Travel Mumblings

June 24, 2008

Copacabana, Isla Del Sol & La Paz

Filed under: bolivia — Tags: , , , , , — paulparkie @ 16:02

The Border crossing between Peru and Bolivia was a breeze compared to our last one arriving in Peru from Ecuador, and a bus ride later we arrived in Copacabana, the main Bolivian town on Lake Titicaca. It was a quaint little town with a friendly, relaxed atmosphere. june-24-paul-62We booked a boart trip to Isla Del Sol (Island of the Sun), which was an amazingly beautiful island on Lake Titicaca, but they were scrounging, robbing gits! They had totally cottoned onto the tourist trade, and charged ridiculously inflated prices for everything.

Even by Western prices, things were extortionate. 70 bs for a Mars Bar… that’s about $10! We’d been eating out for those prices! And also, they’d set up fake check points all the way round the hiking trail on the island. So Jayde and I, having walked the length of the island to meet our boat ended up passing through 4 of these check points all requesting 20 bs each. They even had little tables and laminated badges and everything and made a big deal of insinuating that if we didn’t buy a pass for the next part of the trail, we’d be made to turn around! Well, no-one had mentioned anything about these check points to us, so we didn’t have enough money with us and ended up just wading through the last two and telling them to ‘stuff it’ basically. Talking to some other hikers afterwards, we were told that all the checkpoints were just a sham to get more money from tourists and they’re not official at all! Gits! It kind of left a sour taste in our mouths and spoilt what had otherwise been an amazing hike across a beautiful island!

june-24-paul-75We left midday the next day for La Paz, Bolivia’s capital city. Driving the approach towards the city has to rank as one of the most dramatic sights ever. The city is nestled neatly in a massive crater… so there’s this huge city surrounded on all sides by huge mountains and volcanoes. Amazing! Getting in closer it started to become quite daunting – the sheer scale of the place was immense and it mainly seemed to be narrow unmarked streets, roads and alley ways in a labyrinth of confusion. We completely lucked out with our bus stopping just round the corner from our hostel. We dumped our bags and went to gawp at people. It was like no where we’d been so far. It was so busy and on most streets vehicles and pedestrians seemed to fight for right of way the whole time. We wandered round the Witches MArkets where they sold all sorts of weird things, potions, balms and … get this… dead llama fetuses! Kinda grossed us out at first, but after doing some reading later, we discovered people buy them for luck apparently. They bury them under the front door of a new house to bring long life and prosperity. Each to their own I guess.

The next day we explored more of the city. The new James Bond film (Quantum of Solace) was filmed there. june-24-paul-67It was a completely eclectic mix of Westernised commuters and indigenous street vendors proffering their wares. One weird thing we did notice was how similar businesses all seemed to open next to each other. Like, there was a whole street of hair-dressers… we didn’t see any where else to get hair cut than on this street. There was a whole street of stalls just offering party gear – you’d think in a city so big, they’d spread themselves out a bit!

I woke up feeling crap on my birthday. We’d had a trek booked, so Jayde went on that whilst I amused myself with wandering the city more and checking out an English film at the cinema. We had a big meal that night for my birthday which then made Jayde ill, and she was up half the night with sickness… icky.

The next day we picked up a few things for the next part of our trip, went to a cool art gallery and booked our tickets to Uyuni.

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June 18, 2008

Nazca, Arequipa & Puno

Filed under: peru — Tags: , , , , — paulparkie @ 13:18

We ‘ummed’ and ‘aahed’ about taking the huge diversion to Nazca for quite a while. The only thing of note to see there were the lines in the desert. The Nazca lines are a bunch of geoglyphs in the Nazca Desert, a high arid plateau that stretches more than 80 km. They are largely believed to have been created by the Nazca culture between 200 BCE and 700 CE. There are hundreds of individual figures, ranging in complexity from simple lines to stylized hummingbirds, spiders, monkeys, fish, sharks or orcas, llamas, and lizards. Admittedly they do look pretty cool, and I couldn’t think of anywhere else in the world where there were big-ass drawings in the sand… so be decided to go check them out.

june-24-paul-29The bus journey was mammoth and we decided to take the overnight bus to arrive at 6am the next day. The bus depot on arrival was manic. Touts trying to sell tours were all locked behind a gate shouting and gesticulating to us, trying to sell us their tour. It was actually completely intimidating, so Jayde and I pretending to ‘sort out our packs’ until they;d calmed down and dispersed a little. When we eventually left, a guy approached us and said he’d arrange a flight and accommodation for us. We were pretty tired from the bus ride, but he was pretty adamant that we go see the lines that morning.

We ended up just dumping our bags at the hostel and heading straight out to the airstrip. We got there about 7am. Still no sleep, or breakfast for that matter! Apparently we had to wait for the sun to burn of the early-morning haze. After an excruciatingly long wait, we finally took off in a 3 seater plane around 12 midday. The guy in front of me was sick almost straight away. Brilliant. We did get thrown around a lot being such a small craft, and we banked round each geoglyph twice, so I spent half my time just starring at the horizon trying to keep my stomach where it should be.

The ‘lines’ were pretty impressive, but to be honest, they weren’t worth the extra 700 miles we’d added onto to our trip to get here. The plane ride didn’t really offer up anything that we hadn’t already seen from pictures on the internet or in books. We were quite disappointed. We had planned on staying a couple of days in Nazi, but it really was lacking for anything else worth seeing. There was some kind of mummy museum this guy tried selling us tickets for, but it was an hours drive, and the thought of any more travel didn’t sit well with us. We made plans to leave the next day for Arequipa.

Arequipa is famous for it’s canyon, which is reputably deeper than the Grand Canyon. We were quite excited to get there and do some more trekking. However, after trailing around a bunch of trekking agencies it soon became clear that the Colca Canyon that Arequipa is ‘famous’ for is actually a further 100 miles (4.5 hour) bus ride away! Huh. So, after a quick lunch and chat about our plans, we decided our time could be better spent in Bolivia. Arequipa did have a  great Plaza de Armas though and we spent a nice afternoon just wandering the old city and not traveling! We made plans to leave the next day to Puno.

june-24-paul-76Puno sits on the North-Western shores of Lake Titicaca. It sits 3,812 m above sea level making it one of the highest commercially navigable lakes in the world. By volume of water it is also the largest lake in South America. So, it’s big. The town of Puno is slightly more Westernized than anywhere we’d been in a while… we even managed to have a beer in a bar and watch the football! In the morning we visited the floating islands which were pretty special. They’re basically just islands made from reeds. Pretty cool really. They showed us how they made them, and sang us a few songs and made us some bread. Apparently, each island (about 42 altogether) is a family group, and if they have any disagreements, then they just cut the island in half, and float away to find new moorings! Easy life hey?

june-24-paul-79We then took the boat 35km East to Taquille Island which seemed to take forever It’s narrow and long and was used as a prison during the Spanish Colony and into the 20th century, but now it’s just home to about 3000 Tackle people, who from what I can gather are governed by their own rules… and slightly communist ones at that! All the little eateries have to serve the same food on the same day and charge the same price, so that there’s no competition. And apparently (if I understood correctly), the different hats that each person wears is a sign of their ‘readiness to mate’… haha …. well at least, whether they’re married, single and desperate, single and happy etc. Strange, but I guess it saves the small talk! “Wow, hey… I see by your hat that you’re single and desperate! No way… me too!”

It was a pretty island though. We hiked from one side to the other and were collected by the boat for our return to Puno. The sunset was amazing. Like seriously one of the most amazing I’ve ever seen! We spent a couple of days in Puno, and it being our last stop in Peru, treated ourselves to a ‘posh meal’ on our last night, which I don’t think cost anymore than $5 each, including wine!

June 13, 2008

Cusco & Machu Picchu

Filed under: peru — Tags: , , , , — paulparkie @ 16:57

From Huaraz, we took the easier, less stressful bus journey to Lima. Rather than spend half a night in a hostel, we decided to just head straight for the airport and ‘sleep’ (pah) there until our flight at 05:40. Lima isn’t a nice city. It’s loud and noisy and smelly, though I guess you could say that about most big cities! It was strange being in the airport. We saw things we had grown unaccustomed to, like Burger King and Pizza Hut… it was all a very Westernised affair, which by no means is a good thing, but it did make killing the 8 hours until our flight easier!

Cusco is a beautiful city. It’s just a labyrinth of narrow cobbled streets lined with proud, old buildings, and the Plaza de Armas was one of the most impressive we’ve seen. We just spent the day getting lost really, exploring all the quieter back streets and markets. The amount of street sellers here selling the usual tat and trinkets was amazing… I almost lost it a couple of times with them constantly skulking round me. We had a early start the next day for our Inca Trail trek, so we just grabbed a few last-minute supplies before dinner. I’d seen ‘cuy’ on the menu in lots of places, but it was always surprisingly expensive, for what essentially is guinea pig… you can pick them up in a pet shop back home for a couple of pounds! Anyhow, we’d been recommended a restaurant in Cusco, so decided to plump for a cuy pate… which  was actually awesome. Not sure I could eat it back home, (I can just imagine the conversation in the pet shop… “Do you want this wrapped, or is it to eat now?” ha), but I’ll definitely be eating it again out here!

june-12-paul-013We left early on the next morning and were taken on the bus to Ollantaytambo, where we left on foot up the Sacred Valley. Leaving km 82, as it’s called, where we had to pass through ‘Passport Control’! I kid you not. It’s gone mentally tourist orientated in some places… where else, apart from entering a country do you need to get you r passport stamped? Anyhow, we crossed and climbed away from the Vilcanota River, we passed many ruins and had amazing views down the Urubamba valley. After about a 10km we arrived at Wayllabamba (3,000m). The name in Quechua means ‘grassy plain’.  We camped here for our first night.

The second day (apparently the most difficult), we hiked through steepening woods and increasingly spectacular terrain that brought us to the treeline and a meadow known as Llulluchapampa (3,680m). From there it was a 1½ hour climb to the first and highest pass of the trail (Abra de Huarmihuañusca or ‘Dead Woman’s Pass) at 4,200m. We sat at the top for a while watching other hikers sweating up the trail as the mentalist porters flew past them carrying loads as big as them! I shared my sherbert lemons with the porters. Keep in their good books! ha. Then it was a slog down the other side to Pacamayo (3,600m), where we camped.

On day three, the scenery changed from mountains to cloud forests. june-12-paul-0841It was weird how quickly everything changed. We saw loads more ruins… almost to the point where I was bored of them to be honest, which sounds terrible… but there was just so freakin’ many, and our guide wanted to stop and tell us the exact history behind every single one! Still, Phuyupatamarca, was easily the most impressive Inca ruin so far. The name means ‘Town in the Clouds’. We spent the night at Wiñay Wayna, and I had a shower… and a beer! Amazing.

We woke at 04:30 and hiked the final 1 ½ hours to Machu Picchu hoping to be at the Sun Gate for sun rise. Pah. When we got there we couldn’t see anything. Cloud/mist/whatever the smeg it was, filled the whole valley. Balls! Disappointed was not the word. We couldn’t believe we’d invested all that time and effort to not be able to see anything! We sulked our way down to Machu Picchu and the lo-and-behold the sun started breaking through and we got some awesome photos of the mist burning off the ruins… it looked so mystical! Completely made everything worthwhile. The day there was amazing, we had clear blue skies by  09:00 and we even were lucky enough to be able to climb Wayna Picchu (they limit the number of people allowed up each day). In trying to preserve it, and rightly so, they have little men with whistles running round, keeping people of grassy areas and certain parts of the ruins. One of the funniest things I saw was a bunch of hippies peacefully doing yoga on a quiet patch of grass get whistled at and chased away by two guards! ha.

Wow. So there you have it. One of the most amazing experiences of my life, summed up in a few paragraphs. My words, nor my photos will ever do it justice. It really is one of those places that you just have to go and see for yourself.

June 5, 2008

Huaraz

Filed under: peru — Tags: , , , , — paulparkie @ 18:55

From Mancora, we headed to Huaraz… a cool town sat right slap bang in the middle of the Andes. The last part of the bus journey here was the most ‘chicken-bus’ we’ve experienced so far. For what was probably only a 6th of the journey distance between Mancora and Huaraz, it took us about half the journey time! Even when the bus seemed full, the driver was stopping at nondescript little villages in the middle of nowhere to take on more passengers. The central aisle was rammed full with women, bags of grain, screaming children and a goat. The roads were similar to what we’d call a bridleway with crazy-big drops falling away to the valley bottom, though thankfully our driver wasn’t as suicidal as some we’d had, and he took his time. We arrived in Huaraz late and didn’t really notice the magnificence of our setting until morning light. The views from the town were amazing… the sheer number of peaks… +5000m that we could see from our hostel terrace was unbelievable.

Hike to base camp. It would have been sacrilege to visit there and not climbed something. So after talking to a bunch of guides and climbing companies, we decided on attempting to climb Mount Pisco (5762m)… it´s not the highest peak in the area, but it´s sat right in the middle of a bunch of +6000m peaks, so the views from the top are unmatchable.

After acclimatising in the town for a day or two, we did an acclimatisation hike to Laguna Churup (4450m), it was a great hike with plenty of psycho dogs thrown into the mix. Both Jayde and I managed with no problems so we were both confident that we were ready for our bigger climb!

It was a three day trip… the first day we drove for 2 hours into the Cordileria Blanca and then had a 3 hour hike to base camp (4400m). We had donkeys… yey. Two donkeys carried our mess tent, cooking supplies, climbing equipment etc… which made the hike to base camp pretty easy really… we just had to carry our day-packs. The views on the hike up were amazing… the weather was perfect and we could see Pisco’s summit towering above us. It was actually quite unreal to think that in the early hours of the following morning we’d be standing on top of it!Hike to base camp

We lucked out big-time that on our summit day there was only us and a Belgium couple planning to summit. So we had base camp to ourselves which Roger, our guide said was pretty unusual. We didn’t have long before nightfall. Just enough time to pitch our tents and have a quick explore of the area. Roger cooked us epic meals! More than any of us could eat, but he ensured us that we’d need the energy in the morning. We went to bed early and were woken for the climb around 01:00. It was cold and dark. We had another massive breakfast, and left camp at 01:40 for the hike across the moraine. It was pretty scary to hear the size of some of the rockfalls, and I wasn’t sure if I was happier not being able to see them or not. Anyhow, none of them fell on us so we made it across safely! We reached the snowline around 04:00 and put on our crampons and harnesses etc. The rest of the climb from here on was hard. Probably the hardest thing I’ve done. A strong wind relentlessly whipped up loose ice particles to blast any exposed skin and the air became notably thinner. Sunrise was amazing though. Definitely one of the most amazing sights I’ve ever witnessed and provided more than enough inspiration to continue.

Our climbing grew slower and more laborious the higher we went, but having the summit in sight kept us pushing on. Our last big test was a 30m ice wall we had to climb to reach the summit of Mt Pisco. That done, the feeling of reaching the top was one of sheer elation. It was 08:45 – we’d been climbing for 7 hours. The highest I’ve ever been in my life! Boom! Summit of Mt PiscoIt was pretty freaking cold though and the wind was even stronger up there, so there there was much speedy rejoicing, the customary photos were taken and then we headed back down. By now, the sun was higher in the sky, the wind had died down and it was easier going, though a few falls quickly gave me the reality check that I was still bloody high, and I should not relax too much. On the lower slopes before we got back to the morraine, Roger showed us a few self-arrest techniques which were good to know, and fun to practise.

We made it back to camp tired but happy at 13:30 and went to bed. The rest of the day was spent sleeping and eating and sleeping before heading back down to ‘Donkey Land’ to meet our lift back to Huaraz. The only other thing we did in Huaraz was visit the hot springs which were a wierd brown colour. The were hot though, I’ll give them that. The bizarre thing about our visit there was that Peruvians were completely baffled by breast-stoke. They all seemed to use a cross between very bad frontcrawl and drowning, so when they saw us moving through the water without making the usual spashes and without looking like we needed a life buoy tossed to us, they started asking questions. ‘Frog Man’ they called me (if my Spanish translation is accurate), ha… so I spent the rest of the afternoon teaching Peruvians breast-stroke, which was harder than you might think, in brown water!

May 29, 2008

Border Crossing and Mancora

Filed under: peru — Tags: , , , — paulparkie @ 15:19

So, they show dead people on the back of papers here. No sport. Just pictures of people that have died (usually horrifically) in the past 24 hours. It´s creepy. They have like ´before and after´shots!  One photo, the ´before´ probably borrowed from their mother´s mantelpiece of them smiling, or playing on that rope swing they made last summer – aah those were the days. And the other photo, the ´after´, shows them mangled in a car wreck… or semi-decapitated with an Incan replica war axe. They don´t hold back. Anyhow, just thought you´d like to know that too, cause it´s put me off my breakfast more than once. The couple of days between leaving Banós and arriving in Mancora (Peru) were pretty crappy really. Just spent on buses, or waiting at bus stations slagging off buses.

Long, long road
Long, long road

The Pan America… the main road… no, the ´highway´ from Banós to Machala was not smooth, and was riddled with pot holes, and our ´express´ bus seemed to stop at every non-descript house and shack en-route to drop someone off, or pick-up a bag of chickens. We finally arrived in a hot and sticky Machala at 12 midnight and checked into a hostel. I fell straight asleep and left Jayde swatting bugs. We left early the next morning for the border. We knew it wasn´t going to be an easy day. The Western Ecuador-Peru border crossing has a reputation for the hardest border crossing in the whole of South America… yey.  Here goes. We took a bus to the Ecuadorian passport control, 3 miles from the border, where we had to get our passports stamped to say we were leaving Ecuador. Then, after fighting off several requests from dodgy guys saying they´ll take us across the border in their cars, we caught the next bus to take us across the actual border. Only it didn´t. Unbeknown to us, it stopped a little further down the road and everyone had to get off. My Spanish wasn´t good enough to understand why. And after seeing where we were getting off, the best I could muster, was to throw the sweaty driver a look of utter exasperation and to say rude things about his mother under my breath. We´d been dropped of in the middle of a market in a throng of mayhem, with people, rickshaws, animals, and scared gringos everywhere!  The border crossing turned out to be a market between the two countries. A smegging market! Not even a nice market. They had now ´Olive´ Lady! In the end, after walking/creeping down some pretty sketchy side streets… after being shouted at and cajoled by every-other toothless market trader to ´sample their wares´… we got taken across by a dodgy guy who didn´t appear to have enough gas in his car… it cost us $35, but we were safe and unscathed, if a little stressed. Mancora was different to where we´d been so far… a small beach town in Northern Peru. It was good just to relax for a few days… spend some time on the beach and eat lots of Ceviche. Hmmmm… so good. Our three days there coincided with the annual ´Grasshopper Hatching´ which was hilarious.

Mancora
Mancora

For a start, our accomodation of choice was a beach hut. A beach hut where the walls didn´t meet the ceiling… and the door didn´t fit the door frame. So even though we were under a mosquito net, every few minutes we´d hear another mammoth grasshopper land on it… it was quite a weird feeling. The bloody things were everywhere!   Eating in a restaurant one night, I was wetting myself watching a guy and his missus trying to enjoy a romantic meal in a restaurant by the sea front. There was a pretty steady flow of grasshoppers flying in through the open front of the restaurant. So this guy and girl, were sat at a nice table, with nice cutlery, a nice wine and great food in front of them. But… they had napkins covering their wine glasses and the canter. They both, incessantly were looking around to see where the next airborne assault would come from… and after every mouthful of food they´d sit there chewing it, whilst slumped forward and covering their plate with their hands… I almost couldn´t eat for laughing. Until one landed on me. Then I yelped like a girl.

May 25, 2008

Cotopaxi & Banos

Filed under: ecuador — Tags: , , , , , — paulparkie @ 02:11

Glad to leave Quito, we headed south a couple of hours to Cotopaxi National Park and stayed in a sweet hostel in the mountains. It´s an old converted farm house, and sat in pretty amazing grounds, had a pack of pretty cool dogs running around continuously, horses, mardy lamas, cute puppies, two cows and a sheep… almost a petting zoo…. except for the lamas… they were miserable and looked like they´d spit if we ever went any closer! At dinner on our first night we arranged for a guide to take us to climb Illiniza Nord. One of two strata volcanos next to each other, standing at 5126m. High. Anyhoo´s, we left at around 6am and were hiking by 7, after a bumpy ride in a beat up Landcruiser on a narrow mud track that had been punished by the wet-season. It was pretty slow going, and we could definitely feel the altitude as we neared the refugio about 3 hours into the climb. By this time, the clouds had closed in, and we´d already been snowed and hailed on. At the refuge, our guide (Sergio) made us some coca leaf tea (the same plant they make cocaine from), which is supposed to be good for countering the effects of altitude… or else, it just makes you all warm and fuzzy and ´care less´ about the effects of altitude… ha, either way, I had three cups of the concoction, then sprouted wings and flew to the top with my yellow and green friend, ´Spotty´.

Hmm… if only it was that easy… or drugs were that good. After drinking my tea (and going to the toilet), we donned our harnesses, helmets, gloves etc. and headed for the summit. There were a few sketchy moments and we were roped together for the last 600m, although our guide didn´t really explain what to do if one of us did fall. I know a little bit about the ´fall and self-arrest´business, but he didn´t mention that to us, and I´m pretty sure it takes practise with a team to get it slick… so really, as far as I could see, if one of us fell… we all fell… end of. But we didn´t so that´s ok.

may21-paul-5There was one bit that had me worried beforehand – the Paso de la Muerte, literally translated – the Pass Of Death. Now, I´m a firm believer in that things are named for a reason… and so, rightfully so in my opinion, I wasn´t over enthused about ´The Pass Of Death´. But, thankfully it came and went without incident, or talking… or looking down, and we made it to the summit in good time. We ate lunch there, took the customary summit photos and headed back down.

The next day Jayde talked me into giving this ´horse riding´malarky another go… and to be honest, this time was better. I think I was more confident which helped, and the horse did pretty much what I wanted it to do most of the day, which is good. I even cantered… and then galloped this time!… but couldn´t get my timing of coming in and out of the saddle with the horses movement quite right, hurt the ´crown jewels´, and just got him to walk after that. Didn´t need to gallop anyway. Silly idea.

We left Cotopaxi a day later and headed to Banós… a really cool little town at the foot of an active volcano – Tungarahua. The whole town was evacuated in 2006, hmmm. Driving in was weird. You could see where the lava flow had cut the main road in half. One day there, Jayde and I braved the crazy South American drivers, and hired a couple of quads and headed down the valley towards Puyo.

View over Banos
View over Banos

Banós is called ´The Gateway to the Amazon´, and it definitely felt warmer and more humid as we dropped down the valley. We found Diablo waterfall, which was pretty cool, and there was a scramble up a path/under a cave, that meant we could get behind the waterfall… I felt like I was in a shampoo advert… alas, there was no cheesy music, but we did get soaked.

That night we took a bus to the top of another hill for a viewpoint on the volcano. It was one of the coolest things I´ve seen. Every so often, it would just spew lava out into the night sky… it looked awesome… so awesome, I forgot to be scared as I fell asleep that night, listening to it´s intermittent rumblings. Over and Out

May 22, 2008

Whistler-ler-ler-ler

Filed under: canada — Tags: , , , , , — paulparkie @ 12:44

erm… I left the Whistler blog on my laptop, and so won´t be able to upload my shananighans from there until I get back in July. I´ve just jumped straight to South America instead…

May 17, 2008

The Quilotoa Loop

Filed under: ecuador — Tags: , , , , , , — paulparkie @ 02:39

Another balmy bus ride later saw us back in Quito. Our plan was to hire a 4×4 to drive the Quilotoa loop. We managed to find a 4×4 at the airport for a reasonable price. I say ´find´ we didn´t steal it or anything, we actually did hire it!

And I guess in retrospect I should use the term ´4×4´ loosely. It was a Toyota Rav4. Hmmm. Still we got a good price for the four days we wanted it, how bad could it be (?) Jayde and I met Shelia whilst we were in Otavalo who didn´t take much persuasion to join us. But with Jayde´s age, and Shelia only having one arm that worked due to a mugging in Columbia, I was nominated ´driver´.

I´m going to go on record right now and say… getting out of Quito without damaging the car and keeping my underwear clean, was hands down one of the hardest things I´ve had to do! Road markings were all but non-existent, red-lights at intersections were merely a ´suggestion to stop´, and every other driver on the road seemed to be obsessively compulsed to honk his horn every other second. After being stopped at a set of lights, if I waited more than a nano-second to pull away once the lights turned green… every Tom, Dick and Hernando would start honking.

When we eventually made it out of Quito (which for the record, must be one of the longest cities in the world), the landscape quickly turned greener and ´rollier hillier´ (what?… they´re words!). We spent the night in Latacunga before leaving early in the morning for ´The Loop´. The road to Zumbahua was mainly paved. We climbed quickly on winding roads and passed through countless indigenous farming communities. I nearly flattened a few of them, herding their sheep on blind bends!? … Not smart… tsk.

Road signs on ´The Loop´, we began to realise were all but non-existent, so we were stopping often to ask for directions, often for us to be left starring agog at the road/track/path that we´d just been sent down. On the map we had the road connecting the villages was labelled as a ´main road´, but seriously, after driving it, I´m certain parts of it wouldn´t even pass as a bridleway back home!

Regardless, after more than a few wrong turns, dodging round the odd landslide here and there, oh and there were a few parts where half the road had fallen away into an abyss, we eventually made it to Chugchillan. 14km took us nearly 3 hours, and I made it out of first gear twice! Oh, and by the by, we ripped our exhaust in half in the process. Oops.

may17-paul-77We thought it wasn´t worth worrying about the exhaust until we needed to leave again, and spent two days hiking around Chugchillan – the nicest being the walk to Canyon Rio Toachi. The morning we planned to leave I patched up the exhaust the best I could with duct tape and a bungee cord. It sounded less like a rally car for about 5 minutes until the duct tape melted off. Hmmm. The road back didn´t seem quite as sketchy as two days previous, but there were a few moments when Jayde and Shelia definitely had white knuckles and their eyes closed!

In Quilotoa we stayed at a cool hostel run by the indigenous people, which cost us $10 for dinner, bed, and breakfast… bargain! The main reason we went to Quilotoa was to see the crater lake. A volcano, dormant since 1800´s filled with water. Amazing. No really. We spent a day hiking around the rim, which was way, way harder than we expected. It was brilliantly sunny when we set off, but by an hour in, the clouds had dropped and it began to rain… the only way we had of knowing that we were heading the right way, were by glimpses of the lake about 1500ft below.

may17-paul-99The path was much more difficult than we were led to believe. There was loads of scrambling, and long stretches of crumbly path, no more than half a metre wide with that big 1500ft drop either side… some of the time, we said we were glad it was foggy, then we couldn´t see the drop! We met a few dogs on the way round too! Dogs out here are bloomin´ psycho! They´re soooo territorial, and start barking and growling before you´re anywhere near their ´turf´. Jayde and I have started taking our trekking poles out and picking up rocks whenever we near homesteads and hear dogs… I´ve never known anything like it. As vicious as they seem, there´s only been a couple of times when I´ve actually thought one´s been ready to attack us. Then lobbing a rock at it´s head and jumping and screaming like a caveman has fortunately been enough to dissuade it! Good times though, the crater rim hike was a cool thing to do, and it was a good workout for sure.

We left Quilotoa for Quito in the morning, only stopping at Zumbahua on the way to see their indigenous Saturday market. Hmmm. It was unique to say the least. They were slaughtering sheep on the street, and gutting them there and then. The street dogs were eating the entrails as they fell to the floor, and people were sat eating their chicken broth soup for breakfast just a couple of stalls away. Friendly place though, and there was more fresh fruit and veg than you could shake a stick at! Ha… and on the drive back, we were following a bus, with 4 sheep on the roof! They were tied on though… so that´s ok!?

May 13, 2008

Quito & Otavalo

Filed under: ecuador — Tags: , , , , — paulparkie @ 12:49

Ok, so I´ve been here around twelve days so far. I´ve seen bus-surfing sheep, have new rules for toilet paper, don´t quite yet need to buy shares in Imodium, and haven´t yet tried ´cuy´(guinea pig).

The flights ended up passing really smoothly, though I hadn´t really thought the 8 hour lay-over in Miami through. Leaving a chilly Whistler, and heading to a damp Quito, I´d naturally dressed accordingly, but walking around Miami in the mid 30´s in my wool socks, long pants and wind-proof fleece did not really work out for me so well! Point of note: Miami is hot.

We got to Quito and had two days there, mainly to acclimatise. Our hostel was amazing with a breakfast terrace overlooking the whole Old Town… amazing views every meal time. We were also given new ´toilet paper rules´. Apparently, Ecuador’s sewage system isn´t up to much, and can´t handle anything but human waste, so everything else has to go into a littler bin next to the toilet… and then some unlucky sole empties all the bins twice a day. Hmm.

Quito was only ok. Jayde and I never really felt entirely safe. Every night at the hostels, people would have fresh stories of muggings and robberies to share with everyone… Oh the joy! We did wander the Old Town and it´s churches though, and it was all pretty nice to see, and bought 2 apples, 2 bananas, 2 oranges and a papaya for $1.60!…. the crazy thing being I still think we were ripped off! Point of note 2: fruit is cheap.

The next day we planned to take the bus North to a small market town, Otavalo. This was to be our first ´bus experience´ in South America. Here goes. We caught a taxi from our hostel to the terminal terestre. When we were about a minute away the taxi driver asked me where we were catching a bus too (which in England would be fine and normal, but it can take me a minute to process anything remotely Spanish spoken to me). After convincing myself how to reply, and then babbling something about Otavalo to him, he pointed excitedly at a line of buses slowly creeping along a parking lane. That was the terminal terestre (bus depot). Strange, none of them ever appeared to stop. The taxi screeched to a halt. No seat belts. The buses were still moving. may17-paul-44We were thrown out, we grabbed our bags, a little man came and tried to grab Jayde’s bag for her, but she rightly didn´t let go of it. So both of them carried her bag awkwardly. Me, Jayde and the little grabby-bag man ran up the hill to the bus that said Ótavalo on the side. We assumed that was going to Otavalo. It still hadn´t stopped. A crazy guy hanging out of the door shouted, “Otavalo, Otavalo” a couple of times, that was proof enough for me. Another guy gabbed our bags, and threw them underneath. Jayde and I were ushered onto the bus, convinced by now we were heading to Otavalo. The bus hadn´t stopped once. And breathe.

Otavalo was a breathe of fresh air after bein

g in Quito. A lot of the countryside reminded me of home. Our hostel there was sat 300m above Otavalo on the mountainside. It had it´s own massive gardens for us to loll around in, and there were flowers and birds AND humming birds everywhere. I wad quite excited about the humming birds. Jayde and I hiked a short distance to Taxopamba Falls. We got lost only once, and realised after a few minutes that a pretty large landslide had blocked the path, and that the gargantuan pile of mud, shrubs and trees shouldn´t be sat ahead of us.

Otavalo is famous for it´s indigenous market. We weren´t really prepared for how big! We wandered it for the best part of a day, without I´m sure seeing it all. It was pretty amazing how much stuff they had to sell… a cacophony of sound and colour. Hand made rugs, bags, sweaters (Jayde bought an alpaca sweater), chickens (whole, and then by any individual part of them you might ever desire!), tonnes and tonnes of fruit (we bought 12 bananas for $0.50!

The next day we hiked from Mojanda Lake up Fuya Fuya volcano. This was the highest we´d been in South America so far (4263m), and we found it pretty slow going whilst we got used to the altitude. It´s such a weird feeling going to breathe and not being satisfied with the amount of oxygen in the air. Still we made it to the top and had lunch whilst we waited for the cloud to clear. On a clear day we were told that we should be able to see Quito. It wasn´t that clear. We didn´t see Quito. But, it was good acclimatisation for higher climbs later on!

On our last day in Otavalo we hired some horses for a trek into the hills behind the hostel, to look down on Otavalo and San Pablo Lake. I hadn´t ridden since I was like 12 years old on Scout camp… and even then, I think our horses may have been roped together, nose to tail. So, least to say, I was a little nervous. “Horses can tell if your nervous y´know”, Jayde (having ridden horses all her life!) told me … Great! Bloody great! Anyhow, after blagging the most ´tranquillo´ horse out of the three, I felt better. And, I actually enjoyed myself once we´d got going, even though I´m sure on that ride, I was pretty much just taken for a ride. A lot of the route was on a small cobbled road,

may17-jayde-65

and my horse didn´t have any shoes on! If I was to design the most uncomfortable surface for a horse with no shoes to walk on… cobbles would almost definitely be up there! Needless to say, my horse didn´t really want to walk on the cobbles, especially with a fat Englishman on his back. So he proceeded to seek out any patch of nice, soft, lush, feet-friendly grass he could find, which just and so happened to be narrow patch

es down the side of the cobbles. Thus I got dragged through any trees, flowers, spiny plants and bug-laden jungle that was over-hanging the road… which was pretty much the whole way round. Horse riding therefore, remai

ns: Work in progress.

October 1, 2007

Vancouver Island

Filed under: canada — Tags: , , , , , , — paulparkie @ 00:45

At the end of September, after a few days hanging out in Vancouver, I went to see Van Island with Gen. Our only plan was that we wanted to surf in Tofino and check out Victoria, and as we were both on a budget, we decided we’d try and hitch. We got to the port early, booked our tickets and got on the next ferry to the Island. We made sure we were first off the ferry and tried to hitch with eVeRy SiNgLe CaR that drove off, and none of them stopped. Crap. Everyone I’d spoke to had told me hitching in Canada, especially on the Island, was easy!

We walked a bit up the highway and made our way to Parksville in two hitches, then the third ride pulled up and everything kind of fell into place. These guys (Denis and Michelle) were only on a day trip to Port Alberni and said they’d take us as far as they were going, which was about 2 hours down the road. But, after talking with them for a few minutes about what we planned to do, they decided to take us all the way to Tofino (about a 5 hour drive!), and hang out with us for 3 days with only the clothes on their backs! – how cool was that * and our flagrant geeky conversation and stunning scenery meant the time passed quickly.

We were up early to hire surf boards and hit the waves. We surfed Cox Beach in the morning, had a break for lunch and then hit Long Beach for a sunset surf which was amazing… the views and panoramas at sunset were completely erogenous… we just stopped surfing in the end and sat and just ‘watched’. Surfing was a larf, the ‘surf’ was pretty sweet and I managed to stand up aLmOsT as much as I face planted into the bottom.

Before Denis and Michelle left, we hiked the Wild Pacific Trail from Ucluelet which was an awesome trail that hugged the coast line and snaked through rain forest for about 4 hours. After just getting ‘used to’ (if that’s ever possible) the bears, we saw a few warning posters telling us there was a cougar in the area. Hmmm… slightly disconcerting, knowing that they’re around 5 feet long, and can jump 30 feet from standing still! That’s iNsAnE! Needless to say, we did the rest of the hike carrying pretty hefty sticks, which we pretended were just walking sticks when we met other people, little did they know they were in fact rudimentary weapons, to battle any mountain lions we may stumble upon… ha.

Every night on the Island seemed to consist of a collective BBQ with other people staying in the hostel, and then shooting the breeze into the early hours over a few beers. The pace of life in Canada is half that back home in England… and on the Island, that ‘pace’ halves again! Everyone is just so laid back, and never hurries to do anything. It took a few days to get used to, but then it was pretty sweet! During one of these twilight sessions Gen and I met a guy called James who just so happened to be making the 6 hour drive to Victoria the next day and wanted some company. As luck would have it, that’s where we’d planned on heading. So we plied him with a few beers and ‘Robert’s your mother’s brother’, we had a hitch to Victoria… wOoP wOoP.

Victoria was a pretty nice town; typically English and definitely busier than the ‘Tofino Time’ we’d grown used to. Just off the coast of Victoria was a pretty good place to see Orcas, and after managing to haggle a good price with a guide I plumped for a 4 hour trip and had a pretty fantabulous experience in the end. We found two pods hanging out together (about 80 whales) and ‘hung out’ with them for a while which was pretty special!

After a couple of days in Victoria we got a ride back to Vancouver via Nanaimo. The ferry on the way back passed through the Southern Gulf Islands, which were pretty stunning and some of the channels we had to pass through didn’t leave much room for error. The Island was much bigger than I thought it would be, and the scenery was out-of-this-world… I felt like I was in Lord of the Rings half the time [hmmm… if I was in Lord of the Rings, I think I’d be an Elf… I’m totally onboard with that whole longevity of life business they’ve got going on]. Anyhoo, Vancouver Island is definitely ‘unfinished business’. I’ve got a couple more days in Vancouver now before I head up to Whistler for the seeeeeeaaaaason … booyakasha *

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