Sunday, September 26, 2010

It´s a Big Blue Watery Road

Que tal huellones?

We made it through our boat trip to the San Blas islands alive! It was some rough going living in paradise but we did it.

We left on Saturday the 18th on a boat called Sacanagem captained by a French Brasilian named Frederico. Frederico has 35 years of experience on the water so we felt pretty confident that we were choosing a good boat. It´s a 40 something foot long single hulled sail boat and it ¨comfortably¨fit 10 people plus the captain and his nephew who was Frederico´s assistant. On the trip there were 5 French, 2 Australians, an Irishman and us the 2 Americans. Three of the French were traveling together and the other two were a couple.

We set off and opened up the trip with some outrageous sunsets as we left the bay in Cartagena. The first 2 days were on open sea with nothing to do but sit and talk. Unfortunately there was a major language barrier given 5 French and 5 English speakers were on board. In usual French fashion all 5 of them spoke English very well but they refused to do so most of the time. Bree had a pretty hard time with the first two days and feeling sea sick but she found a spot where she could lay and not feel too bad. About 6 hours into the second day our Irish friend told everyone he can´t swim. Given that 90% of the trip is based around activities involving swimming we were pretty baffled at his decision to come on the trip.

Going apparently was pretty slow and we were supposed to arrive on Monday morning but we instead made it at like 3 pm. At one point the water was really calm so we put down the sails and shot off the motor and jumped in and it was amazing to finally get in the water after 2 days of staring at it. When we got back on board Frederico told us the water was nearly 1000 meters deep where we jumped in. Glad we didn´t know that before hand. The first island we went to, called Holandes by the Spanish, was completely empty and we spent the afternoon snorkeling in the bathwater warm ocean and made a fire on the beach where we roasted kebabs for dinner and started our party celebrating our arrival. The French couple was very intelligent and brought camping gear and spent the night on the island in there tent. Bree and I were jealous we didn´t think of it.

The next morning we woke up to a great pancake breakfast and did some more snorkeling before shoving off to the second island. The second island was inhabited by the Kuna people who own the San Blas islands. The islands are actually called the Kuna Yala now but they are still referred to as the San Blas. The people make there money selling goods to travelers and charging people for docking inside the reefs. They also sell beer and snacks to boaters. The second island was a blast since we had a lot more time there. We were walking around the island when there was a down pour so sat down in the water and stayed warm while watching the rain. Since the water is so flat the rain drops plopping into the sea was really cool to see.

The third day we spent at the same islands until the late afternoon doing the same old relaxing in paradise that we had been doing before. Eventually we made our way to el Porvenir which is one of the last islands where Frederico went and got our passports stamped so we could enter Panama. We went to the main Kuna island and walked around meeting the indigenous people and seeing their culture. If we wanted to a guy offered for us to spend the next night there and he would give us 3 meals. It was a tempting offer but after 5 days of essentially having paradise to ourselves we didn´t feel like being swamped by local kids.

That night Frederico made an insanely good dinner using fresh octopus he bought and we had one last hurrah before we woke up in the morning to head to Panama City. We woke up in got in speed boat and were whisked away to the main land and then brought up a river where a bunch of 4x4s were waiting to pick us up. We thought we were done with curving mountain roads on this trip but no we had 2 more hours. At least this time we were in a Toyota Land Cruiser. We were driving along when we saw another car stopped ahead of us and so we stopped and there was a sloth in the middle of the road.

There isn´t much to update about Panama City. It´s just another city. Bree´s friend from college flew down and is traveling with us for a week. We went to the Panama Canal which was pretty interesting to see how it works.

We are in a town called Boquete for the day before we head to Bocas del Toro. Boquete is the home to some of the best coffee in the world which is pretty exciting. We went to a hot spring today and there was a monkey hanging around and playing with us which was a blast. Everyone at the hostel here gets along really well so we are having a huge bbq tonight. Tomorrow we leave for Bocas del Toro for another week in the Caribbean.

Saturday, September 18, 2010



We are in Cartagena, Colmbia which is by far my favorite place this trip. It feels like it should be in Cuba! The amazing old Spanish architecture here makes the city feel like it`s back in the 1700s. There is even an old city wall with cannons to keep out the pirates! Particullarly Francis Drake who seized this city 3 times in the 1500s.

The weather here is soooooo hot and humid. I constantly feel sticky from the humidity. I feel Ryan`s pain in Ghana since we are around the same lattitude. The ocean is like swimming in bath water so that`s no relief. You can take a cold shower but you come out of the shower swetting. We`ve found there are three solutions.
1) Ice cold beer (80 cents)
2) Ice cold fresh maracuya (passion fruit) smoothies (1 dollar)
3) Ice cold fresh maracuya smoothies made with Rum. (2 dollars)
As you can see poor us are forced to drink deliciously cold cheap beer under palm trees all day to save money and stay cool! Oh what a life it is here in the carribbean.

Yesterday we went to the Volcàn del Totumo which is a 60 ft tall mud volcano. It`s litterally a volcano made out of mud. Inside it has thereputic mud baths. It`s this thick thick thick grey mud and you jump in and a local starts massaging you. They say this service is optional but it`s hard to tell them no. So allegedly this pit is about 200 meters deep but it`s nearly impossible to sink to below your shoulders. The mud is always pushing you up. After a nice massage we played around in the mud for a while trying to dunk eachother completely under. You can push someone to about their neck when they start coming back up. It`s a strange feeling to be suspended in mud.

Today is a very big day because we are off on our 5 day trip to Panama. We are taking a sail boat from Cartagena to the San Blas islands off the coast of Panama. We will have 2 days on the open ocean and then monday morning we arrive at the islands. We spend the next three days hopping from remote island to remote island swimming, snorkeling, fishing, hanging out by a fire, and meeting the indigenous tribes. We arrive on the final island which is actually quite large and close to Panama on Thursday morning. We apparently can rent a hammoc and have 3 meals with a local family on the beach so we will stay there Thursday night. Friday we fly to Panama city and meet Bree`s friend Sarah who is flying in to spend a week with us.

So until next time I`ll be out on the open sea unleashing my inner pirate.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Machu Picchu on a Budget

Hello again,

I am now writing from Lima where we will be for a day before flying to Bogotá, Colombia.

We had a blast in Cuzco. Relaxing, checking out the architecture, hanging out in the hostel`s garden, and enjoying some of the best food we`ve had on the trip. On our first day we were exploring the wonderfuly full of tourists Plaza de Armas in the center of the old city when Bree looked over and said, Hey I know them! It turns out that our Aussie and Kiwi friends from BsAs, Zac and Antionette, were lounging on a park bench in Cuzco. This was the second time we have seen them since Cuzco, the first at the bus station in Salta when we were arriving and they were leaving. We spent several days enjoying the wonderfully cheap and delicious meals and drinks around the city with them. (ex, $1.50 for a 3 course vegetarian meal with tea and $5 for an all you can eat Indian Buffet that was some of the best Indian I have ever had)

Come Thursday we decided it was time for us to get off our rears and go to Machu Picchu. Bree and I both were reluctant since we enjoyed Cuzco so much. So from asking around it became apparent that the cheapest way to do Machu Picchu is to take a bus from Cuzco to a town called Santa Maria. From Santa Maria you need to take a collectivo to Santa Teresa since the roads are too bad for busses to go on. From Santa Teresa you take another collectivo to the Hidroelectrica power station and train station. From there you walk the rails to Aguas Calientes, also called Machu Picchu Pueblo where you spend the night and the next day head up the mountain to the ruins.

The estimated time and cost of this journey is
Cuzco => Santa Maria 4.5 hrs 15-20 soles
Sta Maria => Sta Teresa 1.5 hrs 7-10 soles
Sta Teresa => Hidroelectrica => .5 hrs 5-7 soles
Hidroelectrica => Aguas Calientes => 2.5 hrs Free!

that´s a total of 9 hours and 27 - 37 soles or $9.50- $13.00 plus accomidations and food in Aguas Calientes, which has a reputation for being a dump but a very expensive dump given that it exists only for tourists visiting the ruins. Also visiting Machu Picchu costs like $45 (I had my student ID and got it for half price Wooo!)

So we hop up out of our beds at 5am on Thursday, rummage around getting a small backpack packed and are out the door by 6 to get to the bus station by 6:30 for a 7am bus for which we paid 18 soles. The bus, of course, doesn´t leave until 7:30 but no big deal, hey it´s Peru nothing is on time. So off we are trucking along on some nasty mountain roads. Nothing like our road trip in Argentina, the drop offs here were sometimes so far you couldn´t see the bottom. Like if we slipped we would be tumbling for 1000 meters. So we´re going then all of a sudden the bus stops and there is a line of cars in the middle of a town of 2 restaurants and stores. I assume that it´s some kind of police control. They are all over the place in South America, a cop gets on and asks for everyones ID they ask the gringos what they are doing and then they give the IDs back and we are all on our way. But no. This was construction. The bus doors open and they say if we want to get some food or go to the bathroom we should. We get out and walk to the public bathrooms and met 2 Kiwi dudes who were on motorcylces and had been since Alaska. Crazy dudes. They say they have been stopped for an hour. We went back to the bus and ate our lunch that we packed and a tour van in front of us said he talked to the ¨guys¨and it would be another 40 minutes or so until we left. From there he said it would take about an hour and a half to reach Sta Maria. He said he had 2 spots open in his bus if we wanted a ride directly to Hidroelectrica all we had to do was pay him 25 soles each. We politely declined his invitation.

About an hour later the bus was moving again, an hour delay isn`t that bad we thought. We only needed to make it to Aguas Calientes before dark and we had plenty of day light left. Then the bus went about a mile then stopped again, this time for 20 minutes. Then we went about half a mile and stopped again for another half hour. This happened so many times that we didn´t make it to Santa Marta until 3:30 pm when we were supposed to be there at 11:30. Way to go Peru!!! The construction in the road was very long term and the bus drivers knew about it and apparently so does everyone. But would it kill the ticket office to tell us this? No they just want us to buy our ticket.

At Santa Marta, Bree, two French girls from our bus, and I attempted to bargain a collectivo down to a good price. Their response was hey, we`ve already worked today and you are our last ride we don`t have to go to Santa Teresa. You do. So we ended up paying 10 sol each (it seems kind of silly haggling over equates to a dollar but it adds up in the end). Our driver was very friendly and he got us to Sta Teresa in good time. We got out and got into our next collectivo after agreeing to a price of 5 sol each. We leave and he starts driving around the plaza trying to find a 5th passenger so that the price will be 5 sol each. He says if we want to leave right away it will be 7 sol each otherwise we are getting a 5th passenger. I told him he already told us 5 sol each but he said that was with 5 passengers. My respone to him doesn´t exactly translate to English and lets just leave it at that.

We did end up paying the extra 2 sol each and made it to Hidroelectrica station at 5pm. We had a 2.5 hour walk from there and about 1.5 hours of light left. Luckily there is a path that follows along the rail tracks and it is very easy and well marked with no climbing. We walk for about 2 minutes when I realized that my camera was neither in my backpack nor in any of my pockets. I yelled something to the extent of AFI"YRFJALKJF!=)"U. So I lost my camera. there it goes never to be seen again. Either it got stolen or it fell onto a seat somewhere and I didn´t see it or it´s still hiding in some microscopic crevice of my backpack. The good news is that Bree still has her camera and has about 6000 more photos then I did. We decided there are essentially four things I had that she didn`t: photos of the Recoleta cemetary in BsAs, some photos from Iguazu but not many, photos of our awesome trek in Cafayate, and photos/videos of the band we saw in Pumamarca. It would have been much worse if we lost Bree`s camera but still it sucks big time.

Back to the story at hand. So it`s about 5 pm and we are walking along the trail next to the railroad and luckily it is an incredibly beautiful landscape and it only took about an hour for me to be distracted from my rage at losing my camera. We are walking with the 2 French girls and about 6 other people on the same route as us. It starts to get dark but it`s still quite nice and there are fireflys lighting the path and you can hear the river running over rocks and all in all it`s quite peaceful. Eventually it gets seriously dark and Bree and I pull out our handy dandy head lamps to light the way. Of the group of 12 only 5 people had lights including us. I really don`t understand how you can be traveling and not have a flashlight or head lamp but I digress.

We arrived in Aguas Calientes after walking through a few tunnels and decide that, yup, it is a dump just like everyone says. Luckily one of the guys walking with us was a Peruvian and he knew a guy who knew a guy who got us a sweet deal on a hostel for 10 soles a night and we had a 2 course meal for 8 soles. (For soles devide by 3 and add a little bit). So a trip that should have taken 9 hours took about 14! Once again, go Peru!

So the thing to do at Machu Picchu is to wake up at like 4 am and zip up the trail as fast as you can to get into the ruins before sun rise so you can climb Wayna Picchu. Wayna Picchu overlooks the ruins and it`s supposedly beautiful and an amazing experience to see the sunrise over Machu Picchu. Bree and I set our alarm for 4 am and then it went off and we said, ¨Naaah¨and went back to sleep until like 5:30. We also decided to take the bus up to the mountain because the thought of hiking straight up for 2 hours at 6am was horrible. The good thing was that we got there before the rush. Before the rush still means that there are several hundred people there. But the ruins are huge and impressive and yadda yadda it`s exactly what you would expect it to be. Not that it wasn`t amazing but it also wasn`t more amazing then we expected. I guess we have been so used to being overly wowed by everything that something that actually met expectations instead of exceeding them was a bit of a downer. We spent about 2 hours roaming the mountain top and then hiked our way back down. At this point it was about 10 am. We had talked to someone who said train rides back were pretty cheap and considering another 14 hour journey back to be dropped off at the bus station in a sketchy area again was a depressing idea.

So we bought some cheap tickets for the last train back to Cuzco (actually to a Puyon, a `burb of Cuzco about 20 minutes away) . We had some coffee and enjoyed the beautiful weather while marveling at the scenery being ruined by the horrible tourist town of Aguas Calientes. (We also got 2 liters of beer for 10 soles Heyooo!) Eventually our train left and everything was going well until we stopped. We were stopped for like 15 minutes and all the train stewards and stewardesessess were running around on their walkie-talkies. Again we were stopped for construction!! This time on the train rails!! They said 30 minutes which obviously meant over an hour. Eventually we started moving again and then we stopped and went backwards! We got into the town at like 1030, got into a collectivo, and got to our hostel by 11:15 pm. About the same time as we would have if we had just walked and taken the bus. Luckily our collectivo to Cuzco from Puyon was free.

So we were finally back in Cuzco, which is by far my favorite place we have been on this trip. We spent the next morning hanging out with our friends from our hostel. One of which is a dude named Jared from Nashua, NH who now lives on the Virgin Islands. He gave us his card and said we should come hang out in the islands for a while, maybe work in his restuarant. We said goodbye to everyone and went and had lunch with Ant and Zac, who were still in Cuzco getting ready for a 3 day white water rafting trip, at our favorite Kebab joint. We bid them adeu as well and said we would see them later given that we continually run into them on this trip. Even though they are heading back South and we are heading North.

Our bus to Lima left at 2 pm and actually left on time. It even arrived early into Lima this morning. For once something in Peru worked as they said it would. (This company actually advertises punctuality because it is not a given here). So if anyone is traveling around Peru, check out Cruz del Sur who were the best company we have had in all of South America.

Peru has given us the best bus rides and the worst. We have been ripped off but we have also been helped out. We´ve been lied to countless times but we´ve also been given great deals and met incredibly genuine people. Oh Peru how I can´t wait to leave you, butll miss you when I´m gone.

Tomorrow night we fly to COLOMBIA!