Last update! Just added 88 pictures (starting with La Paz), check them out. Sorry for not doing it earlier...
So day five on Galapagos involved visiting the tortoise breeding centre and the ´wall of tears´. The breeding centres are cool but not as good as the normal Galapagos experience because the animals are in captivity. They´re doing a good job repopulating species killed primarily by humans though.
The wall of tears is a huge wall built for no reason other than to keep the convicts busy. They left them to die basically, no food or water just a wall to build. The convicts learnt to hunt for their food and two even escaped (one of whom still lives on the islands!).
On day six we had our third snorkel trip, had a trek to a massive lava tunnel (caused when the top layer of a lava flow meets the comparitively cold air and solidifies, while meanwhile underneath the lava continues to flow) and travelled to Isla Santa Cruz. I´m keeping it brief for the last few days because although it was great we largely saw more things we had already seen!
Day seven we visited the Charles Darwin research station, where we saw Lonesome George, a massive tortoise they are trying to breed to avoid his species becoming extinct (he is the last). We also had a fourth and final snorkel trip, a trip to Tortuga Bay (probably the nicest beach I have ever been on) and a group dinner which was nice.
Day eight we came home and started to go our separate ways... I am now in Quito killing time until my flight tomorrow. Just want to get home now but have a 13 hour flight to Madrid followed by a 2 hour flight to london. With stopover and time difference it ends up being a 23 hour journey arriving in London Weds evening.
That´s it, hope you enjoyed the blog and see you all soon...
Sorry for not updating, the site was down for a bit then I couldn´t get access. Even now I have extremely slow access (on the Galapagos Islands!). This is going to be a long update...
So anyway we stayed in Lima for four or five days not doing anything really apart from eating KFC! On the last day we went to a different part of town and checked out a church with underground catacombs. It was alright. For lunch we also went to the local Chinatown which was quite similar to the one in London. Err but that was it. Nice place though, the area we stayed in was cleaner and more civilised than anywhere else we had been to in South America in my opinion.
After Lima we went south to see the Nasca lines. There´s not really anything else to do in Nasca so we got down there, did the flight over the lines then got out. The flight itself takes 30 mins in a light aircraft, there were only six of us on board. To help people see the ground the pilot spins the plane from one side to the other, which made all of us feel sick. Only Nellie was actually sick though I think.
The lines are really cool - no one knows why they were made in the first place and they are a bit mysterious. For example one of the patterns is of a monkey, which the people living in the area when the lines were made should never have seen (monkeys would only have lived over the other side of the Andes). Weird. Apparently the patterns were formed by placing large stones on the ground, which when removed exposed the pictures. They were only discovered properly in the 50s by some American guy by accident when he was flying over the area. Pretty interesting. Will add some pics on Monday when I do all of the remaining places.
After Nasca we moved straight on to Huacachina outside Ica. It´s famous for having the largest sand dune in the world apparently. We stayed there for a day or two, went sandboarding (very very steep, good fun!) and dune buggying, which was amazing. The guy driving our buggy was going absolutely mental, really really fast, driving to the top of a dune, spinning round and heading down at full speed etc. Really good fun. A couple of times the buggy was airborne, the dunes were so steep.
From Ica we had a looong journey up to Mancora, in north western Peru. We had seen an advert for a Loki hostel up there (having stayed in Loki hostels elsewhere) and it looked like a great beach holiday, plus a convenient stop inbetween Ica / Lima and Quito in Ecuador. It was a nice couple of days doing nothing much in the sun, and was also pretty lively in the evenings so we took the opportunity to get drunk together for the last time(s) before going our separate ways.
Typically, mine and Nath´s last South American bus journey (from Mancora to Quito) was easily the worst. Instead of being picked up in our ´direct´, ´fully equipped´ tourist bus we were picked up by some guy in a van who only spoke Spanish so we had very little idea what was actually going on. Then he dropped us off in his mate´s car. From there we drove to a border town which was dodgy to say the least, it was like the last town before the end of the world. We couldn´t get through passport control because ´the computer wasn´t working´ so after about 15 minutes (with our proper bus waiting threatening to go) we just had to bribe the guy $5 to get through. The bus was pretty crap considering it was an overnight trip, and all of the seats were double booked so we had to move about 3 times before I kicked off. The bus was probably the hottest environment known to man, we were all sat there literally dripping with sweat which was nice. After a few hours the guy saw fit to open the ceiling hatches. Obviously it was pissing it down, but being rained on was preferable to outrageous heat. When we got to Quito we were frazzled but pleased to have got there in one piece.
We only had one day together in Quito before splitting so we just wandered around for a bit. The other guys checked out the Equator line while I went to my Intrepid meeting for the Galapagos trip. Sounds like the Equator trip is really shit so will give it a miss when I get back to Quito probably. That evening we went out for dinner then went our separate ways... Nellie and Steve were staying in Ecuador for a couple of days before heading up to Colombia. They arrive in London at the end of June (to live) so will see them soon enough. Nath was due to fly out on Sunday but looks like it didn´t happen... he will be back in London next week because of the volcanic ash.
And now I am in the Galapagos archipelago... I think the pictures will do the place more justice than anything I write so will keep it brief. I actually thought I was on a boat for the 8 day tour but we only travel on boats between islands etc and stay in (pretty nice) hotels at night.
On the first day we arrived on Isla San Cristobal (the second most populous island) at about midday. We were picked up by our local tour guide (only people from the islands are allowed to work here) and taken to the hotel for a rest before our first activity. We went up to a viewing platform to look out over the island, then mountain biked our way to a beach at the bottom of the hill. There were some sea lions playing on the beach and generally chilling out. Sea lions here co-exist with humans (don´t know the numbers but guessing there are more of them than us) which is extremely cool. They are literally everywhere and you can get really close. The animals in Galapagos are like strippers - you´re not allowed to touch but they can get as close as they like. Pretty sure that´s where the analogy ends though. After that we went back to the hotel, had dinner etc.
Day two was possibly the best day of my entire trip so far. We went to an island where sea lions live (sea lion island appropriately) then went snorkeling. While snorkeling we literally swam with tortoises, sea lions, sharks, millions of fish and on one occasion a marine iguana. These guys are the main reason I wanted to come here so I was pretty chuffed. He swam past us, rested underwater on a rock and started munching away on some lichen. It was so cool, and apparently quite rare to see. They are the only marine lizards in the world I think. They can stay underwater for an hour and have a salt gland, so when they get back onto land they sneeze out loads of salt. The sharks were amazing, and curious too but not hungry so stayed about 10 feet away from us. The tortoises are really cool but get scared if you make a splash near them so you have to swim really slowly to get close. The sea lions are amazing - they just want to play with you, the more you can mimic them by spinning around and swimming with them the more they like it.
On day three we had more snorkeling around travelling to Isla Isabella, via Isla Floreana. We also visited the ´Interpretation Centre´ which provides some history of and information about the islands. On land we had also seen loads of wildlife by this point - blue footed boobies (birds with blue feet which dive a couple of feet into the water to get fish before popping back up), frigate birds, albatross, lizards etc. We also saw some dolphins on the boat trip - I took 117 pictures on burst mode and one came out, which I think was one more than most people. Pure luck, they move so quickly.
Day four was an almighty 18k hike around a cordillera (like a crater - this one is the second biggest in the world) and then up a volcano. The weather (which until then had been scorching and fantastic but not condusive to hiking) worked out great, nice and overcast with some light drizzle. It was a good trek across some incredible landscapes, from lush vegetation to black rock. The last eruption here was only 5 years ago so the new lava rock is completely clear of life.
Day five, today, started with a boat trip to see some penguins (Galapagos penguins are weird and short but really cool) followed by some snorkeling during which we were about 5 feet from 7 sharks. One of them was about 2 metres long, pretty big. Shortly we will be going to Isla Isabella´s tortoise breeding centre and also the ´Wall of Tears´, not quite sure what that´s going to be like but the background is that Ecuador used the Galapagos as a mini-Australia about 60 years ago, sending convicts out here. The convicts built the wall. Could be interesting.
I get back to the mainland on Sunday and will do one last update on Monday with photos before (fingers crossed, ash dependent) flying home on Tuesday.
Ciao for now
The Machu Picchu trek started last Friday as planned. We had heard loads of Chinese whispers that the Inca Trail was a mess still because of landslides, and they were loads of people just camping out in Cusco waiting for it to reopen so it would be chaos etc... and apparently Susan Sarandon reopened the trail on April 1st just to add to the craziness. Anyway it was all rubbish thankfully and we didn´t have any trouble.
The trek lasts 4 days 3 nights and was pretty intense. The first day was really comfortable, we walked 12km and by and large it was pretty flat. I think they ease you in intentionally though. The second day was extremely tough. It was only 12km again but it was up and down, including about 2 hours straight up (followed by about 1 1/2 hours straight down), walking along small irregular Inca steps built 500 years ago. We were pretty exhausted by the end of that day. The third day was longer, something like 16km, and also had a lot of ups and downs. We had had great weather until the third day, lots of sunshine and no rain, but on the third day it rained solidly for ages. It was probably just like being in Nam. Finally on the fourth day we got up early and walked for a couple of hours to Machu Picchu itself, which was spectacular. At first it was really foggy so we were a bit worried but it cleared up and we got some great pictures.
The whole time on the trek you are followed / led by a gang of porters - in our case we had 19 porters and 1 cook (plus two guides) between the 14 of us. Those guys now have regulations stating they can ONLY carry 25kgs each!! Apparently it used to be like 50kg. I have no idea how they manage it - hardcore trekking at 4,000m carrying 25kg. Insane. What makes it harder too is that you havw to get up early every night and you´re hardly getting any sleep anyway cos you´re sleeping in tents. Usually we got up at 5ish but on the last day it was 3.45am! It was such a relief to get back home, have a shower and a bed etc to be honest.
One of the cool things about the Incas and Machu Picchu is that no one really knows anything about them. When the Spanish came in during the 1500s they immediately killed all of the ´royal´class, presumably to stop any uprisings etc. Unfortunately they were also the only people who could read or write and understand the written language (based on some kind of hieroglyphics), so everything was lost. No one knows why Machu Picchu was built, and it was never finished as the Incas abandoned it when the Spanish came in (bringing smallpox with them, which wiped out most of the people). Pretty cool.
We´re in Lima now and are about to go out for a meal as Dom and Shannon are going back to Oz tomorrow. After this we go to Nasca, northern Peru and then I have to be in Quito on April 17th for the Galapagos trip. Then home...
Hope all is well with everyone
Sorry for lack of updates, i´m sure you are all desperate to hear what I have been getting up to... i´ll start from where I left off last time.
We ended up staying in Arequipa for about 6 days because Nellie got really ill. She had been ill for a while on and off but it kept coming back so she called out a doctor and went for tests etc. Turned out she had some kind of bacteria in her stomach and also a kidney infeoction. Anyway we chilled out for a bit which was cool, had a big night out in a local bar with just the boys which was fun, then we all went on a 2 day trek down and up the Colca canyon (depending on who you´re talking to it could be the deepest canyon in the world). It was a punishing 1,100 metre descent, followed by a night in an ´oasis´ at the bottom, followed by an early start to climb back up the following day. It was intense and unpleasant but I´m glad we did it because we had the Inca Trail trek last Friday... more on that shortly.
Anyway that was about it for Arequipa. From there we went straight to Cusco, arriving on Nath´s birthday on the 30th. That night we hit an Irish pub and got hammered (Nath was sick the first time at about 10pm) then went to a club afterwards. It was a good night, not that Nath remembers! Cusco is a really nice little town but heavily geared towards tourists. There are some nice churches etc from when the Spanish came in and destroyed everything and built whatever they wanted instead (about 500 years ago).
On Friday we were scheduled to start the Inca Trail, but we had heard so much from other travellers about how it was still a mess and we wouldn´t be able to do the trek etc... it officially reopened on the first of April but there was a lot of speculation that it wouldn´t happen. Turned out to be tosh and it was fine. We were the second group of travellers to use the trail this season which was great! I´m pressed for time here so will do another update today / tomorrow about the trail itself. Will also put loads of pictures up.