Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Lost in the mountains

Ok, well obviously i returned otherwise i wouldn't be writing this but here is yesterdays story: After enjoying the scenery and walking to lake 69 so much (and not having enjoy time to do a long trek, or being fit enough) me and a few of the others decided to do another one day walk. We were to walk to Lake Churrup, the guy at the walking shop advised that we would be able to do that in one day and that we should leave at 7.30am (what?, i'm on holiday). That was our first mistake we all got up late (not just me) at left the town at about 10am clutching our map, a few sandwichs, my camera and a rain coat. En route, we decided to read the guide book about the our walk it said- recommended to be done in 2 days and gave it a difficulty rating of difficult- ok this may not be as easy as the previous hike but we decided to carry on anyway. The taxi dropped us of at the bottom of a large mountain after about 30minute drive and we set off upwards. The walk started off well but much steeper than the previous day and we were soon all tired and stopping frequently but we could see where we were headed which was encouraging. After walking for about 2 1/2 hours we reached the waterfall that is fed from the lake only to be faced with almost a cliff face of bear rock in front of us- i decided it was my turn to lead the group and threw myself at the rock face with great enthusiasm- always wanting to make it a little more challenging (Dad, do you remember the stroll in Cornwall that turned into river crossing and rock climbing?). Jo, the English girl, was not so enthusiastic and slightly afriad of heights and so wasn't impressed when we met some others descending- descending the path beside the rock face that is. We did make it to the top and the lake was spectacular, we sat down and were about to start lunch when there was a huge clap of thunder- our cue to leave and so we began the rather tricky descent. The rain looked like it wouldn't start so i reached into my bag for my sunglasses. oops, it appeared i'd left them at the top- but not to worry one of the boys scrambled back up to the top for me whilst the rest of us sat at the bottom and had a poll of how long he may be (much, much quicker than us lazy sods!). By the time i'd got my sunglasses back it was once again threatening rain and we were facing the very real possibility that we'd be stuck in the rain with no bus to take us back to Huaraz. We began to walk a little faster, saying little and all thinking the same but not daring to say anything. After a few hours walking we'd arrived at the point we began, the clouds had gone and it would only be 90 minutes more until the village we could catch the bus so we stopped, relaxed and had lunch. The last bus back to Huaraz, we'd been told, left at 5.30pm- we were just approaching the village at 5.45! There appeared to be no sign of a bus (oh dear, that would mean a 12km walk back) we decided the best course of action would be to start walking and hope for the best- we were about 5minutes away from Huaraz when a small minibus finally turned up. Needless to say I had very tired legs that evening!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

One day I went walking

Trujillo is beautiful, from the town centre it is possible to see 15 snow covered peaks! Yesterday i went hiking to a nearby lake fed from a glacier, the walk was to aclimatise myself to the altitude here (3500m) in preparation for a 4 day trek into the mountains. i went with an English couple staying in the same hostel and several other Irasalis that were staying in another, altogether our group totalled 11. We had been given maps and after a spectacular drive were dropped off and told we would be picked up 5 hours later, off we went. The walk, to begin with was fairly easy and the scenery was breathtaking, all around it was possible to see the snow capped peaks just above us and in the valleys we walked past long haired cows and ponies. The walk soon became more difficult as we had to climb to the highest point of the hike, 4600m, and i was pleased to see that everyone was struggling not only me- we all made it and after 3 hours walking were treated to a view of the lake. We stopped for lunch and even could have a cup of tea as someone had brought a gas stove, enivitably we to speculate how cold it would be to swim, pretty soon we had all paddled and fairly soon after that some of us decided to jump in. Never in my life have i been in such cold water, the shock almost killed me and then my whole body felt as if i'd was being stabbed by a million little daggers- i got straight out again! and needed several more cups of tea until i could feel my fingers again. The descent took only 2 hours and was much easier than the uphill climb earlier, even so by the end i was well and truely exhausted, ready for my bed and definately decided that a 4 day trek was a little beyond my un-aclimatised lungs!

A little bit of home

The only way to leave Trujillo is to take the night bus, once again i found myself looking for something to do until 9pm. The pub is what i decided, not just any pub- i found probably the most English pub in the whole of south america! Wonderful, i ordered a glass of wine (real wine glasses!) and read my book.
Whilst reading i discovered that if you live until you're 80 you will experience 4160 saturdays? How many have i had and how many were wasted i wondered?
Another fact, getting on the night bus after a glass of red wine is defiantely
the best state to be in.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Big old sand castles

Arriving in Trujillo (just on the edge of the desert) at 5.30am very tired but aware that every day counts and i am in a hurry to get to Lima (to meet Roo!) i decided that sleep was a luxury not for me and instead decided to spend the day touring the local ruins. i decided to first go to the nearby ancient pyramids- what an overstatement! well what i mean is, try to imagine what a 3000 year old sand castle looks like (sand isn't exactly a durable material, also bear in mind the spanish destroyed half of it during the conquest) what it resembles today is more like a pile of mud, undeterred i decided to enter the site and have a closer look- the first thing i noticed was a local dog, what is strange about peruvian dogs is that they are totally hairless! very odd indeed. I made the desicion that i didn't need a guide and could find my way around ok, also being just me a guide would have been too expensive. Once inside the ruins however, they were alot better than they looked on the outside, the inside walls were covered with coloured murals on many levels- in fact the site is still being excavated, the people that lived there (the Moche) built temples on top of old temples. I decided that maybe a guide would be useful after all and was contemplating what to do when just ahead of me i heard a tourguide that seemed to be speaking English (light bulb flash) if i could join that group it would be much cheaper for me. I approached the group and asked the couple that looked closest to my own age only to be told that i needed to speak to their father who had organised the trip, they welcomed me into their group no problems but it wasn't just a tour group it was a family holiday - day out that i was joining. The family consisted of mum(Peruvian born), dad(Hull born), 2 children, boyfriend of eldest daughter and granny (who, when shocked at the size of the ruins would exclaim "By Heck..."- this more than anything else was what i heard all morning), they were very friendly to me (except the teenagers who seemed fairly hostile to just about everything- how old am i!), the granny was asking me many questions, of which she seemed fairly happy with my answers until we got to "where did you go to uni?", her response to me was "why would anyone possibly go to Bradford!" (do you remember where she lives!). i decided i wouldn't continue with them to the next attraction.
The next attraction was the ruined city of Chan Chan, once again made out of sand i decided to go and have a look only cos i didn't want to waste the rest of the day. These ruins were much more impressive, Chan Chan was a walled city that was once completely self contained within 8-10 metre high walls. Once inside the walls there was lots of carved decoration, huge celebration halls, smaller rooms filled with idols and even a well- which is now a rather big lake complete with ducks and reeds (very pretty and peaceful, i seemed to be the only other tourist). After Chan Chan i walked the 2km back to the main road through the desert terrain, this too is very surreal but beautiful in an errie way, and then on to the nearby beach village of Huanchaco. I had lunch followed by a little nap on the beach (i guess sleep is a nessecity after all) and then watched the sun set as the local fishermen, in their strange boats, set out to catch that evenings' tea. and home for an early night.

Near disaster averted

i've come to realise that i'm not actually to good at travelling- i knew that i had to leave Quito and head south but didn't really know more than that. Remembering that i'm not great at crossing borders unsupervised (and this border is known to be a bit of a nightmare) I figured the easiest way was to simply catch a bus in Quito that would take me all the way into Peru. At the ticket office i was informed that i would actually have to change buses at the border and for the privilige of buying one ticket it would cost me $75!- back to the drawing board, or rather the bus station and starring at the destinations, waiting for inspiration. I then remembered i'd been told it was possible to catch a bus from Guayaquil into Peru, that's it, decided- i'm going to Guayaquil. Guayaquil is 8 hours from Quito and so i decided to get the night bus and therefore arrive first thing in he morning, travel all day and arrive in Trujillo, Peru that evening- this meant a 4 hour wait in the bus station until my bus left, not too bad-i had a good book.
The bus journey to Guayaquil was not too bad, i was befriended in the station by a five year old and his mother. As it turns out they were sat behind me and for the first hour he kicked the back of my seat and whispered through the seats at me until i feigned sleep. i slept in bits until i was awoken at 6ish by everyone was getting off, great i thought we've arrived on time (no such luck). We had a flat tyre, which the driver had been trying (unsucessfully) to mend for the last hour so all the passengers were transferred to another bus- this meant standing in the aisle for the next 90minutes until we reached Guayaquil. And here i was told the bus into Peru left 30minutes ago and the next one was in 3 1/2 hours- more book reading then, i guess. The next bus was almost empty to begin with and, as we were travelling down the pan-american highway the journey was swift and smooth. We reached the Peruvian border after 5 or so hours of travelling, the conductor announced that everyone needing immigration (why everyone doesn't need it is still a mystery) must disembark now, three of us got off in total. The immigration process was very quick, we'd all finished in under ten minutes and were back outside to board the bus, only to discover it wasn't there. I wasn't initally alarmed by this, i'd bought a ticket all the way into Peru, of course the bus would not jut drive away with my rucksack (and thus all my possesions) to leave me stranded at the border; the other 2 ecuadorians who had disembarked with me weren't quite so trusting and were going mental at the side of the road. After a few minutes of shouting they decided that we all need to go to the police office. Here, there was more shouting, waving of arms and general panic whilst the police radioed ahead to get the bus stopped. Don't worry however, the bus returned (and was always going to return, it merely dropped off the remaining passengers on the other side of the border) and pulled up behind us as we stood shouting before the police officer, we all rather sheepishly got back on he bus and in no time at all (5more hours) we were at our destination, Piura.
Piura, was not my final destination however and i needed to catch yet another nightbus to Trujillo, so i had an hour to kill before leaving again. I realised i was actually quite hungry, having not eaten all day- i went to a nearby food stall and ordered some soup. It was very tasty, but much to the great amusement of my fellow diners i nervously picked out the (whole and very scaly) chicken foot followed then by what we all concluded was probably an eyeball, they then found it even more hilarious when i took a photo of the uneaten contents of my bowl. Back on the bus very soon, completely full and slightly smelly but quickly falling asleep, arriving very early, still tired, but finally, at Trujillo.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Back to Quito, again

The very day after my birthday i left San Augustin and headed for south, i must have been looking fairly rough as the driver got me some water and aspirin at our first stop! This first bus journey (and definatley the bumpest) was 7 hours until i had to change buses and continue for another 6 on proper made roads in a real coach (ooh the luxury). I spent that evening in Pasto, just north of the columbian/ecuadorian border- arrived late and then left early so i didn't see any of the town. Back on a small bus to the border, i was the only gringo on the bus and so my fellow passengers said they would help me and make it clear where i needed to go, we got off that minibus and were boarding a second to the nearest ecuadorian town where i realised i needed to find the immigration office. They pointed me in the right direction and i went inside and joined the queue, i waited almost an hour before reaching the front and being informed by he helpful guard that i needed an exit stamp from Columbia before i could enter Ecuador- it seems i had crossed the border and not realised. So of i went in search of columbian immigration on the other side of the bridge, it wasn't a huge problem except that the queue on the other side was twice as big! Once i had officially entered Ecuador i set of for Otavalo where i would send that night, only 4 hours by bus (nothing at all).
Saturday morning is market day in Otavalo and i got up very early (5.30am) to go and see the animal market, where pigs, sheep, goats and chickens were all been traded live and, once the deals had been done, carried away on the backs of their current owners wrapped in blankets. The noises and smells were more than enough for me first thing in the morning, so i retreated to the relative safety of the produce market only to be confronted by an entire cooked pig carcas being carved in front of me. I moved on to the fruit and veg section quickly. I returned to the hostal about 9ish to have breakfast and meet up with my shopping partner (Anna, a swiss girl i'd met the day before). Luckily Anna was as enthusiastic as me when it came to spending money and had a very good morning before we both took the bus back to Quito, on which she showed me how to weave bracelets from coloured string. This has now replaced my knitting as my bus pass time (i never got more than 2 lines into the hat anyway and i've nearly done half a bracelet already).
Quito is just as i left it, except it seems to have stopped raining. I've spent the morning doing all the tourist things i never got round to when i lived here and this evening i'll catch up with some of my friends that are still here. Tomorrow is back to epic bus journeying, woo hoo.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Happy Birthday Me

My next destination was Cali, but only briefly as it really was just a stopping place en route to where i really wanted to go. Arriving at the weekend, its difficult to find an excuse not to go out so after 2 long nights out (i did go to an art gallery too, so not all boozing) followed by four hours on a bus, a night in pretty Popayan and then 7 hours on a bumpy mud track i reached San Augustin.
San Augustin is famous for the many ancient statues that were discovered in the surrounding valleys and most of the area is now a world hertige site. Yesterday i spent the day wandering around the archological park and looking at the many statues and tombs that cover the hillside and i found them interesting enough to book a horse riding trip for the following day to see some more remote sights.
The following day (also my birthday) we set off under rather ominous looking skies at a pace slightly slower than i would have liked. We soon reached one of the sites of statues and so stopped to take a few photos (the skies getting blacker by the moment) so we didn't stop for long and continued on to our next destination- a steep section of mountain side littered with fallen raocks many of which had ancient carvings on them. The track to this was very steep and the horses stuggled to get down and was slightly worried that they may slip (but they didn't, i live to tell this tale). Our guide assured us that as long as the wind kept up then we didn't need to worry about it raining and so after climbing around the rocks for a while we set off again. Less than 5 minutes later the heavens opened and it began to pour, in moments i was totally, absolutely and utterly soaked! This weather continued for most of the rest of our ride but at least it gave a good reason for riding a bit faster. The track we were following soon turned to mud (it would have been bad enough without the current downpour) and the horses refused to go any further so we dismounted and had to lead them through the mud, easier said than done at one point i was mid-way up my shins in black mud with the horse almost on top of me (and everyone else laughing)! At our last point of the trip we sheltered, beneath the roof beneath which the statues were, waiting for the rain to stop and i tried to scrap off some of the mud- the rain didn't stop anytime soon and i couldn't remove much mud. We raced back most of the way, which was fun and by the time we got back it had actually stopped raining! Then the evening was started with pizza (the best in town) and then to a bar for some drinking and dancing into the wee small hours.
ps. thank you everyone who remembered!

Those elusive whales!

After leaving Salento, i headed once more for the coast, not for sunbathing this time but for whale watching, and this time at the Pacific coast (not many whales in the caribbean, you know). Just arriving at Buenaventura was an adventure in itself but we ended up getting both a recommendation and a lift to the hotel from some friendly police officers with dance music blaring out of the stereo whilst other cars allowed us through! On arrival at the hotel i discovered my room came complete with CD player and so i had opportunity to play my new cd's-Shakira and Juanes- (do you know "tengo la camisa negra" in Europe?). brilliant.
The following day we had to take a boat to the island where it is possible to see the whales- unfortunately at the island its only possible to stay in all inclusive hotels and so when not whale watching i had chance to lay by the swimming pool (!!!) and work on my tan some more (i will start real backpacking soon!). The whale watching trip lasts for a few hours and we go out in a small boat with perhaps 10 other people, we zoom out (presumably to the whale highway) and wait. and wait. and.. oh, oh, is that a whale in the distance.. no, just a piece of drift wood... and wait some more. At this point i put my ready poised camera away and am beginning to think that this maybe wasn't a great idea and that possibly i may become seasick, when not so far off we did actually see a whale, so with my possible seasickness forgotten the boat sets off after it. "It" turns out to be "them" and we see a mother and calf swimming side by side up along our boat, they were no more than 5m away from us, occasionally spurting water into the air; i then notice that behond this pair there are several more spurts of water into the air and with them more whales. In total we saw either the same whales many times or many whales a few times, either way I was suitably impressed and didn't even mind that i was unable to get any photos (so you'll just have to imagine how cool it looked!).

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Gunpowder and Beer!

Salento was a beautiful but tiny town in the middle of the coffee region, my first day was spent visiting two local coffee farms. The first, run by Don Ellas (both were run by 'Don's') was very small and little more than an extension of his back garden and we wandered around looking at not just the coffee plants but pineapple bushes, banana trees, blackberries, fish pond and family pig; whilst he picked the few beans that were red and ripe. He then showed us the machine which strips the beans of their skins and the 'drying room' or rather sheet of polythene hung over a patio. The second, run by Don Raul (i couldn't say that without raising a smile) was much bigger and alot more as i imagined a coffee farm to look like; afterwards we were treated to a cup each and then, predictably enough, invited to buy some.
That evening a few of us from the hostel headed into town to play a local game named Tejo. The game involves a large crate packed with clay to be placed at either end of the playing area (about as long as a cricket green), in the centre of the clay is a metal ring and on the metal ring packets of gunpowder are placed. The aim of the game is to throw metal weights at the clay filled box and either to land in the centre of the metal ring or to make the gunpowder explode! This is the traditional game played by men in columbia (more interesting than darts or pool i think) as is obviously accompanied by copious amounts of beer. It was great fun to watch and after a couple of beers ourselves we decided to have a go, we soon found ourselves surrounded by locals offering advice on our throwing technique but really just having a laugh at us. i was totally rubbish and failed to hit even the crate with most of my throws and so after a while we were relagated to the half size or kiddie court (oh, the embarrasment!)
My second day i went to the nearby valley of Cocora, which is home to the largest palm trees in the world- they were the biggest (and weirdly, skinnest) trees i have ever ever seen in my life, i felt like i was in the world of giants- it was really cool. I had gone to the valley with several others form the hostel and so we were able to negotiate a good price for horses and spent the day riding amongst these enormous trees looking at the tropical flowers and watching the many humming birds and of course racing each other.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

a not so pretty city?

Before i arrived in Medellin i wasn't expecting much and here i quote the guidebook, "Perhaps not a top travellers destination....temperature pleasant....any colonial architecture has disappeared in the frenzy of recent growth....dotted with a forest of skyscrappers". so i arrived expecting a dirty city, but i'd heard, with some good nightlife (which is never a problem)- i headed straight to the hostel without seeing much of the city as it was already dark. Almost as soon as i arrived i was heading out to sample the local nightlife with a group of english boys, i was not disappointed, and from what i remember it was lots of fun. The following morning on waking with a slightly fuzzy head (its the altitude not the alcohol you know) and the sun shining i decided to explore the city and set off to the metro station. The train journey gave me good opportunity to look at the city as it whizzed past the window, the guide book was correct, there were hardly any colonial, pretty buildings and the majority of the city is built from red bricks. Beyond the city, the green mountains that mark the beginning of the coffee region rise up and are only partly covered by the outer edges of the slum areas of the city, the red and green together, however do look rather pretty and autumn like and i had a good first impression. Once in the city i found myself in a large plaza surrounded by huge pieces of public art, the most famous colombian sculptor (Fernando Botero- if you're interested) lived in Medellin and as a result Medellin has more public art then any other columbian city, i wandered around the city but soon realised it was too hot for my hangover and retreated to an art gallery (which incidently is the pefect place to go- cool, shaded, peaceful) and spent the rest of the morning there.
The following day i headed out of the city to a tourist attraction called El Penol, or The Rock- which is really just a huge lump of granite (really really huge though) that you can climb and then have a spectacular view over the surroundings. What i could see from the top was lots of lush green hills and hundereds of small lakes continuing as far as the mountains allowed mw to see. This is quite a popular tourist attraction for columbians too although at the top i became quite a novelty myself, as almost everyone coming to the top wanted to know where i was from and two families even asked if they could take my photo?!
One more night of partying and i decided to head for the more peaceful location of Salento, deep in the coffee region.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

creatures from the deep

Just before i left Cartegena, Jennie and i took a day trip to a mud volcano. Now this isn't actually a volcano but more a huge tower of liquid mud pushed up out of the ground by unusual gases underground, lovely i hear you thinking, well its quite a tourist attraction around these parts; and basically all the gringos bath in the mud, so we thought that we'd have a look. On arrival it did actually look alot like a volcano (with steps up the side), we were instructed to remove all our clothes before climbing up, at the top- the cone is about the size of a large jacuzzi and filled with people all bathing and many local all acting masseurs. Climbing in was the strangest sensation as the mud closes in around you, its very heavy, much more so than water; and the chosen method of moving around is to lie on your back and have someone push you along the surface otherwise you end up flailing around not actually moving but just covering everyone else with lots of mud! Once in the mud, after the obligatory massage and then marvelling at how much we all looked like maniquins covered completely in mud there wasn't alot else to do; we had also realised by this point that the mud did smell a bit odd! And so came the task of cleaning ourselves off; which bascially meant we walked down to the nearby river and washed there (not very sucessfully in my case!). my skin did feel lots softer afterwards so maybe there was some benefit.