"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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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