"Callie on Tour"


As most of you know, travelling is my favourite hobby. This blog will tell you about my exciting travels: great experiences, impressions and adventures that came across my travels. True memories - Enjoy :-) For fotos please go to www.privatepro.ch/callie

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Thailand - Cambodia - Vietnam 27.10. - 17.11.2009

Posted at 02:15, 28 October 2009 in Asia

27. - 30.10.2009 Zurich - Bangkok (Thailand)

From Zurich flying directly to Bangkok and arriving at 6am - so an early start into my Birthday!

Thai Airways offers good service, so the flight was nice and smooth. I did not sleep thou, but had interesting people around me to chat. Funny enough, the men sitting right next to me also had his Birthday on the 28.10., coincidences in life :-)

 

In Bangkok then my organized transfer was not there, so I had to run around to get it all settled. Puh, with the humidity I was already sweating, and it was just 7am! The drive to the hotel then was Bangkok at its best, stinky busy traffic, cars, trucks, Tuk-Tuks and motorcycles everywhere... Fun to watch, but of course with that it took so long to get to the hotel. But finally arrived there and checked-in for a short snooze.

Then I started to discover the area - Chinatown. Well... not exactly the place to be I realized. But as it was not my first time in Bangkok (I have seen the Kings Temple twice and also done the Klong-Tours before), so I took it easy, taking in all the different smells, paces and funny things of another city in the World. I strolled throu the colourful Flower Market and watched all the little ladies cook their goodies on the little improvised kitchen-waggons. So interesting! Unfortunately on my way back to the hotel then I got lost... Took me almost 2 hours to find my way back, but a funny experience, as - typically for Asia - when you ask someone for help, they cannot just say "I dont know'', no... they just sent you into the totally direction as they have no clue what you are asking !

 

Well, the evening ended with a very nice meal on the 24th floor of the hotel - with a beautiful view all around Bangkok. I admit it was a little lonely to have my Birthday all by myself in such a huge city. But it was fun to receive all the Birthday wishes - THANKS everyone!

 

Next day then my roommate joined - Eleonor from Manchester UK. While she decided to catch up on sleep I did the mandatory Tuk-Tuk bargaining to go the more Touristy-Area for some Shopping. Uh... great city for that, to bad I am only starting the tour here, could not buy to much ;-)

I also went to the biggest Aquarium in Southeast Asia. Impressive to see sharks so close. Fun little distraction to calm down in this hectic city.

 

In the evening then we met with the whole Group (this time I am travelling with Intrepid). There will be 6 of us (1 couple from Australia, 1 couple from USA, Eleonor and myself with Jack, our Cambodian guide). We got all the information for the next 9 days. And after dinner again we enyojed a drink on the top bar.

 

Friday 30.10.09 we started early and had a very long drive. Along the way we saw huge Rice-Fields with Fishermen or all kind of funny little shops. Incredible what they are doing to sell things.

 

30.10. - 04.11.2009 CAMBODIA

The boarder crossing went very smooth and after another 3 hours drive we arrived in Siem Reap (former Angkor City) just in time for the local "Water Festival". We took a walk downtown, trying not to get run over by motorcycles or Tuk-Tuks - quite a challenge. It is incredible how many people they fit on such a motorcycle. The record we saw up to now is 5 people!

At the FCC bar (former Federal Communications Commission) we then sat and enjoyed Happy Hour drinks whilst watching the Dragonboat races in the river. Long boats with up to 20 people rowing. Very colourful festival and fun to watch. For dinner then we joined the crowd of partying people and had great Cambodian Food with Apsara Dancing, the typical local folklore dancing.

 

31.10.2009 Siem Reap Temples

Next day we started exploring the famous Cambodian Temples. First within Angkor Thom City we visited "Bayon", then "Baphoun" and "Phimeanakas" with the impressive Elephant terrasse. All temples have beautiful carvings in the sandstone. Surprisingly some of them are still in very good shape after all those years of weather erosion and wars going on. The war actually destroyed much of the temples, and especially all valuable temple contents were stolen (golden Buddhas, jewellery etc.).

 

The weather here is hot and veeeery humid. We are sweating like crazy, and climbing the big steps on the temples is not really helping to cool off ;-) But the local kids are very creative when it comes to sell hats, drinks, sunscreen and w****ver stuff you can imagine!!! And the kids are so funny, cute and not to pushy, but surely business oriented. And most of them even know all the capitals of the countries you name - amazing. We were told not to buy from them, as then their parents would not send them to school anymore, instead make them stay selling stuff even more. Not sure if that is true... - but a fresh cold drink at 40 degrees just sounded great...

 

After an excellent local Amok Curry (Cambodian specialty) we shortly hit the hotels pool before we then again took off to see more temples. First "Preah Khan", a small but very beautiful little temple with redish vulcanic rock (so not sandstone like the others).

For sunset the plan then was to go to "Pre Rup" temple, but somehow - so the guide said! - the sun did set earlier today than yesterday and so we missed it. Aha!?! Well, after some discussion we made the guide promise to take us here again tomorrow.. on time!

 

Today again the Festival was going on and we just enjoyed all the action around Pub Street whilst having dinner on a top floor just in time for the Fireworks. After dinner we explored the little market where they sell all kind of silk things, silver jewellery and handycrafts. It then all of a sudden started to rain - we actually still are in rainy season - so we rushed to a Tuk Tuk to take us back to the hotel. These drives are always funny, scary but funny. All the motorcycles squeezing through cars, overloaded vehicles and Tuk Tuks. Crazy traffic!

 

01.11.2009 Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm Temple

At 4.30 am we already were at Angkor Wat Temple, searching for a good sunrise spot. And it was worthwile getting up so early. The sun comes up exactly behind the temple, and the reflection in the little waterhole was just perfect. Beautiful way to start into another sightseeing day.

 

Angkor Wat itself I found a little disappointing - guess I expected it to be much bigger. But the sandstone carvings are beautiful, telling the story of how to get up the 37 steps to heaven - or 32 steps down to hell! At Angkor Wat's best times (when it was the under the powerful ancient Khmer Empire from 9th to 13th century) over 1 Mio people and 40'000 Elephants lived here. Today they are trying to re-construct what has been destroyed, e.g. the 3 main towers where you now could not go up.

We then did a short "up-in-the-air" excursion, seeing the site and the Siem Reap area from a Helium Balloon. It was nice to see all the green rice fields from above.

 

To escape the sun around lunchtime we choose to do a boat-tour on the Tonle Sap Lake and have a look at all the local Floating Villages. Amazing how they live here! Either on wooden floats with roofs, of boats or huts made out of reed. I suppose this is the poor people area, however, they seemed to have everyting. Floating shops full of goodies; floating schools including playgrounds; satellite TV's.... Very special to see!

 

After a short cooling off at the hotel pool we then went to see the Ta Prohm Temple, famous as it was the movie-site for "Tomb Raider" with Angelina Jolie. In comparison to all other temples this one is much more destroyed by nature, meaning the curtain fig trees that grew their roots around the temple rocks. But that gives it the special "looks", mystic and fascinating. I liked this temple the best because of this.

 

And then we were off to the Pre Rup Temple again for sunset. We arrived very early this time (guess the guide did not want to risk anything again ;-). So we had time to enjoy the quiet athmospere, read a little or catch up on diaries. More and more people joined and we had a decent sunset. Nice to see, but nothing to exciting...

 

Back in the hectic city we again strolled around, taking in all the noise, different smells, exotic colours etc.... Oh - the new record on a motorcycle now is 6 people! Scary how they sometimes just have their babies in one arm hanging down to the side!

 

02.11.2009 Drive to Phnom Phen 

A long day of driving, however we needed that to catch-up on sleep and recover from the humid heat outside. Watching the scenery time went by very fast.

On the way we even had the chance to try some of the local specialties: fried crickets, fried little birds or - worst of all: fried tarantula. Well, well.... sure gives great pictures, but even with all my best intentions to be adventurous... NO WAY I would eat that!

 

Phnom Phen being the capital of Cambodia today, we on the bus learned a lot about Cambodia's rather sad history. But at moment here aswell the Water Festival was going on, so after checking in at the hotel we rushed to the Waterfront to again at the FCC enjoy Fireworks. On the Tomle Sap River (which joins the well-known Mekong River) there were boats with huge illuminated signs, absolutly georgeous to see. So another fun evening watching the partying crowd!

 

03.11.2009 Phnom Phen Killing Fields

Even thou it is an incredible sad and depressing thing to see, the Genocide Museum and Killing Fields almost are a must being a so important part of Cambodia's history. Under Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime, from 17 April 1975 until 1979 about 2 Mio people all over Cambodia got killed. And this happened under an absolutly incredible brutal manner. They say that another 1 Mio people died afterwards due to starvation.

 

In the Tuol Sleng prison (today the Genocide Museum) and the Killing Fields 15km outside of Phnom Phen 17'000 people were killed. We visited the Museum, which originally was a school, later used as the prison. Very emotional place, seing all the awful pictures and even meeting one of the only 7 survivors here in Phnom Phen. He today is 79 years old and works at the Museum to tell "the story". We all were in tears...

 

The Killing Fields then show the site of where the people (even kids and babies!) were brought to and killed - again in incredible brutal manner to save bullets. There are still bones and teeth in the ground you walk on!!!

 

After that we all needed a strong drink! And shopping therapy ;-) at the local "Russian Market". I did not buy a lot even thou it is all so cheap. But walking through those narrow corridors, smelling all the local food mixed with sweat and I don't know what else!... Mhhh... just must love travelling ;-) So we certainly were ready for a refreshing shower back at the hotel before we now for the last time would join the Festival at the River.

 

But that then, wow!!! was a very special happening. It started to rain really hard, and within minutes the streets were flooded! We did wear our cute little plastic rain-poncho's, but after getting off the Tuk-Tuk we had to walk with the water up to our knees!!! Yaaaak! One never knows what is in that cloak! And my biggest fear was to stumble over something and take a dive into that water... The locals laughed and it felt as they appreciated that we Tourists just did things the same way as them - almost swim thru the streets of Phnom Phen. The motorcycles actually drowned as their exhaust was in the water.

Well... we after all managed, quite dry except of the of the lower body part. But in the FCC that dryed up fast as we again enjoyed Happy Hour Drinks and good food along with Fireworks and the illuminated boats on the Tomle Sap River.

And luckily, until we headed home again, it had stopped raining and the water in the streets was gone. But I took a little longer that night in the shower to hardly rub the potential illnesses off my feet!

 

04.11.2009 Phnom Phen to Chau Doc: border crossing to Vietnam

After a lazy morning (we actually managed to find some kind of a Starbucks Cafe) we boarded the wooden speed boat and took off for a special travel day. Starting on the Tomle Sap River and then joining to the famous Mekong River, we drove for almost 4 hours. It was great to see all the fishermen, the wooden huts along the river, the large wooden transportation boats and other funny looking vessels.

 

The border crossing went very smooth again, actually very easy. The Vietnam boarder people did all the work for us while we could enjoy a cold drink and buy souvenirs or exchange money. Wow, only changed 60 $ and it made me a millionaire!!! (in Vietnamese Dongs :-(

 

Leaving the Mekong we later followed the Bassec River up to Chau Doc. Getting off in the huts in the water it was amazing to see how these people live on and with the water here!

Our hotel was just a short walk up the street and the luggage got transported for us by old men on their cyclos (bycicles, where the passenger sits in the front). Before dinner we actually had time to watch the street life... Motorcycles, motorcycles, motorcycles! And we also realized, that Vietnam seems to have an environmental issue with all that garbage and dirt! 

 

05.11.2009 Chau Doc to Ho Chin Minh City

Today again a long travel day, and this time on bumpy roads with crazy traffic. The horns just go all the time... Nevertheless it was fun to watch the scenery: rice fields again, but also all the rivers and water ways which make the Mekong Delta. And they are actually used, just as streets - all kind of vessels transporting something.

Along the streets as usual for us by now the thousands of little stands and shops. I was actually amazed - people here really wear that typical Vietnamese hat! Also interesting: once in a while there is a 3-story building, very narrow but colourful and almost "Art Deco" style. But no windows on the side, looks like the buildings to the left and right side disappeared :-)

 

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon, in the late afternoon. Just in time for rush-hour, but actually it always looks crowded in the streets here. And it is FULL of motorcycles, they definitely are the main transportation method.

Our hotel was nothing special, no window! And the first look-around in this busy city did not impress us to much. Dirty place, really! But we still did check-out the "Ben Than" market, where one can buy copies of everything: Louis Vuitton bags up to Rolex watches up to CD/DVDs up to Lacoste T-Shirts and so on. "Make you good price...!" I again did not buy anything. Just do not need anything... 

 

Tonight then we had to say good-bye to the Australian couple, as they will get on another tour. And so the guide took us to a Touristy restaurant where we then all felt comfortable with the food to have a nice farewell-dinner.

 

Crossing the roads by the way is a dangerous game here! No one - and I mean it! - stops for pedestrians!!! So it is all about being very brave and keep walking when crossing without hesitation. Puh... Russian Roulette one might call it ;-)

 

06.11.2009 Ho Chin Minh City (HCMC)

We all prepared for our free day today, meaning we did read our guide books to find out the MUST-sees. So off we went, strolling around taking in the terrible pollution, the dust and dirt on the streets, the incredible noise.... but also the beautiful French remains like the Notre Dame, the ancient Post Office, the Opera House and the Reunification Palace, where in April 1979 the US were just able to leave by helicopter when the communists tanks entered the gate (which ended the war).

 

The city area is quite easy to find your way around, and thanks to my favourite "Lonely Planet" guide book we managed to enjoy nice coffee/tea with pastry or ice cream in cute little french-style cafes. We also strolled along the nicer part of HCMC with fancy hotels and up-scale shopping.

 

In the evening then we had the group meeting with the new people joining this tour up to Hanoi. 4 Australians join, 2 girls from Adelaide and a couple from Melbourne. We are also getting a new guide, his name is Tuan. The meeting this time was long a almost a little painful, as the guide's English is not to good... So in the end no one felt like going for a group dinner anymore.

So I took the time to update this blog and make it an early night to catch up on sleep.

Oh - and I did get my laundry back - little happy event here to have fresh smelling cloth again :-)

 

You might have realized by now, reading this blog, that this trip up to now does not count to my TOP list ;-) I am not sure how to explain this actually. But I guess it is the poverty combined with pollution, dirt, traffic, noise and the constant fear of catching some kind of desease together with the very different culture. Most people we meet are actually very friendly and nice, however you do never really know if they mean it.

 

Most of you know that I travel very often and have been to many places in the world. I think I can say that I am open to all cultures and able to adapt and take it in. However, here it just has not really happened yet. So at moment honestly I do not feel like I would have to come back to Southeast Asia another time... Sad to say I know, but it is what it is.

But I still have 2 more weeks to go - so keep tuned for the updates... One never knows what could happen and change my mind :-)

 

07.11.2009 Chu Chin Tunnels & War Museum

Another terrible night in the hotel room with no windows, loud aircondition which blows in air from I dont know what dusty and smelly backyard!!!

But then on a mission to escape the white toast and artificial jam breakfast and we found a cute little French Bakery with yammee croissants and really nice Hot Chocolate. Now that is a good start into the day :-)

 

Then we drove out to Chu Chin to explore the Viet Cong's tunnel system they had built during the war with the US. Really smart system they had! The tunnels being 3 to 12 meters deep in the ground, with living areas, kitchen, weapon deposits, hospitals and even an escape route to the Saigon River. Amazing!

They had original entry holes and we could try to get in. Now... I got stopped of course with my beautiful figure, but even thinner people in our group were not able to get into these narrow little squares. These Viet Cong people must have been tiny and very slim! Especially as getting in is only the first step, I have no clue how they afterwards in the narrow corridor were able to turn and get into the direction they had to go to... Just incredible!

 

For the Tourists they then had an area where they enlarged the tunnels, so one could crawl through it. I only made it for a short part of it and then took the escape exit. Puh... no way I would have survived in there!!!

 

We were also presented and shown the terrible "Booby Traps": The Viet Congs dug wholes in the ground and placed sharpened bamboo sticks in the ground like spears. No chance for someone falling into that!

Or other horrifying traps where US soldiers would step into nails or get hit by nail-balls coming down from trees!

No wonder these soldiers needed psychological help after that war!!!

 

Back in HCMC we then went to the War Museum to see some more terrible witness-fotos of war journalists.

These brutal scenes and behaviours (here and in Phnom Phen) just bother me. Is killing someone not terrible enough? Why did they torture them in such an indescribable way???

 

After some "recovering" in a coffee shop we then had a more enjoyable tour: Cute old men came to pick us up with their cyclos. They drove us around the city's sights and we took it all in once again. Kind of funny, but also somehow I felt bad for that old men working so hard...

And once in a while you just had to close your eyes when they made their way throu the traffic :-)

 

This evening we again enjoyed a very good dinner at a nice restaurant and on the way home were amused by all the young people hanging out in the park. Dancing lessons, Tai Chi, smooching - on motorcycles of course... Really funny, they hang out together, but always sit on their motorcycles. Everything seems to happen on these...?!? This afternoon we watched a freshly married couple take their pictures - with a motorcycle!!!

I am going to have nightmares soon ;-)

 

08.11.2009 HCMC to Hoi An

I was not sorry this morning when we finally left HCMC per plane to Da Nang in Central Vietnam. Arriving there already changed our mood, nice scenery with BEACH!

A 40 minute drive along the coast gave us the impression of what this area will look like in 5-10 years. All major hotel brands have signs up along the coast to advertise the hotels, appartments and private villas that will be constructed soon. Well, guess that is the downside of tourism...

 

But it sure is beautiful here. We fell in love with Hoi An the moment we set foot into that cute UNESCO heritage village. All houses are remains of the times when chinese, japanese and vietnamese people used to live here and Hoi An was a major harbour village. Nowadays the river is used for wooden tourist boats to take you out to the beach.

The houses are all like little museums, containing shops now. And it is either a clothing or a shoe shop! The speciality here is tailormade things, and the large amount of shops who all offer the same is just overwhelming  - almost to much to choose from ;-)

 

First we strolled around taking in all the beautiful little sights and taking time to talk to the locals. They are so curious. Of course they all want to get you into your shop, however they are not angry if you just say "kon com an" (no thank you).  Some of our group then started getting their measures taken and ordered clothing. Others (like me :-) chose to enjoy a delicious patisserie in one of the wonderful restaurants with view to the river.

 

In the evening then the whole village lights up in colourful lanterns. So romantic!!! Ahhh, this now is much more up to my taste than HCMC.

We had a great dinner at a riverside restaurant (today I finally had a great steak, mhhhh) and just a good evening in the quiet old town - where NO MOTORCYCLES are allowed after 6pm! What a peace!

 

09.11.2009 Hoi An & Cua Dai Beach

Today my roommate and I were on a shopping mission. First some tailored pants with japanese linnen, then tailored shoes. It was so much fun to just be creative and design exactly what you want. We loved it.

And it seems that this place is a MUST by all tourists. During the whole trip I have not seen so many tourists in one place. I wonder what this will be like when all the construction along the Da Nang coast is finished....

 

After another peaceful lunch along the river we then took a taxi to the close-by white sandy beach of Cua Dai. Ahhhhhhh - I cannot describe how good it felt to just take in the peaceful sound of waves, have a almost cooling swim in the South China Sea and just relax on a comfortable sunbed. Now that! is a holiday ;-)

 

In the evening we then had to go back to the shops to fit the pants and shoes - all fine. Great stuff for such a little price. We see how long it lasts ;-)

 

Again we chose one of the cute restaurants and enjoyed the Vietnamese cuisine. And sleeping here then was a treat, nice and quiet...

 

10.11.2009 Hoi An to Hue

To soon that we had to leave Hoi An. Another day here would have just suited us right... But the tour must go on and so we boarded the little Intrepid bus and drove to Hue.

Starting off along the beach side we passed the Marble Mountains, famous as already the old emperors used this marble to build statues and decoration. Little villages along the mountains are specialized in carving the stone.

Later then the Highway Nr. 1 started to go uphill to the Hai Van Pass (496m), giving view to a beautiful panorama of the coast line. Very enjoyable.

 

We had lunch at a local hotel just on the beach. The heat and humidity however today again was very exhausting, and so we decided not to go for a swim (no shade here!), but drive to Hue directly instead. 1802 - 1945 Hue was the capital of Vietnam, and the line between North and South Vietnam is drawn here. So during the Vietnam war, there was a lot of fighting in this area.

 

At 3pm it then was time for a visit to the Citadelle from the 19th century, another UNESCO heritage. The remains of the emperors palace apparently looked like the Forbidden City in Beijing. I however decided to take a break. I know... travelling so far to then skip out on a probably very interesting site is not very cool, but I was just done! The heat (39 degrees celcius) and especially the humidity, plus being on the road for 2 weeks now - that just wore me out.

So I took a nice shower and just relaxed.

 

In the evening we walked around Hue and found a little restaurant with all kind of food. Early night then to catch some good sleep before the special night tomorrow.

 

11.11.2009 Hue and Night train to Ha Noi

It was a great night - having a comfortable duvet! NICE :-)

 

Today we drove up and down the Perfume River with a typical dragon boat. Again, very loud motor, but I guess I am deaf by now anyways ;-)

Along the way it was very interesting to see all the local wooden barks with which they did dig sand and gravel out of the river. There are three ways to do that:

1) very manual, working with hand and feet to turn the wheel on which a bucket is fixed that scratches the ground

2) with a hose, where they pump up the water and filter it throu some kind of a net-thing

3) with a dredge, so quite efficient

Was fun to watch - but again it was very hot today.

 

We then got off the boat and walked to one of the emperors tombs, well, more like a palace. Unfortunately distroyed during the war, but still impressive. And another stop then took us to a Pagodia, where orphans and other kids get "trained" to be monchs. Was funny how they did cut their hair depending on how far into their training they were.

 

Well, after a short lunch and a shower we then were off to board the Night Train to Hanoi. But - not really unexpected in such a country - the train was 3 hours late and so we sat around in the very hot waiting hall... Getting a cold beer was all about negotiation and sign-language, but we managed!

 

The train then finally arrived and within a few minutes all tourists and locals had to jump out or on, find the sleepers cabins, get the luggage out of the corridor and make sure nothing and no one was forgotten - VERY hectic, but very funny aswell. Exhausted we then first recovered in the cabin. 4 of us together in quite ok cabins. All you could do was sit on the lower beds, no space to move anywhere else. And oh my god - you just had to ignore the toilets... YACK!!! Guess you do not want any more details on that....!!!

 

We eat the sandwiches we brought along, prepared for us by one of the many special restaurants that organizations have put up in Vietnam to get homeless children or orphans off the street and train them to be waiters or cooks. As it was dark outside we did not get to see anything of the scenery, so we made our beds (good I did bring my personal little silk sleeping bag!!!) and then each of us read or wrote journals until at 9pm we tried to get some sleep. I actually managed to fall asleep in the rythm of the trains noise.

 

12.11.2009 Ha Noi

The good thing about the train being late was that we did not have to get out at 5am as planned. But as the train overnight has made up some time, we arrived in Ha Noi at 6.30am. It was again very hectic, as per loudspeaker they announced the arrival, and like 10 minutes later we were there and had to get out quickly. So here we all were, getting out only haf dressed or still in our pijamas :-) Really funny!

A 10 minute walk then to the so called "centrally located" hotel... We soon would find out it was not at all central, but again one of these no-window hotel rooms. Very charming :-(

 

At this point I must actually tell you, that I did change my flight to go home earlier!!! Never ever did that before on none of my travels, but here I am absolutely ready to go home!

 

Well, we all first burst to go to the toilet :-) and then took showers - not really helping as 1 minute being outside you are sweaty again... And then we got a very nice treat - ahhhhh: a wonderful buffet breakfast at KOTO, again a place where street kids are being trained for hotel jobs. And it was just great, fresh fruit, baked little goodies, warm (yes, finally warm!) eggs and so on. We all loved it and enjoyed that very much.

 

Freshly motivated now we were off to another cyclo-city-tour. Ha Noi however does not have much to see. Lots of museums, but not really a scenic place. Funny is how they name their streets: shoe street - and every shop sells shoes; medicine street - and all shops have chinese medicin or are pharmacies.. and so on. I also found it funny to see the people just sitting on the sidewalks as usual, having a coffee or eating their noodle soup for breakfast. And they are so creative, I guess if you have no real job then you just sit on the sidewalk with a little machine to copy keys, or clean shoes, or you sell fruit and veggies, or you cook out of cute little kitchens set-up on the sidewalk. Really interesting.

Of course none of this goes without the smell, the noise and the pollution of the traffic!!!

 

At the Hoam Kiem Lake the tour ended and we explored the streets on foot, some of us buying luggage, me buying a new daypack and some silk scarfs.

After that it was time to head back to the beautiful hotel to catch up on sleep before we later went out to KOTO again for a great dinner on the top terrasse. Mhhh, again enjoyed a nice steak! Asian food is good, but after all the time here I crave for dead meat :-)

 

13. - 14.11.2009 Ha Long Bay

This day I was actually looking forward to: heading north to Ha Long Bay, where the lime rocks head straight out of the ocean up to 220 meters! The movie "Indochine" was partly made here.

Surprisingly, the temperature overnight had dropped by 10 degrees, and so for the first time we were comfortable and not sweating. Funny enough, the locals now put on jackets, scarfs and woollen hats :-)

 

After a very bumpy 4-hour bus ride we boarded our own wooden hotel-boat. It was great!!! Just the 9 of us on the nice boat - ahhhh, what a nice surprise. The boat then took off out into the bay, and we were amazed by the beautiful scenery. Unfortunately, exactly today it was totally overcast, which of course changed the way we saw everything... but it was still impressive.

We were served an excellent lunch - ahhh, what a feeling, now that is an enjoyable journey!

 

The boat took us to a little bay, where fishermen live on wooden barks and they also have oyster farms. And in another bay we then changed into Kayaks and explored the magic scenery by ourselves. Great, I loved it. Paddling in the quiet, taking advantage of the low tide to enter a cave and end up in another enclosed bay, or to squeeze between wholes in the limerocks - just amazing. A very very nice excursion and an incredible change to the noisy cities.

 

The cabins on the boat were the best accomodation we had on the whole trip! Yes, we just took it all in, sitting on the top deck, a glass of nice Australian Chardonnay in one hand, the camera in the other hand :-)

And again - dinner was superbe. Seafood for all except for me, I got my own little goodies!

The evening and night the boat stayed in a protected bay - with more than 30 other boats, and so there were lights everywhere. Neverheless it was great - we enjoyed good drinks, music and some fun dancing...

 

14.11.2009 Ha Long Bay - Ha Noi

Short night, and at 6am the boat started the motor to head back towards the mainland. So I got up and sat on the top deck to one more time enjoy the scenery.

It was still cool and overcast - to bad, with some sun this here would probably be paradise...

 

After a very nice breakfast we headed to one of the biggest caves in Ha Long Bay. And wow, back again to hectic and noise, this time with all these wooden tourist boats crashing into each other, blowing the horns!

The cave is huge and impressive. For my taste however all the coloured lights make it look to "kitschig"! And with all the tourists crawling around, it is actually quite annoying. But... one has to see this I guess.

 

With this the wonderful Ha Long Bay excursion was over - sniff - we all would have loved another day here. Think they should shorten HCMC and add a day here... The bus took us back again, and we all fell asleep despite the bumpy road.

 

Back in Ha Noi was back into the hotel with no windows, at least for some of us (my roommate and me)! Thank god I changed my flight to go home earlier...

 

We did not really know what else to do here in Ha Noi. The weather still cool and overcast, but here now that was fine. So we just strolled around the streets, had a coffee in the so called famous Cafe 252 where Catherine Deneuve apparently stopped during filming "Indochine".

 

In the evening then we had our group farewell dinner and enjoyed a last real Vietnamese style kitchen in the "Ancient Town" restaurant.

 

15. - 16.11.2009 Ha Noi

My roommate left at 6.30 am, so it was time to say good-bye...

At 8.30am then the rest of us met up and had breakfast. All of them changed to another hotel in Ha Noi after that, me being the only one here. But as I had already paid the additional nights I originally planned to be here, they now for the last night gave me a very nice room WITH WINDOWS!!! Finally ;-)

 

I was not at all in the mood to get around this city on my own - mainly because I did not know what to do. It seems Ha Noi is not really a sight-seeing city. And again the weather was cool and overcast (it even rained), so no sense in going into a park for sunbathing or so.

Therefore I took time for myself and also to update this blog.

And I enjoyed my rather nice and big room, watching TV, writing my diary, sleeping...

I also went back to the KOTO restaurant for lunch and dinner. Just a nice place to be with good food - and supporting a good cause.

 

Yes, this is how I spent my last two days in Ha Noi.

Not really unexpected, but again it happened: my transfer to the airport then did not come. Luckily the reception helped with phonecalls to Intrepid and so I in the end made it to the airport.

 

The flight was very comfortable - only half of the plane was full. I was very lucky to have a row of 4 seats for myself!!! Ah, great!

 

And so I arrived back in Zurich - well rested and... honestly.... happy to be back home :-)


Zambia 22. - 24.11.2008

Posted at 02:07, 22 November 2008 in Southern Africa

22.11.08 Kasane - Livingstone (Zambia)

The other side of the Zambesi river then has again a line full of trucks and vehicles to go across the other side. So a very busy area, hot and humid... and I was really glad to be here with a group! We all got the passport stamped (and Visas if required), but then it took 2 hours to get the administrative paperwork done for the bus we travel. So we waited patiently.

 

After a short drive then we reached our final destination: Livingstone. Now... I did not expect a huge city, however this is not at all what I thought Livingstone would look like. It is a one-street city, meaning there is one main street with some kind of funny looking shops (for us from the 1st world they look like storage shacks...). Very dusty, quite smelly... and that is it!

We ate lunch at the hotel, strolled up and down the street and I then updated this blog before we then left to drive down to the main attraction here: the Victoria Falls! Now... just in time for that it again started to rain really hard. But the biggest disappointment: at this time of the year the Falls are dry on the Zambia side! So all you see is the steep canyon/gorge, with the 100m wall where the water normally would fall down. Bugger!!! The only water we had coming down was from the sky, and we all got soaking wet - even with the raingear...

 

So instead of having a nice sunset dinner at the Zambesi river, we had to go back to the hotel to change and then went back to the restaurant in the dark. But by then everyone was already in a quite good party-mood, and the evening/night become another huge dancing party... Good fun!

 

23.11.08 Livingstone

It rained all night, but luckily just in time it stopped in the morning. So off to do some crazy adrenalin-pumping stuff: Bungy-Jumping, Flying Fox and Gorge Swing over the Victoria Falls Gorge... Now I have done Bungy and Flying Fox before, but still loved it - it is the 2nd highest jump in the world with 111m! But then the Gorge Swing - holy malony - now that is the best thing EVER! You jump from the same platform as for Bungy, but instead of just going down and up, you freefall first and then swing back and forth in the narrow gorge. ASSUME!!!

I was all shaking from excitement.

 

As Livingstone does not really offer to much... (like nothing...), I then spent the rest of the day hanging around in the hotel. Nice to just do nothing... It again started to rain in the afternoon, so watching TV after 3 weeks was a welcomed distraction ;-)

 

This evening then we had our Farewell Dinner at the hotel. Last time of African feeling, as it took them hours to serve us... But we still had a lot of fun together - also afterwards when we sang a self-created farewell song to our guide and driver. Crazy little group this is ;-)

Some good-bye drinks at the bar, and then off to bed.

 

24. - 25.11.08 Livingstone - home.....

Some of the group still have a few days in Livingstone, but the majority of us left around lunchtime to the airport and flew to Johannesburg. For some of us it was really hard to say good-bye... lots of tears and emotions...!

 

For three of us the stay-over in Johannesburg was very long, so our guide organized a little shopping tour in a huge mall for us. So us girls strolled around the stores - not really buying a lot, but just enjoying time away from the airport.  

And back at the airport we had another little dinner before it was then time to finally say good-bye to each other (yes, more tears and emotions ;-) 

 

Yes, and the rest was just a looooooooong travelling time, with to much time at airports...

But back home I had a nice surprise, as my little beloved niece and nephew were awaiting me with HUGE smiles, big laughs and even bigger HUGS... ahhhh felt so good ;-)


Botswana 17. - 22.11.2008

Posted at 04:11, 15 November 2008 in Southern Africa

17.11.08 Gobabis - Maun (Botswana)

After the border crossings, the roads changed to kamikaze driving. Cattle, donkeys and horses all over the place, running off into the street without warnings. A real challenge for our driver, but he managed very well. Also, Botswana is very careful about the Foot-and-Mouth desease, so we regularly had to stop, get outside and walk through some kind of antiseptic stuff to clean the shoes. Which is always a funny experience, as the oh so busy African guards are just hanging around and couldn't care less :-)

 

Arriving in Maun then changed the mentality we had seen up to now. Here now this is really african style living. Very busy streets, buildings and shacks in not so good shape anymore, and now more coloured and black people than white. Which for me is a little stressy, as they always want to touch my blonde hair.... But in the group we are safe, so we all went to change money and do the big shopping for the next 2 days camping in the Okavango Delta. Water, water, water, beer beer beer - and sunscreen :-)

The hotel then a very nice surprise, swimming pool and a nice little bar. We all chilled out first, then packed our daybags for the next days to come.

 

18. - 20.11.08 Okavango Delta (southeast part at end of Boro River)

From the hotel we left early in the morning by 4WD over sandy bumpy ways from Maun to the village of the Polers. Polers being the people that push the Mokoro boots, the wooden barkboats where you actually lie in. It was so relaxing to sit back and slowly make a way through the high grassy water.
And guess what: all of a sudden you would here a loud "pfffscht" and Hello Hyppo!!!

Our camping spot was on a little island surrounded by the waters of the Okavango Delta. We spent the days walking to spot wildlife (yes guys, again 5am!!!). But it was soooooo worthwile. We got very close to Zebras, Gnus, Baboons (Paviane) and Antilopes, and there was a huge heard of 20 Girafes passing us, whilst another group of Elephants crossed their way. Our guide (a little crazy I admit) then took us around the bush against the wind, and WOW...! we met up with the Elefants like 10m before us. Now THAT was scary, as the Elefant in front did the ear-waving and lifted his trunk to warn us... Well, we RAN...!!! But hey, what an experience.

So after that swimming in the Delta with the Hyppos somewhere in the farer end was just a relaxing little adventure ;-)
We enjoyed the days out there, sitting in the camp, relaxing, chatting, playing games with the polers, eating good food the guide carefully prepared - and sleeeeeeping. The weather here was always cloudy and lots of thunder in the background. Luckily however we did not get any rain (yet)... And the sunset - oh my - just beautiful!

 

On the 20.11. then we had to break-down camp. In Maun at the hotel we took a very nice and long shower, repacked everything and then went to lunch to "Nando's", South Africans answer to McDonalds. Afterwards we made our way to north to Gweta, another of these 3-house villages in the nowwhere :-) Our lodge again a funny place (Planet Baobab), clay huts spread out in a huge park-looking area full of really huge and old Baobab Trees. We took pictures in front of the tree, but you can hardly see us, these trees are extremely big!

 

Another time at the bar, the pool - another hours without electricity (we have gotten used to that by now... this is Africa).  But we had time to do some laundry and dry it in the rain... ehm not!!! Well - over night the hotel then had power and offered to dry our stuff in their dryer...

 

Funny story here... the area of that lodge is so big, and their pathways so confusing... after dinner we got lost and did not find our room for 1 freeking hour!!! Now imagine lots of little creepy night-active animals, only a little flashlight, rain and humidity.... not very funny when you are tired...

 

21.11.08 Gweta - Kasane

After finally having found the hut we slept like dead bodies... all of us, so that we all got up to late and the guide was not to happy as we then were late for leaving. Oh well...

A long travel day through interesting roads, full of holes - and I meen big holes. So again a stressful day for our driver.  In Nata a quick stop to get food which we as usual ate on the bus to gain time. Driving through the Makgadikgadi Pan National Park offered a huge flat area of land (size of Switzerland), and the road just as straight as it can be. But more interesting all the animals on the street, from Storchs to Marabus to Vultures (Aasgeier) next to a dead Zebra up to a real Elefant just walking along the street!!!

 

It then started to rain VERY HARD! So the Chobe activities unfortunately got cancelled, as the Zambesi River is to dangerous in this rain-storms. But going shopping in a muddy, flooded little African village is quite a fun challenge too - really hope I will ever get my feet clean again, as every time you had to cross the street you sank into muddy stinky water up to your ankles... lekker!

 

So the rest of the afternoon then we spent enjoying the lodge (again cute huts) this time directly on the Zambesi River, where a little Hyppo amused us. Some beers, good food - and that is just a good way of living ;-)

 

22.11.08 Kasane - Livingstone (Zambia)

Directly after Kasane we had to get in line for the border crossing to Zambia. Now the guide warned us, that the Kazungula Ferry-crossing could take a while, but we were very fortunate and got to cross the river immediately. An adventurous trip I have to say...


Namibia 07. - 17.11.2008

Posted at 05:16, 10 November 2008 in Southern Africa

07.11.08 Gariep to Aus

Again a long days drive on dirt roads (gravel roads) throuth the Ai-Ais National Park. But the landscape is now very dry and deserted, only the mountains of the Huib Hoch Plateau striking out. Here we walked along the 2nd largest Canyon in the world, the Fish River Canyon - impressive and interesting with all the mineral layers, where the river has carved his way through.

We spotted a beautiful coloured Oryx, a large antilope with long horns - impressive! With music from a German radio station in the bus we stopped at a farm for lunch in the Gondwana Canon Park. Interesting enough, most people here are white or coloured, rarely black. This goes back to history with German ancestors settling down here in Namibia.

After driving all afternoon (in the end along the train tracks with a stop in Goageb) we arrived in the middle of nowhere: Aus. Again, a few houses make a village... Our camp in the "Klein Aus View" was called Geister Schlucht, and was situated within some boulder-hills, in the middle of the desert. Very scenic, very beautiful sunset - but very windy! We even spotted the wild horses they have here.

Dinner was then back in the Bahnhof Hotel Aus (hi hi hi... funny), but then back at the camp the guide started a nice camp fire and we sat around talking and drinking. Two of us finally decided to sleep outside - WOW!!!!! Millions of stars in the sky - very very special!

 

08.11.08 Aus to Namib Desert

Today we hit the Namib Desert - again very dry yellow gras landscape with the Blackback Mountain range in the horizon. Two jackals crossed our way, nicely striped. We also looked at a Nest of the Social Weaver Birds, huge nests they build on the tree branches. We drove over the Yaris Hochpass at 1'750m and enjoyed the scenery.

The long travel days give us enough time to catch up on sleep... so in the evenings we are ready to relax and have fun. This night was in the Nubib Nature Camp, again a farmer that built very cute huts in the mittle of nowhere. He took us out for a Nature Game Drive and we spotted Springboks, Oryx and birds - but only saw the leopards footprints, no life one yet...

 I took advantage of the quiet area and again slept outside - its just wonderful to hear all the little noises under the stars. At 3am I just had to keep my eyes open and "catch the falling stars"!

 

09.11.08 Sossusvlei / Sisriem to Naukluft Mountains

A very early start today as we drove into the famous Sossusvlei red Dunes. At Dune 45 we started our climb up (ca. 150m in the sand - puh!) to then have lots of fun - and burnt feet - when running down again! We are a fun crazy little group!

With a 4WD we drove into the Sossuvlei Pan and got the impression of what it means to burn in the very hot desert... No thanks!

A little further the Sisriem Canyon then offered some shade, baboons again and an interesting little canyon with funny rock formations. Sisriem meaning 6 strings from top to the bottom where the water is.

 

The later afternoon then another great surprise - a superbe lodge (Namib Desert Lodge) with a swimming pool! You can imagine that it took as only seconds to get changed and jump into the cool waters! And with that started a long beer-drinking and fun shit-talking crazy evening (we are busy learning Africaans swearing words ;-) And we even saw some animals coming to the water hole in front of the bar!

 

10.11.08 Naukluft Mountains to Swakopmund

Apfelstrudel in lively Solitaire - another German remaing ;-) We drove on and crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, which I by now have already crossed multiple times on different continents, quite funny actually. On the way we stopped at some scenic places, as the landscape changed from the flat desert to a canyon-like mountain range (Carp Cliff at the Kusep River). Coming closer to the coastline we then entered the Skeleton Coast, a flat desert with nothing but yellow sanddunes.

A short stop in Walfish Bay to have lunch offered to put the feet into the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean, before we then entered Swakopmund. First thing to do here is book all kind of activities. I chose Skydiving for tomorrow - yippie!

 

11.11.08 Swakopmund

Now to tell you about Skydiving I actually just need 2 words: SO GEIL! (aehm... fuc...good). Even thou the jump was postponed, as Swakopmund often has a fog in the morning, so I only jumped in the late afternoon. But that gave me the time to stroll around the little city, shop a little and have a look at the curios market (local wood carving things).

But the jump... Once they dressed you and fixed your harness, your buddy does some little training on how exactly to "behave". Then a tiiiiiny little plane took six of us up to 10'000 feet. Slowly my stomach gets nervous in a cool way! And then... then they open the planes side, your buddy pushes you over the edge of the plane and for some seconds you are just hanging there in the nothing. Last moment for regrets - but not me... I was ready! So then the best moment of all: 30 sec of FREE FALL: Thats Namibia Life (our motto...). Oh what a feeling. The buddy then pulls the rope, and as we fall smoother, I was even able to fly the parachute by myself - doing some fun turns and swirls to get that stomache feeling going!

In the evening we all came together for dinner and some drinks to share the adventures. We also met up with some Township guys which some of us visited in the afternoon. A long party night full of great fun and laughter!

 

12.11.08 Swakopmund - Damaraland

After all that partying, a travel day on the bus was most welcome! We passed the Koenigstein, Namibias highest mountain (2'573m) and entered the Damaraland. Here now we met some typical African tribes, the Himba women (ocker skin, bare breasts and wearing some leather/straw things). And the Herero women dressed in long colourful dresses with a funny-looking hat. They honestly just live in a shatter on the street, selling puppets and making money from fotos the tourists take... The men then sell precious stones that they are mining themselves in the area.

We stopped in Twyfelfountain, a place looking like the Devil's Marbles in Australia! In the boulder-rocks there's rock paintings of African animals dated 5'000 or 6'000 years back. It was a damned hot walk... a wind blowing like a hot hairdryer!

Another stop was at a Petrified Forest, where some old trees from previous years were up to 45m - and now have turned to stone due to some kind of process...

 

After that hot and dry dusty day we all again were very excited to have a little pool at the lodge. African lodges are just so high in standard, I am really having a luxury trip here with GAP in comparison to other GAP trips of the same level. Enjoying it however ;-)

 

13.11.08 Damaraland - Etosha National Park

Leaving the Damaraland with a stop in Outjo to shop all we need for an African Brai (BBQ), we then head North towards Etosha. Meanwhile the landscape changed from rocks and yellow gras to smaller trees and huge termite hills. We entered the Etosha National Park and it did not take long to already spot some great wildlife at a waterhole: Oryx (still my favourite), Springboks, Zebras and Jackals took turns to drink. It is really funny to watch, as all groups of animals just patiently wait for the other group to finish, and only when that group has left, the other group moves in. Wouldn't it be great if we human beings could be so patient???

 

On the way to our camp in Halali we were looking out for more wildlife, but did not see anymore exciting animals (the springbok by now is common...). At the camp then a new taste of this trip, as we had to put our own tents up. Quite easy to do, but in this heat still a hot task. But again - there was a wonderful pool, and after setting up camp we all cooled off in the clear poolwater with an even cooler drink in hand - ahhhhh, thats a holiday ;-)

In the evening the GAP guide and driver worked their bum off and made an absolutely great African Brai (BBQ) for us. Mhhh, steaks from the grill, my favourite!!! For those who know what camping means, they can appreciate what it is like to just hang around the fireplace, chat, drink and enjoy the stars - and oh yes: the full moon....

 

Around midnight some of us then went to the waterhole that is lit up to check if any animals made it there. And WOW: the white rhino was just drinking water. What a huge animal. But it even got better; as soon as the rhino left the scene, a trumpet signal in the dark could be heard, and 2 min later the elephants marched in! Oh man, just assume, 11 animals of all sizes. And they enjoyed the water, you could actually hear them sucking it in with their trunks. They also played with each other and we just watched them for a loooong assume time.

 

14.11.08 Etosha National Park

Short night, early rise to go on a game drive (safari). A special open vehicle took all of us around the waterholes to spot animals. However... I did not really enjoy it so much today, the hot wind when driving is so dry, and with all the dust and lack of sleep - was hard on all of us. Nevertheless we very much enjoyed seeing Giraffes, Zebras, Wildebeest (Gnus), birds of all kind up to the Ostrich, Antilopes of all kind and the warthog (Warzenschwein).

Back at the camp then another cooling off in the pool with relaxing sunbathing at the poolside. Yes, even thou the sun is shining every day, I have not yet been able to work on my tan ;-)

 

Dinner we then took in the campgrounds restaurant, but more important was the visit at the waterhole again. Just in time again for the Rhinos, 5 of them this time, incl. a little one, so cute! All humans watching them sit quietly there and watch, and the animals do not seem to mind us behind the fence. Once in a while they check the scene, but mainly because of other predators, not us.

 

Now my favourite moment then: Lions! Yes, 3 of them made it slowly down to the waterhole - with a short interaction as the rhinos left. Fun to watch!

 

15.11.08 Etosha National Park - Windhoek

I slept like a baby after all the wildlife excitement. In the morning - by the way, EARLY mornings we do here, so 5 am getting up!!! Can you imagine me being up and even fit at that time??? Now that should actually tell you how much I am enjoying this trip ;-)

Well we took the tents down, cleared camp and left for Windhoek. So a very long welcomed travel day to catch up on sleep. A few stops on the way, but nothing more.

 

Arrived in Windhoek at 4pm, where my first mission was to update this blog ;-) So now I am off for a nice hotel shower and then a group dinner, as we here loose some colleagues and also gain new people to the group for the next part of the tour.

After the group dinner in a very funny touristy german-beerhouse-like place (with great steaks at a bargain price!) we had a Namibian/Portuguese party at the hotel, as they celebrated their religious San Martin holiday... There was really good party-music, so we danced and partied until early hours!

 

16.11.08 Windhoek - Gobabis (Kalahari)

Finally we did get a day to sleep in - ahhhhhh. But guess what, at 8am I was up already, seems to be the habit lately to get up so early... A short stop at the shopping center to have breakfast (don't really need to buy anything), and then we left for Gobabis in the Kalahari desert. Quite a boring driving today, the landscape being the same all the time - so sleeping in the bus has become a habit :-)

But we arrived quite early at our lodge and - oh my god! - like in the movie Out of Africa this lodge offered little huts with view into the wilderness, where Gnus, Antilopes and other animals just walked across! We just sat outside of the huts, enjoying cool drinks while the African Wildlife paid a visit.

Later in the afternoon then an excursion: go to visit the real (?) bushman. Now if you have ever seen the movie "The Gods must be crazy" - this is the people from that movie!!! The funny clicking talking again, the way they move to copy the animals (and we had to guess what they were) - it was actually a very entertaining and social event, that I really liked. We only could talk to the chief, as only he spoke a little English, as for the others it was sign-language. And with the kids, oh, just lovely... a little tickle here and there and they would giggle and play with us. Really a good experience!

 

Back at the camp then they grilled a lamb on the open fire for dinner (they actually burnt it in the fire...), we sat around the fire eating and watching the wildlife around us again. Now.... this is the 'nice' wildlife, but I also have to mention all the creeeeeeepy things in the little huts. Not just spiders, no: MEGA spiders, scorpions, bugs in size of a hand... flying - buzzing all around. Aaarghhh... But hey, that's AFRICA LIFE!


17.11.08 Gobabis - Maun (Botswana)

 A long travel day ahead of us, 620 km to Maun in Botswana. The border controls went smooth, everyone from the group got through without a problem. You just have to be patient... african way ;-)


South Africa 02. - 06.11.2008

Posted at 05:01, 10 November 2008 in Southern Africa

02. - 04.11.08 Cape Town

It's a long flight to the Southern tip of Africa, and after landing at midnight, a thunderstorm gave me the first impression of what they call a "slight shower"! A good night sleep and the next day: off to discover Cape Town...

 

First in the morning I met Simone (German) who will also be on the GAP tour. We decided to together grasp a look over the city from the Table Mountain. A Swiss cablecar took us up into the clouds at 1'086m. So... nothing to see in the fog really :-( But one has to be patient... all of a sudden it cleared and we could enjoy the spectacular view over the city with the Waterfront and the beaches, the suburbs and all the way to the Cape of good hope.

 

The afternoon then we booked a tour to the Cape, passing some beautiful beaches with good-looking surfing guys ;-) But you know me... more interested in my dear Penguins, so was all excited to see the "Jackass Penguins" at Boulders Beach near Simons Town. The landscape here is really worth seeing: rough ocean spraying over the rocks, picturesque and colourful houses in the little villages and white sandy beaches in between.

We then entered the Cape of Good Hope Natural Reserve and were lucky to already here see Ostriches (Strausse), Baboons (Paviane), Antilopes and Zebras! What a treat :-)  Of course we also climbed Cape Point and of course we took the "must-do" picture at the Cape of Good Hope sign.

 

In the evening for the first time we did not really feel to save - two blond women walking in the streets... did not feel to good. But we found a nice little restaurant, had dinner and then made a quick way back to the hotel.

 

Next day then was very sunny and warm. With another girl from GAP, Emma (Aussie) we strolled along the city-sights down to the Waterfront. Now, modern Shopping Malls everywhere don't really put me into the African feeling, and you can only guess how hard it was for me not to shop... my backpack is full, and the trip has only just started!

But Cape Town is such a beautiful city, it is really great to walk around and look at the diversity of all the buildings. By the way, there is quite some construction going on because of the 2010 Soccer World Championship. The new stadion has a prime location right on the beach!

 

In the evening then we had the GAP Welcome Meeting, where a competent guide gave us first information on what the next three weeks will be like. I am really looking forward to it!

We all went for a common dinner to get to know each other - my family for the next three weeks :-)

 

05.11.08 Cape Town to Lambert's Bay

With a very comfortable little tour bus our group of 13 plus driver and guide took off now for the GAP Tour Delta, Dunes and Falls.  The group is a great mix of nationalities (Aussies, USA, UK, Canada, Germany, Belgium, Portugal and South Africa). After a short ride we left Cape Town via the wineyards (with a little wine tasting of course...) into the area called Svartsland. I am amazed by all these Dutch or German names - clearly showes the history here. A long drive on this 1st day all the way up to Lambert's Bay, where we had the chance to go out to a birds refuge to see some Cape Gonnets (almost like the Boobies in Galapagos ;-)

Dinner was then directly on the beach in a funny place called "Muisbooskerm": lots of dishes freshly prepared - unfortunately mostly fishy stuff....

 

06.11.08 Lambert's Bay to Gariep (Namibia)

Next day again a long travelday - already on some dirtroads shaking us up a little. The Namakwa land now has hills of granite and sandstone, and with the yellow, dry gras it is quite scenic. Once in a while we saw Ostriches and Springboks!

In the afternoon we already left South Africa and crossed the border over the Oranje River to Namibia. Shortly behind the border was our next lodge, a super duper lodge (Felix Unite) right on river, with luxurious huts on top of the hill offering a wonderful view over the river. Soon after, all took off in Kanu's to fight the strong wind and the currents. Really funny! At the open air bar then the thirst had to be killed with some beers (oh yes, I can do beer... believe me!), and a lush outside evening again gave us the chance to get to know each other.

 

The group is cool, and the standard of this GAP Tour amazing luxurious! I am enjoying it totally. Our South African Guide and Driver not only do their job very well, but they are also good fun to hang around with and learn about Southern Africa.

 


Southern Africa Travel Plan: 02.11. - 25.11.2008

Posted at 02:07, 29 October 2008 in Southern Africa

GAP Tour: Dunes, Deltas and Falls Discoverer

Highlights: Fish River Canyon, Namib Desert, Sossusvlei, Cape Cross, Swakopmund, Etosha Pan National Park, Kalahari, Maun, Chobe National Park, Okavango Delta, Victoria Falls, Cape Town, Windhoek


Spitzbergen & The Arctic: 31.07. - 08.08.2008

Posted at 02:32, 1 August 2008 in Spitsbergen & The Arctic

Exploring the very North with the Polar Star Icebreaker


Costa Rica: Tamarindo + San Jose 27.01. - 07.02.07

Posted at 06:31, 27 January 2007 in South America

27.01.07 San Jose

Today most people of the group headed home, so it was another saying goodbye-day for me... one of the last ones I guess, as soon it will be me saying goodbye ;-) Dallas and Celeste, a Canadian couple with whom I will be going to Tamarindo, we strolled along the shopping street of San Jose. You would not believe all those shoe-stores...!

 

28.01. - 04.02.07 Tamarindo

At 6.30am (!) we were picked-up and a nice little comfy van drove us to the Pacific Ocean side, to Tamarindo. This place is only a 4-hour drive from San Jose and is famous under surfers, due to the great waves. I had a bungalow right across the street to the beach, so 2 minutes and my feet were in the warm sand :-)

What struck me most was the huge beach at low tide, the ocean was way out. And at high tide, the water came all the way up, probably due to the upcoming full moon. Quite interesting...

My friends were at another (very nice) hotel, but it was no problem for me to join them on their hotel-pool.


 

So my days here were very easy: a walk along the beach in the morning where I collected beautiful shells, then doing nothing all day but working on the tan - well, we dipped in-and-out of the pool to cool down ;-), and in the evening have good food in one of the beach restaurants. Sounds like a holiday, right? Well believe me, it felt like one also, no travelling, no busrides, no early hours, no listening to guides talking... just relaxing - aaahhh :-)


 

But we did one thing: Tamarindo has a Nationalpark, where from October to February the Leatherback Turtles come to the Playa Grande to lay their eggs in the sand. Even thou it was the end of the season, we booked a tour to go and see this with rangers. But on Wednesday night unfortunately no turtle came to the beach :-( Anyway, it was a funny excursion, as you are picked-up at 11pm, then you cross a river, then you walk along the beach to the ranger station, where everyone then lays on the beach and waits... and waits...and waits - until 3am, that is when the rangers "give up" searching the beach for turtles and you go back to the hotel.

As it was full moon, it was very romantic to lay on the beach...


 

Well, we did get to go again on Thursday - and oh my god, when we walked along the beach to the ranger station, all of a sudden "things" crawled in the sand...! Guess what: we were just on time there to see little baby turtles hatch out of their eggs in the sand and crawl into the ocean. Wow, they were soooo small, so cute! The ranger told us that they were Olive Ridley Turtles, so not really the turtles that normally nest here...

Already happy with this sighting, we at 1.30am then got "the call" at the beach, meaning that rangers had spotted a Leatherback Turtle coming ashore. So like in a military operation we were led to the spot and got turns to watch the turtle. Now here I was impressed - puh, this turtle was HUGE!!! At least 1 1/2 meters long! It was a very special moment to see her dig the hole in the sand, lay about 60 eggs in 10 minutes, and then cover up the nest with sand - patting it like a child baking sand-cakes ;-)

A great nature-sight, I was totally excited!


On Sunday then it was time to leave the beach-life again :-( 

Apparently a lot of "Ticos" (how the Costa Ricans call themselves) go to the beach over the weekend, and then everyone drives back to San Jose on Sunday evening... Great - NOT! It took us over 6hours to get back!

But I guess this was my last busride on this trip :-)


 

In San Jose I checked into the Costarican Backpackers.


05. - 07.02.07 San Jose

I figured, for the last 3 days of my trip I want to do the "real traveller's thing" again :-) The Backpackers is really cool; cozy pool with lounge chairs and hammock area, free internet - and the great mix of travellers from all over the world. Well, I guess that is one of the things I will miss after this trip: meeting interesting people from all over...

 

San Jose does not really offer good shopping (unless you need shoes I suppose). So all I did was getting the very last souvenirs and presents. On the way I stopped by the National Theatre. But honestly... I have had enough sightseeing now.

So hanging out in the Backpackers was my favourite thing to do :-)

 

And then... yes, then it was Wednesday the 7th of February... the day to return home.


Costa Rica Adventure 15. - 26.01.07

Posted at 09:50, 12 January 2007 in South America

15.01.07 San Jose - Tortuguero N.P.

6am this trip officially started with a long travelday to Tortuguero Nationalpark. And honestly... the busses in Bolivia were more comfortable than the ones here, I tell you! But of course it"s all part of the fun :-) The trip took us through the big banana plantations of Chiquita and Del Monte, where we had a short stop to see them work.

After lunch we got off the bus and into a boat, with which we drove through the wonderful rainforest - and already saw some locals: a crocodile! The special thing about this rainforest thou is that it is right on the Caribbean ocean. But the water here is very wild and dirty, and absolutly no swimming, as there are sharks.

 

We had an easy afternoon to get to know each other in the group, and after dinner in bed I again enjoyed all the noises of the jungle - with the one difference to Peru and Ecuador: here you heard the ocean waves.

 

16.01.07 Tortuguera N.P.

At 5am (!!!) we had the jungle boat tour - and again we were lucky to see a lot of wildlife: White throated monkeys, Spider monkeys, Howler monkeys; a Cayman; Black River Turtles and all kind of beautiful birds. And the scenery was soooo beautiful! I just am a fan of the jungle :-)

The rest of the day it then only rained... and it rained very hard! The humidity was up to 100%, not really comfortable. We just hang around in the hammocks...

 

17.01.07 Tortuguera N.P. - La Fortuna

It rained and rained and rained... all night long. And the boat trip on the river was pretty wet aswell, but still wonderful with all the different jungle-scenery. The bus drive to La Fortuna then again was a little torture, but we made it... and on the way we even saw a huge orange Iguana on a tree and a Sloath (Faultier), wow, really a very slow animal.

 

In La Fortuna we checked into a great hotel right on the foot of the Arenal volcano, which is an active volcano. Unfortunately it still rained and everything was in the clouds. So we enjoyed an evening in the Hot Springs - aaaahhhh felt good!

 

18. - 19.01.07 La Fortuna

Today some of us booked a River Rafting excursion, and so we were off to the Rio Toro, where 3 and 4 level rapids were awaiting us. And wow, it was a lot of fun, really. Rapid after rapid - good thing the water here is a lot warmer than in Arequipa :-) The weather also finally changed and we started to have sun, I was really happy about that - got sick of the rain...

 

In the afternoon we strolled around the large botanical garden of the hotel and checked out the impressive crocodiles they keep there in captivity. And the birdlife here was amazing: all sizes, all colours - I especially liked the little hummingbirds/colibris.

 

After dinner then we were very, very lucky to see the most exciting thing happen: the clouds had lifted and cleared the volcano, and as it was dark we could see the red lava coming down!!! Incredibly beautiful, and very scary at the same time, as this volcano does this all the time, but due to the clouds you cannot see it... And people live around here!!! The volcano spits out rocks, and the red lava colours the clouds on top, so they shimmer orange - and then the rocks roll down the hill in red lines. And you could even hear it puffing - just amazing!

We stayed up very late and just stared and watched - and waited and waited, as it only spits out every 10-15 minutes...

 

The next day then everything was in the clouds again, but during the day they cleared and at daytime you could only make out the rocks rolling down the hill, no red colour. Funny... But you still could here the puffing noise - just awesome!

 

Now today five of us booked Canyoneering - another wild adventure ;-) And it already started very exciting, as a big Mika snake crossed our way... And Canyoneering was so much fun; we climbed into the narrow "Lost Canyon", crawled along the waterline and had different abseilings of up to 65m, including a nice waterfall where the guides pushed you in :-). GREAT!

 

We all returned alive (no snakebites...), and in the afternoon I took a hike up to the observation point of the volcano. But I could not really see more than from the hotelsite.

Unfortunately that evening the clouds were too low again, so no more lava-sightings this evening...

 

20.01.07 La Fortuna - Santa Elena (Monteverde)

Beautiful sunshine when we left the Arenal volcano to take a boat on the artificial Lake Arenal. Half of the group we chose to go for a 3-hour horseride along the lake. It was beautiful to ride throu the rainforest-like trees along the blue water of the lake. And this time the snake we had in the middle of the way was dead - luckily! Kids had apparently put it there to scare the horses, as it was a very poisonous Fer-de-Lance (could kill a horse!).

 

After the ride we had another 2-hour busride on a very bumpy dirtroad, but the scenery totally changed: beautiful green mountains = Monteverde. And on the way we for the first time were able to see the Pacific ocean in the horizon. Also the temperature changed, brrrrrrr, a very cold wind awaited us in Santa Elena.

 

We walked around the little city, booked some excursions and had a dinner with surprise: a big fat rat under the table...

 

Oh, by the way... you know how important my camera is to me. Well... I almost "killed" it today :-(, it fell out of my pocket when gallopping with the horse!!! Ui, it got really smashed and was totally crooked. But guess what - it still workes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Puh, I am so glad...

 

21. - 22.-01.07 Monteverde

Beautiful sunshine and clear blue sky awaited us this morning on our walking tour throu the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve. A very knowledgeable and motivated guide showed us around, spotting tarantulas, howler monkeys and different birds. I especially liked the Tucan and the Quetzal bird, wow, a real paradise bird!

But also the trees with all the bromelias, moss and parasite plants growing on them - amazing nature, I loved it.

 

In the afternoon then some of us relaxed at the pool and got some suntan - NICE :-)

But we also did another interesting thing (nothing for you Babsi...): we went to the Serpentarium, where we were even able to hold a little Boa snake. Felt really soft and smooth...

 

The following day we learned everything about coffee, from the history to the plant to the making of, including sampling coffee at the end. Now I just sampled the coffee liqueur... mhhhh :-)

 

In the afternoon then the moment came for me to get to know a totally new adrenalin-adventure: Skytrek, also called Ziplining or Canopytours. But first we did the "Nana-tour", Skywalk, which was very nice aswell. Different hanging bridges high up in the hills allowed us to look down on the rainforest, revealing a totally new way of seeing things. Here birds flew under the bridges...

 

The adventurous five of us then got harnesses, helmets, gloves and the thing to link to the steelcable - and off we went on ziplines. Uiiiiiiiii - what a feeling! Flying on top of the world, only hanging on to a cable, looking down on the large trees and valleys - i just loved it :-) Every zipline was different: sliding through the trees, or above the trees, or 200m above the ground, or 770m long, or just incredibly fast.... etc. Wow, I would say that after Bungy-Jumping this is the greatest thing I have ever done!

 

And this evening we sat around the pool drinking some beers and celebrating our breathtaking adventure.

 

23.01.07 Santa Elena (Monteverde) - Quepos

A lazy morning and then we were off on another bumpy busride to Quepos. On the way we stopped for lunch at a place, where there are huge (wild) crocodiles in the river! Incredible... they just sit there, and upstream there are horses???!!! Amazing.

 

Quepos is on the Pacific coast, and so we finally hit the hot and sunny weather. Nevertheless, all hotels are inmidst the rainforest on a hill overlooking the ocean. Great landscape! But Quepos itself has not a lot to offer... stinky, dusty little village, full of tourists :-(

 

24. - 25.01.07 Quepos

Another early start, as some of us booked the Mangrove Kayaking excursion (after kayaking in Antarctica, the mangroves were quite a change...!) We paddled through the mangroves, and I mean really through the trees. We even had to use our hands to move forward, as the paddles were in the way :-)

Again the wildlife was awesome: White throated monkeys came within touching distance; a boa was rolled up in a tree; a little anteater baby slept in a tree; crabs everywhere and also birds all over - just beautiful. I love kayaking as you can hear all the sounds aswell - makes it all a little creapy ;-)

 

After this we enjoyed an afternoon at the Quepos beach, including a swim in the very warm Pacific ocean.

 

By the way: The others of the group went to the closeby Manuel Antonio Nationalpark - also worth a visit as they told us.

 

The next day then we had a free morning, and I relaxed at the pool working on my tan ;-)

And in the late afternoon all of us then boarded a small catamaran and set sail for the sunset cruise. We did not have to go very far out into the ocean to see dolphins. Fun, they "surfed" along the boat! We also saw a water turtle and while snorkeling lots of colourful fishes of all sizes. But the snorkeling to me was not that great anymore... I know, I am spoiled after Galapagos...!

The sky was cloudy that evening, so we did not have such a great sunset - but the trip was still very relaxing and fun.

 

By the way: 25th of January was my little nephew"s first birthday... but guess what... he managed to break his tiny leg the day before! So the party was off :-(

 

26.01.07 Quepos - San Jose

The morning was ours to again enjoy the sun, and after lunch we headed off back to San Jose. Unfortunately we hit the rush hour traffic... not very pleasant on such little busses.

 

A last group dinner - and that was already it for this GAP trip. Wow, time is running so fast, I can"t belive it... soon I have to go home....!!!

 

 


Buenos Aires 10. - 14.01.07

Posted at 08:09, 11 January 2007 in South America

10.01.07 Ushuaia - Buenos Aires

So the moment had come to definitely say good-bye to my beloved Ushuaia... Having been here three times made me almost feel at home ;-)

The flight was allright, and in Buenos Aires then the humidity and heat got to me - puh! It apparently had rained very hard in the morning here, and then in the afternoon the sun had come out. So it was just a sweat-pool!

I checked into my fancy 4-star hotel :-) and for the first time in 3 weeks again enjoyed to be on my own... One just needs such moments on a long trip.

The evening then Alison (from Tucangroup) came by my hotel and we went for dinner together - guess what we ate??? STEAK, of course!

 

11.01.07 Recoleta & Palermo

Alison and I did some sightseeing today. We started off with the famous Recoleta Cemetery, where Evita Peron is burried - and a lot of other famous people. The graves are like little houses... And the only living "things" are the cats.

Walking along the "Bahnhofstrasse" of Buenos Aires - the Avenida Alvear - we had a tea in the fancy shopping-center Patio Bullrich. And well, you know how much I love shopping! So of course I had to buy something there..., and I got a Nike skirt (even a limited edition one - boah!) which coincidentally is very colourful ;-)

 

After uploading my fotos in a very hot Internet Cafe I needed a siesta in my air-conditioned hotel! And in the evening then 9 of us from the Tucantrek met up for dinner at a very nice restaurant. We enjoyed the last get-together and had good laughts! And of course another wonderful steak...

 

12.01.07 La Boca & Puerto Madero

Early in the morning I started off by myself to catch the right sunlight on the colourful houses of La Boca. And I also made it there before all the tourist coaches ;-) La Boca is like a little Legotown! The houses painted in different colours and decorated with some very funny things - have a look at my pictures :-)

 

My next stop was at the harbour section Puerto Madero. It was a very hot day today, but beautiful to enjoy the cafes along the waterside. The famous "Puente de la Mujer" unfortunately was closed for renovation, but I was still able to see it from the side. Interesting architecture, that apparently reflects a couple dancing the Tango.... well....?!?

 

I then met up with Alison, to have a farewell-steak-eatery at the fancy restaurant Cabana Las Lilas (their speciality: 800 gram and 10 cm thick steaks!!!). To be honest, we did not eat that one, but treated ourselves to an upclassy lunch in a very nice location.

Another ice-cream for us, and then I had to say good-bye to Alison :-(

 

Strolling along the pedestrian shopping streets I made my way back to the Internet Cafe to finish uploading the pictures and updating my blog.

And then I fled into my nicely coooooool hotelroom again ;-) It was 36 degrees in the sun today!

 

13.01.07 Taking it easy in Buenos Aires

Today I enjoyed doing what I normally do not have time for: sleep in; take a very nice, long shower; hang around in my own room - just taking time for myself :-)

I then went to have my fotos burned on CD, ate a little something and sat on a plaza watching the people. Everything here is very much like a USA city - I do not really feel like being in South America here...

 

In general I can say, that travelling in Bolivia and Peru was much more about living the South American culture, meeting locals and getting the indigo-feel. Patagonia was much more about nature with beautiful landscapes. And Santiago and Buenos Aires - well, just big cities. And Easter Island of course being an exception, as that was polynesian culture.

So I am curious now, what Costa Rica is going to be like :-)

 

The rest of the day I just relaxed... 

 

14.01.07 Buenos Aires - San Jose

VERY early airport transfer (5am!), then a 5 hour flight to to Lima, and from there another 4 hours up to San Jose - that is this day for me...

But in San Jose I had a really nice hotel, and so was able to relax after this long travelday and get ready for the next adventure!

 


Patagonia: Villarica Trek 21.12.06 - 09.01.07

Posted at 09:36, 25 December 2006 in South America

21.12.06 Santiago - Pucon

Early in the morning the bright yellow Tucan bus was ready for us. Now this is not just a bus... this is a truck! I was quite impressed when I saw it the first time. The bus can seat 32 people, so with 13 of us we were very comfortable - nothing like those overfull buses in Bolivia ;-) A good start of the trip! Oh by the way - the bus is called "Peggy"...

 

Today we covered over 800 km, and drove 10 hours - very long to sit on a bus. But it gave us time to get to know each other, and it seems a good group again (of course, never as good as the Bolivia/Peru group ;-).

The drive actually was very scenic, leaving Santiago for the wineries in the South. For lunch we stopped at "Salto de Laja", a big waterfall. Lunch is often provided by Peggy, so we all help and set-up tables and chairs, chop vegetable etc. and then each one makes his/her own sandwich. It's really a luxury trip this one :-)

 

Now in Pucon, THE thing to see is the still active Villarica volcano. Unfortunately it was raining, and we did not see anything. And to our disappointment, the tour to climb this volcano was postponed until further notice.

 

22. - 23.12.06 Pucon

Next day it was still raining, very cloudy and quite cold. Instead of the climb some of us decided to go Riverrafting - as you got wet anyways ;-) And it was fun and quite exciting (a 4-rating for those who know what that means).

 

And in the afternoon we strolled around the cute little village and enjoyed the cafe's - and then the nightlife. It was really fun here, as there are a lot of interesting people from all of the world meeting here. However - all of them (as we did) were hoping to climb the volcano, but again... the climb was postponed due to bad weather.

 

Well, the following day it finally stopped raining in the afternoon, but the volcano was still in the clouds. What a bummer :-(  But we by now had seen the village, so we chose to go horseback riding... Was not that exciting, but it gave us some good laughs!!!

 

Towards the evening the sun came out, and we heard the news: tomorrow the volcano climb was on - BUT... we left the next day :-(((

 

24.12.06 Pucon - Bariloche

6am - wonderful sunrise - clear blue sky - and a breathtaking view of the absolute gorgeous Villarica volcano!!! With this we left Pucon to drive ca. 400 km today to Bariloche... Well, our guide cheered us up by saying, that probably only 20% of all climbers today would make it to the top (2'864m), as there was a lot of fresh snow (it is a 8 hours climb anyway).

 

The landscape changed - we were now in the so called Lake District, a really beautiful area with lots of lakes (reminding me a lot of Canada - even though they say it is like Switzerland...). We drove on dirt-roads, so quite bumpy and slow drive! But we had great weather, and so wonderful views of volcano Lanin (3'700m). In this area there are a lot of funny looking trees, the Monkeypuzzle Trees. Reminded me of Christmas Trees...

 

We crossed the boarder from Chile to Argentina and arrived in Bariloche in the late afternoon. Now - my expectations were very high of Bariloche, as all the guide-books say it looks like Switzerland... BUT... oh no, the buildings are nothing like home! The names are (Hotel Edelweiss etc.) - and all the chocolate shops prove that there were lots of Swiss and German immigrants in the 1900. But thats it.

 

As it was Christmas Eve, there was not a lot open in Bariloche. We did a group dinner in a huge All-you-can-eat place... not very cheerful place for XMas, but we had a very funny evening.

 

25.12.06 Bariloche

Christmas Day - again, not the day to be in a city... But the weather was perfect for to hike in the National Park Llao Llao, and that's what we did. The chairlifts were not running, so we hiked along the beautiful Lake Nahuel Huapi and also went up to Cerrito Llao Llao, which gave us an overwhelming view over the huge lake.

Climbing here is quite easy :-), from 700m up to 1000m, so no longer in high altitude as in Bolivia/Peru.

 

We also checked out one of the worlds rare 6-star hotels, the Llao Llao - just WOW!!!!

 

In the evening, another 2 couples joined our group (UK and an Aussie couple, but they are from Swiss and USA origin - so I get to speak Swiss German again, how exciting ;-)...

 

26.12.06 Bariloche - Perito Moreno (the village, not glacier)

Pouring rain - quite incredible after the beautiful weather yesterday! But it did not matter, as we were all tired from all the trekking and so we dosed on Peggy. But the scenery was changing drastically today: from the Lake District with lots of trees and colourful lilac Lupinen flowers we entered the typical Patagonian landscape of scarce gras, flat as far as you can see - and no trees!. This because the wind is so strong!!! If you did not really hold on to your sandwich at lunchtime, it blew away!

 

778km today - a good day to sleep on the bus and recover. And then we entered the lifely village of Perito Moreno...NOT. One street with crooked-looking houses, and as soon as you get outside, the wind almost blows you over and you get sandblasted! So all we did was having dinner and go to sleep again.

 

27.12.06 Perito Moreno - El Chalten

This trip really has distances to cover - in total we will be doing around 3'300km!!! So today again a long travel day through the steppe. We saw some wildlife though: Rhea birds (look like Emu's) and Guanakos.

 

El Chalten was founded in 1985, and is the youngest village in Argentina. It was actually founded to ensure, that the northern entrance to the Los Glaciares Nationalpark belongs to Argentina, and not Chile. Now this village has no bank, no mobile phone connection and only lives from tourism. So again, here you meet people from all over the world - all keen on climbing either Cerro Torre or Cerro Fitzroy, the parks highest peaks.

 

That evening we did not see any of the mountains.... again it was raining - and with the stormy winds it sounded like a hurricane!!! We anyways walked through the streets to find a restaurant, and that was incredibly strenous agains the hard wind.

Now I was never cold in Antarctica - but here the wind really gets to you!!! I am very glad to have good clothing :-)

 

28. - 29.12.06 El Chalten (Los Glaciares Nationalpark, also called Fitzroy Nationalpark)

When we got up it was still raining, but during breakfast the sun pushed through - and yeah: the peaks of Cerro Fitzroy were showing a little bit :-)

We had booked a boat tour on the Viedma Lake, taking us to the Viedma Glacier, and it was an absolutely GREAT day:

The Viedma lake is a glacier lake, so has the typical milky colour. The boat took us along the edge of the glacier, which is ca. 30meters high. We did not see any ice fall off thou :-(

After the boatride we got off on the edge of the glacier and had 3hours trekking with crampons on the glacier. Now I have seen a lot of ice in Antarctica, but I had not actually walked on a glacier there. So this was quite exciting and so much fun. We had to be careful not to fall into the crevasses, but of course the guides knew their way around. And the different shapes of the ice aswell as all the shades of blue in the ice - stunning!

 

Four of us were still keen on doing more trekking after that exciting excursion, so we took off towards the Fitzroy Lookout point (3hours) and took advantage of the sun being out until 10pm. It was a very nice hike, but unfortunately the mountain peaks were in the clouds - it even snowed a little bit up here...

 

After that strenous day we enjoyed down-town El Chalten (...there is not a lot, but it is a charming, fun place...) and finished the great day with a huge Argentinian steak...

 

Next day again the peaks were not out of the clouds. Nevertheless we (and that is mostly us 4 "girls", two Aussies, one Scottish and me - the group calles us the "Crazy Girls" - guess because we have so much fun together), so we got up early to do another hike, this time up to the Torre Lookout point.

Again, wonderful landscape to walk in, crooked trees - often only growing in one direction as the wind always comes from the West. The Cerro Torre was just showing a little bit unfortunately... But we anyways had a wonderful trek and really enjoyed it.

 

For lunch then Peggy picked us up in El Chalten, and we drove to a lovely waterfall in the area. With this we left this area and drove on to El Calafate - and then - WOW, the peaks of all the mountains just came out to say good-bye. Breathtaking view really - I loved it!!!

 

Now in El Calafate I was really expecting the strong winds, as that is what I have been told by everyone I met on this trip so far. But hey - the sun was out when we arrived, so it was nice and warm - and not that windy! So finally we were able to walk around in a shirt and jacket only - not in x layers of warm cloth :-)

But you can tell that there is wind normally, as the area around the city is full of plastic bags stuck in barb-wire.... Not a very nice sight!

 

30.12.06 Perito Moreno Glacier

Rain, rain, rain... not exactly what I was hoping for on this day, as this glacier was (next to vulcano Villarica) the reason for me to travel this route. We started with a boat tour along the edge of the glacier, which is 60m high and 5km wide. But it was very disappointing, as the hard rain and cold weather prevented us from seeing a lot. I even skipped the 1 hour walk to the balconies, as I was freezing cold! So I took the bus...

But then around lunchtime the weather changed - yippie!!! From the balconies we were able to see more and more of this huge glacier, and by 3pm the mountains around the glaciers were free of clouds and we had a stunning view from the balconies to this incredible icefield. And once in a while you heard a cracking noise, or even big parts crashed into the river - wow! now that was exciting!

 

In the evening we gathered at the Shackleton Lounge for dinner... yes, dear old Shacky is also very well known here, not only in Antarctica ;-)

 

31.12.06 Puerto Natales

Another of those long driving days, as we have to cover quite a lot of kilometers on this trip. But dear Peggy always is a good way to catch up on sleep, read and have good chats :-)

 

Puerto Natales then offered not too much of exciting sightseeing, but we found a cute little restaurant, where we had a great dinner for this special evening. And we had a lot of fun, celebrating everyone's New Year by doing countdowns per country :-)

HAPPY NEW YEAR

 

01. - 03.01.07 Torres National Park

Well, to get up at 5.30am on a 1st of January is rather rare for me... but today we were off to do the "Towers Walk". This walk is one of the famous hikes to get up to the base of the "Torres" rockformation, after which the park is named. We started in a cloudy morning, but the weather improved and we enjoyed a very scenic hike.

4 hours uphill - and I mean uphill!!! And at the end it was climbing over huge boulders to get to the top... puh, I was glad to be up there at the end. But the view was spectacular. It was very windy thou, and so we went back again soon - again climbing over those boulders... autsch the knee's!

 

After this strenous day we then drove to our campsite - a picturesque place right on Lago Pehoe, with the other famous rockformation in the background; the "Horns".

Our tents were already put up, and dinner was in a restaurant on the campground - so luxurious camping :-)

However.... it is still early summer here in the South, and the winds of Patagonia added to it... we were freeeeeeeeezing cold in our sleeping bags that night!

 

Next day we were able to choose different things to do: I decided to go for an easy morning, enjoying the sun and beautiful scenery to write my diary, chat with others and just relax a little.

In the afternoon then we went horseback riding. What a great background for it: blue sky, very interesting landscape with crooked trees (twisted due to the strong wind), turqoise coloured rivers (due to the ice cold glacier waters) and all kind of wildflowers blooming. We had a little adventour, as we crossed a river, where the horses were in the water up to their bellies... and we almost had to crawl on the saddle to not get wet ;-) Was really funny and we had a great time.

 

This night was warmer, and we put on more layers to not again be cold in the tent. It worked, however at 4am the wind got so strong, that the group tent went down...! It was quite cozy to snug up in the sleeping bag, as you could here the wind coming from far away until it hit the tent and shook it heavily.

 

That day we were up to another famous walk: to the Grey Glacier. Again uphill, but not that hard this time - but the wind was like one of those storms at Christmas time once in Switzerland - it blew you over. Some people even fell!!! Incredible.

Grey Glacier was in the clouds, and as we mostly walked in valleys and little forests, we did not see to much of the icefield. And fighting against the wind was hard - so we were very glad when we reached the refugio at Grey Glacier. From here we were supposed to hop on a boattour to see the glacier and drive back to the starting point... What we did not know: this boat was cancelled due to the strong wind. And this meant, that we had to walk all the way back again - aaaaahhhrgggg!!!

Not only was it now getting an 8hours walk, but also we were under time constraints, as we had to make it on the last catamaran across Lago Pehoe. So we almost ran all the way - I guess I have NEVER ever gone uphill that fast! My poor heart was close to exploding...

 

We all made it thou... and that night all were cuddling into their sleeping bags pretty soon. Unfortunately another rather cold night, and so we all were happy that it was the last night camping ;-)

 

04.01.07 Torres del Paine N.P. - Punta Arenas

A quiet day, just a little wind, clear blue sky and a postcard-like view of all the mountains - this is how we left Torres del Paine N.P. for another of those long driving days (440km on dirtroads). I guess it was the most quiet drive of the whole trek, as everyone was exhausted from all the trekking and lack of sleep - we all snoozed in the bus :-)

 

It felt really good to have a real bed again (and you dont have to go outside of your tent to get to the restroom!). We found a great little restaurant with GREAT steaks... yammie!!!

 

05.01.07 Punta Arenas - Rio Grande

On our way to Ushuaia, we had to cover a lot of kilometers/miles, so today again we had a long driving day. The scenery changed, as after all the steppe and crooked trees we now hit the coast of the Atlantic ocean - again crossing the boarder to Argentina. First however we had to cross the Magellan Straits on a ferry - with all that wind and the waves no wonder so many ships sunk in previous years!!!

And I was excited, as today we visited a Magellanic Penguin colony in Otway. There were quite a few of them in the grass on the beach. New for me was to see the teenagers loosing their wolly feathers - cute!

 

Rio Grande then was just a place to stay overnight - and again have a nice steak for dinner (yes, Argentina again!).

 

06.01.07 Rio Grande - Ushuaia

By now we all had enough of driving on Peggy... My back started to hurt, I had finished reading my book, we all knew our IPOD songs now and everyone had burned their fotos on CD's etc. - yes, after 4'700km! we were really happy to arrive in Ushuaia today :-) To me it felt like coming home... as it now was my 3rd time to arrive here.

 

After checking into our hostal we went for lunch and in the afternoon did a Beagle Channel boattour. Now... that was not to exciting, lots of seabirds and a few sealions... was allright.

Best of this trip was the Hot Chocolate with Baileys ;-)

 

07. - 09.01.07 Ushuaia

On Sunday we explored the Tierra del Fuego Nationalpark, enjoying a wonderful scenic hike along the Beagle Channel coastline. It was mystic, as the crooked trees made the forest look spooky :-)

 

Monday then we went up with the chairlift towards the Glaciar Martial. Now this is a tiny glaciar, but in winter apparently this is THE skiresort here in Ushuaia... We hiked up to a snowfield, where we had a little snowball fight with our Australian friends, who only rarely see snow in their life :-)

In the evening we then had the farewell-dinner with the group. A last ride on Peggy to a campground, where we enjoyed a typical Argentinian "Asada", meaning lots of big steaks from the grill..... mhhhhhh ;-)

 

On Tuesday most of the Tucangroup people left, and it was me again waiving good-bye to them :-(

I did some last souvenir-shopping and had a short "Antarctica-homesickness"-moment, when I saw "my" ship coming in from another Antarctica trip...


Santiago / Easter Island 10. - 20.12.06

Posted at 07:10, 11 December 2006 in South America

10. - 12.12.06 Santiago de Chile

After those magnificent calm days in the ice, I felt totally stressed in the big city. All the people, the music out of every shop, the cars... Luckily I found a nice little hotel in the European-like part of Santiago "Barrio Paris Londres".

I mainly hang-out in Internet Cafe's, catching up on mails, uploading fotos and updating my blog. Of course laundry was on the list aswell...

 

But the city then started to cook! At first I did not know what happened, demonstrations all over, people going crazy, smashing windows, robbing stores - just a crowd out of control!!! Why: Pinochet had just died this afternoon! I was lucky and able to make my way back to the hotel safely.

 The next day (Monday), broken glass and rubbish were the only remains - the "normal" life had gone ahead again. I was glad, as now I was able to walk around safely again. I checked out some travel agencies and organized my trip to the Easter Islands.

 

And as I do not really like to do museums or churches, I just hanged out relaxing... Sitting outside in the warm sun, strolling around in the parks, sitting and watching - not penguins this time, but the lifely South-Americans :-)

 

13. -18.12.06 Easter Island (Rapa Nui)

After all those exciting things in Antarctica, I decided to leave the hectic city of Santiago and fly "over" to Easter Island. The polynesian culture I already knew from previous travels, and I love it! So here I was again in this very relaxing atmosphere :-)

I did some interesting tours to learn about the Moai-figures and the history of Rapa Nui. Incredible, how the people at that time were able to carve such big statues out of the volcano rocks! And then transport them to the villages - wow, really hard to imagine. Apparently they used the palmtrees for that - and that is why today there is no palmtrees anymore on Rapa Nui.

 

All Moai's were distroyed in 1800, but lots of them have been restored and so they throne from 5 up to 12 meters high. At the volcano there are still about 300 Moai-figures laying around, as due to a lack in resources (food!), people all of a sudden stopped to produce more Moais. And they just left the workplace and left it as it was - quite an interesting site today!

 

After the cultural sights, I enjoyed the beach - the weather was great, 30 degrees celcius, bright sunshine... So sunbathing and swimming in the wild waves was great :-)

And it gave me the necessary time to fully relax and get myself ready for the next trip through Chile.

 

19. - 20.12.06 Santiago

It takes 5 hours to fly from Easter Island to Santiago. Unfortunately the flight came from Tahiti and was delayed, so I had to hang around the very exciting airport in Rapa Nui (there is NOTHING!!!).

But I made it back, and the next day I mixed with the thousands of people doing their XMas shopping as I needed some things! Puh, what a run in the shops - I did not like this.

 

In the evening then I met up with the new group (Tucan Travel this time) and we went for dinner together. We are 13 people, all native English-speaking (Aussies, Scottish, UK, Ireland). It felt good to be in a group again - have not been in such a group since Ecuador, which seems to be years away ;-)

Yes - and so it's off to the South again... I am keen again to see and do some more exciting "stuff" :-)


Antarctica 18.11. - 09.12.06

Posted at 07:54, 16 November 2006 in South America

18. - 19.11.06 Ushuaia

Ushuaia is called "The end of the World" - and yes, it is the most southern city of its size in the world. We arrived in the light of the setting sun, which gave a beautiful light on the snow-capped mountains. And it was a fun thing to have the sun until 11.30 pm at night - in Quito the sun set around 6 pm.

Priska and I enjoyed walking up and down the main street St. Martin (the one and only souvenir shopping street). Ushuaia is embedded between mountains and the Beagle Channel, and we were lucky to not only have rain, but also sunshine - very rare in Ushuaia we have been told...

 

The 19th then Priska went on a tour to the Tierra del Fuego Nationalpark, and I went on a trekking tour to Laguna Esmeralda, a glacier lake shimmering green. Was a nice easy hike.

But we were getting nervous and excited, as FINALLY at 4 pm our dream came true: we boarded our ship, the Akademika Sergej Vavilov. I was very positively surprised at the size of our cabin - great ship, I liked it from the first minute. And we were lucky again, the ship was not fully booked, so only around 70 passengers. After the mandatory life-vest-drill the ship left Ushuaia, and while we had dinner, the ship sailed through the Beagle Channel in a beautiful sunset. What a great start!

 

20.11.06 on sea

The day was splendid: no clouds in the sky, dark blue ocean, dolphins swimming along with the ship... We got familiar with the ships gangways, received the nice red Wetskins (waterproof clothing) and Wellington boots. We had different briefings on how to get into a Zodiac and how to behave on shore etc. Also, 10 of us met with Don (Master of Kayaks :-), got our briefing and again had to try on the special clothing - puh, not really my piece of cake to put on that drysuite!

And the first passengers got seasick! Well, I did not dare to tell anyone - but the ship was hardly moving, honestly! No comparison to the up-and-down with the little Galapagos boat!!!

 

21. - 22.11.06 Falkland Islands

The Falkland Islands are also called the Galapagos Islands of the South. After breakfast we started the first excursion. All dressed in the sexy red Wetskins we boarded the Zodiacs and landed on Westpoint Island, a privately owned island (now why would one want to live here!!???) A short walk took us to a large Rockhopper Penguin Colony, nesting with lots of Black Browed Albatross (4m wing-span!). What a start into my beloved penguin-world! We were able to get so close, I could have touched them :-) And the Rockhoppers with their yellow "hair" look so funny, I loved to watch them. They sat on their egg, and ui - big noise if another one penguin came to close...

In the afternoon we then went on shore on another privatly owned island: Carcass Island. Here we found a beautiful white sandy beach, where Magellanic Penguins strolled around, together with lots of Upland Geese. And in the far we recognized the first Gentoo Penguins. The islands here have no snow anymore, and the birds and penguins nest in the Tussock Gras, so we had to be very careful not to step on them!

Next day - again beautiful weather - we reached Falkland's capital: Stanley Harbour. The colourful houses in the sunlight, what a special sight :-) Priska and I strolled around, visited the museum very shortly (no, I am still not a fan of museums...) and just enjoyed the colours of this precious little city. To us of course this place was not as important as for the Brits on board... They were in awe of all the traces of the Argentina/UK war which finished in 1982.

Back on the ship our "ceremony" was to sit up in the bar, enjoy the view from there - and I once in a while enjoyed the Happy Hour Drink :-)

 

23. - 24.11.06 on sea

The Peregrine crew kept us busy with all kinds of presentations (mainly about Shackleton, Amundsen, Foto Workshops, Painting Workshops and also Pre-Information on the places we were to visit). I did not attend all of it, only some... I preferred to sit out on deck, enjoy the ocean, getting to know the people on board - and also learn about all those Antarctic birds flying around the ship.

The ship was bouncing a little stronger now, as we left the warmer waters and entered the Antarctic Sea.

 

And then it happened :-) - the very first iceberg came in sight! Ok, now that I have seen so many I know that that one was not really impressive... but hey, it was the first iceberg....

 

Due to the good weather conditions, we later were also able to spot the Shag Rocks, a small rock formation in the middle of nowwhere, the rocks merging out of the water to ca. 70m high. Quite special!

 

25. - 27.11.06 South Georgia

What a sight in the morning: snow-capped mountains raising directly from the ocean up to 3'000 m! Impressive and beautiful. Unfortunately the wind was to strong for our first kayaking excursion  - so I joined the group and we went on a Zodiac tour in Elsehul. And here I saw them for the very first time: the beautiful King Penguins. What a gorgeous animal! But we saw lots more, Gentoo Penguins with their red beek, and the huge, massive Elephant Seal - wow, I wonder how much that weights!

We then went back on board and sailed along South Georgia's coast - amazing, all those mountains and the HUGE glaciers coming from the top down into the ocean. And again, we were so lucky, we could see most of the high peaks (the expedition leader said, in his 14 years with this job he had never seen that...).

 

But then - my absolut overwhelming moment - the 2nd largest colony of King Penguins on Salisbury Plains. WOW... hardly no words for what we were able to see there: over 250'000 penguins, lots of so called "Wollies" (baby Kings in their brown fluffy feathers). Already when arriving on shore with the Zodiac we had penguins porpoising along - how graceful, great! And then - as told by the naturalists on board - we slowly walked amongst the animals, sat down or even layed down (yes... into the penguin shi.. - but hey, they told us to do so... and it is their wetskins, right ;-)

And so I got an everlasting memory of just sitting there, watching those incredible beautiful animals do what they do: stand around :-) No, they were calling for their babies (quite noisy place there...); feeding them; celebrating little mating ceremonies and hitting "intruders" with the little wings etc. And... if you ever saw how penguins walk... then you know what I mean when I say they are sooooooooooooooooooooooooo funny! Awesome afternoon!!!

Back on the ship everyone had to "digest" what we were able to see - such an experience is rare in life, and it still felt like being in a dream...

 

The next day at 4am, Shackleton Fans got up to do the last part of the famous "Shackleton Walk" (when Shackleton crossed the island to search for help). I also got up, as after all the food on the ship I felt like I could need some excercise. But then I looked out the window, it was totally overcast and the ship had 5cm of snow. So I went back to bed :-)

After picking-up the walkers in Stromness, the ship during breakfast sailed to Grytviken, an old whaling station. And now it was time for our very first Kayaking-tour. While all the others were on land, we paddled along the shore and looked at all the rusty remains from those previous whaling years: around 175'000 whales were killed in South Georgia from 1905 - 1965. The place emanated a weird, ghost-like feeling to me... I did not like it to much. But of course it is important history.

After paddling we also went on land, visited Shackleton's grave and had a closer look at all the old buildings and "things" the whalers used, incl. the old whaling ships that still sit there.

In the evening we enjoyed an Antarctic BBQ - yes, dining outside on the deck :-) The scenery was beautiful, the mountains reflecting in the calm ocean, we had fun (and you know that Spare Ribs always make me happy...!)

 

The third day we again had to rise early - but I had no problem doing so, knowing that we will visit the largest King Penguin colony: St. Andrews Bay. Beautiful weather gave a really tacky background to the incredible wildlife scene, so we had dark blue ocean, white snow-capped mountains, black rocky beach - and on top of it the King penguins. What a sight - I think I will never forget this. Salisbury Plains was incredible already... so how should I describe this now??? Well, believe me... it was even better!

Also the baby elephant seals with their huge round eyes I found cute - if they only would not burb so rudely ;-)

And to all friends from the Galapagos-trip: if you thought we took a lot of pictures in Galapagos.... well, here we took 10 times as many pictures!!!!!!!! I have a foto of almost every King penguin in South Georgia ;-)

 

As we were so lucky with the weather (and so were able to land on all the spots planned), the expedition leader decided not to go to another King colony in Gold Harbour, but instead go to Coopers Bay to look for Maccaroni Penguins. Fine for me :-) While sailing there, the wind picked up, and so kayaking was no option. But I loved the afternoon - for the first time we had snow and wind: real Antarctic weather ;-) And yes, we found some Maccaroni penguins sitting on the rocks, their yellow feathers on the head blowing in the wind...

I also liked the landscape very much - special rock formations, kelp plants moving back-and-forth with the waves, looking like a pot of snakes...

 

That evening I already had to burn my fotos on a CD... all my fotosticks were full!

 

28. - 29.11.06 on sea

After those days full of excitement, it felt good to just relax and let everything "settle" in my mind. I also slept in, and enjoyed afternoon-snoozing :-) But I also loved to sit in the bar and watch the ocean, especially on the first day, as huge icebergs passed by. Apparently the South Orkney Islands still had lots of ice (that is why we did not go there), and those icebergs we now saw. And when I say huge, I mean huge: the captain showed it to me on the radar: 2 miles long!!!

On one passing iceberg we just happen to look, when the side part and later the whole arch fell apart and into the ocean. Wow, very impressive!

One day we saw about 20 whale blows in the far distance! Even though some whales came closer to the ship, all we mostly saw were their backs and the fin... But "seeing" a blue whale is quite a thing, hey?!

 

30.11.06 Elephant Island

Another quiet morning with presentations and time for me to catch up on my diary or just sit and read.

In the afternoon then the impressive mountains of Elephant and Clarence Island came in sight. Shackleton landed on Elephant Island at Whalers Point, so another "big step" in history for the Brits... However, due to the strong swell (7m we were told), it was not possible to get into the Zodiacs, so the ship sailed along the shore and we all were out on deck or in the bar enjoying a wonderful scenic "drive".

 

Now I know, for us Swiss snow-capped mountains should not be anything special... but yes, the scenery here was different, steep mountains straight out of the ocean - and all those glaciers, really different - well, I mean here is the Antarctica, right!

 

01.12.06 Aitcho and Halfmoon Islands

Yeah - another Kayaking was on. This time the weather was overcast, and so it was very special to paddle through mystic waters :-) Again, the vulcanic formed islands impressed me, and I had fun paddling around the steep pilar-like rockformations. The first sight of a large leopard seal made that kayaking excursion exciting. We kayaked around the island, and it was fun to see the others walking on the island - like little red penguins :-)

To round-off the Antarctic experience, some of us kayakers decided to jump into the Antarctic Ocean! Wow, even with the drysuite the cold water got to us, especially on head and hands.... What a nice moment to jump into the hot shower afterwards!

 

The weather was good to us later again, and when reaching Halfmoon Island, everything was just perfect! I decided to do the walk up to a little hill, and we were rewarded with an incredible beautiful 360 degree view: from the massive glacier of Livingston Island to Greenwich Island. And all the time we heard the cracking noise of the ice on its way down into the ocean.

Of course there were penguins again - Chinstraps this time. Oh, sooooooo cute! Now the King might be the most beautiful one, but the Chinstrap for sure has to be the most cute one :-) Those penguins really seem to have different characters... It was great fun again to watch them struggle up the hills on their little feet or slide down on their bellies. And as usual, they did not bother that we were around, and that is such a great thing to experience!

Some Gentoo penguins were also on the island - and: the very first Adelie Penguins. Those are "just" black with a white eye.

 

This gorgeous afternoon was rounded-up by a quite warm evening, where we all stood on deck enjoying the Happy Hour drink. The almost full moon was already high up in the sky, while the sunset put the white mountains into an orange/pink light. Very special indeed!

 

02.12.06 Deception Island

This island is a sunken vulcanic crater (only dormant by the way!), and the island has a very narrow entrance, so looks like a ring from the air. Even thou there was a rather high swell, we were able to land at Point Wild, where the largest colony of Chinstrap Penguins is. 200'000 little black-and-white fellows nesting in the white snowy hills or jumping in and out the water at the black beach - beautiful scenery. The funniest thing however was the "Penguin Highway"! Dirty penguins walked towards the ocean, and clean penguins walked up to their nest to take over - and those dear animals climb climb climb, incredible!

Again we hiked around that place and took everything in. In the end it started to snow, which just fitted perfectly into the black-and-white world, I loved it :-)

 

Unfortunately, thick fog blocked our view when we then entered the narrow passage into the crater of Deception Island. But after lunch, just on time for the excursion, the sun came out again and we had the opportunity to visit Whaler's Point, again an old whalers place. Rusty buildings, remains of the wooden boats, houses and barrels, whale bones etc - a creepy place!!! I was very glad to quick leave and return to the ship. Such Ghosttowns just give me goosebumps!

Some of the people took a bath in a hole that was dug into the sand at the beach. The vulcanic thermal hot waters then filled the hole and so they had their own hot springs.

 

03.12.06 Wilhelmina Bay and Danco Island

The exciting excursions went on - and today was my very best Kayaking experience: we paddled through the ice in the water!!! Wow, this was so special, little icebergs all around, and the water was so clear, you could really make out the size of the iceberg under water - in beautiful light blue. And even the porpoising penguins we were able to make out under water - GREAT. At one point, a Chinstrap penguin jumpt out of the water onto a big iceberg, but due to the high snow it slid back into the water... that was so funny to see :-)

We did not get very far paddeling this morning, but seeing the snow freeze immediately in the water, forming a litte iceshelf, was very special. And when we then kayaked through this thin ice, we left a little corridor in the ice - I was impressed, also by the scatching noise when the ice touched the Kayak!

 

Over lunch the ship then sailed along the Gerlache Strait to Danco Island, and there again I decided to do the Kayaking (it was always a difficult decision: Zodiac or land excursion with the group - or kayaking). This time we paddled along the huge glacier wall of Danco Island and some impressive icebergs. I felt sooooooo small in my kayak :-)

The red penguins (=the other people) walked along the beach and followed a group of Gentoo penguins. We kayakers paddled through the ice just close to the shore - just when a huge leopard seal showed up. It was chasing penguins, so was rather aggressive. Immediately, Don, the kayak guide made us come together (to pretend to be a big iceberg ;-), so the seal just swam around and checked us out. It was quite funny, as the other guide on land communicated with Don: "Kayakers, mhhh, crispy on the outside - chewy on the inside..."

We watched the seal for a while, then split up to return to the ship. BUT, just in that moment when I was on my own again, that aggressive seal decided to give me nice little push - WOW, I almost had a heart-attack and was afraid I would fall over!!! I love the wildlife, but I do not intend to swim with an aggressive leopard seal... Oh, and thanks to that push I hit a little iceberg - much to the amusement of the group on shore... they just laughed... :-(

 

Well, after such an exciting day I really needed the Happy Hour drink!

 

04.12.06 Cuverville Island and Neko Harbour(=Antarctic Mainland)

Overnight, the ship hang-out in the Gerlache Strait, as it was to dangerous to anker somewhere here. Icebergs could hit the ship! But we still had very quiet nights, no bouncing...

 

This morning Cuverville Island was waiting for us, and as there were to many waves for kayaking, I joined the Zodiac tour - and it was superb: lots of icebergs, glaciers breaking off into the ocean and leaving lots of ice in the water. With Zodiacs we were able to get closer to the large icebergs than with the kayaks (security reasons, Zodiacs can leave faster...). So I really enjoyed this magic world of blue and white ice. Fascinating, all the different shapes in all sizes: arches and holes, flat ones, striped ones, crooked ones... I could have zodiaced for hours :-)

But it rained (yes... it also rains in the Antarctic!), so we were wet and some people got cold very fast.

 

And the afternoon then brought another special excitement: we were to land on the continent... wow :-) For me actually my last continent, as with all my travels I have visited every continent now.

First however we kayakers enjoyed another magic paddle in a shelterd bay, with impressive glaciers coming down into the ocean from the large mountains. The sun then decided to push through, and the water was like a mirror - beautiful, really! Once in a while we heard the cracking of a falling glacier part, but it was seldom that we could see it.

After the paddeling then was the special moment: set foot on the continent! We walked around for a little bit, but in the kayaking outfits walking was not to easy... But we really appreciated that also the kayakers were given the time to go on land here.

 

The evening program then was very funny tonight: Questions some passengers have asked the guides, such as: "Is this here the same moon as in Texas?" / "Does the Russian crew also sleep on board of the ship?" / "Does the ship produce its own energy?" / "Where do penguins go when it rains?" etc. - really funny...

 

05.12.06 Lemaire Channel / Petermann and Pleneau Islands

Even though the last days were starting to get us tired, we got up at 6am to see the ship sail through the famous Lemaire Channel (but it was overcast... so not very impressive).

 

Then we were to see the Adelie Penguin colony on Petermann Island - the last kind of penguins we had not seen to much up to now. And again it was great to watch them... oh, I think I never get tired of those funny, cute little animals :-) They walked amongst us, slid on their belly, rushed to their nests to take over the breeding, jumpt in-and-out of the water - just lovely!

Also the Antarctic Blue Eyed Shag was nesting there, and seeing that big bird land was quite a sight!

 

Some American scientists are at moment here to do research on the penguins and the ice. They live in small yellow tents - brrr, that would not be my kind of job :-)

 

And then it was time for the very last excursion, and I choose this to be kayaking. The scenery had changed, pillar-like rocks changed to round-shaped pebbles. Again we had very calm waters and enjoyed paddeling around Pleneau Island. But then - allright: the bay was still covered with sea-ice, so we had to turn around. But that was great to see: up to now we saw icebergs from glaciers, but this here was frozen ocean water.

We had fun (as always when kayaking with that great group!) and paddled our kayaks on top of the ice, looking like stranded whales :-)

 

On the way back the last clouds disappeared and made way for us to see the beautiful, very high peaks on the islands, impressive. And just as we were to head back to the ship we spotted a leopard seal lying on an iceshelf. Carefully we approached it, and this time it was sleepy and did not bother.

Again we kayakers then took a short swim in the antarctic waters, before we headed back to the warm shower.

 

The ship sailed back through the Lemaire Channel - this time in sunlight - and we now were on deck, impressed by the cliffs to our left and right. Via the Neumayer Channel we then sailed into the Drake's Passage and started the way "home" to Ushuaia.

 

So with this the exciting times of excursions found its end (sniff). But hey - I was so fortunate, I got to see EVERYTHING I had ever dreamt of!!!

 

06. - 07.12.06 on sea (Drake's Passage)

The Drake's Passage can be hell. But the 1st day on sea it was referred to as the Drake Lake :-) Nevertheless, the slight bouncing got some people seasick - and as the 2nd day the ocean was a little wilder (which I just loved!!!), even crew-members were seasick. But it was fun to see the ship bounce up and down...

Most people of the group were recovering from the strenous excursion days = sleeping! I also enjoyed to rest and let all the impressions "digest" :-)

 

08. - 09.12.06 Ushuaia

At 8am in the morning the end of this trip had come, and so we all did the good-bye's and people left into all directions of the world. Even though I loved this voyage, I was glad to get off the ship by now.

Priska left the same afternoon, but another Swiss and I stayed together in Ushuaia, doing nothing really but stroll along the St. Martins Street. Up to now, the whole Christmas Thing had not come to us yet - but being back into "civilization" now put us straight into the Christmas decorations all over...

 

And on the 9th of December then I flew off to Santiago de Chile - back north into the warm weather :-)

 


Quito / Cotopaxi / Devil's Nose Train 07. - 15.11.06

Posted at 09:54, 9 November 2006 in South America

07. - 11.11.06 Quito
After Stefan left, I moved into a small hostal in the New Town, where I knew my way around. Unfortunately, the weather in Quito was cold and rainy. As I had already seen most of the city's highlights, I enjoyed sleeping in, reading and sitting in cafe's. Dawn and Stuart joined me until they left, and then I organized my further excursions.
In the travel agency I met an Austrian girl (Immi), and we will be spending the next days together.
On Saturday, we started off to climb the Rucu Pinchicha, Quitos "house volcano" with 4'680m. There is a brandnew cable car that brought us up from Quitos 2'850m to 4'100m. From there, we started hiking - unfortunately in the thickest fog. And it got even worse, it started raining, and close to the top we even had snow. Nevertheless we made it  - at least to what we think was the top :-) And hey, after the Inktrail, this is the highest mountain I have ever walked up to!!!
On the way down then the fog lighted up a little, and we were lucky to get a short look down to see the city of Quito, which is almost 10 times longer than wide. And Quito is the 2nd highest capital in the world (after La Paz).

12. - 13.11.06 Cotopaxi National Park
As a change it was sunny in Quito when we departed. But I learned that in Latin America a 2h drive can take 4h... and until we arrived in the National Park, it was raining and due to the thick fog we could not see the Cotopaxi vulcano. Nevertheless, after a very bumpy drive on a riverbed-dirtroad, we reached the parking at 4'500m. From there it was up to our feet to get us to the refugio at 4'800m. Pfff... I was again breathing hard ;-)

We spent the rest of the day freezing at 0 degrees celcius, eating soup and playing cards. The highlight was to see the lights of Quito at night in the very far distance.

 

At 2am in the morning, Immi and two other guys then started their climb to the top (5'800m) - wow, was I glad to be able to stay in my warm sleeping bag!!!

But at 6am then the sun came out - and so I got up and followed the other's footsteps up to ca. 5'300m, as there the great glacier-formations can be seen. I have never been on this altitude in my life, quite an achievement ;-) And the view was spectacular, down pass the snow to the black-yellow vulcanic flats, and in the very far I could even make out Quito. And upwards to the top of Cotopaxi. Wonderful!

But the clouds were waiting around the corner... and at 9am thick fog and snow again blocked any view.

Immi and the guys came back from the top, happy to have made it, but totally exhausted (some even had to throw-up) - so I really wonder what makes them do this...

 

Another rough and bumpy drive back, and a short busride then brought us to Riobamba, where we enjoyed a warm shower and a long nights sleep in a comfortable hostal.

14. - 15.11.06 Riobamba / Devil's Nose Train
Riobamba... not worth a visit when it rains all day. They do not even have a "normal" restaurant, so we ended up taking a cab to KFC!!!

 

But the adventurous trainride to "El Nariz del Diablo" (the Devil's Nose, which is a mountain) was worthwile. We started at 7am, sitting on the roof like everyone else. The train is famous for its special zig-zag way to get down the steep mountain.

Normally, this (touristy) trainride takes 6h. But due to major problems (fallen tree on the tracks, missing or flooded tracks and several derailings!) we travelled for 10h!!!!! Autsch, my back really hurt from sitting on that roof for so long. Luckily the scenic ride was worth the pain ;-)

However, it was really scary to sit on the roof and watch down into the valley, knowing that train can derail again...

That evening I then also travelled back to Quito - another 5 1/2 h sitting on a bus... So I was happy to fall into bed at 2am.

The 16.11.06 was the day for laundry, Internet, last-minute shopping etc. and then in the evening I left Ecuador. The 17th of November I arrived in Buenos Aires, where I met up with my friend Priska - we thought we will meet in the hotel in Ushuaia :-) We did not know that we are on the same flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia. Coincidences in life!


Ecuador Wildlife Adventure 23.10. - 6.11.06

Posted at 05:27, 8 November 2006 in South America

23.10. - 27.10.06 Kapawi Lodge / Amazon Jungle

Stefan and I met up with the other 6 people of this GAP tour (4 Canadians and 2 UK). We started this trip with a short flight to Coca, from where we were flown in two "shifts" by helicopter to the Kapawi Lodge. Wow, for 1 1/2 hours we had a beautiful scenic flight over the "Broccoli Plantation" of this planet. Green to every side of the globe, very impressive. Once in a while a brown river looking like a snake made his way through the green forest, and rainclouds could be seen.

The Kapawi Lodge is an Ecuadorian project to have the local Achuar Indians run such a place. Per 2011 the lodge will fully go to the Achuar Community, and now they are being trained - lovey people!

The lodge has 10 bungalows, sitting right on a lake (when there is water ;-), and it is the most remote lodge in Ecuador. It would take 2 weeks walking to the next village (Shell).

 

They kept us very busy there :-) Jungle Walks, Boat Tours, Piranha Fishing, Night Walks, a visit to the Achuar Community, Slide Shows etc. - all really interesting and fun. And we were very lucky, as we got to see a lot of mammals; from the large Red Howler monkey to the smallest monkey, the Pigmy Mormozet. But also we saw the Amazon Pink River Dolphin, lots of birds, insects and the large caymans.

 

In comparison to my first Amazon trip in Peru, this here was much more exciting. I loved the Jungle Walks - even though we were sweating and the moskitos were trying to eat us (no luck thanks to good repellent!).

The visit to the Achuar Community was also very interesting. Our Achuar guide translated, and he and the chief of the house were communicating in the local way, which was funny to experience. They do not look at each other when talking, and they also speak at the same time. After the introduction we were allowed to ask questions, and in return the chief of the house wanted to know thing about us - all in all an unforgettable afternoon.

 

We were also very lucky with the weather, no rain for 4 days! So at night  - laying in the hammock - we enjoyed the bright stars in the sky and listened to all the jungle noises - how romantic ;-)

Only on our last day, when the propeller plane from Shell should have come to pick us up, it rained so hard there, that the plane could not take off. So we got to stay longer at the lodge, until they sent 3 tiny little planes to get us. We felt like VIPs :-) But the planes were only sitting 3 people, I did not really like that...

 

We arrived in Shell in the afternoon and then (after some confusing driving around Shell...) got a bustransfer to Quito. The scenic 4 1/2 hours drive took us up into the vulcanic mountains, and we were able to see the Tungurahua Volcano spit big ash-clouds, very impressive and scary! The road still has detours from the last eruption in August 2006, and we could see the destroyed houses from then.

But we made it to Quito safely, and all of us were totally exhausted from the long travel day.

 

At 1 am in the morning then Stefan surprised me with a little birthday celebration: lighting a candle, singing Happy Birthday and having presents for me - I was overwhelmed! 

 

28.10.06 Quito

After a short night, Dawn and Stuart (the UK couple), Stefan and I went shopping. Not that we really needed anything, but you know how women are...and hey, the guys were very patient with us ;-)

We then met Martina and Claudia, two Swiss friends from the Peru trip. They were on the Galapagos Islands, and so had a lot of information for us. It felt good to see them again, and we celebrated my birthday together.

In the afternoon we then strolled to the Old Town, doing lots of shopping at an indigo market.


The evening two of the Canadians joined us for a birthday dinner - yes, I got really spoiled today and was able to celebrate lots :-) And after all the local food in the last weeks, I craved for the unhealthy stuff... We had big fun that night, guess the Chilean white wine did his job :-)

 

29.10. - 5.11.06 Galapagos Islands

A short flight to Baltra, and we already saw the turqoise coloured ocean. At the dock dingi boats waited for us to bring us to our boat, the Pelicano1. We were all exited to see seelions laying on the bench at the docks... not knowing yet, that Galapagos animals do get close to humans!

Stefan and I liked getting a cabin on the top. The GAP boat in general was very comfortable, and being only 16 people plus crew made it cozy.


Every day was full of adventures and exciting animal encounters - if you think I take a lot of pictures, well then you should have seen us on Galapagos!!!

Every island has another landscape, be that red, white, black or green sand; black lava rocks or lava tubes: white tree branches, green bushes or cactuses, lush beaches or rough cliffs - all very diverse and beautiful.


 

But of course the animals are the best part of it. Seelions awaiting us when getting off the dingis, swimming around our feet, laying on the beach nursing their babies, howling males protecting their females, newborn squeeqing baby-seelions - absolutly incredible! We never made it far on the walks, as just standing there and watching the animals was superbe.

Lots of colourful birds can be seen, I liked the Blue Footed Boobie. His feet really look like he dipped them into a jar of blue colour. But watching the Albatros exercising the mating dance was very funny aswell.

Snorkeling then made the highlight. We saw lots of colourful fishes, the White Tipped Riff Shark (is ca. 1 m long!), Sting Rays, Turtoises etc. But the highlight were the Seelions swimming with us. Their playful and curious way was great. They came up very close to your snorkeling mask - eye to eye :-), and then elegantly dived away, only rarely touching us.
And for me the greatest of course was to see the Penguins - one jumped off a rock directly towards me snorkeling! And we could watch them dive...

The weather wasn't that good, but nevertheless we enjoyed Galapagos very much. Never ever have I experienced wildlife closer than here. Even from the boat we always saw something, be that Manta Rays jumping, Turtoises mating!, Boobies diving into the water to catch fish, Pelicans sitting on the roof.....

What more can I say - it was the best I have ever seen!!!

 
06. - 07.11.06 Quito

After being on ocean level, flying back to Quito's 2'800m made us tired. But still 4 of us booked a tour to visit the Equator Line at GPS 00.00.00 and the Otavalo Indigo Market. An interesting day who took us into the green volcanic landscape around Quito.


On Tuesday Stefan and I strolled around the Old Town of Quito, visiting the colonial buildings and some churches. We even dared to climb the very top of  the tower of La Basilica. Steep ladders with no real safety... Scary!


Then Stefan left to the Airport... and I again was the one to say good-bye to everyone, as I stay another few days in Quito.


 


Lima 20. - 22.10.06

Posted at 01:43, 21 October 2006 in South America

Lima is a huge city, and after the trek I did not feel like doing anymore city tours or museums. So with the remaining colleagues from the trek I enjoyed a relaxing time. Sleeping in every morning was a welcomed treat :-)

I did my laundry, transferred the photos on CD to then upload them on the other link, bought the last Alpaca souvenirs and I finally managed to write some postcards...

 

On Friday 3 of us went to a very nice beach outside of Lima (Punta Hermosa). The water of the Pacific Ocean still is to cold for me to swim, but sunbathing of course I loved!

My last day in Lima I spend strolling around at the shopping center Lago Mar right on the beach, and in the evening friends invited me to their hostal for a homecooked meal - was great.

 

On Sunday then I flew to Quito and met up with Stefan, my friend from home.


Bolivia & Peru: Altiplano & Amazon Trek 20.09. - 19.10.06

Posted at 01:18, 21 September 2006 in South America

20.-22.09.06 Sucre

Finally I met up with the group for the first 9 days of the trek. A good mix of Australians, Kiwis (New Zealanders), English and one other Swiss. We flew to the city of Sucre, a UNESCO world heritage with beautiful white buildings of colonial architecture and great gardens with flower ornaments all over.

Three of us went on a mountain bike tour around Sucre and to the Dinosaur Footprints. Sucre is on 2800 m, surrounded by hills in every direction, so this really challenged my fitness ;-) But there were some great speedy downhill parts too! It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed the scenery. As the dry season is just ending, the landscape looks yellow, with only a few green trees and huge cactus plants. The Dinosaur Footprints park is well done, but you don't get close to the archeologic site, so it was hard to make-out the footprints.

 

23.09.06 Potosi

Potosi was the richest city in the 15th century, because of the Cerro Rico, the Silver Mountain. Today the mine is still being worked on, but the city has lost its original splendor. But - Potosi claims to be the highest city of its size in the world, at 4'070 m. And the mines go up to 4?00 m. But working conditions are terrible, and the people very poor!

 

24.-27.09.06 Uyuni & 4x4 Tour to Uyuni Salt Flats (Desert)

Uyuni is totally isolated and has a challenging cold and rough climate. But thanks to the Salt Flats, people can make their living. Also thanks to tourism today, as the 4x4 tours are attracting travellers.

We started with two Jeeps, 5 people in one - and off we went, hopping and jumping over dirt roads, rocks and riverbeds. But the scenery is just incredible. Originally vulcanic activity created this fascinating landscape. On the altitude between 4'200 and 4'900 m, sand desert, dry lakes, rock formations, snow-capped mountains in the horizon and the wildlife are just stunning. I loved it. We had very long days driving, but the pay-off is great. Laguna Colorada is red because of minerals, and Flamingos live there! The Green Lake is mirroring the surroundings, the Geysirs set you back to how it must have been million of years back - and most surprising is: people live in this desert. Mostly they look after the Lama herds.

Everything was superb, but to me the Uyuni Salt Flats just striked me - wonders of the world! 14'000 square meters of dry salt flat had our imagination going and we took funny pictures. Fish Island is in the midst of the Salt Flat, and its cactus are incredible. They grow 1 cm per year, so most of them are over 1'000 years old.

Our 4x4 broke down, we lost one of the breaks, and we had to push the car each time we stopped... kind of scary when you know you are in the middle of now-where. But FUN!

The nights were freeeeeeezing cold (0 degrees celcius), but hey, thats a small price for what we gained. Only the toilets were disgusting - so we did the business outside :-)

 

28.-29.09.06 Uyuni to La Paz

After the long days in the desert, we craved for a warm shower - ahhh, simple things in life are worth a fortune... At midnight we then boarded the train from Uyuni to Oruro. I was surprised, was a really comfortable train, and it was on time! Rare in Latin America :-) We then took the bus to La Paz. It is funny to board local buses, great way to encounter the local life. Women board the bus to sell their homebaked bread, kids sell drinks in plastic bags. And the buses are FULL, means sitting on stairs and in the aisles...

But we arrived safely in La Paz - but very tired.

 

30.09. - 02.10.06 Puno / Lake Titicaca

Only 3 of us continue from the previous group, so now we are 5 Swiss (!), 2 Aussies, 1 Kiwi, 2 English and the Peruvian guide.

The busride from La Paz to Puno was very scenic along the shores of Lake Titicaca, the worlds highest navigable lake (3'810m). After lunch in Copacabana, we crossed the border to Peru on foot and then drove on to Puno. Puno is nothing special, but it is a very touristy place, as most Lake Titicaca excursions start here. We had a great adventure:

A very relaxing 4 hour boat ride took us to Taquile Island, where the locals still follow their very strict rules (UNESCO world heritage). The island has been terraced for agriculture. It is incredible, what the locals are able to grow here - on almost 4'000 m!

We then went on to Amantani Island, where our hostfamilies greated us in their traditional clothing. 2-3 of us stayed per family, and each of us got a typical hand-knit canopy. We had to walk up the hill of the island (nice training for the Inka Trail...) - and we even got real beds (I expected to sleep on mats on the ground...). In their little clay houses we found sheep, chicken, grand-parents and two kids... The mother cooked an easy, but wonderful meal in the little kitchen. The open fireplace was charming, but you should smell my cloth now ;-)

With the children we played soccer - and in the evening, the families dressed us up in the local clothing - and organized a dance. I have never danced on 4'000 m - quite hard to catch your breath!

The locals here speak Quetchuan, not Spanish, so this encounter was a great cultural experience. I really enjoyed it very much!

 

Next day we left the families again and on the way back to Puno visited the famous Floating Islands. The Uros people still live on those swimming islands made of reeds. Impressive!

 

03.10.06 Cuzco

The heart of the Inka Culture is Cuzco. This wonderful city full of history really is worthwile a visit. Houses in the Spanish style with small verandas invite to just sit, have a drink and overlook the things going on on the plazas. A lot of the houses are built on remains of Inka buildings (walls with large stones). A large variety of restaurants and great nightlife make this city a great place to visit - and so a lot of tourists from all over the world can be found here... For us this city is the starting point for two adventures, the Amazon and the Inkatrail/Machupicchu.

 

04. - 06.10.06 Puerto Maldonado / Amazon

A short flight from Cuzco to Puerto Maldonado took us down from 3'300 m to 250 m, into the humidity of the rainforest. A 45 minute bumpy drive by car to the "port" and another 2 hours boattrip on the River Tambopata - and we arrived at our jungle-lodge Inotawa. The wooden construction, open on all sides, offered everything one needs, incl. comfortable hammocks to chill-out. We enjoyed the sounds of the nature: frogs, birds, monkeys etc. I loved it! Especially at night when lying in bed (under the moskito net), it was so nice to listen, but also a little creapy... as monkeys, bats and w****ver were in the lodge at night.

We did different walks (also at night), seeing huge tarantulas, spiders, lizzards, monkeys, little caymans etc. Scary but exciting at the same time. We also went Piranha-fishing. Incredible, the sharp teeth those little fish have! And we even got up at 4.30 one day to see the colourful parrots go down to the sandback to pick minerals. Wow, that was noisy!

On the last day it rained... and so the trip back to the airport was very wet, as the boat is open. But until Cuzco we all were dry again :-) - and well rested for the next adventures.

 

07.10.06 Sacred Valley

From Cuzco to Machupicchu a variety of Inka Ruins can be found in the so called Sacred Valley. This valley's weather condition is special, and so the Inkas settled here for farming all sorts of crop. We had a whole day exploring the old sites, gaining a lot of interesting insights on those Inkatimes. Incredible, how they were able to build walls with perfectly matching stones - of huge size! And like other cultures, they were able to build temples, where the sunlight at start of summer/winter shines on exact rock constructions, e.g. an eye of the sacred Puma. For those interested in Inkadetails, here just a little gusto: The layout of the town of Ollantaytambo was in form of a Corn, Cuzco was a Puma, and Machupicchu a Condor.

In Ollantaytambo we then enjoyed a last night in a bed before starting the Inkatrail.

 

08. - 11.10.06 Inkatrail / Machupicchu       I made it  ;-)

At 5.30 in the morning my biggest challenge so far got a start. A bus took us to the famous kilometer 82 of the railway track, where the Inkatrail begins. Here we met all the porters (14 men for the 10 of us) and the guide. A short instruction, passport checks at the official gate - and off we went. The first morning was easy, so called "inkaflat", meaning slight ups and downs (from 2'600 m to 3'000 m). I can manage that! But then after lunch we started climbing the "Dead Women's Pass", which meant going up 700 m (half way of this pass). The air up here is thinner, and so breathing is even harder. Puh... very exhausting, especially as the trail is not flat, no, those Inkas build steps with uneven rocks, almost knee-high but very narrow. But I went slowly (babysteps...), and to my surprise I was actually able to enjoy this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yes, sounds unreal after all my fears and concerns... But the nature was incredible. We hiked through rainforest, along little river-streams, crossed lamas - just great. On the way the porters crossed us - almost running up this hill. Stunning those men, they each carry 25-30 kg, and they run!!!

Well - after 7 hours walking that day I arrived at the campsite - worn out, but happy (and hey, I was not even the last one ;-).

The porters had already put-up the tents, and we did get a wonderful dinner in the group tent.

 

Next morning at 6am we got hot tea in bed :-), and after breakfast the rest of the "Dead Women's Pass" had to be achieved - up to 4'200 m. Now this was exhausting, and I really had to force myself to keep going. I guess the hardest was to already see the people on the top a long time before I made it. But the group experience was great, as all people on top cheered and jubilated for each one coming up. Great motivation! The last one of our group then arrived 1 hour later, which gave us time to recover, before we all went down again to the lunch camp. This now was hard on knee's and thighs - those Inka stairs.... autsch!

After lunch then the second mountain had to be climbed - and unfortunately it now started to rain. And it rained hard - we even had hail. Luckily I bought good clothing, was worthwile now! The hike (steps) now changed into a little riverstream, as the water ran down the trail. But I found it actually quite funny... With another friend we walked slowly - and achieved the second peak Runkuraqay on 4'000 m without falling apart. And then, down again for 2 hours, until we reached the campsite - soaked!

 

The third day everyone craved for sun, as some of the group had no dry things anymore. And we got lucky! Slowly the fog in the cloud forest gave way and we were able to overlook the incredible beautiful surroundings - e.g. the glacier of the Veronica Mountain. Today the hike was not as demanding anymore, and I could enjoy it. And I got my pay-off: hard to put it into words, but in the afternoon, close to the last campsite, the view down into the valley where the traintracks are (the train I did not take as I managed to walk!!!), the view to Machupicchu Mountain (not the ruins yet) and all the other hills - indescribable beautiful!

That night we camped in luxus and were able to take a shower a use real bathrooms :-)

 

Final day, at 5am we started the last bit in the dark - together with x other groups. Was kind of funny, as at the checkpoint one has to line up, and then the race is on up to the Sungate to get a first view on the ruins of Machupicchu. And our group was first - and lucky. At 6.05 am I arrived there, beautiful view - great pictures. 10 min. later, when the next group came, thick fog totally blocked the view.

We all then walked down to the Machupicchu ruins, had an interesting tour and enjoyed the sun pushing through. However I must admit, that the ruins at the end did not impress me that much anymore - "der Weg ist das Ziel" - getting there and achieving the Inkatrail was much more exciting! So four of us then took the bus down to Aguas Calientes and as a nice reward went to the Hot Springs to treat our sour muscles.

Late afternoon we then again returned to Cuzco - exhausted, but full of wonderful memories of an incredible demanding, but absolut exciting adventure! And we all went for a relaxing massage...

 

12.10.06 Cuzco - Arequipa

A free day to catch up on Internet, do laundry and enjoy Cuzco for the last time. A flight then took us to Arequipa.

 

13. - 14.10.06 Colca Canyon

The Colca Canyon claims to be the 2nd deepest canyon in the world. From Arequipa we drove 4 hours through vulcanic landscape, which looked a lot like the Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia). The drive took us up to 4900 m, then down again to Chivay at 3600m, a dusty little village in the desert. We enjoyed a bath in the Hot Springs - ah, felt really good!

Next day got up early to drive along the Canyon to a special place, where Condors should appear... well, we saw one from far, not to exciting. Then again a long drive back to Arequipa.

The whole group was very tired on this excursion, I guess we all still are a little exhausted from the Inkatrail.

 

15.10.06 Arequipa

A full day for us in Arequipa - and some of us took advantage of this to do a River Rafting Tour on the Chilly River. The water was very cold, coming from the glacier of the Chalchani Vulcano. But the Rafting was good and a lot of fun going through the wild rapids.

The afternoon then I spent on the Internet and in a nice Cafe on top of the Plaza del Armas in Arequipa.

At 10pm we all then boarded a very comfortable night bus - and I mean comfortable! Leather seats, fully reclinable, cozy blankets... all you need for a good night sleep.

 

16.10.06 Nazca

After the 9 hours on the bus it felt good to directly go to the hotel, take a shower and have breakfast. Nazca is in the desert, so temperatures are high - and the hotel had a swimming pool!!! Ahhhhh, we just loved it to hang around in the water and sun-bathing.

But of course we also did the tourist thing: a flight with a small Cessna plane to see the famous Nazca Lines. No one really knows how those lines got there - and when they were built. There are different figures: a monkey, a whale, a spider, a hummingbird etc. However... I was a little disappointed, even though the figures are big (the condor is 300m spread out), it was difficult to make them out from the plane. Some of us wondered, if the Nazca Lines are not just a tourist trap....???!! Well, the Pisco Sours (typical peruvian drink) at the swimming pool made up for everything :-)

 

17.10.06 Nazca - Pisco (via Huacachina)

Squeezed in a little bus we started our journey to Pisco, and stopped for lunch in Huacachina. Surrounded by huge sand dunes, this place is a little oasis in the sand desert. And its speciality: crazy Sandbuggy Tours incl. Sandboarding! It was absolutely hilarious, we had so much fun. Racing up and down the sanddunes with the open vehicles felt like being on a rollercoaster. And the sandboarding was great fun too - we slid down the dunes in crazy speed, everyone trying to get the furthest :-) Well, afterwards, we all had to get the sand out of every body part!

In the afternoon then we visited a winery, where the famous Pisco is made aswell. Of course sampling was a must. Uh... to strong for me, tastes like Schnaps! I prefer the Pisco in the mixed drink

The long day brought us into the city of Pisco then late in the evening, and as it is said to be a rather dangerous city (harbour city), we stayed in the hotel for dinner and a drink at the bar.

 

18.10.06 Pisco - Lima (incl. Ballestas Islands)

In a little speedboat we all had first contact with the ocean. After being in the high altitude for so long, seeing and feeling the ocean was very special! The Ballestas Islands are home to thousands of birds: penguins, pelicans, cormorants, seagulls etc., but also hundreds of sealions. We hit a good time of the year, as the birds were having young ones, and the sealion bulls were fighting for the females. So a lot of animals were on the rocks and at the beach.

In the afternoon then we boarded a public bus for the last part of our trip to Lima. There we checked into a nice hotel in Lima's better area Miraflores.

One of the group celebrated his birthday today, so we all went to TGI Fridays for a last group dinner (mhh... onion rings and baby back ribs...;-)

 

19.10.06 Lima

Officially the day of departure for the group members, but we still were enough staying, that we enjoyed the civilization of a large city together. Going shopping was great - finally real shops (not just buying from a women at a booth on the street...), and junk food at Burger King and a nice McFlurry at McDonalds - we all loved it! In the evening we went down to the seaside at Miraflores and had a drink at the sea - felt like a holiday...

And then it was time to say good-bye to group-members. It is hard after such a long time to see people go, as this group was really great, and we all became good friends. But this is how it goes...

 

And so this trek comes to an end. I absolutely loved the Inkatrail, my highlight so far. I just have a great time and hope, the upcoming travels will be as exciting as this trek up to now :-)


Santiago de Chile 16.09.06 / La Paz 17.-19.09.06

Posted at 02:34, 17 September 2006 in South America

After a loooong but surprisingly comfortable flight (I even slept for 7 hours!), I arrived safely in Santiago de Chile. Right before the landing, the plane crossed the Andes - it was beautiful to see the snowcapped mountains in the sunrise.

On foot I went off to discover the downtown area. Santiago has an interesting mix of ancient buildings and topmodern skyscrapers with very creative architecture. And from the top of the outlook "Cerro Santa Lucia" I got an impressive look at the large city and the high mountains surrounding it.

And to my surprise I am getting along very well with the remains of my Spanish.

 

La Paz now really puts me into the South American life. The city is situated in a funnel, surrounded by hills, full of houses everywhere. The earthcoloured houses however are mainly unfinished brick houses, which you can hardly make out as the land is so dry. As La Paz is on 4000 m altitude (highest capital city in the world), there is no grass and almost no trees. A very special site! The only colour comes from the women walking around in their traditional woven clothing, colourful and with cute little hats :-) They are sitting right and left of the streets, selling all kind of stuff. And often they have their little kids with them, covered up in the woven artisan blankets.

I first had to adjust to the high altitude, so I took it easy... as even the smallest movements seemed to be a fitness program ;-)

Walking around in the streets of La Paz is interesting. It is very hectic here, but not at all chaotic. Funny to me are all the busdrivers who scream out their destinations and prices when driving. I am enjoying it.

 


South America Travel Plan: 15.09.2006 - 08.02.2007

Posted at 05:04, 2 September 2006 in South America

Travel Route:

 

Travel Details:

Date Route
15. - 17.09.06 Flight Zurich - La Paz
   
19.09. - 19.10.06 Bolivia / Peru: GAP Tour Altiplano & Amazon
  (La Paz, Salar de Uyuni, Potosi, Sucre, Lake Titicaca, Cuzco, Inca Trail,
  Machu Picchu, Arequipa, Colca Canyon, Nazca Lines, Amazon Jungle, Lima)
   
22.10.2006 Flight Lima - Quito
   
22.10. - 06.11.06 Ecuador: GAP Tour Wildlife Adventure (Amazon Jungle, Galapagos Islands)
   
16./17.11.06 Flight Quito - Ushuaia
   
19.11. - 08.12.06 Antarctica, Falkland Islands, South Georgia
   
09.12.2006 Flight Ushuaia - Santiago
   
09.12. - 20.12.06 Chile (Santiago de Chile)
   
20.12. - 09.01.07 Chile / Argentina: TUCAN Travel Tour Villarica
  (Pucon, Bariloche, Fitzroy N.P., Moreno Glacier, El Calafate, Torres del
  Paine N.P., Tierra del Fuego N.P., Punta Arenas, Beagle Channel Cruise)
   
10.01.2007 Flight Ushuaia - Buenos Aires
   
10.01. - 14.01.07 Argentina: Buenos Aires
   
14.01.2007 Flight Buenos Aires - San José
   
14.01. - 27.01.07 Costa Rica: GAP Tour Costa Rica Explorer (Poas Volcano, La Fortuna
  Hot Springs, Monteverde, Cloud Forest Reserve, Tortuguero N.P., Quepos)
   
07./08.02.2007 Flight San José - Zurich