Saturday, October 31, 2009

Amazon Tour Day 1 - Camera Nicked

Up at 7:00, showered, packed, had breakfast, checked out and we got a taxi to the airport shortly after 8:00am.At the airport, we went to the Star Peru check-in counter, Lisa made a remark about reading a book while in the Amazon. I remembered that I didn't pack my book, so put down my camera and shoulder bag, asked Lisa to hold my passport, opened my big backpack to get the book, then zipped it back up, gathered my things, asked Lisa for my camera....she didn't have it. Gone. I immediately started looking all around me, opened up all my bags, it was nowhere. We went outside to see if the taxi was still there, he wasn't. I'm 99.9999999% sure that I didn't leave it in the taxi. The camera was on my neck from the time we left the hostal to the time we reached the Star Peru check-in counter. Lisa remembers seeing on my neck when we were walking to the taxi, and didn't see it sitting in the taxi when we got out at the airport.When we originally got the airport, there was no one at the Star Peru check-in counter. As we walked up to it, a local was guiding another tourist to the check-in counter. As I opened my backpack to get my book, the local walked back past us. He saw an opportunity, grabbed my camera and walked off without Lisa or me seeing anything.Lisa and me checked-in, then went to the iPeru tourist counter and the information counter to see if anyone brought a camera in, nope. We then headed to the police office in the airport to file a police report. They spoke no english, surprising for the most touristed city in Peru. So Lisa had to explain everything in Spanish. They were quite skeptical, they said nothing has ever been stolen at the airport before. They kept asking us if maybe we left it in the taxi (nope!), and they didn't know what to do. They kept talking amongst themselves, and they couldn't find any appropriate paperwork to report it. We sat around for quite a while before they found something official to write it on. And they kept questioning Lisa as to how it happened. It took about an hour, but we had arrived at the airport very early, so had the time. When we were finally done the police report, he gave us a piece of paper and told us we have to go to the tourist police station in Cusco when we get back from the Amazon to pick up the official, typed copy of the report. The Peruvian National Police now have my fingerprint on record as well. Haha.Anyway, I was disappointed, but I didn't let it get me down or ruin my trip. I have all of Lisa's pictures, plus we spent 3 weeks travelling with another guy, Jason, who had a great camera and took lots of great pics. The only backup I did of my pictures was about three weeks into the trip, in Baños, when I gave a copy of all my pics to Kirsty to take back to Canada, so I have those. The moral of the story, make backups of your pictures often! It took only a few seconds for this guy to snatch my camera.With the police report done, we went through security and boarded the plane. Coincidentally, Lisa's friends from New Zealand, Cameron and Jodi were also on the same flight (coming from Lima).Super short flight, less than an hour. No sooner did we get above the clouds and we started descending again. It's hard to imagine it's a 20 hour truck ride from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado, considering how short the flight is.At the airport in Puerto Maldonado, our guide was holding up a sign with all our names on it, so we got in the mini-van, whisked off to the tour office, paid the remainder of our bill, then had a 3.5 hour boat ride up the Tambopata River to the jungle lodge (Wasai). We arrived shortly after 4:00pm. So hot, the temperature in Puerto Maldonado when we landed was 35 degrees. The jungle is just as hot.On the boat ride, saw lots of capybara's (sp?), the largest rodent in the world, hanging out on the banks of the river.We got settled into our cabins, they are AWESOME!! The best beds we've had all trip. And a huge hut, overlooking the river.There are five of us on the tour, me, Lisa, Cameron, Jodi and an older, but cool, Aussie woman, Jane.At 6:30, we went for a jungle night walk to see all the creepy crawlies that come out at night in the jungle. Saw huge cockroaches, massive grasshoppers, gigantic tarantulas (bigger than my hand, including one that had a bunch of babies running around), tiny tree frogs, other poisonous spiders with huge spider webs, moths, butterflies, plus all the strange noises of the jungle at night. It was pretty awesome.We had supper at 8:00pm, very good food. We were informed that we are getting up at 3:30am tomorrow morning, so we all went to bed around 9:00.

Friday, October 30, 2009


I have travellers diahhrea. :-( It started yesterday.Bus ride to Cusco was long. I think I slept in short fits. The bus was also COLD and I had shorts on and a t-shirt and a light jacket to try and keep me warm. But, this was my last long bus trip of my travels. Lisa is not going to go on the cheap for night bus trips anymore, though.We arrived in Cusco about 8:00. We ignored the touts at the bus station offering accomodation and bartered for a taxi to the Plaza de Armas. A woman approached us at the plaza and offered accomodation for 15 soles each at her hostal, just a block from the Plaza de Armas. That's cheap for Cusco, so we checked it out and it was fine. We checked in, I showered, we had breakfast, then we went to South American Explorers club so Lisa could get free internet and we could checkout trip reports for Salkantay and Lares Valley. Then we headed to Scotiabank and took out some US dollars so we could pay the balance of our Amazon trip. We paid half before leaving to South America.Then we went to all kinds of tour companies looking at trek options, either Salkantay or the Lares Valley. We weren't sure which one we wanted to do, but after hearing opinions, we decided on Salkantay. It's a a 5 day/4 night trek that ends in Machu Picchu. It's a less travelled alternative to the Inca Trail, and you don't have to book it months in advance.At 1:00, I went back to the room and slept, after the crappy bus sleep, and Lisa went shopping. She bought a long sleeve shirt for the Amazon. Later in the afternoon, after I woke up, I went shopping, bought some long pants for the Amazon and bought a fake ring and a birthday card for Lisa. Her birthday is Nov. 18, so I won't be here for it, but decided to get her something silly. Men in South America can be very forward toward women, and she has often joked about getting a fake engagement or wedding ring to travel with. So I got her one for her birthday.When I got back to the hostal and met Lisa, she told me that while she was shopping, a local approached her and said "Hey beautiful. You want me to take my pants off so you can look at it?" She just ignored him.At 6:30 we went out for pizza and I gave her her birthday present then. After that, we went for ice cream, then I went to bed shortly after 8:00.There's soooo many tourists in Cusco, and soooo many touts offering massages, rooms, food, treks, etc., it gets annoying after a while. Lots of high-end shops too, selling jewellry, art, fine clothes and fabrics, fancy restaurants, high-end hotels. It really shows the type of tourists that come to Cusco, they have lots of money.They're also really pumping halloween here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Colca Canyon Trek Day 3

Up at 4:30, pàcked and started hiking at 5:00am. Everyone else at the resort had the same idea.The hike up the canyon walls was about 2 hours, including a breakfast break. When we stopped to have some breakfast about half way up, a bunch of people passed us, but we beat everyone to the top, passing them again once we started going again. Lisa and me are awesome!It was another hour back to town. When you reach the top of the canyon, you can see the town, but you have to navigate all the terraced fields to get back. Lisa and me got to the edge of town, but couldn't see any paths to actually get to a road. Lisa ended up asking a local (she told him that we're a little bit lost) how to get back to the town centre, and he was nice enought to let us pass through his yard and out his front gate, then pointed us in the direction we needed to go.Back at the hostal, we had breakfast, showered, repacked, bought a bus ticket back to Arequipa for 11:30am.Long bus ride back, including a one hour stop in Chivay. We got back to Arequipa about 6:30, then turned around and bought a bus ticket (overnight) to Cusco (30 soles, $10US). We had supper at the bus station, used the internet for a bit, then got on the bus.They had a super bad movie on the bus, American Ninja 2. It was so bad, it was good, even though it was all dubbed in Spanish.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Colca Canyon Trek Day 2

Up at 6:00am. We wanted to beat the tour groups to the oasis. We had breakfast at 6:30, pancakes, yummy. We noticed that the tour groups got crepes for breakfast, whereas Lisa and me and the other independent couple got pancakes.We were the first to leave at 7:00am, paid or bill (118 soles for the both of us, including the room, lunch, supper, breakfast, two beers, two pops and three bottles of water), about $40US for both of us.When we left, the lady gave us both big hugs.The hike to the oasis was up, up, up, about 2/3 of the way up the canyon wall before descenging back down again. Saw another Andean Condor.Got to the oasis about 10:45, 3.75 hours of hiking. The map showed it as 5 hours.The oasis is actually four different resorts at the valley bottom. From high above, at the top of the canyon,you can see the swimming pools. The oasis is also, literally, an oasis. Waterfalls emerge right from the rock of the canyon wall, everything is green, in stark contrast to the desert surrounding it. The resorts are set on a more flat area just a bit down from the waterfalls. We picked a resort called Paraiso, which had good rooms and a nice pool, only 10 soles, including use of the pool.When we arrived, we were the only ones at the whole resort. Around noon, tour groups started to arrive and invaded our serenity.We relaxed by the pool and in the large grass area for most of the day, soaked up some sun. Lisa and I played some chess.There's a stark contrast between the greenery of the oasis and the red, dry walls on the other side of the canyon. It's very remarkable.Supper was at 7:00pm, vegetarian spaghetti. Yay, no rice!Lisa and me are going to get up about 4:30 tomorrow morning to start the long trek back up the canyon, before the sun comes up.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Colca Canyon Trek Day 1

I was sound asleep when I heard a THUD. Then Lisa...."Oops. Oh no!" I awoke from my slumber and asked "What's wrong?" "I just broke my bed" was the reply. One of the slats underneath the mattress fell to the ground, leaving a big dip in her bed. She couldn't sleep with it that way, so she turned herself around and slept with her head at the foot of the bed for the rest of the night.Woke up early, before 7:00am, went for breakfast (free), used the internet for a bit, took our big bags to storage at the hostal and started off on our Colca Canyon trek shortly after 8:00. We're hiking to Lluhuar Lodge today, which has a natural thermal hot spring and trout fishing. It's not in any of the guidebooks, I just found it on the internet.The hand drawn map we had showed the hike was 5 hours. We arrived in just under 4 hours, but it was ALL downhill, into one of the deepest canyons in the world. We descended about 1200 metres into the canyon today. Saw an Andean Condor as we were leaving Cabanaconde into the valley.Got to Llahuar Lodge. AWESOME! The beds are made of bamboo on top of rock with a mattress on top. The floor of our hut is just a bunch of small stones. The flush toilets are plunked right into the ground. We paid 15 soles each for the bed at the Lluhuar Lodge.Lisa and me had lunch, then headed down to the pools, right beside the river, and soaked in the luke warm waters with a bit of algae.We were the only ones at the lodge all afternoon. We had it all to ourselves. Late in the afternoon, lots of others started showing up, mostly organized treks with a guide. There was one other couple that came down independently.Earlier in the afternoon, I bought a couple of beers and put them in little canal to cool them off (no electricity here). As the sun started to go down, we sat at the edge of a cliff and drank our beers, then headed to the dining area for supper.Supper was fresh caught trout, and very good. The man and lady that run the place are sooooo friendly. They totally go out of their way to make sure you're happy.About 14 people ended up at the lodge tonight, all but 4 are with an organized tour. We're so glad we did this on our own.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Off to Cabanaconde

Got up, didn't do much in the morning. Lisa mailed a postcard and used the internet, I sat in a coffee shop and used the free wifi while having a machiato (or however you spell it).Around noon, we checked out and took a taxi to the terminal terrestre. Arequipa is the first Peruvian city that has a proper bus terminal. Bought a ticket to Cabanaconde for 1:45pm, it arrives in Cabanaconde around 7:30ish.Along the highway, saw wild llamas. The road also goes over a pass of 5000 metres, the higest point we've been yet. Lisa had a headache as we climbed the pass in the bus, which went away as we descended the other side.On the bus, we got befriended by a local with a hostal in Cabanaconde. We decided to check it out when we got there, it was only 10 soles a night, just over $3.We arrived about 7:30, checked in to buddies hostal, then went for supper (4 soles), and bought some snacks for the trek we're doing.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Up after 8:00. Both Lisa and me slept like rocks. We took our time and headed out for breakfast after 9:00 sometime. We were going to have breakfast at the hostal, but the cook was off today, so we walked to the Plaza del Armas. A huge parade in the plaza this morning, tons of people. We picked a restaurant (actually, a woman was outside, saw us and suckered us into her restaurant), it had a 2nd floor balcony overlooking the plaza. We had breakfast while we watched the parade go by.Arequipa is a beautiful city. So clean and well maintained, infrastructure seems in tip-top shape. My favorite city so far. Apparently Arequipians also consider themselves culturally superior to the rest of Peru.After breakfast, we found a Scotiabank (no fees for Lisa to withdraw!), shopped in a little market, I bought a leather cowboy hat for $8 US, Lisa bought a belt (to hold up her pants, she's losing weight) and a bracelet, got some info on treks into the Colca Canyon. We're going to go it alone, but wanted to get some maps and info on the towns and accomodations.Around 1:00, headed to the Santa Catalina Monastery, built in the late 1500's, and some nuns still live there today. It's a huge complex, and very interesting, a great was to kill a couple of hours in the afternoon.We then walked down to the the river (nothing interesting), Lisa saw a "big box" store that said "Everything is Cheaper" on the side. Just for kicks, we went in just to see what it was like. Very much like a Superstore, we ended up buying new earbuds for our MP3 players, and some buns, cheese and ham to make a late lunch. I also bought 1 litre of fresh milk, something I've been missing for a while. We walked back to the hostal with me chugging milk (very creamy, definately not 1 or 2 percent), and had sandwiches on the rooftop patio of our hostal. I finished about 2/3 of the milk, and I had to make a mad dash for the toilet. Holy cow, it totally went right through me.We hung out at the hostal, Lisa uploading pics, and me doing researching on Colca Canyon.Around 8:00ish, we walked to the square and had a dessert.Finally, clear blue skies have found us! Not a cloud in the sky, amazing weather.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Nazca Lines

Up at 7:30 after about 4.5 hours of sleep, had breakfast in the hostal (free) and we left for the airport at 8:15. We stopped at the bus station on the way out of town and booked a 1:15pm bus to Arequipa for this afternoon.Nazca is quite nice in the day, our hostal street is just under construction right now. The rest of the town is quite well maintained.We got to the airport and climbed into a small 6-seater Cessna, the pilot and 5 tourists. We had the option of going up in a 20 seater, but not everyone gets their own windows on that plane.The flight lasted about 35 minutes, the pilot would do incredibly steep banks so everyone could get good views of the lines. It was kind of sick inducing, making my stomach a bit unsettled. Lisa took some meds to help, as she's prone to sickness in small planes.The lines were kinda cool, but the flight itself was the best, seeing the barren landscape, where nary a cactus even grows, the red rock hills scattered among the sand.Back to the hostal about 10:00am, I showered and Lisa slept. I walked around town, had a rreal breakfast at a restaurant and back to the room about 11:30. Lisa and me checked out, went to a restaurant so Lisa could eat, then walked to the bus station for our 1:15 bus to Arequipa.Bus ride spectacular, all desert, so dry, at times huge sand dunes were covering road signs and parts of the road, sometimes turning a 2 lane highway into a single lane. Vast stretches of beach too, South America must surely have some of the longest stretches of beach on the planet.Arrived in Arequipa quite late, 10:30pm. Asked a taxi driver to take us to the Plaza del Armas in the centre of town, where hostals congregate. He said that it would be a bit dangerous to be wandering around at night, and took us to Hostal Baviera, even when we asked him to take us to a couple of others. This hostal is about 1.5 blocks from the plaza. Lisa checked it out while I waited outside with our bags and the taxi driver, she bargained a bit (her first time) and saved us 5 soles each on the price of the room. She came back downsstairs to the taxi, gave me a thumbs up, and we headed to the room and went to bed with ear plugs in. 25 soles each for the room.

Friday, October 23, 2009

To Lima and Nazca

Up about 7:30, packed, showered, had breakfast, walked to the bus company (Z Buss) and left at 9:30.Bus trip to Lima was 7-8 hours. Desert the whole way, very dry, not much vegetation. At one section, the highway travels the cliffs of steep sandstone hills, the road cut into the cliffs, withthe sandy hills plunging into the sea. It was quite spectacular.Lima was a big, busy, dirty city. Kind of reminded me of Bangkok. It seemed to be total chaos. We arrived late afternoon, and Lisa had expressed no desire to spend anyttime in Lima. Jason was meeting his dad in Lima, so we said goodbye to Jason, and it's just Lisa and me again. Lisa and me asked about buses to Nazca, the next one leaves at 6:45 (25 soles, just over $8US), so we had just over two hours to kill. We had something to eat, then Lisa called a hostal in Nazca to see about reserving a room and asking if it was ok that we would be arriving at 3:00am.While we were at the bus terminal, we ran into Fiona (from our trek) and Alyssa (American girl who told the story about the donkey being put down). They had both taken a night bus from Huaraz to Lima, and had to wait 12+ hours iin Lima for a bus to Arequipa. If we would have taken the night bus, we would have been in the same boat.Remember a bus driver in the compound backing his bus into another bus.The bus left shortly after 7:00pm. Managed to get a couple of hours sleep on the bus. Arrived in Nazca about 2:00am. When we got off the bus, a guy approached and asked us if we needed a place to stay, holding out his card. We said now, we had a reservation. He asked where, we said Hostal Alegria. He said that's the hostal he works for, and said it was just a block away. He then asked if we were the ones that called and reserved a double room. Lisa said yes, so he started taking us there. Except he didn't stay on the main road, where I knew the hostal was, turned down a side road. He said that the room we reserved was actually taken, but he had another similar room at another hostal. So we followed him down this decrepit, dark, gravel side street for a few blocks to Hospedaje Yemaya. 50 soles for the both of us (about $8 US each).Once checked in, he sold us on a flying tour of the Nazca Lines for this morning, 240 soles. We went with the 5 seater plane versus the 20 seater. After that, headed to bed to get a few hours sleep.Lisa remarked to me before bed that she never would have walked with that guy had she been alone.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Errand Day

Up about 8:00ish, tried to shower but there was no hot water. So I went for breakfast. An American girl was having breakfast, we were talking, she just got back from the Huayhuash trek, she said that one of their donkeys had to be put down. Apparently he refused to move. They took everything off of him (loading up the other donkeys even more) and he still refused to move. The guides then told the tourists he would be put down. The next day, they showed the tourists the ear of the donkey and they all had a moment of silence.Lisa and me started off an errand day. Took laundry in, I booked a flight from Cusco to Lima for Nov. 11, Lisa and me changed our Puerto Maldonado to Cusco flight one day earlier, to give us more time for Cusco/Machu Picchu, bought bus tickets from Huaraz to Lima for tomorrow at 9:30am.When we got back yesterday from our trek, we got the same dorm room as before. We hads left some groceries in the room (bread, peanut butter, jam) when we left for the trek, assuming the cleaning staff would throw them out. When we got back, they were still there, neatly arranged on a table. There was another older guy in the room now, and he has been taking our groceries upstairs to the kitchen and making sandwiches. Haha.At 7:00pm, met the French couple (Albine and Thomas) and Fiona at a Chifa restaurant for supper. Fiona had a bus to catch, Albine went back to their room, but the rest of us continued to party, drinking a bottle of pisco that we bought for the trek that didn't get drank. Me, Lisa, Jason and Thomas headed to the Gecko Bar and ran into Kieran again. We stayed out until after 11:00.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Santa Cruz Trek Day 4

Up about 7:00, had breakfast and started hiking sometime after 8:00. We had a short hike today, only 2.5 hours to the pickup point. We got there about 10:30, the mini-van came shortly afterwards with some people just starting the trek. They'll do it reverse of what we did.As they unloaded, our donkeys showed up, all our stuff was loaded on the van and we were off and on our way back to Huaraz.On the way out of the park, we had to buy or show our park pass. Sine I lost mine, I had Lisa translate so that they could find me in the records for Oct. 16. I provided my passport number, they found me and he was happy! I didn't have to buy another park pass.Got back about 4:00, and we all made arrangements to meet for a beer at 7:00. We walked back to the hostal, showered and repacked and cleaned up, then met everyone at the bar/grill at 7:00. Had a beer and supper and back to the hostal about 10:00.Lisa has travellers diahhroea. I've been good so far.The trek was awesome. It's easily comparable to anything in the Rockies in Canada.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Santa Cruz Trek Day 3

Wake up call at 3:30am, got up, packed everything, had breakfast and we were on our way at 5:30. It was a 2 hour hike to the pass, up and up and up. The mountain range looked formidable, but cut in the rocks at the top was a trail with a sign indicating the pass, Punta Union, and the elevation, 4750 metres. Then down and down and down. Amazing views all the way down, glacier capped mountains. As we were descending, we passed a half decomposed donkey, presumably slipped and fell to its death.We hiked to a refuge, got there about 1:30, just outside of the park boundary, where we had the option of renting a dorm bed in the refuge or camping outside in the tent. The dorm beds were 10 soles (about $3 US). Just after we arrived, the rains started coming again. Lisa and Jason didn't want to sleep in a damp, wet tent again, so we decided on the dorm beds.A bunch of us played cards in the afternoon, supper at 6:00. We were allowed to use the big kitchen table at the refuge instead of using the kitchen table tent, which was awesome.At supper, our guide told us we get to sleep in tomorrow morning, breakfast would be at 7:30.Since we're in the same national park as Laguna 69, we could keep our park pass and not hjave to pay again. During the trek, I was putting garbage wrappers in my pocket. When we got to the refuge, I threw all the wrappers into the trash can in the toilet. Anybody that has been to a 3rd world country knows that the sewer systems typically can't handle toilet paper, so you always put you used toilet paper into the trash, not the toilet. At supper, I started looking for my park pass, then realized that it was in the same pocket as the garbage I was collecting, so my park pass was probably in the garbage can in the toilet, with all the used toilet paper.After supper I went into the toilet, shut the door, took the lid off of the trash can, and stared into, seeing everyone elses used toilet paper. I considered digging through it, but just couldn't do it. If I had a pair of rubber gloves maybe.After supper, a bunch of us played Time's Up, then to bed about 8:00.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Santa Cruz Trek Day 2

Wake up call at 3:30am, everyone got up, packed everything, including the tents. We had breakfast, and were hiking in the dark shortly after 5:00am.We hiked about 9 hours today, including snack and lunch breaks. Hiked to this awesome lake with a glacier at the head of it, chunks of ice floating in the lake.Also saw the Paramount Pictures mountain, unfortunately it was partially obscured in clouds all day.Got to camp around 2:00. Everything was setup for us already. Shortly after we arrived, the rains came, including thunder and hail. We had lunch, played cards, then had supper at 4:30. And, we're doing the same drill tomorrow, getting up at 3:30 am tomorrow morning. After supper, a few of us played Times Up, a super fun game taught to us by a French couple and a Swiss girl.The guide told us that tomorrow would be a hard hike, over a pass at 4750 metres. He also said there is snow, perhaps 10 cm, and it's very dangerous, especially for the donkeys, as they sometimes slip and fall to their deaths.To bed around 7:00ish.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Santa Cruz Trek Day 1

Up at 5:30am. Didn't sleep much because I slept until 1:30 yesterday. Packed our things, Kieran is planning on doing the Huayhuash trek instead of the shorter Santa Cruz.A taxi picked us up around 6:20, which took us to a mini-van at the tour company, then it was about a 3 hour drive to the national park. I´t's the same national park as Laguna 69, but we are starting in a different part of the park. When we got to the trailhead, the guide wasn't there yet, so we sat around for more than an hour waiting, while all the donkeys got loaded with all the gear and camping equipment. There are 11 of us on the trek.We left about noon, the hike goes up this amazing valley with steep mountains on either side, scraped by glaciers long ago.We hiked about 4.5 hours to the campsite, the crew had some of the tents set up, but not all. And it had just started to rain, so we ended up setting up our tents in the rain. Then we all hung out in the food tent, drinking coffee and tea, then had supper around 6:30. After supper, our guide informed us that we're getting up at 3:30am tomorrow to get to the next camp before the rain starts, which is usually mid-late afternoon.We groaned at the thought, but went to bed right away, knowing it would be a very early day.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Bad day

Woke up about 8:30am. Not feeling to good. I just laid in bed and tried to sleep off the hangover until about 1:30 in the afternoon. Then headed to California Cafe for some bacon and breakfast, then did some shopping. Bought a "Goretex" jacket, a fleece top and some gloves for our 4-day trek tomorrow.Pretty much a nothing day.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Laguna 69

Up at 5:30, ready to go at 6:00am for our Laguna 69 hike. A mini-van came to pick us up at 6:30. 15 of us in the hostal signed up for the hike.2.5 hour drive to the trail head, inside Huarascan National Park. Along the way, I realized I didn't bring my camera!. Fortunately Kieran saw that I had left it in the room and grabbed it for me.About a 2.5 hour hike to the lake. The hike was awesome. The lake is at an altitude of 4600 metres, the highest we've been yet. I was fine with the altitude, except near the lake, it felt like I was wearing lead shoes and had to stop every 20 paces and recover my breath.There are lots of cows in the national park, and all the meadows are covered in cow patties, which is kind of unfortunate. It kind of ruins the natural splendor of some of the meadows.Laguna 69 is a glacier lake, awesome blue colour to it. The lake is surrounded by mountains covered in glaciers. We hung out at the lake for about an hour, then headed back to the waiting mini-van. We got back to the hostal about 6:00pm.We went to a chifa (Chinese) restaurant, then went out drinking, since Kieran is going his own way tomorrow. We got back to the hostal about 1:30am, I think, and had to wake up the person running the hostal to let us in.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Didn't sleep much on the bus, if it all. Seats weren't nearly as comfortable as the other bus.We arrived in Huaraz around 6:45, I think, as usual, when we exited the bus compound, we were immediately surrounded by people, trying to get us to go with them. We asked a few people where we were on our map, got some helpful hints, and started walking, searching for Hostal Caroline. We had to ask a few locals as we went along, making sure we were on the right track. We eventually found it, arrived at the hostal about 7:30, just in time for the free breakfast.After breakfast, we signed up for a day trip to Laguna 69 and got information on the Santa Cruz 4 day trek, one of the most popular ones.Huaraz region has the highest mountain ranges in the tropics, lots of peaks over 6000 metres. Ther mountains are covered in snow and glaciers and are brilliant against a blue sky. That's why Huaraz is such a trekking mecca.We considered doing Huayhuash, an 8 day trek, but time is running out.Lisa slept in the room for most of the morning, Kieran, Jason and me walked around town. Kieran is trying to find a company doing the Huayhuash trek, but it's low season and not too many going out.In the afternoon, we went shopping for food for tomorrow, Lisa bought a cheap iPod knockoff and we had a late lunch at California Cafe, a gringo hangout with gringo prices.To bed early for all of us, we have to be ready for 6:00am for our Laguna 69 trip tomorrow.Huaraz the city is nothing special, but very busy with lots of locals all doing their thing. For tourists, it's just a launching point for treks.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Stupid Cat!

Stupid Cat!! It started meowing in the middle of the night, waking me from my deep sleep. It went on for half an hour or more. When it started, and I was half awaking from my slumber, I didn't know where I was and thought it was Samantha.Up about 8:30, had breakfast. We had a nothing day today, but are heading to Huaraz on a night bus tonight.We walked around, changed lots of US dollars to soles, read, used internet, had an awesome piece of chocolate cake. Lisa and Jason tried to buy bus tickets for the bus trip to Huaraz over the phone, but couldn't, so they had to take the bus back to Trujillo to buy us all tickets.It was quite cool and cloudy today. A beach resort at low season is a somewhat depresseing sight.Peruvians LOVE 1980's pop music. I don't know what the fascination is.Lots of Americans travelling in South America. Hardly any Canadians. That's quite a different from Asia.At 7:00, we went for supper (pizza), then caught a taxi to Trujillo at 8:00, and the bus left for Huaraz at 9:00.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Trujillo and Huanchaco

Bus arrived in Trujilla about 10:00am, late. Once the sun came up, I discovered that this part of Peru is a desert. Very barren, dry, sand dunes, rocks, very little vegetation, it kind of looked like Mars.The bus arrived at the company bus terminal, and we were trying to decide where to stay. Some guy at the bus terminal told us Trujillo is expensive, it's cheaper to stay at Huanchaco, a beach resort village about 15km away. We decided to head to downtown Trujillo to see the main square, eat, then get a taxi to Huanchaco. The dude offered to drive us, and we told him we wanted to be dropped off at the main square, but he dropped us off at a restaurant, and told us to go eat there, and the square is two blocks away. It was kind of an expensive restaurant, he probably gets a commission for taking people there. We ate, then stood outside the restaurant trying to figure out where we were. A nice teacher lady came up and offered to help us, in English. She pointed the way to the main square, so we trudged off. Trujillo has probably the nicest square I've seen in South America so far, and all the buildings on the streets surrounding the square are all nicely painted with various bright colours. There's also a huge statue in the middle of the square.With Trujillo seen, we caught a taxi to Huanchaco, a beach town near Trujillo. Stayed at La Casa Suiza, Lisa and I got a double roomo for 30 soles (15 each, about $5 us each). Very nice hostel.After checking in, we headed to the beach for a while. The water is very cold this time of year, and even the air temperature wasn't that warm, just warm enough for laying on the beach. Kieran was the only one brave enough to swim in the icy waters.Huanchaco is a total surfing town. It's low season, many of the shops and restaurants are closed this time of year, but there was still a handful of surfers (both local and westerners) braving the surf in wetsuits. Huanchaco is supposed to be one of the best surf places in South America.The hostal we stayed at has a resident cat. The cat is the spitting image of Samantha, except one ear had a cut in it. It reminded me of my cat. I got an email today from my roommate as well, she says Samantha misses me.After the beach, we went for lunch, then all did our own thing. I spent time on the internet. We also took laundry to the local launderia.Around 6:30, we all went for supper at a fresh seafood restaurant. I had very good fresh fish.When we went to pick up our laundry, the laundry girl was waiting for Lisa. She knew that Lisa spoke fluent Spanish and English, and the laundry girl was taking English lessons, and needed help with some of the english phrases that she didn't understand. It was pretty cute.

Monday, October 12, 2009

More Time at Kuelap

Woke up, had breakfast, took our time. We decided to head back up to Kuelap, as we've nothing better to do until our taxi pick-up at 4:00 this afternoon. We didn't want to hike all the way back up, so we had everyone in town trying to find a taxi for us. The principal of the school nearby moonlights as a taxi driver, so he left school (he wasn't teaching a class at the time) and took us up to Kuelap. Got there maybe 10:30ish and stayed until about noon. When we were there late yesterday, we were the only ones on the whole site (except the guardian). Same thing this morning, we had it all to ourselves. As we were getting ready to leave, a few more were trickling in and some of the small tour busses were starting to arrive. We expect Machu Picchu to be a very different experience, a tourist haven.Much of Kuelap is still overgrown and not been restored. They are working on restoring bits of it. Tourists apparently didn't start coming here until very recently, only within the past 10 years.We headed back to Maria about noon, Lisa jogged most of the way. I tried to keep up, but it was hopeless. I got back to the hostal around 2:00, showered, packed, and we had lunch. Our taxi dude came around 4:00 and took us back to Chachapoya.When we took the taxi to Maria yesterday, Jason used an FM transmitter to play his iPod on the taxi drivers radio. When we arrived, Lisa asked him if he liked the music, and he enthusiastically said "Si!". So, when he came and picked us up today, we weren't in the car more than 5 minutes, and he was asking for the music again! I think he was also fascinated with the "magic" of how it worked.We found a bus company and booked a night bus to Trujillo. Only 10% of Peru's roads are paved, and the Panamerican, along the coast, is probably the best road to travel such a big country. The bus left at 7:30pm, and is due to arrive in Trujillo at 8:00am tomorrow morning.The bus was sweet, very comfortable and we even got a meal served to us. The bus cost 60 soles (about $20US).

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Slept in a bit, had breakfast at 9:00, then hired a car to take us to Maria, about a 2 hour drive. We're on our way to Kuelap, an old Inca ruin at the top of a mountain that's not on the tourist trail at all. Maria is the nearest town to the ruins. Awesome road and scenery all the way up. Our taxi driver was from Maria, so he was familiar with the roads, and was racing along the edges of the cliffs, around corners. I thought Kieran was going to faint, he was genuinely scared that were were going off the edge.Maria is a tiny village, but has a few hostals because of the ruins. He dropped us off at Hospedaje El Mirador, a nice place for such a small town, 15 soles each (about $5 US). We liked the guy, so we made arrangements with him to pick us up tomorrow at 4:00pm to take us back to Chachapoyas.We had lunch, then started the hike along the road to Kuelap. Our taxi driver told us it was a 40 minute walk, so we figured we had lots of time. We started walking at 2:45.After 40 minutes, we still weren't half way there. When we saw a sign that said it was still 5km away, we knew it would be a long trek.We finally got to the gate entrance at 4:30, and bought our tickets (12 soles). It was still another kilometre or so from the gate to the ruins itself. By the time we reached the ruins, it was 4:45, and the custodian of the ruins told us they close at 5:00. Kieran, upset, dropped to the ground and said "Senor!" I raced inside to see as much as possible in my 15 minutes. At 5:00, I ran back to the entrance, and the custodian told us that we could have another 30 minutes. So off I went again. I returned at 5:25, they were all looking for me, yelling my name, Lisa was blowing her whistle. They custodian got a radio call telling him to close the place up about 15 minutes ago, and they'd been looking for me every since. Oh well.Before leaving, Lisa asked if we could our tickets again tomorrow, since we bought so late in the day. We were told yes.We left the ruins at 5:30 and started the walk back. I got very dark on the way back, fortunately Lisa and I both brought our headlamps with us. On the way back, in the dark, we saw a tarantula walking the road! I've never seen one before, that wasn't behind a piece of glass. Cool!!!When we got back, we had supper, then a couple of big beers, then to bed.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Hello Peru

Up at 6:45. We had to catch an 8:00am ranchero to La Balsa, the border town on the Ecuadorian side. It's a 1.5 hour ride. A ranchero is a big truck with seats in the back and no sides on it.At the border, we got our Ecuadorian exit stamp, walked across a bridge over the river separating the countries, into Peru and got all our paperwork done and our passport stamped.Once the formalities were done, we hired a collectivo (taxi) to St. Ignacious. There was an older local couple that wanted to go with the taxi too, so we split the fare with them. Both of them rode in the passenger front seat and the four of us road in the back seat. It was a 2 hour ride. Jason had a package of crackers, and he offered the lovely couple in the front seat some. They grabbed the whole pack and never gave it back, and ate all the crackers themselves. Haha.When we got to St. Ignacious, I was surprised to see....tuk-tuks! Lots of them. When the driver dropped us off near a restaurant, a few tuk-tuk drivers drove up trying to get a fare somewhere.We had lunch in the restaurant, and when we came out, we were descended upon by taxi drivers all offering to take us to the next town (Jaen). They were so persistent, but they all offered the same price, 15 soles per person. Kieran, who loves to bargain in his broken Spanish, insisted on 13 soles person, but they wouldn't take it. We finally walked out of the collectivo area, with the intention of going somewhere else to get $13. Then one young guy broke rank and gave us 13 soles each. We would pay for it later! Along the way, he stopped to pick up a local, which would have meant 4 people in the back seat of an old Toyota Corolla, not comfortable. He told us that unless we pay $15/person, he had to pick someone else up to cover the cost. We relented and said we'd pay 15 soles. The ride from St. Ignacious to Jaen was about 3 hours. Along the way, we were stopped by two guys toting machine guns, who were obviously not police or army. They started spewing stuff in Spanish, but Lisa just kept her mouth shut. The one machine gun dude looked in at us after his speech, we all had dumb looks on our faces, so he let us continue on our way. Lisa remarked afterwards that they were looking for "donations" to help fund road repairs and other road work.When the boy pulled into the collectivo area, we were immediately surrounteded by 5 tuk-tuks. Lisa convinced the driver to take us to the bus depot instead. That wasn't any better. At the "bus depot", there were no busses, only tons of collectivo taxi's and masses of tuk-tuks. When we emerged from the car, they swarmed us. I have no idea how Lisa handled it, but they were all talking to her, telling her different stories....the next bus to Chachapoya doesn't leave until 10:00....there's a roadblock, you can't get through until tomorrow morning....finally one tuk-tuk driver pulls up, upset with everyone else and says "These people are visitors to our city. They just spent hours and hours on the bus. Quit telling them lies and tell them the truth." He told us we could get through, it's no problem.We left the mayhem of the "bus station" and walked down the road, looking for a bus company that we asked some other locals about. They kept pointing us down the street. We kept walking, and finally found it. They have a bus, but it doesn't leave until 10:00pm, and it gets to Chachapoya at like 1:00am, which is no good for us.We walked to a restaurant for something more to eat (almuerzo....again...yuck....), then emerged, and some guy in a mini-van pulled up offering us a ride to the next town, Batua Grande. It was getting late (5:00ish), but we really wanted to reach Chachapoyas tonight. We accepted his offer. His mini-van was really run down and old, as most cars here in Peru seem to be. He picked up other locals on the way.We arrived in Batua Grande after dark, and managed to get another collectivo taxi to take us to Chachapoyas.In Chachapoyas, we got a "posh" hostal for about $10 US each, hot water, TV, free wi-fi. Hostal Revash, right in the centre of town, across from the main square.My first impressions of Peru.It's obviously not nearly as wealthy as Ecuador. I sometimes judge a countries wealth by the number and types of vehicles on the road. In Ecuador, there are a lot of personal cars, and almost all cars are new. Here in Peru, no one has cars. 99% of the cars on the road are taxis and tuk-tuks, and busses and trucks making up the rest.Lots of kids on the street selling stuff. Very similar to Vietnam.Tons and tons of tuk-tuks. Like, I mean tons! I was shocked. Peru could potentially put Thailand to shame when it comes to the number of tuk-tuks on the roads.Harassment. Anyone in the service industry is desparate, and when they see us, they see dollars, and they all converge on us, trying to get us to go with them or buy something from them. Very similar to India in that respect.I expected Peru to be very much like Ecuador...but it's not. My head was spinning at the end of the day.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Goodbye Ecuador

Up about 7:45, packed, had breakfast at another restaurant, then to the bus station to catch a bus back to Loja, then get on our 12:30 bus for Zumba, near the Peruvian border.After Vilcabamba, the road turned to mud from the rain. The bus couldn't make it up!!! He was slip-sliding all over the place. He tried three times, before finally backing down the hill and then stopped and waited. After 20 minutes, he said he was turning back and going back to Loja and started driving. Noooo!!!!! There were about 10 people on the whole bus, so a bunch of locals told the bus driver to stop, they'd pick up a camioneta (truck) instead. They hopped off the bus, and a truck came fairly quickly, and they were off. We discussed what to do and decided to flag down the next bus or camioneta that came along. The bus driver said they'd cover the cost of the bus fare on the other bus. We waited about 30 minutes, and another bus came. We flagged it down, and got on. As we came to the part of road that our first bus couldn't make it up, we crossed our fingers. This bus had a lot more people on it, it was heavier and it made it up! A bit further, we came to a spot where another bus had gone off the road and was stuck in three feet of mud. I hope that doesn't happen to us!AFter dark, the bus ride was pretty crazy. The bus raced along the edges of the mountain, right along the edge of cliffs, teeny bridges, so small, when I looked out the window, I couldn't even see the bridge, just the raging river below.We finally made it to Zumba about 9:00 I think, well after dark, and got a taxi to the "best of the worst" hotels.

Thursday, October 08, 2009


Up around 8:00, packed, went for breakfast, to the bus station and asked some bus companies if they are running tomorrow. Everything is normal, all bus companies have their normal schedule. We want to get to the Peru border tomorrow, so we bought a ticket from Loja to Zumba for 12:30 tomorrow afternoon. Zumba is the closest town to the border, still about 1.5-2 hours away. Then we bought a bus ticket to Zamora to see another part of Parque Nacional Podocarpus today. My Rough Guide says the bus ride from Loja to Zamora is worth the price alone.Lisa got an email from Kirsty, there's apparently protests in Peru too, and she's having problems. She booked a 3 day white water rafting trip and it got cancelled because of protests.The drive to Zamora was awesome. Massive waterfalls, one after another after another, at the edge of the road, huge ferns, etc. Everything you'd expect in a rain forest!Our hostal in Zamora is bottom of the barrel. There aren't that many choices, and Kieran wanted cheap. I've stayed in worse, but the other three were not happy. Jason and Lisa wouldn't even sleep in the bed, instead opting to sleep in their sleeping bags on top of the bed. Cockroaches, mold, dirty floors, piss on the floor of the bathrooms. My bed linens were very clean, though, so I didn't mind.We hired a taxi to take us to the Podocarpus, got there about 2:30, and asked him to pick us up at 6:00.Beautiful rainforest, Lisa and I showered under a massive waterfall. With all the rain that has fallen over the past few days, the rivers are swollen. It rained all morning and stopped when we got to the park, then it started again when we got back.When we got back to town, we went for local food ('s called almuerzo, usually soup, then rice and chicken parts, or a tough piece of beef or a small fish, and a bit of gets old very fast, but it's super cheap).So, our hotel and both meals for $8 today!Back at our room, to distract us from the cockroaches and piss and mold, I had a small bottle of local alcohol I bought before the Galapagos, so we drank that. There's no toilet seat on the toilet either, so Lisa has a tough time squatting over the toilet bowl.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Playing in the Mud

Up about 7:30, all of us (me, Lisa, Jason and Kieran) went for breakfast, then Jason needed to mail his Panama hat he bought, went to the supermarket for hiking food, dropped off laundry, withdrew some money at an ATM, converted some of it to soles (the currency in Peru). Wé'll need some when we go across the border at some small town in the middle of nowhere. We plan on not using one of the popular border crossings.About noon, me, Lisa and Jason got a taxi to Parque Nacional Podocarpus. It was raining when we started and the trail was super wet and muddy. Super nice vegetation, trees, shrubs and everything is green. At the top, it was rainy, misty and cloudy and couldn't see any views. It was a massively hard climb, we were literally climbing vertically in some parts. We actually thought we were lost, Lisa and me were going to turn around after three hours and go back because the trail was neverending up. Jason said "let's just go up this one last hill and see". Which we did. Lo-and-behold, that was the top (the paramo),a nd the trail finally started descending. On the way down, it stopped raining and clouds started to clear and we got some views.We finished hiking around 4:30, and went back to the ranger station, covered in mud. A truck came up, it was the ranger park woman. The taxi driver didn't stop at the main gate for us to pay our park fee ($10) when we came in, so when she found us, she asked us to pay. She then offered us a ride back to Loja, which was awesome, because we would have had to walk 8km to the main highway before flagging down a bus, taking probably 2+ hours extra.We rode back to town in the back of the pick-up, and got dropped off in central Loja, close to our hostal.We picked up our laundry, then back to the hostal and showered. Another girl (Deedee, from Holland) came into our room and asked us if it was safe to walk around Loja at night. We said ya, we thought so, and then invited her to join us for supper, as she was travelling alone. She would meet us back at our room at 7:30 this evening.At 7:30, we went to Parrillada Uruguay for supper. Awesome food!! I don't know if it's authentic Uruguain food, but my steak was superb.At supper, Deedee mentioned that Friday is a holiday, and most bus companies weren't going to be running busses. We had planned on heading to Peru that day. We decided when we got to the bus terminal tomorrow, we would inquire.After supper, we went for ice cream, then to bed after 10:00.One other note, yesterday on the bus, Lisa taught me how to conjugate verbs! I'm getting more smarter!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

To Loja!

Got up, tried to shower, but no hot water. Sad.Lisa and I met Jason and Kieran in front of the tourist info centre and asked about Loja again. The lady and Lisa are becoming very good friends! Good news!!! The buses to Loja are running, the roadblock has been cleared! The indigineous people and the president of Ecuador met yesterday in meetings in Quito, and apparently the president has said that he'll repeal most of the controversial parts of the new water bill or something.We went back to the hostal and packed and arranged to meet Jason and Kieran at the bus station at 12:30.We got a 1:00pm bus to Loja, and arrived there around 6:00. Uneventful bus trip.Got to Hostal Londres ($5 each), went out for pasta for supper, then walked around town, then ice cream, then to bed.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Hiking in Cajas

Up around 8:00, had breakfast, then to the tourist info centre to inquire about the highway to Loja. Still blocked.Lisa and me waited for Jason and Kieran to meet us at our hostal at 10:00am. They got there abou 10:10, we raced to the bus terminal (via taxi) to catch a 10:20 bus to Parque Nacional Cajas. Ended up the 10:20 bus that the tourist info centre told us about does't exist anymore, so we had to wait until a 10:45 bus.It took about 1 hour to reach the park entrance, the bus dropped us off. We paid our $10 park fee to the rangers. They were very excited to see us, and super friendly. They gave us all maps and brochures of the park, asked us how long we wanted to hike for, and recommended a couple of hikes. We did hike number 3 on the map, Valle de Quinas. Very beautiful, it's so high, the vegetation is very tundra like, like you'd see in the high Arctic. We started at an altitude of 4068 metres and our highest point was 4142 metres. It was cold near the top, and cloudy most of the hike, and on and off rain (usually a mist) all day. The altitude kicked me hard. It was hard to go uphill for any sort of time before I was huffing and puffing. I was also slightly dizzy a few times, I was certainly feeling the high altitude. We finished the hike in about 4 hours, the map and the sign said it was a 7 hour hike.We flagged down a bus on the highway to get back to Cuenca, went back to the tourist information centre and asked about Loja again. Still blocked, but she mentioned that there was an indirect route we could take, through Machala, to get to Loja. We went for ice cream, then arranged to meet up with Jason and Kieran at 8:00 for cuy (guinea pig).We went back to our hostal, Lisa showered, then I had no hot water. We walked to Jason and Kieran hostal at 8:00, then to El Maiz for the Ecuadorian specialty, guinea pig (cuy). The waiter said it would take about an hour to prepare, which was fine with us. He said one guinea pig would be enough for all four of us to sample it. We also ordered a regular meal, Lisa got goat. She's being especially experimental with her food tonight!The waiter brought out the cuy when it was done cooking. He brought it out before cutting it up, so we could take pictures. He obviously knew we were tourists trying it for the first time. There was one tooth still in the mouth, it was weird to see.After taking pictures, the waiter took it back to the kitchen and brought it back out cut up. We all grabbed a piece. Lisa loved it. She gorged on it, couldn't get enough. Me, Jason and Kieran, well, we had trouble with it. The skin was like leather, and it was hard to get any substantial meat off of it. Furthermore, for me, I just couldn't get it out of my head that was a guinea pig. Kieran just kept remarking that we were eating vermin, and he wasn't fond of it.After we paid our bill, Lisa asked how it's prepared. The waiter told us that when we ordered it, the guinea pig was still living. They are raised at a farm that the restaurant owner has. When someone orders cuy, they break the neck of the guinea pig, then have to boil it and roast it, and that's why it takes so long to prepare.Afterwards, we went to a microbrewery to hopefully sample some good beer, but they were all out of their home grown beer, except their stout, which is dark, like Guiness.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Around Cuenca

Up at 7:30, had breakfast, then went for a walk in search of a better hostal. Ended up choosing Hostal Majestic (named Casa Naranja in our old guide books), $5 each, but that doesn't include breakfast, and it looks cleaner and the showers look better. The guy at the other hostal was very nice, giving us maps of places to see, areas to stay away from, etc. We felt kind of bad leaving, but since I don't speak Spanish, Lisa had to play bad cop.After getting to our new hostal, we walked all around town, flower market, Cathedral Nueva (huge church...there was a huge mass going on there when we walked in), soccer stadium (trying to see if we could see a soccer game), some Inca ruins, the university, had Mexican food for lunch, spent lots of time on the internet, had ice cream, and later in the evening met up with Jason (from Black Sheep Inn) and another guy, Keiran (Irish) for french fries and a beer.We checked in at the tourist information centre in town, the roads to Loja are still blocked.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Cuenca Try Number 2

Up about 8:00, Lisa and me walked around looking for someplace to have breakfast. Lisa bought a couple of newpapers to see what she could find out about the road closures and protests. Over breakfast, Lisa read the papers. There's numerous road closures around Ecuador (including the one we were on), but the paper didn't mention anything about anyone being shot yesterday. One person did die (and numerous injured) last Wednesday at a different road block, and the worst of it was happening on the road between Puyo and Macas, where indigineous people have blocked 3km of the highway by covering it in rocks, dirt and trees. That would explain all the riot police Lisa and Jason saw in Puyo on their bike ride. Apparently the indigineous people are very upset, and are talking war, they have tied red ribbons to their spears.We headed to the bus station and inquired about getting to Cuenca again. The road is still closed, but they said the best way would to take a bus towards Guayaquil, and get off at km26, stand by the side of the highway and wait for a bus going to Cuenca. It would be an extra 2 hours (at least) on the bus trip, but we decided to do it.The bus left at 10:30. Beautiful scenery, the highway snakes along the edge of the mountains. As we were going through the mountains, the bus suddenly stopped. The local woman beside me stood up, said something to me in Spanish, with an upset look, and slapped her hand on her leg, in frustration. I said, "No hablo español" and looked at Lisa, who asked her. Road block!!!!Fortunately, this road block was just construction and we were on our way within 20 minutes. There were lots of more stops for construction. Of course, all the hawkers know where the stops are, so when we pull up to one, they all flock onto the bus, selling water, juice, bananas, ice cream, chocolate and various other snacks. At some stops, locals have even setup little BBQ's, and are selling BBQ meat on a stick.When we came out of the mountains to the plains, it got very hot, lots and lots of banana plantations and some huge Dole factories.At km26, we got off, and waited by the side of the road. I'm sure all the locals were wondering what the heck these two whities were doing here, standing on the side of the highway. Haha.We waited about 20 minutes, and a bus for Cuenca came by, we flagged it down, and it stopped for us. We were soon climbing the mountains again, road stops periodically for construction. They are upgrading all their highways right now, so much construction.The highway passes through Parque Nacional Cajas, and it's beautiful, very high, ragged mountains and lakes, with most of the park at an elevation greater than 4000 metres.We finally got to Cuenca about 7:00pm.When we got off the bus, a local sold us on his hostal, Casa Sol, for $6 each, including breakfast. It ended up being a big dive.We went to Cafe Eucalyptus for an awesome supper, on the way back, we ran into a big fiesta outside Santa Domingo church, lots of people, dancing, tons of fireworks, a priest was the DJ, and he was a dance king too, picking randoms (both locals and tourists) out of the crowd and dancing with them. It was hilrious. They also had this huge, 30 foot structure made of bamboo. It was also covered in firecrackers and fireworks. Near the end, they lit it on fire. Now, there are no safety laws or anything here, and we were about 10 feet away from this structure. As soon as they lit it on fire, sparks and booms and smoke was everywhere, everyone got scared and started to back up. I was scared! Fireworks started shooting off this thing in all directions, into the crowds, up in the air, into buildings (including the church), it was awesome bbut totally scary!After that, went back to the hostal and to bed.

Friday, October 02, 2009

What Happened on the Way to Cuenca

Up at 7:30, showered, had breakfast, then Lisa ad me walked to the bus depot, saying goodbye to Kirsty. Kirsty is nearing the end of her travels, so she's off to Cusco (Peru) in a couple of days to see Macchu Pichu, then back to Canada. Lisa and I are headed to Cuenco.We caught a 9:00am bus from Baños to Ambato, then a bus from Ambato to Riobamba, then another bus from Riobamba to Cuenco.Beautiful scenery, huge mountains, deep valleys. They cultivate everything here, right up to the tops of the mountains, and on steep angles, greater than 45 degrees. It's crazy.It's about a 6 hour bus ride from Riobamba to Cuenca. At Zhud, about 4.5 hours into the trip, traffic started to get backed up. Our bus driver was aggressive, and started to pass all the stopped traffic. There was lots of road construction. We leap-frogged ahead a kilometre or two, then were forced to stop. There's nothing moving up ahead, and no one knows why. Some of the locals on the bus were making calls, the bus dudes were on their cell phones. After 30 minutes of the standstill, stories started to emerge that the police had shutdown the highway. Our bus dudes announced they were turning around and going back to Riobamba. All the locals on the bus got upset, and most got off and started walking. We didn't know what to do. It was late, about 5:00ish, not much sunlight left, and the other backpackers on the bus (3 others) decided to stay on the bus with the few locals that didn't walk. Lisa and I were discussing staying in one of the small town near here, and catching a bus the following day. Lisa started talking to a local woman on the bus, who said this part of Ecuador is unsettled right now, and it wouldn't be recommended to stay here. Then we heard that someone had been shot on the highway ahead.....Now, I'm going to backtrack a bit. When we were on the plane either going to or coming back from the Galapagos, Kirsty picked up a local newspaper, and there was some stories about protests over water rights in Ecuador. Some indigenous groups are upset over something about water in Ecuador, and there had been some protests in some of the Ecuadorian cities. Furthermore, when we were at the Black Sheep Inn, the two Americans (the ones that didn't have enough money to pay), were heading south to teach English in Loja, but they was also stories that the teachers are upset over some changes to the education system, and they have been trying to organize a strike in some Ecuadorian cities.Back to the present, and another woman showed up on the bus, she said she just walked 60km to get to our side of the roadblock. She started walking at 11:00am that morning, so the road had been shut down since at least 11:00am.We decided to stay on the bus and go back to Riobamba, as there's no saying how long the road would be shut. The bus driver was FLYING back to Riobamba, and we made it back in record time, got back about 9:00pm. At the bus station, one of the couples on the bus recommended Hostal Oasis, so the 5 backpackers taxi'd there. The taxi driver mentioned that protests have been happening since Monday.Very nice hostal!Lisa and I discussed what we should do tomorrow, and we're not sure!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Mountain Biking

Bloody hell. I was woke up at 5:30am by a marching band and what sounded like a cannon firing, over and over. It finally stopped after 6:00, and I fell back asleep.Up around 9:00, had breakfast, then met Jason at 10:00 am and rented mountain bikes. We biked from Baños east out of the mountains toward Puyo, on the edge of the Amazon basin. Awesome scenery, lots of waterfalls, including Pailon Del Diablo, an awesome thundering waterfall, where you can actually climb in behind the waterfall.Kirsty and me made it to the 40km mark (about 4:00pm), where the road then starts to climb. The seats on the bikes were terrible, and my ass was killing was me. Lisa and Jason decided to continue the uphill road to Puyo. Kirsty and me caught a truck back for $2 each.Kirsty and me waited for Lisa and Jason at the hostal, they got back about 7:00pm. They ended up paying $20 to get back from Puyo. They arrived in Puyo just before dark, and Lisa mentioned there was lots of police in Puyo, with riot gear ready (like those big shields). We had noticed a significant police presence in Baños today too, they're all over the place. We were curious as to why.The four of us went for gross burgers and beer, then we used Jason's Macbook to transfer pictures between memory cards. I put a copy of all my pictures onto Kirsty's memory card (which is actually mine, that I loaned her), and she's going to take them all back to Canada, so I have a backup.Around 6:00pm, while we were waiting for Lisa and Jason to get back, the band and cannon started up again. Kirsty was outside, and she came back to the hostal and remarked that it was firecrackers, not a cannon. It sure is loud, though. Obviously some sort of fiesta.