October - November 2016
  • Day38

    Antarctica - the seventh continent

    November 18, 2016 in Antarctica ⋅ 🌧 11 °C

    Our boat was an expedition style vessel called MV Ushuaia and the trip was booked through Chimu Tours. It was certainly not a luxury tour but it was one of the more affordable trips available. Our cabin was supposed to be a cheaper one with bunk beds and shared bathroom but for some reason we lucked out and were upgraded to an ensuited room with single beds (not bunks) - Bonus!

    The trip to Antarctica consisted of a 2 day voyage across the dreaded Drake Passage. This stretch of water is also known by two other names - The Drake Lake or The Drake Shake. Of course we all hope for a smooth crossing and on a scale of 1-10, the seasoned sailors (you know, the ones that do the trip a dozen times a year), claimed it was about a 2 or 3. To the rest of us landlubbers it was about a 52! I spent the first day in bed, only getting up to go to the loo (and hanging on for grim death) as the ship rock and rolled like a bucking bull at a rodeo.

    Once we reached the continent, all became calm..... and beautiful!

    The next week we spent on shore landings to observe penguin colonies, floating around on zodiacs amongst the spectacular icebergs, and visiting an Antarctic Base. Some of the walks were quite a challenge when you coupled walking up a snowy slope where the the snow is either slushy or slippery, while you are dressed in 15 layers of clothes. The most fun was sliding back down the slope on our backsides.

    We had great weather most days and saw plenty of penguins, a few leopard seals and other birdlife, however I thought we may have seen more activity from whales but I must admit we get more humpback whale action off our local headland at home. Brad was most excited when he was taking some shots with the GoPro when a huge iceberg calved in front of him, losing the entire side of the iceberg.

    The journey back to Ushuaia was probably only a 1 on the Drake Lake/Shake scale so we were very fortunate. One night back in Ushuaia, then flights back to Brisbane via Auckland. And so ends our South American adventure. It was a great trip and all ran smoothly. After 20+ flights in 7 weeks, the only hiccup was when we arrived back in Brisbane less one bag - it didn't make the connection in Auckland. All good though, the bag was hand delivered the next day by courier.
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  • Day33

    And so, to the bottom of the world.

    November 13, 2016 in Argentina ⋅ ⛅ 6 °C

    To join our Antarctic cruise we had travel from the top of South America to the bottom of the continent to the most southern town in the world - Ushuaia. This meant a flight from Lima to Santiago (where we stayed overnight), then to Buenos Aires, then Ushuaia.

    Ushuaia is an attractive and somewhat quirky town. We had a hotel in the main street and it appears this is a town that never sleeps. By night, the local lads cruise the street with doof-doof music blaring until 2 or 3am. The first afternoon we were there we heard a rather unusual noise. Looked out the window to discover the main street had been shut down and there was a parade of (indigenous) people on horses - there must have been one hundred of them. I don't know what it was all in aid of.

    We enjoyed wandering around the town where we could see our ship that would take us to Antarctica, waiting in the harbour. They specialise in King Crabs and Brad indulged in one upon our return from Antarctica as we stayed in the town for one night after our cruise.
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  • Day29

    Galapagos- wildlife galore

    November 9, 2016 in Ecuador ⋅ ⛅ 9 °C

    Left Quito and flew to Galapagos Islands via Guayaquil (sat in the plane on the tarmac here for 40 minutes while half the plane disembarked.) Transferred to our cruise boat the Santa Cruz II, our home for the next 4 nights. We were fitted out with snorkels, goggles and flippers before going on a panga ride (Zodiac boat) to check out some of the local wildlife. Saw sealions, boobies (blue footed and nasca varieties) and various crabs and seagulls. We then had a beach landing and try out the snorkel if we wanted but it was a bit chilly by this time so we declined at this time.

    Next day we had a hike around Santa Fe island, home to many sealions and land iguanas. We couldn't believe how close we could get to them. Plenty of bird life too but sometimes difficult to get good photos of them while flying . After lunch, Brad went snorkeling while I chose the glass bottom boat (bad choice because it made me feel seasick). Brad enjoyed the snorkel dive and said he had a sealion swim straight up to his face (but he did not have the GoPro so cannot prove it)

    Day 3 and we visited the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz island to view the giant tortoises. Hmmm, see one tortoise, see them all. They don't actually do much - probably why they live to well over 100 years. However, back in the town we were thoroughly entertained by the local fish market complete with sealions and pelicans patiently waiting at the counter for their share of fishy tidbits. One cheeky sealion climbed the steps from the water, stuck his head in a plastic bag, retrieved a fish head and returned to the water. He did that at least 3 times while we were watching.

    Before lunch we had an option to go on a bike ride before lunch. Unfortunately I didn't hear them say it was more uphill than down, plus the bike I had, had terrible gears, plus the fact it became stifling hot. All this was not a good combination and I got picked up half way. Brad didn't enjoy it either. After lunch we visited tortoises in the wild. Nope, can't get too excited about tortoises.

    Last day we had another hike around a very rocky island. This time I took a walking pole (stick ) and helped me keep my balance. I still fell and banged my knee but that is just typical of me. This time we saw the marine iguanas which are sometimes called Christmas iguanas because of the red, green and black colouring. Also albatross and their (rather ugly) fluffy big babies, and of course more sealions. Finished the day kayaking and Brad had another snorkel, this time with the GoPro where he shot a whole lot of nothing.

    Next morning we returned to Guayaquil which ended our Travelmarvel part of our South American trip . Said farewell to our travel companions for the past month and flew to Ushuaia (via Santiago ) for our final destination - The Antarctic !
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  • Day24

    On the equator

    November 4, 2016 in Ecuador ⋅ ⛅ 9 °C

    Arrived in Quito….. and what a surprise! Other places we had been to in South America showed signs of poverty and with no concern for the aesthetic appeal such as gardens and well maintained homes. In fact many houses appeared unfinished mainly due to the fact that they did not have to pay land taxes or rates until the home was finished, therefore houses were never complete. Flew into Quito to a near new airport, beautiful smooth roads into the city, and very attractive city too, set amongst quite steep hills (actually make that volcanos)

    Stayed at the Dan Carlton Hotel (very nice) and after the usual tour around the old town (another church, another market Square, another presidential palace, another statue on the hill – this one of Mary / Madonna, not Christ) we had a free day to do as we pleased. Fortunately we were aware that we were very close to the equator and our guide organised a group tour to the real equator. I say this because there are 2 equator points – one with the big monument etc. that was determined in the 1930’s but it's actually out by about 200m or around 7°. We went to the real equator (as determined by GPS) and it was really interesting. Standing on the equatorial line we saw the corealis effect demonstrated (not sure of the spelling but it is the direction water drains according to which hemisphere you are in). The guide filled a sink with water, placed it over the equator line, pulled the plug, and the water drained straight down. Repeated it just 2m in the northern side and the water drained in an anticlockwise direction, repeated on southern side and drained in a clockwise direction. (I may have mixed them up but you get the idea). Also the wind speed meters were spinning in opposite directions on either side of the equator and yet they were only about 5m apart. It is like one side cancels out the other. It is for this cancelling effect that Ecuador does not have hurricanes or cyclones or tornados (but they do have earthquakes and volcanos). It was all really fascinating and I'm glad we went.

    Nearly at the end of our South American trip… next stop Galapagos Islands.
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  • Day20

    Into the jungle we go

    October 31, 2016 in Ecuador ⋅ ☀️ 29 °C

    After a couple of days travelling to Ecuador (via Lima and Quito - more about Quito later), we flew to Coca in the Amazon river basin, travelled an hour and a half in a motorised canoe to board the Anakonda Amazon cruise boat for three days in the Amazon jungle on the Napo river.

    Our first activity was an evening walk through the jungle but did not see anything of great significance - a few bugs and spiders, but not too much else.

    The next day was spent exploring by motorised canoe the Piranha Lake and waterways looking for pink river dolphins (nope), squirrel monkeys (nope) and caiman (nope), but we did see a sloth (which the guide said he could smell) and some macaws, plus weaver birds, the big blue butterflies and several other creatures that the names escape me at the moment. After lunch we tried a spot of piranha fishing and Brad was pleased to catch one.

    Or final full day started early with a visit to a parrot clay lick where it seems like 1000's of parrots gather to lick the mineral rich clay. While there were certainly a lot of parrots around, they were a bit reluctant to land as there must have been a predator nearby. We did however see some red howler monkeys. Later that day we visited a local centre and the women showed us around the gardens ( for food production) and we tried of their local foods etc. Later that afternoon we walked to an observation tower and climbed 40 metres to take us above the forest canopy and views of the river.

    The cruise was nice - boat comfortable with good facilities and meals. Saw some great sunsets and some sights we would never see at home. Did i mention it was hot? Even the local guides thought it was warm. ... and still no rain to spoil our tours.

    Final morning a 2 hour boat ride back to the airport and return flight to Quito.
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  • Day17

    Titicaca- highest navigatable lake

    October 28, 2016 in Peru ⋅ 🌙 21 °C

    Starting to get a bit behind in my blog, partly due to poor Internet reception (partly due to laziness )

    Left Cusco for the drive to Puno, a surprisingly large city on the shores of Lake Titicaca. The drive was an all day affair with a couple of stops along the way to visit some Incan ruins and a rather elaborate Sistine Chapel. Unfortunately we also stopped for a buffet lunch at a place that caters for bus groups etc. I say unfortunately because we believe half a dozen of our group contacted food poisoning resulting in vomiting and diahorrea including Brad, some worse than others. It took several days to get that out of their system, so probably this area does not hold particularly fond memories.

    Also along our journey we stopped at the place of the highest elevation we encountered...surprise,surprise , another market.

    Lake Titicaca is set on the border of Peru and Bolivia, and is the highest altitude lake in the world. It is also home to the Uros people who live on man-made floating islands made from reeds. It was an interesting tour after finding out how they made the islands we had a look inside the simple houses. Our local had us dress up in their very colourful attire - a bit of a hoot! Of course, there were handicrafts for sale.

    Interesting place but it was a long way to go to visit. We flew out of Juliana, about an hour from Puno, not a very nice looking place, to Lima (1 night), then Quito (1 night), before embarking on our Amazonian Cruise (next blog)
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  • Day15

    We are the anointed ones

    October 26, 2016 in Peru ⋅ ⛅ 8 °C

    A strange title I know but I will explain a bit later.

    Arrived in Cusco after our trip to Machu Picchu booked into another amazing hotel - very old - and has been several things including a monastery and a bank. As mentioned before, Cusco is at a very high elevation and we noticed that the simple task of breathing became difficult again. That evening we had a dinner and Peruvian traditional folklore music show which was magic. The pan pipes plus another couple of instruments that I don't know the names of (but look like a ukulele and large recorder) were expertly played, particularly the haunting melody known as The Lonely Shepherd (of you don't know it - Google it). Beautiful! There were also male and female colourful masked dancers (like the one on the Vistadome train) and Brad was asked to go out and dance with one of the girls. A bit of a fish out of water but he actually looked like he knew what he was doing. However, the dance went on for quite a while and as we were not yet acclimatised to the thinner air, he found himself getting exhausted and another minute he reckons he would have passed out.

    The next morning we had a walking tour of the main area of the Old Town of Cusco which included the sacred site of Koricancha (an Incan sun temple) and a Baroque church which was massive, as well as a food market which Brad said would be fined and shut down if it was in Australia. Still, it wasn't as bad as the markets we saw in Vietnam. ... at least these did not have flies all over them.

    The rest of the day was free time so we decided to do a bus tour with 4 other people of our group so we could get some views of Cusco from up in the hills from the Statue of Christ (it seems many South American cities have a Christ statue - just not as big as the one in Rio. What we didn't realise was that it also included a coca leaf ceremony. This is a type of blessing (I think, not real sure ) where a Peruvian Sharman gives you 3 coca leaves (these are the ones that help combat altitude sickness) and chants over them and you while waving a condor feather, then we burn them and he collects the burnt offering and waves the smoke over you. Smells a bit like eucalyptus leaves. Don't really know what it was all about but it was interesting.

    Next day a big drive to Lake Titicaca - the highest navigatable lake in the world - but more about this next blog.
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  • Day13

    Macchu Picchu- the lost city of the Inca

    October 24, 2016 in Peru ⋅ ☀️ 20 °C

    We have been in South America two weeks now and have just visited one of the highlights of our tour - Machu Picchu . Once again the weather has been kind to us with a sunny day. It may also be because a bird pooped on my shoulder and they do say that it is good luck.

    We left our spectacular Sacred Valley accommodation (would have liked to spend a little more time here) with an overnight bag as the rest of our luggage is going to Cusco, and boarded the Vistadome train at Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes (also known as Machu Picchu town). The 90 minute train ride was very civilised with great views and a snack service as well. The final leg of the journey was a half hour bus ride up the mountain on a dirt road with lots of hairpin bends.
    We have arrived!

    Passports are needed to enter the site (bonus being you get a Machu Picchu stamp) and it is a short walk to get a classic shot. We explored the place for several hours and our guide gave us very detailed information about the history. He grew up in Machu Picchu town and his father was a maintenance worker on the site. Brad climbed to the Sun Temple to get the money shot (the one you see in the brochures) but I chose not to as uneven steps without handrails make me nervous. A couple of the ladies booked to do the Inca Trail (1 day) which took them about 8 or 9 hours. Kudos to them but they did look quite exhausted when they arrived.

    That night we stayed at El MaPi hotel, had the morning to explore the town (more markets, surprise , surprise !) before heading back down on the Vistadome train while being treated to some colourful entertainment and a fashion show, and then a 2 hour bus ride back to Cusco .
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  • Day11

    Getting a little high...in elevation.

    October 22, 2016 in Peru ⋅ ⛅ 12 °C

    Arrived at Cusco, quite a large city at a high elevation where the temperature is crisp and the air is thinner. This city is over 1000 metres higher than the highest point in Australia and as such the altitude certainly did have an effect on most of our group, some worse than others. Brad and I had been taking altitude sickness pills in preparation and while we were feeling a slight tingling in hands and feet (a side effect) and light-headedness, we did not actually feel nauseous or have a headache as some others did. We were not however staying in Cusco yet but heading out to the Sacred Valley which is in the vicinity of Machu Picchu.

    Our local guide Celio, is Incan (or at least Incan blood) and is quite a character but also extremely knowledgeable. Our first stop along the way was to visit a traditional weaving demonstration. Now, I have been to these handcraft type demos before but this was really fascinating. A simple snack type lunch was provided including guinea pig (tried it but won't be trying again). Of course they had jumpers, scarves etc. for sale but the difference was the prices were extremely reasonable. Brad and I both bought a jumper for 70 soles (Peruvian money) which is equivalent to about $28 AUD.

    After winding our way through dramatic mountain scenery we finally arrived at Sacred Valley and our hotel - Aranwa Sacred Valley. What a surprise it was! Without a doubt this is the best hotel we have ever stayed in.... and huge. A couple of photos to show the area.

    The next day we had a walk around the Incan town of Ollantaytambo then drove up into the mountains to visit the children’s project, Munaychay (an orphanage) and where we had lunch cooked in a Peruvian earth oven - bit like the New Zealand Hangi.

    To complete the day we visited Pisac market. More souvenir shopping... same, same, but different. I am not really a good shopper.

    So ends our visit to the Sacred Valley - next stop Machu Picchu.
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  • Day8

    Niagara Falls...eat your heart out.

    October 19, 2016 in Brazil ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    Not that I have been to Niagara so I suppose I shouldn't comment, but these falls are magnificent. Located on the border of Brazil and Argentina, we flew from Rio to Iguassu (Brazil) and checked out the falls on the Brazilian side. The water is a bit brown from recent rain but it did not really detract from the overall effect. We saw a toucan in the wild but not really able to get a good photo of it. Managed to get a bit wet on a walkway that went out along the front of one of the falls.

    We then headed to our hotel which happened to be on the Argentinian side and meant a border crossing, first Brazil, then Argentina. Not really a hassle but it is time consuming. Hotel is a Mercure hotel, quite new, nice rooms and attractive pool but I feel it would have been better to have a hotel on the Brazilian side because we went to dinner and a show one night (excellent) but this meant another border crossing, and another to the airport.

    The next day we visited the Argentinian side which was more from the top of the falls looking down. About 1km of walkways led to the Devils Throat which is one of the most spectacular falls. After we opted to go on a boat safari that takes you to the base of the falls. Quite a trek down to the boat and with the warning "You will get wet" we boarded the boat for 20 minute adventure. Was it worth it? You bet it was. Plenty of laughs and squeals as we headed into the base of the falls. Brad had Luke's GoPro so we were able to film it.

    Final day in Iguassu and we went to the Parque de Aves (bird park) which we really enjoyed. The setting was very peaceful and we had the chance to observe toucans and macaws in the huge walk through avaries. After this a trip to the airport for our 6th flight, this time to Lima to begin our Peruvian adventure.
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