Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Wallpapers of the World - Panama City

Many buildings in latin america are painted in two colours. These pictures where taken in Panama City.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Red Bull Cerro Abajo @ Valparaiso, Chile

Our footage of the Red Bull Downhill contest.

San Pedro & La Serena (15.02.2014 - 19.02.2014)

We stayed in San Pedro for two nights, enjoying the western standards but clearly not its prices. Everything is ridiculous expensive, almost swiss prices! Coming from Bolivia we had already seen more then enough lagoons, geysers and deserts so we skipped the overpriced tours ;) 

After two days of relaxing we headed further south to La Serena. From here we headed eastwards to visit the Pisco valley for a day. Where they produce the grape brandy with the same name, Pisco. You can have a look around one of the distilleries and afterwards try the different kinds they sell. Was interesting but the drinks weren't really my cup of tea... ;)
For the night we had booked a tour around Mamalluca observatory. Located next to Vicuña with its 300 clear days a year its the ideal place to go stargazing. The guide showed us the different star constellations, galaxies, the moons of Jupiter and other things. Was quite interesting, but the dumbness of certain people (taking pictures with your phone and flash of the stars!?! o_O) was just amazing...

We passed the time relaxing in the garden, fixing the blog and having a barbecue!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Salar de Uyuni (12.02.2014 - 14.02.2014)

Together with Has & Steff we took a night bus all the way south to Uyuni. Wan't even that uncomfortable ;)
When we stepped out of the bus the next morning there where a bunch of people trying to sell us the Uyuni tours. After some consideration and having a look at the car and driver (hearing stories of drunken drivers and rundown cars) we booked our trip with Betto Tours.
First stop was the totally overcrowded train cemetery, heaps of rusting old trains and wagons with dozens of people clambering around. Nevertheless a nice sight!
Our group containing the four of us and two girls from Peru then drove to the salt flat. As it is currently summer and rain season the whole place is flooded to a depth of 5-15cm. Because of this you can't visit the fisher island and its giant cacti in the middle of the salar. The car had to drive slowly as not getting his radiator totally encrusted in salt. We stepped out of the 4x4 and took some awesome pictures. Because of the water the whole thing looks like a gigantic mirror all the way to the horizon!
The driver then took us to the "Salt Hotel", a house built entirely out of slabs of salt but which definitely has seen better days. We had lunch, took some more pictures and then started to drive back and then south for our stay the first night. The place where we slept was super basic/rundown, but okay. They where drying meat on the clothes line next to some dirty towels, yummy!

After breakfast we continued south to visit some rock formations. One called the condor, quite boring but the view around it was excellent! Several stops and pictures later we arrived at the first of many lagoons. We wandered around it and took pictures of the flamingos. Some more lagoons and a couple of lama crossings after was already time for lunch. Melanie and I took the chance to don our space suit and pose in the desert ^^. In the afternoon we stopped at the famous Stone tree, again not that impressive.
I don't know why, but multiple times on our travel so far the locals were proud to point out a stone formation which should resemble something...
Later on we crossed into the national park and visited Laguna Colorada and its millions of flamingos. Then drove on and found a basic but nice place to stay. This is where we met Fernando, whom we gave our Hulk action figure away to. He first couldn't believe his luck and kept on asking if this is really a gift and if he could keep it =)
At night our group then went out to play with flashlights and long exposures. But the cold soon drove us back into our shelter to enjoy some more beers and wine ;)
Early the next morning we drove on to see the geysers and vents in the first morning light. The pressure in which the water/hot air escapes the earth was quite impressive! The bolivian government started recently to tap into this massive energy source to produce clean power.
Afterwards we stopped at some hot springs to warm ourselves up. Around us where a bunch of lamas which used the the haze of the hot springs to partake in some family enlargement... ;)
Soon after we where dropped of at the border to chile and had to wait for our transport to San Pedro de Atacama. From the border at 4500m above sea we drove 2000m down to San Pedro where we had to find a place to stay for the next nights.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Truck @ Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

Nuestra Señora de La Paz & Death Road (08.02.2014 - 11.02.2014)

On the first evening we went to visit Janis & Max in their party hostel, Loki. Some beers, drinks and pirate hats later the party was in full swing! Unfortunately the hang over the next day was also quite impressive...
After having cured the worst of it we went to explore the city. Notably the infamous San Pedro prison (only from the outside though!). Later we walked through the witch market, where you can buy all kinds of herbs and potions. Mostly oriented toward improving sexual affection, Steffan was close to buy some sex parfume ;).
The next day we booked a tour to ride the Death Road by downhill bike. We ended up booking with Pro Downhill, not the cheapest but also not the most expensive option. Turned out great! There where actually more people in the more expensive groups and the cheapest option with only front suspension would have been gruel.
Besides Has, Steff, Melanie and me there where three totally hung over Chilean, our two guides and the driver. The first part from the mountain pass at 4670m above sea was all on concrete, not that challenging. After a short snack and another bus ride the dirt road and official Death Road started. By now there is a new road available bypassing this dangerous stretch! Nevertheless some cars/trucks decide to use the old road as it is faster. But the night before a landslide made it impossible for cars to pass, so we had not to worry too much about traffic. The two guides where really good, one in the back and another one ahead of the group. They both took care that everybody could ride at his comfortable speed. I could stop, take pictures and then overtake the whole group again. If the guide saw that one of us wanted to drive faster he would accelerate, we had some awesome races ^^
At the end of the stretch we loaded the bikes onto the van again and could rest and eat at a pool before returning the long (and safe way) to La Paz.
The next day we spent relaxing and preparing our way south to the Uyuni salt flats!

Pirate Party - Loki la Paz

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Lake Titicaca (04.02.2014 - 08.02.2014)

To give our tired bodies some rest we stayed two nights in Cusco. We visited the San Pedro market, wandered around the city and tried to find some cheap cuy (guinea pig, but sadly all where overpriced).

Because the railroad to lake Titicaca was totally overpriced we decided to take the cheaper tourist bus. Not such a good idea in hindsight, it was still expensive and the location where it stopped weren't really interesting...  Puno itself isn't really worth seeing, the main attraction is lake Titicaca, the highest lake in the world and largest in south america. On it are several islands which attract its share of tourists, furthermost the floating islands.

We stayed in the same hostel as Has & Steffan and the other day Janis & Max showed up as well, so ¾ of our Machu Pichu group where together again. 
We visited the floating islands of Uros, where since pre-Incan times people lived on these artificial islands made out of bundled reeds. Back in the days they also built their houses and boats out of reeds. The reeds are laid upon a natural floating layer and have to be replaced almost ever two weeks. This makes walking around on this soft and squishy underground quite fun ;). The islands themselves last about 50 years, whereas they have to build a new one which takes about a year. Anchored to the ground and protected by bigger storms/waves by a huge sea (forest?) of reeds these islands are quite safe and rise and fall with the level of the lake.
On our last night the whole city was engulfed by a fierce and powerful hail storm. In minutes every surface was covered in white hail and the streets turned to huge gutters. The traffic and for a short while the electricity broke down and it was pure mayhem.

We planned only to stay two nights and then continue our way to Bolivia, but alas there was a strike on the way to the border and the road blocked for all traffic. So we prolonged our stay in the not so beautiful Puno and hopped on a bus on the next day.

San Pedro Market, Cusco

Tupac Amaru, Cusco 

This market has everything from clothes, accessories, fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese, bread, delicious fruit juice, food stalls and much more. A perfect place to have lunch peruvian style and way cheaper then all the posh restaurants around the main plaza.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

L'atelier by Grid, Cusco

At l'atelier by Grid is a beautiful shop run by Grid herself, a likeable french Girl. She sell vintage cloths/ accessories and self made jewellery. I found my perfect Peru souvenir, a neckless with an old peruvian coin. Her atelier is part of the shop and she is always able to consider special requests.

My souvenir from Peru

La Boheme, Cusco

If you ever head a good french crepe, you will definitely know the difference between a crepe and a real crepe. And who knows that better then the french? In Cusco you find a chance to get a real one in this little creperia run by a very friendly french guy. He offers sweet and salty ones, the filling is up to you. And don't miss to try one of the fresh, delicious teas!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Machu Pichu (30.01.2014 - 03.02.2014)

To spice up our visit to Machup Pichu we decided to do the Inka Jungle Trail. A 4 day / 3 nights tour with biking, hiking, zip lining, Machu Pichu and a train ride. Converse are not the best shoes for such a trip, so after running around town to find some halfway decent hiking boots and a backpack to rent we where off.

The first day consisted of biking down from the Malaga pass (at 4350m) to Santa Marta (around 1900m) where we spent the first night. The rainy weather didn't make this all to pleasant and all of us where drenched to the bone. We could have gone river rafting in the afternoon but decided we've been wet enough for a day ;)

We got up early the next day and made our way up to the old and famous Inka Trail. The Inkas built these trails for fast delivery of news and orders. Each royal messenger was responsible for a certain stretch at which end he handed over his message to the next guy. This way a letter from Cusco could be delivered to Quito (1'644 km over air) in less than a week! Our guide Rene also showed us all kind of plants, drinks and animals. As reward we ended our 23km hike in some hot springs, nice!
We had a lot of fun with our group: two guys from Germany, two girls from Chile, a couple from Wales and the two of us. This evening we all got hammered with our guide handing out "Inka Tequila" shots ;)

The next morning most of us where hung over, not ideal to be hiking up a narrow and steep path for 30 minutes. But then the fun started and we where zip lining down the mountain! The second of the 5 lines is supposed to be the longest in the world, at 1200m length and 200m height! Also the end was quite fun, as the line just stopped in midair on a platform from which we rappelled down.
Afterwards we took a bus to our next destination from which we had to follow the train tracks all the way to Aguas Caliente/Machu Pueblo. This time we skipped on the partying and went to bed early.

To see Machu Pichu before the huge crowds arrive by bus we got up ad 4:30 in the morning and walked to the entrance of the national park. At 5 o'clock the gates opened and the climb started! An hour and much sweat later we arrived at the site. Our guide showed us around and explained the different ruins and terraces. Some of our group had purchased an extra ticket to climb the even higher Wayna Pichu or the Machu Pichu mountain. But after the last two days of hiking no body felt like it ;)
We took some nice pictures and left when the huge crowds started to arrive by bus.
To pass the time before our train would leave we went to the hot springs, sadly not as nice as the one before. The ride on the train was nice, following the river all the way to Ollantaytambo from which we took a mini bus back to Cusco.

Machu Pichu

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

To Quito then to Lima and further to Cusco (25.01.2014 - 29.01.2014)

Our time in the Galapagos was at its end and we flew back to the mainland. We spent two nights in Quito and visited the city. There isn't much to see except the mandatory church/cathedral. Nice though is that certain streets are closed for traffic on sundays and you can see people bicycling everywhere.

The next day we boarded our plane to Peru, landing in Lima just two hours later. We spent the following day exploring the Mariscal area and did some (window) shopping. There where dozens of paragliders in the air, soaring on the steep cliffs facing the sea. Using the upwinds for their crazy tricks. Made me look forward to go flying again...

To get to Cusco we flew for one hour to avoid the 30+ hours bus ride. We landed safely in Cusco and immediately felt the high altitude. Cusco lies at 3400 meter above sea, walking up some steep steps with your backpack already left you out of breath!

Mighty condor

Friday, February 7, 2014

Street food, Santa Cruz Galapagos

Calle de los Quioscos, Santa Cruz, Galapagos, Ecuador

In the center of the main island Santa Cruz are many opportunities to have dinner. The most popular street is the Avenida Charles Darwin along the coast. Most of the restaurants on this street offer good western food although a little pricey.
A better and way cheaper option to eat fresh seafood is at Calle de los Quioscos. This street is closed for traffic in the evening and every little restaurant provides a few tables. It works like a food-court, so order were ever you want.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Galapagos (18.01.2014 - 25.01.2014)

This is gonna be a big post, but the Galapagos where also one of the bigger events in our trip so far. An experience for a lifetime! So keep on reading!

The day after arriving in Quito we spent looking for a last minute deal for the Galapagos. We soon found one for a first class cruise which was knocked down to less than a quarter of its official price. Which meant we had to fly early the next morning to the Galapagos, ! The first class treatment already started at the airport in Quito, where a guy was waiting for us with our tickets and helping us to get quickly through the extra baggage checks. Your not allowed to bring any kind of seeds to the islands, so they screen your bag and then seal them for the journey.
After touch down we met the rest of our companions for the trip. In Quito we had already met Olga & Barend from Holland. Knowing the official price of the trip we were afraid to be on a pensioner cruise. But it turned out we weren't the only one jumping on this last minute chance, Tamara & Steve from Australia did the same. Together with a couple from Sweden in the same age we had a group of people about half the age of the other passenger.

After we got our cabin assigned we soon left to visit Dragon Hill on Santa Cruz island. On this island a group of land iguanas developed which feed mainly on yellow flowers, from which they got their yellowish skin. We also saw some flamingos and the first of many marine iguanas to come.

Our cabin on the Domenica was probably the most luxurious accommodation we had since we left home. A giant bed in a big room with a decent bathroom. The shower had hot water with proper pressure and a rain shower head.
The boat had space for 16 passengers and was run by 14 crew members, including the naturalist guide. Breakfast and lunch where in form of a buffet while you could choose between two menus for dinner. In the front of the yacht was a crane to hoist the two dingy's on deck for the longer journeys. On the top deck where some sun chairs and sun beds together with two jacuzzis ^^.

The next morning we went to explore turtle cove, a mangrove bay in which sea turtles seek refuge and mate. It was plain voyeurism, us watching the two dozen of sea turtles humping and thumping around in the water ;) We also saw our first shark, excited!
In the afternoon we went to snorkel next to the island shaped and called Chinese Hat (looked more like a Pizza Hut building imho). The water was rather cold, but there where crazy amount of fish! Highlight was the group of sea lions swimming right past us, awesome! After a quick jump in the jacuzzi to warm up we visited the island and the many sea lions resting there. You could get really close, the didn't show any fear. Just watch out for the bull, he doesn't like it if you intrude on his territory. On the way back to the yacht we saw the first penguins! These are the only penguins living on the northern hemisphere and look awfully cute ;)

Because of the tight schedule and long days the evenings where usually short and everybody went to bed early. During the second night the captain took us up north to the island of Genovesa.

So the next morning we woke up finding us in the former crater of this volcano island which collapsed a long time ago. After breakfast we took to the dingy's and had a look at the thousands (if not millions) of birds nesting. On the way we saw some fur sea lion, a different species than the one we had seen before. The literally have a mane which gave them the name sea lion in the first place. Once on the island we saw blue-footed boobies, red-footed boobies, nazca boobies, swallow-tailed gulls, frigate birds, storm petals and even a short-eared owl. The nickname of bird island is clearly justified!
In the afternoon we went snorkeling and again where amazed by the masses of fish. The parrot fish where huge, all of them. Something we had never seen before.
Later on we landed on the beach where our guide showed us some more birds, sea gulls, finches and herons. Afterwards we could sit in the surf while the sea lions where swimming around us. We went snorkeling again and saw some whitetip sharks, nice.
As a finish we could explore the cauldron by kayak where we saw some sharks jump out of the water. Not so nice if you can't see them below you...

The next island we where back south on Bartolome island to enjoy the view. Then our boat took us to the other side of the island where we could go snorkeling again. There where some whitetip sharks to be seen and even a octopus trying to blend with the rocks. Our guide then took us to another spot a bit further away which was even more full of fish if this is even possible. And then a fearless penguin showed up and didn't mind us, he just kept on hunting, bumped even in some of us. He was like a torpedo in the water, crazy fast and agile.
In the afternoon we embarked to visit the island of Santiago to have a look at the lava formations. It felt like being on the moon, barren black rocks and nothing else.

As finish of our five day trip we visited the tortoise reserve to stare at these giants. The land turtles can get well over a 100 years old. The eat mainly grass which gives them wind ;)
After a short stop over to have a look at a giant lava tunnel our group split up and we headed to Puerto Ayora where we stayed for two more nights.
We visited the station where the bring all the giant turtle eggs from all the different islands. They hatch them, tag them and care for them till they are big enough to be release back on the island they where from. Which takes several years ;)

Our guide had told us about a place where we had a high chance to see hammerhead sharks. Melanie sadly had the cold but Olga & Barend joined me and we went for two dives at Gordon Rocks. It was bitter cold, we had to dive in a thick wetsuit with hoodies and gloves but it was definitely worth it! Not even five minutes in the water we saw a huge manta ray pass by and not much later the first hammerhead. More showed up later together with a galapagos shark. On the second dive we saw more hammerheads, galapagos sharks, a bunch of whitetip sharks and even a sea lion catching fish! An awesome and unforgettable experience!