Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Iquitos, Peru

The last night of the Huayhuash trek in Huaraz I twisted my knee. The twist hurt so bad, I had to rest for 3 days in the hostel. Knowing the Alpamayo Circuit, last trek left on my list, is the hardest of the ones I´ve done, I decided not to challenge a bad knee with it.
The next stop for me would now be - Iquitos.
Iquitos is the biggest city in the world which is isolated with no road leading to it from the outside world. The only way to reach Iquitos is by plane or by boat (down/up stream on the Amazon).
I then took a night bus to Lima, and caught the first flight to Iquitos...
During my travel, my father set me up with a contact person (a friend of my father´s colleague). Apart from being an amazing bird-watcher, Noam is the regional-governer´s advisor for everything to do with the community and forests around it. This means he is responsible for recommending new national parks and reserves. In general, Noam is the man you want to be with when arriving to a crazy place like Iquitos.
After a day of just walking around, knowing the city & checking my touristic options, Noam knocks on the door of my hostel and offers me a ride on his motor-cycle to his house.

Ignorance is bliss?

Here I have to interrupt the story and tell what I think about the following events and its consequences:
Most people who arrive to Iquitos or the Amazon area in general - go on ´´Jungle-Tours´´. These tours cost around 100US$ a day, depending on how far you want to enter the forests and where (Brazil/Peru/Colombia) you book them. I almost booked a tour with an agency in Iquitos for about 5 days. The only reason I didn´t was because of what Noam told me. He said these tours go to the same place with all their tourists. The guide walks through trails which thousands of people walk on every day/year. This simply means that even if you do see animals on those trails they probably were put there by the agency. He also added that not all agencies are like that, but to see ´´real´´ jungle one would have to pay three times the offered price of the market and so no regular tourist would be able to afford such a big expense.
To hear/read these facts (by a very knowing man), one doubts everything he ever done/planed on doing. Knowing I can´t afford such expenses I tried my best to see the jungle my way.
If I haven´t met Noam - I would have spent (like any other tourist) a fortune on a touristic jungle tour. On the other hand, maybe if I wouldn´t have known it was touristic - I could live with it just fine - like the people I´ve met on the way telling me how wonderful their jungle tour was...So maybe ignorance is bliss after all?

In Noam´s house I met Ethan. Ethan is an Israeli-American, living in Miami for a long time, travelling the world for the past 3 years. Ethan is staying these days in Iquitos in order to finish the book he´s writing about the evolution of cities in human history. Peace of mind is something easy to come by in the small city of Iquitos.
Noam is a working man, busy. That´s why Ethan turned out being my travel friend for my stay in Iquitos. We first went to Nauta, the closest city to Iquitos and the only one connected to it by road.

Fun Fact: There is only one road exiting Iquitos, that´s why when someone want´s to ´´go out´´ and have some fun, he would turn to his friend and ask if he/she would like to go with him to ´´the road´´ (La Caratera).

From Nauta one could take a Pek-Peke boat to ´´The Birth of the Amazon´´. Rio Marañón & Rio Ucayali meet and together create the world´s widest river. It was impressive to know that I´m standing there, but really - it looked just like any other two wide rivers, it´s either me or the dry season...sorry.
Nauta itself is quiet and un-touristic. Walking around the small market makes the local people turn their heads to see the strange tourist passing by.

A few days later, Noam offered me to join him for a one day jungle walk. Just 30 minutes drive out of the city NP Alpauayo Mashina lies. We dismounted the taxi (colectivo), and just walked in to the woods. Walking around with an expert like Noam is amazing even without the jungle surrounding us. Walking around, he carries: DSLR (big ass camera)+3 lens´ (400mm, 100mm Marco, 18-135mm), iPod+speaker, Microphone+Recorder, Binoculars.
Hearing a bird from afar, Noam would identify which bird it is, then he would search for the right track in his iPod and play it to the bird. The bird, hearing the right sound, would fly closer and search for it´s mate. Noam would then re-play the track, look though his binoculars and only after being satisfied from the work, he would quickly try and take amazing photos with his new camera. First I like to see it, he says. If he doesn´t have the voice of the exact bird, he would then record the animal ´´live´´ (with the microphone - remember?) and play the bird its own voice.
Not long after entering the woods, I understood birdwatching is just not for me. Being color-blind (thanks mom) I just couldn´t see all the birds Noam could see. Bummer.
Next time, I went on my own to Alpauayo Mashina. I went to a different area and managed to see some monkeys and more birds (less than what I´ve seen with Noam´s help, and far away...) and lizards.
So, in order for you to not be sad for me for not seeing all the animals the Amazon has to offer, I went to the Local-Animal-Zoo. There I could witness with my own eyes amazing creatures one could see, regularly, only in the zoo.

The days in Iquitos pass by slowly but surely, I would spend a lot of time with Ethan. On Fridays we would eat great food at Noam´s house (great cook by the way). Everyday would end with ice-cream on the ´´broadway´´ of Iquitos. Ethan is amazingly kind and can not witness a child in need, every other day he would buy the children (living in the streets) ice-cream. It was just heartbreaking to see those kids, trying to sell worthless candy to tourists in the middle of the night.
Without even noticing, two weeks have gone by. I then took my vacation days in
strict hands and climbed the next boat leaving towards the Brazilian/Colombian border.

Tips for Iquitos:
- Think about what you want to accomplish by arriving to such an amazing place. You can always take the touristic tour, but is true? Is it real?
- If you do take a guided tour through the jungle, check carefully if the guide is known and get recommendations. Never go on a tour with just any guide offering himself on the main plaza (for example. There have been too many stories of people lost/robed/left to die in the jungle by unreliable guides.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Enjoy Huayhuash?

Back from the Santa Cruz and in Huaraz, Paz & I met Itai, another familiar face on my journeys. I first met Itai in La Paz, at Shaul's place. Dror went with him on the Rio Verde trek parallel to my voyage down the Pirita river. We also witnessed the Chola-Wrestling together. This time, Itai was gathering a group for our next in plans - Huayhuash trek.
There were already enough people in the group, they all seemed nice, and they were perfectly leaving the next day. The only problem was the agency they picked - I heard only bad things about.
10 Israelis, 1 Czech (AKA Martin), 1 guide (AKA Jesus), 1 assistant (AKA Moises), 1 cook/harriero, 2 horses for 8 days in the Cordillera Huayhuash, Oh well, how bad could it be?
Day 1, Thursday, September 9
Ready on time, we found out a delay in Peru (as usual) is constant and sure as loosing in the lottery. Our good luck continued with a dead van (engine got sick and tired of Israelis, who wouldn't?). So there we all were, eating bread with Avocado & waiting for a miracle to happen. The miracle took us all the way to our campsite - for only 150 $oles.
Sunset was great, tents were up in no-time, and I even got a private tent with Paz! Yummy!
Day 2, Friday, September 10
The next morning we got up way to late (for my regular trekking hours - but I got used to it..), than took our time eating and packing. While in the end of the latter, Jesus thought it would be OK for him to start walking without the group (a thought that followed frequently every day). One hour later, the group had a gap of an hour & a half between the first and the last person.
Reaching the pass and seeing I have enough time, I took Gil with me and we climbed a nearby, more impressive, rocky peak. Climbing back down - we were frowned upon - "crazy" is the term I remember most people used.
Mid-way to the 2nd pass of the day, we ate lunch. Near the second pass, I reunited with Itai (who was brave and strong and got to the 1st pass first as well!), we thought again about how much time we would have to wait until all the group arrived, and so decided to see the area around. The detour was amazing. We got better views of valleys and glaciers. Trying to return back to the pass, it was getting late; So we walked a bit faster and found the trail just as it got dark.
Having a head-torch we were not too worried, but a bit curious to why we haven't seen the guide searching for us?
Closer to camp, we saw lights spread around the area. Turning on my torch we found the worried searchers. Jesus, Moises & the cook were not included in the search. Apparently - Jesus thought we're crazy to go alone, and so we were not worth searching for - it's not his problem! The kind Israelis were worried and so searched alone.
Day 3, Saturday, September 11
New morning, new day. It took only 15 minutes before we couldn't find Itai & Gil. Jesus didn't even realize they were missing until I told him so. Turns out there was a junction 100m out of camp Itai & Gil missed easily.
Later on, same day, coffee break. Itai points at a direction and offers me to join his climb. Once the target is reached the only thing we could think of is why, in god's name, didn't Jesus bring us here? We shouted for the others to join us - they did not regret standing in the most beautiful viewpoint of the 8 days. It took us about half an hour more to take all the possible pictures from the spot.

The view from this day's pass wasn't satisfying enough for Itai & I, and so the adventure continues - we searched for better viewpoints on the ridge.
Day 4, Sunday, September 12
The day starts with a long and easy ascent. Jesus said that we will all just meet up in the camp for lunch. Itai & I were the fastest all day (even though we did take our time). We found ourselves climbing small peaks & ridges just for a slightly better view of the surrounding mountains. Later on we passed by the most amazing lagoon (number one of this trek anyways...), it was a warm day and entering was obligatory.
The camp of day 4 was near hot-springs. We all took a long bath with Mr.Rum by our side. Exiting the baths late, it was cold. We all hung our cloths to dry during the night just to find them in the morning raped with ice (a very beautiful sight).
Day 5, Monday, September 13
Waking up, I felt fine, mid-way up the pass I felt as sick as a dead dog. Without any other option - I mounted a horse. 10 minutes up I found Omry feeling even worse and so gave up my horse. Climbing with the help of my tired legs I also passed Shani (did I forget to mention? She was sick as well...).
After falling asleep on the pass, I was woken up by Moises. Descending, I passed sick-Paz. Lunch was "served" at the end of the descent. Right after eating, Jesus asked: "who's climbing to San-Antonio?" Even though all knew it is a hard climb, only Paz & I conceded. Jesus accompanied us both to camp and left Moises to walk with the rest.
Day 6, Tuesday, September 14
Long story short:
Gil & Hilla spent the night on the mountain, in a snowstorm. Israelis (Paz, Omry & I were too sick..) and Moises were looking for them all night. In the morning, Feeling a lot better I volunteered to run to the nearest village to call the Israeli-embassy. Moises found me 2 hours later in the village and told me Gil & Hilla are fine and found their way down by their own.
Where was Jesus? He spent all night in the village with his family and got notice of the crisis only when I got to the Village.
Moises & I stayed at the village and waited for the rest of the group which arrived, tired & late.
Day 7, Wednesday, September 15
Paz, Shani & Hilla (the sickest), drove off with the investigation police that interviewed us right after breakfast. 7 of us, Israelis, remained.
Mid-day, the pass, Itai was shivering cold. I took the liberty of trying to warm him up. Coffee, clothes & rubbing his back helped but he still was feeling bad.
By the end of the day, Eliran & Hagai were not feeling so well. Spending the night besides Itai (thinking I'm already immunized, I was sick just 24 hours before), I woke up sickest of all.
Day 8, Thursday, September 16
The next day and a half passed slowly and with loads of sufferings. All were feeling bad and getting worse. 2 horses were not enough and sick people had to try and climb with unbearable pain and bathroom breaks.
Mesner (the owner of the company Enjoy-Huayhuash), met us an hour before the end. He gave some of us medicine and promised he will arrive to Huaraz on Monday and get everything fixed.
Back in Huaraz, I was too sick to fight, but all the rest did the best they could. Unlucky for us, the receptionist couldn't do anything but give us 20US$ each for that was what Mesner told her to do. We all decided not to take that money & return the next day to try again (with newly charged powers).
Here I would like to state Ishay, the greatest of friends, who tended me with my needs all through my sickness. Thank you very much!
The story continues...
The Agency was closed every day until Monday. By then, only Omry, Gil & I were left in Huaraz. Mesner was pissed (don't ask me why), we couldn't really talk without him shouting at us (weren't we the victims here?), So we returned to the hostel empty-handed.
After all, it's only money. At least all are well and healthy.

Tips for the Huayhuash:
- Choose an agency carefully. There are a lot of tour-operators in Huaraz, gather information and think a bit before putting your life in some one's hand.
- Detours. There are a lot of them. If walking something you like, keep a lookout for more viewpoints near the main trail.
- Do not register a tour through Enjoy-Huayhuash or any guy named Mesner. Re-opening agencies with different names is common in Peru.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Santa Cruz Trek, Huaraz, Peru

I had 3 more treks on my ''to do'' list, and Santa Cruz was the easiest. Only 4 days and accessible without any guidance, we decided to find some partners to share the costs.
We walked around rumors & hostels in Huaraz, searching for the right people willing to join the ''adventurous'' us.
''Without a guide? Too crazy for me.''
''How are we to find donkeys to carry our stuff?"
And so, luckily we met Eido. Eido just came back from the Huayhuash trek, and was eager to keep on trekking. 3 was a good number, but still turned out expensive. So we kept on searching.
Jutta & Tal also returned in the same group with Eido, but Jutta wanted to wait until her blistered legs felt better. Because the three of us were really slow going and took our time in search & in arranging the trek, Jutta's legs manages to get better and - HOP - we were a good group of five. Paz, Eido, Jutta, Tal & I.
Happy we have a group, we now concentrated on the trek itself. We bought food and rented tents. Even set up with a company to call one "harriero" (donkey operator), so that we would meet with him in the starting point village.
All set and ready we took the 6 o'clock bus to Vaqueria. Peru like Peru, the bus left late and arrived later than our wildest bad dream. And to add up to all of that - no harriero.
A local woman washing cloths on the road offered us an operator - "just wait half an hour and he'll be here!" Two hours is how long it took us to give up, grab our belongings and start walking as happy as possible in search for a harriero in the closest village.
Eido ran ahead and completed the mission. 2 donkeys and a lovely harriero named Sesimo.
Time was against us, but we did manage walking for some 2 hours before sun-set and we "felt like knocking on heavens door". Setting camp, we built our 2 tents, and made a good rise and soup dinner.
The second day was the hardest. From camp (3800masl) we had to ascend to the Punto-Union pass (4750masl). Waking up early enough, making quick breakfast and planning on a sandwich lunch - we knew we had enough time. Five hours of climbing separated our group, putting Eido & Tal at the pass an hour before us. It took the rest of the group the exact 5 hours planed for the climb (amazing!).
Punto Union is said to be one of the prettiest viewpoint in South America. The clouds covering the picks made me disagree. What a shame climbing all that way and not seeing the complete view.
We did witness a photo-shoot made by the Japanese group arriving with us to the top. Those guys just amaze me every time I see them. They were busy taking photos of every possible combination between the 12 Japanese tourists & guide - with the sign of the pass. While every group was in position near the sign - all the cameras of the group were being used! Chaos and order all in the same time and all with the biggest smiles on their faces.
Descending to camp, we thought Tal & Eido were already waiting for us there - dinner already made and ready to eat. We were proven wrong. Apparently, they liked how the lagoon near the pass looked like and decided to approach it. Later, they were stuck underneath a big rock, using it as shelter from the pouring, sudden, September rain. We were really surprised to arrive to an empty campsite.
All we had to do on the 3rd day was a 2 hour detour and a 3 hour descent to the next camp. Morning time - it was raining, and so the other 4 were wusses and decided to wait until the rain stops and only then continue to camp (skipping the detour). I found myself walking in the company of Josh. Josh is just another AWESOME Kiwi (from NZ). We had a good walk, finding almost every topic to talk about - in our common interest. The climb up to the base camp was easy for us, but not for the animals. 10 minutes up from the Alpamayo base camp lies a lagoon as beautiful as Lake 69, only this time, instead of seeing the summits all around us (Alpamayo included), clouds were still unfriendly. So I did the only thing I could think of - gave my camera to Josh and jumped into the water, making sure there's coffee when I exit the water (of course!).
On the way down (switching the topic to un-religion), we met Eido, Tal & Jutta. The rain had stopped and they regretted their decision. Paz helped Sesimo with the donkeys. Josh & I arrived to camp early, met Paz and listened to good music. If you want to know what happened later - you'll have to check with my good friend Mr.Rum.
The last day of the Santa Cruz was short & easy. The path gets wider, and the way to Cashapampa is all down.
Where the river opens up, there were Eucalyptus trees, some frames really looked like the Golan-Heights back in Israel.
At the end of the trail awaited us a cab (colectivo), all six of us (now with Josh) rode it till the nearest city,where we awkwardly mounted a touristic van already following us all the way from Cashapampa.
Time was running out (for Paz anyways), so we took a single day of rest and joined a large group of Israelis for the famous Huayhuash trek, all ready to leave the day after that.
Having so much fun with Eido, Tal & Jutta - I felt sorry they'd already been to the Huayhuash.

Tips For The Santa Cruz:
- DIY! Do it yourself. There is public transportation to the starting/ending points, donkeys are easy and cheap to hire and anyone could cook for himself! To clear the fear of getting lost - ask the harriero to walk with you and not run to camp.
- The Alpamayo detour - Go for it. Anyone could finish this trek in 3 days, but taking the extra day for this detour is really worth it.
- Rum in Peru is cheap - I've discovered this fact far too late.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Come to Huaraz, It's Fun!

Paz was with me in officers-school in the Israeli army, he decided to make an easy start to his South-American trip, and join a friend already knowing what it's all about. We set to meet in Huaraz because it fit my timetable of a long trip, and Paz could easily arrive from Lima.
Knowing I don't want to be late for Paz's arrival, I got there 6 days early (my count). Paz & I agreed that if I do make it early I'm allowed to do everything except for the famous Huayhuash trek. Knowing I've got 5 days, I went to see some places around the city:
Lake 69:
Huaraz is the first place in South America that staying away from Israelis was just not possible. Every hostel seems like it's over occupied by us. I found a far away hostel thinking it would be better - I was wrong.
Checking out the options (alone or through an agency), I found out it would strangely be cheaper to just take the agency's van. 8 people in the evening turned into 15 the morning after.
We set with the Jaimes (a very Israeli hostel) to leave Huaraz early, we didn't. To complete the delay we also fixed an old spare tire (on our time) on the way - good thing we did, because we also had a flat tire all to our selves.
Arriving late to the trail, we knew we had little time to climb a long and hard way. Even so, we made a very Israeli brunch - Tchina, eggs, salad & Nachle-coffee. We skipped the Nargila due to the height & lack of time.
Some chose not to stop with us, and so we were now 9 on our way up (7 Israelis, one German & one French both amazingly patient to Israelis). Most of the way up I found my self in the same pace of Tal (Israel), Elichay (AKA Dagan, Israel), Julie (France) & Jutta (Germany). The climb was not easy, but we made it to the top in time to make some more coffee & take a bath. The water of this lake/lagoon are somewhere on the top of my list of the coldest waters I've ever bathed in to.
On the way back, I found Jutta as a really nice person to talk to, about everything. Because I'm so good with the ladies, I even had the guts to ask her to spend the next day with me.
A day out with Jutta:
Wilcahuain is an is an archaeological site just 30 minutes away from Huaraz. We took the local transportation, others ride here be bikes. It's a small site, one main building remaining. From there we walked our way down to the ''hot-springs'' of Monterrey. They were not hot at all and I think there was even a part when we both shivered from the cold. At least I picked out very good company.
Ice-Climb to the Vallunaraju:
Dagan said it would be fun! Why not actually?
Waking up, I found out I miscalculated the days with Paz's arrival and he was waiting for me to wake up in the lounge of the hostel. I already payed and couldn't cancel my plans, and so I quickly hugged Paz, told him what there's to do around Huaraz while I'm gone, and was on my way to have some fun.
Tom (AKA Cruz), Dagan (AKA Ha-Katan) & I set off to conquer the summit of that dreadful mountain (5685masl) with Mel, the guide (AKA Gibson). Three days. First for arriving and climbing to the base camp (4700masl) with all our gear. Dagan took the height a bit too personally and started eating backwards. Second day morning, we learned & practiced climbing on the glacier next to the base camp. Using ice gear was new to all of us, and we had our share of fun. We all went to sleep early knowing we have to wake up early (midnight) in order to reach the summit the next day.

Walking on glaciers, all the group has to be tied together, that way, if there's a crack in the glacier covered with snow and someone falls into it - the others get to be pulled in as well. Mel walked first, being an ice-climbing instructor, in Huaraz, he was a lot better acclimatized to the height of the mountain and allowed him self to pull us up to the slops. Frankly, we felt like dogs on a leash.
Asking to stop a lot (because of the fast pace), and because the general pace was too slow, we got to the height of 5600masl at 07:00. Knowing we got less than 100 meters to the top, but we were exhausted and the time was getting late (not good to walk on a warm glacier) - we decided that was that and we had enough.
Descending, as always was easier.

Paz and I reunited. Dagan had an idea (ever since Lake 69) to go to a rock festival in the upcoming weekend. Paz agreed to try the new sport out, and I was excited to try out my abilities on a real wall (after a long time of plastic walls).
Someone once told me perfect depends on the eye of the observer. Well, Hatun-Machay is perfect. For what & for whom? Climbers! Just heaven. Crazy rock-formations, 30-40 meters high, rise up from a grassy area. A brilliant guy from Huaraz had the place arranged with bolts and about 120 courses in all difficulties.
Paz, Dagan & I checked out the easier ones and still had a very good time. I can only imagine what it feels like for a real climber to arrive to such a place.

Still in Huaraz, Paz and I continue to longer and harder tasks. The Santa-Cruz & Huayhuash treks await us.

Tips for Huaraz:
- Lake 69 - most people arrive and make it their first one day trek. The fact is, some don't make it to the top because they are not yet acclimatized. It's an expensive & beautiful place, and I think it's just too bad to miss it. Go there when you know you can.
- Vallunaraju & Ice-Climbing - Hard. Doesn't mean you don't need to try it. It's not for me, but maybe it's your thing.
- Hatun-Machay - Amazing. Go there, if you like climbing or not. If you do plan on climbing, sleep there a night in the camp or in the refugio. The drive is long (2 hours), and that way you get more time for actually climbing.
- Andescamp is an amazing hostel. A good combination between the price, the breakfast and the amazing people running it. Thank you all.

Chachapoyas, Peru

Arriving early to Chachapoyas, I had time to search & pick a cheap hostel. During the search and almost giving up on the prices - Dennis attacks me from behind.
Dennis who?
Well, Dennis is a German who insisted on following me around Ecuador for about two weeks. Not so nice a person, and so I hope I meet him again soon.
Not thinking twice, I joined Dennis at his hostel and met Niels (not the one with the geese), Dennis' friend from home.
Later on, we (Dennis, Niels & I) regrouped with the Australian couple from the last Post (Dennis - could you help me with the names?) and set a tour for the next day to see the Kuèlap remains.
Three hours away from Chachapoyas (which is far away from the world as is), lie the Kuèlap remains. Kuèlap is most famous for it's more than 400 round buildings. It also has a 20 meter high defense wall. The Incas had to siege the city, and it was one of the hardest cultures for them to conquer. A few years later, the Kuèlaps joined forces with the Spanish ''gods'' and helped them beat the Incas.
The remains are impressive. Standing outside of the huge wall, you feel like defeat. The entrances are narrow & steep which makes it harder to enter for the armed Inca soldier (sounds familiar?). Inside the city, circular buildings stretch as far as the eye could see...not really, but there are quite enough. Each building was used by a family as a house. Within each building there's a hole - that was used as a family tomb.
The Kuèlaps used only 3 kinds of decorations named after their 3 gods - Puma-eyes, Cayman-eyes & the Snake. There is also only one open window in one house (out of all of the houses), all the rest are shut and were used as shelves.
Due to the fact that I was in recovery of a three day diarrhea, I told you the storyline of Kuèlap and not of how I felt there.
Catarata Gocta - The 3rd-Highest Waterfall in The World?
Morning after Kuèlap, Dennis & Niels had planed to see Catarata-Gota. I didn't really want to, but my bus was due to leave only in the evening. Dennis got up with a really bad stomach and decided to stay in the hostel where he could sleep and run to the WC whenever he felt like it. I took the chance, and went for some quality time with Niels.
Speeding again, in a private taxi, we got to the small village next to the high waterfall. 4 years ago, in the year of 2006, a German guy discovered and measured the beautiful waterfall and since then - the Chachapoyanes tried to populate the site. The people of the small village seem like they're not sure what the fuss is all about. Taking a guide is included when paying entrance to the park. Even though the path is as clear as glass, the guide told me there are snakes and dangerous animals, and he's there with a radio so help would come (we really tried to see some snakes, they were all on holiday). He was also a good story-teller. Through him I learned about the life of the guides working in the park (too many guides - not enough tourists), and his life off guide-duty (mainly agriculture). Niels got some translations from me, but was a bit frustrated that he couldn't understand the stories first-hand.
About 2 hours of walking, we arrived underneath the waterfall. From far away, it seemed as though some thing's wrong with the picture. The waterfall was not as impressive as the ads. showed! I want my money back! Someone stopped providing water for the waterfall, and the view was a bit sad. Even though there was not enough water from above, the pool was full enough to teach a German what you do when you arrive to a water source.
Washed and happy, we walked our way back to the village. The guide assured us that if we come in the wet season - the waterfall would be amazing and rushing with water. I believe him.
Later on, I checked the stats on the high waterfall - according to Wikipedia it's the 16th highest waterfall in the world, not the 3rd. Friends, beware of Peruvian advertisement.

Saying my goodbyes again to Dennis (this time with Niels in the way - we couldn't have our crazy goodbye-sex) & Chachapoyas, I was alone on my way to Huaraz.

Tips for Chachapoyas:
- If you made it all this way, there's enough to see. Kuèlap, Gocta (in the wet season) & the Sarcophagus.
- Kuèlap is very impressive. If there was a touristic center in Chachapoyas, and it would have been more reachable, I would recommend it as much as the Machu Picchu. The architecture is more impressive by far.
- Catarata Gocta was a bit disappointing, I wouldn't travel all the way to Chachapoyas for it, but it is a nice walk if you're already here.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

New Picasa Gallery - New Albums

Pictures guys, pictures...
After a long break, with problems, pseudo viruses & a new card reader, I worked hard on publishing some new photo albums of the passing 2 months. Enjoy:

Iquitos, Peru:

Traveling The Amazon:

Manaus & Belem, Amazonica, Brazil:

Salvador De Bahia, Brazil:

Sorry for the delay. Now that I've got time, Posts will start appearing as well.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Crossing Over (Ecuador to Peru)

Attempting to leave Vilcabamba & Ecuador, I asked the locals for the best way to do so.
The lovely people of Vilcabamba told me the route from Vilcabamba and South is shorter in distance, but takes more time. Even so, it has better views and I woudn`t regret taking it.
The timings of the Vilcabamba people was about 28 hours of travel until I reach Chachapoyas. This is how it went (times are estimated)
Waiting for the morning (and only) bus from Vilcabamba to Zumba at 06:00, I met an Australian couple, and not too many words were said before we found out we all are headed to Chachapoyas. The bus arrived at 07:00. It took us hours to get to Zumba, where we had o wait 2 hours until an open-sided truck left towards the border.
The ``main bus station`` is a flat dirt parking-lot. Open-sided trucks with different destinations filled the platform, but for some reason, all trucks had the same time of departure. That`s right - all & only buses leaving Zumba in all directions - leave every day at 14:00.
In all the ``hundred trucks leaving at the same time`` racket, we somehow found the right one.
The Ecuadorian border is easy and simple. Problems start trying to get your stamps on the Peruvian side. One of 5 old shacks is the right one (with the man and the desired stamp). Guessing correct, you are asked endless amount of questions. Then, before stamping your passport, you have to fill out forms with the local police station, which is located 200m in another (hidden) shack. After doing every thing we were asked, the stamp guy asks me to pay a 1 sol fee, for the good life of the children of Peru (or something else made up...), I really didn`t want to pay the clear ``bribe``, all I had was a 100sol bill. Showing it to the stamp guy, he just pointed t the door (the biggest problem in South America - is change).
From the border, we took a ``colectivo``. It`s a station-car taxi, but not private. Not private simply means that there is always space in the vehicle. This time we were 10 people in the car. A lady with 4 children in the front sit, 4 grown people in the back sit, a man in the luggage compartment and the driver. 2 hours later we were in San Ignacio. It was already dark and we were hungry and tired from the long travel. We found a hostel and ate dinner, going to sleep, we knew we just past half of the traveling distance.
The vans leaving San Ignacio were our forth kind of transportation vehicle we took. Another kind of ``colectivo``. This time, we counted 21 people on the small van. 3 hours until Jaèn. From the ``van-station``, we had to wait again, and so we grabbed something to eat. With the last bite, the van driver enters the restaurant and rushes us to his van, waiting just for us.
It was an hour and a half to reach Bagua Grande. Stepping off the van in Bagua Grande, we found out the next transport ``station`` is far away, and we can`t walk the distance. We took a ``Moto-Car`` (Tuk-Tuk), which took us to a private taxi station (arguing, we found out there is no other way - or is there?). The price sounded ok, and the driver promised to leave right away, and so - we took the bait.
The next three hours of my life passed really fast and slow at the same time. How could this be? Fast - because the driver thought he was on Formula1, and did not slow down even after nearly crashing head to head with a huge truck. Slow - me wishing the horror would end, helped time pass as slow as it could.
About 15 minutes before arriving, I got the balls to ask the youngster with the wheal to please slow down. It was clearly too late, as the road was clear and strait from there and on until Chachapoyas.

Thursday, 30 September 2010


Saying farewell to my dear family, I was on the ``alone`` road again.
My time in Ecuador went by very fast, and so this post would probably sound as a run-through, even though each day was a regular one (just a bit closer to the equator).
Guayaquil to Quito:
Buying a bus ticket in Ecuador is quite funny, all fair prices are set by the hour of the ride.
The bus ride from Guayaquil to Quito is said to be an 8 hour ride - and so, one would pay 8$US for it. Before doing so, I checked the bus, and was happy to find out that it has a toilet - good news! After 4 hours on the bus, I really needed to pee. Trying to accomplish my goal, I found out the toilet was locked (electronically! in Ecuador!), and so went to ask the driver`s assistant if I could, please, use the toilet. No (he replies). The toilet is just for the ladies. Next absurd request was that he would stop the bus so I could quickly empty my waters. Lucky you (he says), we`re just about to stop! Andean style, we stopped only an hour later, and still I had to beg in order for the bus to wait for me those 2 minutes. FYI, the bus ride itself was 11 hours, and not 8.
In one word ``scary``. In another ``horrifying``. I got to the capital at night and took a cab to a hostel I checked out on the web. The owner warned me non-stop, to not walk around alone after sunset. The streets of Quito, magically, empty totally from 18:00. Doors shut, windows close, and guns are fired. To complete the picture, I met a girl in my hostel that was robbed in broad daylight, in a main plaza, threatened by a knife! I chose to walk my day tour in Quito in mid-day, and with nothing on me - there for, no pictures - sorry. I also decided to run away from Quito as fast as I can.
Just 2 hours (once you manage reaching the northern bus terminal of Quito) away from the Ecuadorian capital, lies Otavalo market. On an everyday basis, there`s a regular South-American touristic market in the main plaza. But on Saturday, all the streets around the same plaza become a market. Touristic & local together. Chickens and pigs are being sold, fruits and vegetables, weird local dishes and more! Do I have to explain what the touristic side looks like?
Volcan Pichincha:
Back in Quito (sadly), I met a German guy named Dennis in my hostel. We both heard together about climbing volcano Pichincha, and how close and easy it is. So we joined forces and went together the next day. Dennis & I had really good fun (no thanks to the clouds who just did not move from the pick, there for - we were climbing in the middle of the clouds), and connected really good. Dennis then agreed to follow me to my next stop - the Quilotoa Loop.
Quilotoa Loop:
Knowing we both haven`t got the time to walk all the way around (like one should!), we shortened our way and took a bus strait to the village of Quilotoa. The famous lake is located inside a crater, an awesome view (from top or from inside).
We saw the crater the day we arrived to the village, and were attempting to walk our way to the village of Chugchilan the following day. We asked for directions from a couple arriving to the village that same day from Chugchilan.
After walking all day on the dirt-road between the villages, we understood that we got pretty bad directions (there`s a walking trail somewhere...). The views were still spectacular, and we got to meet some very good ``finger`` photographers on the way.
Arriving early to Chugchilan, we just didn`t have the power to leave the hostel (once finding one...), and we just read our books until dinner. In our hostel, we met two Quito friends of Dennis, a Dutch couple (in their late 40`s?), They were both really good story tellers, and had lots of around the world adventures to tell about.
The next morning, we took a ride on the milk truck (the only morning ``public-transportation``). This was a unique experience for all tourists (an Irish & 2 Australians were also on the truck) riding it! The milk-men would pick-up buckets of fresh milk from locals waiting on the road, and give them back milk for their usage (apparently processed). The milk truck took us to a bigger and less remote village, where we could wait for a bus to the big town of Latacunga.
The touristic town of Baños is the smallest noisy town you could find. It is a vacation town for Ecuadorians, who happened to have a holiday just on the same weekend we were there.
The bible said the bike ride is nice, and so we rented bikes and rode down hill towards Puyo.
Dennis doesn`t really know how to ride a bike - and so he almost got himself killed.
Turns out - it`s a waterfall route! Every 500 meters or so, there was a cable-car, crossing to the other side of the river, and closer to the waterfalls.
Locals were going crazy! Back and forth on the cables!
We decided to check what all the fuss was about, and crossed to see a very high and impressive waterfall from up close. When trying to reach the pool underneath it, we were asked to pay another 50 cents. We refused. Instead, we found a trail leading up above the waterfall. It was a nice short walk, but then we were asked to pay another 50 cents to see the top of the waterfall from up close - guess what?
The way back from the top of the waterfall was free, and we just walked on the road back to our bikes.

The second entrance we payed for, was the highlight of the waterfalls! Pailon del Diablo is an amazing contrast between the black rock and the white water rushing though it. The face of the devil shows in the rocks - giving the place it`s name.
Our second day in Baños was passed by a short walk to ``Bellavista`` (the beautiful-view), it wasn`t.
From Baños, I continued alone. Dennis drove back to Quito to pick up Niels (his German friend) from the airport.
Never believe French people - that`s what I always say. Well, this time they were speaking the truth. The train from Riobamba was closed.
Parque Nacional Cajas:
Heard about it by mistake, from Eshel (my friend in Israel). The best way to describe this wonderful park would be ``a high Patagonia``. Covered with green marshes, interesting hidden lakes appear behind each hill. small creatures & flowers are spread, shy to the strange person walking around looking for them. Last ans most important - I haven`t met a human being ever since stepping into the park in the morning and until leaving it, early afternoon.
Vilcabamba (The Sacred Valley):
Located in the perfect location on earth, the villagers of this quiet town are proud of living in the only place in earth were climate doesn`t change all year round! I got here late at night (with mud from Cajas still on my shoes), and took a day off just to relax in this wondrous place. Somehow, it was still vacation time in Ecuador - and locals were everywhere! Unlike Baños, in Vilcabamba you don`t feel the load of people`s presents.
The next day I went up Cerro Mandango (the sleeping god) with Cora from Ireland, I met on the bus from Loja to Vilcabamba. The mountain actually cliffs of ``conglomerate`` and from it we could see the whole valley beneath us. On the way down we tried finding our way through the dangerous ridges - adventure!
On my last day in Vilcabamba I took a horse ride into National Park Podocarpus. I fell in love with my energetic horse ``Media-Noche`` (mid-night), who liked nothing but running!
Goodbye Ecuador, hello Peru.

Tips for Ecuador:
- Quito - If you, like me, don`t like big cities. You wouldn`t like Quito. Just try and stay away from it.
- PN Cajas - One of my favorite places in Ecuador. Don`t miss its wonders. If you`re going, arrive before it opens (07:30), and you`ll save the 10$US entrance fee.
- Vilcabamba - Renè from La Tasca Tours is a very nice & informative person who would love to help. He also owns the best horses in town.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Islas Galàpagos

*Note: knowing the difficulty of writing this next post - I`ll try not to use the saying ``WOW`` too often.

Before flying to the wonderful islands, we had no choice but to stay one night in Guayaquil. Guayaquil in 2 words: Tel-Aviv, and in a bad way. It`s hot, humid, crowded, and the taxi drivers will take advantage of you. Lets not talk about this horrible place any more.

In order to enter the islands one must pass through strict nature preserving stages:
1. Scan your big-bag at the Guayaquil airport for any kind of organism.
2. Pay the 10$US entrance fee to I don`t know who...
3. The air-crew will spray your handbag on the plane to kill any other organisms.
4. Pay the 100$US entrance fee to the National Park.
5. If you plan on crossing between the islands alone - another inspection on every island.

Landing on Baltra island, the friendly-chubby looking guide awaits the group: 8 loud Italians, a couple from the Czech-Republic, and us (a loud 6 person Israeli family). 16 per. in total.
We all drove off to the closest pier where we got to meet our boat (Guantanamera) and crew. Waiting for the rubber-boat to transfer us we already got to see wildlife in action! Blue-Footed-Boobies dive arrow-like dives into the water, Brown-Pelicans scouting for pray on the dock & boats, and Magnificent-Frigates just hover around the sky waiting for the weaker birds to make a mistake and catch something.

First stop for the boat was Bachas Beach. A good start. The rubber boat landed us on a sandy beach, and not long past before we saw the big, black Marine-Iguanas. Lots of Crabs nest on the black rocks near the water as well. I say it`s good because you get to see bit by bit, and can get used to the fact that wildlife in the islands - is just not scared, and very up close.

South Plaza Island was an improvement! The best place to witness the great Land Iguanas. These creatures resemble small dinosaurs. they are up to a meter long and have a greenish color to their peeling away skin. Their favorite food is the huge Cacti (leaves, fruits, everything!) which they wonder around looking for all day. We also got to see colonies of Sea-Lions, cute and make you want to hug them. But what really caught our eye - was the exotic Red-Billed-Tropicbird, long tailed and just pretty.

Last stop of the day - Isla Santa-Fè. A sandy beach filled with Sea-Lions resting & cuddling welcome us into this paradise. Mocking-Birds, Lava-Lizards & the Galàpagos-Dove were the new animals we got to meet on this island. We even got to see Blue-Footed-Boobies - well, we thought it was up close just then...

At night, the boat would sail the long distances - So every morning we would wake up to a new scenery. Morning of day number 2 brought of to Isla Española. On this trip, the animals were all sitting & posing on the trail. making us (the tourists) circle around them, or try and not step on them - in the case of the Marine-Iguanas. These black creatures appeared in bigger and bigger groups each time, cuddling in order to maintain their body heat. The Blue-Footed-Boobies were dancing, the white Nazca-Boobies were flying all around, but then...we reached animal heaven.
The Waved-Albatrosses are AMAZING! At first we didn't know how much. They were just sitting there, nesting. Then we saw them walk around - and do their special mating dance (if it doesn`t fit - you`re not it!). And then - they flew! With a wingspan of 2.25 meters they just look like F-15s in the sky. They can`t really lift themselves up, so they always nest next to cliffs - that way they just have to jump. Amazing! or did I say that already??

The next day was not supposed to be anything special. Punta Cormorant, on Isla Floreana is a dead (without animals) beach, but what we witness was really unique. A female turtle, was late to return to sea - and was in the middle of digging her way out of her hole. All we had to do - was to wait for her to get out, and just watch the show.She was really scared of all the tourists waiting for her outside of her hole (almost circling her), she almost regretted ever coming out of her hole - but then took all the courage she could grasp - and ``ran`` her way back to sea. She was really slow on the sand, but once her body touched the water - she was gone.

The next stop of the day was also on Isla Floreana. Post-Office-Bay is know mostly for it`s weird tradition - There is a Postcard-Barrel on the beach, and ever since pirate times, people leave and pick-up post-cards & letters and have them delivered to their addresses. So we left our own - and took some as well (from Israel!). Apart from that - we went to see a Lava-Tunnel, and witnessed the football match tradition played by the crew members of the boats.

4th day, and we thought we saw everything. Santa Cruz island is the most populated one. Puerto-Ayora is the biggest ``city`` on the Galàpagos islands, and it`s the most touristic as well. probably 90% of the income of this town is tourism. Who can blame them?
On the Santa Cruz island is the famous Charles-Darwin-Research-Station, where people come to see the giant Land Tortoises, and the celebrity ``Lonesome George``. You can also take a tour deeper into the island and witness the giant tortoises in the ``wild`` (it`s still a preservation park).

After civilization, we got back to reality. Isla Rabida invites us back to nature with Cacti without spikes! No Land-Iguanas on this island made it possible for these strange trees to develope.
The Pinnacle on Isla Barthalome, leaves you breathless of the world`s creation. On Barthalome, we climbed a volcano, saw a smaller one from the top, lifted some very ``heavy`` rocks, and got to see where Darwin slept ;)

On an everyday basis, we would go on snorkeling dives. The water was cold, but there`s a whole other world underneath the waves. Sea-Lions would make you wonder who`s the tourist - as curios as a two year old, they would swim around us, getting near our faces with their mustaches and then swimming away. Chewing our yellow fins. Barthalome was the best dive for most of us. Dad & Inbal got to see a race between a penguin & a shark! Penguins swim like torpedoes in the water, and you get to see them just for a glimpse of a second.

Surviving the toughest night of our sailing life (we had to cross the equator some how!), we were happy to reach Isla Genovesa. North-East of all the islands, this is the only place to see the Red-Footed-Boobies & Great Frigates. The Red-Footed-Boobies are unique and nest on trees. the also have red legs and blue bills. When in juvenile stage, they have a white body which all together resembles the American flag. The Boobies and the Frigates are both sworn enemies. Even so - they nest on the same tree, and usually - on ``neighbor-branches``. Frigates destroy the Boobie`s nests, rebuild them - and live there - and vice-versa.
Genovesa itself is a volcano. The boat`s harbor is the crater, and the land is the underwater mountain`s perimeter. The most special animal on this island in my opinion is the Galàpagos Owl. Not like any other owl - this one prays during the day! It is very hard to spot due to it`s magnificent camouflage.

North Seymour was the last island in the cruise. Here we finished of our ``check-list`` by seeing the Magnificent-Frigates with their inflated red sacks. They inflate their sacks only during mating season, and due to the fact that on North Seymour, the Frigates nest all year long - it`s most likely to see them inflate their red sack on this island.

The end of the cruise means the end of Galàpagos, or does it?
My family decided we`re going to live this once in a lifetime experience just a bit more...
The boat left us where it picked us up on the first day: The airport of Baltra island. From there, we had to take a bus, a ferry, another bus and a speedboat in order to reach Isla Isabela. On the first two days, we were obligated to a tour we booked for seeing the island. Included in the tour, was an evening tour (not worth you reading time), a walk up to see Volcan Sierra-Negra - the world`s second largest crater, which erupted on 2005. And a snorkeling dive near the island.
The climb to the volcano wasn`t as hard as we thought it would be. The so common open sided truck took us almost all the way up, from there it was a 3 hour ascent (not to steep) and a 2 hour descent on the way back. The crater itself is amazingly black.

The snorkeling afternoon also got to be great fun. We found a very pleasant turtle which didn`t mind us petting it and swimming next to it for almost half and hour. I saw my first spotted ray!

We heard about Campo-Duro by mistake, and did not know what to expect from it. Turns out it`s the personal little heaven of the crazy-briliant-minded owner. He took management of the place with a vision of turning it to an ecological farm for the use of tourists and tortoises alike. The national park lets him raise about 20 juvenile tortoises. If you`ll be nice - he`ll also let you in to their farm. He built ecological showers for the use of the campers, and invented his own ``egg tree``.

The day after that (our last active day on the Galàpagos), we took a walk to see ``Muro de las Lagrimas`` (The Wall of Tears). This wall was erected by convicts in the first half of this century when this area served as a penal colony. Many prisoners died during the work of the construction, giving it its name.
On the way to the wall, there are beauty spots with explanations about the fauna, flora and geology. There`s also another tortoise research station on the way, which experts in the unique species living on Isabela island.

The next day was a crazy transport day. Speed-boat, private-taxi, ferry, bus, plane & another taxi is the list used in order to get in one piece from Isabela island to Guayaquil. Not easy.
That night was the last of me and my family together (until my return home...), and so we celebrated in a very good meat-stake dinner. Thank You!

Tips for Islas Galàpagos:
- Española & Genovesa were my favorite islands. If you have to pick - pick at least one of them.
- Bring some snacks with you - after 4 of 8 days, you really get sick of the chicken/fish with your rise.
- Try and bargain your snorkelong gear into the bargain. We added a lot of money after knowing the deal was already ``all included``.
- If you`ve got the extra time, staying on one of the islands is not as expenssive as the cruises. Isla Isabela and Campo-Duro are recommended.

The Nazca Lines & Dunes of Huacachina

Clean, finally. We were on our way to witness the odd but unique Nazca Lines. The Lines were
made by an ancient culture. No one really knows why and how they were created. Some even
believe it was aliens! The size of each formation is so big, you can only see the whole picture from
a flying aircraft.

Arriving to Nazca, early in the morning. That fact, doesn`t bother at least 5 annoying ``company`` agents to hover over our backs as we lean to pick up our luggage. They didn`t wait one second, and offered us bottom line prices for the desired flight. As always, I tried to dispatch from them by saying the common ``No, Gracies`` - but nothing helped. It was the first time I ever yelled at a local in South America (hopefully the last). Someone should really remind them that it`s South America – and you`re supposed to wake up at 09:00, and not 04:00. Definitely not for harassing tourists!

After getting rid of most of them (some just wouldn`t give up and waited 10 meters away from
the crazy yelling Israeli), I slowly opened the wonderful ``Lonely Planet`` (AKA the Bible), and got to learn that in Nazca – an annoying crowd awaits the arriving (you don`t say!?). Oh, and don`t take any tour from the street agents. Apart from that – nothing useful – as always.

We took our shit and made our way to wait for a proper hour, when the companies (and bakeries!) are open. Mom, Inbal, Kobi & Igal were waiting (dying to pee!) in the main plaza, while Dad & I were searching for a good deal for the flight.

At last, after passing and bargaining our price through all the agencies in town (5). We made our
choice, and went to the just opened cafe next to the plaza, to wait for the time of the flight.

A van took us to the airport. Entering, we got to learn that all the agencies in town, are actually
one, and there is an annoying monopole over the whole business. We waited, watching the NG movie on the screens, and boarded the planes (two of them, 4 per. & 2 per.). The flight is short, and it is highly recommended to stay sharp for the whole 35 minutes given (the time includes take-off and landing).

The ride on a very small plane has its fun all by itself, adding the Beautiful Nazca-Lines underneath is even more exciting! I, personally, felt like a photographer of an army unit back in the times of WW1, taking secret photos in a too small plane. Passing over a Peruvian village brought me back to my army days and the hundred of photos of Palestinian villages I was responsible for. A Bolivian/Peruvian Village usually resembles a refuge camp

The weather was perfect, and the Lines showed themselves with all pride. Each passenger gets
a map showing the order of appearance of the formations. It`s like filling a Bingo-card. ``V on the Astronaut``, ``V on the Monkey!``. The pilot makes sure everyone (on both sides) of the plane saw the Lines as should, and goes on to the next. Over every drawing he ends up making the figure 8, and by the end of 14 figures, even the most experienced traveler gets sick. Good thing it`s just 35 minutes…

The Dunes of Huacachina

The same day, leaving Nazca in the afternoon, we all arrived safely to Ica. No one stays in Ica. We took a 5 minute taxi, and got to perfect-oasis, Huacachina.

Imagine a pool-shaped lake. Now surround that lake with a small town, no more than two blocks of houses in each direction, closing it from all sides. From the edge of the town line, dunes grow wild, 100 meters high, and climbing. Add some palm-trees to that and walla! Huacachina.

It was already dark, and so, we found ourselves a nice hostel, the taxi drivers were extremely
helpful. Knowing that`s what we came for, we made reservations for tomorrow`s dune tour.

The tour is operated by a ``Buggy`` vehicle. The driver first took us up and down the slopes as
fast as he possibly could, and then suddenly, he stops. We all are told to step out. He reveals
the sand-boards, waxes them with what looked like a cheap Sabbath-candle. Gives a short
explanation to each one (in turn), and Weeeeee……

In my original plan for our family trip, I thought this part would be mainly for my younger brothers Kobi & Igal. I was proven wrong. Everyone had fun! We made a little contest between ourselves, who got furthest each time. Inbal won by a mile.

The love for sandy areas always surprised me, because every child learns, after his first castle on
the beach, that he is bound to stay with certain amounts of sand on him for the next following
weeks. And still, you find people playing in the sand all the time! I admit, I too am drawn to it, but I just can`t explain why.

Tips for The Nazca Lines & Dunes of Huacachina:
- All the companies in Nazca are actually the same one. Just find the cheapest and you´ll be alright. 60$US is about the right price.
- Stay in Huacachina - not in Ica.
- Going through the hostel we stayed in to the dune tour turned out to be a good deal. Check out if you can close both the night and the tour in the same bargain.