Thursday, October 18, 2007

South/Cental/North America #17 - Venezela > USA

Photos: USA
1. Caracas
2. Denver
3. Monarch
4. Durango
5. Mesa Verde NP
6. Arches & Canyonlands NP
7. Bryce, Zion NP & Antelope Slot Canyon
8. Grand Canyon
9. Sequia & Kings Canyon NP
10. Yosemite & San Francisco

Well I guess this could be the last of the emails to you all as I have finally ended the journey that I originally set out to achieve, it changed numerious times (just ask Lan Chile my airline) took untold twists but on the whole was one great adventure.

I hope that all is well where ever this may find you.

Grab a coffee and get comfortable. Well I left for el capital of Ven. and had no worries leaving almost straight away. I was sad to say goodbye to my adopted continent, but yes I vow to return somwday soon. I know that I am lucky to spend a year here but believe it or not there are still so many places to explore and now so many friends to visit..don't worry I will give you some warning before turning up.

So onto the USA, and in one year nothing stolen..until I arrived in Dallas airport and someone slashed open my bag and took my mobile and some other things that AA will replace...crazy no?

Met Mum and Dad at the airport, great to see them again after 1 year. Jumped in the rent a car and took off for a view of the very different and I have to say sterile Denver. Set off up into the rockies and onto Monarch, a small ski resort where I had a perfect days skiing.

Next up off on the Durango - Silverton steam train, something my father had been wanting to do for 20 years, he was like a kid in a candy store. Great ride up the narrow canyon, how they built these things I never know, still huge sections of snow and a lot of fun.

We then drove over to fasinating cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde and on to Arches NP where the camera got a good work out as sunset lit up strange the red rock formations. Very beautiful. Out to Canyonlands NP, great to see the canyons from above, especially Dead Horse creek lookout.

Drove through some great desert and canyon regions, past plenty of crazy American towns that everyone just seems to collect old cars and leave them in their yards and onto Bryce Canyon. Snow was falling and though we missed sunset it was nice to see the fresh snow fall on the "Hoodoos" or rock pillars that Bryce is famous for. I woke early the next day for sunrise that was spectacular, cold as it was (-10) but worth to see the light changing through the valley. Dad and I hiked down into the canyon for a nice walk amoungst the hoodoos and then joined Mum for the valley rim lookouts, most of which Mum could not see over as the snow was too thick.

Out to the amazingly huge Zion NP with the massive valley walls and crashing waterfalls. I draged Dad up the Angels Landing a walk that has you cross a 2m wide rock ledge with 400m drop on either side and then up a knife edge to a great view back down the valley. The old fella still can hike with the best of them.

Off next to Antelop slot canyon, an extremely tight canyon with light only filtering through around midday, absolutely beautiful. That afternoon we drove to Grand Canyon and enjoyed the views from the South Rim and a spectacular sunset. Work the next morning and dispite the numerous warning decided to hike the canyon in a day, an amazing walk down through the canyon, past the countless rock layer changes, spires of ancient rock and finally at the bottom the colarado river the water way that created it all. The hike out up a different trail was great, long but worth it, then off to watch the sun play its daily show on the rock formations.

Made our way over to Secquia NP and sat back and admired the huge 2500 year old trees, the largest living things on the planet. I went for a walk in the snow, got lost and fell over an embankment but a great day out. The trees are so huge and the largest grows up to the weight of a 20m tree per year.

We took off again to Yosemite, one of the best valleys in the world. a place that everyone should see in there life. Dad and I hiked up to the top of Yosemite Falls, I was looking to find a mountain lion Dad just trying to catch his breath as we ascented the 800 vertical metre cliff.

Off to San Francisco where I met up with my good friends Mark and Julia, I am staying at their place for the next three weeks. I have missed my good friends so much and count down the days when I can see them all again. Sad to say farewell to Mum and Dad again as they are off to Hong Kong to visit my brother Andrew.

So what now you all ask? I do not know, in fact I have no idea, so ask me about the past and not the future.

I hope that you have all enjoyed my little jaunt through South America and one day we will meet again. If any one is travelling through these places and wants some ideas feel free to ask. Hopefully hear or even better see you all soon...


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

South/Cental America #16 - Columbia > Venezuela

Photos: Columbia | Venezuela

1. The Lost City
2. Coro
3. Caracas
4. Puerto La Cruz
5. Cumana - Araya
6. Rio Caribe
7. Cumana
8. Carupano
9. Salto Angel

The weary traveller is back again with another tale to get you out of the office chairs and into that Qantas jet to see the world and experince some things that are totally different...

After leaving Cartagena, we moved along to Santa Marta and booked ourselves into the Lost City tour, for the reason of Cam having to catch a flight we convinced the guide to let us squish 6 days into 4. So we set off into the highlands of Columbia, yes we know this is the trail that the 10 tourists where kidnapped on 2 years ago and it is full of FARC, paramilitaries and all of the other groups that love to create havoc in Columbia but we were promised a safe journey. On the way up we almost went off the edge of a cliff in the jeep, walked and walked for the first day passing numerous villages with the local Tayrona people who´s ancestors built the city. Second day up and over mountains, down into muddy valleys and finally after 7 hrs, 8 river crossings and then literally out of the river a set of 1000 year old stairs going directly up the mountain, 3000 in total and yes we were very tired but also enthralled by the city.

Set a top a mountain ridge the city sprawls out across a couple of round terraces with the main plaza totally cleared. Other terraces are still yet to be uncovered from the thick jungle. In my limited knowledge you can see the Mayan influence in the buildings (these are 500 years before the Incan Empire). A great view across the valley and beside the mosquitos that I decided have been left there to protect the place it is amazing. I calcualted that only 30,000 people have ever been to this place, makes it really special. A long hike back down to the camp and after Alberto operated on a guy with a machette wound we rested. Next morning...

We took off to a operating cocain factory, yes that is right for only $10 we were shown from start to finish how to make cocain, in fact see the photo for final proof. But no I did not try and after you see what goes into it - diseal fuel, construction lime, sulphic acid and the stuff they use to clean blood from abatoir floors (this is the 95% pure stuff by the way, what you buy in NY,
London etc is far worse) - I never want to hear anyone trying it.

We felt safe here, but check first as there are problems.

A sad, sad farewell to Alberto, in 2 months he has become a very close friend, a great travelling companion and I will surely miss him (somewhere sometime we will meet again). Cam and I took off for Venezuela and found oursleves after a long day, crossing the border saw us getting checked for our passports 15 times in two hours and two complete bag searches, anyone would think that we had been to a cocain factory or something =) We arrived late but found a good hotel in Coro, next day wandered out to the sand dunes, searched long and hard to change some money and did some shopping. Next off to Caracas were we wandered around, not a great deal to see. Cam left from here, yes very sad to see my brother depart, he really wanted to stay and by the sounds of things will be back within 6 months.

So back by myself again and I took off for Puerto La Cruz with the dream of sailing for the next month around the Caribean. Searched for a boat but no one leaving so I visited some close islands with some locals, nice beaches and great clear water. Then left for Santa Fe a great little seaside town with 4 pousadas right on the sand. I spent the next 4 days chilling out, making some more buddies (another Swiss guy from Zurich of course and some German girls). Stefan and I took off to Cumana and spent the day at the salt mines and the nearby beach of Araya that I loved, white white sand and a beautiful fort sitting above, a great spot to chill out.

Then moved on to Rio caribe and the famous beaches of Medina and Pui-Pui that though difficult to get to they certainly were worth it. Had a typical Venezuelan day at the beach in Medina, brandy on the truck ride in, whiskey on the beach and beers on the way home. But the guys I met were fantastic, fed me food and invited me to stay with them in Carupano for carnival.

I went back to Cumana to see some friends and then off to Carupano for Carnival. Well not quite on the scale of Rio it was a good bit of fun, dancing in the streets to trucks with sound systems larger then the Empire State, it was a great time. The floats were a bit disappointing and I have never seen so many transexuals. very strange how accepted thy are in theis macho society.

I left for there for a hell ride across the country to the jumping off point for Angel Falls. Arrived late at night and immediately a tourist guide knocked on the door and at 6am I was off. Flew into a small village Canaima, situated on a lagoon with 4 thunderous waterfalls dumping into it, amazing location. Spent the afternoon visiting the local falls, some you could walk behind. Then in the morning took a 4 hour canoe ride up the river, a great journey through the Tepuis (flat top mountains) seeing great rainforest, amazing bizzare mountains and countless huge waterfalls. But of course nothing compares to Angel Fall, 983m vertical drop and we were lucky at this time of year as normally there is very little water. Run up to the lookout and sat in awe of the dispaly in front of us.

I am now chilling out and back up at the beaches and bying time until I meet up with Mum and dad in Denver on the 25th Feb. I may head on up to Miami for a few days depending on a friend that is there.

Miss you all and let me know how you have has been 351 days since I left.


Thursday, October 04, 2007

South/Cental America #15 - Costa Rica > Panama > Columbia

Photos: Costa Rica | Panama | Columbia

1. La Fortuna
2. Monteverde
3. San Jose
4. Puerto Viejo
5. Isla Bastimento
6. Panama City
7. Colon
8. San Blas Islands
9. Cartagena

Merry Christmas to all and a Happy New Years.

I certainly have had a different year this year and I definately had a different Christmas and New Years but more of that in a little while. First and foremost a big congratulations to some of my best friends Glenn and Katie on their engagement. wish I was there to help celebrate.

Me, well another couple of countries have found their way into my passport and the legs keep on trudging along, 10 months or 300 days days have passed since I left my beloved shores of Sydney but I have hardly suffered.

After leaving school we crossed the border in Costa Rica and immediately felt the change of the people, economy and the influx of tourists, we took off for La Fortuna to glimpse one of the worlds most active volcanos, but only saw cloud. So we went to see a cloud forest near Monteverde, and only saw cloud, oh and rain. So no volcanos and no pristine forest, and after meeting an American girl Tanya it was not hard for her to convince us to go to the beach, 5 hours later we were sitting on the Pacific beaches of Costa Rica, long cresent baeches with palms supporting our hammocks and pina coladas watching sunset and I think we made the right move. Alberto was eager to talk to three Italian ladies we met and we all went horse riding through the jungle and finally along the beach at full pace with the sun setting on another day, loved it.

We then had to go and meet Cam (my brother) in San Jose, great to see him again and I am sure that we will be having some funny adventures over the next 5 weeks. We had one day in San Jose and managed to meet up with a local girl who in the space of 12 hours, bought us a coffee each, invited us around to dinner (we all cooked) and then took us out to some great clubs in San Jose...we came within a whisker of getting her to drive us the 5 hours to the next location, Puerto Viejo. San Jose I think has more Americans than most of the US, it was crazy how many of them have moved down there.

PV is a great town on the Carribean coast (yes we can not get enough of the beaches), great culture of the Garifuna people (rastas) and some great surf. The only problem is that the rain was bucking down and we had to wait it out....the three brothers (Alberto, Cameron and I) were joined by Ti from Sacremento and Marjolein from Holland so the waiting was not too bad. One of the best days in ages was spent cycling along the coast, we saw a lot of monkeys, some sloths (had been searching for them for ages) and went for a great body surf in some almost perfect waves.

Next up we took a bus, taxi, boat, boat combination to some amazing islands on the Carribean coast of Panama. Staying on a small island certainly has some advantages, no roads, beaches to only yourself and your buddies, invitations to multiple Christmas parties. Days on the beach after walking 15 minutes through the hills covred in lush forest with mud up too your shins and then appearing before a great break in the warm Carribean waters. Christmas Eve we went out to the bigger of the islands....and did not return until 4am.

So Christmas was a little shaky to begin with and then add in the island traditions and it was cornflakes a coffee and then the first of many rum and cokes thrown into our hands. The rest of the day was spent walking from house to house requesting food and trying to not accept more rum and cokes. It was a Christmas that was certainly different.

I got to celebrate 300 days on the road with a 10 hr bus ride across Panama (I hope that is the last big bus trip) and arrived in Panama City and immediately wished I was back on the islands. we asked around for some work through the canal, but none to be had so we visted the locks, really cool to see one of the modern wonders of the world as two super tankers passed through. Moved onto Colon, which is really a huge getto, one of the few places that I was worried walking down the streets during the day. We asked and asked again for a boat ride across to Columbia but ended up having to pay this crazy Swedish guy to take us over...

Well drama after drama unfolded on our little boat, changed plains, lost communication channels and well a great deal of fun. We finally set off and stayed the night in Portobella, arriving after a beautiful sunset and slept the night in a secluded bay. Woke early the next day and sailed for 25 hours straight, big waves and always into the wind made the going slow and somewhat upsetting to the stomach, Alberto turned a little green and slept most of the day. Yes folks this was New Years eve and at the stroke of midnight 2005 I was at the wheel of a 40´ boat sailing directly into the moonlight as my brother and great friend slept below, but it is a NY that I will never forget, very beautiful.

We arrived at the islands of San Blas and they are amazing, a chain of 360 islands scattered along the coast of Panama, some only big enough for two palm trees (prefect for the hammock). We sailed through to a safe caye (Holondaise), spent the day swimming, snorkling and collecting cocnuts. We planned on leaving the next morning but the winds had increase so we waited out the day by more snorkling and laying around in paradise...Hasse the captain refused to put the dingy in the water so we had to swim everwhere (remind you of anything Rob and Glenn). We waited another day and with the reports of continued winds of 60km/hr and 4 metre waves we gave up and fly back to Panama City and then within the hr we were on a plane bound for Columbia.

I never thought that this country would be so beautiful, so safe and the people so friendly. The place is great, I feel safer here that 80% of the other places I have been. The old town of Cartagena is amazing and we have been out and about checking out the sights and visiting the night spots to all hours of the morning. The women here are also challenging the Argentinians at the worlds most beautiful women competition...Cam has whiplash from walking down the street.

As they say in Costa Rica ¨Pura Vida¨ or The Pure Life, this is certainly summing up my time at the moment and I do not forget that I am exremely fortunate to have this chance in life.

Photos attached ::


& Los tres hermanos de pura vida - The three brothers of the pure life

Monday, September 24, 2007

South/Cental America #14 - Guatemala > Nicaragua

Photos: Guatemala |Nicaragua

1. Xela
2. San Pedro de Atitlan
3. Rio Dulce
4. Livingston
5. Leon
6. Granada
7. Isla Ometepe
8. San Juan del Sur


Once again I hope that everyone is fine and looking forward to a break at Christmas...I for one certainly are, I really think this year I need a holiday.

Well James took off and so I was on the search again for a travelling buddy and convinced Tyler form the US to come on a 3 day hike through the mountains of Guatemala. It was an organized hike (through a non-profit company helping schools in the area) so no getting lost this time and we took off with a group of around 10 and wondered through the local towns, staying on the outskirts in tents and playing football all afternoon. Really nice to get to walk through the towns, see the people off the travel and also to stretch the legs inside of riding on the chicken buses that are buillt for american school children or the 4 foot Guatemalans. The final day we rose at 4:30am for a great view across the majestic Lago Atitlan for sunrise with lave pouring down volcan Fuego in the background.

Walked down to the town of San Pedro and set up there for a couple of days with some really cool people from the hike, spent the next couple of days chilling out, swimming in the lake, having mini-parties in each others hotels whilst over looking the lake. One day Tyler, Jense (Denmark) and I headed up Volcan San Pedro and I thionk we must have come close to breaking the record to the top and back down again (3hrs), we almost killed ourselves on the way up from exhustion and farmers on the way down from the hell bent run with little to no chance of stopping....but of course a lot of fun, and yes the photos are the same from the last summitt.

Then took off to Rio Dulce on the Carribean coast (4 hr journey turned into 10), found a great little place to stay in the jungle, almost lost my camera and someone elses when my canoe sank in the middle of the harbour (glad I can tred water with two cameras above my head, though my head was under when the other canoe arrive / camera is fine), swam in a hot thermal waterfall, and pleaded for someone to sail me to the Bay Islands in one leaving for 10 days.

With the weather reporting 10 days on rain out there I was glad and took off with some good Swiss friends to Livinsgton where for some reason I got myslef a very silly haircut that resulted in almost all of the locals laughing directly in my face for the next two weeks...I know I should be used to that but this really was about 80% of the people. Next up we travelled through Honudras, stayed two nights in the capital and ate and in a very memorible restaurant and visted some nice towns up in the hills. We then continued onto Leon a great little town in Nicaragua with nice colonial homes, churches and a great game of street basketball.

Continuing through the sweltering heat of Nicaragua (everyday 30-34 and humid+) to Granada and ended up in Gringolandia once again. A nice town and yes of course another colonial town, not as pretty as Antigua in my opinion but still nice to walk around. We found a free jazz concert at night, visited another lake for a swim and tried to reduce the heat as much as possible...normally by an intake of icecream. It is also the season for celebration and every morning a bad band plays out the front of the hoste at 7aml and wakes us all up, firecrakers go off at all hours, I think as soon as someone gets drunk enough to light the 3cm fuse and run.

Moving on once again....and now 9 months into the journey can you believe, to Isla Ometepe a great island in the middle of Laga Nicaragua, formed from lava flows by two volcanos about 200m abpart it is a really cool place. We caught the boat over and met up with another Swiss guy Alberto and we all took off for a collective farm on the other side of the island, stopping to by some moon-shine rum from a little old lady with a distillery in her kitchen...she gave us the rum in a plastic bag as she had no smaller bottles than 2 litres. Seems as though I did the Dutch tour of South America and now the Swiss tour of Central America, maybe I need to move to that part of the world...

Next day we climbed volcan Masera, it covered in cloud and us covered in mud, we did not see much besides the deep forest. Patricia and Markus left after 10 very fun filled days and Alberto and I continued on to another town in the hope of climbing the bigger of the two volcanos in the morning. But more cloud so we left for San Juan del Sur and we have now been here living on the pacific ocean for a week. We both took a week worth of Spanish classes and lived with a local family. So class from 8-12, the beach after that and then one or two lazy beers watching one of the best sunsets I have ever seen. The Spanish is still coming along and it helps that Alberto does not speak much English as it makes me practice.

Tomorrow we leave for Costa Rica were my brother Cam is meeting me in about 5 days for another stage in the adventure that has now become my life.


There is not much to be said about vocations, but if one day you change your tune and want to see the world.
remember this friend
who for you would risk his life
to help as best he can
when the moment comes.
A hug. Until it occurs to you - and until I reach where it occurs to you.

Che Guevara

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

South/Cental America #13 - Cuba > Guatemala

Photos: Cuba | Guatemala


1. Cancun
2. Havana
3. Vinales
4. Trinidad ... and Australia
5. Havana
6. Tulum
7. Belieze
8. Tikal
9. Semuc Chepay
10. Antigua

Hello all I hope that things are going for you as they are for me. First of all congratulations to Paul and Claire on the birth of their twin boys all are reported to doing well.

I have been moving at a rapid rate as you can see, the main reason is that I have a new travelling companion and those on limited holidays want to move a bit faster than I normally would. But that being said I have loved having James (friend from Sydney) around and we have had a ball.

So I flew in Cancun and all I wanted to do was leave again, so we booked a flight for the first possible plane out of there. We had a day in between and went for a great day trip out to Isla Mujers just off the coast of Mexico. Cancun is crazy, huge resorts filled with the package deal holiday makers, really is just the US on the Carribean.

Well Cuba, the last in the top 5 list and it was all and more than I thought it would be, the old town is amazing the heat is immense and the breeze if it exists fails to penetrate the tight allays. Every building stands like it is its last day ready to collapse like its neighbour, yet the people continue to walk into dark halls and climb broken stairs to their alloted homes. Men litter the street like the rubish that should be there, yet it is missing. Old Chevy's from the 50's cruise around in a very ironic sense, the american dream car in America's nemises. But the place has a great vibe, people are generally pretty cool, when you figure out the two tier tourist-local system and how to work it you can save a lot of money. There are plenty of people who see you as a $ but you cn have fun with their questions.

We were travelling with a great NZ couple Ross and Maryanne, we walked and walked around town taking in the sights and delights, we tried hard to find a cool night venue but ended up in guys lounge rooms with a band and a very interesting bar that the taxi driver recommended. We hired a car and headed out to the West, Vinales a cool town with huge limestone monoliths in the lush valley. We went for a great horse ride, swam inside caves, rolled our own cigars and went to a nightclub inside a cave that night. Then drove to Maria la Gorda a beautiful resort where I scuba dived over a 1000m sea cliff.

After a quick farewell James and I got another car and drove out to the east, driving many km's and covering some interesting driving conditions, we discovered that we both had the Jedi force that was need to get through a town and the patience to deal with some trying conditions. We drove through the centre of the island visting many towns and generally running a muck to Trinidad a beautiful colonial town. Lying on a perfect beach by day and partying to live music at night, eating in illegal restaurants ($5 lobster) - were I met a friend from Sydney's brother on his honeymoon - we had a ball. Driving along we found a town called Australia which was a bit odd, but made for some good photos.

We then headed along the coast to the Bay of Pigs, swam in amzingly clear water (30m) and then back to Havana for 3 more nights where we walked the streets, visiting a boxing gym, hanging out with locals, sneaking into the ballet and getting our own back on the hustlers.

Cuba is an odd country, hard to get around, hard to get some basic things. But the locals have it harder, $10 a month is the average salary plus food packages. You stay with families in their spare rooms and eat some occasionally decent food...but would recommend it to everyone especially before Fidel passes away, who knows what will happen after that.

Next up to Tulum back in Mexico, staying in paradise - bamboo huts on the carribean - visited the ruins for free through the back entrance. It is an amazing place, Mayan towers right above aqua water, but very hot and again full of tourists. We took the bus to Belieze and straight out to the island of Caye Caulker...but it rained and then rained the next day so we took off a little disappointed bound for Tikal in Guatemala. James and I also discovered that we have an amazing skill at catching connecting transport and never seem to wait for anything. We were the first into Tikal ruins (6am), one of the most impressive Mayan ruins settled on top of a hill in very dense forest. We saw the sun rise over the towers, beams streaming through the rainforest...very amazing. We sepnt the morning exploring the ruins, climbing the towers taking many photos on a spectacular day and generally soaking up the atmosphere of a very spiritual place, it almost still feels livable.

In the afternoon we headed off to Coban only to get half way and stuck in the middle of no where for the night. Next day we found our way to Semuc Chepay a natrual land bridge over a raging river. On top though the water cascades through 10 swimmable pools, a bright beautiful aqua colour and nice and warm. It is truly an amazing place and you have to see it, after 3 we had the place all to ourselves and saw the sun set between the valley casting an almost spot light over the cascades.

We are now in Antigua, another nice colonial town. Today we climbed an active volcano, yes I got to see some lava finally. Antigua is situated in a great valley between 3 volcanos, 2 active at the moment. It is a very beautiful place, a very nice colonial town, bright blue skies every day and a lot of great food thanks to the hundreds of tourists...

James left this morning and as you can tell we have had an amazing time. Sad to see him go but I understand that some people have to work... I am off to do a hike through the hills around Lago Atitlan tomorrow and then on to some islands off Honduras for a weeks worth of scuba diving.


Monday, September 03, 2007

South/Cental America #12 - Ecuador

Photos: Ecuador

1. Mendoza
2. Quito
3. Otavalo
4. Cotapaxi
5. Galapogas Islands
6. Riobamba
7. Banos

I hope that all is well around the globe.... 7 1/2 months now and counting.

Well the last couple of days in Mendoza were great, I had an amazing day up at Punta de Inca, a fresh snow fall contrasted great with the hot springs. A great view of Aconguaga - highest mtn outside of Nepal and plenty of snow fights with some other tourists I met.

Flew up to Quito...nice enough place but way too many gringos so I got out of there pretty quickly. I took off for La Esperanza to climb a volcano - Mt Imbarra 5000m. A long day climb and the last 1km verticle in thick cloud. I thought this was one of the hardest things I had done until 3 days later...

But before that I went to the Otavalo markets and resisted all temptation to buy a tonne of local shirts, hammocks, chess sets and even really nice leather jackets for $70. So I headed back to Quito where I joined up with my tour to climb Cotapaxi volcano - 6000m. Setting off at 1am for the climb, laden with crampons, ice pick, full cold weather gear and roped into a guide and a swiss guy we set out under a perfect stary night. Well the climb was straight up and continued to go on and on, every bend promised to be the last but yet continued on. As sun rose over the horizon we could see forever...shame that only lasted 10 minutes as the weather closed in and before we knew it we were faced with 10m visibility and 40 knot winds making it about -20. Well after being blown over on a thin ice bridge the guide asked if we wanted to continue...really stupid question as I was always going to give it everything. Anyway after 5 1/2 hours of climbing we reached the summitt, took two photos in the freezing cold and walked back down again. So after two climbs I have a heart as big as Phar Lap and quads bigger than Arnie and I am happy to say that I summitted my first two mountains, a tough but great experience.

24 hrs later I was on a boat just shy of the equator. Yes I finally made it to the Galapogas, a set of islands that I thought was only obtainable in my dreams. Islands so amazing that it really does excel any words or pictures that I can share with you, so excuse but I will try. The only way to truly see the islands is by boat, I joined Merak a 15m sailing boat with my buddy Ziggy, 3 German and 3 Irish ladies, tough I know. The boat was great, the guide very knowledgable and a nice guy, the cook Omar was simply amazing and the food the best I have had the whole trip and the two boats crew were also first rate. But the islands....stopping off and seeing birds flying within arm reach, baby seals sitting on the beach and nibbling your toes, sea lions swimming so close to you that they actually kissed my goggles, iguanas - the ugly things - are everywhere you have to watch that you do not step on them, penguins - yes I am still wondering why they are there - swim around you, sea turtles that you can hang on to for a ride, sharks, millions of fish, dolphins riding the bow wave, whales......the list is endless. Also on the islands you can pretty much stand over lists on endemic nesting birds that really do not care that you are there. They are all so interesting, the differences are amazing betweeen islands and also between sections of islands - 15 different tortise species, 9 different finches, boobies (a type of bird) one with blue feet that nests on the lands and one with red feet that nests in trees and sea birds that can not get wet. Go figure.

The actualy islands are all fomed from volcanic eruptions so extent cone after cone rise out of the water creating some fantastic scenery even without the animals.

I stayed out on the island with Ziggy for another couple of days and did some dives, easily some of the best I have ever done. Diving with hammerhead sharks, sting rays, eagle rays, schools of Barracudas ..... again very very cool. As I said I could go on all day, so if you want more info just ask and I will be happy to oblige. It is expensive but if you get the chance please do not hesitate to fly out to the islands, you will never forget it. It reallly is like living inside a 24hr Discovery Channel.

So that was number 4 out of 5 off the list..only Havana to come now.

I am now back on the mainland, after a quick stop in Guayaquil, I headed back to the mountains and have been on some very scenic bus rides and went on the Devil's Nose train ride were you get to sit on the top of the train and travel through the countryside and eventually down a couple of swtichbacks into a canyon. Everyone, and I mean every single one of the locals run out of their homes to wave as you go past, I think secretly the govt pays them 10c each to do this as part of the journey.

Next up off to Banos where upon arrival I met up with Mat and Phil that I met some days before and within 10 minutes of getting off the bus I was abseiling down 8 waterfalls, the final 3 where 75, 68, 71...a great days out getting very cold and wet but canyoning was fun. Spent the rest of the time finding a jungle trip that I convinced the other two to come on.

So leaving the next night we set off for the jungle..the amazon that is. Arriving at the last town in Ecuador we caught a 3hr bus ride to now where and then a motorized canoe another 3 hrs. Waking up the next morning to find ourselves on a beautiful lagoon. Over the next couple of days we tried to hunt down a anaconda (no luck), fished, saw monkeys, pink dolphins, plenty of birds, went for many swims...and one day paddled down river for 5 hrs, then up an impassable stream for 1 hr before hacking out a campsite for the night, really in the jungle this one. Plenty of mosquitos and other bugs but good fun.

I am now back in Quito and I have to say that I am quite sad to be leaving, My time here in South AMerica has been amazing, I would like to thank everyone that I met for making it such a wonderful experience. Highlights would take too long...for those that live here one day I promise to be back and I hope that we can all meet again soon.

Again photos are on the link below...also added some extra photos to the Mendoza lot.

I am soon meeting up with my good friends James from Sydney in Cancun on the 18th for the trip to Cuba and beyond.... I will be in touch.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

South/Cental America #11 - Argentina

  1. Salta
  2. Santiago del Estero
  3. Cafayate
  4. Tafi del Valli
  5. La Rioja
  6. Mendoza



I hope that everyone is well back home, I am sure that you are all missing me. This installment sees the 6 months anniversary come around and I for sure can not believe that it has been that long, but thinking back over the time it is also hard to fathom how much I have squeezed into what really is a short period of time.

I settled into life in Salta quite easily and I think that I must have been ready for the rest, I thought of it as a half time break on the year tour. As I said last time I found a great Spanish teacher and settled into 3 hrs a day 5 days a week, my Spanish thank fully has improved immensely and I have been told that I am doing all right as I can have conversations with taxi drivers…seems that anywhere in the world people struggle to talk to their cab drivers. I moved in with a great family that was very kind to me, I do not know how they managed to remain so patient and I am sure that they are still laughing at some of the things that I said as I tried to converse in my new language. I miss them already, hopefully one day I can see them again.

So I actually got into a routine of swimming, class, lunch, siesta, reading, internet and dinner. Sat in the great plazas having a beer or a coffee, sorting out my gear, wandering around town etc. Salta is a great town and should not be missed if you are coming to Argentina.

One weekend I went off to visit a friend from the Pantanal, Laura is living in a argricultural city, Santiago del Estero, about 6hrs south of Salta. Arriving late Fiday night we went out to a local dance night (pena) in a basketball stadium, many locals dancing to folklore music that was a lot better than it sounds. Saturday morning we managed to stumble across the local zoo and though she protested to heading on the condition of the animals I managed to convince her to go in…also given that it was 10c. Well you really do have to feel sorry for the animals that are subject to this treatment, but this little backwater town did have 2 Bengal tigers (you could get to within 30cm of them), 7 lions that looked to be breading (that is not right then but they had a cub), baboons, pumas, chimpanzees and other local animals. Crazy to think how they afforded them all in the first place. But that being said I did manage to get some good photos given you could get so close…in fact close enough to feel in real danger at times.

On Sunday we took off to a community project that Laura is involved with, 3 hrs in the back of the corn delivery van in one of the coldest experiences in my life. We arrived to a warm welcome and the other members set about helping the local community to go through there government grant to buy 40 new goats, where will they keep them, what will they do with them etc. Really very interesting to see how they go about an aid project with consultation and implementation, I think this is the first time I have actually used my degree for something. The photos of the two boys are from this day and I have to say that I am very happy with them.

Back to Salta for my final week….after a sad farewell from my new found family and friends I set off down through Cafayate, one really really beautiful town. The road is absolutely amazing and the whole time I was thinking I have to get back out here with my camera, so getting off I sorted out a tour, found a hostel that includes a free wine tour (what more can you ask for), as you know I am partial to a drop of vino so I set off straight away...returned just in time for the canyon tour. The guide was crazy but very informative, the landscape was amazing, huge canyons carved from ancient rivers, contrasting colours and odd rock formations the last stop was inside a natural amphitheater and where our guide pulled out a guitar and sang with the most beautiful voice, under a setting sun, purely magical.

Then took off to a mountain retreat, Tafi del Valle, a great little town nestled in the bowl of surrounding mountains. After getting off the bus I almost immediately took off on a bike and cycled and cycled around the valley, about 50kms in all and felt totally exhusted but I could not have asked for a better way to see the area. Great to get out mountain biking again, down through some crazy little towns where I do not think they see too many gringos cycling past.

Next up and off to La Rioja where I unsuccessfully attempted to get out to a NP, so with a day to kill I sat in the park and read, saw the town and entertained some locals in an internet café. Note to all, Argentina has the best English newspaper, Buenos Aires Heald, easily the best way to keep up with news plug.

Caught the overnighter to Mendoza, this bus saw the end of my high expectaions on Argentine busses and arrived nice and early, 2 hrs late, no sleep and a bad back. Found myself the best hostel in town and explored the city with a eye on the clock. Come 5 pm my good friend Carli from Australia arrived, for a fleeting 6 day visit. It is great to have a buddy here especially when they bring two packets of TimTams and a packaged from Mum. Carli and I have spent the past 4 days catching up and have been seeing the sights, hitting the night life to a couple of hours after sunrise and been on tours to San Raphael, the wineries (in which there are hundreds) and horse riding in the Andes where we got snowed on.

Mendoza is a great oasis in the desert, very green from nearby springs at the base of the Andes is really is a cool spot to visit. Where else can you find amazing canyons, more wineries than you can poke a stick at, 30m high sand dunes, world class ski resorts, a pumping town all within 40km of each other...if only it had a beach I think it would be the ultimate paradise.

I am moving in with some buddies from the Salt Plains Tour in Bolivia for a couple of days before heading up into the Andes and then over into Santiago de Chile for a flight up to Ecuador.

See the link below for the photos of Salta - Mendoza, I will update this page from now on so check in for any updates.