board our inflatable outboard boat we go into a cave. We have the choice of whether we get in the water of not. 25 metres or so below us the bottom of the cave is covered in manta rays. Now it’s not the manta rays that stop you getting in the water, it’s the temperature. It is remarkably colder in this cave. Not 40 metres back out it is so warm. Three guys from my boat hop in and have a dive down and play around which we can all see as the water is crystal clear but they don’t last more than 10minutes because of the cold.
There were also the fur seals darting around everywhere. I could have watched this for hours. Back on board is time to relax and mingle with the others. There are people of all ages from all over the world. Lunch is served to us and so is dinner. Yep, you don’t have to lift a finger. The waiters remember your name from the first time they meet you so every time you walked into the dining room they would greet you by your name. I was most impressed and the food was excellent. Note to oneself – take another cruise because if it is anything like this I won’t have any complaints.
There is a jacuzzi on the top deck, bar and you can do karaoke. The captain sang for us one night and wow he could sing. In the main lounge a screen is pulled down and the guides put on view all the photos of us. We didn’t know they were taking photos of us taking photos of everything we were seeing. Who ended up on the big screen? KODAK. By this time of course everyone knew who Kodak was. Gives you a different take on things also to see it up on a huge screen. The drama of last week is well to the back of mind and I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings. If you ever have the chance to go to the Galapagos Islands then go. I can see why my cabin mate is taking her 3rd trip.
The next day sees us all go ashore on a different island and then the afternoon is spent snorkelling. It’s fantastic. The thought of this all having to come to an end is not something I want to think about. There are the usual things we see today along with penguins and those super quick sea lions. One of the guys in our group kept getting bombarded by a bird when he was snorkelling to the point where this bird actually pulled out some his hair. Most of us couldn’t help but laugh every time this bird came in for another dive at him. He then ended up spending a lot of snorkelling time diving under when this bird lined him up. This bird had something against him!
Our last day is spent getting to the island of Santa Cruz and going to the Charles Darwin Research Centre. WOW! The giant turtles of the Galapagos are giant all right. My guide told me it takes 8 men to lift one. NO – I think it has to take 12 men. They are massive. I put my hand down by the foot of one of them so people could take a photo and try to get an idea of just how huge they are. They can live to over a hundred years of age. One that was there is believed to be 108yrs. I thought they moved at a reasonable speed to considering their size.
It’s pretty hard to put into words just what it is like to be here and to describe what I have seen and experienced. It really is a place you have to visit for yourself to appreciate the place, the people and the wildlife and creatures of this amazing place. Needless to say if I have the chance to come again for another 4-5 days I will do so. Sadly the day is coming to an end and it’s off to the airport and my flight back to Quito. Amongst the Galapagos Islands are only two airports. One used to be an American Military Air Base. We flew into one and are flying out of the other. We first fly back to Guayaquil to drop off the ones that started their journey here. This time Guayaquil has dried out somewhat as when I fly down at the start of my Galapagos adventure it was flooded, as was pretty much all the south of Ecuador. Quito is wet and cold, nothing like the Galapagos which was so warm.
The following day is my Mum’s birthday and I give her a call. It’s good to hear a voice I know from home and to catch up on all the gossip, not that I have really missed that. The Policia report had been delivered to Jackie while I was gone so I have made the decision to move on again. I have booked a flight and have to get up at 5am so I borrow a phone off Lucy (from Ireland) and head to bed. I have met some great people at this hostel and will endeavour to meet them somewhere in the world again. We all had the company of a Bolivian doctor from La Paz one night. He and his wife where in Quito for a South American doctor’s conference but they didn’t like staying at the posh hotels they provide for free, instead they liked to stay at hostels to meet people from all over the world. Like me. I find them so much more fun and sociable than hotels, unless of course, you have had enough and want a change to keep your sanity. Hello to Kylie, an Australian, living in Dublin. I meet her at this hostel and have visited her in Ireland. This hostel is The Secret Garden. So Where the Hell is Kodak going next?
But first to get there we have a 4 hr stopover in Panama. Now you are probably thinking why not fly direct from Quito and maybe have a stopover in Bogota. Cost. To do it that way was actually nearly twice the price. In this part of the world it pays to check out several search engines and the airlines directly. Anyway I’m thinking what the heck am I going to do in Panama airport for 4 hours? Oh brother, leave me here. This, so far, is my favourite airport for layout and DUTY FREE SHOPPING! It has got to be close to ½ km long and duty free shopping on both sides. Heaven. I loved it and oh did the time pass by so fast.
The onward flight to Cartagena goes without any delays and Kodak and I are soon taking our first footsteps on Colombian soil. This is despite all the protests from friends about how dangerous Colombia is. (Its bullsh..!) Walking out of the airport and into a hail of taxi drivers and having not much Spanish is never fun but I find a taxi driver that speaks English. Then all hell broke loose. The other taxi drivers didn’t like it as I had walked past some of their cars to go with this driver and next thing there is a bit of pushing and shoving going on. The Policia had to get these other guys off my driver. Another incident that made the heart go bump, bump! No problem. Now that may sound a bit scary, but no more than anything else. The Policia are armed and it was the driver who was getting it. The competition is fierce.
I had booked myself into a hotel as I knew that the area of Getasami where the hostels are is rough to say the least. I stayed down in Bocagrande. I loved it down here. Right on the beach and 2 pools at the hotel. If I don’t want to eat hotel food two buildings away is McDonalds. I didn’t end up eating there as breakfast, lunch and dinner are provided by the hotel and the selection was fantastic. And to top off they serve you.
So I do my usual thing and dump my bags and head off to have a look about. First stop was the bar downstairs and immediately start a conversation with the bar owner. He just so happens to sell emerald jewellery and twice a week goes to the cruise liners that call at the port to sell them there. Nice bloke and as it turned out most nights were spent in the bar talking with him and two of his friends. One of these guys, Juan, I hit it off with and his sister who didn’t have a job was to spend endless hours with me talking Spanish.
Now a word of warning. Be prepared to nearly get man-handled by woman wanting to give you a massage and put beads in your hair. Every time I stepped onto the street they were there suggesting I would like both. Became rather annoying actually. There are the taxi drivers that just sit outside all day waiting till someone wants to go somewhere. There’s usually 4-5 of them and once a day they end up having an argument about something. There is the guy that sits there trying to sell sunglasses all day, woman who come along with fruit bowls on their heads and Henry. He sells tickets for the day trip on a boat to Rosario Island. Then there are the horse drawn carts that do a circuit forever trying to get you to go for a ride. I refuse simply because their horses are so skinny and obviously not looked after. The poor things are so thin, hot and thirsty and look like they are going to drop dead on you.
My second day there I did a city tour and meet Genny from Bogota. We had a lot of fun as she didn’t speak much English but taking photos and gesturing and pulling faces about things is a universal language. My second full day there sees me heading to Rosario Island. On the way we see one massive cruise liner in the port. I am going on a cruise on one of them one day for sure. We first call in at a small island and go to an aquarium and swim then onto Rosaria Island for lunch. This is nice. The water is so clear and warm. You can do a banana boat ride or spend a little money buying the usual stuff from the vendors working the beach. Most enjoyable day of swimming, white sand beach, palm trees and sun. It finished all too soon. On the way back to port there is a Colombian couple that strike up a conversation with me. Lovely people and this was the way I was to find most Colombians especially if they spoke only a little English.
This same night Genny comes to the bar again and I learn a little more about her. She works with a company that imports wine and alcohol to Colombia. We are on facebook and she often sends me a message in Spanish of things. Next day I head to Club Nautica and see if I can put my name down to catch a boat to Panama City. To get the address of this place I went to a hostel in Getasami called Casa Viena. I walked in and immediately spotted this guy that I had meet and talked with in the Loki hostel, La Paz, Bolivia. The street this hostel was on had not been a lie and this guy had been beaten up and his wallet stolen at the start of the alley that leads to this hostel. I was looked at real hard to when walking down here but I can remember things I was told when doing my security guard training and I’m sure it has served me well on occasions.
After visiting Club Nautica I walk for about 2kms along the shore until getting a taxi back to the hotel. I have no problems with trusting the taxi drivers in Cartagena.
Travelling here is something you do at considerable risk and is the reason why I have not been. When in Argentina last year I met two great Welsh girls who should have been met there by two friends from Wales. They were not there with them as they had stopped off in Venezuela with the intention of spending 2 weeks on holiday exploring that country. They were questioned at the airport in Caracas for an hour and then taken to the coast, told ‘this is your driver, this is your car, this is where you can go and when, and if you don’t agree then you can leave the country’. The girls decided to leave the country and because they were so shock-up they flew back to Wales.
On getting to Quito about 2 months later I was to met 3 Australian guys who had been in Venezuela and said ‘do not go there’!! The police and military had held up their buses and come on board demanding money for all passengers. In their case $100 each time. Buy the third hold up in one day a young Japanese man had only $80 left so they hit him in the face with the butt of a pistol. (These incidences occurred last year and it may be different now )
This is a shame that travellers are not really to welcome here as there are many places I wanted to visit. Angel Falls for a start. Island of Margarita, highest cable car in the world near Merida………
On having said all that, there are people that have been recently who have found it safe enough and enjoyed themselves, so it is down to the individual.
(Please remember that all opinions expressed in these pages are mine and only mine.)
GUYANE (French Guiana )
The above three countries I have not visited. I think they get missed a bit by the average traveller being so far over on the other side and they aren’t countries talked about around the dinner table.
Hot on the coast and cooler in the Andes. There is, like all countries in South America, lots to see. Lima itself was not so appealing to me and from all accounts a little dangerous. When picked up from the airport, the first thing my hostel driver did was lock the doors. When I gave a startled look it was explained to me a that at the traffic lights young men in groups with open the doors and try to either remove your bags or remove you from the vehicle and beat you up in order to obtain money, cameras, more or less everything you have with you. I only stayed in the city for a day and headed to Nazca. All the coast of Peru is desert but from the ancient aquaducts there is a fresh water supply from the Andes. Some of these water channels, which are mainly underground, are up to 1000km long. I went to where 3 of these channels came out in a huge well. Apart from the Nazca Lines which you view from the air, there are also pyramids and old burial grounds which are being excavated on the plains next to the Nazca plain. The wind here travels at 40km per hr all day, everyday. The puzzling thing is that the sand does not reach the Nazca Plain which is only separated by a dried up river ( until the rains and snow melts in the Andes ). The distance between the two plains is approx. ½ km. My guide, and no one else to date, has been able to explain this.
Arequipa. This city, half way between Nazca and Lake Titicaca, is surrounded by 3 volcano’s. The main one being a volcano called El Misti. This city nearly has a million inhabitants and is right in the Andes. Surprisingly it has a dry climate. I stayed here for 2 days so as to acclimatise to the altitude. It has some interesting history along with very old buildings and museums. Most of the travellers I met here where doing the same as me. If you don’t want to go from sea level to 4000m above sea level then stop off here for a night or two. The altitude here is 2,380m
Puno was the next jump up in altitude to 4000m above sea level. It is right on the edge of Lake Titicaca. From here you can do the floating reed islands. My feeling is that if it weren’t for the tourists visiting then they would no longer be living on the reed islands. Puno is very smelly if it rains, which it had to do when I first got there, and to make it worse I had altitude sickness. My friend Amy was fine. Coca tea – does it work- I don’t know. I have tried it a few times now and personally don’t think it does anything for me.
Cusco is where , obviously, everyone heads for to see Machu Picchu or to do the Inca Trail. I took the backpackers train and did the day trip. It’s a long day but so worth the effort. Kiwi’s note the Totara tree where the buses drop you off. Machu Picchu left me with more questions than answers. It is an amazing place. If you are fit you can climb Huayna Picchu. On average it will take an hour. Its hard slog though! Cusco has lots to see and do. Amy and I did a bus tour of the surrounding villages and went to the temple of the sun in the sacred valley of Urubamba. This too is a mysterious place. You can stand in front of the sun temple and look down on this whole ancient site but when you put your head around the corner it nearly gets blown off. The wind whistles past here at 40kmph ( or there abouts ). It is like this day in and day out. How? Why? Who knows, just another of those unanswered questions that fascinates me.
I finally got sick of rice in Peru. It’s served up with everything. Peru grows acres of rice and also potatoes but for some reason you don’t get potatoes with your meals. They grow over 2000 varieties of potatoes. (they export nearly all their potatoes) Between Puno and Cusco there are huge flat plains ( the altiplano ) where alot of crops are grown. Not far from Cusco is also a huge plateau where the new airport is going to be. My first thought was how sad as it is such a beautiful place. But that’s progress for you. They hadn’t started moving in the machinery when I was there, but I dare say they have started by now. The other thing which tests your patience here is the people right in your face trying to sell you things. I haven’t found any other place in my travels where the local people do this. Keep walking and say no. You have to because you can’t buy from everyone.
Ingrids Travel Tips for Peru
1) You don’t have to do a tour for the Nazca plains. Go to the airport and just go ask one of the pilots that will be standing by his plane. If you go in a group of up to 5 this is better. It is about a third of the price this way. Hostel and hotel owners will insist that you can’t do this, YOU CAN!
2) In Peru they tend to load your bags onto the bus once everyone is on. In Nazca no-one got on the bus much to the driver’s annoyance. Stand your ground and make sure the bags are loaded before you hop on. Peru was the only country that I didn’t feel at ease about my luggage.
3) Sit on the side of the bus that bags are loaded. This way you can watch at every stop to make sure no-one is taking off with your bag. It does happen every now and then, but luckily it’s not very common.
4) For going to the floating reed islands in Puno by your tickets from your hostel, it’s cheaper. ( Yes the opposite from Nazca )
5) Wear good footwear for Machu Picchu.
6) Don’t forget your tourist stamp from Machu Picchu in your passport. Got mine!
7) If you’re fit , Huayna Picchu is absolutely worth the hard slog.
8) If you want to post a parcel home from Cusco take a photocopy of your passport with you. They provide boxes and tape.
9) Try guinea pig and lama. Let’s face it, you probably won’t have the chance to again so go for it. It’s not bad actually!
10) Don’t be out late in the wrong area of Lima. Sadly violence towards tourist here is on the rise. They will take your top brand Nike shoes if the opportunity is there for them. Young youths on the streets at night are only a problem in Lima. Elsewhere in Peru you see signs ‘protect the tourist’ and plenty of police keeping watch.
11) The bus system in Peru is good, just the roads are hard work, but don’t hesitate to take them. It’s not as scary as it seems really.
12) Sad but true is also the fact that you will see men urinating in the street. If your urgently need to go the toilet just ask in a shop or restaurant. Sometimes it may require you to buy a cup of tea or coffee.
13) As in most South American countries have some toilet paper on you all the time. At public places like bus stops you have to pay to use the toilet. I don’t mind this as they are only trying to make a living.
14) Take the backpackers train to Machu Picchu. I found it interesting with amazing scenery and of course there are those switchbacks. This train ride also gives you lots of photo opportunities and a chance to meet people from all over the world.
15) Enjoy Peru and take your time, there’s a load to see.
Want to learn Spanish at your pace before you get to South America then…
ECUADOR, including the Galapagos Islands.
This country is so easy to get around with buses from the main bus station in Quito going to every destination in the country nearly every ½ hour. The coast of Ecuador from Manta to Guayaquil has beautiful warm clear waters and small off shore islands to go snorkelling for a day. From Quito you can do the equator or go to places like Banos and of course many more. Mountains are close and rivers for rafting. Ecuador seems to have it all. Amongst all the fruit you can buy I found Banana Passionfruit. I had heaps of people at the hostel eating them as they had never come across them before. In New Zealand the banana passionfruit vine is now considered a noxious weed. In Ecuador they are taking over and grow just everywhere.
Best hostel in Quito is ‘Secret Garden. Breakfast is about $5 but its as much as you can eat and they also do a tradional Ecuadorian meal every night which is about the same price. They also have live music one night a week. You will find yourself with endless places to go and endless activities to enjoy. This is another country so set up for tourists and its not hard to find out anything you want to know.
Second to none of course are the Galapagos Islands. If your budget allows, don’t miss them! It is an amazing experience to snorkel with turtles and fur seals. The waters are warm and clear and surprisingly calm. I could snorkel not more than 1metre from the rocks and when I got close, would just push myself back out a little. There are blue–footed boobies and the albatross (males ) sitting on the nests. You can get very close to take photos. Then there are the many hundreds of iguanas. Ugly things I think, and not as big as I thought they were. Flamingos.……. The ship I went on was great, as was the service, and each morning you woke to find yourself at a different island. The Charles Darwin Research Centre is where you get to see the enormous turtles. It takes 8 men to lift one. Personally I think they lied, and that it must take as many as 10 of even 12. You are allowed to get right next to them but no touching. I still think today WOW and I would love to take everyone there to see the Galapagos. Ecuador is another country I will revisit. Mind you I think the whole of South America is great and that I will go back to all the countries there many more times.
Ingrids Travel Tips for Ecuador
1) Watch your belongings in this country. If you put it down they think it belongs to them and ‘bang’ it’s gone.
2) If robbed, get on the phone quick. My room was broken into ( I wasn’t to realise this until sometime later as it was done in such a way that I didn’t immediately know ) and by the time I got on the phone they had cashed us$4000.00 And no, they didn’t get my passport. I little obvious that they knew the person that worked in the bank.
3) The hostel I stayed in at Quito did spanish lessons. The tutors came to the hostel. If your hostel runs this service take advantage of it. This proved helpful for me as I hired one of the tutors to be my interpreter for getting the police report after being robbed.
4) The people like it if you attempt to speak in spanish. I still have to do a bit of pointing and other hand gestures to get understood, but hey it makes for a bit of fun and laughter.
5) Before going to Ecuador make sure your budget allows for the Galapagos Islands. It would be a shame to go all that way and to miss them. It is an unforgettable place.
6) Don’t forget a visit somewhere along the coast. The beaches are beautiful and the water so clear.
7) Do the Teleforica when in Quito. Amazing views over the city.
8) Remember you are at altitude and its hard work just walking so take your time.
9) Make a point of going on a bus to a small town within an hour or so of Quito each day. Buses are going to somewhere all the time and this is an easy way to do the equator.
10) Visit the Otavalo markets. This is something to remember for life.
11) Just like in Bolivia – if travelling alone put your bag in the backseat with you. If the taxi driver tries to say no it will be because he wants to fill the vehicle up with others and there is no way of knowing where you will get taken before being dropped off, or the cost.
12) Remember that Quito is at altitude so dont try to do to much the first day or so.
From 2010 a new International Airport for Ecuador is going to open. This will be about a ½ hr drive away from the outskirts of Quito, towards Cotacachi. Im not certain which month this opens.
This is also another country I love to visit and have been to twice. People think that it is rather dangerous to go there and especially if you are female and travelling alone. It’s no more dangerous than any other South American country. My first visit was to Cartagena on the Caribbean coast in the north and my intention was to stay for 3-4 days and I ended up staying for 9. I was right on the beach in the area called Bocagrande. It was here that I met a lovely young Colombian couple on holiday themselves from Bogota. I went to visit them again this year in Bogota. Next month I am going back to attend their wedding.
The Old City of Cartagena is surrounded by a wall which you can walk. In one corner before a bridge there is a very neat night club, and it’s very popular to. Many Americans have brought homes within the old city and have done a great job of restoring them. They are painted all the colours of the rainbow and it is a nice place to walk around to see them all. There are also lots of cafes to sit and have the best coffee in the world. After all my travelling I think theirs is the best coffee.
Of course Colombia is the place to buy emeralds (unless you go to Indonesia or India where they are so cheap). Buying emeralds here means you will get a certificate of authenticity and from what mine they came and when. I brought several rings for family members and myself and then a very rare Tourmaline ring. Throughout Colombia there is no problem finding ATM’s or internet cafes.
Bogota is worth a visit but probably even more so if you have someone to show you around. There is Moserrat high up on a hill which is reached by cable car. This gives you a fantastic view over the city. There is a good bus system in Bogota, you just have to work out where you want to go and what bus to take. My friends took me outside of the city. We went past a big lake and then to some very high waterfalls. Sadly all the sewage from Bogota goes into this lake then over the falls. We then wound down into a very green valley and had a traditional Colombian meal for lunch. It was so tasty.
Ingrids Travel Tips for Colombia
1) When in Bogota go to the gold museum. It shows the history of gold and its uses in Colombia.
2) You can walk to the cable car to go to Monserrat from the centre of town if you like walking. Alot of taxi drivers understand a little english. I have found them to be honest and friendly.
3) If you fly into Bogota don’t change your money at the money exchange there. They absolutely rip you off. When you come out from picking up your bags you have to walk right past them. Keep going, go left once outside and go to the departures check- in area. Go up the stairs and go left. There you will find an ATM.
4) Go to the Emerald trading house. Here you can view raw emeralds of all colours and sizes. I could spend hours looking at them.
5) Not far out of Bogota you can go to places where you can pick your own strawberries. Your hostel or hotel might be able to help you on how to get there. I was taken by my friends in their car.
6) Colombia is very cheap because of the exchange rate so get out your money and spend. It will go a long way. They have good fashionable clothing and leather goods.
7) I have not yet visited all the other main cities but intend to. Friends have been to Medellin and from all accounts it is a nice safe place to go.
8) Walk the city wall of Old Cartagena.
9) Do a day trip to Rosario Island when in Catragena.
10) Cartagena has a big port and lots of cruise ships calling in. You can catch a small sailing boat from Cartagena to Panama. If you go to Club Nautica in Manga they will put your name on a list.
CHILE and Easter Island ( Rapanui )
This is one of the countries of South America where the Police can be trusted. Good thing to know if you run into trouble. Santiago City has a good underground rail system which can take you to all the main tourist things you wish to see. The surrounding area of Santiago and north of here is very dry and desert like. South is more beautiful and inviting. Chileans, I think, speak the fastest Spanish in the world. The fact that one of my Mexican friends finds them hard to understand is testament enough for me. Chile boasts the Largest Swimming Pool in the world. La Serena is worth a visit and from here you can do a night trip to view the stars from an observatory.
San Pedro de Atacama is a delightful village up in the Andes and from here you can go to a thermal region and see the sun come up while floating in a hot pool. Nice but boy do you freeze when you get out. There are tours to small villages that consist of about 5 homes and a church and then there is the salt lakes you can take a quick dip. These ones are cold and a half minute in there is about all you can stand but there’s no chance of drowning because of the salt concentration.
Ingrids Travel Tips for Chile
1) If you fly into Santiago try to also book a shuttle which will take you right to your accommodation. You will be given a number via email and this can be taken to a kiosk before exiting the baggage pick-up area. Its great and you don’t have to deal with taxi drivers who will likely cost you twice the price and means you don’t have to try working out the buses into the city.
2) Airline of Chile is LAN CHILE and I like them, but they are notorious for overbooking flights, so always get there early to check in. If you miss out they do compensate you quite generously but do take a long time to pay up. They finally paid me 6 months later and then a month after that decided they made a mistake and took money off me, needless to say the email they got was not nice.
3) Buses are going frequently to all destinations and are cheap and a comfortable enough way to travel through-out the country.
4) Go to an observatory. Take your camera as you can photograph Saturn and its rings through the telescope.
5) From La Serena you can see a huge cross on a hill. Catch the bus and see the amazing view from the inside of it, including one of the soccer stadiums that hosted world cup games.
6) Bus is more or less the way to get to San Pedro de Atacama. Lots of accommodation in this little town and normally no need to book ahead.
7) From here you can do an early morning visit high up in the mountains to see the sun come up and swim in the hot pools.
8) Don’t forget to try sandboarding. Yes they have huge sand hills at San Pedro, and for my first time trying it, it was such fun. Also got to the salt lake for a swim. This is more a photo opportunity as the water is so cold. No chance of drowning here.
This, to me, is a magical place. This island is a dot in the ocean literally. There is one small beach to go swimming, but it has very beautiful white sand. The Moia Statues look inland except on one hill where they look out to sea. There are many different places to see them on the island. The main street is always a buzz with people and the local young men ride their horses into town to go to the local bar. There are horses everywhere and dogs. I had one follow me from the wharf to my hotel, approx. 2km. Then it trotted off to follow someone else. The fruit and veges they grow here are very big in size. Not sure how they do it, but these can be seen down the main street every morning where the locals go to sell them.
There is an old volcano to go and look down into. There is a reasonably good road up to it and from there pretty much all of the island can be seen. You also get a good view of the airport which is served by LAN Chile. Other airlines fly in like Thompson Fly from England on chartered flights.
There aren’t really any tips to give about this island as it is so small and friendly and not crowded but do hire a car or jeep and take your time doing the whole island. I was there 3 days which to me was a good amount of time. This is not an island where anything happens at a fast pace. And who cares anyway.
Remember to get to the airport early to get checked in. As I said, LAN unfortunately has the reputation of over booking their flights. I got caught, but it did mean they put me in a nice hotel and I got to have another day on the island. (This meant I actually had 4 days) This is a great island to totally relax and chill out.
Below is a very interesting website I hope you will visit. The link has been sent to me by a researcher Cate Newton. Many thanks Cate. She became interested in Easter Island after she was assigned a research project in the field. From that research, she ended up publishing a great article which you can find here;
Another land of such contrast simply because of its size. Beautiful beaches, inviting cities and of course that huge area called the Amazon jungle. Brazil is on my list of countries to revisit as I have only seen a little corner of it.
There is Rio de Janiero and the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema. They are long, with a rather dangerous surf. The sea goes very deep, very quickly, and a local was to tell me there are lots of drownings each year due to the undertow. Exercise caution when swimming here. The best and safest place to swim is where the 2 beaches meet. From here is also an excellent spot to take photos. As you can well imagine, you get a better view and a load of photos from Sugar Loaf Mountain and the Christ the Redeemer Statue. There is a restaurant at the top of Sugar Loaf. You can go tandem hand-gliding just out of Rio. Get the best view of the forest, Rio and land on the beach.
Florianopolis. My favourite place in Brazil, to date, is Barra de Lagoa. This is on the east side of the island of Florianopolis. It is wonderful, as are the locals that will join you down on the beach at night around a bonfire. Not alot of Brazilians speak English, but the few that do show alot of interest in where you are from and where you have been. This is a nice spot to learn to surf. Brazil has an abundance of surf beaches and small islands off-shore to go diving and explore. Off the coast of Angra dos Rios in Rio de Janiero state there are some 300 islands to dive till your hearts content.
Bahia de Salvador. Known for its colourful culture and colonial era buildings. The streets are cobblestone and it boasts a high number of churches. This is the place to soak up Brazilian culture at its best.
Paraty. This smaller city has popular backpacker’s hostels and is a delightful place to visit. It also has cobblestone streets and is becoming more popular as word gets out about this place. It’s situated between Florianopolis and Rio de Janiero
Amazon. Manus is in the heart of the amazon and from here boat trips leave to take you way up the Amazon River. Belem is at the mouth of the Amazon.
Fortaleza. This is now becoming a large resort city. Popular with people from all over the world wanting to soak up the sun on some of the world best stretches of beach. You can play hard and party hard here!
In the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul there are the Jessuit missions to discover. Yes I think Brazil has it all – trekking, caving, diving, hiking, rafting, mountains, forests, caves, lakes, waterfalls……….
Which brings me to Foz Iguazu. If you have entered Brazil from Argentina here then don’t miss seeing Itiapu Dam. Most people miss it as they haven’t even heard of it. Well now you have. It is totally mind blowing when you see the size. Until the 3 gorges in China were built it was the largest hydro dam in the world. A video is shown first before you go in a bus to actually see it. The statistics on the building of the dam with amaze you for a start. Something not talked about however is the fact that waterfalls bigger than Iguazu where lost when the dam was filled. There are photographs in existence of the falls but I haven’t yet viewed any.
Ingrids Travel Tips for Brazil
1) Be aware that if you fly within Brazil you will probably be told that your flight is direct, then to find when you get on board, you are heading to Sao Paulo. Most flights, domestic and international, go through this city.
2) Sao Paulo and Rio de Janiero airports do not have many signs in English and no-one around to help. Rio has a tourist information desk. When I was there no-one at this desk spoke English. Bit pointless as far as I could see.
3) Make time to visit Florianopolis. It’s nice to see the colours of this city, then head to the east and stay near a beach and chill out. Perfect place to rest up and get to know the locals.
4) If you have the time and money, go right up the coast from Rio and make your way to Fortaleza. Long beaches and places of interest including Salvador.
5) As I said in my piece on Argentina, and above, make sure to visit Foz Igauzu and go to Itiapu Dam. The stats and info will astound you. This place is stuck in my memory!
6) Buses are not so comfortable in Brazil so take a night one so as to sleep and not notice. No smoking on the bus, only the driver, and wait for it to come through the air-conditioning.
7) Local buses have turn-styles in them. Biggest problem when you have a backpack on as they are so narrow. Take your pack off, through it over the turn-style and then go through. Chances of help from anyone – slim!
8) If you have to take 2 local buses to get where you are going then stay on the platform. This way you don’t need to purchase an additional ticket. Step off the platform and you will have to but another ticket.
9) From Rio airport you can catch a bus to Copocabana and Ipanema beaches. Look at a map of where you are staying and the driver will drop you along the beach as close to your street as he can.
10) Bus also run about every 40mins along the beach to the airport. Saves a taxi fare, but if you go by taxi know what terminal you are leaving from as there are 2.
The natural reserve heliconia is a jungle lodge in the amazon. Please take a look: www.amazonheliconia.com
Oh I love Bolivia. I think it is the people that just seem to draw me in. They are very poor, but always have a warm smile on their face. There is lots to do in Bolivia.
The Salt planes of Uyuni, Mines of Potosi and the Amazon Jungle. The Witches Market of La Paz is not to be missed either. There are a number of good hostels throughout the country with the most popular in La Paz being the LOKI. If you want to get in here make sure to book 2-3 weeks before hand, or you wont get in.
There is plenty of ATMs for getting money and resturants, entertainment etc. Bolivia is easy to travel around even though the roads are rough. This does make the bus trips a little hectic but really this is the only way to travel. Buses go at night to all major destinations, from all big tourist cities and towns.
Lets not forget that all important place, Lake Titicaca. A visit to Copacabana is a must and from here you can do isla de la luna on a day trip of stay overnight with a family that lives on this island. From La Paz you can do a day trip to the ancient ruins of Tiahunaco.
Ingrids Travel Tips for Bolivia
1) Do the famous mountain bike ride down the Worlds Most Dangerous Road. It is for all experience levels and they will wait for you if you are a slower rider. It is loads of fun with some great scenery on the way. It is an all-day ride.
2) If you are game, go do the prison visit in La Paz. It does cost but is worth doing and go in a group.
3) La Paz is one of those places you shouldnt get drunk and walk back to your hotel or hostel. Get a taxi, lets face it, it is one of the cheapest countries in the world that you will visit so a taxi fare isnt going to break the bank.
4) Shop in the witches market. There are some absolute bargains to be had and the varity of things is amazing. Even travel bags if you need one. The clothing fashion and shoes of all brands will astound you!
5) If you are travelling by yourself and need a taxi always put your backpack in the back seat with you. Pay the driver at his window after you have got yourself and backpack out of the car. My lovely Canadian friend Mike put his in the boot and paid the driver, got out, and on getting to the boot of the car the taxi then drove off. All he had left was what he was standing in.
6) Do the Salt Plains of Uyuni. You will get some amazing photos. Wear sunglasses as the glare is blinding. I only did the day trip as many people say the 3 days is just the same thing each day with lots of time spent sitting in the vehicle. This is entirely up to the individual. Remember the salt plains are 12.000km sq.
7) Dont miss the Potosi silver mines. Not such a good idea if you are very claustiphobic as you go approx. 1km down in a lift.
8) If you want jungle, head north. You might be as lucky as my Aussie friend to step out of your tent in the morning to nearly step on a anaconda. ( Yes I have seen the photo. )
9) The main airline to go in and out of La Paz is TACA. I have flown them several times while in South America and find them to be up there with other top airlines in the world. They are good and you can do your booking online.
10) Dont rush Bolivia!! Its to nice a country to be rushed and the cheapest place you will find to learn spanish. Go for it!
Buenos Aires of course is a must and I think everyones starting point for the country. Be ready to listen for some fast spoken Spanish and good steaks. And very late nights as nothing happens until the sun has well and truly gone down. Siesta means don’t try shopping in the afternoon except on Florida Street. Here you can get just about anything you desire and need. Most shops have at least one person who speaks English. It is worth putting in the effort to learn a few words of Spanish before you head here or to any country in South America.I personally found Argentina to be 3rd world, more so than I expected. Their cars tend to be very old and the streets away from your main tourist areas are dirty. There is considerable pollution and packs of dogs roaming the streets at night.Having said that, the night life is certainly there for the party goers and it is not unusal to get picked up at 4am to be taken to the night clubs.There is no shortage of hostels in Buenos Aires or any of Argentina, and loads to do, whatever your interests. The most talked about of course is Iguazu Falls. Take you time and do them over 2 days as it can be so hot there.
Dont forget that Argentina is a big country and there is something for everyone in places like Mendoza and the much talked about cold place ( to me anyway ) Ushuaia. If looking for something warmer head to Mar de Plata. Remember if you are there in the summer holidays this place will be packed. There’s the Pampas region also, which seems to go on forever. Buenos Aires is the ideal place to catch a ferry over to Uruguay.
Ingrids Travel Tips for Argentina
1) Learn a little spanish before you get there.
2) Look out for gel or anything vile being thrown over you. They then try to come to your rescue with water, meanwhile a second person is robbing you.
3) Guys, and girls to, take only the money you need when you go out to the clubs. If you are silly enough to try walking back to you hostel, chances are very high you will be robbed. If your drunk, which we know you will be, get a taxi!!
4) Dont believe everything they tell you. Organize your own flights and buses as they are very good at telling you the wrong time to catch them. Go to my links page to find airlines and booking engines.
5) Take a night bus from Buenos Aires to wherever. They are pure luxury. Hot meal, movie, alcohol. Wide leather seats that recline right down and pillow and blanket provided. Breakfast in the morning before you get to your desination. I love them. Their airline however, has missed the boat on this sort of service. Honestly, they are the best I have come across in the world.
6) If you go to Puerto Iguazu, make sure to jump over the border to Brazil and visit Itiapu Dam. Its provides 78% of Paraguays power and 26% of Brazil. It blew my mind. So worth the visit but most travellers havent even heard of it. (More on this under BRAZIL )
7) Get some throat lozengers for Buenos Aires. Very polluted and your throat will be constently sore.
8) Visit the one and only true foreign exchange in Puerto Iguazu. Its fasinating and will change any currency in the world. It is the only one I have come across.
9) Get out into the less visited places like La Cumbre where I went. Its north of Cordoba and in the 18 years the hostel owner had been there I was the first kiwi to stay.
10) Most certainly go have a steak. There are as great as they say!!
11) Be in line for the ATM by 8.30am. By around 11.00am the machines have run out of money. If you intend to ride the buses keep hold of your coins, they are in short supply, and no change is given on the buses.
12) Look out for dog poo when you step into the street in the morning.
13) The footpaths are very narrow in Buenos Aires so if you need to step off onto the road to get past people, LOOK BEHIND YOU. The buses and cars run extremely close to the kerb.
Airlines of Argentina; www.aerolineasargentinas.com
My visit to Costa Rica in 2008 was short as I did not feel comfortable at all. With my visit into the centre of San Jose to post a parcel home I was told to ‘go home Americano’. I replied ‘sorry but I’m not American’ This did not seem to do the trick and I was consequently followed down the street. Feeling most uneasy I entered a shop and pretended to be interested in buying something. The 2 young men stayed outside for 10mins before moving on. Crime is on a steady increase in Costa Rica so be careful and don’t carry too much money or your passport. There are tourist police in Costa Rica in all the major tourist spots now. Daylight robberies occur and sometimes with weapons. So is it dangerous? Some say not, some say yes. Most enjoy it and have a trouble free holiday.
Having said that there are lots of outdoor activities to keep you on the go. Bungee jumping, white-water rafting, diving, hiking, snorkelling and more. Both the Pacific and Caribbean coast offer good diving and swimming. Caution should be exercised though as both coasts have strong rips, with sadly 6-12 tourists drowning each year. Pick a reputable tour company and go enjoy the outdoors. You can zip through the canopy on lines, hike up active volcanoes and swim in the beautiful clear water of the Caribbean all in one day and at night if you are there at the right time watch the turtles at Tortuguero beach lay their eggs.
On my bus from David in Panama through to San Jose there are some pineapple crops but for the most part it is jungle. The trip is rather long and winds on what seems like forever. Crossing the border was easy but took about 1 ½ hrs.
Costa Rica is also a very popular country in which to volunteer.
Ingrids Travel Tips for Costa Rica
1) Be aware of what and who is around you all the time.
2) Don’t wear lots of jewellery or expensive watches – this makes you a target.
3) To do tours pick a company with a good reputation. Ask someone who has already been there.
4) Go with friends when out walking.
5) I found that the taxi drivers could be trusted and they speak English. All the ones I used in San Jose knew where my hostel was.
6) Leave your passport at your hotel/hostel. They especially like to rob you of them.
7) Try to avoid carrying a big expensive camera.
8) Generally I found that the Costa Ricans did not like Americans, but it is best not to snap back if they accuse you of being an American gringo. (Maybe I just hit there at the wrong time?)
9) People love to visit Costa Rica and many have such a great time, so please remember this is just how I saw and experienced it.