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Trip Report Out travels in Bolivia Peru and Ecuador

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This is a continuation of my report on the Argentina forum, Salta.

Below is a cut and paste from my blog, edited with details of costs and names of hotels for people who may be interested.

Its a long one........

Day 49 in South America Feb 18, 2014

We arranged a cab to pick us up at our hotel in Purmamarca and the driver took us to Tilcara which was the next town and where the bus station was. The station was just an area where the bus pulled in and our 11AM bus showed up at 10 to 1. The taxi cost 80 ARG pesos.

The bus arrived at the border town of La Quicaca around 5, where we grabbed a cab for $2 to take us to the border into Bolivia as we were tired and afraid of getting lost. Most people walked it. There was a line up to leave Argentina, paperwork filled out and handed in, and then another line up to enter Bolivia with more paperwork. The entire process took around 40 minutes. As Canadians we did not need to pay the recip fee, but Americans need US cash apparently.

We are in Bolivia now. There are money exchange stalls every two feet so we are able to trade our Argentine pesos for Bolivarios. There were busses that went to the town of Tupiza, where we were headed, but instead we negotiated a cab for $34 for the two hour ride.

Tupiza is a small town in a lovely setting with mountains surrounding it. Our hostel is very basic but only cost $28 including a very meager breakfast. I don't know what the other accommodation in town is like, but for one night it was adequate. They also arranged 4 day tours but were more expensive than other companies. Torres hotel and tours.

We immediately went off to find our travel agent that we had been working with to pay for our tour tomorrow, Tupiza tours. Thanks Crellston for the reco.


Day 50
Mario picked us up at 9AM for our two day tour in a Toyota 4x4. He spoke very little English, but that was okay as we wanted to practice our Spanish.

The scenery north changes every half hour and is beautiful. This is where Butch Cassidy and the SunDance kid had their last big shoot out.

llamas are everywhere, large groups of them on the hills and in the meadows.

The road to Uyuni is a very narrow, winding gravel road with many switchbacks over the mountains. This is the only road and the one we would have taken had we decided to take the bus for the five hour non stop ride. It would have driven me crazy to not be able and stop to take pictures on the way. Mario would stop many times during the day to let us take photos and just walk on some trails and meadows.

Three hours later he pulled off the road and down into a meadow where he suggested Doug and I walk for an hour. There was a large group of llamas and donkeys with their new born babies, some only weeks old. They were not too sure about us and kept moving further into the hills as we walked towards them
Upon our return we find lunch waiting for us, set up on the tailgate of the Toyota.

The road is in great condition for the most part. We seem to be following the Dakar race route as this where it started off before ending in Valparaiso Chile on the day we were there in January. There are areas however where the road just seems to disappear into a river bed, lots of times with water flowing quite strongly in the river. I am not sure how the bus does this route.

A small mining town was on the way so we stopped and walked around for about half an hour. Everyone in town does some sort of job associated with the mining. Bolivia is very rich in minerals. They have been mining for hundreds of years but the supply is still plentiful.

Quinoa was growing in fields on the top of the mountain. It does not require any irrigation, only rainwater, and grows in the high altitudes. It is more expensive to buy quinoa here than at home. Bolivia does not export it's quinoa to other countries only uses it for themselves.

Mario once again pulled off the road up onto a hill and told us to walk down to the lagoon and he would meet us on the other side. The water was a pinkish color and we see that there are many flamingos in the lake which was a nice surprise.

An hour out of Uyuni the landscape changes to flat land with small brush, certainly not as attractive as the area around Tupiza. Mario drove us into the town and helped us to buy our bus ticket for two days from now which was great.

There is a tourist attraction that is on all the tours called the 'train graveyard'. We drove past it but said we did not need to get out of the truck. It was just a bunch of rusted out trains in my opinion. Sure they were the first ones involved with the mining industry, but not that interesting in my opinion. Train travel is very scarce in. Bolivia now. Every thing goes by truck and passengers by bus. If you are interested in trains then this would probably be great for you.

We finally arrived at the Salt Flats outside of Uyuni town. The lake is massive. Mario said it is the size of Switzerland but I have not checked that out yet.
We are lined up beside other trucks on the edge of the lake waiting for the sunset. A shallow skim of water in on the ground and when the sun goes down it looks like a mirror on the ground. It was so beautiful.

It is really chilling off now as we head to our hotel for the night. A lot of people, especially the younger back packer crowd, do a four day tour staying in dorms with no heat, shared bathrooms and bunk beds. They go for $100 pp and up. We considered this but it would be far too tiring for me to have four full days in a row. I have a number of medical challenges and need to pace myself. They also sometimes put up to six people into the trucks which can be rather uncomfortable on these long rides to say the least.

We arranged a two day private tour and were so happy we did. We saw everything that we wanted to see and could go at our own pace. The cost was 1625 BOL pp. plus an extra $115 USD per couple to upgrade the hotel.

We also opted for a unique hotel instead of the unheated dorms. A salt hotel on the lake, with everything made of salt. Walls, furniture, even the floor. This is a newer hotel and quite nice. Dinner and breakfast were included, which was a good thing seeing as how the hotel is miles from anywhere, and we enjoyed this unique experience. It gets extremely cold here at night but we had electric blankets to keep us warm.
The only thing I did not like was that the floors in our bedroom were salt, coarse grains of salt which made walking in your bare feet to the bathroom at night a little uncomfortable.
Hotel was Luna Salada

Day 51. Salt Flats.

Mario arrived at 8:30AM and we drove through the water of the lake for around 15 minutes and then there was only salt. Miles and miles of blinding white salt. It is so hard to get your head around the fact that it is not an ice field.

We stopped to take some goofy pictures for fun and then headed to an island a couple of hours away.

The flats are now dry, which is so lucky for us as it is the rainy season. We could drive right up to the island and Mario told us to go for a walk for and hour or so while he made lunch. The island is covered in huge cactus and had a lot of lava rock and coral rock on it. It is very well designed and well taken care of by the five residents who live here. We walked the trail to the top of the hill, slowly. The altitude is getting to me here, we are at 12,000 feet already and then climbing higher. We had to sign in when we arrived with our name, nationality and age. Mario and I looked at the ages of the people over the past few weeks and they were all 20 or 30 something. The other older folk like us did not climb to the top so we were quite pleased with ourselves that we made it. Slowly, one foot in front of the other, but we did it. It was so peaceful at the top, we had this part of the flats to ourselves, not another truck in sight.

From this vantage point we have a 360 degree view of the salt flats and can imagine just how big they are. Bolivia again does not export any of this salt, just for their own use.

After we made our way back to the bottom we find that Mario had cooked some quinoa for me ( I told him I loved quinoa) as well as some meat for Doug and vegetables. We enjoyed a wonderful picnic in this amazing setting.

Our long ride back across the salt flats I am wishing that I had a good pair of sunglasses instead of the cheap ones I bought on the street in Santiago. It is like the Arctic, blinding white everywhere.

Mario takes us to our hotel and we say our goodbyes. After checking into our room and a short rest we head out to explore the town of Uyuni for an hour. We stayed at Tonito hotel which cost 300 BOL or 400 with heat which we opted for but did not need. It gets very cold in Uyuni they say, but we did not experience that. The hostel was okay, good food but dim room and overpriced for what it was, but everything in town is expensive.

The women all dress in the traditional way, the bowler hats, large skirts, and long braids. Some of the women wear straw hats and look like a darker version of Anne of Green Gables with the braids. There are street stalls set up and everything from clothing to food being sold.

Teenagers are all running around with water balloons and large squirt guns shooting at each other. They also spray each other with foam and we hear firecrackers going off. Not sure what the celebration is, we will have to check it out.

Uyuni is backpacker haven. There are so many young people here with huge backpacks and most likely doing one of the many treks or adventures available in the area. It seems most are South American or Europe.


Day 52

Our bus to Sucre was not a luxury bus, but not as bad as I had feared. No bathrooms for the four hour journey, but they promised to stop half way. The cost of the trip was $5.

Our departure time was to be at 10 AM. At 10:15 the locals are yelling, "Vamos, it's past 10" in Spanish. Bolivians appear not to be a patient as Argentinians, but it worked, we left.
The scenery through the mountains is again very beautiful as we climb even higher.
As promised two hours in we stopped at a roadside building for refreshments and a bathroom or smoke break, and none too soon. (the bathroom, not the smoke).

We arrived in the city of Potosi just after 2PM. It is a large city high in the mountains, 13,450 feet. There is a three hour layover here so we decided to see about taking a cab the rest of the way. The taxis that went to Sucre were on the other side of the station, up a steep hill. I am so winded I can only do three steps at a time, but we finally get to the top.

Women are running full speed towards us. I guess we don't blend in like we thought we did..... " Sucre??? "

The first quote was for 400 Bolivanos, twice what we were told it should be. When we said "no, 200" one woman looked at the other one and said in Spanish something like "what are you nuts? It's not 400 BOL"

In the end they quoted us 160, ($26) which is funny cos we said we would pay 200. The car looked good, the driver was a young man in his late twenties, Nicholas. It ended up not being a cab, but the police were there and he had a receipt book that we needed to fill out with our names and this seemed to make it all legal.

One hour in I realize that the exhaust is coming into the car. We have a 2 1/2 hour ride ahead of us and we are being asphyxiated. We travelled with the window open the entire way, listening to 80s disco. One of the longest rides of my life. The scenery was spectacular however, through the winding mountain roads. These roads have been recently paved which makes the journey much more pleasant and faster. The only way to get to Sucre from Uyuni is by bus, the flights go through La Paz to get here.

We finally arrived in Sucre around 6 PM and are dropped off at our hostel which is right across from the Central Market. A lovely hostel with a large clean room and only $35 a night with private bath and breakfast. Escondito Hostel.




Day 53. Sucre

Saturday. The altitude here is down to 9,200 feet and it feels much better. The population is 200,000 and there are a number of Universities so lots of young people. The sidewalks are very narrow and extremely busy. Sucre is in a valley, with the main square being in the middle and then it all goes up from there.

We made our way up to a travel agency that claims to be non profit. We sat and had a wonderful Cappuccino and a cup of cocoa tea as well while we waited for our guide Rogero to show up. A private three hour tour was arranged for $10 each. Rogero was a lovely young man of around 25 or so and we started off walking towards the main square, Plaza de Mayo.

Rogero told us a lot about the city of Sucre, history and the country of Bolivia as well. His English was pretty good and we would revert to Spanish sometimes as well so that we could practice which he appreciated.

One of our stops was in the market across from our hostel where we enjoyed a fruit smoothie which was delicious. There were a lot of potatoes for sale in this area. Bolivia has over 350 different varieties.

Our last stop was the Mirador, which means lookout. Of course this means that it is on top of the hill, up a very steep hill. I did well however, stopping at the end of each block, but not as bad as I had feared from the bottom looking up. The view overlooking the city was wonderful and the air was so much cleaner up there. There is a lot of diesel fumes in the busy streets which makes my breathing ever harder. The side streets are so much better for both of us.

We said our goodbyes to Rogero gave him a big tip which was appreciated, and went for lunch at a wonderful cafe at the top and enjoyed a delicious lunch. Muy Rico!! Highly recommend the food here.

There are a number of stalls at the top of the hill selling hand made alpaca items as well as other handicrafts. We just looked and took stock of what was available.

Later in the evening we went to a dinner show which was fantastic. Three hours of dancing representing the different tribes and communities in Bolivia. The young people performing had endless energy and we really enjoyed it. It was called Origeins de Cultural or something.

Day 54
Next week is carnival in Sucre. This morning there is a parade for 'pre carnival' which will have people in different costumes from the various regions in the area. Unfortunately the Sunday market in Tarabuco was also today, but we opted for the parade partially because Tarabuco would involve a 2 hour drive each way and we were enjoying not being in a vehicle for a while.

Even yesterday no one knew exactly what time it started, even Rogero who is in the parade! They figured it would end up at the main square at noon, so we headed off at 10. This was after finding out that the final hockey game at the Olympics was on our TV (we haven't turned the tv on since we left home) It looked like a shoe in for the Canadians so we headed off for the parade. They won the Gold Yeah Canada.

A few blocks away we can see that the sidewalks are packed with people eeking out their spot. A few blocks up we found a little space, in the shade which was a bonus, and sat on the curb and waited about a half hour until we could here the bands coming.

It was a lot of fun to watch, most of the participants are either really young, (like 7 or so ) or really old, in their 80s some of them. Got to give them credit for dancing for a few hours non stop.

We found out that the water fights are all about carnival. For at least a week the young people go after each other with the water balloons, water guns and an aerosol spray can of soap foam. Everyone in the parade was fair game for the water or foam and everyone took it all on good fun. When there was a break in the parade the young ones would go into the street and soak each other.

We had a lot of really young ones sitting near us and they would get about two feet away from each other and have all out wars. We got quite a bit in the cross fire, but it was only water and soap. I did put my camera away however when it got really crazy.

Doug and I were the only tourists in our area that we could see, so when the women in the parade would come by with bags of rose petals or confetti they would put a big handful on my head which they thought was pretty funny.

Some of the participants were handing out eggs. The woman beside us gave it to me and we figured out that it was a hollowed out egg shell, filled with water and then sealed over again with paper. They instructed me to break it over Doug's head, which I did quite happily.

It was a really fun time and we are glad that we were able to see some of carnival as it seems we are a week too early everywhere we go.

In the streets are many vendors with masks, colorful wigs and other dress up items for the main festivities next week.

Day 55.

A trip to the post office to mail some winter clothes back home, but it was going to cost over $90 so we said forget it.
Three small museums were explored today. The Anthropology museum which was interesting and had artifacts from all over Bolivia and from thousands of years ago. There were many weapons, pottery and jewelry on display as well as six mummies, but not in as good repair as the ones we saw in Salta. A number of elongated skulls were there as well. The Inca royalty would bind the heads of children to have them change to conical shape, similar to what the Japanese did to children's feet.

There were two other museums in the same building but one was closed so we only went to the small modern art museum. It had some really great paintings on display.

I thought that I would have a very difficult time with finding vegetarian restaurants in Bolivia, but I have had some amazing meals here, as has Doug. For me I have a different salad and sometimes soup every day for lunch and dinner. There have been some fantastic varieties that I will try when I get home too. Of mention is the one at the lookout as mentioned, Florin on Bolivar street where we went twice.
The other was near the main square called Joy ride cafe.

Back up to the Mirador to visit a textile museum. On display were various styles of embroidery and clothing from the different areas of Bolivia. Fascinating and intricate works by some very talented men and women.

Today we fly to La Paz in the north. We really enjoyed Sucre and Bolivia in general so far. Our flight is on Amazonas Airlines and the cost from Sucre to La Paz was $88. It was the same price on line as it was at the Amazonas office in Uyuni.

Our flight was scheduled to leave at 10:10AM but when I checked the schedule on the internet it was changed to 11:50AM and we did not get notification. I have heard that Amaszonas changes flights regularly so if you book them check the day before. A woman at breakfast in Uyuni checked her email just before heading to her 10AM flight to find out they changed it to 7AM, so she missed it. I am not sure how that was handled, but the point is, check the night before.

Arrival in La Paz was one of the easiest of anywhere we have been.We were on a smaller plane and walked off onto to Tarmac and into the baggage claim area. Our bags arrived in five minutes and we went outside to waiting marked taxis

Cab ride into the centre was a fixed rate of 60 BOL. On the way we saw hundreds of riot police. Not a comforting feeling really.

It took about half an hour to get to town and then about 45 minutes to go a few blocks to the hotel. Complete gridlock.

Hotel Berlina is an okay hotel. I can not recommend the restaurant in the hotel however. Thai, Japanese and Indian. Not good food.

We met a couple from Australia who just arrived and said that their bus had to circle the city for ages before being able to come to the airport area. They then took a cab and videoed what was going on and showed me. The sex trade workers in the El Alto area are experiencing violence from the residents there, so they are striking, making it all but impossible for traffic to go through.

On the video I saw tear gas canisters, small bombs, yelling etc and then this lovely looking older woman starting throwing large rocks at the cab they were in and smashed the window.

These two were really shook up about it, understandably. It appears that the strikes are a common occurrence here, as I found out when I googled it.

I was worried about coming to northern Argentina and Bolivia in February, being the rainy season, but we were blessed with blue skies and warm weather almost every day. Bolivia was experiencing some flooding in the north east but we avoided that area.

I will update again in a week or so as we continue on our travels.

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    I hope you post a report Susan. we are looking forward to Ecuador in a few weeks. The altitude is not bothering my husband at all. Among other things I have mild COPD, lung disease. It is not so much the altitude for me but the exhaust fumes coupled with the altitude. When we are on side streets it is a lot better. With altitude sickness you just never know who it will affect. It is random.
    We planned our trip going slowly higher every week, and not starting in la paz for example
    It is a wonderful country,

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    Live42day, really enjoying your report and planning a similar trip for fall of 2014 through January or February.

    I am alert to your suggestions for vegetarians as I have been wondering how we will fair as non meat eaters and this is hard information to come by. Any more tips will be appreciated!

    Looking forward to your next report.....

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    Cindyjo. We just spent three months in Eastern Europe and it was really difficult for vegetarian food, so South America seems wonderful. Every menu will have 'vegetarian' options, but most are pizza and pasta. A lot of the pastas have heavy cream sauces however.
    There are great salads, diverse, some quinoa dishes so far and lots of vegetarian soups. Some do have a cream or milk in them. A lot of the salads have hard boiled eggs so if you don't eat eggs ask first and have it left off.

    Lots of of egg dishes, tortillas ( frittatas) etc. you won't starve here so should be fine. Certainly not like the selections on the west coast of canada and the US however.
    This is based on chile, argentina and bolivia. I will update again after Peru and equador.

    Thanks Crellston. Still keep referring to your great info, thanks

    Debbe

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    La Paz

    Day 57

    We went for a walk down to the main square, or pigeon park you could call it. There were thousands of pigeons and people would stand with food in their hands to feed the birds so they would land on them. There were many photos taken of people with six or more pigeons on arms, shoulders and heads.

    We sat and people watched for over an hour and a half and then went into a small modern art museum nearby, admission was free.

    I am having a terrible time breathing. I almost collapsed at one point. It is mostly due to all the diesel fumes as La Paz is very busy. The population is around 4 million and there are so many small busses and cars on the road. The altitude is also at 14,000 feet so the combination of the two is not working well for me.

    We decided not to stay in La Paz and arranged for a bus to pick us up in the morning and go to Copacabana, on Lake Titicaca.

    We purchased tickets on line and will arrive in Copacabana at 11AM, overnight and then leave at 6:30PM the next day to Puno. Puno for two nights and then the bus to Cuzco. It is a nice tourist bus with reclining seats and the total for all three legs is only $34 each.

    The girls in front of us reclined their seats and we were feeling a little cramped, until we looked out the window and saw an 18 passenger van with twenty people and lots of packages in it.

    Day 58,

    Copacabana Bolivia.

    The scenery on the way to Copacabana is beautiful past rolling hills and countryside.

    Copacabana is around the same altitude as La Paz but there is very little traffic so the air is much cleaner. We took a cab the short distance to our hotel because it was up a hill and rolling suitcases don't do too well on cobblestones.

    The Hotel Cupula is just perfect. We have a lovely room overlooking the bay and the grounds are full of flowers and hammocks. You can tell that the people who run it have a lot of pride in their work. The building is Moorish in style, all white and rounded tops. There are a great many different styles of buildings in Copacabana, some very unique and interesting buildings.

    A walk down to the town and along the boardwalk shows many paddle boats and kayaks for rent. It is low season so not many people are out on the water.

    Copacabana is definitely a tourist town, and probably in the high season the tourists would outnumber the 6,000 residents I would think. It is again a backpacker haven and we are clearly at least 30 years older than any other tourist we have seen in town. Rastafarian hippies are everywhere as well as lots of young people making their way around South America, just like we are.

    I would much rather be in a town where the average age of the tourist is 25 rather than 85 however.

    The local shopkeepers and people on the street are not very friendly I found. They seem fed up with tourists even though it looks like the town's main source of income.
    The people in hotels and restaurants are nice however.

    We did not do much in Copacabana. We just relaxed, walked around and enjoyed the clean air. It was lovely during the day but really cooled off at night and early in the morning. There are tours to the outlying islands and that is why most people come here. I had done it 6 years ago and didn't care to go again and Doug was just fine with that as well.

    Day 59. PUNO, Peru

    Our bus to Puno left at 6:30PM so we paid for a late check out of the room. The cost of the hotel was only $33 a night. Once again, we are the oldest on the bus by far. We had to sign in and put our names, nationality and age. I looked up the list and the youngest was 18 and the oldest (other than us) was 33.

    This was a double decker bus with the nice seats downstairs. I asked if we could sit downstairs and she said yes which was great.

    Half an hour out of Copacabana we stopped at customs control, checked out of Bolivia and then walked up the road to check into Peru. We were able to exchange our BOLs for Peruvian Soles there as well.

    The trip took about three hours and just before we arrived in Puno a man got on the bus and was chatting us up, and eventually told us that he was selling tour tickets. We bought two tickets from him to go to the floating reed island (Uros) tomorrow for 35 Soles each.

    Upon arrival in Puno we found a cab right away and for 7 Soles he took us to our hotel, Casona Plaza which is just off the main square and very nice. The cost is $41 per night including breakfast.

    They kindly kept the restaurant open for us and we had a small dinner before bed.

    Day 60

    I did not have a good morning, couldn't breathe. We are at 14,000 feet or more and I don't have the signs of altitude sickness, just really short of breath. I can't seem to walk more than a half a block without stopping to rest.
    I asked reception if I could go on oxygen for a half and hour and that really seemed to help. Most hotels in Puno and in Cusco will have oxygen available as it is a common occurrence for people to be short of breath when they first arrive.

    We walked the short couple of blocks to the main square to look around and find an ATM. We can only take out 400 soles, or around $160 a day here which again is a pain.

    It is international women's day and many of the women are walking around dressed in their traditional outfits. I spoke to one woman in Spanish who was from the island of Amanti and she had embroidered her blouse and shawl. It was just beautiful.

    I don't remember these from six years ago, but there are hundreds of small taxis, like Asian Tuk Tuks on the streets.

    At noon we were picked up by a van with 12 others and taken to the pier where our boat waited for us. We sat inside on route while the guide told us about Lake Titicaca and the reed islands we were on our way to visit. There are many islands in the lake, some are real islands but a lot are floating islands made of reeds.

    We came to one of these floating islands and disembarked to sit in the hot hot sun while the guide and the local president of the island explained how the islands were built from the reeds. The homes are also made from the reeds, which grow in abundance in the lake. They even eat them and we were each given one to try. I just pretended to eat it.

    This island has six families that live here full time. The children are taken by reed boats to school every day and there they learn to speak English and Spanish. The local dialect here is Aymara.

    Each group of us were taken inside one of the huts, which were very pleasant inside. It was scorching hot outside, but rather cool inside. The hut is very small and only a bed and a few blankets plus hooks along the walls to hang clothes. They have solar power and two light bulbs hung in the middle and they had a small tv. I asked how many channels they got and they replied 6, but Dad likes to watch sports most of the time.

    Then the embroidery came out, wall hangings and pillow covers. They were very beautiful but you couldn't help feeling like a fish in a barrel in their home while they show you this beautiful work. Of course we did buy one pillow cover for 50 soles ($20) which is a lot but the work that goes into it is amazing.

    From there a few of us went on the reed boat to the next island while mom and dad rowed us. It looked like very hard work and we felt guilty just laying back while they seemed to be struggling. The kids came along for the ride too.

    The next island had a restaurant and gift shop which I did not go into. I had been here six years ago and it was a different experience from this one. It is very touristy and you feel like you are being set up to buy things, but it is also a great experience to be able to see how they have lived for over 900 years on these islands. There are a lot of islands that people live on where tourists are not allowed to go to, only those who choose to share the experience do, and it is a source of income for them as well.
    On the way back we asked to be dropped off at the bus depot as we needed to get our seat assignment for our bus tomorrow. I am so glad we did because in Copacabana the woman took my voucher and gave me a piece of paper in return. When I handed it to the fellow in Puno today he said there was no leg from Puno to Cusco. It took more than half an hour to sort out, but in the end he said we had paid.

    I then found out that the 8AM bus were were booked on did not have a bathroom. 8 hours with out a bathroom was not an inviting thought. He changed us to the 11:30AM bus instead, so we were so glad we made this stop on the way back to the hotel.

    Day 61. Puno to Cusco

    The bus left on time and we had upstairs seats with a platform in front of us, so plenty of leg room. I had brought lots of books and things to do on the 8 hour journey but the scenery was so beautiful we just looked out the window the entire time until it got dark.

    Green rolling hills with farmland and the snow capped Andes behind. Half way into the journey four women got on with buckets and baskets, one with a baby bundled on her back and oldest one with a huge bundle in a blanket. She threw it down on the platform in front of us, opened it up and peeled back the brown paper inside. It was a huge piece of cooked meat of some kind.

    From one of the baskets she withdrew a huge butcher knife and started cutting and hacking away at the meat, putting pieces into a plastic bag and then a potato from somewhere went in too. The other women were going up and down the aisles taking orders and delivering the goods. The bus has taken of again now and the women worked for the next half hour of so until the next stop. I assume they would hop another bus and make their way back again. It was great entertainment

    Especially because she was right beside this 30 something European ( German I think) couple who were so serious and impeccably dressed and seemed really uptight.
    The older woman had her butt right in his space the entire time and they would lean over him to pass things. Very entertaining. He didn't say anything but did not look pleased.

    The bus station in Cusco is huge and there were probably hundreds of big tourists buses like ours. We needed to move from the bus with our luggage to get to the taxi area and it was just jammed with people.

    A cab to the Plaza de Armas was supposed to be 5 soles but we were quoted 10 which was fine.
    Our hotel is La casa de selenque and is right off the plaza. Cost for one night with breakfast is $70CAD. The rooms is spacious and clean and you can't beat the location.

    I was here 6 years ago and can't believe the difference. There is a Starbucks beside our hotel, KFC on the square and high end shops. The square was packed with people, Saturday night, and it was exciting to be back here.

    Sticker shock. I don't remember it being this expensive, but maybe it was just because Bolivia was so inexpensive. We got to the point in Northern Argentina and Bolivia that I didn't even look at the prices any more, they were so inexpensive.

    We ate on the plaza tonight, each having a bowl of soup, salad and leamonaid and it came in at 80 soles. With a tip that is $35 and it wasn't very good either. I guess we need to look more closely at prices and realize that Cusco is expensive now.

    More to follow as we explore the sacred valley

    Debbe

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    Few places near the Plaza de Armas offer good value. San Blas is probably a better bet. We enjoyed Encantasqa, great food and great service. One place near the Plaza maybe worth a look is Chicha, the Gaston Acurio place. We had a great dinner there one day, lunch was not quite as good, mainly down to poor service.

    Sorry to hear you have been having some altitude problems. La Paz is a great city but the pollution can be bad. I think it is partly because it is set in a steep sided valley and the pollution has nowhere to go.

    I agree with your comments re the changes in Cusco. We too were there six years ago and couldn't believe how much busier it had become. I suppose price inflation in the tourism sector is the inevitable result. Still Ove the place though!

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    Thanks Crellston. Wh are going to look a little harder at the menus today. I will check out Chicha too. I am having a much better time with the altitude toady. Was able to climb 2 flights of stairs without stopping!

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    Pisac and Ollyantambo.

    Day 63

    We thought about taking a direct bus or taxi to Ollyantambo, but in the end decided to do a bus tour so that we could explore Pisac on the way.

    We left our luggage at the hotel in Cusco and only took two small backpacks with enough for three days.

    We were picked up in a comfortable tourist bus just off the square. Our guide spoke in English and Spanish. The scenery on the way was beautiful and after two hours we arrived in Pisac. The guide said we had a half hour in the market but the first ten minutes were in a silver factory to tell us how the silver jewelry was made.

    I really resent this part of a tour, where they take you to a factory or somewhere where I am sure the guide gets a cut of what you buy. I know everyone has to make a living, but that only gave us 20 minutes left to shop and look around the Pisac market.

    We did manage to find a couple of little things in the market and then back on the bus to head up the hill to the ruins.
    You need to purchase a tourist ticket to visit all the sites in the Sacred Valley and Cuzco, so we purchased it here at the gate. Our guide had the blue flag for us to follow her. Ugg, I hate bus tours but this seemed the best option.

    She took us to a few different viewpoints and explained about the site and the history which was really interesting. Then we had a half hour on our own. A half hour? I could have easily spent another hour or so here. It is a lovely setting in the mountains and very peaceful and interesting.

    Our time was up all too soon and then it was to Urubamba for lunch. Lunch was included in the tour price and really had low expectations of what we would get, but was very pleasantly surprised.

    The drive from Urubamba to Ollyantambo is gorgeous. Hills of emerald green with the Urubamba river flowing by. I think that this is the most beautiful scenery of our entire trip. I was in Ollyantambo six years ago and loved it then, but really loved it this time. Here is the best surviving example of an ancient Inca town with many of the original homes. The cobblestone streets are narrow with high walls on each side. Ollyantambo is sandwiched between two mountains with ruins on each side. It is spectacular.

    There are many men and women walking around town wearing their local dress which is very colorful. The town feels very relaxed and tranquil.

    Our tour included a visit to the main ruins, but it was only for an hour. The stairs are very steep and it looked like I would want more than an hour here so we just took our small packs from the bus and went to find our hotel. It turned out to be a great decision because at 4:30 the skies opened and it just poured with thunder and lightening accompanying it.

    Our home for the night is Casa De Mama, and it is okay. The rooms are clean and it is in a great location and the cost is only $33 a night.

    Day 64 Ollyantamo.

    Check out time was at 10AM that that was a good thing because it got us up and about early. We were at the bottom of the ruins by 9:30AM under beautiful blue skies. The sun was warm but not oppressive. There were a couple of young men at the bottom of the ruins offering their services as a guide. We were happy to hire one of them for the short tour, one hour.

    Climbing the many stairs up was a slow go, but there were many others climbing at a similar pace. Having a guide really enhanced our experience as he gave us so much information about this site as well as Inca and pre Inca life. It was just fascinating and so beautiful up there. We were so happy that we decided not to go yesterday.

    Most of the tour busses arrive around 3PM, so going early in the morning there was very few people up there.

    After our hour was up we had the option to continue on for another 40 minutes to explore more of the site, which we did. As I said, I think that this is one of the favourite places we have been so far, we just loved it.

    Heading back to the square we came upon a tiny restaurant which is owned and run by a lovely young man and has only been open for six months. The coffee was amazing and the food delicious.
    World Coffee only has four tables but worth a visit for breakfast or lunch only. It is half way between the plaza and the entrance to the ruins.

    Full and satisfied we explored the narrow cobblestone streets and town square.

    At 2:30P we headed back to our hotel to pick up our small backpacks and walked the road by the river down to the train station.

    We chose the Vista Dome train, on Peru Rail. The 3:30P train only had two cars, (most people go up earlier) and we sat with two German men and had four women from the US beside us which made for interesting conversation.

    It was a wonderful 1 1/2 hour ride through the mountains and there were large windows and windows in the ceiling too for a great view. Very professional staff and we were even served coffee and sandwiches on the way.

    Half an hour from Agua Calliente the rain started. By the time we reached our destination it was pouring.

    A young woman was at the station holding a placard with our name on it, as well as another couple's, We were grateful for that as she led us through some mazes to get to our hotel for the next two nights.
    We all agreed to stop at the bus station for the transfer tickets to Machu Picchu first to avoid the inevitable line up in the morning.

    Gringo Bill's is a lovely little hotel and we have a room on the third floor with a private balcony with a view of the mountains.

    As we rest in our room for a couple of hours we hear the rain pelting down on the roof. It is torrential.

    At 7 PM there is a break in the weather so we venture out to find dinner. I remember Agua Calliente as not being a great place to be, just a place you had to stay to get to Macchu Picchu. But now it is just lovely, a wonderful surprise.

    Lonely Planet recommended a place called Indio Feliz which was not far from our hotel. It is owned and run by a man originally from France and the decor is very French Pub looking with two lovely big fireplaces which was wonderful as it was getting cold.

    The decor was fun and all the painting and decorating was done by him. The food was amazing. We could hear everyone at the tables around us raving about the food.

    Two great meals in one day, what a treat.

    Returning to the hotel we met the owner (Bill's) son Lawrence in the lobby. He wanted to make sure that everything was okay and asked if we had arranged a guide for tomorrow. We said we hadn't and half an hour later he called our room and said he had a guide for us and he will be here at 6:30AM to pick us up. Wonderful service.

    Day 65 Matchu Picchu

    Alain our guide met us in the lobby at 6:30AM and we walked a block to the waiting busses. We were able to get right on and start the 25 minute ride to the top . This is the only way to get to the site, other than walking, and has us going on many switchbacks up the mountain.

    We started at the bottom of the site as the clouds had the mountains completely socked in. Alain was a wonderful guide and told us so many new things about the Inca's and Matchu Picchu life. At this time of the morning there were not too many people around and it was quite pleasant.

    The clouds rolled in and out quickly. One minute you could see the other mountains and a moment later it was completely covered again. It made it all that much more mystical.

    We slowly made our way to the top of the site stopping every once in a while to learn more from Alain. Two hours later we paid for his services and he went back down and we climbed higher to visit the Inca Bridge.

    This was part of the old Inca Trail and took around 20 minutes each way on a narrow path with a steep drop off to the valley below. It brought back memories of my time here six years ago when I did the short Inca Trail and how I was terrified I would go off the edge with my vertigo and fear of heights.

    When we returned the crowds had arrived, it was 11AM. I thought it was much more crowded than the last time I was here. Many large groups of Japanese tourists were everywhere as well as a number of other groups. We were glad we came early to have some time with fewer people.

    At noon the rain started and we decided to go, we both needed the bathroom. There are no services on the site, it is the way it was all those years ago. By the time we climbed the stairs to the bottom the rain was coming down quite heavily so we just caught the bus and went back into town. It was a great morning. This is still one of the most amazing places I have ever seen.

    Another fantastic meal tonight at Tree Tops. It is a bit hard to find. Off the main plaza but up a bunch of stairs. Worth the hunt for it though, delicious food.

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    ECUADOR

    Day 70
    Quito. We just went to the main square, had lunch and bought a few supplies. We were bagged from yesterday and needed to prepare for tomorrow, so Quito will wait until we get back to explore.

    Day 71
    We booked a trip to,the jungle with Tropico. http://www.destinationecuador.com/ecuador-amazon-tours-huaorani-ecolodge.html

    I booked it a long time ago because they only take 10 people a week and I wanted to be sure to get it.

    Roberto picked us up at our hotel at precisely 6AM to start our journey to the jungle. We drove to another hotel to pick up four others from Texas. Marc and his wife Laurie, their 16 year old daughter Anna, and family friend 29 year old Monica.

    Our seven hour drive took us north east through some rolling green hills and beautiful scenery. This part of Ecuador is the adventure area with bungee jumping, rappelling, zip lining, and biking. We stopped in a lovely small town of Banos for breakfast and could see why it was very popular with tourists.

    At 2PM we arrived at the small airport called 'Shell', named after the oil company. All of our luggage was weighed and then we each had to get on the scales too as we were flying on small six seater cessnas.

    Waiting there for us was a Hourani man called Moi and his family. Moi is the president of the Hourani tribe and spends a lot of time on the main land talking to politicians and oil people, not to mention President Obama as well as others. He is working hard to make things work between the oil companies and the tribe. The Ecuadorian government is on the side of the oil companies because it brings a lot of revenue to the country, but the Hourani tribe are losing a lot of their hunting grounds, not to mention that they are cutting down the rain forest and polluting the land. The incidence of cancer has risen substantially in the last few decades since the oil companies came.
    The Ecuadorian Government said that there were not many Hourani left, so selling the land to the oil companies would not impact them. Moi spent eight months walking from village to village to do a census to prove to the Government that there were in fact many left.

    The history of the Hourani is a violent one. They killed so many people over the years, oil men, loggers, other tribes people, missionaries and many of their own. The spear would solve many problems for them, protecting their land and culture, revenge issues as well as some anger issues. The last killing was March of last year. A revenge killing of 30 people of another tribe the Taromenane, who still remain deep in the jungle and want no contact with the outside world. They killed an elder Hourani couple, which promoted the revenge.

    I would think of this sometimes as we were hiking through the jungle, or floating happily down the river, that perhaps they were hiding in the bushes with spears.

    Moi had some groceries that he wanted us to take back for him and he also showed us some of his handicrafts that were for sale. He needed to make some money to get to the the hospital to have an injury checked out. We each bought a necklace or two from him. I bought two with large teeth of wild pigs that are rather unique.

    The group was divided into two with myself, Doug, our guide Roberto and Monica who got to be the co pilot. The flight over the Jungle was breathtaking. We can see the river snaking its way through the dense forest.

    In forty minutes we see a patch of grass and realize that we are going to land there. As we are flying lower to land many groups of Huorani are coming out of the jungle to greet us. By the time the planes landed there must have been fifty people running towards us, young and old. We felt like quite the celebrities.

    After meeting a few people and sharing a glass of lemonade we are given rubber boots which will be our footwear for the next five days.

    Our bags are taken for us as we hike through the mud into the jungle and towards the river. A very long wooden dug out canoe is waiting for us. There is an engine at the back for travelling upstream or if in a hurry. Most times one man at the front and one at the back push a long pole into the river to help us manoeuvre down.

    We are now going by canoe for an hour to our village camp. The river is not that deep right now and there are so many sticks and logs proving a challenge to navigate. Our driver, who looks to be less than 18, is very skilled however and arrive in one piece and still dry.

    The humidity is very high, sweat is pouring off us. The temperature here never varies much, being on the equator. It is usually around 29, but it gets more humid this time of year.

    Pulling off to the side of the river we climb the bank to our homes for the next few nights. You can not see them from the river as they blend in. You can not find them on Google maps because the canopy is so dense.

    The main meeting area is a raised building on stilts that is screened in on all four sides and has a wooden roof. Inside is a table with 8 chairs and our lunch is waiting.

    I did not expect much for food here, but was happily surprised at the quality and quantity of food. Anna was also a vegetarian and the cook was very accommodating.

    We have two cooks, one cleaner and couple of boat drivers and workers. The camp is run by the Huorani with the guidance of a manager. The staff rotate every time new guests arrive, then return to their village and give others a chance. The marketing and payments are done by an American company because there is not any internet or communication in the jungle, which would make it impossible to manage.

    There is a manager, Mowgli, a young man from Quito, but everyone else is from the community and most of the money stays here.

    For every meal we would have an appetizer, main course and dessert, all fantastic and tasty. We were not going to go hungry here.

    Full, but tired, we were taken to our cabins. There is not any internet, telephones, tv or electricity here. Solar panels keep the fridge and a few lights going.
    Our cabin is four screened walls. No privacy but we are in the jungle and set back from the paths. We have two comfortable twin beds, one light bulb, a bathroom with flush toilet, sink and shower with cool water. Our porch has a wonderful hammock and area to leave our muddy boots.

    In the evening we met our local guide, 'Bay', who is a Huorani hunter aged 54. He took us on a night walk after dinner through the jungle looking for nocturnal animals and insects. Before we went however we were told to be careful where we stepped and put our hands as there were many deadly snakes, scorpions, and spiders lurking under leaves and branches. We also had to be aware of these huge Conga ants, about an inch long, that sting like crazy and leave you in pain for a long time.

    The jungle is very loud. Frogs that sound like large animals, cicadas, birds and crickets fill the air with their singing.

    Every tree, insect and flower has a use and a purpose. We have learned a lot from Bay already on our first day.

    Sleeping in the jungle with all the sounds around us was a great lullaby.

    Day 72

    After a large breakfast of eggs, bread, fruit and granola we set off in the canoe for 40 minutes upstream towards the airstrip. The next four hours were spent walking through the jungle learning about the medicinal plants, edible and hunting plants and looking at the different tracks in the mud. And speaking of the mud, it was a boot eater. Sinking and slipping through lots of mud.

    We came to a huge tree that had a 'Tarzan' vine hanging from it, so we each took a turn swinging through the jungle which was fun. I did not get too far before falling off however. I am made painfully aware that I have not been to the gym in three months.

    We came to the river, so hot dirty and tired, to find that we can swim in this part of the Amazon. After finding a tree to change behind we all welcomed the cold refreshing water for an hour. The rain came while we were swimming which made it even more invigorating.

    Lunch was waiting for us on the side of the river. Our cook, with two of her four children, were there to serve us another great meal.

    A walk back across the airstrip and we are at the community centre. There are many small family areas within a large area, but they all meet here in the community area to play sports such as soccer, go to the two schools here, high school and elementary as well as a gathering place.

    A couple of dozen people are in building in the middle which has a palm roof and open sides. Six or more small areas hold necklaces, bracelets and bags that are the local handicraft and for sale. Nothing is said, they patiently sit there talking amongst themselves. Small children are playing in the grass and a couple of the teens are playing soccer.

    Our group of six tried to buy from each of the vendors. A couple of necklaces from one and then I bought a blow gun from another. We will learn to shoot using a blow gun tomorrow.

    Two of the young girls in our group are single, so the men held arms and ran in a circle chanting and singing before circling Anna, the youngest, and pushing a young single male towards here. This is a mock wedding. and they have just married her off to an eligible bachelor. They did the same with Monica and it was great fun.

    We were given a tour of the school which has been closed since January. It is very hard to get teachers to commit to living here for a year, and now the government has decided not to fund education here any more. Very sad. The education is very basic in the reading writing arithmetic department, focussing more on learning the history of their elders and ways of the hourani tribes. Like most places the kids are not as interested in the old ways anymore, so there is a big focus on preserving it.

    Our last stop was a visit to an elder woman and her husband who have so many stories to tell. She showed us a scar of a spear that she was shot with as a young girl that went right through her.

    The company that we have booked this trip with with focuses on creating an awareness about these communities and what the logging and oil companies are doing to damage the lifestyles and habits of these people.

    It was a very long day and after another canoe ride home, we collapsed into bed for a rest before dinner.

    Day 73

    Today we learn how to hunt, the Hourani way. Down the river by canoe a ways and then a walk through a different part of the forest. We were shown tracks in the mud of anacondas, caiman, large wild pigs and rodents, and many birds.

    Once we were deep in the jungle our first mission was to kill a squirrel with a blowgun.
    Well not really, or course I could never do that. Bay hung a up a large flower pod as a target and we each took a turn.

    Bay was dressed ( or undressed) in his traditional hunting garb. A small undergarment and a few adornments was all that he wore. He was barefoot and carried his heavy blowgun and a spear. Roberto decided to go barefoot today too, which proved to be a challenge for him as there are so many biting ants.

    The blowgun is around 8 feet long and very heavy. Trying to hold it up to aim proves difficult, but with a bit of help I was able to shoot quite close to the target.

    We then had to aim at a monkey (the favourite food of the Hourani) which was a target at the top of a palm tree. Shooting up was actually easier. Of course we were not shooting a real monkey either. We were laughing and making so much noise there were no animals within 10 miles or more.

    A walk further into the jungle and we try our hand at spear throwing. Targets are set up to resemble wild pigs and we learn how to sneak up and throw our spear in for the kill.

    Our last lesson was tree climbing. They weave a circle of vines to put around their feet and shimmy up, blowgun in hand, and shoot the monkeys from the top.

    After watching the two young women having great difficulty trying to do it, we decided not to humiliate our selves and politely declined.

    A lot of the women have deformed feet from doing so much climbing at an early age, they resemble hands from wrapping them around the tree.
    This is still the way of life for the Huroni. It was not a show for the tourists, but the way that they really live today. It was fascinating.

    We returned back to camp and after a rest we sat in the hammock cabin overlooking the river learning how to make some of the baskets from palms as other crafts. Bay told us some stories of the jungle, translated by Roberto.

    The girls came into the dinner room all excited because they saw a snake outside their cabin. Roberto ran off to find it, in the dark, and he and a couple of other guys had to kill it as it was a very poisonous snake. Thankfully no one got bit.

    After dinner everyone went out in the canoe for a night hunt for caimans. I stayed back at the cabin. They didn't see any but did see other birds and tracks in the sand.

    Day 74

    Thunder like I have never heard last night. The storm was right over head and shook the cabin at times. Rain pelting down accompanied by lightning and more thunder. The real rainforest experience. Roberto said that he was scared......it does not happen here too much like that.

    In the morning the rain stopped and it was another warm but muggy day. We packed up our belongings after breakfast and tried to fit everything back in to our small backpacks.
    All of our clothes are filthy and smelly and seem to take up a lot more room.

    We said our goodbyes to the staff who were staying behind and split into two groups. Doug and I were with Monica and a few of the boatman as they poled the canoe downstream. So peaceful and beautiful floating down the river.

    After an hour or so we pulled onto a beach and switched with the other three who were kayaking.

    Kayaking on the amazon. What an experience. The canoe followed behind us a distance as we went with the current, dodging the many sticks and logs coming out of the water. I was the lead kayak with Roberto navigating the river, while Doug and Monica followed behind us.

    An hour or so later we arrived at Bay's house. We were greeted by four small children, his grandkids, and were led up the hill through the many fruit trees on his land. The Hourani people can decide where they want their homes, if they want it over here, then that is fine. No one questions it, you build you house where you want to.


    His land is beautiful and he has a few structures on it. Sleeping, cooking and communal buildings. Beba his wife greets us at the house as well has his two daughters and a few other relatives . They are in the traditional dress, Beba (bebantoque) topless and the daughters have bathing suit tops on and skirts made of tree bark.

    Our greeting involves having the red colour of a fruit painted around our eyes. We are all given Hourani names and welcomed with the local drink of chicha.

    The local girls then took a few of the fruit and smashed them into Roberto's and the other boys faces, which was then returned by the boys. It became a war of red paint for a while, and a young boy around seven decided to smash a fruit in my face which he and everyone else found quite amusing.

    A few handicrafts were sitting on a bench which we looked at and each bought one or two things. Doug and I bought a couple of necklaces and two small spears.

    Then we danced the traditional dance done at parties and the women sang a few chants. It was great fun and everyone was laughing and enjoying themselves. A small baby capuchin monkey was there as a pet. They rescued him from the forest and he was quite happy sitting on our heads and being part of the action.

    In the kitchen were other pets which included two baby red tanagers and two blue ones as well as a parakeet. The Hourani like to have parakeets as they let them know when visitors, or enemies, are coming.

    When ever we approach a Hourani home the lead person hoots, or makes a noise to let them know we are coming.

    It was now 2PM and we were hungry so set off up the hill to Bay's old house, a building with no walls and a palm roof that is very sparse at this point. Chino had our lunch ready for us, once again a wonderful three course meal which included poached pears for dessert.

    Thunder in the distance and then the rain poured down. The roof did not seem to keep much off of us, Roberto produced some ponchos which were welcomed. We waited for the rain to pass but after half and hour decided to go. Our path down to the canoe was now a small muddy river.

    It rained for most of the hour and a half ride but we all found it a fun part of the Amazon experience. There seemed to be more obstacles in this part of the river which necessitated us ducking in the canoe to get under large fallen branches and manoeuvring around fallen trees.
    To get over a large log that is laying across the river submerged just under the surface our driver would go very fast to glide over it and lift the engine at the last minute. It made for a bumpy ride at times, but exciting.

    We arrived at our home for the night which consists of four platforms with tents. We have foam mattresses, sheets and pillows. It seems quite comfortable.

    The rest of the crew went for a hike up to this huge tree we passed on the way, but I stayed behind to rest.

    Tonight is our last night in the jungle.

    Day 75.

    I have been fighting off a cold since we have arrived, but last night it came with a-vengeance and settled in my chest. The hike to the waterfall did not sound like the best plan for me so unfortunately I missed the hike. Doug decided to hang back with me.

    The rest of the group left at 6:30AM and returned around 8. They said it was a very muddy, slippery and steep climb up and down to the waterfall so I felt I made the right decision.

    I sat in the open air dining room and took funny pictures with my ipad of the kids and women. We were all having a great time and laughing a lot.

    After breakfast we packed up the canoe, said our goodbyes to the staff and made our way down river in the canoe for a few more hours.
    A stop in another local community with more dancing, learning how to make fire, and handicraft purchases. Each place we have stopped have had different items which is great.

    Another couple of hours in the canoe heading to the town of Coca. As we head downstream we can see the canopy getting lighter. The forest is thinning out and the sun feels hotter now.

    We reached the town and tried to clean up a bit, change into the least dirty and smelly of our clothes for the trip back to Quito. This is an oil town, many people are employed on the rigs and everything else that goes along with oil drilling. Unfortunately what also comes with it is that the locals also get involved with more alchol ,prostitution and other vices that are not common in the jungle normally. There are a lot of plantations where the land is cleared for cattle and farming. Pollution is of course another big problem.
    We have many of these problems with our own oil tar sands as well of course, but the Amazon rainforest is considered the lungs of the world and no one wants it to be cut down and to die from oil and logging.

    On the way to the airport we stopped at an animal rescue centre to view some of the animals that we only saw the tracks of, as many are nocturnal.

    Our flight to Quito was pleasant, our bags (and spears and blowguns) all arrived with us and we say our goodbyes to our jungle 'family' of the last five days.

    We were very happy to have Roberto as our guide. He was so enthusiastic about everything, like it was the first time he saw it too. He was incredibly kind, patient and had boundless energy. His passion for the Amazon jungle and the Hourani people added to our enjoyment and desire to understand the area even more.

    Our four fellow travellers from Texas were great companions and we all seemed to get along very well. We felt very blessed to have just a small group with people who were ready for adventure and what ever came our way.

    Day 76.
    Quito. Well another day in Quito where we won't be seeing much. Doug has picked up a bug of some kind so we are laying low in the hotel room, which is actually fine by me too. We sent out our laundry (those poor souls who have that awful job) and will re pack and re group for our flight south early tomorrow morning.

    It is now on to the Galapagos Islands for a week.

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    Fascinating stuff live42day. Looking forward to hear about the Galapagos as we didn't make there. Glad to here the blow guns arrived safely - can't be too careful on the streets of Quito! :-)

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    Thanks Crellston and virginia, I didn't think anyone was reading.
    Day 77

    3:45AM just seemed too early to to go to the airport but off we went. We had to first line up to purchase a $10 Galapagos ticket and then have our luggage scanned and tagged. They want to be sure that no outside fruit or vegetables get to the islands .

    There are a few school groups heading to the Galapagos, one we met from Calgary on Spring Break. Lucky kids. Our flight left on time and we found out that there is an hour time change on the islands. We are now only one hour difference from home. All visitors must pay $100 US cash park fee upon arrival to visit the Galapagos.

    A five minute cab ride, (in a Toyota pick up) and we are at our hotel at 930AM. Los Algarrabos was a great little place for $90 per night. Costs are very high here for what you get.
    Thankfully our room was ready for us and the owner asked if we would like a city tour. Sure, why not. His brother and wife picked us up in their pick up truck and in ten minutes we had seen where most of the major sites within walking distance were. It was a great way to get our bearings.

    The Main Street is the tourist area and on the waterfront with many shops and restaurants. Sea-lions are everywhere. They are smaller than our sea lions, almost seal looking, but there are hundreds of them in various shades of black, brown and blonde. They are laying not only on the beach but on the boardwalk as well, quite used to humans and very tame. We also see large iguanas walking down the Main Street. Welcome to the Galapagos.

    We are now on the island of St. Cristobal which is one of many in this chain but there are only a couple inhabited by people. We will spend two nights here before meeting up with a five day cruise that we booked.

    After walking around the town and having lunch we went back to the room for a rest. It is so hot here. Incredibly humid and hot which I was not expecting.

    The evening however is very pleasant and we walked around the edge of the ocean and then had dinner. The sun sets at 6:30P here as we are on the equator.

    Day 78.

    The man from the hotel drove us to a beach called The Loberia at 830AM. We walked down a path and then along the shoreline looking at various birds, iguanas and crabs on the beach. There was a small bay that we were told to snorkel in and it was lovely. Huge turtles in groups, some the size of me, just lazing on the bottom of the ocean and coming up for a gulp of air every now and then. I had to move out of their way they were so close. We saw a number of tropical fish as well and it was a great morning and only a couple of other snorkelers in the water with us and the turtles.

    Victor picked us up at 11:30AM as arranged and after we changed our clothes we walked to town to get some lunch and then out to the Interpretative centre. It was a lot longer than we thought it would be, and only felt so tiring because it was so incredibly hot. We quickly went through the centre reading the various boards and then started on the board walk towards the hills to see some birds. The problem is that there is not any shade. All the plants are very low bushes so we are in the blazing sun all the time. We came to a crossroads. To the right was the 200 stairs up to the lookout to see the birds. To the left was the beach.
    We chose the beach. The first beach had large waves and quite an undertow, and a few surfers. Tempting as it was we continued on to Playa Man which was a lot more swimmer friendly. Sea lions are suntanning next to the sunbathers on the beach.

    Cooled off from our swim we flagged a cab, but because we were wet he made us sit in the back of the truck which was fine with us.

    The town of Puerto Moreno is really charming, laid back, lots of tourists but I can see spending a lot of time here. There are many beaches and attractions (animals) that you can see just on this island.

    Day 78

    Luckily our hotel let us hang out for the morning until it was time to meet our group at 1PM. We were driven to the airport and met up with Harry, our guide from the ship. We were waiting for three more to arrive from Quito by plane.

    We are taken to the boat by zodiac and amazed at the elegance of our home for the next four nights. The Treasure of Galapagos is a first class yacht and very luxurious. I booked this a few weeks ago, there was one room left so I got it for around half price with Last minute Galapagos deals. Instead of $3600 per person we got it for $1560 each.
    Our cabin is bigger than some of the hotel rooms we have had and we not only have our own bathroom but a balcony too. It is way more than we every expected or thought we could afford and feeling quite decadent.

    After being served lunch in the gorgeous dining room Harry gave us an overview about the ship and the itinerary for the next few days. There are seven people from Germany who have done the northern route already and stayed on the ship to do the southern route. Harry does half English and half German explanations.

    The new arrivals are a couple from Australia, a couple from Japan and a single girl from Switzerland.

    The Galapagos Islands are a series of islands in the National Park and protected. You can only visit most of them with a certified guide. There is an airport on San Cristobal and also on Baltra, off Santa Cruz. One of the other islands has a couple of hundred people on it as well. A lot of people just visit the islands by land, taking a boat from one to the other doing day trips. We decided to do the five day cruise because they travel at night while you are sleeping.

    Our first outing was at 3PM and we took the zodiacs back into town and then a 45 minute bus ride to the other side of the island where they breed the giant tortoises.

    We did see a number of them on the walk and also the area where the smaller newborns, (these are two years old) are kept until big enough to be put in the acreage that is the breeding centre. It was all quite interesting.

    The captain started the engines at 2:30AM to move to the next island. We were really rocking and rolling all the way, I had to take a few ginger pills and a sleeping pill to get though the night.

    Day 79

    We wake to see a gorgeous white sand beach with aqua blue water, we are at Espana Island and it looks like a postcard for the Caribbean. After breakfast at 7:30A we pick out some snorkel gear and head to the island by zodiac. This is a wet landing, where we jump into the water and make our way to the beach.

    We walked the beach for an hour first with Harry telling us about the many colourful iguanas, birds and crabs that we are seeing. Sea lions are all along the beach and none of the animals are the least bit concerned about us.
    There are many baby sea lions that are still suckling. I watched as a young one went from female to female smelling for his mom, to have the adults bark and growl at him to 'get lost', They are so amusing. Related to the California sea lion but much smaller.

    The snorkelling was disappointing as the visibility was not great.

    Our afternoon outing was a dry landing to the other side of the island for a walk on lava stones to the bluffs. We saw many more sea lions and iguanas, blue footed boobies and Nasca boobies as well as other birds.

    Day 80

    We moved during the night again but it was much calmer this time. At 8:30 AM we did a wet landing onto Florencia Island. A very short walk on the sand and we are at Post Office Bay. There are two barrels here and in years long ago the ships would pass through and leave mail for back home. They would then go through all the letters in the barrel to see if there were any for where they were going. The letters were delivered by anyone who was passing through your area.

    So we did the same. We left a postcard, (no stamp needed) and will see when and who will deliver it to us. We took one for Abbotsford and will deliver it when we go to Mission next month.

    We walked the beach for a while and then snorkelled again. Once again we were disappointed. We have all done some amazing snorkelling in different parts of the world so the bar is set high. Two other ships came in and so there were many people in the water and again the visibility was not great.

    After lunch and a rest seven of us went back into the zodiacs for a deep water snorkel. Now that's what I am talking about! This time the snorkelling was amazing. So many colourful fish, thousands of them and the sea lions were swimming all around us and playing with us. I had one come right up to my mask to check me out. We saw a large ray and the others saw two white tip sharks, but I missed them.

    Doug had a blue footed booby dive into the water in front of him and go down about 12 feet and catch a fish. He said it was amazing. We snorkelled for over an hour until it was time to go back. Finally some great snorkelling, but it was worth the wait.

    Once when I raised my head to see where our zodiac was I see that a sea lion has jumped into the boat with our driver. It is very common but so comical.

    Shortly after we showered and changed we were back in the boats and this time all of us went to another part of the island for a walk across to the other side. We saw birds, more lava lizards, pink flamingos in the distance and different vegetation.

    When we reached the beach on the other side we find a large sea turtle coming out of the water. He turned and went back in when he saw us coming, but we had a great chance to watch him coming in and then swimming off again.

    As we walked down the beach we saw more turtles in the water and then we were lucky enough to see some spotted rays close to the shore as well as the sting rays.

    We walked across the island again and back to the ship as the sun was going down and painting the sky a brilliant orange and red.

    Day 81

    A terrible night of rolling as we travelled to the island of Santa Fe in the night. We were all bleary eyed at breakfast this morning.
    We left by zodiac and had a wet landing on the island at 8:30AM. It is already scorching hot out, we are all sweating profusely. Only three of the seven Germans came with us on the walk around the island.

    We see many cactus trees in bloom as well as huge Galapagos land iguanas. They are endemic to this island. Being vegetarians and green plant eaters it is slim pickins here now as all the bushes are just coming into leaf. We did see one eating a prickly pear that had fallen from the tree.

    Back on the beach to return to the ship the sea lions are spread across the sand between us and the water. We almost have to step over them to pass. So much for the two meter distance rule. Lots of babies again, and they are so funny to watch. One was very curious about D's hat.

    I was the last to get into the boat, stepping over the little seals to get there. The waves are active and a little voice told me to place my camera into the zodiac before climbing in. I am glad I listened because I ended up going over backwards knapsack first into the water. Not my finest moment but so happy my camera was okay.

    Ten minutes after arriving at the ship the six of us, (The English) put on our suits and set off again in the zodiacs for another snorkel from the zodiac. It was another great day seeing spotted rays, huge tropical fish and again swimming with the playful sea lions.

    After a couple of hours we headed back to the boat and set off for our final destination of Santa Cruz island.

    Upon arrival everyone went ashore except Doug and I, we had the ship to ourselves. We are spending two more days here so decided to just relax on board and read and listen to music which was great.

    We really enjoyed the Galapagos. It was different from what I expected, in that I had no idea we would be snorkelling for one thing. It was great to see iguanas and birds that are found no where else in the world and protected here. Most of the beaches were gorgeous and the water beautiful shades of blues and greens. To be able to walk amongst these animals and have them not take any notice of you, and feel perfectly safe was amazing.

    The landscape is very harsh for the most part, and a lot hotter and humid than I thought possible. It is cooler in the summer months apparently.

    There were a lot of other boats ranging from budget to luxury. Apparently this is a place where you really get what you pay for, so not advisable to go budget. If you have a flexible schedule like we did you can get the first class boat for the budget price anyhow.

    There were a number of young families, and a lot of people in their mid 20s. The eldest were in their 70s, but not many of them. Everyone for the most part seemed quite fit, as you need to be to do this tour.

    I am really glad that we decided to come here, it was a great experience.

    Our two nights on Santa Cruz was great as well. Much more polished and bigger than San Cristobal it is also full of tourists. Our first day we went up into the mountain area which looks like Hawaii, very lush and many tropical flowers everywhere. We visited a large private acreage where they let huge tortoise go free and it was wonderful to se them in this wonderful place.

    Our hotel was hotel Fiesta which had beautiful grounds and a salt water swimming pool, great wifi and a good breakfast. The rooms were small and basic but we were happy with it, and the cost was $82 per night.

    We did another day of snorkelling from a boat that went around Santa Cruz I got to snorkel with some large turtles and rays as well as a white tipped and black tip sharks.

    It again was incredibly hot and humid dining the day. I can see spending time here however and doing day trips.

    We flew from there to Cuenca. The airport is about an hours drive by cab, cost was around $18 and then we had to get on a boat, cost 80 cents, to go across to where the airport was and then get on a waiting bus to the terminal. They suggest you be at the airport 2 hours prior, not sure why as it is a very small airport. You have to show your receipt for ten dollar ticket you bought at the airport when you arrived, so ,don't lose it.

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    Day 85 - 91

    Cuenca

    We spent seven nights here in a two bedroom house that we rented on flip key from John and Barbie from the USA. It was a great week, our last week of the trip. We only went out to eat in restaurants for lunch and really enjoyed cooking our own breakfast and dinner as well as having the space to spread out.

    The weather is Cuenca is always spring, although this time of year we did experience some rain as well.
    We didn't do too much as this was a week to relax and wind down from some hectic weeks prior.

    There are many expats living here, and almost the first question you get is, "are you looking to move here?"

    I can see why it is attractive however. Costs are low, weather is pleasant and health care is good and very affordable.

    We spent quite a bit of time just hanging out with our hosts and another couple from close to our home in Canada. Both couples are just four of many who have decided to live here full time. Most, like them, rent rather than buy.

    We did visit the Main museum and found it one of the best we have been in as well as a smaller one, which had handicrafts from all over South America.

    We also walked along the river a few times which was very pleasant. We really liked Cuenca and can see why so many move here, although it would not be what we would choose for ourselves.

    Day 92 and 93

    Quito

    Our flight from Cuenca to Quito had us arrive at 2pm and this was the first time we saw the mountains and the sun. Quito is a beautiful city and we finally got to see it without the rain and clouds.

    We visited another amazing small museum, Mindalae with displays from the Oriente region of Ecuador, the Huorani tribes.

    A visit to the San Francisco monastery and church and another amazing museum, Casa de Abalado which housed pottery and artifacts that were beautifully displayed.

    All too soon it seems it is time to head home.

    We loved every country that we visited, but I think that if I had to choose a favourite it would be Ecuador with Bolivia coming in second.

    making our way home tomorrow, with so many wonderful memories. Feel free to ask any questions.

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    What a fantastic trip (and TR) live42day. I have really enjoyed travelling along. Where next??
    Unfortunately the your link doesn't work on my iPad so I will check it out later. Thanks once again for sharing.

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    thanks Crellston. Yes my video has gone viral. A news company in the UK has asked to use it . ITV with Aled Jones even!

    Because I used a Lady Gaga song they restrict use on iPads and phones so that you can see the ads I guess.

    Don't know where to next. Enjoying being a home for the summer. I do have a one week Alaska cruise booked with 7 of my high school friends this September to celebrate our 60th birthday, but nothing major.
    You?

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    Just got to watch the video - excellent!! Not surprised it has gone viral. Just glad that Lady Gaga provided the soundtrack and not Aled! AJ is now a breakfast TV presenter and also host a property/holiday programme. i will keep and eye out for you on UK TV..

    our travel plans are a bit up in the air at the moment. can really decide between semi settling down and just travelling for a couple of months at a time - (seem to have narrowed it down to Central America andColumbia or South East Asia & Indonesia) or putting everything into storage and embarking on another long RTW trip

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