Friday, July 25, 2008

The Rest of South America!

Okay - wow it has been a long time since we updated last but when you live in the jungle for a month it is tough to find the internet let alone the time! Get comfy cause this is going to take awhile!

So we left off in Copacabana, Bolivia. After the Sun Island we took the bus across the border to Peru, I almost got us in serious trouble with the border police over $7, I know its not much but it was the principle. Lesson: in South America, ALWAYS make sure you have a piece of paper when you enter a country and the same piece of paper when you exit, even if the official doesn't give you one on entry ASK FOR IT - LEARN HOW TO SAY THAT IN SPANISH or it will cost you! Needless to say after some begging and pleading we got them to reopen the counter, got our exit stamp and stomped out of Bolivia and into Peru. Hopped back onto the bus and drove to the other side of Lake Titicaca in Puno. We decided to walk to find our hostel instead of spending $1 to taxi a moto taxi (yes, we are cheap, but we also didn't change any money yet and so we had nothing to pay for the taxi with.) We found a great place that was way cheaper than anything in the guide book, Los Abuelos, right off the main pedestrian street and really good breakfast, great service, great place. We had FANTASTIC pizza, and found a tour for more of Lake Titicaca's islands. We went to Uros, the reed islands, the entire island and EVERYTHING (house, boat, kitchen, bed, food, everything) is made of reeds, learned how they make it, sampled the reeds (not so tasty we both got stomach aches) and I got to ride on the reed boat. Then we went to Taquile, a beautiful island that is still very traditional. We had lunch at the house of a family, they did a demonstration of their traditional weaving and explanations of the clothing (they have different hats for married and single men) showed us how they dance and sing, how only men knit (men must learn how to knit because the women judge them on it when considering marriage) - it was a respectful look into their traditions and way of life.

Then we went to Cuzco, found our travel company SAS Travel and paid for our 4 day Lares Valley trek and found a hostel, another great find just around the corner from all the expensive places (I don't remember the name but it was on Siete Cuartones just up the block from the Santa Teresa Church). We found somewhere to eat, found some school supplies for the kids along the trek, packed our bags with only the things we would need for the next four days since we were carrying them (no porters for us) and went to bed since we had to meet our group at 5 am to start the drive and the trek to Machu Picchu. Let me say this SAS provided us with an AWESOME group leader, Jose, who in his spare time has started a group with some other tour guides who provide clothing, presents and food during the Christmas holiday to over 500 people living in the areas where they trek - an amazing way to give back to the communities that they interact with all year. Our chef and cook were magicians, the food they made from a portable stove and food they carried all the way from Cuzco was some of the best food I have ever eaten! The scenery was breath taking - as was the altitude, we climbed three passes 4200 M, 4600 M and 4400 M, but it was people and especially the children we met along the way that made it unforgettable. They had so little, lived in really harsh conditions (at that altitude, little grows, most kids walk at least 2 HOURS to get to school one way! and it is cold and windy) but they are so HAPPY and so GRATEFUL for everything we gave them, from the snacks that SAS provided to the school supplies and toys our group had brought to hand out in exchange for photos. Well, we made it, up and down, up and down and up and down again and finally to Machu Picchu which was also mind boggling - not only because of its location, not only because it is really amazing, but because it was so thoughtful, everything meant something and was so well planned. Jose explained everything and made the place even more magical, and as if the 3 days of hiking to get to Machu Picchu wasn't enough we decided to hike to Huayna Picchu to get a different view of Machu Picchu - TOTALLY WORTH IT! And then we opted to WALK down back to Agua Calientes! We hit the not so hot hot springs and went to bed. The next day we made our way back to Cuzco and said goodbye to our group who were really great! But we met up with the crazy dutch partiers and Jose for a night on the town and had a blast drinking and dancing in Cuzco! We spent a couple more days in Cuzco wondering around, going to the markets, checking out the churches and the architecture and relaxing - we got 1 hour massages for $7!

Next was Nazca, not a lot to do here except see the lines, which was really interesting - the little plane was not for weak stomachs the views were magnificent and the lines very interesting, but this place does not deserve a night, you can get off he bus, find a tour company, do the tour and continue on in less than 2 hours! So from here we headed along the coast to Ica and more specifically the oasis town of Huacachina known for its 40 kms of huge sand dunes and the companies who do buggy sand boarding tours!!! Of course we hit that up, and it was awesome - you travel out to the sand dunes in a giant buggies for 8 people, then slide down dunes up to 250 meters almost straight down and some did it on their stomachs to go fast and then crash or not at the bottom or you can snow board down the dune, which was a lot more work, a lot slower but a lot safer! We tried both, no big wipe-outs, caught air a few times and had too much fun!

We took the bus to Lima, hung out in the bus station for a few hours, ate KFC because it was the only thing close to the station and were finally off to Trujillo where we caught the local bus to Huanchaco to do some surfing! We took surf lessons, Denis was way better than I was although we both got up and surfed in at least a couple waves - learned from one of the best in the sport and had a great time. We also watched the fishermen go out to fish on their reed boats that are very similar to surf boards and some say they were the origianl surfers although Hawaii disputes that.

And then our really long bus journey begins - we took the bus from Trujillo to Piura (7 hours), from Piura to Loja, Ecuador (with the 3 hour wait for the border crossing 11 hours) and from Loja to we thought Guayaquil but got on the wrong bus and went to Cuenca (5 hours) and then finally to Guayquil (4 hours)- 27 hours later we arrived in Guayquil, found a hotel with TV, comfy beds, HOT water! and a fan cause it was HOT! The next day we searched out and found our boat for the Galapagos - after almost booking with GALASAM we found out that the guy we talked to MARIO - LIED about the boat, rushing us into purchasing the tour and being generally slimy we booked with MOONRISE TRAVEL - got a great deal, and had no problems. The tour didn't leave for a few days so we decided to do some travelling along the coast. We took a crazy bus to Montanita - a very touristy surfer town, a little pricey but great beach and great waves. Denis went surfing again and got thrashed about, but found some waves to ride and learned a little. After a couple nights there we went to Canoa and spent a couple nights (and my birthday) in this very relaxed town with the most beautiful beach the the warmest ocean water we ever felt - almost like bath water...AWESOME! A great hostel (Bambu) on the water for $10 a night and great breakfasts at Cafe Flor! Then we made our way to Montecristi - the home of the Panama Hat and found Denis a great hat for the Galapagos!

And back to Guayaquil we went to fly to the Galapagos! Okay - the pictures (we posted on facebook - )say it all. We were on the Merak, a small 8 passenger sailboat (a little too small - but we had fun) with the oldest tour guide, Ceasar who was in his late seventies. We saw Marine and Land Iguanas, Sea Lions - EVERYWHERE, Blue footed Boobies, Albatross, Frigate Birds, Masked Boobies, Flamingos, and a whole lot of other birds, swam with giant turtles, Sharks, all kinds of fish, and saw giant land Tortoises including Lonesome George! The scenery was amazing, every kind of beach you can think of, the volcanoes were incredible and the water was amazing. It was a once in a lifetime experience and I hope that this place can continue to be the haven for animals that made it so special.

From the Galapagos we went back to the mainland and headed to Riobamba, we were going to check out the train, Nariz del Diablo but you had to get up very early and we were enjoying our hotel room too much. We ate dinner at street markets and found the AMAZING market which had every kind of fruit, vegetable and animal you could think of! We bought a delicious pineapple, and a whole watermelon for $1 each and went back to hide in our hotel and eat them in front of the TV before we headed into the jungle where we would volunteer for a month! So off we went from Riobamba to Chinimp Tuna in the village of Chico Copataza.

We spent a month with an amazing family, Nelva and Manuel and their family who included 9 children (although they ranged from 10 years old to around 40 - only three lived at home, but almost all the rest lived within walking distance) and their grandchildren. It was a gorgeous place in the jungle, they farmed yucca (a jungle root sort of like potato but not) and bananas, which are much heavier than I ever imagined, and mainly a fibre tree used for broom fibres. We worked SO hard, it was so hot and humid, the jungle is steep and muddy, and they work hard in their every day lives. Everyday collecting food to feed the family, every Saturday collecting bananas and papayas to sell at the market on Sundays, clearing the jungle so that the crops would have enough light to grow and not be consumed by the jungle. We collected clay (from the river) and carried it in baskets by our heads back to the artisan house to make clay bowls and cups and whatever we could make cause it is HARD but by the end I really got the hang of it and Nelva and I were kicking out chica bowls like crazy! Oh and the chica a alcohol made by boiling a LOT of yucca, mashing it up with another potato like root to speed up fermentation and then a whole lot of collective chewing and spitting until it is all chewed up and goopy. We also got to hike up to the waterfall Chinimp is named after - a gorgeous waterfall you can jump from if you have the guts - Denis did - I did not! We went fishing and they went hunting, we cleaned fibres to sell in the market, dug a toilet for the new volunteer house, helped build the new volunteer house which involved a lot of carrying of wood planks - wet, biting ant covered, really really heavy wood planks. We helped to cook and clean and learned a lot about the family, their history and their way of life, we learned about the area, the threat of oil companies the need for projects like this to bring income so they don't need to cut and sell the primary forest. It was inter sting to be in a community with no running water, that only had a road to the nearest community 35 kms away for 7 years and only had electricity for almost 2 years now. Garbage and its issues are new to them, until 7 years ago almost everything used was bio-degradable, the community is growing rapidly as large families are common, alcohol and cigarettes are new problems also since social drinking is a large part of their culture but chica is very weak form of alcohol unlike whisky or rum, and commercial tobacco is much more harmful than the tobacco they use for medical purposes. Needless to say we learned a lot, saw many things from a different point of view and met some amazing people who are strong, hard working, generous and extremely kind. We were very sad to leave.

For our last week we headed north to Otavalo for the big artisan market, found a few souvenirs, saw two festivals in the streets - one was a silent march for Mother Mary, the other a loud, musical street dance for I'm not sure what but it looked like a lot of fun. We went farther north to Ibarra and found a 'bullfight' but it was very amateur and no bulls were killed just the sport of having the bull run through the cloth was fun enough and was followed by a singer who everyone enjoyed. We walked around and enjoyed the colonial architecture and the ice cream (Ibarra is famous for ice cream). Then we went to Quito. We found the Museo de San Diego - AN AWESOME place, a great tour, though all in spanish but I think we got most of it, and great views of the Virgen de Quito from the roof. We checked out a few Churches, a lot of plazas, walked on the cobblestones on Morales (really beautiful) and did some shopping in the big malls. We also took the bus out to Mitad del Mundo (the middle of the world) and went to both parks - although the second smaller park a little farther along the road was much more interesting. We saw demonstrations of how water reacts on the equator, it goes straight down right on the equator and a few meters north or south it does swirl! You weigh less on the equator! Sun dials are vertical rather than horizontal on the equator. We stood on opposite hemispheres at the same time.

And then we came home! WOW!!

Thats it, most of it anyways! We are back in Canada so drop us a line some time!
We have posted a bunch of photos on facebook - here is the link:

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