A Travellerspoint blog

Huacachina, Peru

(KG)

sunny 35 °C

Hi to everyone, it's your guest speaker, Kathryn here! As you may be aware I am back in the fold of my cousins after a short sojourn back in Blighty. I have been given the huge responsibilty of covering Peru, and have alot to live up to given the quality of previous entries. I will give it my best shot!

For those of you that don't know about my decision to return, I shall tell the tale now. For those of you that do know, I am sorry for being repetitive and will try and keep it short.

After a night out in Quito, and maybe after a few drinks, the girls deposited me at the airport with the fairwell shout of ''SABATICAL!'', and I managed to get my flight. I disembarked at Bogota to catch my connection, and I am afraid to say I cried like a baby. The Colombians must have thought that I was a loco gringa. At this point I called my Mum and told her I wasn't coming home. In no uncertain terms she told me, sternly and sharply, ''you will get on that flight and we will discuss this when you get home''. I felt, and was probably acting, like I was 15 again. After 2 days back at work I thought what the hell, and hit the boss with the bombshell that I wanted a sabatical. ''How long for?'' she asked, slightly panicked. ''2 months'' I replied. After deliberation with the powers that be I was given their blessing and the flight was booked before they could change their mind.

After a nightmare journey out here I landed in Lima at about 11pm. To say I was eager and excited to meet the cousins was an understatement. By the time I arrived at the hostel I was ready to take the wheel from the driver just to get there quicker, and people in Lima drive really quickly. When I arrived at the hostel, Laura and Claire shrieked so loudly that one of the residents thought a murder was occuring. And so began our Peruvian adventure.

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Although it has a lot of intersesting qualities, Lima felt like a big bang to all of our senses. It is just another loud, smelly city with not alot to do. The girls and I, however, could manage to have fun even if we were in Acaltraz. One great thing was that the food was amazing, all of you knowing how much us Harris's like our food. On our second night there we went down to the surfers quarters. We ended up in a family's house and had the most surprisingly delicious food. Although it is cheaper here than London, it is still quite expensive and we found the people in Lima alot less friendly than the lovely Colombians.

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After spending a hectic xmas and NY in London, what I needed was some R and R, and I think the girls had a bit of a culture shock after their laidback time in Montanita. After 2 nights of 24 hour traffic, we decided to call it a day and head South to Huacachina. We would soon find out what a great decision that would be. After a 6 hour bus journey, arriving in the dark at 10pm we managed to find a comfortable hostel and settled in with a cerveza or two. Whilst standing at the bar, Laura started staring very intently at a man sitting on cushions on the floor. I thought she was being blatently rude, or even worse, weird. Turns out the man used to go to uni with her, what a small world!

The next morning we awoke to one of the most perfect views we have ever seen. We were staying in a tiny oasis in the middle of a desert. It is so beautiful that it is on the back of the 50 Soles note (the Peruvian currency). The population is around 200 and the oasis was surounded by huge sand dunes, with a lagoon at the centre of the village. It was simply stunning. The people there were so friendly and there was a really laidback feeling to the place, we felt we could stay there forever.

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We settled in well in Huacachina (anyone surprised?!) and decided to stay a few more days. Our days were filled with getting up for breakfast, relaxing in the sun, a bit of lunch, relaxing in the sun, dinner, and then a bit more relaxing in the bar. It was hard. (The surprise jar of marmite I bought out for the girls went down a treat, however the ribena was confiscated at Miami airport, but that's another story).

Late one afternoon, when we came to the conclusion that it may do us some good to move from our hammocks, we decided to climb the sand dunes to watch the sun set. Not an easy task. So, laden with our cameras and the obligatory carton of Clos, we started trekking. Think 30 degree heat, 45 degree angle and a very big sand dune. 45 minutes later we were still climbing and wondering if it was really worth it. ''Think of the thighs'' was our mantra. We finally managed to reach the top of the dune, and settled in with our Clos. I would have climbed for hours to see the view that appeared. We were rendered speachless (yes, hard to imagine that the 3 of us were silent) by the most breathtaking hues of oranges, pinks and reds of the sunset. After an hour of more relaxing, complete traqnquillity, and of thinking how lucky we were, darkness descended and it was time to go back to our little oasis. The thought of walking down seemed a little too timid for Claire and I, so after borrowing a sandboard from some Spannish guys, we took the easy way down. With Claire at the helm and me perched on the back we made it down the dune in 2 minutes flat. For those of you that knew us then- think circa 1988 with the sledges in the snow, and you can imagine the looks on our faces and the screams of delight! Poor Laura was relegated to cameraman due to said cast. We will make it up to her.

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After 3 days of relaxing in the sun, we decided that it was time to make a move. We packed up our rucksacks, and boarded the bus to Arequipa.

(KG)

Posted by Peacocks 16:14 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Montanita, Ecuador

(CP) 'You come for a few days, end up staying for months'

sunny 29 °C

Sorry its so long but we were there 6 weeks!!!

We arrived in the night. Coming off the bus we were surrounded by taxi touts and kids wanting to take us to hostels so they would get tipped. This was all a bit much when you're laddened with backpacks looking more like turtle than human. With no idea how far the Cabanas were we were tempted to get a taxi. Still, Laura logged online and printed a map. 5 minutes walk, as we later discovered is everything. So off we went, on arrival we walked into a Salsa class and alot of smiling face. The Cabanas are private cabins with hammocks only built 5 month prior and there was a swimming pool. All good so far. We decided on an early night after a long bus journey.
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Woke in the morning and went to explore the town. A beautiful beach, one main strip with restaurants, smoothie stalls, shops and hostels and not much else. Perfect.

We went to register with the school and was greeted by Julie, office Manager, an Aussie who was travelling, went to Montanita for a few days and has now been there 6 months! Accordingly to her its what happens to most people. We liked it, but at the time never thought it would be us. Somehow though it sucked us in.(not sure the last scentence needs to be said.

The classes were great. My teacher was called Ara and she was hilarious, the bubbliest friendliest Senorita you´d ever meet. She doesn't speak much English which was defiantly best for learning. Phrases i don´t think ill ever forget 'EeeeSOooooooooooooo Clarita' (Eso - thats it!) & 'Muuuuuyyyyyyyyyyyy Buuueeeeeeeeen' (Muy Buen -very good). Constant reassurance after being told i spoke Spanglish at best!
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We spent the 1st week concentrating on school. It is true that most people do not speak English but in honestly you could get by with the basis if you stuck to the gringo trails and English speaking owned hostels but for us, we wanted more from this trip. True, the landscapes are vast and diverse but we want to learn about cultures and spend time with locals so it is so important to at the least be able to understand and hold a conversation.
Full of good intentions our 1st week also included running along the beach, surf lessons (it is as hard as it looks!) and 50 lengths of the pool a day. Unsurprisingly these remained good intentions as we settled in to the relaxed slow lifestyle of the locals.

School finished and we were meant to leave BUT after consulting Tim decided there was no better place for Xmas and NY than where we were. Sure we had 3 weeks to fill but the decision was to continue learning. Well why not? As said by a friend, 'If you find somewhere you like, stay. Somewhere you don´t, move on´.

We met some amazing people, some only for a few days and others for the entire time we were there. A special mention to Krista and Andreas and Titta. We met Krista on our 1st day, sitting next to us in a restaurant with her puppy Titta. Not hard to figure out how we ended up chatting. Krista is Canadian who travelled South America 3 years ago, fell in love with a Colombian and is now married. They are Artisians travelling south. We spent alot of time with them and they were so kind when Laura broke her wrist (we´ll come to that later!). Chris, Nerys and Guy. 2 Welsh and a Brisoalian. Great friends for life I'm sure. Chris has been travelling SA for 3.5 years with his 3 dogs, Zara, Fatima and Whylie. He owns a truck and has converted it into a mobile home ' Spectacular,'. what an inspiration. Sonia, Volker, Marloes, Leah, Sarah, Greg, Kjerstin, Marita, Jairo, Daniel and all the artisans... the list goes on. But for sure they are part of our fantastic memories of Montanita.

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Days drift by so quickly filled with dedicated Spanish time, Empanadas and Cerviche on the beach, poi dancing -( Laura with fire) and cooking. The food is so cheap to buy. two bags of fresh veg was $2 at most and each morning, the local fisherman cycle round with that mornings catch, Fish, 3 for $1, Prawns and Calamari.
Evenings would mostly be spent in town, sitting with the Artisians, watching the street performers - Jugglers, Clowns, pois with fire, Bongos, Drums, guitars and even didgeridoo's. We´d buy a carton of Clos, cheap as chips chilien red wine for $3.75. Obviously not the best quality but easy to drink, more like sangria. There was always bonfires on the beach or on the weekend you could sample the delights of Cana Grill or Ola, Ola. The 2 bars - nightclubs of the town. Where the same music would be on repeat every week.
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Needless to say we had a few morning with sore heads, and on one particular morning Laura with a sore arm. Or as discovered a little later, a broken wrist, YEP.... in two places! Poor thing had a cast practically up to her armpit, it was hot, itchy, she couldn´t -can´t swim, surf, ride a bike, eat or even dress properly!!

Even worse this happened on 23rd December so that put a real damper on Xmas. It was always going to be hard being away from our family, friends. To be honest it drifted by un noticed. Laura was in the wars so didn't feel up to leaving the Cabanas but luckily for us the Spanish school organised a big BBQ at our cabanas with 30 odd people so at least it was bustling, Laura spent the time in her trusty hammock frequently visited by friends wanted to see how she was getting on. Not sure she welcomed this, but she smiled all the same. This is not meant to be a ´wow (i think you mean woe hee hee) be us´´ we chose to be away and are loving it. Its Just a note that Xmas (xmas away from home naturally inspires some reflection as we imagined you all together around your trees and eating turkey) was for reflection on how lucky we are to have so many special people at home and for you to know we miss you all.

So that was Laura's knock, mine happened a few days before and no where near as bad but a pain never-the-less. Where we were staying was a little out of town and a definite target for thief's. Unfortunately our room got robbed but the thief must have ducked in and out in a second cos he/she just grabbed what was on the table and nothing more. I´m thankful they didn't get everything but it did happen to only be my stuff. Camera - biggest loss, ipod, speakers, watch, and money. Boo! Was a nightmare enough let alone when we tried to report it to the police. The local station, or office if you can call it was locked when we got there, after a few knocks we were greeted by a man in his boxers. Cop no.1! He was hopeless and told us to wait for his boss. Boss, turns up. Crude, disgusting man. Who took the whole thing as a joke. Krista came with us as she speaks Spanish and he had the cheek to say it was our fault for hanging around with Artisians, proceeded to ask Krista if she was a prostitute, ( and if Andres was a drug dealer because he was colombian. The most ridiculous accusation if you could meet them) asked if we would go drinking with them that night and worst of all then told us they couldn't, wouldn't give me a crime report. Great. No insurance claim with out it. Instead we had to get a bus to the nearest big town. 3.5hrs away to go to the public ministry office. Corrupt police is one rumour i will certainly be agreeing with.

Unfortunately Laura's Camera was broken so we were snap shot less. We managed to get Laura's camera working sporadically and thanks to others we have acquired plenty for memories.
Looking back its crazy to think we were never intending on going to Montanita yet we stayed there the longest we have ever been anywhere, but that's the beauty of exploring new places. Funniest thing is that Kathryn left us in Quito, Ecuador. 7 weeks later she is back out to join us. Woo hoo. and in all that time we never left Ecuador. Thankfully she had booked her flight to land in Lima, Peru so we had to leave. It was time and we are so looking forward to seeing new and different places.

CP

Posted by Peacocks 07:12 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Quito, Ecuador

(CP)

semi-overcast 22 °C

Back in Quito, we had one more night with the team, a respectable meal followed by a few drinks to drown our sorrows and to prepare us for Kathryn's departure. Kathryn's flight was early so we took her to the airport at 5am feeling terrible.
The following day only Phylis, Walter, Chris, Laura and I were left. Chris headed off that afternoon and so us 4 went to see some sights.

When we were in Colombia we met an Irish man called Leo whilst doing a night dive, he had just come from Ecuador and all he could do was warn us about this and that, bad food - (supposedly only meet and rice), safety, the people and so on. Well for us we loved it, it goes to show that as interesting as it is to hear about other peoples adventures and opinions, its important to reserve judgement.

Ecuador is the 2nd smallest country in south America but its diversity is amazing. You can travel from the Amazon Basin to the coast in one day. For us we travelled from the Galapagos to Quito.

Quito, the capital of Ecuador is a beautiful city located in the Andean mountains at the foot of Mount Pichincha 9200 feet above sea level, it is only 25k from the Equator and has a spring like climate all year.
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We went to visit La Basilica one of the many old colonial churches of the city. We climbed to the top which was a touch hellraising as the ladders feel like they'll give way and there's not much in the way of safety, but when we got there and looked over the city it was definately worth it.We spent time walking the cobbled streets, getting to know the city and also went to the Pancilio monument, a tribute to the virgin Mary, again situated up high on a mountain slop.

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The food was amazing, so much variety and lots of vegetables. Thanks to Phylis, Walter and Chris who found us our hostel, www.themagicbean.com We had not only a great hostel but a restaurant below with the best smoothies, salads and veggie options.

We went on a day trip with P&W to Otavalo, small indigenous town a couple of hours drive north. The whole town turns into a market on a Saturday, crazy. Selling all sorts of exciting things (well we enjoyed it... not sure about Walter). All the women dressed in their traditional clothes with babies strapped to their backs with cloth . i got a little over excited with how soft the alpaca wool was.

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We tried our hands at Salsa one day. Two hours was really fun but i discovered I'm not quite as good at dancing as i thought i was. Or maybe its just the fact that the English bob along to their own rhythm compared to the grace of the latin couples Salsa and Meriengue.

Everyone had left and Laura and I were left to our own devices a loss with what to do... Help!
Thankfully we had recruited Tim the tortoise whilst on the Galapagos. Tim, so wisely named after Mr Cooney took on all his attributes. When in doubt ask Tim. We knew we wanted some Spanish lessons, my GCSE Spanish some 13 years ago had proved far too rusty in Colombia. originally we thought a weeks intensive course in Quito was a good idea but we figured, well, if we have the hardship of school why not do it somewhere with some sunshine, oh and maybe the sea. thanks to Sam, one of our Galapagos guides, he suggested Montanita. We searched online for a Spanish school and found one that had a package deal of classes, some Cabanas to stay and many other activities - Salsa, Surfing, Yoga. Perfect! So as they say 'the rest is history'...

CP

Posted by Peacocks 06:55 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

(LP)

sunny 27 °C

Hola!

First of all an apology from us that this has been so long coming. Kathryn is now back in South America and shamefully we haven’t updated since she arrived the first time. As we’ve said before, the whole point of doing the blog was for our own memories. Now as I sit and try to write about the Galapagos I realise how quickly you forget, so we’re going to try harder to keep on top of it, once we’re up to date.

But first, an artistic disclaimer …. We had 10 days, and on every day we did A LOT. So my dilemma now is how to record it all for us but not bore you all senseless with my usual wordy drivel. So I’m going back to basics. Year 6 school holiday homework.

So I guess I’ll start at the top and introduce you to the team …

Day One

7pm. In the lobby. Team meeting.

Kathryn, Claire & Laura, twenty-some-things with an increasingly alarming tendency to giggle un controllably, thus becoming the ‘kids’ of the group.
Combined age; 81 yrs.

Sam, early twenties American, living Quito, his job is to meet us, brief us, take us out to dinner and get us to bed early ready for our early flight to the Galapagos. Despite common conceptions of our friends across the Atlantic he was not in least bit annoying and actually very cool.

Randy and Cybil, American, from Lake Placid north of New York State. Very lovely couple, something about Randy’s face reminded me of Little Nan.
Combined age: approx.110 yrs

Karen and Kip, enthusiastic rock climbers and walkers. Kip is straight out of Kentucky, Karen is Scottish but has been in the States for 15 yrs. She has a very interesting accent. Both quite quiet but lovely. Combined age: approx. 80 yrs

Phyllis and Walter, American, from Detroit. Phyllis’s is a little eccentric, extremely glamorous with an incredible lust for life and a knack for story telling. Walter, ex army spy during the cold war, jacked it all in (on moral grounds) to be an engineer, but indisputably still an army man. They lived in the Caribbean undercover for many years. Celebrated their 44th wedding anniversary whilst on our trip. Sort of couple you look at and cant help but wonder ‘what they were like when they were young, and espcially what they looked like’. Still hopelessly in love.
Combined age; approx. 130 yrs

Steve and Jodie, also from Detroit, the most American Americans of the group. As a couple they bore a striking resemblance to Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble. Hard to know much about them because they didn‘t sit still for longer than a minute. He is a pilot and since retiring they have been on a mad rampage to see the world. Once again a very nice couple.
Combined age; approx. 90 yrs

Chris, a Kiwi, been living and working in London for the last 11 years, on her way home to collect her pension, thought she’d see some more of the world on her way back. The most delicious little lady, same height as Claire, with a simply beautiful way about her.
Approx. age at heart. 25-30 yrs.

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8pm. In the room. K,C & L, discussing how excited we are to be in such a posh hotel and that we’ll have dinner but then make our excuses and leave in order to be on tip-top form for the morning.

9pm. Group leave the restaurant and are taken back to the hotel by Sam, we decide to finish our wine outside.

9.30pm. Sam returns to the bar, owned by his friend, and informs us that’s it’s ladies night at his other friends bar. Free Mojhitos, or anything else you might want- all night. It is all very Thursday-nights-in-Croydon, but not being ones to pass up a good offer, we decide that there is no harm in checking it out if we only have the one.

Roughly 2 am. We are put in a taxi by Sam and sent home. Drunk.

Day 2.

7am. In the lobby, Claire and Laura bumble around the bags looking for things they can’t find. Kathryn, along with the group sit patiently waiting for the bus “as ready-as-they‘ll-ever-be.”

7.15 am All aboard the bus, except Laura who is running back in to the hotel to reclaim the safe key, with a $100 deposit and all our important belongings, from the marble step leading to the safe.

7.17 am Leave for the airport. Laura’s hysterics commence after confession of her sins.

8.am Hangovers kick in. Sleep the flight.

1 pm Arrive on San Cristobal, The Galapagos Islands. Greeted by Tim, Group leader owner of the company. Uncontrollably sarcastic 30 something Kiwi.

2 pm Lunch of rice, chicken and fish, rises Laura’s low level nausea to a Medium Level. Claire is told by Tim that she has already reached her quota of Questions for the day, 2 hours in.

3 pm Bumpy jeep ride up to the top of an old volcano, Nausea High. Laura tries by any means possible not to throw up. Walk up to a look out point. Nausea Dangerously High. 3 hr Bike ride, from the top to the coast, then a short walk over some volcanic rock and we find our selves on a beautiful white sand beach with Sea Lions lying every where. We find the nursery school on the rocks where all the pups are playing together- tear jerkingly adorable. About now we discover that you can get with in a hairsbreadth of the animals in The Galapagos, as long as you’re respectful, as they have absolutely no fear of humans. Nausea is replaced by complete awe of where we are. Stunned by the experience we free wheel back to the hotel for dinner, stopping on the way to organise diving for Claire and Laura. Expensive.

Day 3

3am Claire sick.

3.15 am Claire sick, Claire sick, Claire sick.

7 am Laura leaves without a very sick L Claire to go diving with Sharks.

8 am Kathryn and Claire board Christine (Tim’s boat) for a morning of snorkelling at Kicker Rock. Laura Dive, sees lots of fish, get out the water first, remaining 3 divers see a school of Black Tip Reef Sharks and some Rays. Gutted.

11 am Laura catches up with Kathryn snorkelling, she has seen the sharks too. Laura then has to swim the 50m back to her boat not wearing her mask just in case she does see the sharks whilst alone in the open water. Claire is lying on the boat feeling terrible but being a soldier.

1 pm 2nd dive consisted of hanging on a rock at the end of a canal being flung around by the current waiting for the Hammerheads to pass. It was completely different to any diving I’ve done before. The current is strong, the water is cold and the depth is at least 100m underneath my 25m. Still no sharks but lots of fish and an incredible swim along the bottom of the canal whist all the life passes you by.

3 pm Laura jumps from one ship to the other in the in middle of the ocean and we all head to yet another island for some lunch on a black sand beach on a practically deserted island with an eerie history of misdemeanours and murder. Again wildlife everywhere. We really had found paradise.

We arrive back and disaster strikes, Claire’s purse with all her money, all our kitty money is missing from the room. No one can remember when she lost it because she was so ill. Left in the room? On the boat? ‘No se’. Look every where, 5 times, no jothryn go out to find the others to see if any one has seen it, speak to the hotel staff, speak to the police. Claire understandably devastated made worse by the fact that she is sick.

Day 4

7 am Over breakfast the hot topic is our terrible loss and what to do next.

8 am Whilst packing Laura finds Claire’s purse in her wardrobe (different room). Turns out Claire left it on my bed and the kind cleaning lady hid it. Panic over. All a little embarrassed. We head to another island -Isabella, the most beautiful of them all, stopping along the way for snorkelling

5pm One foot off the boat and we all fall completely in love with Isabella with it’s sandy roads and laid back Caribbean feel. Few group drinks in a perfect beachside bar, tables made out of un processed trees, empty liquor bottles (tastefully) tied to a tree blowing in the breeze, cocktails strong and sweet enough to put a few hairs on your chest and of course ‘Bob and Jack’ (Bob Marley and Jack Johnson who have followed in every restaurant and every bar EVER since) playing as we enjoy some good food and another early night for the reformed London girls.

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Day 5

7 am A 7 hour trip to the top of an active volcano which last erupted in 2003 with our naturist guide, Pablo. Quite possibly the most passionate person I have ever met, luckily for us his passion is The Galapagos Islands (and surfing) and he can tell you literally anything you want to know about The Islands, their inhabitants and the extraordinary array of wildlife. We certainly put this to the test. The trip was amazing, admittedly the back end was a little more challenging as we trekked across volcanic fields for two hours whist being taught about each plant, animal and micro-organism we see. This was wonderful, but by that time it was hot, we all had blisters and Kathryn only had one contact lense left in, God knows why, so the Trek down the volcano was interesting for her, but the source of much amusement and she handled being a Cyclops with surprising grace and lack of complaint. A Harris through and through.

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7 pm Claire still not 100% and makes a speedy exit from dinner fearing another bout of sickness, but luckily manages to ride it out with the aid of a bottle of broad spectrum antibiotics provided by a team mate. Kathryn not so lucky.

1 am Kathryn Sick, Kathryn Sick, Kathryn Sick

Day 6

8 am Claire and Kathryn feeling a little worse for wear but powering through (Kathryn puked in her snorkel), we went snorkelling with Sharks, Turtles, Sea Lions and thousands of fish.
Just cruising around the bay on little fishing boats spotting animals every where, including the most northern and 2nd smallest Penguin in the world, so close to you is one of my favourite memories of the trip.

Pm It’s the tortoise breeding ground (they’re flippin’ gorgeous) and The Wall of Tears built by prisoners out of Volcanic Rock purely to keep them busy. A permanent reminder, along with the endangered and now extinct species, of the islands dark past, put to a stop by the islands inhabitants on the grounds of inhumanity. There was also the small matter of a coup in which the prisoners went on a revenge mission killing the guards etc. I won’t go into history but for somewhere so incredibly beautiful with such perfect ecological harmony I find it ironic that the human history, even there, is full of death, deception and misery.

Day 7

Another boat trip to our final island spotting Albatrosses flying high, Giant Manta Rays jumping out of the water and literally dozens of Dolphins riding the waves caused by the boat was simply incredible. (see video) More snorkelling en route.

Day 8

Taken to the farming land for Plantain, Bananas and other such exotic things, where Giant Tortoises roam freely. They are absolutely enormous, their poo is bigger than Claire’s foot...

That afternoon we go to the most beautiful white sand beach for kayaking, we saw hundreds of Marine Iguanas, packs of Manta Rays and White Tip Sharks under the Mangroves with Stalks and Pelicans, but to name a few.

Day 9

Am. Taken to meet The famous Lonesome George at a wildlife centre and the rest of the day is ours.
It is now we realise that from the moment we arrived we had been kept, with incredible punctuality (yes the Peacock’s included) to the action packed schedule above, with only the odd 15 mins here and there for a change of clothes etc. So when we were told we had a couple of hours on own, that is with out drill sergeant Tim keeping us in line, we didn’t quite know what to do with ourselves. Needless to say we battled through with some souvenir shopping.

Pm. Dinner in an amazing restaurant for our last night where rare tuna is served on an incredibly hot slab of volcanic rock. Muy Rico!!

Day 10

Back to Quito, the blow softened by a luxury hotel and a few free drinks at Bungalow 6 back in company of the lovely Sam commiserating the immanent departure Kathryn.
(I might add that “Take a sabbatical” and “Come back” was the general gist of the nights conversation. She is now sitting next to me in Peru and we’re on our way to Chile.)

Kathryn; The biologist, left having fulfilled a lifelong dream of seeing The Islands
Claire; Left ferociously plotting the mot feasible way to get back to Isabella Island and do some voluntary work on “The Turkey Farm”. I think what Claire meant was “The Tortoise Farm”.
Laura; Left with the nick-name giggles.
Collectively a very happy trio.

Favourite Quote;

Claire, Kathryn and Laura are huddled up together on the boat after some snorkelling trying to warm up when Steve asks permission for another photo of us because apparently, and we not ones to argue, we “are adorable” he then eagerly adds …
“You know what I love about you girls, it’s not just that your pretty … You touch each other all the time too!” And goes on to explain that in America everyone would think we were lesbians. “but we’re related!” exclaims Kathryn. Apparently that doesn’t matter, State Side we’re gay.

So there you have it. What my on-my-holiday-style-writing can’t communicate is the little bits in between that puts the colour into our 10 Day Tour. Painting a picture anywhere close to what is etched in our memories is a near on impossibility but I’ll give it a shot…

First and foremost, we laughed until we cried every single day. Each morning we woke up happy and excited about what we were doing. Like everyone else, I’ve grown up watching and listening to David Attenborough, I’ve read the guide books and listen to peoples stories but never could I have conceived that a place that magical existed in any thing other than fairytales.

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Marine iguanas, prehistoric animals!, still roam around everywhere totally untouched by humanity. Their faces and their armour is awesome.

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You are literally tripping over Sea Lions; they sit on the boats, the doorways to the hotels, the pavements and all over the beaches. If you happen to be in the water with them they play with you, diving, twisting, picking up and playing catch with Sea Cucumbers and if you’re lucky they’ll kiss you on the nose like the do each other. When not playing tag in the water they crave bodily contact so they lounge around every where piled on top of one another making it practically impossible to stop taking photos. When you wake up in The Galapagos the only things you’re likely to hear are the waves crashing, the birds singing and the barking of the Alpha-male Sea Lion swimming up and down the beach letting everybody know that He.Is.The.Daddy. Quite literally.

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The birds are so fearless that you could scoop a Darwin Finch up in your hand. You see these animals, not through binoculars, but right next to you - hundreds of them. Birds with electric blue feet, Black Frigate birds ‘The pirates of the sky’ that puff out an enormous red heart from there chest as a mating ritual, Albatrosses, Pelicans, Doves, mini Penguins but to name a few and they quite literally look you straight in the eye and pose graciously for photos.

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Turtles leisurely swim with in a couple of inches of you as you snorkel, and we’re not talking one or two- we went snorkelling and saw at least 20 just chilling out on the sand just below you. The volume of different fish is incredible. On this same snorkelling trip we swam through a crevice in the rocks and swam over dozens of White Tip Sharks sleeping, or at least they were sleeping until Steve arrived! As they woke up they all started swimming, waking each other up in a dominoes effect until they were all swimming back and forth with so much grace, it really is a beautiful thing to see as they brush past you totally un-phased by your presence.

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You read any thing about the Galapagos and it is likely to be described as one of the few remaining places where nature is still working in harmony, relatively untouched, well un-destroyed, by the destructive path of humans. That is now. The Galapagos is a National Reserve with extremely strict rules; gone are the days of pirates, whalers, over fishing and of Charles Darwin riding on the back of a 200lb Galapagos Tortoise. This said, despite their greatest efforts to preserve their enchanted paradise, many of the tortoises are now extinct due to the human appetite when they were loaded still alive and stacked up on galleons for food. But the Galapagan’s attitude is remarkable, it goes without saying incredibly green, and there is a clear attempt (not by all) to utilise the money from tourism to preserve their paradise and all of the beauty inside it.

For us, spending time with people we would never normally mix with from completely different cultures and different generations; our team, all the naturist guides, the boat workers not to mention the charming, charismatic and deeply sarcastic Tim guiding us every step pf the way, was as much of an experience as the islands themselves. Also very touching was the way in which we were received by them and constantly complimented on our usually close relationships with each other. If we could have had you all with us we would have, but for us we’ll forever have the memories of the three of us being blissfully happy and living for such a short time in a world that could not be further removed from where we have come from.
It is a truly magical place and I speak for all of us when I say just how lucky we are to have had the chance to experience it, and together.

Muchas besos y abrasos (kisses and hugs)

LP

Posted by Peacocks 12:15 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Medellin, Colombia

(LP) Land of The Eternal Spring ... and parties

sunny 25 °C

It was a toss up between going back to Camila's lovely apartment in Bogota or going to Medellin, which is where her and her flat mates are from. After some raving reports from them and other travellers of the city, particularly it's nightlife, knowing that we had the wildlife and history rich Galapagos coming up, we figured 'why not'.

Medellin is known as 'The Land of the Eternal Spring' as it is about level with Bogota but it is in a bowl completely surrounded by mountains giving it a lovely climate all year round. I guess the most surprising thing about it is how much of a middle class Columbia's got. The houses are lovely, the streets are clean and tree lined. The restaurants are modern, WiFi is everywhere as are coffee houses, the Cuisine is as diverse as any European city and the shops are all interior design and little boutiques.

Medellin's history is that of the Pablo Escabar 1980's drug lords Era, I guess kind of glamorous in a Scarface kind of way. Although this is very much a thing of the past and Piasco's are extremely proud of their region and will not be associated that out-of-date reputation, which is actually really hard to imagine looking at it now. I guess the only thing that hints at it, other than large properties and lots of swimming pools, is some of the women; the fake boobs and bums, Gucci glasses and high heels does still sort of echo a Notorious BIG video. Just a little bit.

So, we arrived, pretty exhausted from our trip down in what was closer to a fridge on wheels than a bus, I would use a butchers delivery van if it were not for the gangster association, but you get the idea. It was about a 16hour journey which, despite the subzero temperatures, we slept most of the way. I woke up in the morning and got off at a toilet stop only to find Claire and Kathryn looking remarkably like a couple of hostages, dead hostages, both sitting in exactly thew same position, dressed in black, with their scarves over their heads. DSC00362.jpg It was nearly the end of me whilst I was fumbling around for my camera, I simultaneously choked on my apple and fell down the steps of the bus. Bearing in mind the reputation that Colombia has for bus hi-jacking, what was most hilarious was that Claire and Kathryn were in the front two seats so everyone boarding the bus must of thought they were boarding a crime scene, or just that those gringos are just very strange. So despite nearly losing a few toes to frost bite, and an incident involving a herd of cattle and a bus hurtling towards them, at what can only be described as an unreasonable speed - we arrived safely in Medellin.

Usual palava with the booking not being logged but we got into a dorm none-the-less and I quite literally passed out on my top bunk. Claire tried to revive me with a cup of tea, which I accepted with promises of getting up, only to wake up a few hours later with my index finger still hooked round my now cold cup of tea, most skillfully balanced against the wooden slats keeping me in, having not spilled a drop, a skill I seem to lack when conscious. We had opted out of the nights entertainment, me by narcoleptic default, as we had plans the next day. Claire and Kathryn retired after a few drinks only to be kept up all night by the party outside our window. I obviously slept through it all and woke up bright and breezy for the days activities ... paragliding!

After a hell raising journey up the mountain we were about to jump off of, we scaled the steps to the runway (slope), no small feat considering the challenges of altitude on the slightly-less-than-fit. Claire, obviously, was first up, and with 5 minutes she and I were harnessed up to an instructor and a large multi-stringed kite, at which point my legs went a little bit like jelly watching all the paragliders circling over head. DSC01096.jpg I was busy filming Claire take off with her expert looking flying partner, all suited and booted in a flash jump suit when I noted my guys lack of paragliding attire and distinct lack of years. Lost in my jelly world, I was completely oblivious to the fact that he was talking to me and not the guy helping strap me up, and the garbled Spanish in my ear became a single comprehendable command- "RUN!" That was it, I was off.

It took a while for me to relax into it and accept that the wind won't just stop blowing, and that there was very little I could do about the fact that I was a few hundred feet up flying over mountains, waterfalls and a truly beautiful city and began to appreciate exactly how cool what I was doing was. I still however could not speak and my words frustratingly came out in a nervous giggle. Claire meanwhile was circling about up with the Gods and I completely lost sight of her. I began to love it and not want to go down, partly because I couldn't get my head round the idea landing safely. Descending was the best bit cause you go down in a corkscrew which beats any ride I've been on. What I thought was Claire landing just ahead of me turned out to be Kathryn. I, it turned out, had a double flight and Claire, flying so high up had landed back where we had taken off and Kathryn had her flight too. We landed very smoothly with expert precision on a patch of grass in the middle of the city, which just goes to show you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover. Getting back up the mountain from the other side of the city was as eventful as any journey in Sur America involving 5 attempts at a steep hill and (we think) getting struck by lightening. We arrive back at the top to find a rained on, slightly worried older sister who had last seen me 2 1/2hrs ago in mid air with what looked to be a teenage skateboarder. Kathryn obviously wanted to become a paraglider and started enquiring about night flights. DSC01109.jpg

We get back to the hostel pumped full of adrenalin and hit the Cuba Libras and pool table in high spirits. We had a really cool group of people in the hostel and we all went out to a club together and had another splendid evening, followed by a Sunday spent by the pool with a much needed video and takeaway night. DSC01136.jpg

We really liked Medellin and could have easily stayed their longer but Ecuador was a-calling so on Tues we left for Quito. Getting out of Colombia was quite a commotion. Admittedly we had cut our arrival to the airport a little fine, but before you even checked in the unpacked your bags in full public view. I was first and the security guard seemed more interested in what books I had (I had got a 'a little' over excited in a book shop the day before). Kathryn received a half hearted search. Claire, however, being her usual jovial self, had her upbeat mood returned with every lotion and potion being sniffed, every compartment searched and was asked quite frankly "if she'd been drinking?". It was 4pm. This kind of thing continued all through the airport which, despite it's comedy value, shows the dedication that Colombia has to changing it's image and eradicating its troubled past.

Before I go, I can't express enough how unbelievably warm, friendly and hospitable we found the Colombians to be. We could list so many examples because the kindness of complete strangers here is just astounding. E.g. Claire got chatting with the guy fixing the computer at the hostel as, after much deliberation, we decided to get a lap to between us (and haven't looked back). Anyway, not only does he tell her everything she needs to know, he insisted on taking us after he'd finished work to the electrical center and traipsed around a dozen shops with us for 3 hours trying to get us the best deal and best lap top for our budget and genuinely wanted absolutely nothing in return. He even delivered us back in a taxi. So very very sweet. Anyway, I think I have bored you enough.

One country down and we loved every minute. All Hail Colombia.

Love Love Love x x x

LP

Posted by Peacocks 18:03 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

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