Ecuador, Peru · 53 Days · 71 Moments · April 2018

World Trip Part 2 - Galapagos, Ecuador & Peru

11 June 2018

Took the difficult climb up Machu Pichu Mountain. 2000 ft elevation higher, straight up steep rock stairs, to 10,000 ft.

10 June 2018

The "Live Forever" plant.
Cloud forest is just awesome.
The condor sacrificial area - they only sacrificed black llamas here, not people. The Incas didn't use slaves either.
The Inca were awesome architects. They lined up their windows anally, and they could confirm the solstice when certain windows captured direct sun. They built foundations like Romans. 60 percent of their construction was underground. They channeled water from a nearby mountain spring and had aqueducts that brought water throughout Machu Pichu. The settlement only housed about 1000 people routinely, but it was also a royal retreat. It took 6 days to walk between MP and Cusco, 15 days if you were carrying the royal family, and 6 hours to send a message using 6 relay messengers. When the Spanish arrived, royalty retreated to MP and destroyed the Inca Trail to Cusco. When the 30 year supply of dried food ran out, the inhabitants moved to Vilcabamba, the lost city of the Incas. MP became covered by jungle and was never discovered by europeans until 100 years ago, 75 percent intact.
The sun dial.
The groundskeeper llama at work.
The king had the only indoor toilet - it's good to be king! The greatest king of the Incas, Pachacuti, did his doodie here! His mummy was paraded around Cusco for hundreds of years at this time of year, just like they parade the statues of the patron saints now - humm?
The sun poked out at times. Much warmer down here at 7,800 ft, like an April day in NY.
Machu Pichu is crazy-beautiful, even in the rainy season, maybe more so. Tap the pic to see the panorama.
Our guide Wilfredo.

9 June 2018

The 3.5 hr train ride to Aguas Caliente, gateway to Machu Pichu, was relaxing. It's the only way to get there. Zig-zag rail allowed the train to pass a steep spot, more to follow.

8 June 2018

Cusco literally means "navel", it was the center of the Incan universe. The Spanish Catholics destroyed all of the Incan temples and built 14 churches over the 14 temple sites. The Temple of the Sun was the most important temple in the empire, embossed in gold and silver. The Catholics built a convent over it, but the Incan stonework base is still visible and very impressive. The Incan walls were fairly eathquake proof, and very heavy to move, good motivation for the Spaniards to leave in place.

7 June 2018

Parties started at 7AM and ended around 10, every day we were there. Much more to follow on this topic.
Everyone eats guinea pig on Corpus Cristi, just like Easter ham. Their basilica's painting of the Last Supper shows guinea pig on the platter. Statues of the apostles show wads of coca in their cheeks and dark skin. Very cool that the church adapted. Jesus is much too white in the USA.
Arrived in Cusco on Flag Day, which is smack in the middle of Corpus Cristi, the year's greatest celebration.

6 June 2018

From Arequipa we traveled about 6 hrs by bus to Puno, gateway to Lake Titicaca. The lake, at about 12,400 ft in elevation, is the highest navigable lake in the world. It's about 80 miles long by quick estimation, and it's shared with Bolivia. The interesting thing about this lake is that the indigenous people of neighboring regions escaped slavery about 1000 years ago to live on boats made of reeds. The boats increased in size until they were floating man made islands made of reeds. There are still about 120 man made islands that people live on. Most families survive on tourism. SPECIAL NOTE TO TRAVELERS: It's freakin cold in the Peruvian highlands. Bring a down jacket and your wool underwear. You can buy an Alpaca hat here. The cold and the altitude can really bring you down if, 1) You're not committed, and 2) You rush right up to 13,000 ft+ without taking at least 3 days to acclimate. Many people speed up the process by taking acetazolamide. Some people really suffer.

5 June 2018

Colca Canyon is the 2nd deepest canyon in the world, or 1st, depending how you define a canyon. High altitude limited our hikes to "short and downhill". Hot springs Colca City helped thaw us out after a 30 degree first day. The second day was bright and sunny facilitating magnificent views.
We were incredibly lucky to see a large number of the endangered Andean Condor, up close and personal. 10 ft wingspan, capable of picking up a small llama, can fly hundreds of kilometers per day at 150km/hr, somewhere between 20 and 50 left in the area.

4 June 2018

Much of our trip to Colca Canyon was at headsplitting altitudes with passes at 15,000 ft. (4910 meters). Coca tea and coca candy were stongly recommended by the guides to cope with the altutude, and it seemed to help. In fact, I hadn't felt so good since the seventies! Speaking of coca tea, Peru has been kicking ass in the World Cup qualifiers, even without their super star player who has been banned for testing positive for cocaine. He says that he forgot and drank coca tea with his family. I can almost believe it because it's so pervasive here, almost like Coca-Cola.
Llama and Vicuna were frequently seen right up to the 15,000 ft level. Vicuna are the smallest camelid, they are wild, and they produce the world's finest wool. Scarves cost thousands. They get the wool in a once-per-year roundup. Pictured behind me in the distance.
Unusual cold weather brought snow to the highlands on the road to Colca Canyon. Free range Alpaca.

3 June 2018

Place d'Arms, Arequipa.
Very nice tour of a historical monastery for nuns.
Alpaca and vicuna wool factory tour.

2 June 2018

Sunset at the Nazca Lines.

1 June 2018

Huacachina was an amazing surprise. This area has many of the worlds largest sand dunes. In fact, all we've seen in Peru is desert, from Lima to Arequipa, maybe a thousand miles. Some of the desert is among the driest in the world - less than a 1/16 of an inch per year. We actually got caught in one of the twice per year rain storms - a little spritz that barely got us moist.
Paracas. Will add details later.

22 May 2018

Visited Isle de Plata, a bird sanctuary island with many of the characteristics of the Galapagos. Magnificent Frigate, Blue-footed Boobie and Albatross all nest there, plus sea turtles and good snorkeling.

21 May 2018

Today we visited one of the nicest beaches in mainland Ecuador. Sparsely populated - it's amazing that you can have a half mile of a place like this to yourself for awhile. Weekends are more popular.

20 May 2018

The weather has been somewhat surprising here at the equator - mostly in the mid-70's and overcast. When the sun does come out it heats up to 86 or so and burns you pretty good in 20 minutes, so we never complain about clouds.. The nights on the coast are cool enough that we don't need air conditioning or blankets. It's almost always perfectly comfortable. I was expecting to be sweating like a pig. Seafood is king here, cheaper than chicken or beef. Even the dogs are fed fish, bones and all. They know how to chew it properly.

19 May 2018

We're currently in the "save the whales" capital of the world, Puerto Lopez. This is where all the humpbacks come to, well, hump! The hotel that we're in has got to be one of the most personalized and unique in the world. The Swiss couple who own it have created something really special here while getting heavily involved in community improvements. Our cabina in the garden is beautiful.

18 May 2018

The hotel's puppies. The frigates are not in the foreground, they're big birds, up to 8 ft wingspan.

16 May 2018

The winds weren't strong enough for a tandem flight, as proven by our test flight dummy Ross.

15 May 2018

More pictures of very lazy days in Canoa.
Our hotel on the beach was more than we typically spend but still cheap by US standards. It's luxurious and beautiful. The owners are American expats who are offering to take Bernie hang-gliding. We're right on a big empty beach with a 10 minute walk to the surfing town of Canoa. Decent microbrew on tap is a plus!

14 May 2018

One more "hop" over the Andes and we find ourselves on the beach in Canoa. The ride was our longest, 11 hrs and many potholes, but it was well worth it. Went through beautiful farm fields right up to 13,000 ft. There was a coca ointment salesman on the bus. Coca leaves are still a popular home remedy for headaches and altitude afflictions.

13 May 2018

Hopped a 2 hr bus, then another 2 hr bus to Latacunga where rain foiled our plans to see the Quilatoa crater pictured here. Latacunga is surrounded by 7 major volcanoes. One of the largest, Cotopaxi, erupted in 2015. We've seen such things before so rather than risk days of more rain (and cold!), we're heading out to the coast for some sun tomorrow. We'll be on buses most of the day. The buses in Ecuador are awesome. They are clean and modern with comfortable seats and movies. $12 will last all day. There are so many buses going everywhere that you rarely wait for more than a half hour for a bus. You can go to a terminal or just flag them down if they're the right color or have your city in the window. Taxis around most towns are $1.50. NOTE: Not my photos.

12 May 2018

Said goodbye to Amazonas and traveled 2 hrs out by canoe, then 2 hrs by minbus to town, then 4 hrs to Papallacta at 11,000 feet where we walked 2 km up a hill to a luxury hot springs resort to celebrate Bernie's birthday. It was well worth it.
Tiny orchids and many beautiful plants everywhere.
Bernie and I were hemispheres apart at times. The equator runs within 400 meters of the lodge.
Saw many animals, birds and insects. Probably too numerous to list, 8 species of monkies alone. Pink river dolphins, anteaters, pythons, and a manatee that we paddled our canoe into accidently. The 2 largest parrots in the world - scarlet and green macaws. Scorpions, tarantulas and scorpion spiders, which are neither scorpion nor spider. Caimans, spider monkies, and black collared tamarinds visited our lodge. Everyone swam in the lake, in the middle where the 18 ft caimans were unlikely to be hunting. Tree frogs liked hanging out in our bathroom. The lodge was very comfortable and had great food. $350 for 5 days all-inclusive per person. Very friendly staff and high quality guides. Neizer had awesome eyesight and Luis manages to get in on every big fish picture.
Most of the area is flooded primary rainforest and we're often able to canoe near the canopy.
Had a great ride down the river to Siona Lodge where we spent 4 nights in the middle of Amazon Rainforest at full flood in the rainy season. The river was a 2 hr drive through jungle from the nearest town, then 2 hrs by motorized canoe downstream on one of the major tributaries of the Amazon. Siona Lodge is one of 5 lodges that operate by permission of the Siona Tribe, one of the smaller Amazonian tribes of about a thousand people. They still hunt and fish by traditional ways, poison darts, etc., but they also use modern methods. Shaman medicine, Ayawaska hallucinogenics and all that.

11 May 2018

6 May 2018

Took a 7 hr bus to the departure town for our Amazon trip. Only it was the wrong 7 hr bus. Got lucky when we passed the right bus at a stop having lunch at the Y in the road. The bus guys were very helpful in switching us to the right bus. We spent about 5 of the 7 hrs driving switchbacks through beautiful rainforest and cloud forest. I've never seen so many bromeliads.

5 May 2018

Climbed the tower of the basilica in a thunderstorm. Probably not good judgement.
Toured Quito yesterday.

3 May 2018

Alpine vegitation here is quite different than that of the northern hemisphere. After the hike we hopped a $55 flight ro Quito. I think Quito sits at 9,200 ft, almost twice as high as Denver. Can't wait to see it in the day. Our hostel seems lively, but also relaxing and quiet where it counts - another historic Spanish building.
3 hour hike above Cuenca at El Cajas National Park. Absolutely beautiful high Andean alpine and grassland, complete with wild llamas, just under 13,000 feet. Luckily the hike was mostly downhill. Dwarf forests - hobbit country.

30 April 2018

Our days in Cuenca were plagued with bad weather and Bernie's poor health. She had picked up a bug on our last day in the Galapagos, possibly from kissing sea lions, and was feverish and nauseous for 4 days. She toughed it out though she almost passed out when we were visiting the zoo during a rainstorm. Seems well on the mend now. Nice zoo but we had to cut it short. Cuenca is a pretty town of 400,000 people and 52 catholic churches including the cathedral in the photos, largest in latin america. Quite a few americans living here. The weather is normally pretty sunny and averages 71 degrees year round. Not bad for equatorial latitudes. Tomorrow we bus back to Guayaquil for our flight to Lima. There we spend 1 night before catching a Peru Hop bus for the Gringo Trail. Peru Hop is a relatively new company that is reportedly doing a great job of shepherding tourists through the prime parts of Peru between Lima, Lake Titicaca and Machu Pichu. It's hop-on hop-off and go at your own pace.
It's worth noting that many of the buildings in central Cuenca were built by the Spanish in the 1500s, including our hostel. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage site because the majority of the buildings have been maintained as original.

27 April 2018

After the 2 hr flight from the Galapagos to Guayaquil we took a $1.50 taxi to the largest bus station we've ever seen, 3 floors of bus terminals handling 120 buses at any given moment. We figured out the which one of the 120 ticket windows to purchase our $12 ticket to Cuenca and we were on our way. The 4 hour ride started with 2 on board salesmen trying to sell items to the riders, first body lotion, then cookies. They were terribly loud, old fashioned pitch men and it was something we hadn't seen before. After 30 minutes they jumped off to ride other buses back. 30 minutes later we were climbing steeply into the Andes through a rain forest where wrecked trucks could be seen hundreds of feet below the hairpin turn that they failed to negotiate. At 13,100 feet we broke out into sunshine in some high Andean grasslands that were very beautiful. We then descended to the town of Cuenca at 9,000 ft where we will stay for 4 nights to explore and acclimatize.
10 days in the Galapagos archipeligo could be the best thing we've done yet - but our world trip is far from over. Regarding the travel - we did most everything right. The weather was sunny, the landscape was green and the temperatures were not as hot as they are in winter (January). The penguin and albatross are not here now but we should catch up with them in Peru. I would have liked to have seen the landscape on Bartolome but it really wasn't worth the gas and money to get there (to us). A few more days on Isabella to relax would have been nice. It's a very beautiful and peaceful place. I believe that we saw 90% of what the high end tours saw for about 10% of the cost - about $1350 per person including roundtrip airfare from mainland Ecuador, different airports. We lived pretty good too. We could have saved about $800 if we ate and drank more cheaply. The number of tourists visiting the Galapagos continues to rise, but it's far from being crowded although construction is ongoing.

26 April 2018

Took a speedboat from Santa Cruz to San Cristabol for 2 nights. Our last full day in the Galapagos was a great one. Secluded snorkeling with a group of young sea lions. One engaged Bernie in a game of beach ball with a puffer fish! Bernie said that they touch her face with their whiskers. A great video.

24 April 2018

Sorry potoential followers. I just realized that I failed to make this journal public until now. Please read oldest first! Back on Santa Cruz for 3 days of relaxing. Yesterday we had a great day of hiking out to Tortuga Bay. Great beach for surf next to a bay for snorkeling and swimming. The surf beach is a nesting area with turtle tracks coming and smaller ones going.

23 April 2018

Day 3 on Isabella, the visit to Los Tunelas was incredible.The speedboat rides are always an adventure due to the ocean rollers and the big surf (like Hawaii), but the ride into Los Tunelas involved surfing the boat in on 12 foot waves while zig-zagging between rocks! Once past the surf our highly skilled captain weaved the boat through a maze of lava tubes just wide enough to squeeze the boat through. Once in, we observed Boobies just starting to pair up, the mating season is just beginning. Then we snorkled through tunnel mazes along with many sea turtles and tropical fish. Saw 1 big sea horse. On the return trip we saw numerous giant manta rays feeding and we snorkeled with them, but they were very fast and hard to keep up with. One flew completely out of the water upside down. 9 feet wide and a thousand pounds makes a big splash. Hard to get on film, last pic shows a shadow below a snorkeler.
The rocks take an endless beating from the surf. Blue footed boobies paint them white.

22 April 2018

Road some bikes along the coast and into wild tortoise area and saw 3 big ones. Mammoth mangroves growing under perfect conditions on the path to a pristine swimming hole. Great surf and lots of lonely beach.
Day 2 Isabella. Hiked to the rim of Sierra Negra, one of the largest calderra in the world. It erupted in 2005 but only left a fresh layer of lava. Also explored some lava tubes.

21 April 2018

Day 1 in Isabella was filled with beautiful sights. Snorkeling with marine iguanas, seeing flamingos in their 1 natural habitat, and being entertained by 1 week old sea lions.

20 April 2018

Moved frome Santa Cruz to Isle Isabella. Isabella is stunning, but we're too tired to share right now, the sea lions were taking up all the good seats.

19 April 2018

Red spotted scorpion fish are on everyone's menu. They say that it's a very tasty white meat, but poisonous for the fisherman to handle. Lobsters are different here. There is a street that is closed to traffic at 6pm where most people have dinner. We saw a small boat offloading about a thousand pounds of yellow fin, carefully supervised by a seal, a frigate, a pelican, and a heron.
I skipped a day! Before moving to Isabella we spent a day on Floreanna, a 2 hr speedboat ride south. Very tiny village, beautiful beaches and lots of sea turtles. Blue Footed Boobies were diving for sardines within 5 feet of Bernie snorkling. She could only see a mass of bubbles. The home of the first inhabitants was a crack in the rocks.
After our 1st day of self-touring we are just blown away by the things that can be experienced here and by the hospitality of the Ecuadorians. Our hotel is 20 a minute walk from Darwin station where they keep the stud tortoises that are vigorously, for a tortoise, and happily repopulating species that were decimated to single digits. We saw the corpse of Lonesome George, last of his species, but they do have his DNA. The station beach was beautiful and populated with black iguanas. Later in the day we hiked to another beautiful beach, past the famous Finch Bay Hotel, and on to Las Grietas (The Rift), a great semi-fresh water swimming hole. A great day ended up at the street food avenue.
The red eye from JFK direct to Guayaquil, Ecuador was a pretty easy 7 hours. We caught a nap in the nice new airport before the 1.5 hr flight to Isla Baltra, an island near Santa Cruz. From there it's a free shuttle to a $1 ferry across to Santa Cruz. 30 minutes on the $2 bus brought us to the outskirts of Puerto Ayora, the primary tourist center of the Galapagos. From there it was a $3 taxi to our nice little hotel. Sounds complicated but it was surprisingly smooth 14 hr journey from JFK. Our hotel is a 10 minute walk to the main pier where we saw friendly seal lions at the fish cleaning station and Magnificant Frigates soaring around the harbour. After a cold and stark visit home we have been jolted back to extremely intense colors, warm weather, and a very foreign environment. Traveling from the airport to our hotel brought us from desert moonscape through intensly verdant highlands and back down to a semi-aride marine environment of laser-bright sun that makes 75 feel hot!