Archive for the ‘South America’ Category

Amazon Cruise (Mar 8-13)   3 comments

Brazil

The Amazon

Our journey down the Amazon began in the jungle metropolis of Iquitos, Peru. This is the largest town in the world you can’t drive to and is situated in the deep Amazon jungle on the edge of the Amazon basin. The streets were flooded by moto-taxis taking people where ever they needed to be for 2 pesos as well as the continuous rain that followed us. Travel tip: If a country has an entire season dedicated to rain, don’t go then. From Iquitos we took a fast boat down the river for a 12 hour ride to the border with Brazil and Colombia. Once through their jungle interpretation of border formalities we settled in a lovely hotel (probably Magan’s favorite) in the Brazilian town of Tabatinga.

Our first goal was to get a hammock and passage on board a boat that is heading to Manaus. The hammocks were no problem and we were lucky that the Voyager III was heading out the very next day. That day, however, turned out to be a long day of waiting and walking in mud and rain. Never the less we were soon in a mass rush to get through security (looking for colombian bam-bam) and on to the boat to find the best spot for our hammocks.

After our hammocks were hung and we had settled in amongst the scores of other hammocks hanging around us we began to feel relaxed. That evening we departed for a 3 1/2 day journey down the Amazon swinging in a hammock and finishing off a bottle of rum. The down side of the trip was, of course, the people. At various ports more people would join us and try to put up hammocks directly above ours. But with a little persuasion, they would move on. Despite a few annoyances the trip was great.

We spent our days gently swaying in our hammocks feeling a slow breeze blow past us keeping the bugs at bay. As we floated down the large ( at some points very wide) murky brown river we were surrounded by the beautifully green dense Amazon rain forest. The knowledge that we were floating in the largest river in the largest and least explored forest in the world gave our trip an air of adventure. At random points along the river we would see small huts miles from any town that would force us to wonder just exactly what it is they do.

The end of our trip brought us to the international port city of Manaus (hundreds of miles from the Atlantic) where two
rivers, the Negro which is a dark black and Solimoes which is a muddy brown, meet, but stay separated for miles because of their different speeds and consistency. Here we left our boat and prepared to leave the city for some much longed for clear weather.

Other Activities in South America

Potosi Mines

 

Potosi was once the richest city in the Americas thanks to its silver mines. Today, however, the silver is gone, but locals continue to mine what precious minerals are left. The working conditions (heavy lifting, toxic dust, high altitude, etc…) are such that our guide informed us that he knew only one miner in his 50’s.  Before we went we stocked up on small supplies to give to the miners as “gifts”. These included soft drinks, coca leaves and a Timothy McVeigh starter kit (dynamite,  ammonium nitrate and a fuse with blasting cap).

Sandboarding in Huacachina, Peru

 

On the way to Lima we stopped in Huacachina for a couple of days and went sandboarding in the desert there.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

 

Before heading to Africa we spent about a week in Rio de Janeiro relaxing on the beaches and taking in the beautiful city. Above is the large statue that overlooks the city, Christ the Redeemer.

Advertisements

Inca Ruins (March 1-5)   1 comment

Inca Ruins

Arriving in Cuzco, Peru, after a brief layover at Lake Titicaca, we begin our exploration of the ruins from the once vast Inca empire. They were the strongest and largest group in South America, until the Spanish came and put a molly-woppin on them.

Starting in the area surrounding Cuzco we first came to the site of Saqsaywaman (pronounced: sexy woman, means: satisfied eagle) with it´s tall walls of gigantic stones. The entire area, which is only 20% of it´s original size, is covered in bright green grass with tall gray stone structures arranged on a hillside overlooking the city. Llamas, or alpacas, graze on the terraced hills that make up the main structures. We are impressed at the time and man-power it took to move the large stones to the hill they now rest on. Moving on we came to Qénqo. This is another ruin near the city, not quite impressive as Saqsaywaman, but interesting none the less. It is a large rock formation, with stone structures built up around it. All throughout there are passageways  carved through it´s heart, the main passage has a couple of chairs that seem to have grown out of the ground, made of solid rock.

Moving on, into the Sacred Valley, we travel down winding roads and through an area that looks very similar to Tuscany. Farther along we wind into a steep valley with tall mountains into the town of Ollantaytambo. The town itself is a great example of Inca city planning, and has been inhabited continuously for over 700 years. The stone streets line the valley floor flanked by small moats for run-off rain water. On the hills surrounding the city there are multiple structures perched overlooking the city. Climbing toward the ruins the steep path forks. To the right, a series of houses and squared off stone walls, to the left a large three-tiered building still very much intact only missing it´s thached roof. After reaching this building and looking down with a great view of the valley we wonder how often the former inhabitants made this trip up to their dwellings.

That night, after considerable delays due to mud-slides, we take a train up to the town of Agua Calientas where we catch a bus to the pinnacle of Inca ingenuity – Machu Picchu. The mountains in this area are even steeper than those in Ollantaytambo giving them the look of karst peaks. After a long road of switch backs we arrive at the cloud veiled entrance to Machu Picchu. Sitting at 2,430 meters it is easy to see why this place was never discovered by the conquistadors. It was built around 1450 at the height of the Inca empire, abandoned about 100 years later due to the conquistadors and discovered in 1911, considered the most complete and best preserved ruins in the western hemisphere.

When we arrived everything was veiled in cloud cover giving it an eerie feeling and the thought that we were alone on the mountain top. For the first hour we didn´t see many other tourists at all. We walked down trails feeling like we were the first ones in hundreds of years. At one vantage point called the House of the keeper of the Funerary Rock we saw the former city mapped out below us. Although the fog hindered our ability to take good photos it enhanced the feeling of adventure.

As we walked along the path ways through the city we would turn corners and see whole new sections open up before us. The grass was a bright green and sat in stark contrast to the gray stone work or buildings, temples and terraces covering the mountain. This is truly a marvel of engineering and man´s ability to create. We sat for a long time at the Funerary Hut pondering the reasons of Cloud City. Why was it built? More interestingly, how was it built? More intriguingly, why was it forgotten after the invasion of the conquistadors for hundreds of years? Finally, where was Lando Calrissian? Regardless, it is truly an amazing site.

(Saqusaywaman)

(Qénqo)

(Odd looking dogs)

(Ollantaytambo)

(Machu Picchu)

Posted March 17, 2012 by Magan and Brenden in Peru, South America

Tagged with , , , ,

World’s Most Dangerous Road (Feb 28)   3 comments

El Camino de la Muerte

(The World´s Most Dangerous Road)

The World´s Most Dangerous Road was built in the 1930´s by Paraguayan prisoners of war and winds down the steep Andes mountains from La Paz to Coroico. In 1995 the Inter-American Development Bank gave it the name “The World´s Most Dangerous Road” because of estimates that 200-300 people died annually while driving on the road. In 2006 a new road was completed by a Brazilian company that was much wider and took most of the traffic off of the old road. Only around 20 tourists have been killed on the road since 1998. The most recent, according to our guide, was a French girl (last May) who took the tour with a budget company. Coming around one of the hairpin turns her disc brakes came off her bike and she went sailing into the wild blue yonder.

The tour is a total of 64 kilometers, the first 20 of which are on the new paved road. This allowed us to get used to the bikes and adjust to the sharp turns that were to come. 90% of the trail is down hill and begins at an altitude of 4700 meters. We would descend from cool alpine forests down to tropical rainforests at 1200 meters, a total of 3.5 kilometers down from where we started.


At the start the views that surrounded us were amazing. Tall jagged mountains covered in dark green grass and low clouds interspaced with waterfalls rise up like walls around us funneling us toward our long anticipated road. After a quick blessing of the bikes with Pachamama (mother earth) and alcohol (96%) we head out. Zooming down the trail, passing the occasional car or truck, we come to a large turn and are met with a stark wall of white reducing our visibility to only a couple hundred feet. This serves as a good wake up for what is in store for us. Farther along we glide, through a drug check-point, and finally to a long dark tunnel (which we aren´t allowed to go through since someone ran into the wall and went into a coma for a few weeks) which serves as the starting point for the old road.

The old road is certainly narrower. Rough gravel, ravines, and baby heads (large 3-7″ diameter loose rocks) litter the road that is only about 3 meters wide on average. There are no guard rails and the previous night´s rain ensured a slick surface. As we begin our descent down the road adrenaline rushes into the blood stream. Flying down at what feels like 100 mph you are tempted to look over the edge where you see a sheer drop of over 600 meters. You know that death is assured, but would certainly be one of the better ways to go. At each turn you run the scenario through your head that one wrong turn, one large rock, or one second heading in the wrong direction could be your last.

The first few sections of the road were the most intense. We stopped a few times for pictures, horror stories and a couple of snacks, but most of the time was spent riding down the road. The group was quickly divided into two groups (three). The boys up front, a few seconds later the girls (followed by one girl who went about 5 mph the whole way scared to death). At one point we passed under a waterfall, soaking everyone, where the road whittled down to around 6 feet wide. At this point it began to rain making the road a nice wet and muddy trail interspaced with flowing streams testing your ability to handle the bike. As we gained confidence, and speed, the road seemed to get a little wider and the cliff face a little less steep.

Finally at the end we were ecstatic from the great views and large quantities of adrenaline still flowing through our veins. Magan and I agree that this was probably the best thing we have done so far. At the end we went to an animal reserve where we saw toucans, cockatoos, and monkeys. Here we had a nice pasta meal before heading back to town. All-in-all this was a great experience and should be on any itinerary for Bolivia.

Water fall over the road.                           River through the coca fields

Toucan and Cockatoos

Monkeys

Salar de Uyuni (Feb 19-21)   4 comments

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

We began our three-day tour at the border of Chile and Bolivia where we gave our passports to a man in a small shack in the middle of no where. He put our passports in a brown paper bag, handed it to our driver, and told us we would get them back at Uyuni (our final destination). After a nice breakfast we boarded our 4×4 vehicle with a German, two Swiss and an American from California and headed into the wilderness. The first day was full of natural beauty. The first area we came to was Laguna Blanca:

The algae in the various lakes at this altitude give each lagune a very distinct color. Continuing on we came to another lagune. This time the water was a dark blueish-green giving it the name Laguna Verde:

We continued onward into Bolivia and higher in altitude. By this point we were all feeling the effect of high altitude. The American from California had some altitude pills that he shared with us to help with altitude sickness. Even though we had been in Tilcara and San Pedro, both above 2400 meters, we were still not prepared for the next stop. As we continued to follow seemingly random tire tracks crisscrossing through the barren countryside we felt our ears popping and heads beginning to swell. We climbed higher and higher until we reached a geyser field at 5000 meters.

The guide told us the water and mud was around 280 degrees celsius. We  saw holes of steaming water and pits of percolating mud. After walking around for a few minutes we were told it was time to go so we would not get sick. It had begun to sleet by this point. Back in the Jeeps we headed for our hostel for the night. This hostel was still around 4500 meters and everyone was feeling fatigued.  Just going to the bathroom took your breath away. Even though we had plenty of water, altitude sickness pills and a mouth full of coca leaves, we still had headaches and were ready to go to sleep. Before we were able to go to sleep, however, we went to visit another colorful lagune, Laguna de Colorada. This lagune was a deep red color and full of flamingos.

That night we slept, but only barely because of the freezing temperatures and high altitude. Over the course of the night it began to snow, so when we awoke the ground was covered with white fluffy snow. As we set out there were no tire tracks to follow, so our guide had to find his way through rolling hills covered in snow that all looked the exact same. However, since he had been doing this for 8 years, it was no trouble for him to guide us to our next stop, the stone tree.

This area was a flat landscape with rocks jutting out of the ground and littered around creating a unique feeling. Even though there was nothing special about the stone tree itself, the entire landscape was quite amazing. After a few snowball fights and writing a few names in the snow we boarded our jeeps and continued, this time for a long ride, towards Uyuni.

During the trip our driver kept jerking at the wheel, dodging pot holes and driving up over the edges of the road…. We found out later that our driver was nodding off. The person sitting in the passenger seat told us he had to keep nudging him to keep him awake. Good times. It turns out that this week is Carnival in Bolivia and he and the other drivers were up until 4am (we were up at 530 to leave) drinking and partying. So as we drove along, looking at other lagunes and various other vistas, we had to continuously keep the driver awake so he wouldn´t drive off the side of a mountain and kill us all. All the more excitement. More bang for your buck.

We saw the signs for Uyuni, 51km… 31km… then nothing. The jeep rolled to a stop by the side of the road and the driver hopped out to look under the hood. Since we were close to town and near the end of the day there were multiple tour groups driving past. A couple of them stopped to see what was wrong, but our guide waved them on. He doesn´t need any help. After sitting there for an hour he finally accepts the help of a couple of other drivers. A few minutes later the truck starts and smoke fills the cabin before it cuts off again. In the distance the rain and rolling thunder are coming ever closer, and around 2hrs into the ordeal he calls another driver to come and pick us up. This night was spent in the town of Uyuni and in the morning we headed out to the Salt Flats.

Our hotel for the night was nice because it was for two people, but still, there was no hot water, a very low temperature at night, and loud partying all night in the streets. It didn´t matter, because the next morning we headed out to the surreal landscape of Salar de Uyuni. This is the biggest salt flat in the world, and because we were here during the wet season, the entire thing is covered with 1-3 inches of water. This gives it the strange look of a giant mirror. We headed out before sunrise and as the sun came up it began to take on it´s reflective properties.

At first light it was not very impressive, although it was very pretty. As the sun rose it became much more interesting.

The higher the sun got, the better the views got. This unique landscape afforded us great opportunities for unique pictures, enjoy:

No Horizon

Reflective Ground

Damn Dinosaurs

Silhouette Mags

Silhouette Brenden: Ninja Training

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile (Feb 16-19)   Leave a comment

The Road to San Pedro de Atacama

The road from Salta starts up a winding mountain valley. We are flanked by large green mountains as we climb in altitude. Continuing on we come to the colorful mountains of Purmamarca, remembering the previous day´s hike. Along this stretch of road many of the large mountains, which are made of clay, show large vertical crevasses eroded by years of wind and rain.

Higher we climb and the mountains change to gigantic rolling hills of green grass. Llamas stand grazing at each turn. The large cacti that covered the low desert change to small shrubs as the altitude climbs and temperatures drop. The mountains have now become more jagged and rocky, taking on a dark brown color. Farther down the road splits the middle of a large, shallow reflective lake stretching for miles in each direction. It is impossible to tell where the earth ends and sky begins.

As we approach the Chilean-Argentine border we are met with a tall peak with snow that looks like sifted powdered sugar. Continuing into Chile we climb into
the high desert where the only plant life is small patches of grass. The dark red sand surrounds us. One peak we drive over is covered with snow showing the diversity of the region´s beauty. Onward to San Pedro de Atacama.

—————————————————————————

Valley de la Luna

San Pedro de Atacama Chile

 

This afternoon we rented bikes in San Pedro de Atacama and headed out for Valley de la Luna (Valley of the Moon). It is so named because it resembles the surface of the Moon. I doubt the Moon looks anything like this valley, but it is certainly other worldly.  After a 15km ride we see mountains jutting up in every direction and tall sand dunes climbing up to meet sharp cliffs. The entire region is a dark reddish-orange with dark grey dunes all covered with a white salt giving you the impression of a snowy winter.

A few kilometers into the valley we come to a point where we are able to lock up our bikes and head out on foot. The trail leads us up a winding path to the
top of a small mountain range giving us a view of the surrounding area. Walking along we see one of the regions largest dunes surrounded by a large cliff on one side and multiple smaller jagged peaks everywhere else.

Continuing on we find a giant cliff and a few tourists taking photographs. Even farther we come to Las tres Marias. This small formation of three(?) stone pillars is one of the tourist draws of the valley. It should not be. After taking a picture (after all, we came all that way) we headed back towards San Pedro. The 8km out of the park and 15km back to town were enough to do me and Magan in. As we were leaving we looked back
to see rain falling in the distance. This is supposed to be the driest desert in the world, but apparently not this region, as it seems to rain every evening.

Tomorrow we head out on a 3 day excursion across Bolivia to Salar de Uyuni where we will see colorful lagunas, geysers, flamingos (comer?) and of course the large Bolivian salt flat.

Water Falls and Rainbow Deserts (Feb 11-15)   2 comments

Iguazu Falls

Feb 11

It was 7am and Brenden and I were ready to head to the National Park of Iguazu to roam around the beautiful falls. Once we arrived at the park we were greeted by lush jungle like trees, stone walkways, and company´s waiting for you to book a boat trip to see the falls. We decided to enjoy the park by foot. The park offered three easy and enjoyable trails that took you around the park to view the falls at different view points. We headed out on the lower circuit trail first. This trail was like being in the middle of the jungle with wild animals all around. We were immediately greeted by several small
ring tailed animals who were similar to racoons. They were very friendly and would come up to you in hopes of getting  some food. As we continued on down the trail you could hear noises coming from all around, a true feeling of nature. After walking for a bit longer we were lucky enough to come across a monkey! He was high above jumping from tree top to tree top. Enjoying the sights so far the closer we walked the closer we came to the sound of rushing water. Around the corner we were braced with a breathtaking view. Through the trees we could see the mist coming up from ¨The Devil´s Throat¨ and to your right we could see the beauty of another waterfall. Though it is not as big as ¨The Devil´s Throat¨ the beauty of the green grass and lush trees surrounding the water as it feel from the cliff above was breathtaking. We stood to view the waterfall, being covered by its mist but enjoying every minute. We continued on the trail to see waterfall after waterfall, big and small. Once we were to the end of the lower circuit we continued on to the upper circuit.

The upper trail led us around the different waterfalls from a birds eye view. It was interesting to see the water flowing along the river before going off the cliffs. We were surprised to see that the water above (except for the devils throat) was not flowing very fast. It was amazing to see how this steady stream of water from the river became so powerful once
it hit the ledge. After walking the upper trail and seeing the river and top of the falls we found a pleasant place to sit and talk about the things we had just seen.

Eager to get a closer view of the Devil´s Throat we took a small train through the jungle to get to the beginning of the trail. This trail lead us across the Iguazu River. On this trail we were able to enjoy a different view than the lower and upper trails. Here we felt like we were on top of the world, walking on water. Finally we were here! We could hear the roar of the water falling to the bottom. Once at the rail we could not help but to be amazed by what was before us. The volume and speed of the water falling was like nothing I had ever seen before. I could not look at the fall as a whole for too long without my eyes going crossed. I had to pick a spot and stare to really see what was going on. The mist from the falls was massive. We could not see the bottom, only a cloud of mist rising into the air. The only thing I would say to myself was WOW! Words nor pictures could ever do this Fall justice. Brenden and I just stood there for a few minutes to take in the great beauty what was in front of us.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Colorful Mountains in Purmamarca

Feb 15

Here in the small desert town of Purmamarca you can see the Cerro de los Siete Colors (Seven Colored Mountain). The different colors in the rocks here are like nothing I have ever seen. Not only do you get to enjoy lush green mountains around you but also mountains with hints of purple, orange, pink and blue. A rainbow of colors….beautiful! Brenden said this was the most beautiful desert he has seen. In this little town you will not find any big commercial businesses, only small local shops, dirt roads and locals mixed in with backpacking hippies. We started our walk towards the Seven Colored Mountain. We found a path leading up to a hill. Once we reached the top we had a excellent view of the mountain. We stood on top of the hill to take in the panoramic view around us. We then decided to climb up a mountain. Of course Brenden did just fine going up. Me…not so much, but I made it to one of the view points. Brenden wanted to keep going while I decided to head back down and take the path around the mountain to get to the other side. After meeting back up with Brenden we wondered around the deserts valley on a quest to find the perfect cactus. We could see one ahead that was not perfect but a pretty good one. The valley we walked in was a dry river bed surrounded by tall clay and rock mountains of dark orange and colored rock covered with cacti. After making it to the cactus we turned back and headed towards the town.

Chalten – Argentina (Feb 3-6)   6 comments


Driving from El Calafate low clouds begin to fill the valley, creeping over the mountains into a thick fog. Rain sprays the windshield on our bus as we pass the first hour of our trip oblivious to the scenery around us. As we pass Lake Argentina the clouds seem to melt away and we are met with the beautifully redundant land scape that doesn´t seem to end. To our right a tall jagged rock strewn mountain covered with dark green grass. To our left a large blue lake surrounded by dark yellow grass with a back drop of snow-covered mountains. Through their center a glacier snakes it´s way into the lake.

We find ourselves in a small quaint town awash with young adventurers from all over the world who have come to the trekking mecca of the western hemisphere. The town sits in a valley surrounded by broad-faced cliffs and one main thoroughfare, 1km in length. All the shops sell either souvenirs or trekking equipment, restaurants gouge their patrons with overly expensive, but delicious food, and the two supermarkets, though small, seem to be severely lacking what most hikers are looking. Regardless of the town which is not the main draw, the surrounding vista is stunning. Beyond the large surrounding mountains, through the ever-present clouds, sit the large Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy  mountains. Fitz Roy sites above all her rivals as king, jutting straight up with a broad flat face and slender sides.

On Friday we began our ascent towards Lago de los Tres, near the base of Fitz Roy. After purging our packs of the superfluous, grabbing a few items from the local supermercado and taking the afternoon´s repast we start up the 10k trail with our packs, tent and sleeping bags. The first hour was a constant up hill battle that left Magan hating life. With a little encouragement she ploughed through it with iron will and determination. One and a half hours later we reached a large clear lake and our camp site.

After an hour of rest and setting up our tent we set out for the second half of the trail towards Fitz Roy. This time with only a water bottle, which the local streams provided ample resupply. Through the entire trek we were met with ever increasing and diverse beauty as we passed through shaded trails with small trees, open passes with short shrubs and lush forests with moss-covered trees that looked as though they could be as old as the mountains themselves. All the while Fitz Roy is growing in size and grandeur.

The second hour and a half passed with significantly less hassle, but our feet were beginning to ache. As we passed the second campsite we knew there was one more hour of trekking, though this would be straight up. We set out for this last portion with zeal, but 30 minutes into the climb Magan´s legs had given out. As the winds grew colder and the setting sun pushed shadow on our trail we decided to return to our camp. As we trudged along, both of us thoroughly beat, we arrived back at camp after retracing the last hour and a half of trail.

At the camp we enjoyed our jamon y queso sandwiches along with potato chips and fresh stream water. After a brief run in with an unplesant out house we fell asleep, only to be awoken by the ferocious winds sweeping across the mountain. Slightly worried that our tent cover would blow away I stayed awake until I thought it was time for the sun rise. Anticipating the beautiful pink-orange glow of Fitz Roy in the early morning sun I eagerly climbed to a vantage point only to find the entire range covered in clouds. Disheartened we packed up camp and hiked down (30 minutes rather than 1.5 hrs) in the wind and rain accompanied by cloudy valleys and rainbows at each turn.

A rather anticlimactic ending for a stunningly beautiful and completely exhausting trek. Never the less the next few days were full of treks to water falls and up to Laguna Torre at the ridiculously windy base of  Cerro Torre.

On the trail to Cerro Torre

End of the trail at Laguna Torre. Windiest place in the world.

Large (about 16oz) Argentine steak. Best we have ever had.

Mag´s on a mountain bike.

Eating dinner in Chalten (delicious steak).

Water fall. A short 1 hr walk.

We all made it.