Location: Puerto Escondido, Mexico
Flew into Mexico City on the afternoon of Jan. 18th, stopping briefly at Panama City, which has the most incredible duty free shopping! Staying in the heart of the city, only a block from the main plaza, we spent the afternoon walking the streets and booking our bus trip to Puerto Escondido for the following night.
Mexico City is beautiful, which we discovered more of the following morning whilst on a walking city tour. It has so many amazing buildings, many being a legacy of the Spanish.
Caught the overnight bus to Puerto Escondido, where we happened to sit next to an Australian guy who was studying Landscape Architecture and also went to school in Armidale - bizaar! Arrived into Puerto about 9am, Saturday 20th. After realising we couldn´t see the beach from our hotel and we had to walk over 20mins to go for a dip - we quickly changed location. We are now staying virtually above Zicatela beach, which is where the famous Mexican pipeline originated. Needless to say, we aren´t out there with the big boys, but enjoy watching some great surfing. We both love it here - our days consist of walking along the beach to a little cove called Carrizalillo, where we sit on the beach under our own little cabana and get served fresh coconuts, cold beers and juices in between dips, snorkling and reading our books. In the evening, we sit on Zicatela beach, drinking cocktails and beers, watching the sun set over the ocean - it really is an awesome place.
We are here for another week, doing exactly the same thing, before we head back to Mexico City next Monday night. Our plans are to fly up to Colorado on 7th Feb. to fit in some skiing at Vail and Aspen and catch up with Jack Forrest and some good friends of Rachel Wehl´s.
Location: Quito, Ecuador
Once again, back into Quito to spend our last day in Ecuador, before flying up to Mexico on Thursday 18th Jan. We decided to go up the Teleferico, Quito´s cable car up to the base of Pichincha Volcano, at 4100m. On a clear day you can see the ocean, however not that day. We did however have great views of the entire city and surrounding countryside.
From the top of the Teleferico, we decided to climb the 4hr journey to the summit of Pichincha Volcano. After 3hrs, the weather suddenly turned a little ugly, clouded over and the temperature dropped, leaving us freezing cold! We turned around and began our hasty decent all the way down to Quito city.
Spent our last evening in Quito on the rood top of our hostel, which conveniently hosted an Ecuadorian themed night of traditional food, drinks and live music, overlooking the lights of the Old City.
Location: San Rafael Falls Bikeride, Ecuador
Met our group and 2 guides early on the morning of Jan. 15 to begin our mountain bike tour with 'The Biking Dutchman'. Jumped in the landrover with our bikes strapped on top and headed west out of Quito, to a spot on the Andes at 4400m asl. With 7 of us on the tour, we had a heap of fun hooning down a mixture of dirt and sealed roads for 40km towards Baeza. Passed through cloud forest, lakes and waterfalls. Arrived into Baeza, put the bikes on top, and drove to the San Rafael falls which were amazing. After having a dip at the base of the falls, we headed back to Baeza for a beautiful dinner of fresh local trout.
Awoke the following morning to go on a 2hr rainforest walk - very beautiful vegetation and waterfalls - but very wet weather! Visited a local animal farm project where we saw native pigs and tapirs. Tapirs are so strange - they are like a cross between an elephant and an anteater - weighing upto 250kgs. After our walk we went to some hots springs to soak amongst the cloud forest, before jumping on our mountain bikes, cruising along dirt tracks back towards Quito. Unfortunately along the way, a mother of a wasp flew into my face and got caught under my helmet strap, biting me on the cheek - youch.
After arriving back into Quito, we swung by the Biking Dutchman's house, who owns the most gorgeous dog 'Molly' - she is a tan and black English Mastiff who weighed about 100kgs (mum you would have loved her - she was just like Elle!).
All in all, an awesome 2 days.
Location: Otavalo, Ecuador
After returning from Lago Agrio, we decided to get on another bus, for a change, and travel 2hrs north of Quito to Otavalo where the famous markets are held every Saturday. The market is centered around 'Poncho Plaza', spilling into adjacent streets where we found everything from jumpers to armadillo shell guitars, wall hangings to ceramic fried eggs. It is the most colourful market with beautiful carpets, cushions and tapestries with traditional Indian patterns, blankets, clothes, hats, jewelery, fruits, vegetables, animals and everythings else imaginable. We decided on some great cushion covers.
We jumped on a bus back to Quito early afternoon - watching, once again another John Claude Van Dam dvd which they seem to love!
Location: Cuyabeno Reserve, Ecuador
Arrived into Lago Agrio mid morning on Monday 8th, only to meet up with our tour group and head towards the Cuyabeno Reserve.
The Cuyabeno Reserve was created in 1979 and it covers over 600,000 ha of untainted rainforest around the Río Cuyabeno. The reserve is accessible from Lago Agrio and it has become an important tourist destination because of its lakes, swamps and amazing diversity of animals such as: insects, butterflies, river dolphins, capybaras, caimans, anacondas and tapirs as well as 15 species of monkey to well over 500 types of birds.
We jumped in a bus in Lago Agrio and headed towards the Cuyabeno River, where we boarded a motorised canoe and began our 4hr, which turned into a 6hr, boat ride down to our campsite. Our accommodation was right above the river, staying in traditional raised, grassed roof huts, sleeping in much needed mosquito net tents. After dinner on the first night, we went on a night jungle walk with our guide, only to observe grasshoppers, stick insects, spiders, frogs (which looked remarkably like cane toads) and a complete colony of bats - it was pitch black with hundreds of bats flapping around our heads - needless to say, we chose that to be our last 'night walk'!
Day 2 - Woke early to board the canoe and cruise up stream to a 25m bird watching tower, which gets you right up to the tree canopies and gives you a great idea of the levels of vegetation and bird life. Beautiful heliconias and bromeliads growing everywhere - saw a few tucans flying over, before we headed back to camp for breakfast.
We then visited a local indigenous community where we tested some native fruits - but the jungle really turned the heat on for us that day. Returning to camp to have a swim in the river was a relief - but somewhat unnerving due to the muddy colour of the water and the fact that we were deep in the Amazon.
Ironically, that afternoon we went searching for Anacondas, where we happened to come across a 5m monster. Unfortunately this monster was a good 2 days dead - and gave off a smell we never wish to experience again!
Day 3 - Went on a 4hr jungle walk where our guide showed us some traditional plants used for medicinal purposes and also weaving techniques to make things such as baskets + belts.
In the afternoon we went fishing for Piranhas - which turned out to be very successful, despite our primitive fishing gear! We also sighted some pink dolphins swimming and playing near our boat.
We then cruised to a big sand bar at the mouth of the river, where we watched an amazing sunset and had a fun game of soccer. It seems anywhere we go in South America, there will be room for a soccer field - the kids love it.
Day 4 - After breakfast we went up stream to watch the red + green parrots feed on the clay of a particular bank of the river - apparently the clay's high salt content cleanses the birds' toxins. We then moved further upstream to another campsite, where we went on another jungle walk, checking out trees, insects, spiders and fresh footprints of native pigs and tapirs. We then paddled back downstream in traditional dugout canoes - seeing plenty of little monkeys playing along the way. Returned to camp after a 4hr paddle - just in time for the rain to set in - we have never seen rain like it - real, torrential amazon rain.
Day 5 - The rain went all through the evening, and was still pouring down when it was time to leave. Dressed in rain ponchos, we braced ourselves for a 3hr canoe ride back up stream, where we were met by our bus to take us back to Lago Agrio by late afternoon. Decided to take an overnight bus back to Quito, as we didn't wish to stay in Lago Agrio. We arrived exhausted into Quito at 3am, after 2 drug/weapon checks along the way.
Location: Quito and Banos, Ecuador
Arrived into Quito the afternoon of NYE - settled into our Hostel run by an Australian-Ecuadorian couple in the Old part of the city. Celebrated NYE here - enjoying a night of Spanish food + Ecuadorian drinks. Arriving into Quito, it was hard not to notice all these human sized dummies, filled with woodchips and tied to railings of houses, cars, street lights - you name it. There was also one tied to the roof of our hostel - they are traditionally dressed in unwanted clothes, along with notes comprising new years' resolutions + wishes, and was set alight and burned when the new year arrived - apparently bringing good fortune for the new year. Similar to Cusco on Christmas Eve, the Ecuadorians love their fire crackers and fireworks displays - all in all an interesting night + good arrival to Ecuador.
We spent to next couple of days enjoying the sites of Quito - both the old and new cities and organised our remaining 2 and a half weeks in Ecuador, including an Amazon jungle tour and a 2 days mountain bike trip to the San Rafael Falls.
Caught a bus to Banos on the 3rd Jan. where we enjoyed 3 nights. Banos is about 4hrs from Quito - it's a nice little city on the slopes of Tungurahua Volcano at 1,820 meters above sea level. This Andean village is surrounded by snowcapped volcanoes and has great thermal springs - which we unfortunately didn't have time to check out. On the second day here we hired mountain bikes and headed towards Puyo - which was apparently 'all downhill' and only 40kms away. Torrential rain and 57kms later, we were not yet in Puyo, and our legs were exhausted! However, it was a beautiful ride - passing many beautiful waterfalls, tropical vegetation, mountains, farms and small villages along the way.
Banos has many great restaurants - and we managed to catch up with a couple we were on the Inca Trail with, by chance one evening, before they returned to Australia.
On the 5th Jan. we jumped on a bus heading towards Tena, which is a town about 4hrs from NW of Banos, and is a popular spot for rafting/kayaking or beginning a jungle tour from. We decided to push on to Beaza, where we spent the night at a great organic farm retreat amongst the cloud forest, called 'The Magic Roundabout', run by an Engligh couple.
The following morning, we moved onto a little town called Cascales, about an 1hr from Lago Agrio, where we had planned to begin our jungle tour the following morning. Arrived into Cascales after lunch, and spent the afternoon trying to catch fish in the owner's dam. As the fish weren't biting, he netted the entire dam twice - needless to say, we had beautiful fresh fish for dinner.
Location: Cusco, Peru
Spent christmas with Nick and Gail who we met on the Inca Trail - decided on a going to 'The Real McCoy' to enjoy a traditional English christmas dinner of turkey, cranberry sauce, roasted vegetables, christmas pudding, and bottle of wine each - with a touch of Peru - Pisco Sours.
Had a nice few days around Cusco, visiting a couple of Pre-Columbian Museums before catching a flight back to Lima where we spent a couple of nights before flying up to Quito, Ecuador on New Year's Eve.
Location: Cuzco, Peru
Arrived into Cusco from La Paz the evening of Dec. 17th, ready to begin our Inca trail early on Dec. 19th. It was a very long but interesting bus trip - at one stage 2 Peruvin ladies hopped on the bus armed with a large meat clever, hacking into roasted guinea pigs to sell those interested some dinner - we decided to refrain until we got to a resaurant.
Hambo again affected by the altitude - but recovered in time for us to begin our Inca trail. Meeting our group early on the 19th, we set off by bus, along the Urubamba river, past Ollantaytambo village, and on to where our trek began. We were really lucky with our group - only 6 of us, including a lovely English couple Nick and Gail, another nice Australian couple, our guide, chief and 12 porters.
It was beautiful weather on the first day, however that evening the rain began and didn´t clear up until the morning we reached Machu Picchu - although it didn´t really bother us. Our first night´s camping site was by a local farm house, about 500m below Dead Woman´s pass. As we arrived, the farmer was in the process of killing one of his big pigs - it would not have been dead more than 5mins, split open, with all of its organs lying beside it in a wheelbarrow - not the most pleasent arrival!
Every morning we were woken with hot coca tea and warm water to wash our faces - my kind of camping! We set off early day 2 through beautiful rainforest right up to Dead Woman´s pass, 4,200m, the most difficult section of the trail. After a big pack of llamas cruised by us at the top, we started to decend down to our lunch site, Pacamayo (3,600m). AFter another amazing meal, we decided not to camp here, and moved on, past the small circular ruins of Runkuracay to the second highest pass, Abra de Runkuracay (4,000m). After an hour of descending down stone steps, we arrived at Sayacmarca ('Inaccessible Town') - an Inca city that is protected on three sides by sheer cliffs - before arriving at our second camp site - exhausting day but amazing scenery.
Day 3 we climbed up through the ´cloud forest´to the 3rd pass (3,700m) where we spotted an Andean Condor flying. A few minutes after the pass we arrived at Phuyupatamarca (´Town of the Clouds´) by a steep flight of stone stairs. Leaving the site via another really impressive Inca staircase, we descended a further 1000 steps, passing through dense rainforest to our 3rd campsite at Wiñay Wayna - treated with a shower finally! We visited the nearby Inca ruins of Wiñay Wayna - includes a series of steep curving agricultural terraces where the Incas grew their potatoes, corn and coca leaves. The name in Quechua means 'forever young' and is named after a really beautiful variety of pink orchid which grows here.
VERY early 4am start on day 4 so we could reach Machu Picchu before sunrise. The trail to the last pass was through thick, wet rainforest, before coming to an almost vertical flight of 50steps leading up to the Sun gate, where we could first view Machu Picchu. We were a little disapointed at this point as after 3 days of trekking, we reached the Sun Gate and we could not see more than 5m in front of us due to the wet weather!
By the time we walked down to Machu Picchu city, the weather cleared up and we looked around the city for a couple of hours before making our final climb up Huayna Picchu to get an amazing view of the city.
Finished the trek with an extra night in Aguas Calientes - where we stayed with the Engligh couple in our group, Nick + Gail, relaxed and soaked in the hot springs before catching the train back to Cuzco.
An awesome 4 days.
Location: Salt Plains, Uyuni, Bolivia
Caught the overnight bus to Uyuni on Monday evening - arriving early morning and met by our tour guide Amrosie, who would be taking us around the salt plains for the next 3 days. Minor issue overseen by us - he did not speak ANY english. Picked up our cook, an English couple and a Bolivian couple and we hit the road in our Landcruiser - very cosy trip.
Day 1 - The first afternoon was spent at Salar de Uyuni - a tour through Uyuni's salt desert (salar), the biggest salt desert in the world. Amazing scenery - blue skies contrasted with white salt crust as far as the eye can see. Left the salt plains and stayed the night at a tiny town called San Juan - we visited the local cemetery/museum where there are a series of caves made from volcanic material that hold the remains of some Inca people - also very well preserved due to the salty, arid climate. Bit of a ghost town - but managed to find a great little bar serving mulled wine to keep us warm.
Day 2 - Very different scenery to yesterday - lots of red mountains and volcanoes reaching up to 5000m ASL. Stopped for lunch at Laguna Colorada - a blue lagoon, with the lake edges crusted in salt and home to a large pink flamingo population. Crossed into National Park Eduardo Avaroa, where we stayed the night with other tour groups - very basic accomodation - bunking in a room with stone base beds and thatched roof - it certainly got our pomy couple in full whinging mode!
Day 3 - Up at 4am, first morning stop was at Sol de Manana - which has numerous geysers and bubbling mud pools area. Next we stopped for breakfast at Laguna Verde - which had 35 degree hot springs to dip our feet into - or for some, strip down to their underwear and jump into! Next stop was a green lagoon situated beneath a red coloured volcano which was reflected in the turquoise color lagoon.
Dropped our Engligh couple off at the Chile border and started our way back to Uyuni - arriving back late afternoon in time to catch our terrible bus ride back to La Paz - the first 4 hrs was on an unsealed road that honestly felt like we were driving along a continuous cattle grid.
Great trip, but 2 bus rides and 3 days in a Landcruiser certainly took its toll.