Ça y est: le moment est arrivé, nous sommes finalement le 12 mars, ou peut-être devrais-je dire déjà?
À vrai dire ces 10 derniers jours sont passés très vite: ce n'est qu'il y a 10 jours que j'ai enfin décidé de mon itinéraire définitif pour ces 84 prochains jours, ou du moins de ma destination d'arrivée et de celle de départ en retour (rien n'est encore définitif pour le reste). Après avoir dû renoncer à mon premier itinéraire qui devait me conduire du Vénézuéla au Brésil dû à la situation actuelle de ce premier pays, je me suis décidée pour un périple de la moitié Nord de ce beau continent que j'ai tellement rêvé de connaître depuis toute petite et l'idée est donc de parcourir l'Equateur puis passer par le Pérou, la Bolivie, longer la côte brésilienne du Sud au Nord et enfin, rejoindre la Colombie!
En décrivant l'itinéraire je me demande si ce n'est pas un peu trop ambitieux comme route en si peu de temps -il y a tant à voir dans chacun de ces pays que je sais je ne pourrai qu'effleurer la culture- mais je pense alors à Jules Verne et son tour du monde en 80 jours. En 80 jour on peut ne rien faire comme on peut profiter de chaque instant et en faire une aventure inoubliable, voilà ce que je compte en faire!
Affaire à suivre...
Le vol de Bruxelles à Madrid s'est très bien passé, aucune turbulence à signaler et nous sommes même arrivés avec de l'avance sur l'heure prévue.
Aucun souci pour me déplacer à la terminale 4S, j'attends maintenant une vingtaine de minutes à ce que la porte d'embarquement soit annoncée 😊
¡Ya llegue a Quito! Despues de un largo vuelo de 11h30 entre Madrid y Quito en el que me dio tiempo a ver 3 peliculas y ademas de eso charlar y reir un buen rato con mi vecino de fila, llegue a destino, hora local 6pm, para mi las 00.00
Al poco rato de pasar por los controles de seguridad (bastante rapidos y sin queja que dar) enseguida reconozco a Lourdes, la mama de Lia acompañada de su perrita tal y como me la habia descrito su hija, unos dias antes despues de haberla conocido en Bruselas de pura casualidad por las cosas que hace el destino.
¡Y que suerte! Encantadora, enseguida nos lanzamos en una charla politico-socio-existencialista interesantisima. En unos minutos que pasan volando llegamos a la casita preciosa donde nos espera una manada de gatitos y enseguida Lourdes me hace sentir como en casa, faltan palabras para expresar la gratitud y lo afortunada que me siento por poder compartir momentos como estos.
¡Buenas noches mundo!
So much history, so much architecture, so much randomness and so much laughter, that's the best I can do to describe my first day exploring this beautiful city, all I know is I am going to need a few more to get to see it properly. But today was only a starter and not too bad for a first day to be honest, I am quite happy with all I got to see in a day.
First off, as I got dropped off in the city centre it felt a bit overwhelming, loads of traffic and crowds so I just decided to walk a bit away from that rush and there, in a corner of a quieter street a museum caught my eye: it was not listed on my guidebook but what a beautiful finding! I am talking about the casa museo Sucre, a must-see!! I just went in and two young students let me in very kindly, free entry and offering a guided tour even though it was only me. I learned so much about the history of the mariscal Sucre, great friend of Simon Bolivar and first president of Bolivia. The place was just full of history and lovely, excellent tour very well explained, what a great start to my day!
Next, keeping up with the visits I went on to learn about the iglesia de la compañia de Jesus, same here, excellent tour, started as an individual tour but then gathered quite a nice group of two friends and a family. This is probably the most baroque church I have ever seen, gold everywhere, hard to imagine it like that so full of excess while people were forced to convert and believe in a church that supposedly was promoting vow of poverty..
After that I tried see the presidential palace but was put off by the long queue and decided to leave it for another day, visiting the Catedral primada de quito. Again, private tour extremely well explained with so many details illustrating the syncretism found in catholic churches from the colonial era imbued with indigenous traditions. In this cathedral are also found the supposed remainings of Sucre, after his body was identified many years after his suspicious assassination. I had to rush a little bit this one as Edison, a friend of Lourdes had agreed to pick me up around 3.30pm.
And then, the randomness began: I really got to experience the local day to day life hoping between shops looking for a small piece of leather as he needed to fix a part of his car's seats. On the way back home he also stopped for me to quickly visit the third and last church of the day: la basilica del voto nacional. Another impressive piece of architecture: apparently the biggest basilica in South America with 140m in length and inspired in Notre Dame de Paris, from the middle one can see on a heart shaped window la virgen del Panecillo that looks on the city. From there again, got a quick tour of the city by car and again, somehow I found myself caught up in a local district council sort of meeting on a new reform of the system of participation, extremely random as you must be thinking but another story for the memories.
After that, I finally make it home for a quick dinner with Lourdes full of laughter sharing the stories of the day before heading to Edison's house as he insisted I meet his daughter who is studying French, English and Chinese to practice the two first ones a bit with her, again a different experience but great exchange. Finally I am dropped back home and found some time to share this here before getting some rest for another day full of adventures tomorrow 😉
Wow! It feels good to be alive!!
Today, I was switching hosts (temporally) to stay near the South of Quito at an easier reach from a few epic places on my checklist, namely Baños and Cotopaxi.
And so, wonderful Lourdes and I take the road early morning to drop me off at the Choclo where Marcia, Lorena, Emilia and Faustino are waiting for me. Somehow a bit sad to say bye to Lourdes for the next two days as I know I will miss our evening banter but I promise to keep in touch as much as possible (I failed quite dramatically since I spent almost the entire day disconnected, having to draft this offline).
Marcia and Emilia quit us as the little one is not feeling too good and so Lorena, Faustino and I embark for our day trip to Baños. Lorena turns out to be a great and speedy driver and we reach our destination in a record time by 11am. We take several stops on the way to take pictures of the scenery, grab some snacks (tamales) and refuel.
We are finally welcomed by huge Hollywood style letters saying "Baños les saluda". There, a stand catches our attention: there is a zip line that allows you to cross the river from one side of the valley to the other. I don't think about it twice and before we know it Faustino and I find ourselves hanging in flying mode above the river with amazing views on the small waterfall! We then got another chance to get a better glimpse of it as we chose to do the way back on the small cabin. Lorena on the other hand, was impossible to convince and decided to watch us from the earth.
What an amazing start to the day!
We then got the chance to have a walk along the cliff and observe some faces in the rocks which appeared as a result of the construction of the path. After that, we get back on the car to keep up with the extreme experiences and head to the "cabaña del arbol" with its iconic swing on the edge of a cliff facing a volcano. The place has been quite exploited and you can actually find a series of other activities. Of course, I decide to go on all of them, regretting it quickly with the last activity which looked easy but was the one that made me sweat the most: walking in equilibrium on a tree above a pond, luckily for me, I manage to get through it completely dry!
Around 2.30pm, we make it back to the village of Baños for some lunch after a quick visit to the main church, which again, follows the baroque style full of details of the churches I visited yesterday.
Another long drive back of approx. 3h and several small naps later, we are back to the Selva Alegre and Lorena proposes to go to the shopping mall in town to walk around and grab some dinner like proper locals. And so, that is me again doing the most random stuff to finish off the day like a local.
We made it alive!!
Today was Cotopaxi day: I was joined again by Lorena and Faustino to go up the famous volcano that had its last volcanic activity only a year ago, the second highest active volcano in the world. Although, I got to hear some of the craziest rumours about its last eruption: there is apparently a conspirational theory that is now emerging that says the government had sent some army planes to bomb the volcano and wake it up to stop some indigenous people on their protest march to Quito...
So, after a home made breakfast by lovely Mariana and a quick visit from Emilia (who is feeling a lot better than yesterday) and Marcia, we brace ourselves for the cold and take the road towards Cotopaxi. Again, Lorena displays her abilities getting us safely through the difficult road still damaged by the recent volcanic activity. We reach the Northern entrance to the park and there, we learn from the local ranger that I am technically not allowed in without an official guide for safety reasons but nice enough, he lets us in this time. The roads gets harder and harder and we even pass some 'crazy gringos' carrying their bike as it becomes almost impossible to ride. Soon, we start to see white patches of snow which quickly fully cover the ground and it is time to leave the car behind and continue on our feet.
The ascension begins. I didn't see it coming but conditions have worsen since we took the road and visibility barely reaches 5m ahead, we are surrounded by blizzard, almost as we were walking in the clouds, probably the highest I have been so far in my life (not on a plane). This means we have no idea how far we are from the refugio. To make things worse, the guides from the other groups ascending at the same time as us don't seem to have a better idea: it is the first time they take this path, usually getting there from the other side. We need to take a few stops to catch our breath as it is becoming increasingly difficult to breathe, I feel like I am bleeding from the mouth and the pressure is triggering a headache. We see a few people throwing up and still no sight of the refugio. I have no idea how long we have been walking but it feels like the target is nowhere near. Lorena threatens to turn back a few times but we wait for her and try to encourage her despite our own incertitude. Almost when I was wondering if we would ever get there, the guide I asked if he knew how far we were but had no idea and estimated another half an hour shouts at me that we are there!!
What a feeling, we did it!! The conditions are so poor today, it is as far as we are allowed to go (to be perfectly honest I am quite happy with it this time, the perfect excuse not to go further as I doubt we would have been able to do so without any incident). I am told we had been walking for approximately 2h!! It actually felt shorter than that. At the refugio, we warm ourselves up with a delicious Ecuatorian hot chocolate and some snack before heading back down. I even get the time to learn a few words in quechua blethering with the staff. Big deception of the day though: I left my passport in the car and there is the chance to get it stamped for the Cotopaxi, why?!!! Note to self: always carry your passport when climbing iconic places, it can be a nice addition to the hardly stamped European passport 😉
The way down is a lot quicker as we take the straight route down and the legs run by themselves, I get some great tips for visiting the Galapagos from one of the guides that kind of abandoned his group to blether with us (arguing the dangerous part is the climb up, once they have managed it, all that can happen is a broken leg). And so, we ride through the hell road again to make it home for a well-deserved lunch.
As we get back, we are welcomed by Emilia, Marcia and Mariana and a delicious homemade almuerzo. We then head to the park to have a walk with the little Emilia who seems to be recovering pretty well from her cold. We then all get some rest until it gets dark enough to go to La Ronda for some epic dinner accompanied by a karaoke session, great times as it is becoming usual in Ecuador!
It was great to be reunited again with Lourdes in Tumbaco and share with her all my adventures from the past two days down South.
We had quite a relaxed day getting to hang around Quito like locals and feel the current atmosphere with regards to the upcoming election.
We started the morning with an early succulent lunch at the Arrecife restaurant, getting to taste some great dishes from the coast such as ceviche and arroz marinero. We then had a stroll around the Santa Clara food market where we met some opposition supporters marching around to campaign for Lasso, the leader of the opposition facing Lenin in the second round of the presidential elections.
After that, we went to surprise Carmen and Marco, Lourdes' nephews at their school as they were being picked up by their grandma, the amazing Susana. As the weather rapidly changed from the morning sunshine to a heavy rainfall (and I had made the terrible choice of wearing shorts, looking like a proper foreigner) we headed back home, stopping first by Guapulo, a nice area of Quito I had actually been to very randomly as well on Monday.
In the evening, I got to meet Hugo, Lia's dad (who works at the Catholic University of Quito as the dean of the faculty of exact sciences) as we went for dinner with Lourdes at a mexican restaurant.
Today I met up with Manuel, an old friend from Edinburgh that had been doing a masters degree in Science Communication at the University of Edinburgh.
I finally got to use the public transport and see how buses and taxis work here (surprisingly safe and reliable). Again, I saw first hand how the upcoming election is the hot topic for conversation currently with people using traffic queues to offer stickers backing the opposition leader to cars blocked in the jam.
I also got to taste the local market food and walk around the touristy mariscal district. And to keep up with the random experiences, we attended a seminar on the perception of feminism among indigenous and black communities at the FLACSO.
After that, we went to the natural sciences museum in plaza la Carolina since Manuel needed to measure some birds skins and I got to learn about birds from Ecuador -the third country with the biggest variety of bird species in the world!
Finally, when I got back home I was welcomed by Lourdes, Carmen and Marco for a family dinner cooked by the amazing Susana and getting to taste a new traditional dish (delicious, like everything I have been eating so far): locro.
Perfect end of yet another great day!
Saturday is the day to go to Otavalo.
If you are looking for handmade souvenirs and crafts Otavalo market should have what you are looking for. On Saturday, the market is the biggest although you might find stalls all week round.
Since it is the weekend and children don't go to school, I was extremely happy to be joined by Carmen and Marco, as well as Lourdes and Susana. What a pair of travel buddies, the best company I could have asked for!
We started the day stopping at Cayambe for some famous bizcochos and hot chocolate after a quick stop at the equinox as we passed the Ecuador (I can finally tick that box!! Although there will be more tomorrow about it).
We then made it to Otavalo where I practiced my bargaining skills learning from the best: Lourdes and Susana. We were also delighted with beautiful music from different artists that were animating the market, a very nice atmosphere!
Again, Ecuador's unpredictable weather stroke just as we were done shopping and we found refuge in a lovely traditional food restaurant where we had some almuerzo and also got some ice cream and fruit salad after lunch.
Before heading home, we stopped by the lake Yawar Kucha in Ibarra which literally means 'blood lake' since the legend says that the lake turned red after a battle where many indigenous people lost their lives.
Keeping up with the excellent culinary experience, we stopped on the way back home for a fritada for dinner, again, de-li-cious
An unforgettable day made so by the perfect company!!
Today was the day I finally got to tick the equator off my bucket list after a failed attempt last summer when I was in Uganda.
Again, the day was brighten by the beautiful company of Lourdes, Susana and my two little primos Marco and Carmen 😀
We started off by a quick visit to the mercado del arenal in Tumbaco which takes place every Sunday and where you can find nearly every food you want -dead or alive. We then stopped for lunch to eat some delicious empanadas.
Next, we went to the Pululahua crater to enjoy the unique scenery of this very special place where, again, we were very lucky with the weather!
Then, we had the time of our life at the Mitad del mundo visitor centre. We got to play with eggs (putting them in equilibrium on the line of the equator), water (observing the currents going both ways on different sides of the equator), at the museum of chocolate and the planetarium.
To sum up, an amazing day again, in great company and very lucky with the weather, what else can I ask for?
After a busy weekend, I had a more relaxed day today, getting to feel more and more like a local.
I am seriously starting to think I am a magnet for evangelists since today I met the third one on my way who also tried to convert me, unsuccessfully. It seems like this church is becoming increasingly popular in South America. The famous evangelist of the day today was Jesus, a handyman Lourdes recommended me to drive me to town.
I got to see a very local market of San Roque, quite a different experience from everything I have seen so far: an extremely busy and dirty market with an area dedicated to furniture and another area dedicated to food but the sanitary conditions there are the poorest I had seen so far.
After that, we went to see the views from the Panecillo (a 200m high hill at 3016m above sea level) and visited the museum inside the beautiful statue of the virgen de Quito. The sight is just breathtaking: Quito is such a huge city compared to anything else we have in Europe!
We then went back to the city centre for another failed attempt at visiting the Presidential Palace but instead we just ended up watching and intervening in some fuelled political debate in the plaza mayor between supporters and opponents of the president discussing the upcoming election since we couldn't afford to queue to get in due to the pico y placa law which forbids cars with the plaque number that we had to circulate in Quito between 4pm and 7.30pm. The popular debate however, was also halted by the rain that took us all by surprise after a sunny morning.
On our way back home we could appreciate how violent the storm was: there was lightening, landslides and hail! I was quite glad to get home and have some great time with Lourdes exchanging songs and singing.
Aaaand, I also spent some time getting ready for tomorrow as I will be flying somewhere super exciting!! Stay tuned for the news! 😉
Today was the big departure day for my adventure to the Galapagos. I was due to fly at 10.40am from Quito and arrive in San Cristobal for 1.10pm. However, since things don't always follow the plan, the flight was delayed from Quito and only left by 12.15pm, Latam airlines was quite nice about it though and quickly provided us all with a snack.
The flight to Guayaquil was pretty quick: just the time for a nap and one hour later, there we were! This huge city was nothing like what I expected: although those who were going to the Galapagos didn't even leave the plane, the feeling I got from it from the aerial view was very special. Guayaquil seems so different from Quito, so flat and almost built on the water, very stratified as if it was a recent city with straight streets. It would certainly take at least three weeks to properly get to know it!
Almost one hour after landing in Guayaquil the same plane was flying us to San Cristobal. It must have taken about three hours. The feeling I got as soon as I was getting out of the plane reminded me of that heavy and warm humidity I felt the first time I went to the Caribbean back in 2012 on my trip to Cuba. All of a sudden I was almost struggling to breath, which never happened to me in Quito, despite the altitude! My luggage took quite a while to come out but once I had everything with me, I took a taxi to the centre if town.
Immediately, I found my self trapped in my most feared tourist trap: as soon as the driver saw I had almost no plan and nothing booked yet he drove me to a hostel, went to the reception before me and became quite insisting, also offering to drive me around the island for 3h for $60... Everything I usually try to avoid when traveling. But, as usual, I didn't let that ruin my trip and just politely told the girl at the reception I would look around first and maybe come back. When the taxi driver saw me leaving the hostel with all my belongings (yes, he was waiting in his car to see if he would get his percentage) he looked confused, but I couldn't care less.
The main malecon avenue is wayyy too touristy for me, not my thing at all, I was almost thinking I should have stick with my original plan of going to Puerto Lopez instead but as I found some wifi connexion I was so happy to know I was not alone: as usual, my dad been looking for hostels for me and sent me a selection of them. I then went to the office of tourism to ask for directions but they were just useless, referring me to the ultra touristy avenue. They did give me a map though and I eventually found my way to the Posada Terito where the owners Teresa and Marco quickly gave me a room to stay. It is a lovely place still in the heart of the town but a bit further from the tourist traps.
After a much needed shower as I was dripping in sweat I went back to the malecon to see the sunset and meet the lovely ses lions napping on the rocks and benches. My next challenge was to find a local restaurant: it took a while after walking for a couple of hours along the malecon where I enquired in a few dive centres about their day trips, behind the pizza, burger and sushi places, back near the area of my hotel, I found a local place to eat my alnuerzo.
To sum up, although most of the day was spent in planes and airports, I am so happy I made it here (despite the initial ultra touristy anxiety), the few hours I spent out and about with the crabs, sea lions and pelicans were just surreal. I am looking forward to see what my next days on this island will look like!
Due to the delay of the flight yesterday, I couldn't dive today so instead, I decided to explore the island by land.
I walked towards the centro de interpretación which was highly recommended. Little did I know that more than just a museum it was also the starting point of a few walking trails leading to different beaches. Not knowing about the distances but excited by the idea of swimming in the Pacific ocean for the first time in my life, after signing in at the entrance at 8.50am, I followed the first path to Playa Punta Carola. After a short and easy walk on a wooden path, I was there: facing the Pacific ocean on a small quiet beach with only three other visitors. A few minutes later, I was in the water swimming away next to sea lions and iguanas. What a wonderful sensation! The water from the Pacific tasted saltier than the Atlantic I thought and was also warmer.
After that, I walked the whole length of the beach until reaching its lighthouse which I was looking forward to climb to enjoy the panoramic view it offers but I had to quickly give up on the idea as I saw two sea lions napping on its steps. I then decided to keep walking towards the next stop, Las tijeretas.
Again, this one also consisted of an easy wooden trail with some more elevation that leads to a beautiful mirador. What followed after that point was the 'wrong decision time': at that mirador another indicator was leading to a hiking trail. And, for those who know me, me being me, I didn't think twice and kept going that way wearing my flip-flops I had put on with the intention of just going to a museum. For those who are reading this: don't do that, never engage on a hiking trail wearing flip-flops!!! (most of you will probably be thinking, of course! But I wish I had had that common sense before it was too late!).
So, with my flip-flops, without any food or drink with me (I was planning on buying some after a short visit to the museum), I followed the arrows and started walking the hiking path which consisted on finding a way through mud or volcanic rocks most of the time. After one of my flip-flops getting stuck in the mud broke apart, I started to think this might not have been the best idea. But I didn't know how far I was from the target, so just assumed I had to be too close to give up now.
If I thought climbing the Cotopaxi was an achievement, running a half marathon, walking the camino, etc. I think probably none of those compares to this: I rarely remember being that exhausted and having to use such a mental strength to keep myself walking.
Finally, after a few incidents of flip-flops breaking apart, in sticky mud, on wobbly rocks, I made it to what looked like the Playa Baquerizo. Again, I dropped my backpack under a three and headed to the water. However, waves were a lot more violent this time: impossible to swim in them.. not even sea lions were found chilling in that water. I had a short break there feeling the waves hit me and trying to find a continuation or alternative way back but soon realised the terrible situation I was in: the only way back was the way I came in...
Extremely thirsty and exhausted, I used all the energy I had left to get myself back and about 1h30 later, I was finally back in one piece melting and almost wishing the predicted rain had happened. But in the end I had made it, challenged myself and been rewarded by unique views the trail offered. It was already 2.30pm and I was starving so I headed back to the hotel stopping by a shop first and took a much needed shower.
I had a rest and before having dinner, went by different dive centres to see if they had spaces left to go diving to el leon dormido, which is THE place to spot sharks on a dive. Unfortunately most of them were fully booked for tomorrow by now so I booked a spot for Friday with Chalo Tours and extended my accommodation on the island one more night. For tomorrow, I will thus continue exploring the island by land but on two wheels most probably 😉
What is becoming like a pattern in my trip happened again today: last minute change of plans.
As I was heading to the rental shop to hire a bike and cycle to the upper side if the island, I found out it had actually been raining so bad yesterday that part of the route was impracticable. I ended up in a tour shop on the malecón and a lady was telling me how bad the route was: she had been doing it the day before and wouldn't recommend it the owner quickly came by and tried to sell me a snorkeling tour to el leon dormido which I had planned to go diving to tomorrow. Not surd how he did but contemplating the few options left I just decided to go: I didn't want to be told tomorrow today was the lucky day and that I had missed the hammerhead sharks.
I thus quickly ran back to my hotel, got changed, stopped by the rental shop to let then know I wouldn't do it today and stopped by the dive shop I had been to last night to pay my spot for tomorrow.
And so unexpectedly again, a few minutes later I was on board of a small boat along with a lovely couple from Manta, the coast of mainland Ecuador, our guide, the captain and the boat handler: a small private snorkeling tour.
We had a first stop on a coastal beach where we were the only visitors and had a tour on the sand being taught about different species of mangroves and wildlife as well as history of recent events that shaped the biodiversity on the beach by our guide Alejandro. We then proceeded on to doing some snorkeling and getting used to breathing with the mask and snorkel, especially for Mery who didn't know how to swim. We quickly spotted turtles, sea lions, ray and fishes. It was magical to be so close to these animals I am not used to see apart from on tv.
After about 40mins snorkeling, we got back to our boat and headed to the famous lein dormido or kicker rock (depending on the point of view). We learned about the different birds leaving on these volcanic rocks and soon after that, got back in the water for more spectacular snorkeling: after just a few minutes we spotted a group of black tailed sharks, turtles and colorful fishes! Towards the end though, I started feeling a bit dizzy: when snorkeling, you feel the movement of the waves a lot more that deeper underwater when diving.
As we returned to the boat, we were served some rice and chicken but I couldn't eat much of it, I was almost feeling sea sick.. However, that didn't stop me from blethering and I took the opportunity of the interval between the swims to drop the hot topic of the moment to hear the opinion of the people here. It quickly became a heated debate, very unequal with only one supporter if Lenin and the rest supporting Lasso. But always in a fun and relaxed atmosphere I tried to ask some neutral questions to balance the debate and we all took it with good humour.
Finally, it was time for our third and last swim again in the same area between the rocks. You cannot imagine my happiness when after a good 15 minutes swimming around I spotted my first hammerhead shark ever!! My day was complete! Despite the dizziness still persisting I kept swimming and looking for more wonderful creatures: we spotted some more turtles and black tip sharks and... later on, a second hammerhead shark!! Amazing day!
After that, we then headed back to the pier, I lied my head as the sea sickness had gone worse and I threw up the little food I had tasted earlier but still I was going home with a 'buen sabor de boca' having made one of my dreams come true: seeing hammerhead sharks!
Back in the office, the owner told us to come back later with a usb stick to collect the pictures the guide had been taking and I walked out with Mery and her husband who were looking for a place to get dinner later and I mentioned the lovely local place I had found near my hotel a few days ago. I showed it to them and they invited me to join them later so I could meet their lovely sons one ano four years old.
After some rest, as agreed I headed to the tour shop by 7pm for the pictures. A few minutes later I met Mery again who introduced me to her adorable little boys as well as her friend they were visiting and her two daughters. The children instantly made me their friends and we went for dinner all together, nice change from my two first nights in Galápagos. I then promised the children I would join them play at the park and somehow ended up in a really nice municipal park playing with them and other local children.
A perfect day with new friends to remember! 😀
I did not realise it when I woke up that morning but today would be my last day in San Cristóbal.
I was looking forward to finally go diving with Chalo Tours at kicker rock and hopefully see the hammerhead sharks from closer. I got up early in the morning to fuel on some consistent breakfast before the scheduled meeting at the dive shop by 8.30am.
Once there, I met another Chilean couple, Carlos and Daniela who were completing today their Open Water Diving Certification and who would be the only other two divers along with the divemaster. A nice and small group. Another american solo traveler, Alan from Minnesota was also there but he would be snorkeling.
At the pier, we were joined by two other groups of four: a family with two young children and another family with older children (very typical obnoxious american tourists just to illustrate the kind: one of them had a towel of a one hundred dollars bill). Today, the catamaran was a lot larger than the small boat from yestarday and there was plenty of space. For the staff, it consisted of the captain, the marinero, the nature guide and the divemaster.
We started off with a walk along Puerto Grande, a small coastal beach on the way to Leon dormido where we got some explanations on the consequences of the last two hurricanes that affected the island and where we were also invited to do some snorkeling if we wanted to. I soon realised visibility today was not great. I was then told to do a quick check dive to verify all the equipment was in order.
And finally we headed to the famous kicker rock or Leon dormido for two dives separated by our lunch time where we were served some great fish with rice but again, I started to feel sick as I began to eat and could not finish the food. As expected, the visibility was not good at all which made me feel lucky I had gone snorkeling the day before. Despite that, we still managed to see black tip sharks, loads of turtles feeding, a school of fish and an eagle ray! Not bad at all.
After the dives, I joined my new friends from yesterday at Playa de Mann to see the sunset as they were coming back from Punta Carola where they had seen beautiful turtles, sea lions and iguanas. Andrea even invited me to go to her home to share dinner with them as Walter and Merry were flying back to Manta the next morning. A lovely farewell surrounded by kind hearts. That is also when I realised I was settling in my comfort zone in San Cristóbal and it was time for me too to leave the island. Andrea gave me precious tips and recommendations which helped me decide my next destination would be Isabela, rather than Santa Cruz.
After a loud night due to a campaign party organised by Lenin Moreno's team right next to my hotel, I woke up very early to pack and head to the harbour by 6.30am in the hope to find a ticket to Santa Cruz for 7am.
Big stress as I got there and was told the morning tickets were sold out and my only option was to either stay one more day on the island or take the 3pm boat. But luckily, I managed to get one of the two last tickets another man was still selling.
As I was waiting for my boat, I bumped into Daniela and Carlos from yesterday's dive who were heading to Santa Cruz to fly back home from Baltra. Daniela was super helpful once she heard I was planning on heading to Isabela and immediately saved my number to send me the contact phones for the tours that they used as well as giving me advice on Santa Cruz for the transit.
The boat ride was hectic to say the least, it is incredible how many people and how much luggage they manage to fit in those tiny boats that transit between the islands! After about two hours and another taxi boat, I was in Santa Cruz where I bought my ticket for the same afternoon to Isabela at the agency Daniela had told me about where they also kindly let me leave my backpack until 1.30pm when I was supposed to start queuing for the 2pm boat.
I tried make the most of the couple of hours I had on the island despite how busy and touristy it felt, reminding me of Arecife in Lanzarote. I had lunch where I quickly managed to get in touch with the headquarters (dad at home) to help me find a place to stay in Isabela and then walked to the Darwin Foundation which also had a 'centro de interpretación' to visit and soon it was time to head back to the harbour for the second transit of the day.
The boat ride from Santa Cruz to Isabela was very similar to the one from San Cristóbal to Santa Cruz and I spent most of the journey asleep. Once I arrived, no signs of the pick up team from the hotel my dad had booked so I started walking and jumped into a taxi bus that drove me to Paraiso Isabela.
Apparently they had not checked their emails. But I was quickly given a room and took a much needed shower after confirming to my worried family that I had reached my destination safe and sound.
In the evening, I walked around looking for tour companies to book my activities for the next day but what I found was closed shops everywhere. (I was told the next day it was due to a party organised by the opposition candidate this time, Lasso). Thus, I ended up coming back to the hotel see if they could contact anyone to sort me out for tomorrow.
I have no idea who I spoke to or which company but I was booked to go see the volcanos the next day, pick up at 6.45am.
I must be cursed or something but the very musical political campaign seems to be following me: last night (I found out later) the party in the neighbourhood was organised by Lasso's team. Different island, same story again: right next to my hotel loud music all night. This is something I will definitely remember Ecuador for: the only place where I have ever seen a presidential campaign 'a ritmo de reggaetón'.
6.45am I am ready waiting outside the hotel for the pick up to the volcanoes trek but no one around. I started to think it had all been a scam: I had actually not been given any ticket or proof of payment for the trip, didn't even have a name for the company or phone number. Luckily at 7am someone from the hotel arrived and kindly phoned up the people to know what was going on. They were just coming at the 'ecuatorian time', 7.15am.
On the pick up I met Shawn, a Chinese traveler who had been working in Quito for almost a year, Alexander, a Russian tourist and finally another girl from New Zealand who was on a 6 months journey through South and Central America after taking a redundancy.
At the start of the trek, the group was made even bigger with another two cars and the final group was of 11 plus the guide. Among them there was an Italian couple, two Dutch solo travelers, a girl from South Africa and a mother and a daughter. Three of us were Spanish speakers but everyone was fluent in English so the guide decided to stick to his very broken English only.
We walked for about 5h in total including some stops to take pictures and for lunch but the spectacular views were worth the effort: after about 40minutes into the walk we arrived to Sierra negra, the second biggest crater of an active volcano in the world! The echo was amazing. We then walked for another hour and a half approximately to reach the volcan chiquito and from there, faced the Northern part of the island of which we could distinguish the other volcanos and isla Fernanda.
The way back was also enjoyable: some of us shared stories and tips on traveling the other islands or neighbouring countries since a few were on a longer journey across the continent.
Back in town, I was pretty exhausted and after doing some laundry, embarked on the mission to book a space in one of the activities the island has to offer, after consulting with my fellow travelers I decided to do the snorkeling in Tuneles, a very special place made of tunnels of lava where sharks, turtles and rays can be spotted.
It took quite a walk and negotiation skills to get a reasonable price for the right activity but in the end I managed and was pretty happy with it: the tour was scheduled for 11am and I would probably rent a bike in the morning to go to the wall of tears.
Finally, as I was walking around the central square, I saw a restaurant that I remember Daniela had recommended me and decided to stop there for dinner. As I was starting to eat, Alexander, the Russian guy from the tour in the morning saw me and joined me for dinner, telling me about the 51 countries he has already visited and sharing tips about Ecuador.
Another great day with wonderful people and landscapes!
What a complete day!
Today was a busy day as I planned on doing two different excursions: since my snorkel tour was not starting until 11am, I rented a bike in the morning to see the wall of tears first. I had been told at the hotel that the excursion was supposed to take about 4h but since the bike shop didn't open until 8am, I would have to attempt to do it in half the time, challenge accepted!
I am definitely cursed regarding the noise at night and this time, even though I tried to go to bed early for the busy day coming up, it was an american school group staying in my corridor that woke me up and didn't let me sleep enough.
So, a bit late on my schedule, at 8.30am I was renting the bike, it looked like the day was good and sunny. On my way I happened to bump into Carlos in the same shop, the famous dive guide Daniela had told me about in San Cristobal for the diving at isla tortuga and which I had been trying to contact unsuccessfully. He there told me a group might be going out tomorrow but needed confirmation.
I thus took the road to the muro de las lagrimas a nice and easy ride of approximately 8km from the centre of town. In 26mins I reached the place (not stoppong at the intermediary sights such as the turtle nesting site, a mirador etc. Worried I wouldn't make it on time). To welcome me was a big slow tortoise at the entrance of the site. As I got up the wall, I met Samantha and her mum, from Guayaquil who had been walking there since 7am. We took some pictures and talked a little bit, they were quite surprised I was traveling like this by myself and there was another mirador further up which they asked me if I was going to climb. I managed to convince Samantha to do it too since the views had to be stunning but the mum decided to stay there keeping an eye in their belongings as she was a bit more tired. Guess what, as expected, it was well worth it, the views on the bay were amazing, the walk wasn't too hard and definitely worth the effort! Finally, it was time for me to head back to the hotel for a quick shower and to get ready for the snorkeling trip to Tuneles.
The boat for tuneles was quite full: we were two couples from Ecuador, another one from Argentina, a girl from Chile, a girl from Germany, a girl from the island but who was living abroad and I, 10 in total, plus the guide, sailor and boat driver.
Tuneles is probably the most iconic landscape of the island: it consists of bridges made of lava that come out of the water and where one can find turtles, sharks, sea horses as well as blue footed boobies nesting on the actual bridges. We managed to spot quite a lot of marine life including a group of silver rays, turtles, white tip sharks and a sea horse, although I felt like we were probably too many and some times almost disturbing the turtles that were just going on about their day.
On my way back, I was happy to learn that my spot for the diving tomorrow at isla tortuga had been secured and we would be only three divers, meeting at the dive centre was scheduled for 8am 😀
At 8am 'galapagos time' (rather like 8.20am) we were heading to our boat for the day. At the dive center, I met Dave and Marcel, from South Africa and Switzerland respectively and both highly experienced divers with 100+ dives on the counter. It was great to finally be in a group with roughly equally skilled people, which should hopefully allow for a longer dive than the one from kicker rock.
We were also joined by group of three snorkelers, a dad and his two sons from Ecuador as well as the sailor and Harry, the captain. After a boat ride of after 30mins, we were at our famous site of isla tortuga for which, again quite an exercise of imagination was required to see the turtle shape. It was in reality a sunken crater from which we could see some of the highest edges forming a circular shape.
I was really looking forward to see hammerheads, hopefully from closer this time and Dave was really hoping for manta rays. Well, none of us was disappointed: from our first immersion we spotted hammerheards, turtles, two manta rays, black tip sharks, white tip sharks, and plenty of colorful fishes! We had a lunch break but again, the sea sickness came back after a good day yesterday and I decided to leave lunch for later to prevent any incidents. We had a great interval time commenting on the amazing dive we had had and time went by quickly: it was soon time for our next immersion.
Wow. This one was even greater than the first one, seeing countless hammerhead sharks including a big group of a dozen of them, getting quite close, a huge manta ray coming twice to us, turtles, black tip sharks and white tip sharks. I couldn't ask for more. The hammerheads I had come for had visited us peacefully two meters away from us. Since the club's camera was broken, I was the official reporter of the dive and kept swimming after the sharks, at the end we all barely had any oxygen left in out tanks but our lungs were full of excitement: an unforgettable dive approved by a South African, a Swiss and a Spanish, we all agreed it was probably the best dive of our lives! To make it even more special, getting back to the pier we even spotted a couple of penguins playing around the boat!!
Dave and Marcel were heading back to Santa Cruz on the same afternoon and so we were back just on time by around 2pm. For the rest of the day, I had asked Lisbeth from the tour agency if she had any recommendation of anything else that was left for me to explore on the island for a couple of hours and she told me about la Cueva de Sucre.
Carlos the divemaster agreed to show me around and so at 3pm 'galapagos time' (more like 3.30pm we drove there. As we were on our way I just found out the 20 years old driver had just started driving when buying his car two weeks ago and didn't even own a license! (Only possible in Isabela I was told). Luckily we made it there safe and sound and walked 400m inside a cave on the higher part of the island. Then, we also stopped by a mirador del mango to see the town from above and for beautiful views on the sierra negra.
Definitely a day to remember with great sights underwater as well as on land! The best way I could have spent my last day on this beautiful island!
Early morning again: today I woke up at 4.30am to pack everything and get to the pier by 5.30am to take the ferry back to Santa Cruz at 6am. The sun was still rising by the time I got there, a wonderful last sight of the island to remember.
The 2h boat ride went smoothly thanks to the fact that the sun was not out yet for most of the time. But as soon as I got to Santa Cruz the heat was stronger than ever and with all my belongings with me I was melting. I went for some breakfast and then left my backpack at the agency I had left it last time. It was very nice of them to let me drop off by bags there while I tried to enjoy this island quickly.
When on Isabela, people had recommended me to try get a boat taxi to las Grietas and enjoy a swim there if I had time. And that is what I did. What a great decision! After a short boat ride to a small island, and a short 10mins walk, I was at another piece of paradise: between walls of rocks, a small swimming pool had formed with almost still water since the salt there is filtered by the rock. I enjoyed a calm swim when it was still quiet as I arrived with a local guide and a tourist from Ukraine, barely ten other people were already there. The water was fresh and delicious after the suffocating heat. As soon as I was was done swimming, the crowed arrived as a few tours came, perfect timing.
I then headed back to Santa Cruz on the taxi boat and had an early almuerzo before walking the streets of this touristy island one last time as I waited for 12.30 to get a taxi to the airport. I tried see if I could find fellow travelers to share a taxi with since after 8am the buses don't run anymore but the mission was unsuccessful and I just gave up heading back to the agency where the staff encouraged me to at least try get the tariff down to $20, there is quite a way from the town to the airport in Santa Cruz since this one is on a different island: Baltra.
After a great chat about current politics in Ecuador and Spain with the driver that made the ride go by quickly, I still had another boat and a bus to take in order to get to the famous airport. Finally, by 1.30pm I was there, great timing to check in and wait in the well conditioned waiting area of the small airport.
And so, at 3pm on the clock, I was taking off for a direct flight to Quito, marking the end of my adventure in the Galapagos islands and what an adventure!
Looking forward to being reunited Lourdes and my adopted family from Quito again and to see what will happen next in the mainland😀
I spent most of the morning just chilling in Tumbaco, catching up with Lourdes and telling her about my adventures in the Galápagos. We then headed into town to visit Susana just before picking up the children, Marco and Carmen from school. It was so great to see them again, they had been keeping in touch everyday while I was away in Galápagos!
We had a family lunch all together at home and I spent some time listening to their great performances, Marco on the piano, and Carmen singing along.
Then, Lourdes dropped me off at the Capilla del Hombre which was on my list of places to visit, highly recommended in my guidebook. The visit to his casa museo first and the Capilla del Hombre next were fascinating! I did not know much about Guayasamin before coming here but his art is deeply moving, choosing to represent the marginalised to keep alive the memory of those who have suffered the most in history. His faces of America and vision of humanity were thought provoking, a beautiful exhibition, definitely recommended to anyone going to Quito!
After that, I was meeting Hugo, Lia's dad at the Catholic University to go for dinner. He showed me his department of botany and the huge collection it has and then we went to an indian restaurant in la Mariscal after stopping by another place to see a panoramic view of the city at night.
Then, he dropped me off at Sofia's place (a childhood friend of Lia we had bumped into in Otavalo and who had invited me to join her and her friends to get to know the night life in Quito). We first headed to a house party in Cumbaya and came back to town by 10.30pm to queue at a nightclub called hashtag where we danced until 2am.
Finally, in my third attempt, I got to visit the Presidential Palace today!
As I woke up to yet another rainy day in Quito, I headed to the plaza grande hoping to finally get to visit the palacio presidencial and as I was expecting, for the first time, there was no queue at the doors and I was given a ticket for the guided tour at 12.30pm.
To make the best of my time, I decided to try and visit the museo de cera in the meantime. Again, extremely lucky, as I got in, I was told a guided tour had just started! A very interesting visit where I got to learn a lot about the history of Ecuador and its fight for independence. A memorable moment was when the guide locked us in a cell and tested us made asking questions and letting us out one by one as we correctly answered the questions to see if we had been listening to her.
Timing was perfect and the visit literally finished by 12.25pm when I had to show up at the entrance of the palacio presidencial to start the guided tour. They took away our IDs for the time of the visit which lasted approximately 45mins. We only got to visit the South ail as the rest was in current use. There, I could see another mural by Guayasamin, the artist behind the Capilla del Hombre I had visited yesterday and learnt about some rules Correa put in place since his first mandate such as the donation of every official gift made to the head of state and team members to the state, since it belongs to the people they represent. For more personal gifts I was also told he is selling them to raise funds to help the regions of the coast that have been affected the most by the recent earthquake. I also got to meet a fellow traveler from New Zealand during the visit who I helped out translating part of the descriptions. He had been travelling South America for the last 6months and was driving from Ushuaia to New York!
After that, I got a cab to the Olympic stadium to meet up with Susi, Marco and Carmen to go for lunch and then went home and helped them with their homework before heading back to Tumbaco and meet Lourdes for dinner.
Saturday again, no school so a great opportunity to spend time with Carmen, Marco, Susi and Luli for the weekend.
This time, Susi and Luli surprised us with a day out in Cayambe fishing trout. After a few hours ride spent singing in the car, we arrived at a lovely place with small waterfalls and ponds where people come to fish trout that gets subsequently cooked in restaurants nearby.
It was my very first time fishing and great fun although to be honest watching the fishes die as they were taken out of the water was not an enjoyable sight. We tried to fish sustainably though and only took as many fishes as we would eat and almost instantaneously from the pond to the pan, we ate some delicious fresh trout!
We then walked up to a mirador where we enjoyed the beautiful views of the river passing by. To top up our daily exercise on the way back home we (the children and I) even got dropped off 5km away from the house in Tumbaco to walk part of the ruta del Chaquiñan, fun times blessed by a great weather!
Today was the big day, the outcome of a harsh and very musical political campaign but which didn't seem to be met with big enthusiasm.
Finding out the elections were happening so close to the dates I was planning on being in the country, I decided to extend my stay a bit longer to experience such an important event for the country. It was mainly curiosity to witness what I imagined would be a historic time for the country and its people whether or not they decide to keep backing up the current government or chose to take a u turn electing the leader of the opposition.
However, things happened to be a lot more different, I soon realised the idea of a vibrant and politically engaged society from the recent history of the continent was more of a myth than a reality. What I encountered, on the other hand, was a very polarised society: 10 years under the same rule, no matter how good it is, inevitably leads to discontent and a cry for change. But what kind of change are people ready to engage with?
In these elections, two extremes were opposing each other, pretty radical in their positions and with the same attitude of animosity towards the counterpart. This did not lead to a very constructive debate and people were divided in three camps: those who benefitted from the government and were ready to close their eyes about the blatant corruption; those who, on the contrary, have seen their commodities, freedom and economic liberty affected by the government along with those who initially believed in the current government and its ideals but quickly became disappointed with forgotten promises and evidence of corruption; and finally, a more marginal group of critical thinkers that stepped away from the biased hate speeches from both parts, unable to defend the corruption and incoherences in the current government but not ready either to back up the very conservative alternative and who thus voted void.
We started off the day doing some homework in Tumbaco with the children and I helped out Carmen with her music lesson project for which she had to craft a drawing made out of nature.
By noon, we headed off to the capital city with the children, Marco and Carmen along with Lourdes and Susi to pick up the children's mother, Carmen Helena who was voting in the same district as Lourdes. The atmosphere on the streets was not giving a hint it was election day: I felt that there was barely any activity and people were all quickly and quietly going to vote and waiting home to know the results. The most enthusiast people were probably the 'plastificadores' that laminate people's voting certificate, a requirement in Ecuador where voting is compulsory. If I had to describe people's attitudes at the voting booths it would be serious. I guess we could feel it was more of an obligation for some people than an voluntary participation.
We then headed to another voting school where Susi had to vote and I had the opportunity to follow her inside the classroom and see how voting was done (something I have never done myself this way). After that, we headed to QuiCentro, a mall, to grab some lunch since most street businesses were closed.
Next, we heard from some groups that a caravan of cars backing the change and coming from Puembo, Cumbaya and Tumbaco would be driving into the city taking la ruta viva. We joined them with waving flags of Ecuador and honking.
People were attached to their radios waiting the hear the first tendency results from the exit polls that would be revealed by 5pm. At 5pm, most polls were giving Guillermo Lasso the victory by a significant percentage and some people, convinced it was irreversible due to the big gap, started celebrating. The caravan was stopping at plaza Argentina to protest by the CNE, the national committee of elections as they were expecting fraud. As people started gathering, a rumour that the results were changing dramatically took away the initial enthusiasm turning it into indignation. People were determined to protest and immediately assumed the conflicting results delivered officially had been altered. A strong police force had been deployed and access to the targeted building had been previously impeached. People were chanting, arguing and waiting for the leader of the opposition to arrive on site and give a speech but his arrival was progressively delayed so that we never got to hear him.
After a while, I heard the other camp, backing the government was celebrating on the other side of the same street, separated by a huge deployment of armed forces. I decided to go check out how things were unfolding on that other side. After a 30mins walk to get to the other side of a same street, I was welcomed by a very different scenario: small clusters of people in circles around dancers coming from Esmeralda dancing the chocolate dance, around cameras retransmitting live on the news, single individuals waving flags of Lenin Moreno and la 35 and screaming their adhesion to the revolution and their support to other regimes such as the Cuban and Venezuelan one, groups of youngsters seating on the floor not doing anything special. It was quite dispersed.
To be honest, despite being a few thousand, I thought the crowds were quite small on both sides for what was at stake: a football game would have gathered more people than that.
To sum up the mixed feelings of the day, I have to say it was not worth staying to witness it. I mean, what I saw, heard and felt on that day did not make me feel it had been a happy or historic moment for the country. Despite being surrounded by some bias, I tried to always stay neutral but could not imagine any positive outcome no matter who the winner was. I knew from the way they were getting ready for the elections that whoever would win, the opposing side would not acknowledge the results and unfortunately, neither would their supporters. The way results were delivered as well, giving hopes to one half first and revealing an opposite result soon after, in favour of the current government's party made it uncomfortable and the aftermath reaction of the opposition was like a dejavu from what happened in Venezuela in 2013. I just hope both sides manage to forget about their differences and work together to reconciliate their people and build a better future for the country. Only time will say if they manage such task...
Today I took it easy as the adrenaline fuelled days are adding up.
Both Lourdes and I woke up with sore throats after chanting so much yesterday. Today, I was very happy to finally be able to give something back and be part of the community, joining the sustainability team initiative led by Lourdes and giving a hand painting the traffic signals for the barrio Las Peñas. We had a great time Lourdes, el señor Figueroa, the handyman and I painting the yellow letters on wood and laughing in good harmony. We then shared a delicious lunch after which Sr. Figueroa dropped me on the Chaquiñan and I enjoyed the walk to reflect on the amazing experience I have lived so far since engaging in this improvised journey.
I spent the evening planning the next part of the route as my departure from Ecuador was confirmed for Thursday 6th of April.
In short, a lovely day enjoying the simple things and feeling part of the community, leaving my fingerprints in the sign posts of Las Peñas.
Today, I was meeting up with Manuel again for lunch. I took the bus by myself to town and headed to the Casa de la Cultura next to the Parque el Ejido as it was one of the last museums to tick off from my guidebook but my surprise was to be told there was nothing to visit as the museum was being renovated until May...
As usual, I just went with it and remembered Hugo had recommended me to visit the ethnographic museum Jacinto Jijón y Caamaño at the PUCE which was nearby. I thus popped by and enjoyed the temporary painting exhibition about the Amazon by Ramón Piaguaje too.
By the time I was done it was time to meet Manuel at the Martin Pescador for some traditional food from the coast and I got to hear opinions on the election results from a different point of view of someone who had voted invalid.
After that, I met up with Susi, Marco and Carmen as they were back home from school and helped them out with their homework and simply enjoyed their company as well. We then took them to swimming lesson but found out the teacher was striking as they hadn't been paid.. They still went in and had a fab time playing with other children. We then went for lunch at another shopping mall and as we were leaving, decided to pop by the CNE to see what was going on since many people were heading there with their white t-shirts and flags. We encountered a second hub of protestors burning tyres on a parallel street from that of the CNE and the social turmoil didn't seem to be cooling off. That day I ended up staying with Susi and the children in the city for the night with the idea to drop off Marco and Carmen at school the next day.
That day that seemed so far away was finally here, like all the good things in life, my stay in Quito was coming to an end and although I was not realising it, today was my last day in Quito, tomorrow I would be on my way to Peru.
I completely skipped the 5.30am alarm meant to wake us all up to drop the children off at school and seeing how deeply I was sleeping they made all the efforts not to wake me up. Result: I woke up at 6.30am realising I had missed the morning drop off, Susi kindly told me to rest even longer as we waited for Luli to join us from Tumbaco.
After a morning analysis of the current affairs in the country and the latest news in politics, we headed to the TeleferiQo to grab a last panoramic view of the city. Today the weather was great. Actually, since elections day on Sunday the weather had been very sunny and as much as it rained for most of my time in general, I will remember Quito under the sunshine as that is how I saw it for my last 4 days.
We had a great time enjoying the breathtaking views during the 15mins ascension in the cabin and then walking on the Pichincha vulcano at approx. 3 200m above sea level. As we came back down it was just time to go pick up the children from school and we then came back to Susi's flat in Quito to finish their homework and I chaperoned them as they went to the park play nerf guns with the downstairs neighbour 8 years old Sebastian.
We then got ready to go to the rincon de la ronda restaurant (which mimics the famous street) for a farewell dinner. It was a lovely place but empty: only two tables were taken, us plus another group. A traditional music band delighted us with a private performance as we were waiting for our main course. Lovely music! As we were having our dessert, Hugo also joined us to complete the table and say goodbye. It was just a perfect farewell in great company with delicious food. I finally tried the traditional cuy (guinea pig) which is typical from Ecuador.
After that we dropped off the children and Susi and said goodbye as we drove back to Tumbaco one last time, Luli and I singing and laughing as usual.
For once, I had almost packed everything last night so I calmly woke up in the morning as usual, not really realising that before the end of the day I would be in a different country.
Lourdes and I went for breakfast at the Arecife in Tumbaco for some encebollada and ceviche along with a friend of hers that happened to be cycling in the area and joined us.
We then headed back and talked with Sr Figueroa and the engineer who he was giving a hand today. Sr. Figueroa had cooked some delicious chancho as a farewell as well but we were so full from the brunch that we could barely eat anything else.
Around 3pm Lourdes drove me for the fourth and last time to the airport. I checked in and then waited until 6pm to board my flight to Lima.
I was in Lima by 8.30pm approximately, it was a quick flight but I could not enjoy it much as I was seated in the aisle and not the window as I usually try to...
Those who had told be Lima's airport was terrible were so right. That is where the annoyances started: Avianca would not let me check in my luggage until midnight. After that, I tried getting in the departure area to take a nap but travellers on internal flights were not allowed to get in until 1.30am and there were no seats where to lay so people were just napping on the floor.
I passed the time making a few friends and chatting with people which helped make it go faster. First, while waiting for midnight, I met a Peruvian woman from Trujillo who was a maths teacher but her school had been destroyed by the floods so she was visiting an aunt and friends in Lima, she had also been to Cusco and said the Machu Picchu was just amazing! Then, I met another lady who was also going to Cusco on my same flight. She was from Costa Rica traveling on her own but meeting up with a hiking group. We decided to wait together and help each other take care of our bags.
Once we finally got in the boarding area we still had about 4h to wait since the flight was scheduled for 5.20am. I found a space laying on a few seats and tried to rest a little bit when, at 3am, I got woken up by that Costa Rican lady who got mixed up with another flight from Latam flying to Cusco earlier but at that moment I also realised our actual flight had been cancelled!
We had to get out of the secured boarding area back to the check in desk (since no staff from Avianca was to be found anywhere else). Quite rudely be told that we were moved to the next flight at 6.40am with no compensation at all since the delay was below the 2h. By the time we got everything sorted again and back through security it was already 5am almost time to board although I still fell asleep for 1h.
A very long day and not the best impression of the people from Perú but hopefully it only gets better from here 😉
Quick flight from Lima to Cusco (about one hour 30); with the delay and layover time at the airport, I would have actually arrived approximately at the same time by road from Lima. Anyway, at least I made it safe and sound!
My first impression of Cusco was much better than Lima: I was lucky to get my baggage quite soon and then a taxi driver sent from my hotel was picking me up. On the way, speaking with him I realised coming to Perú despite the advice I had been given not to do so due to the severe weather conditions that have recently affected the country was the best decision ever! If you are reading this and hesitate for those reasons, please think twice, Cusco needs its tourism more than ever! (Not that I am not happy in a way that there are less tourists than normal for the season 😉) But by talking with the taxi driver he told me that this area had almost not been affected at all and avoiding Perú now that it needs some foreign investment to help with the disaster management is like hitting it twice!!
I can assure first hand that the weather right now is OK (just check out the pictures!).
As I got to the hotel, I was warmly welcomed with a hot coca leaf tea and warned about possible altitude sickness symptoms but like in Quito, nothing at all luckily! I still decided to take it easy for the first day as I was really exhausted from the long night in Lima. Again, amazingly despite the fact that check in was from 11.30am they gave me my room immediately at around 8.30am.
I had a nap for a few hours, a shower, unpacked and at around 1pm I finally got out again with some rest in order to plan my stay. As I walked to the Plaza de Armas, the main square, there was a big folkloric event of traditional dancer, which I later found out was organised by a bank celebrating its anniversary.
As I was walking the streets loads of people were proposing tours etc and I ended up speaking to one who told me to follow him to the agency which I did thinking of just getting a quote and then going to other agencies to compare the prices like I got used to do in Galápagos. However, I ended up spending two hours talking with Margot, the agent, who organised my whole stay in a couple of hours at a reasonable price so I didn't bother checking other places in the end.
It was already 3pm when I finally went for lunch and got to taste traditional Peruvian cuisine with a menú andino comprised of a soup of quinoa and alpaca meat as a main. I was full after that! I walked back home with the idea of just resting, reporting to my family back home who had been in touch all night while I was in Lima.
But later, Margot from the agency contacted me to go back to the old town make myself a ISIC since it is the only proof of student accepted to get a discount. I brought all the documents and it was done quite quickly. Then, on my way home, I entered in the church as there was a mass going on. It was full! I stayed for a bit to pray and thank God for all the amazing experiences I have lived so far. I was behind a column and couldn't see the altar properly but then moved a but and was fascinated by it! They have a very unique Christ: el señor de los Temblores with a dark skin, breathtaking!
After about 25 days in that country and now thinking back as I am in Perú, I thought I would write a short summary on my experiences in that country as well as some tips for others who are thinking of visiting Ecuador.
First of all, I am extremely thankful for all the places I have visited, food I have tasted but especially wonderful people I have met so far! The only soundtrack I could think of for that first country I visited on my journey was 'Gracias a la vida' de Mercedes Sosa!
Quito on its own felt pretty safe: I never felt insecure walking the streets of the capital by myself and it is easy and safe to take public transport as well. There is loads to do in the capital but if I had to shorten the list to a top 5 of museums to visit (in order), it would be: La Capilla del Hombre and casa museo de Guayasamin; el museo de Sucre; la iglesia de la Compañia de Jesus y el Palacio Presidencial. The four last ones are very close to each other and if well organised, could be done all in one day.
Regarding the Galapagos, the best advice I was given was probably to fly in to an island and depart from another one. That way less time is lost returning to the same one as you'd probably want to see at least three of them. From my experience and in my opinion the best one I visited was Isabela, it was the most unspoiled one. It wasn't even in my initial plan but by talking to people I received some precious recommendations. If you like diving you have to get yourself to Isla Tortuga to spot some hammerhead sharks! Another two great activities there are to cycle to the muro de las lagrimas and to hike up Sierra Negra.
Other must-do's around Quito are definitely to climb up the Cotopaxi or alternatively take the TeleferiQo to the top of the Pichincha for some great panoramic views. If you like adventure, Baños should also be on top of your list!
And to wrap up, I know I will have to go back again soon since there is still so much left to see in the Oriente, the Coast and down South and I didn't even scrap the surface of what this country has to offer but I will finish with a short poem I wrote in Spanish on my way to the Galapagos:
Ecuador, perla de Sudamérica
Lo que es Uganda para África
Paraíso de biodiversidad y dotada de una variedad de paisajes espectacular.
Pero la que más grande te hace es tu gente, su amabilidad y disponibilidad,
Tu riqueza cultural y historia.
Desde las islas del Pacífico pasando por Quito, hasta el Oriente amazonico,
se respira vida, se ven colores,
se oyen las dulces melodías de tus pájaros,
se saborean los deliciosos sabores de tu rica gastronomía,
Ecuador, perla de Sudamérica,
desde ahora y por siempre,
tienes lugar propio en mi corazón.
I am realising it is kind of a good thing I am almost improvising my journey as I go along with only a rough itinerary in mind. I know this would stress other people a lot but it is working perfectly here as things never go according to plan. One needs to travel with a flexible and open mind in South America otherwise they won't enjoy it properly.
This morning, the plan was for me to meet up at 8.30am in the Plaza de Armas and meet up my group and guide to visit Maras Maoray and Salineras. However, after a good 20mins wait, Margot, the agent who sold me the tour showed up and asked me if I didn't mind switching tours and going to the Sacred valley, initially planned for tomorrow instead. No problem at all, there I went!
After waiting around and gathering different people who seemed to come from different agencies (a bit reminiscent of the organisation in Galápagos) we finally headed off to the bus around 9.15am. It was quite a large group with a Danish family, a group of Argentinians, a brazilian couple, a mexican couple, a Spanish couple and a few other solo travelers. Our tour guide, Ivan was very passionated and everyone agreed we had been lucky compared to the standard: he was the son of a former dean of the faculty of archeology of the University and very dedicated to keeping his memory alive and follow his path.
The first place we visited was Pisaq and its archeological ruins. They are the remainings of an ancient city that was extremely well organised and characterised by agricultural terraces where they used to grow a variety of foods. We spent about one hour and a half around, one hour for the guided tour and half an hour to walk around freely and take pictures. We had to be back on the bus by 12.20 or else it would leave us behind. We were missing Fernando, a solo traveler from Perú at 12.30 which we almost left there if ut wasn't for the kind intervention from Andrea, another Peruvian traveler travelling with her sister, Elizabeth and a friend Julyenne who had spotted him earlier and asked for solidarity, he made it back a few minutes later.
We then stopped for lunch at Urubamba where a few people had their buffet meals included and others like me didn't. I was planning to look for something more authentic and traditional but in the end the guide ended up convincing us all who hadn't included their meal to go to the buffet place as well arguing there were no other food places around and it would be easier to pick up everyone. A mistake: the food was very standard and nothing very typical of the regions but hey, a mistake to learn from.
After lunch, we went to Ollayntaytambo, also known as the temple of the sun. A magical place where when the sun is in the right position, it shines on the shape of a face on a mountain. The most impressive in this place are the stones used to build it that weight several tonnes and no one exactly knows how they have been transported. The temple is reported to have been built exclusively by women. Again, we had some brilliant explanations on site and were allowed 40mins to walk around. There I joined the Peruvian girls Andrea, Elisabeth and Julyenne who immediately offered to take pictures of me and join them when they found out I was traveling alone. Same with Fernando and quickly the group became a fun team laughing a lot!
There we left the mexican couple who were very nice as well and avid travelers with whom we had shared some great tips and Fernando as they were staying there overnight to take their train the next morning to the famous Machu Picchu.
After that, we stop at one last place which I don't remember the name, it was already dark but we went to a small house/artisanal market where a lovely 19years old girl explained to us the whole process of treatment of alpaca and how they naturally dye it. She had a remarkable English which even the girls who had studied in Lima said they couldn't compare.
Once we got back to Cusco, my new Peruvian friends convinced me to try change my plans and join them tomorrow at the Rainbow Mountain. So they did as well with another Brazilian woman also traveling alone. As I had to go by the agency for my briefing for my Salkantay and Machu Picchu tour, I asked Margot if she could arrange another last minute change of plans as I was meant to go there after my trek.
On my way back to the hotel, I was passed by an old lady who was running and ended up chatting with me. She told me on Monday there was a very important procession of the Christ of the cathedral, el señor de los Temblores at 2pm. I was going to be missing it with my 5am departure for the trek... I did some more research and realised it was truly an exceptional event so I tried my luck again and messaged Margot at 10pm to see if I could postpone my 5 days trek to Tuesday. Jackpot! She saw no problem in making the change.
Some more epic adventures!
Today, as I had been told, I was ready by the reception of my hotel at 3am to be picked up for the trip to the Rainbow mountain. Again, I learnt that the time given was to be understood as Peruvian time and the pick up came at 3.36am. This time I had started to worry they had missed me, I will get used eventually to Peruvian punctuality.
I was exhausted since I had barely slept 3h, waking up at 2am to be ready on time. My big surprised came when I did not see my friends I had arranged to do the trip with: there was another Peruvian couple and a family of four. We then headed to another hotel where people took extremely long to get out: we had been waiting for a Brazilian family of 9 composed mainly of elder women and who made us switch places for them. There I realised the group was split into two minivans and my friends had to be in the other one. The Peruvian couple was switched to the other van and I was asked to seat in the front next to the driver and the guide.
It did not stop there: as I was trying to get some rest, I was woken up by one of the old ladies behind me asking me in Portuguese to open the window for her. I just ignored her the first time but she insisted again and shook my arm. I was quite upset by that time, she actually thought I was a member of staff too but that wasn't a way to even treat the staff. We had to endure the wind in the front just so she had some air to breathe. I wouldn't have minded if I hadn't seen her smoke and cough at the first place we stopped!!!
You can imagine my relief when we stopped for breakfast and I finally saw my friends who were just in the same group but different van. Their guide Juan Carlos promised we would find a way to fit me in their van on the way back. We drove another 20 mins after breakfast to the point where we would start our trek.
There the group started to spread: some Canadians started walking ahead on their own not even waiting for the guide's instruction and then, due to the fitness level gap, we spread even more, the huge Brazilian group walking at the back. After a 20mins walk there was the option to hire a horse with a guide to ride most of the way. It was 8km in total, 16km with the return. When I booked the trip Margot already included the horse and I was quite happy with it to be honest. Julyenne and Lidia also chose this option.
My guide was Facundo, it was quite difficult at the beginning to get the conversation started but as Julyenne and her guide Mercedes caught up with us we started joking a lot and even got them to sing in Quechua, great times! A couple of times we had to get down and walk since it was getting difficult for the horses to carry us on narrow paths. The trek lasted for about 2h30 and at some point the horses stopped and we had the last slope to climb to get to the summit and view the seven colors of the mountain. As we got dropped off from the horses Mercedes told Julyenne she wouldn't carry her back as agreed because her horse was too tired, we had to argue a bit to make sure she would sort it out and maybe find another one but not charge her more as she intended to.
After a big effort, we reached the summit, it was a great satisfaction and an undescribable feeling! But quickly, the fog hid the mountain and in a few minutes we couldn't see anymore! When Andrea and Elizabeth reached us we went further up at the very top, Julyenne waiting for us a few meters away and that is when an extremely violent hail started: I felt like the wind and hail were breaking my skin and I could barely move my hand.
Soon after, Julyenne and I started our descent. We quickly reached Mercedes who was surrounded by fellow horse owners eating cob and pop corn. There she told us that Julyenne's horse had a blister on its back and it took a few arguments in quechua with her fellow gorse owners to decide what to do as we weren't giving in in paying her only for one way (it was more expensive that the return, she pretended Julyenne hired another horse to get back).
Finally the problem got sorted and we joined Facundo who was waiting further down. I was very lucky to have him as a guide as there was never a problem with him and by the end he was as talkative and me and even taught me some quechua. Lidia had a very fast horse: she stayed longer st the summit with the other girls but ended up passing us!
By the end we were exhausted even from the horse, it wasn't very comfortable to be honest but we made it back safe and sound! We looked for our van and waited inside for the others to arrive. Little by little people were coming back, exhausted but happy.
At some point though, a guy from the Brazilian group came looking for his aunt who was missing. We started to wonder where she was and whether anyone had seen her. And time passed by and all the vans and buses were gone but ours. She was missing.
Most of us were suspecting she had gone to the village by herself for some food. Her family was worried but none of us could understand how they let her go by herself. After mire than one hour since the last person from the group had arrived, people started to complain and we managed to get one van to carry everybody else to lunch. We ate around 4.20pm.
As we all finished eating we saw the second van arriving with the Brazilian group and luckily they had found the 61years old lady. It turns out she had returned before everybody but then tired of waiting decided to go back up and down again...
We started driving back by 5.30pm, almost the time we should have been back to Cusco but we had another 3h drive.
We made it back by 8.30pm, I had definitely missed any chance to go to mass for Palm Sunday. I stayed a bit with the girls at the Chaskis hotel laughing about the crazy day we had had and saying goodbye to Lidia who was heading to Puno tomorrow. We were all very exhausted after more than 17h of excursion and I quickly returned to my hotel. I was so happy I had postponed my trek to Machu Picchu!!
I couldn't be more relieved to have postponed the start of the Salkantay trek to Tuesday when I found out about the procesión. I can't imagine engaging on the trek after yesterday's long day.
I woke up with a headache so took it easy and stayed a bit longer in bed, went for breakfast at the hotel (for once) and also took the opportunity to send some clothes to the laundry to start the trek with clean clothing.
Today, Andrea, Elizabeth and Julyenne were going to the Machu Picchu but weren't going to be back until 1am. We still stayed in touch through the Intis vs Chaskis whatsapp group and agreed on meeting when they would ve back. It is also on there I found out Anthony, another friend they had met during a precious trip and the we had briefly seen at the rainbow mountain had missed his trip to Valle Sagrado so was going to the procesión as well. Fernando from Valle Sagrado was also going to be in town and we tried to meet up but the crowd was too big.
After poping by the agency to sort out the last details for the trek and the trip to Puno, I came down to the plaza de Armas as the procesión del Cristo de los temblores was just starting. I saw how the fire brigade carried it for a short period at the beginning, as a sign of the devotion to him: in the 1650s after some tragic earthquakes that severely affected the city, the Christ was taken out and the temblors subsequently stopped. He was credited for the events and has since become the protector of the city.
I followed the Christ and then ended up in the middle of a huge crowd pushing each other to get the closest from the Christ as people were throwing red flowers at him, Cantua buxifolia, the national flower.
The procesión had started with beautiful weather and I had actually left my hiking boots breathe trusting the weather wearing fabric shoes but I quickly realised I had been too confident with the weather: as we were passing a narrow and crowded street, a heavy rain started for the happiness of the poncho salesmen. The march was going at a very slow pace and many people tried to leave due to the rain, then the Christ entered a church were people were not allowed in (something that surprised me was the heavy security, the entire thing being surrounded by the military that would prevent people from approaching too much the procesión. Some women got very feisty as they were pushed away by them).
At that point, many people left, I bought some snacks on the streets and found refuge under some arcades, then I saw on a big screen retransmitting the event in live that it had come out again. By then, we could see a beautiful rainbow forming as the sun was coming out again and the rain was taking a break.
I stayed in the crowed waiting for the meeting between the Cristo de los Temblores and San Francisco that had been put outside a big church, it took quite a long time again but the crowds were patient and more and more people were gathering.
After that, as I was almost heading back to the hotel, I finally got in touch with Anthony who was nearby but we had never managed to see each other. We went for some food and tried getting Fernando to join as well but never ended up seeing him as the streets were still very full even after the Christ was returned to the Cathedral.
We even went to see a famous stone, popular for having 12 angles and which is known as the logo of a brand of beer. We .t find it at first and then I asked a man who happened to be one of the guardians of that stone: his job consisted of watching it and telling people not to touch it, there were three different shifts and guards take rounds the 24h of the day! The craziest part of it is that there are other ones with even more angles but that do not get such attention. We talked with the guard for a good while and then said goodbye, planning to maybe meet up again when the girls would be back.
I was almost asleep when Andrea and Julyenne video called me on whatsapp around 1.30am. They had had a great weather at Machu Piccu, unlike here today but it was raining so much in Cusco that we agreed it wasn't reasonable to meet up at such time and with such weather. We still talked for almost an hour and it was heartbreaking not being able to say goodbye, crazy how quickly we had become such good friends, they made me promise I would come back visit them one day and we were hoping the trek would maybe get postponed due to the weather.
Waw, where to start to describe the past five days? It seems like it has been an entire month: so much happening, so many new friends, so many miles walked... I will try my best to give you a glimpse but me best advice is, experience it by yourself!
Today was the day, despite the rain, at 4.50am I got picked up at the hotel to start the trek. I was a bit tired having slept so little and had packed all my stuff, leaving part of my luggage at the hotel.
The pick up was quite hectic: by the time I was down, 4 minutes on the clock from the first phone call, the van had already left and I had to take a taxi with the guide to another hostel, pick up a couple and we then ran under the rain to the plaza de armas where he left us again as he went to pick up more people. A van came our way but was going to the rainbow mountain. Then more people kept coming and eventually the right van picked us up and we caught up with the guide at another hostel.
We eventually headed out missing one passenger though at around 5.40am. Our first stop was for breakfast (which was nit included but I just ate my packed breakfast from my hotel) and there I talked with Adri and Tomas, seating next to me who were a lovely couple from Paraguay and Czech republic, both living in Paraguay as well as with Andreas, a German fellow traveller who was on a similar route, having started in Colombia.
We drove further until the starting point of the trek, Challacancha at 3 600 m above sea level, where the van dropped us and we had to hand out our 'extra kilos' to be carried by the horses. I was fearing I would be lagging behind after how exhausted I felt from simply horse riding at the rainbow mountain but I found myself keeping up pretty well with the pace. We had a quick introduction before starting the trek where our guide Steven referred to us as a family. The group was quite varied: there was a couple from Ireland, an american couple, another american couple with the sister of the girl who was living in Cusco for a year and who they were visiting, the couple from Paraguay and Czech republic, a solo Brazilian traveller and a German one.
The walk to the camp site was alright if it hadn't been for the rain which made us all cover ourselves under our ponchos. By the time we got there, I had managed to chit chat with almost everybody and was feeling very happy with the group. We had some abundant lunch while the porters were setting up the tents and we then grouped in pairs to share the tents, I would share a tent with Fernanda, the girl from Brazil. Then, we were joined by an extra member, Jerôme from France, the missing one from this morning who had had to take a taxi since he had been waiting for his luggage that had been missing for a day.
After that, we climbed up to see the Humantay lake at 4 200 m above sea level and then came back down to our camp site in Soraypampa. Again it was raining quite a lot and feeling very cold due to the altitude. As we reached the summit, the view of the lake was pretty spectacular: very green from the first point of view and then Renzo, the guide from the other group that has started at the same time as us, the Pumas suggested us to climb a bit further since the views from the other side were very different. We followed the instructions and magically, on that side the lake looked much more blue. As I asked Adri to take a picture of me, the clouds instantaneously covered everything and we couldn't see through... We stayed for a while hoping it would clear out but it never happened and we eventually had to go back down as it was getting dark.
Back at the camp we were welcomed with the merienda: huge plates of pop corn and enjoyed some good conversation. People were impressed I had managed to remember everyone's name and we also tried to guess everybody's age. It turns out I was the youngest one and the group was quite varied between 23 to 45 but I couldn't really feel any difference to be honest as we all got along so well. Almost straight after the merienda we were given some abundant dinner with loads of carbs and trout for the non vegetarian ones. Then Steven gave us a quick briefing and it was soon time to go to bed for an early start tomorrow.
As we got woken up at 5.30am with coca leaf tea in our tents I was asking myself why I was doing this to myself: I had slept very well and without waking up at all during the night but as I woke up and could hear the heavy rain hitting the roof I was doubting the enjoyment of spending the day walking the entire day completely soaked and cold.
Everyone still got up and packed everything. Over breakfast I realised I was one of the few that had actually managed to sleep well: some people had woken up several times and had barely slept, they were quite tired. The group kept growing and in the morning we got introduced to Luca and Oliver from Brazil who would join us for three days.
Today was the longest day: we would walk approximately 22Km and reach 4 630m above sea level. A few people chose the option to ride a horse for the first half and the rest of us walked. The weather progressively got better and despite the mud and cold the first few hours were still enjoyable. We had a few breaks where we caught up with the horses and enjoyed the views although the blizzard seemed to be following us.
Once we finally reached the Salkantay, the weather was at its coldest: it was very windy and rainy. There, Steven taught us how to make the ofrenda of coca leaves to the pacha mama making a wish and asking for protection. We then still had quite a walk until lunch but from there it was mainly downhill, legs were almost running by themselves.
We had to wait quite a lot for lunch in the cold but as usual, managed to make time pass quicker with great conversation. I can't remember all we had for lunch but one of the culinary experiences I do remember is a typical dried potato filled with ham and cheese that is very liked by locals, it was an interesting taste, very few of us finished it entirely.
After lunch, weather started to somewhat improve and we did get to see the sun at some point for a few minutes! The landscape changed quite dramatically as we were descending much lower to 2 900 m above sea level. It was a lot more 'jungle-like'. We also saw some pretty impressive landslides that seemed to be quite recent. We never really got to clearly see the summits of the peaks around us but from our imagination they must have been quite spectacular!
Once we got to our campsite we were quite relieved, the day had been really long and the arrival was quite epic with some of us drowning our feet in mud, mistaking some parts with stones. Again, we got loads of pop corn for the merienda and then a carbs full dinner accompanied by great laughs and conversations. For the first time too we got dessert!! There was the option to have a shower for 10 soles there but only two from the group took it, most of us decided to wait for the hot baths tomorrow, it was too cold to go for it tonight.
The night seemed very short this morning when we got woken up with the daily coca leaf tea. I was just mentioning to Fernanda how I really could do with one more hour of sleep when the rumour spread it was only 3am! I checked my watch and indeed, it was only 3am!!! It turns out the cook had his clock set wrong on his phone and the assistants had not noticed and were just waking us all up. I got out of my tent and they wouldn't listen until eventually, they went back to the kitchen and realised what had happened. What a relief, a few more hours of sleep, the only thing is the roosters had also woken up so it took a while to fall asleep again. Quite terrible at the time but we all ended up laughing a lot remembering the episode, Steven our guide, wasn't so happy though, he thought we'd be upset but it is a great story to remember in the end 😀
Today was going to be a sad day though: the group would split in half as some people were doing the trek in four days instead of five. We all walked together until lunch. Weather was getting better than the other days although we still had to take our ponchos out for part of the route. We crossed a few rivers this time and even had to take our shoes off once as it was pretty deep.
A memorable moment was when we stopped at a post where a lady was selling fruit, drinks and other snacks and I got to taste for the first time in my life the so called 'granadilla' similar to maracuya, passion fuit but sweeter, de-li-ci-ous!! We kept looking for it on the trees and a funny moment was when Jerôme and I, at the end of the group came across a huge plantation of them. We took one each and were followed by Fernanda, Colin and Tracey when we realised it was actually part of the refuge where the rest of the group was waiting for us and they were selling them.
A bit later on we arrived at Santa Teresa, where we would have lunch all together but then the four day people would head to hidroelectrica by themselves and the rest of us went to the hot springs for some well deserved relax. It was really sad having to say goodbye to Adri, Tomas, Jerôme, Andreas, Oliver and Lucas as like Steven would say we had really become like a family! It is crazy how quickly you make friends for life on the road, I really hope our paths will cross again.
The hot springs were great! We had a lift in the same van we had come to Santa Teresa from Lucamabama with great reggeaton. Once there, there were three different pools at 40, 30 and 25°C if I remember (I don't think it was very accurate but still very nice temperature). It felt amazing to finally clean ourselves and swim. In addition, there was a fresh water shower coming straight from the mountain. I took the challenge and the most epic moment of the day happened when I poured some over Rich: his reaction was priceless!!
As we headed back, again, we had some pop corn for merienda and before dinner, we decided to head to town to try some typical chicha, a fermented corn drink. We can distinguish places that sell them from a red flag they put outside the shop. Lynn had spotted one and so we headed to the chicharreria. She had told us the taste might not be the best but as we were handed our huge cups of chicha morada, we found it really nice and it was quickly downed. From talking to the lady we actually found out the one we had been given was non alcoholic due to the evangelist neighbourhood 😂 it was still more tasty than the real one and another funny story for the memories. On the way back, Rich and I joined some children playing basketball at the local pitch and we had a short girls vs boys game.
Back in Santa Teresa we had the last dinner prepared by our cooks and a short party/farewell to them. We were also with the Pumas, the other group that was walking at the same time as us but we clearly had more fun, dancing to the music as we could and cheering to our very talented Rich and Fernanda. Some people started retiring but Lynn, Fernanda, Colin, Tom and I stayed the latest chatting by the fireplace until we were close to midnight and Tom was actually turning 30. I took the challenge to team up with the cooks and find something to celebrate so he could blow some candles. I had fifteen minutes. It took some huge convincing skills to get them onboard, especially that they were pretty tipsy. In the end, we managed with some chocolate biscuits and matches and although it was small and improvised, I am sure he will fondly remember this birthday.
We then kept partying a bit longer with the cook and assistant cook as well as the other guide, Renzo and a couple of people from his group, of which one was also having his birthday tomorrow/tonight. Around 2am we all headed back to our tents.
This morning, we got to stay in bed a bit longer: we were actually already awake by the time Sebastian, the 17 years old assistant cook who had not slept at all came to wake us up. No coca leaf tea this time tough. We had a delicious last breakfast from the team with plenty of fruits. Then, around 7.15am we headed out, half of the remaining nine of us went zip lining, the rest of us, Niamh, Tom, Fernanda and I walked to hidroelectrica for about three hours were we were joined by Tracey, Colin, Amy, Rich and Lynn for lunch.
This time, lunch was at an actual restaurant and from there, we headed to aguas calientes by foot. Another three hours walk, most of it along the train rails. We got very lucky with the weather and bumped into Andreas who was already on his way back. He told us they hadn't been as lucky yesterday with heavy rain through the entire way... it made us value it a lot more but at least they had been lucky today with very sunny views on the Machu Picchu.
We did get our share of rain too as we were arriving to aguas calientes for the last twenty minutes, the ponchos were out again. I also got heavily bitten in one of my arms at one of the stops along the railway and it is still hitching five days later as I am writing this: the mosquitos were so small I hadn't noticed but damn, they bit me heavily, the smaller, the worse it seems.
It was a relief getting to our hotel but we weren't finished with the anecdotes: a few people had terrible agencies that didn't book their stay in the town so that poor Steven had to run around looking for places for them. It got worse when the train with our extra kilos was delayed and since we had settled at a pub for some great 4x1 pisco deals we drove Steven crazy telling him to just whatsapp us when the luggages would arrive since last time the delay was from 5pm to 9.30pm!! We weren't going to wait for four hours under the rain. Then, the battle started at the office from the culture department as I tried help out Fernanda validate her student ID that wouldn't be accepted as her agency had not double checked and told her to get an ISIC, (the only one valid in Perú if you are a student traveling the country, you can get it done in Cusco for $12 on the same day). We were unfortunately unsuccessful but at least gave it a try.
On the way back to dinner we bumped into our Brazilian friends Oliver and Luca that had already been to Machu Picchu but were still in Aguas Calientes, they came to the Salkantay Inn for a bit after dinner as we finally set up a whatsapp group to stay in touch (it was the first time we had wifi since the start of the trek, hence the lack of news from me but everything was alright, it was actually amazing to be offline for a while and enjoy proper human connections, eating all around a table with absolutely no one checking their phone, the dream!).
We also got to see Adri and Tomas again as they had a late train to Ollaytantambo where they were staying that night. We didn't go too crazy and went to bed relatively early after saying goodbye to the other half of the group, we had only missed Jerôme. The wake up was set for 3am for the next morning as an intense race to the Machu Picchu was awaiting.
Today was THE day, the end of our memorable trek to the Machu Picchu when we would finally reach the famous landmark and feel it for ourselves. I actually put the alarm for 3am packed everything, got ready, cameras all fully charged as it was the first place we had access to plugs.
4am on the spot Lynn and I were downstairs, soon joined by Rich and Amy and we went to pick up Fernanda who was at another hostal. Tom and Niamh would join us at the bridge. Colin and Tracy were getting the bus.
We walked for about 20mins in the dark with our headtorches to the bridge to queue until they opened at 5am. We were kind of at the head although there were already a lot of people. By the time they opened at 5am, the queue was several hundreds meters long. As the gates were opened, people started to almost race through the stairs hoping to reach the summit before the sunrise. It was a tough climb. I had to take some layers off and a few breaks, the steps were huge and endless. I eventually made it to the top before 6am where I found Lynn queuing despite Steve having told us to wait for him outside. We drove him crazy one last time as he arrived and saw us queuing but the rest would still take some time to arrive and we wanted to have a sneaky peak of the Machu Picchu without the crowd.
Three gates opened at the same time and the crowd started to flood the Machu Picchu. It was quite cloudy so we didn't really get to see the sunrise but the immensity of the place was breathtaking. We then headed back to catch up with the group and had our guided tour with Steven. We saw the most perfect wall of the world named by the National Geographic and got to learn some of the different interpretations of the place although none is confirmed.
Colin and Tracey had their entrance to the mountain between 7 and 8 since they were taking the bus from hidroelectrica and thus had to leave early. Rich, Amy, Lynn and I had had it for 9 to 10am since we were heading back to Cusco by train later in the afternoon. And the others were also taking the bus so did not do the mountain. We had also been joined since last night by three more people doing the two days trip, Belinda from Switzerland and Will and Maude from France. We all said goodbye after the guided tour and took a final picture with our beloved Steven who I had given quite a hard time, he got stressed too much with us but hopefully also enjoyed the trip as much as we all did.
I continued the day in the Machu Picchu with Rich, Amy and Lynn. We had some snacks before heading to the montaña that was another 2h climb! We kept asking people on their way down how long left we had but it seemed like the more we walked the more time we still had ahead. The path was quite dangerous and luckily we had a perfect weather going up: not rainy nor sunny, that would have been destroying! It was just fresh with some breeze and cloudy. Near the top, Rich, Amy and I bumped into Colin and Tracey one last time (Lynn was ahead with our new friend Sam, who had taken our group picture with Steven earlier).
Once I finally reached the top, to keep up with the pattern of the trip, the sky was full of clouds and we couldn't see anything through. Some people had been there for nearly one hour waiting to take the perfect shot. At some point the skies cleared out but as I asked Lynn to take a picture, same old story, it was too late. When Rich and Amy arrived tough, after the happy dance, I did the ofrenda to the Pacha mama like Steven had taught us at the Salkantay wishing for the sun and, no joke, almost instantaneously the skies cleared out and we had some pretty amazing views on the hidden city! We stayed there for a while until we were asked to start heading down at noon. That part is highly monitored since a tourist died a couple of years ago taking a selfie. The way down still took us about 1h30.
We then tried to go see the Puente del Sol but I learned from a guard that the access to it had been closed for a while and was officially reopening tomorrow, sad times. Since we were not in a hurry we laid on the grass sunbathing at the Machu Picchu for a moment since the weather had turned out so great. At around 2pm the skies were getting darker and the birds were singing which I overheard a guide say it was a sign the rain was coming. We then decided to start heading down.
This time, I did have my passport on me and Rich, Amy and I queued to add a new stamp on our passports. We then decided to walk the bus road down instead of the stairs hoping that would be more gentle on our knees. But the way was a lot longer, we ended up choosing the stairs for the last half and it took us longer in total than going up: around 1h30. Luckily, the rain wasn't too bad and we managed to get back to Aguas Calientes without the need to put our ponchos on, a first!!
Back in aguas calientes we negotiated our best deal and ended up going to the same place as last night for some cocktails and food. Rich, Amy and Lynn had their train at about 6.30pm while mine was not until 8.50pm! I walked a bit around town and went to the handicraft market. When it was almost time, I went to get my stuff from the Salkantay inn and got to the station for 8.20pm.
My train was nothing like the pictures I had received from the ones who took it previously and and it was so dark we did not really enjoy any particular view. They did give us some snacks and I fell asleep for a bit. Once in Ollayntaytambo, like I had been told, a lady was waiting with my name and many others on a white board. We could have left by 10.30pm but didn't do so until at least 11pm as she tried to get more people to fill up three spaces that were free. In the end I made it to Cusco, exhausted by 00.40am and still having to look for a place to stay since my previous hotel had told me they were fully booked. I had sent them an email the day before to know if there had been any last minute miraculous cancelation but never received an answer. I still walked there to get the rest of the luggage I had left and made it by 1am. I was extremely lucky and the guy at the reception actually found me a room. Happy ending to a long 21h awake day.
Keeping up with the pace, I had another tour planned for today at Moray and Salineras. Meet up was scheduled for 8.40am at the Plaza de Armas.
The group was quite mixed but I was a bit tired from the 5 day trek to properly socialise with everyone and people didn't talk to each other much.
We started off by Salineras in the district of Maras. The weather was very warm today and sun was shining throughout the entire visit. Salineras is a huge salt mine that must have had about 50 or 60 wells in during the time of the Incas and today counts more than 8 000! We got an explanation of how the salt gets extracted from the wells and the properties of the different salt types they produce there.
Next, we headed to Moray. It is a big site were we can observe the agricultural technique Incas developed in terraces where they achieved microclimates going from 0 to 8°C that allowed them to diversify their harvest. On the way back, we did a quick stop in Chinchero, at the exact same place we had stopped by at night on the way back from the Sacred Valley for the explanation on the process of fabrication of local textiles, no English version this time though. The excursion was not too long and by 3.30pm we were back to Cusco.
In Cusco, I went to my agency speak with Margot about the trip to Puno scheduled for tomorrow night that I had told her over the phone I wanted to cancel since I had found out she highly overpriced it but unfortunately she said it was not possible to do so. Then, I headed to my hotel for a short rest since I was meeting up with Lynn, Rich, Amy and Fernanda for an early dinner at 5pm.
Actually, it turns out Lynn, Rich and Amy were doing a cocktail course for which Lynn had won a voucher and Amy and Rich had joined. Fernanda and I were warmly welcomed and we spent some time there laughing as usual with that bunch. Then, Fernanda and I actually went somewhere else for dinner as Lynn, Rich, Amy and some of Lynn's coworkers went to a fancier restaurant. After dinner, since it was holy Sunday, I suggested to Fernanda to attend the mass at the Compañia de Jesús, on the plaza de Armas and see what it looks inside. Despite it being the evening mass, it was quite full and the live music was very nice.
After that, Fernanda decided to head back to her hotel as she had had a rough day as well arguing with her agency that had been quite dismissive with her Salkantay trek, not double checking her student ID and not booking her hotel in Aguas Calientes but unfortunately did not even get an apology. We said goodbye and then I joined Lynn, Rich, Amy and Lynn's coworker again and we went to a coffee place Lynn knew where they supposedly make the best coffee in town. Thing is, I don't drink coffee but Rich and I then shared a Mochaccino just to try. We stayed there for a bit and then said goodbye although we promised to meet again in the old continent since Rich and Amy are currently living in Cambridge and Lynn will most likely be visiting them in September.
Today was my last day in Cusco but I still had quite a lot to do. I woke up earlier than I should have thinking my city tour was scheduled for 8.40am again when it really was for 9.40am. But it was great because that way I got plenty of time to pack, send the clothes from the trek to the laundry and enjoy breakfast st the hotel.
The guide today for the first time, was a woman. The group started off quite small from plaza de Armas but progressively some people started to add up. Today again, I didn't get to talk to everybody in the group but Ricardo, a solo traveller from Saõ Paulo ended up seating next to me in the bus and I practiced my Portuguese with him most of the ride (even though I could have done with a nap).
We started off by the Sacsayhuaman, an impressive set of ruins made of huge stones weighing more than 300 tones each and which is situated very strategically on top of a valley that looks on the city, very pretty panoramic views from there. Next to it there is also a Christ looking down on the city and I was told it was a gift from the Jewish community that had come here escaping the second world war and had offered it to the city to thank its people for their hospitality and welcoming.
Next, we went to Q'enqo, a labyrinth that was used for some kind of sacrifices with an altar made of specific stones that keep a cold temperature. It has the shape of a Puma seen from above and also has a kind of snake on the top where they would pour the blood of llama. But we were only shown pictures since access to the top is now restricted.
After that, we went to Puka Pukara, which is a temple of water and where we got to wash our faces with its water for eternal youth (its high content in iron is supposed to be good for the skin). After that, we stopped again at a place where we were taught how to distinguish proper alpaca and vicuña (the very best one) fabrics from fake synthetics many shop sell.
We were back in Cusco quite early around 2.30pm and I had lunch with Ricardo at the place I had eaten the very first day were they served very typical food. I had some ceviche and cuy.
After that, I took on the challenge to see the rest of the sites I had access to with my boleto turistico that was expiring today. Four of them were doable walking around the city so I headed to the museo de Arte contemporáneo for a quick visit and then the Museo Historico Regional but which was closing at 5pm so I had to rush through although it looked very interesting and interactive, definitely recommended if you are visiting Cusco, it tells all about the foundation of the city and its subsequent history. Then, I went to the Museo del Sitio del Qoricancha, a short underground museum about the momies from the times of the Incas. After that, I set to walk to the Monumento a Pachacuteq that was closing at 7pm. It was quite a walk on the way to the airport but I made it for the sunset and enjoyed some great panoramic views of the city!
After that, I headed back to the centre and had a last stroll through San Blas and then went for a hot chocolate at the museum of coffee. Around 8.45pm, I headed back to my hotel to pick up my luggage and clean clothes I had sent to the laundry and took a taxi to the terminal terrestre to take the bus at 10pm to Puno.
Oh well, it wasn't already a great start with this trip to Puno since I found out O had been overcharged and didn't manage to cancel it...
It took the bus at 10pm which was supposed to get to Puno by 5am but I had been told to stay in it until the guide would come pick up the people for the tour around 6.30pm. It turns out we arrived st the bus station in Puno by 4.30am and got told to get out of the bus. In the station, no sign of a guide waiting for me. I had to tell the instruction I had been given by my agency and get them to call them to arrange something as O wasn't going to wait in the station until 6.30am in the cold and tired.
Finally, after much arguing, they booked me a room in the station for one hour and a half so I could have a (cold water) shower and a nap, I guess that was better than nothing. Then, I went by the office to drop my luggage and was put in a taxi with three other people to the harbor where we got in the boat for the day tour. It took more than one hour to fill the boat with everyone, it seems like people had been given very different times. I was so exhausted that I fell slept through most if the boat journey. After more than one hour of boat drive, we arrived to Uros, a complex of floating islands on the lake Titikaka made of a plant called Totora.
We had a short explanation on how they maintain and build these islands but then I didn't really enjoy the visit since the rest of the time we were just told to buy some handicrafts from them or get on one of their boats for a short tour but it was extremely touristy and shamelessly commercial, I felt like an object of consumption more that a visitor came to learn about their culture, all they wanted from us was money and it felt very depressing.
After that, we were back on the boat for about two hours until we arrived to the second island of the tour, Taquile. This one really had nothing much to show. We had a 40mins walk around the island and stopped for lunch where we enjoyed some fresh trout and were sent again to a handicraft market, the main particularity here being that it was men that did all the knitting, and surprisingly, prices were significantly higher than elsewhere.
After that, we were back on the boat for another 3h ride approximately back to Puno. I have to say, that was probably the best part of the trip. I spent most of the way back on the rooftop of the boat, enjoying the views and the calm water.
When we arrived, we got put in taxis again and sent back to the bus station to pick up our luggage. There a lady kept suggesting me hostels and as I was trying to decide on the most convenient one, she grouped me with Omar, an Argentinian solo traveler I had talked a little bit with during the excursion. We ended up choosing the nearest hostel from the bus station since we were both planning on leaving the city early morning to head to Bolivia.
We got a very good deal for two individual rooms with a private bathroom but I got a bit disappointed as I was given high expectations by a French family that was by the reception and told me the shower had the hottest water they had had in a while, turns out mine was completely cold. A good advice, always try to keep expectations low to not be disappointed.
Then, I headed to the town with Omar to see a little bit what it was like and look for a place to eat. Puno was a complete different world to what I had seen so far: the streets were quite dirty and busy with street food vendors everywhere, and loads of traffics, they even seemed to have moto taxis, similar to the boda bodas in Uganda.
We walked to the cathedral which was closed and the main street until we decided on a restaurant with some local food and had the menu with palta and alpaca. On the way back, we looked for granadilla, that delicious fruit I had tasted on the Salkantay and actually found it by chance at one if the ambulant fruit stalls still open! After that, we just went back to the hotel for some rest before another early morning start tomorrow: we would be leaving the hotel by 5.30am since Omar had his bus for la Paz scheduled for 6am and I still had to buy my ticket to Copacabana, the Bolivian side of the lake.
Today, after almost two weeks in Perú, it was time for me to say goodbye to this beautiful country and carry on with the journey to Bolivia. My last day in Perú had definitely not been the best but I want to remember it for all the wonderful memories and amazing people I met, overall it was a worthwhile experience and I am so glad I did not skip this country as I was suggested to do.
In the morning, I had planned on getting to the bus terminal with Omar who had his bus to La Paz for 6am. At 5.30am we walked to the terminal which was only a few cuadras away and like the lady had suggested to me yesterday, I negotiated there my bus to Copacabana. I managed to get on for 7am.
We had about two hours ride until the border control where we all had to get off the bus, get our passport stamped by the Peruvian authorities and then walk a bit further and get it stamped in the Bolivian office. It went quite quickly and we were soon back on the bus. A few minutes later, as we were entering Copacabana, a man dressed as a kind of policeman came in the bus asking for a 2 bolivares fee to enter the town. Probably one more scam but no one was in the mood for arguing. During the bus journey, I finally took some time to read through my Lonely Planet guidebook and realised that probably the best thing to do in Copacabana was to take the boat to the Isla del Sol.
As soon as I arrived to Copacabana, I confirmed what the guidebook had mentioned: Copacabana felt more like Argentina than Bolivia. It was full of Argentinians and other hippie tourists but nothing else really to do, it didn't feel like a place for me to stay any longer.
I headed to the harbour get my boat pass but the only company operating today was shut, I went back up the main street to get some bolivares and stopped for a juice, then finally managed to get on the 1.30pm boat. It was quite a long boat ride, almost two hours, on the rooftop, the view were wonderful but it did get quite windy. When we arrived, the view was stunning!!! I couldn't have made a better choice.
As I was getting down from the boat, a guy from Ecuador, Jose talked to me and quickly, I was joining his group. He was traveling with Martina, from Holland and Kun, from China. They had met from Cusco and proposed me to join their hostal hunt. There we went, a young child and a man were fighting for us proposing us the best deals. We went to both and in the end went for the one that was closest to the harbour since the way up was very steep.
We got to twin rooms with private bathroom and after settling, we climbed to the mirador on top of the island to see the sunset. It was spectacular! On the way back, we stopped at a place for dinner and were joined by a French and German girls that Kun, Jose and Martina had met before. We had some warm soups since despite the beautiful sun we had seen during the day, the island quickly got very cold due to altitude. It was actually mind blowing to see such a mix of landscapes: the immensity of the lake made it feel like we were on the coast, at sea level and then in the background we could see snow peaks, very clearly this time (no clouds, a first in my journey!).
Back at the hostel we sang for a bit since Jose was traveling with his guitar and played some music and then went to sleep as it was getting quite cold and there was no heating.
Today, we had a late morning, getting up at 9am but it was good to catch up on some rest. Around 9.30an we went for lunch nearby and left our luggage to not have to climb all the way up the island with it (it is quite steep).
There, we actually found out about the crazy current situation of the island: only the South is currently accessible to tourism because the two other communities from the centre and the North have been in a dispute for the past 20 days. Here is the situation: the Northern part of the island is where the biggest ruins are and thus gets the biggest share of tourism whereas the centre doesn't really have much to see so they recently made up some ruins in the hope to attract more tourism. When they found out, people from the North went and destroyed everything and since then, there is a red flag hanging at the border between South and centre and tourists are not allowed, boats too only go to the South for the time being.
After breakfast, we then went to see the ruins of the Puerta del Sol which I actually wouldn't be surprised have been made up too... but to be honest, the island doesn't need any of it, the best part of it are the surreal views on the lake. We were also told at breakfast that we had actually been very lucky with the weather as it had been raining for several says non stop before we arrived.
Before, going to the ruins, we had also gone to the harbour to secure our boat tickets for 3pm to get to Copacabana on time to get the 6pm bus to La Paz. What was our surprise when, as we were queuing for the boat a few people in front of us they said the boat was full and left us at the pier. There started the extravaganza and my first hand experience with the difficulties of negotiating with super sexist Bolivian men. I was with Jose and Martina (Kun had actually taken the 10am boat as he was kind of in a hurry to complete his journey through the continent) and we tried explaining the men from the cooperativa that we couldn't risk waiting fir the 4pm boat since the one we had taken to get to la Isla del Sol from Copacabana had taken almost 2h30. They were saying we had plenty of time that we'd be there in 1h30 but we just couldn't risk it and the other 20+ people that had been left with us on the pier were in the very same situation. The ones of us who were Spanish speaking tried to make those stubborn men but no way. They just wouldn't listen and kept sending us to one another, I went to all the captains from the company see if any was intending to leave early to compensate all the people who had been left on the island because they sold more tickets than the capacity of the boat.
They kept saying they would discuss it around their table but absolutely nothing was happening. Then, we noticed another company was actually leaving at 3.30pm and I tried to get them to give us the money back at least so we could but a ticket from the other company. And then, as they often do, they started speaking in Aymara which I did not understand and told is to wait longer but time was what we did nit have! They kept refusing reimbursing us but eventually told me they could put the three of us in the other company's boat but as we were heading to it, the other travellers followed us and he got mad at me for spreading the word, but I had told them nothing, we were just all in the same box and they had followed us logically.
The nightmare continued and he started telling me he would fine the other boat's captain for offering us the boat ride which he hadn't, we were just going to try get a space from another boat company. After that, I most patience as I saw they were just playing with us with no intention to actually solve the issue. The main guy had told be to go back to their table speak with the people there, what a coincidence as I get there, no one is around. Then, I just took their block of tickets and told them I would only return it when someone would show up and give us the money back, time was running, it was already 3.26pm and we could not wait much longer. I finally got some attention and, I had to loose patience for them to finally listen. They first started as if they were going to give us the money back but in the end walked us to a boat that was leaving and called it back to fit the three of us, a few of the other people followed but they didn't let them in...
Not sure how I had done it but in the end I had won the battle with these men, my friends were actually quite surprised as I think they had lost hope. We did make it well in time by 5.10pm with plenty of time to buy our bus tickets. We got them for 6pm and had some food and headed to the bus by 5.50pm when, again, we were told the bus had actually left earlier and we would be put in the 6.30pm one but were promised we would still make it to La Paz by 10pm. Whatever, we had no more energy to argue: as long as we'd make it to La Paz today, it was fine.
After about 1h20 on the bus, we had to get off and on a boat as the bus was also put on another one to cross a river. There we spoke with some Brazilians who gave us some recommendations on places to go to there, it seems like time will never be enough to visit that huge country but I took some notes. Then, back on the bus for another few hours the road got pretty bad at some point and in the end we made it to the bus station by 11pm.
We were too exhausted to compare hostels and taxis seemed more dangerous to take than just walk around. We wanted to get wifi to be able to look up some places but none had wifi, we found a hostel on the same street opposite to the bus terminal and just stayed there.
Today we woke up around 9am and got in touch with Kun who had arrived earlier yesterday in La Paz and was staying at a hostel nearby. After getting ready, we arranged to meet up with him and moved lur stuff to his hostel as well since Martina was leaving for Medellin early in the morning at 3am.
We then headed out to the city for lunch and ended up in the mercado Lanza tasting some local dishes and fresh juices and choosing our caseras.
Then, we went to plaza Murillo to do the walking tour with Bolivia by Foot. We had been told it started at 2pm but no one was there. I asked some locals who told us they were definitely coming later. By 2.30pm we finally saw them. We had been told the wrong time. We were not too big a group: a French guy, and Australian girls, a Spanish guy and the rest of the Isla del Sol team, Kin, Jose, Martina and I. We had two guides who switched between each other and were translating in Spanish for the Spanish guy, the rest of us had it in English.
We learned a lot about the history, politics and culture in La Paz. We went back to the mercado Lanza, to the witches market, to San Francisco cathedral and the prison of San Pedro. It took a bit more than three hours and turned out to be really interesting but the best days to be in the Bolivian capital are Thursdays and Sundays, when you can see the cholitas wrestling and one of the biggest street markets of the continent, el 16 de julio. So I decided to stay until Sunday.
In the evening, I went back to the hostel and tried to plan the next days. I was really keen on doing the Death Road trek on bike but ended up cancelling since my parents got too worried about me doing it...
Today, since I had been 'highly encouraged' to cancel my trip to the death road by my parents, I ended up exploring the rest if the city by myself.
In the morning, I changed hotels again and then headed to the tourism office for some advice. I first went to visit the four municipal museums of La Paz, calle Jaen (Museo Costumbrista, Museo de Metales Preciosos, Museo del Litoral y Casa de Murillo) which was a quiet area with a very distinctive architecture compared with the rest of the city, a bit more colorful and in a kind of colonial style. When I tried buying my pass at the first one, the guard told me they were closing in one hour and a half, that I should rather come back another day. But he then told me I could use use the pass on both days of the weekend. It took me 40minutes in total to see the four different museums! There was no much to see: no guided tours in any of them and just small rooms with random pieces exposed like children drawings with no apparent link with the museum itself. Even the staff in each of them seemed bothered. This is a big contrast with what I experienced in Ecuador where I spent hours at a time in museums listening to passionate guides. Here in Bolivia, it looks like they don't care much (they even tried to fool tourists making up ruins to make money, see day 39).
After that, I took a taxi van to el Alto and walked around the barrios, enjoying a surreal panoramic view on the enormous city. I then took another one back to the centre and walked further to the football stadium where I had been told there was a game this afternoon at 2pm but when I got there, I was told that was tomorrow, today's game was at 5pm. But I had already planned on going on the teleferico for the sunset...
I took another taxi van to the centre but fell asleep in it so ended up back in el Alto, walking around the suburbs. I was told later that area is pretty dangerous but to be honest I never felt in danger at any time. I wasn't wearing my backpack or anything so I guess that helped but the streets were pretty empty at that time of the day, the biggest hazard were probably the stray dogs that own these streets and since I didn't have time to get the rabies vaccine, they remain my biggest fear.
I then made my way back to the hotel to take the big camera and took the red line cable car. That is definitely the best infrastructure the capital city has! Such a contrast with the rest of the city: the teleferico is clean (as people get out, someone gets in to clean the inside before the next people get in again), it is modern, in good conditions and well run: despite a high use at times the queue flows relatively fast, brilliant!
Once I got to the top of the red line, I went looking for the mirador to see the sunset with another Italian tourist who was also looking for it. A security guard kindly let us in despite the fact that the place was actually closed by then. I took a few pictures but the sunset wasn't really in the right angle, he told us it actually happens every other day and today was not the day... I thus decided to get on the blue line for a better angle. That one was even longer with at least three stops if I remember and the views from the cabin on the busy nightlife of el Alto were mesmerizing.
Once I reached the top of the blue line, again, I did the way back in the cable cars. I then walked all the way to the South side of the city, which is where the upper class lives. I was looking for a restaurant the girl from the tourism office had told me about but I never found it where she had indicated it on the map so I just made my way back to the North and had dinner at a popular restaurant more authentic. I actually didn't enjoy the South area that much, it just didn't feel like Bolivia to me. And after a long day walking and on the public transport, made my way back to the hotel.
Today, I was planning on attending the city tour of El Alto, starting at 2pm from the Bunkies hostel so I headed out in the morning to explore a bit further the city until then.
I made my way to el Prado with the idea of going to the yellow cable car line but actually ended up absorbed by some street performances of traditional dances from all across the country and organised by the government to promote the culture. I ended up spending the entire morning there.
Then, at 2.30pm, the tour brought us to el Alto through the red cable car to explore the biggest market on the continent, the 16 de julio. We also enjoyed some spectacular views from a mirador after walking along the real witches market and learning a bit more.
After that, I stayed in El Alto to attend the famous cholitas wrestling contests that usually take place on Thursday and Sundays. It was goid fun, there were actually more locals than tourists! The only disappointment was that I was expecting the cholitas to fight with each other rather than against men...
I then came back down and headed to the train station to get my bus that might be leaving earlier from la Paz to Uyini.
After arriving to Uyuni around 7am, I started looking for tours to the salar starting on the same day. First, a lady who was waiting by the bus stop tried to get me to sign up with her agency. She brought me there, explained me the whole program but something didn't feel quite right about it, I told her I would think about it and have breakfast first. She let me leave my luggage at her office without any commitment.
I tried finding a place with wifi to double check the reviews on tripadvisor and actually, my gut feeling was right, that place was full of terrible reviews. I looked up the address of another one I had been recommended in La Paz and went there. However, it was closed, I asked about it in a neighbouring agency but was told they do their booking mainly from La Paz and open their office in Uyuni only if they are missing people to fill the van. She also told me that all the agencies near the bus station were the worse.
I thus quickly went to pick up my stuff and told the initial lady I wasn't going to go with them. After that, I decided to go for one that was listed as the fourth best on tripadvisor and still had one space left in a group that seemed to be mainly students.
At 10.30am, as we left for the three days trip to the salar and its surroundings I met the group: Gregorio was going to be our driver , there was a French couple, Vivien and Maries, a Brazilian couple, Marcos and Isabela and a dutch solo traveler, Rosalie.
One that first day, we stopped at the train cemetery, just outside the town, at the dakar sign for lunch in a place entirely made of salt, we visited the cactus island with wonderful views and finally stopped for some fun pictures on the salar and to admire the sunset before heading to our hotel de sal for the night. A busy day with breathtaking sights.
Today we had breakfast at 7am at the salt hotel but I got up around 6am for a 10 bolivianos hot shower and the water was surprisingly actually hot!
We took the road around 7.30am heading to the Red Lagoon (Laguna Colorada) and visited other lagoons on the way, Laguna Cañapa and Hedionda. We stopped for lunch at Chiarcota where we ate outside despite the strong wind and then crossed the Siloli Desert. We saw some spectacular landscapes on the road. We spent long hours in the car, admiring the different sights and stopped regularly for pictures until we reached our hotel for the night around 4.30pm. We were split in rooms of four but Rosalie and I had a four bedroom for ourselves since the place was not full.
Dinner was served pretty early since a very early morning was scheduled for tomorrow at 4.30am. There were no shower in that place but it was so cold due to the altitude that no one really complained about that. We went round the few houses that were surrounding the place where we were staying and bought a bottle of Chilean wine to split between the whole group with dinner. We were quite surprised when we found out about the tradition of the guides to offer a bottle of wine to the group on the last night so when Gregorio brought the Bolivian wine we were almost regretting buying the other one but as soon as someone tasted it, we didn't at all, ours was much tastier. By 7.30pm the guides were already in bed. I stayed up having some tea and blethering with Vivian and Marie a little more, laughing about all the anecdotes we all shared about our Bolivian experiences so far. The sky was very pretty at night in the desert: like in the isla del sol, we could actually see the milkyway.
Today, we had a very early morning with a 4.30am breakfast to be leaving by 5am for the geysers. It was extremely cold outside by that time!
We drove to a place full of natural geysers but there was a particularly strong one that was artificial, caused by some excavations made by researchers looking for natural resources (I think there was a rumour the place could have some petrol). People were putting their hands on them and it was really warm, great to defrost our hands!
Then, we drove to the hot springs but it was still dark at 6am and so we watched the sunrise there, only Marcos and Isabela were brave enough to go in and Vivien, Marie and I just dipped our feet in the warm water, and Rosalie watched us all.
After that, we headed to the Chilean border to drop off Rosalie who was going to the Atacama desert. On the way we made a few more stops at the arbol de piedra and some rocks hiding native species of mammals, very similar to rabbits but specific from the place.
At the border, we got a bit delayed since the young driver from the other van from our same company had another flat tyre. Finally, about half an hour later, we were back on the road and made a few stops for pictures at iconic places but it was mainly driving until we got to the lunch place and had some tuna with rice before taking the road again, this time almost non stop until we arrived back at Uyuni around 5pm.
In Uyuni, I decided to stay for the night and take the bus the following morning to Potosí rather than arriving late at night in Potosí. I did go round the bus companies to know the times to take it tomorrow morning the earliest.
In the morning, around 7am, I headed out to the station to take a bus to Potosí. Four hours later, I was arriving to the famous mining city, which once was the richest in the world. A strong contrast with today's reality.
I took a taxi directly from the bus station to the old town as I had been reading the whole section on Potosí from my Lonely Planet and could pinpoint the specific street where to find the tours to the mine. I found the Big Deal, the only one supposedly run by ex-miners and which works like a cooperative, helping some of the miners' families through the revenue of the tours. I really wanted to go with them for their ethics but they had no one else yet for that afternoon and we had to be at least three. A group of five soon came in but they were hesitating, I tried to help Veronica, the girl from the agency to convince them and soon a group was formed.
I walked around the centre to get a feel for the city while making time until 2.30pm, when the four hours visit was scheduled. It was quite lively and busy with people eating at the local markets and small shops, it was also the lunch break for a few schools around so many children in their school uniforms.
At 2.30pm we went to the miners market to buy them a few presents, coca leaves and some juice. The group was formed by a Canadian guy, a Dutch couple and two Spanish guys, Carlos and Ramon who had all met in Uyuni and come to Potosí together. We split the group in two for the Spanish speakers and non Spanish speakers who would have their tour in English with a different guide.
Then, we went to a barn and were given some protective equipment: a helmet with its head torch, a onesie and some boots as well as a bag to put the presents we had just bought. We had a quick tour of the refinery where the silver and other material exploited were filtered. Then, we headed into the mines. It was a bit late in the working day since most of them had started at 3am but there were still some miners inside. We had to bend a few times since the tunnels were pretty low in some parts and very narrow. Contrarily to the coal mines I have visited in Belgium, they had no rails nor horses to carry the pieces of stone, it was all carried in wheelbarrows. All miners were chewing coca leaves and had the distinctive ball on the cheek. We stopped to talk to a few of them to hear their stories and hand them in some of the juices and coca leaves we had collected. We also stopped by an altar made to el Tio, the protector and God inside the mines. Our guide made an offering and made us taste some of the 96% alcohol they drink and share with the pacha mama to ask for minerals as pure as that alcohol.
It was a very interesting visit and contrary to the old mines I have visited before that have now become museums, a very real experience since we could actually see people working in it as they have been doing for centuries, in the same harsh conditions as when it started, probably worse now since the big findings are becoming more scarce. I really enjoyed the visit despite the fact that it was a difficult one. I read some blogs online where people said they might not have done it if they were to do it again but it was Guayasamin's work in the capilla del Hombre in Quito that had sparked my interest in the topic and I wanted to see for myself this hard reality and what is left now of this city that once was the richest and among the most populated ones.
I woke up at 6am, had forgotten to put my alarm as I was hoping to get the first bus to Sucre at 6am to make the most of it but had to go for the 7am instead.
It was a three hours journey so I still made it relatively early in the old capital. Sucre was a different story than what I had seen up until now. I took a taxi to a bed and breakfast I had seen in my Lonely Planet guidebook, hoping they would still have rooms and by chance there was one left for only one night, that was exactly what I was looking for! I realised most museums close for lunch break between noon and 2.30pm so I got a much needed shower and walked around looking for an agency to buy my flight for the next day to Santa Cruz, where I would take a bus to Asunción, Paraguay as I was going to visit Adri and Tomas from the Salkantay trail who had told me so well about this not very touristy country. This is also why I was rushing a little bit through Uyuni, Potosí ans Sucre since they had told me they had other visitors from the 3rd.
I got all that sorted out and then went for lunch and eventually started the cultural tour around 3pm (since they remained closed until then despite the sign clearly indicating 2.30pm for the opening in the afternoon...). The first place I visited was the Casa de la Libertad. Waw. Finally a museum worth the visit in Bolivia! I joined a guided tour around the museum which was extremely interesting and very well explained, it reminded me of the guided tours I had in Quito, la casa de la Libertad is the best museum I visited in Bolivia. They told us all about the Independence process that had been initiated inside this building in 1809, shaking the whole continent and that concluded in 1825 with the Independence of el Alto Perú as the Bolivian nation.
I then went to the museum of indigenous art which was also recommended in my guidebook but which wasn't nearly as exciting as the previous one, a guided tour would have made it much more interesting. The great part though were the views from that other side of the city which were great. After that I rushed back to the centre to try see one more museum and went in the museo de arte colonial Charcas. I quickly went through the ethnographic part, again, the guided tour would have been appreciated since there was so much in there but I quite liked the part on the evolution and differences of cholitas dress codes per regions. Downstairs, despite the late hour I did get some explanation on the main painting which was a map of Potosí during its golden age.
As I left I popped in the Parador which was in the opposite street to meet the owner who I had bumped into in the morning and had told me to come back later for a visit of the place. It was really nice inside, inspired by different styles, some areas were very Spanish or mire French etc. Again, I got to appreciate wonderful views on the colonial city from the terrace on the rooftop.
After that, I walked to the local market and had some dinner in the comedor, actually quite good compared with the rest if the food I had had so far in Bolivia. Then, I went back to the casa de la Libertad as I had been told there was a piano concert there tonight. Woow! It was just spectacular. I didn't see any tourists and it was mainly locals celebrating young Bolivian talent, I am so glad I went!!
At 11am, I had a flight scheduled to Santa Cruz de la Sierra to then take the bus from there to Asunción since it seemed buses there were not leaving directly from Sucre despite a road on google maps.
I took a taxi at 9.15am to the airport to make it by 10am there and wait for my flight on time. The flight was pretty quick, less than one hour (instead of a 12h bus journey). As soon as I landed in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, it felt like I was in a completely different country: people there speak guaraní instead of aymara or quechua and it is a lot lower than all the other cities I visited in Bolivia, with a much more tropical climate, very warm. People here are very different themselves: there are a lot less indigenous people and from the chat with the taxi driver who drove me to the bus station, the white people are quite racist towards them and the rest if the country too. It felt more like Miami (or how I imagine that place to be since I have never been there) than Bolivia. It was very weird, didn't like that feeling much.
In the bus station I went straight to the area of buses to Asunción but it seemed like they were being sold at their higher price due to the upcoming bank holiday. One company tried to get me to go to Argentina instead in a supposedly much more comfortable bus (quite tempting after the terrible reviews I had read online) but it was pretty obvious they were blatantly lying about the distances and duration, that journey seemed much longer on the map.
I decided to go to the centre first to get sone wifi connexion and double check with Adri and Tomas about the journey. Quite happy I did so, the Argentina route was way longer than they had tried to convince me it was at the station. I then went back and bought my ticket for the traditional journey with pretty low expectations despite the bullshit the vendor was still telling me to convince me although I had no other choice so was going to buy it anyway. By this time I was pretty exhausted from all the hassle and the heat but wanted to see the most possible from this city.
Since the bus was scheduled to depart at 7pm, I went back to the main plaza, tried unsuccessfully to get wifi again to get in touch and confirm to Adri and Tomas my departure. Then I decided to walk around and picture the streets around the centre. I walked through some artisans markets and climbed the tower of the cathedral for the panoramic views. Then it was time to head back to the station.
As I was expecting, no sign they were intending to depart any time soon and I was told we would leave at 7.30pm instead. Good start! We actually didn't leave the station until 7.51pm to be exact! But that was not the worse. The must must have been older than me, the door couldn't open properly, the seats barely reclined and the A/C did not work. And I was embarking for a 20+h journey in that thing...
At 5am, we finally crossed the border! I was extremely sleepy and had not been woken up by the drivers call so that when I woke up, I was the only one in the bus. I quickly got out and lined next to my luggage until I was called and they checked it. Then I went at the border control to get my exit stamp from Bolivia and entry stamp into Paraguay.
Back on the bus for another few hours until around 10am, we were at the official Paraguay border control (5h later!!) again, we were all subjected to very thorough control and lost about one entire hour there. The whole bus was composed of Paraguayan people except for an Argentinian guy and I. He also agreed that was the worse bus he had been on such a long journey.
After that point, we were stopped at least another seven times every time we reached somewhat populated areas, they all had their entry gate guarded by what looked more like fake policemen than official ones, all fully armed. The road was awful, I had read that it starts to be paved as you get into Paraguay but that was not the case for a good seven hours after crossing the border, the road was full of potholes!
I tried to sleep some more and did not even try the 'food' we were given, surviving on my big water of bottle (but also trying to limit myself to not have to endure the stinking bus toilets) and my pack of raisins I had bought in Sucre.
After a while around 6pm we entered what looked like a big city but I wasn't sure whether it was actually Asunción, since from the horror stories I had read online sometimes the journey ends at 11pm. It turned out we had actually arrived on time! We were dropped off away from the station, on an adjacent street but I made my way there hoping to find a cash machine and some wifi.
I got in touch with Adri and Tomas who were also expecting me later but Tomas quickly came to pick me up. While waiting, I had been chatting to a vendor from one of the souvenir shops of the station and I could already tell I was in a much more welcoming place that Santa Cruz, very happy to be there!
I was even happier to see Adri and Tomas again after the Salkantay. Adri was at home with a friend tidying up for my arrival, but what was my huge surprise when they tell me that the reason they had told me to make it there before the 3rd or after the 16th was that they were getting married on the 6th!! This very Saturday!!!
I couldn't believe it. My first thought was what the hell was I doing there disturbing them in such busy times but then I was very sad to to be missing the actual wedding as I had just booked a flight from Iguazú to Sao Paulo for that exact day...
I was extremely happy for them though and overwhelmed by their generosity to invite me in such busy times to visit their country. After some great catch up we headed to a place they had already told me about in Perú for dinner to taste some sanguishitos de lomo. What a delight, they were right telling me about how delicious they are, so nice especially about the not so good bolivian food.
Today, since Adri had quite a lot to do for the wedding but wanted me to see her beautiful country she decided to stay home working on the preparation details while Tomas and I went mountain biking in Altos, a district about one hour away from Asunción along the lago Ypacarai. I had my compensation for missing the death road in la Paz, this was really nice although quite difficult too since there was no road, and the way was very sandy, the bike would get stuck quite often in the sand if we didn't push on the hands and cycled as much as possible in low gear. It was also very warm (hard to believe winter is coming). The views though were stunning! We made a few stops to eat some mandarines from the trees and passed some well fed cows and pigs.
We cycled about three hours. Tomas then told me about a zip line that had recently been inaugurated and in which he had been partly involved. It was situated in a recreation area where people come spend their days off in family around a bbq playing football or paintball. We sorted some things for the wedding since they will be bringing part of the guests here after the event and then I even got the chance to have a try on the longest zipline of the country (just before they were closing)!
On the way back home, we had a terrible encounter as we happened to arrive at the aftermath of a road accident that had just happened, we were the first ones to stop. A drunk motocycle driver had just crashed with a cyclist whose brother was desperately calling for help. We quickly called the ambulance and mire people started to gather, helping the injured. There was a lot if blood, the shock must have been quite brutal, the bike was broken and in the middle if the road, the motorcycle had landed ten meters away. We tried to immobilise them both, keeping their heads still to prevent any spinal injuries until the ambulance arrived. Luckily, a doctor who was passing by came to help and she asserted the situation of both, despite the terrible head injuries they seemed to be safe, it was heartbreaking trying to calm the brother of the injured cyclist who was telling us they hadn't seen it coming at all, they didn't even know what had happened. The motorcycle driver, lying further away seemed very drunk and unconscious rather from the alcohol than a potential head trauma. It broke my heart when the ambulance finally arrived and they tried gather information on everything and I heard the cyclist was only 23, the same age as me...
They took him first to hospital and then we waited a bit longer helping the other man until the firemen came to take him to closer hospital.
Back home, Adri was waiting for us since Tomas and her had their dance rehearsal scheduled. A friend of them, dance teacher was helping them prepare their opening dance. It was great fun watching them learn the steps and rehearse. After that, we all went to a delicious restaurant in town, (passing by the famous congress that has recently been burnt by the angry population). Paraguayan food is definitely underrated, they have delicious meat!!!
Today, bank holiday was off so Tomas had to go to work. I had breakfast at home with Adri when I learned how linked her own life was to that of her country, hence her strong love for Paraguay. She lost her dad to the coup in 1989, on the 2nd of February against dictator Stroessner. Her mum even wrote a book on the event that she kindly gave to me. We talked a bit more about the history of the country and how it had affected her life. Luckily she now has a very tight and supportive family with a step dad that practically adopted the three brothers and a sister from that second marriage.
Today, I would finally feel useful rather than disturbing Adri away from the wedding planning, I would be her assistant giving a hand with ticking things off the list and finishing some of the last preparatives. We went to her school where she got her pay check handed in, went to the bank to return it, looked for specific paper that sticks on clothes, phoned up places to get bookings confirmed, etc.
We then had a lunch break where we met up with Tomas. I can definitely trust them with food! Once again it was very tasteful!! We went through some stressful times but tried I tried to show them how everything would be fine and bring as much positive energy in such stressful times. We then went to the most famous market of the city, mercado cuatro where the movie siete cajas was set and I took plenty of beautiful pictures playing with the variety of colors you can find in this place. Definitely a great visit, not to miss if you go to Asunción.
From there, we went to see her fashion designer friend who was working on her wedding dress for a dress fitting session. Again, I tried capture the moment for a nice souvenir after the wedding. Going to the hairdresser is always a great solution in stressful times to relax and so did Adri, she needed to get a haircut for the wedding so we went to the hairdresser to get that done and tick off one more thing from the list, she came out of there a different person, totally relaxed! Perfect!
After that, we met up with Tomas that was just finished with work and went to the place they were ordering the empanadas from for the wedding to confirm the order and by the way have dinner. Not a surprise anymore but they were really good! We had a fab time chatting to the owners, the guy was from Salta, in Argentina which is famous for its enpanadas and the girls was from Paraguay., a very lovely couple!
Back home, it was time for a second rehearsal session of the opening dance with José, their dance teacher friend. This time, it looked perfect, they remembered all the steps perfectly, I am sure it will be a beautiful moment in the wedding!!
To sum up, today was pretty random: never would I have imagined going to a dress fitting in Paraguay but that is what I loved about today, I really felt like I shared a day in the daily life of Paraguayan people and on top of that I felt like I could finally be useful too giving a had in such stressful times. It was just perfect! I am so grateful to Adri and Tomas for the experience!! The only sad thing is that I will be missing the actual wedding, they tried to get me to cancel my flight and booking and stay a bit longer until Saturday but unfortunately I couldn't cancel any of the reservations and tickets..
Sad day as I was leaving Asunción before the wedding but still I tried to make the mist of it: I decided to take the bus to Cuidad del Este first and then another one to Foz do Iguaçu because the direct ones only leave at 7.30am or 00.30am from Asunción and I wanted to spend a bit more time with Adri and Tomas.
In the morning, Adri drove me to the historic centre as we were completing some duties as well checking a few more things off the to do list. We went by the tourism office to ask for some maps to prepare the welcome packs of the guests who will be coming from abroad. Then she dropped me off to go visit the museum from the old train station. Back in the days, Paraguay instead of sending its people to Europe to learn, actually brought a few professors to teach here and professionals to transfer their skills (paying them a huge salary, more than ten times the average) and these are the people behind most of the notable buildings of the city I was told there.
By the time I came out of the museum, contrary to the past two days that had been very warm and dry, it was raining cats and dogs! I still kept going with my itinerary since I didn't have much time and headed to the casa de la independencia passing through the plaza de la democracia and some artisanal markets. After that, I went to see the congress and take some pictures of uts broken windows and burnt façade from the recent protests to the attempt of the president to run a second mandate, which due to the political history of the country which suffered many dictatorships, is unconstitutional. After that, I walked further to see the beautiful Palacio de los López (from outside, it cannot be visited).
Then, Adri picked me up again in order to meet up with Tomás and have lunch all together. But by the time we reached his office, the rain had worsen a lot. We switched cars for his which was bigger since we feared Adri's might get stuck in the rivers of rain that were filling the streets.
In the end it turns out that the traffic got so bad and the rain reached such level that we only had time to stop at a fuel station to assess the situation (see whether or not we could safely cross a road with the car to get to the bus station) and buy some empanadas to take away. After some hesitation, and with a lot of courage, praying for the car to get through this, we managed to cross the road/river and make it to the station 15 minutes before the bus departure!
There, I bought my ticket to Ciudad del Este for 1.40pm. It was the best bus I have taken so far! A nice reward while looking at the rain outside. The journey took about 6h and I had a nap for the first half and then decided to start reading the book Adri's mum wrote on her personal story: El golpe de 1989, una historia en mis recuerdos (Gladys Davalos, G.). I cried during most of the reading, what an emotional book and what a talent to tell such a difficult personal story in such an intimate way! It really gave me an insight of what that period was like but also what this whole family went through and understand where this powerful love of Adri for her country comes from, her life is so directly linked to the nation's history. I couldn't finish the book on the bus but as soon as I got to the hotel I finished the 200pages. I am not sure it is available outside but if you are interested in the topic, I would definitely recommend it!
Once I arrived at Cuidad del Este, I found out there were no more buses to Foz de Iguazu so I had to take a taxi instead. Had to negotiate the price a bit since I didn't have many guaraníes left and gave the driver all I had. We had to stop twice for both border controls but it went quite quickly (despite the 1h time difference between the two countries) as I never had to queue. At the hotel, they were waiting for me and I was quickly given the key to my room and enjoyed a well deserved rest after the intense reading.
Today I headed to the Brazilian side of the falls which was at a walking distance from where I was staying. Getting there I was surprised to find out the cash machines wouldn't work with my bank but luckily I managed to pay everything by card directly although it is really not convenient not having any cash when travelling, trust me. But I didn't even have other neighbouring currencies as I had given all my guaraníes to the taxi driver last night.
Once in the park, a bus drove us to a trail of about 1Km to get to the falls. We were warmly welcomed by a group of very curious and quite invasive, not shy at all so called quatis. There were quite a lot if people and it was a challenge to take a picture without having other tourists photobombing it!
Once you get to the garganta do diablo, there is a path on the water where you cab see the falls from the bottom and you get spectacular views, I was very luck to spot many rainbows which turned into spectacular pictures. At this point, all tourists put their ponchos on and so I did initially as I still had mine from Cusco but quickly took it out as the few drops you get are just refreshing.
Then, there is an elevator one can take (after a few ramps with souvenir and food shops, but nothing compared to Niagara, doesn't affect the environment like in the aforementioned) which takes you to the very top for some panoramic views from a very different point of view.
After that, I decided to treat myself to a buffet lunch at the restaurant on top of the falls with unique views on this masterpiece of nature because, why not? We only live once and that is what life is for, to enjoy it and create wonderful memories around the world. 😀
After that, I still had a few hours of daytime so I made the most of it checking into the bird park on the way to my hotel. What a place! You get to see hundreds of different birds and butterflies loud and colorful as I love them, a real boost of energy. The beautiful thing is that half of the birds there are actually rescued birds from abusive owners or trafficking. A few didn't even know how to fly as they had been kept in very small cages so it was more like a sanctuary for them. There was a parrots cage where you could get in and they were so playful, flying from side to side, eating, singing, they really seemed happy and didn't care much of the few of us inside, they would fly really close (hitting some people with their wings sometimes 😉). I really enjoyed the visit. At the end, there was even the possibility to take a picture with one of them in your hand, it made for a very nice souvenir.
I am starting to realise it is not for nothing this travel diary is called Elena's adventures in South America, I am really full of anecdotes by now of things that probably only happen to me but thank God, up until now, all the crazy situations only end up in good stories to tell.
Today, I was intending on getting, the other side of the story and go to the Argentinian side of the falls. However, the lack of local currency in cash did cause more issues today. I could not get a bus or a taxi without them. I had to then walk the 2Km there is to the airport, hoping the cash machines would be more useful than yesterday at the park. However, sane story happened, none of the three cash machine would accept my card. Luckily, I had brought some euros and just ended up changing them for reais at an exchange business. That was me with some of the logistics sorted. Now I had to get to Argentina.
I asked for the journey details at the information office of the airport where I was told to take a first bus to a shopping mall and from there take a second one or alternatively walk the borders, it was a 15minutes walk I understood (but I think the info got lost in translation, I like to believe I understand Portuguese by now but I think it is not fully the case yet as this story will tell). So I took the first bus and then, not seeing the other one approaching, decided to embark on the '15minutes' walk, guided by my map. The short walk turned into more than one hour walking along the road. Then, I had to reach the town's bus stop and from there, get another bus to the falls. After a while, I eventually got there and again, was told they only accepted cash. Since I didn't have pesos on me yet, I had to walk a bit further and find a cash machine. Here, they did accept it although the novelty was that for every 2 000 pesos you take out, you get charged 94 on top of what your own bank does. First, I thought that was the specific bank that did that so I just went to another one until I overheard other foreigners talking about that famous fee. I had no choice so just took what I thought I would need approximately and went back to the station, bought the return bus ticket and they also, like any good Argentinians managed to convince book a boat trip on the falls that was a must.
As usual, the bus coming in 10 minutes, arrived after 25 minutes and so when I finally made it to the park it was 2.30pm... I had been told to expect spending a full day on the Argentinian side and half a day on the Brazilian one, but I guess it is part of travelling and circumstances alter plans unexpectedly...
When I got there, I followed the instructions I had been given and went to the attractions office get the actual ticket. There, I was told by the lady that because of the time, I would have to chose between taking the train to the devil's throat or the boat inside the falls. I could not believe my ears, I did not want to make the choice! I was starting to feel that everything had gone wrong today but the staff, seeing my desperation were very nice and supportive, they told me to think about it while heading to the next train stop where another staff member would meet me. The best plan I could think of was to do the boat earlier and rush back to the train. When I net the other guy by the train, he told me we could potentially do that, advance the boat session and then I would have to be very quick to get back for the last train at 4.10pm.
Challenge accepted! He gave me directions on how to get to the boats the fastest but I only had like 30mins, he said it would be hard but feasible if I did not stop and went on a good pace. I walked as fast as I could through the crowed in opposite direction to actually make it in 16 minutes! Ouf, I could breathe a little bit!
The boat was so much fun but they should maybe have put a disclaimer beforehand recommending people to bring flipflops and their swimsuits. Everyone got fully soaked. ! We went right under some smaller falls and had a shower on the boat! I was not expecting that at all but it was really good fun. Luckily they had provided us with waterproof bags to put or bags otherwise everything would have got ruined. The only problem was then spending the rest of the day on my soaked clothes (that was alright, they quickly dried with the wonderful weather) but especially wet socks in my trekking shoes (these never dried and the day was still going to be long and eventful)'
As soon as we were out of the boat, I took the same way again and made it back to the station to catch that last train to the Devil's throat. It was a 20minutes ride there and then there was a train on the water and surrounded by some kind of mangroves or other trees growing on top of the falls. But when I finally got there... I was left speechless by the beauty and power of the place, it was just spectacular! I think I had heard people who had been here during my journey telling me I should go and that when you see Iguazú, whether or not you believe, you end up admitting the existence of God or a supreme being. It cannot better describe the scene. The amount of water is so spectacular, that the melody of the water falling just sounds like an ode to life! It is probably the strongest feeling I have had of all the places I have been so far and the wonders I have seen, non has impressed me as much as this one. This was maybe due to the low expectations I had from the disappointment of what has been done in Niagara but I think the contrast between these two places is the best illustration of what is happening to our beautiful planet: nature itself is so wonderful but little by little what is destroying it are human enterprises...
Soon, it was time to take the last train back at 5.30pm and I was the last one to walk from the Devil's throat this beautiful evening quite quiet (we were not that many left in the park at that point) and I tried to enjoy the moment, feeling so grateful and privileged for what I had just witnessed! <3
Back to the entrance, I tried doing part of the upper trail but it turns out they had all been closed by now, a guard later told me it is for security reasons since that is when the big cats (pumas and other wildcats go out for food). It was okay though, I had seen the most spectacular part and enjoyed the main attraction at the falls, quite an unexpectedly successful day considering how it had began.
Outside, I was hoping the bus would be on time to be able to catch the last bus to Brazil and not have to walk. Quite some people had gathered so I was hoping it would be there soon but as usual I had to step back and hope for the best, adapting to the South American punctuality. In the meantime, since I had my passport with me, I imagined like in all big landmarks it they must stamp passports and so I filled my beautiful passport with one more stamp, memory of one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.
Eventually, the bus came and I was ensured by the driver it would make it on tine for the bus to Brazil. At an earlier stop, a guide from the falls told me I could get off and wait for it there. So I did and another Malaysian guy on the bus who was also going to Brazil followed me. Soon the bus to Brazil arrived and it stopped at the Argentinian border control where most people got off and the bus waited for us but then at the Brazilian border control, no one got off except for a girl and we almost missed it but as soon as I realised, the driver gave us a ticket to get on the next bus and we got off (it didn't wait this time). The control was done really quickly and then the three if us ended up waiting indefinitely for the next bus to come as the guards had ensured there was another one coming. I had started to suggest walking since we were actually really close to the other stop where we needed to change buses but unfortunately they only took it as a joke and preferred to wait. The South Korean girl who was the other one waiting asked us if any of us could walk with her to her hostel as she needed to get her backpack from there before heading to the international bus station as she was hoping to get a bus to Asunción which was leaving at 1am. From her description her hostel was quite close to where I needed to get my second bus so I offered to help her out. She said it was in a residential area quite dark and dodgy to walk alone after the horror stories she had been told about tourist safety in Brazil.
Bu 8pm, the bus finally arrived but that is when the nightmare started: instead of taking the expected route, it turned left and ended up bringing us downtown where I had never been and could not locate anything. I double checked a few times to the driver to make sure he would be back closer to where we needed to go later to which he said yes every time until I asked him a third time and he told us that actually, no, we should get off and take another bus. We got off and then with our map in hand asked some people for directions at a fuel station to know where we were. Very sure of them, they gave us some directions, quite straight forward. We double checked at another shop after a while and again, they gave us the same indications until, looking carefully on the map, we realised we had been walking in the opposite direction we intended to go! We decided to go in the mall we had reached anyway and get dinner as well as wifi to see the exact rout and how long we would have to walk back. The three of us had some food, by the time we were finished it was already 10pm. It was decision time again as we had to decide what to do. Google maps was saying we had a 54min walk to go or a 14min drive. But the South Korean girl was refusing to get a taxi, fearing they would charge too much. Buses were not reliable either since at the stops it was not indicated which one was passing by nor a timetable. We ended up seeing one heading to the terminal and took it. There, we looked up the timetables for the 120, the only line we knew and the girls seemed to know from there the way to her hostel. So we did. We finally walked her to her hostel and there she was also told which bus to take to the station. The other guy from Malaysia would go with her since he was staying near the terminal. The issue was their stop was on that street whereas I needed to get back the way we walked to get the 120. They didn't want me to walk alone and insisted I wait with them and take the 120 from the terminal but time was passing and the bus was not showing up. I was fearing that by the time I make it to the terminal, the last bus would already be gone. So at 11.20pm, I decided to walk to the main road by myself as I didn't find it dodgy or anything and I didn't want to miss the bus. At the stop, I had to wait more than 30mins for the bus to show up (I had started to fear the last one had gone but at 00.30, one came). What a relieve. Late but safe and sound, I was back at the hotel after a stressful day where, believing my watch, I had had walked more that 25Km in total!
Today I was flying to Sao Paulo from Iguazú at 2.30pm so in the morning I didn't do much, being quite tired from all the walking from yesterday and took it easy going for breakfast and packing everything before check out time.
I was really excited to fly to São Paulo since I was meeting up with Verônica, who I had last seen in Paris two years ago when she went to Sciences Po for a six months exchange. We had met way back in 2008 during a summer language course in Cambridge and somehow kept in contact since then and despite the distance, it is the kind of friendship that lasts for ever! A treasure!!
When I arrived at the airport, I was so happy to see Verônica and meet Daniel, her boyfriend. We drove to his apartment where he lives with his parents and where I would be staying since it is very conveniently located and they had a spare room from his brother who married a few years back and thus doesn't live there anymore. I was extremely warmly welcome by his parents too as soon as they arrived and it really warmed my heart to feel such hospitality from people I had just met.
We chatted for a while and I tasted some local sweets that Verônica had prepared for me to try. After that, Verônica's best friend, Karina and her husband came to pick us up to go all together for dinner and drinks in town in a popular area for going out. They too were lovely and I had a great time practicing my Portuguese (or I should rather say Portuñol) with them. Then, we went to another place for some juices and hot drinks, I had a Belgian hot chocolate 😉
By the end of the day, I was quite tired as it is a considerable effort you put in concentrating in every word when trying to speak another language you don't fully know yet but I was trying to catch every new word or expression I heard and add it to my vocabulary, a real life language lesson!
Today, after breakfast, Verônica, Daniel and I went to the botanic garden. It is apparently a popular place among pregnant women to go for shootings and it was actually full of them dressed up for the photo sessions. We walked around trying to spotting monkeys and we quickly did! It was amazing, the only time I had seen them in the wild like this it was deep in the Ugandan forest in Budongo. Here, in a urban area, in the middle of the city, we could see them in this hidden gem which has a big protected area too where visitors are not allowed so they are basically in a small jungle. I really enjoyed the place since it was full of colorful flowers and the jungle trail really made it feel like we were in a tropical forest, it was the so called mats atlantica.
After that, we headed to the avenida Paulista, actually parked the car next to it since on Sundays it is cut to traffic and becomes an open air art fair. It was full of all kinds of artists singing, dancing, performing and surrounded by small gatherings of people. There was also lots of different stands selling food, clothing or any item really.
We took a break for lunch at the museum of art of São Paulo on that same avenue. They had a delicious buffet of local dishes. And we then continued our stroll on the avenue and walked back to the car. The very special thing about São Paulo and Brazil as a while is how diverse its people are: walking on the streets we see faces that could be from all over the world and they are all Brazilians embracing their diversity and living in peace with each other, a great example for the world. People were telling me that the Brazilian passports are the most falsified ones because there is not really a stereotype of specific look to be Brazilian. They is something that really impressed me.
Then, we drove to San Andres, outside the city where Verônica lives to meet her parents and lovely dog and so she could pick up some clothes to for the rest of the stay since we decided it would be more convenient for me to stay at Daniel's for the entire stay as it is more central. Her mum was a bit sad about it but I promised I'd come back one day with my twin sister! She had prepared some dinner for us and I had a delicious lasaña and chicken there. We chatted for a while with her parents who were both really nice too and then it was time to head back to São Paulo since Daniel was working tomorrow.
What another great day in São Paulo! The best days are the ones with the best company, it didn't even matter that it was Monday and museums were closed. Since Daniel had to work today he dropped us at the metro station and I finally got to test the public transport of São Paulo and I have to say I was very surprised! It was extremely clean unlike the metro stations one is used in London, Paris or Brussels. The main problems citizens have with it is that it only covers a very small part of the city but there are some plans to expand it although the city is so huge that it might take many years before it reaches all the areas.
We stopped at Libertade, the Japanese district of São Paulo and from there walked to the cathedral and then to the Pateo do Collegio where the first mass was given by the jesuits in 1554, marking the foundation of the city. Unfortunately, we couldn't get in since it was Monday and they were closed. Then, we walked through the rua 25 de março which is a street full of life (and quite a pain for the locals to walk through): it is full of vendors screaming and trying to get people to buy all kind of things, some even come to that street to advertise their shop which is in another one nearby. They have kind of menus like in restaurants but which show instead of food clothing or other stuff and use them to try convince people, I found it hilarious but it was quite a sacrifice for Verônica, a proof of real friendship since for her it is a pain to walk through that.
Next, we went to the municipal market which was totally different from all the markets I have been to so far during this journey. It was extremely clean and the stalls resembled those of high quality butcheries or fruit shops. It was better than in supermarkets, contrary to the usual markets where everything is mixed, and the meat is surrounded of flies. There we found the famous granadilla I had been telling Veronica about which she thought was sweet maracuya, another fruit very similar to it but not exactly. I bought some for them to try but at the same time a vendor gave us a full degustation and managed to make us buy some strawberries as well, they are good at their job!
There, we met up with Fernanda from the Salkantay and the three of us had lunch in the market. I ate one of the typical sandwich of mortadela which are gigantic but somehow I managed to eat it all. After that, Fernanda had an appointment so we said bye to her although she promised she might join us again later for some drinks in the evening. Then, Veronica and I went to the big metropolitan park of Ibirapuera. To get there, we took a uber. This was the first time in my life I had used this service and I was positively surprised, it won't be the last for sure! After walking in the park for a while, we took another uber back to Daniel's place to leave the fruits and his mum was already there, back from work so we stayed for a bit chatting and deciding where to go next.
I contacted a few other people I knew in the city to try see everyone together. In the end, we went for dinner near the Paulista avenue and were joined by Fernanda and Ricardo, another friend I had met when in Cusco and who worked at the same company as Jessica, another friend from the summer 2008 in Cambridge but who unfortunately could not make it as she was away from town. We had a great time talking about travels and Brazil and they all seemed to get along very well, I was quite happy with the connexions I made 😀
It was a great day with fabulous company!
I am definitely quite unlucky with the flights taken so far. I had decided to fly to Rio to avoid getting there after daylight but in the end it actually took me longer to fly than it would have by bus...
Sad times this morning as it was time for me to say goodbye to my friends and best hosts one could dream of. We had breakfast together, Daniel, Verônica and I although I was sad I had missed his parents to thank them one more time but leave for work very early in the morning. We set up uber on my phone (I had bought a local sim card yesterday with Veronica to be better connected while in Brazil) and booked one for the airport.
My flight was at 12noon but I was at the airport well on time just after 10am. I was patiently waiting reading As memorias postumas de Bras Cubas, one of the most important and famous books of Brazilian literature that Veronica had given me when I realised the flight had been canceled. We were all going to be transfered to terminal 2, from the terminal 1 and be put in a LATAM flight departing at 2.10pm.
Because it was more than 2h delay, we did get some compensation: they provided us with a meal voucher and we thus had lunch at the terminal. The second inconvenient apart from being delayed was that the arrival was to the other airport of the city. That was a big disappointment since I was looking forward to landing in Santos Dumont since apparently the plane comes through the bay and we get amazing views on the Christ and Pao de açucar. It was also a shame because I was staying very near that airport whereas transport from the other one took more than one hour and instead of arriving early in the afternoon, I arrived almost in the evening and thus lost the day.
By the time I got to the hotel I was pretty tired and just went for a walk around to buy something to eat and then rest. But the little I saw of Rio was definitely very beautiful, very different from São Paulo and with a much more Caribbean touch.
Last night I had checked for city tours and came across Rio by foot which looked very similar to La Paz by foot which had been excellent so I planned on doing that tour. The meet up was in Cinelandia at 10.30am.
There was only two of us in the end, a Chilean guy and I plus the guide who did the tour in Spanish for us then. It was really nice: we started off in the historic centre with the national theatre and museum of bellas artes and then walked to the square where the Portuguese monarchy had settled in the time they lived in Brazil and got told all about the story of the royal family at that time. We also visited the only royal church in the continent and then moved onto the so called Bermuda triangle with one of the top ten ugliest buildings in the world, the Petrobras building. We passed by the cathedral and then finished the tour by the world famous Selaron's steps which the Chilean artist made as a proof of love to the city.
At the end of the tour Ouel, our guide also asked if we could film a short video for their youtube channel promoting then so we had some fun doing that too. After that Kike, the fellow Chilean tourist and I both went for lunch at a nearby restaurant and then I walked back the route we had done to visit the museo de bellas artes from inside. After that, on the way towards the hotel, I also stopeed by the memorial of Getulio Vargas, an ex didctator and subsequently democratically elected president very loved in the history of Brazil, so I learned a lot about his tragic life which he prematurely ended shooting himself in the heart leaving this famous quote: 'Serenely I take my first step towards eternity and leave life to enter history'.
Today, I had set my alarm at 5.45am in order to get ready to go see the Christ Redeemer but it turns out it was a cloudy morning. I checked the forecast for the next day and it looked a lot better so I decided to postpone that mandatory visit. Then, I slept a bit more and only left by 9.30am because I wasn't feeling too well and the museums I was going to visit didn't open until 10am anyway.
I started off by visiting the Museo de Amanha which is on the Praça Maúa. There were quite a few school groups of lovely children all in their uniforms. The museum was very interactive and quite interesting about the world, and where we are heading. The other great thing about this place are the beautiful views on the bay, worth the visit just for them.
Next, I went to the Museum of Art of Rio, MAR since there was the option to buy a combo pass for both, even if this one was not in my plans. There was loads of contemporary art that I didn't really get but the most creepy thing, I am still not even sure if it was part of the exhibition was, when at some point I was going from one room to another and in the corridor, some keys were thrown from underneath a wall and then a hand (a male hand with fake nails) came out of the bottom of the wall 'looking for them'. No one talked, it was just the hand and I was alone, I looked at it for a while and then kind of approached the keys to the hand with my shoe, it was just really weird!
After that, I had my first failed attempt at booking a uber. I got really confused as it asked me to move the pick up point to another street, which, not knowing the city, I started asking around but people just kept sending me different ways. It turns out it was the street where I literally was standing initially but I missed it. Then, I asked for another one but it kept moving around and picking other people up as it was approaching. I lost patience and canceled it again. Then I booked another one and finally was successful at it! I still got charged a cancelation fee for the two others and in total it took me longer than the public bus would have taken me but it is part of learning to get used to the service I guess.
After loosing all that time, my next destination was the botanic gardens. I had heard that the one in Rio was bigger than São Paulo's. As I entered, I was already welcomed by very small cute little monkeys, worth all the trouble I went through to get there!! I walked the proposed itinerary and got another overview of the threes that make up the Floresta Atlantica. But the best was still the monkeys; at the exit, I saw other ones, bigger ones feeding on the trees and very playful, it was great to watch!
Then, I decided not to go to the Pao de Açucar either tonight because it was still looking very cloudy and I knew I wouldn't have the best views, plus my flight tomorrow was late enough to have time to see the sunset before departing. Instead, I took a bus (first on the wrong direction, I was really disoriented but thanks to google maps, quickly realised my mistake and got off after one stop, and people were very helpful indicating be how to get on the right one) to the world famous Ipanema beach and walked all along until I reached the morro and watched the sunset from there, then, I kept walking along neighbouring Copacabana which was still busy with people playing beach volley and vendors selling everything and anything. I also met a few people selling tours which I considered but they were heading to the Christ too late for what I was planning. A bit later, I took a bus back to the hotel.
As they say, you realise what you've got when you loose it. As today was my last day in Rio, I had a lot of pressure one to tick all the main landmarks off the bucket list, especially that I had left them for the very last day (to keep up with my usual lifestyle). And I really actually lived up to the challenge.
Early morning for me today, I got up at 5.30am and at 6.10am, I was the first one opening the breakfast session. After that, I went back to my room, packed all my luggage and did the check out by 7.30am. I got at uber then to go to the world famous Christ Redeemer. The driver was lovely, he was not a carioca from birth but had spent 42 years in Rio. He still hasn't visited the Christ though and he got very nervous as we were going through Santa Teresa and bordering a few favelas after the uber map had guided him this was and started bugging due to the poor signal up there. He had never taken that route and also told me some horror stories that happened to him and he saw on tv. He had been robbed his car before as well as his phone, watch and wedding ring so it is legitimate he was still very fearful.
Anyway, we luckily made it both alive and it was great since I had arrived like 10minutes after the 10am opening. I was quick to get up there and very lucky to have the luxury to see the site almost empty (I had been told from 9.30am, it gets fully crowded). I took some great pictures (mandatory in here hehe) and then waited a little bit to see if the fog would go away because despite the fact that the day was way better than yesterday, there were still some clouds in the sky, hiding the views on the pao dw acucar. It got better and I took some beautiful pictures but by then, the waves of tourist crowds were flooding the place, no more chance to get a picture with the Christ without other tourists photo bombing. I was so happy I had come at the perfect time!
Then, I got another uber down to the cathedral. This one was much more chilled, he had no problem getting down the exact same road we had taken in the morning and he even proposed to stop for me to take some pictures of the views, I enquired about safety but he said it was alright in there. Then, at the cathedral, I arrived after what seemed to have been a blessing mass for the military, it was crowded with all sections from the army, marines, soldiers, military police, etc. Quite pleasant to watch them all exit in groups. The cathedral is quite special from the outside, not very aesthetic but very nice from the inside, huge though: it can hold up to 20 000 people!
Then, I walked around Lapa and stopped at a restaurant for some feijoada for lunch. After that, I went back to the staircase of Selaron to take nicer pictures since I had kind of rushed it last time. Funny story there, I came across some French rapper filming the most stereotypical rap clip ever, with some friends from the favelas throwing notes at him, of course I had to come across this!
Then, I took a bus to Copacabana, to make time until the sunset to go to the Pao de acucar. And since yesterday I had only seen it in the dark, I got to rediscover it and chill for a while watching the waved sitting on the sand but I had to say, the ambulant vendors kind of spoiled it coming every two minutes trying to sell everything or some simply begging. Then, I went on the look for a post office to buy some stamps for the postcards I had already written a couple of days ago (and after a failed attempt in Lapa where I came across one but which had run out of stamps!). This time I was more successful
After that, it was already time to head to the pao de acucar to have time to get to the top before the actual sunset. I took a bus then walked and soon I was there just with the perfect timing as the sun started to set as soon as I arrived to the very top. I enjoyed the spectacular view and took my time going down before taking a bus to my hotel to pick up my luggage and book a uber to the airport.
Lol, so much laughing on the way to the airport with this other driver, he was a bit difficult to understand at the beginning and also had troubles understanding me, not really answering my questions but in the end, somehow we managed to understand each other. He was really funny telling me about how he finally managed to give up on salgados, a savoury pastry very typical from here filled usually with ham and cheese.
He dropped me of with perfect timing to check in and take my flight at 21.30 for Salvador de Bahia. Sad to leave a Ciudade das Maravillas but looking forward to see what Salvador holds for me.
Today was a very atypical day, or maybe not for those who know me and how impulsive I can be sometimes...
I will tell you the story of how I ended up running a half marathon in Brazil, it is a short story actually, which spans in less than 24h!
It all started in the morning as I was having a late breakfast at 9.30am since I had arrived so late last night and a man came to me speaking some words that I initially didn't understand, then one of the staff ladies came by and I kind of understood he had asked me something about a race. Quickly I came back to him and asked some more information about the race. It was actually a half marathon happening tomorrow 6.40am organised by Asics. He had come up to me since he thought I might be running it too due to the Polar watch on my wrist. I had no idea about it but now I was feeling keen to run it, despite the lack of training. It could be a fun and different way to see the city. I asked if he knew whether it was possible to still sign up but he told me the online registration was closed. He told me to still try go to the place where they collect their number before the race and gave me the name of the street.
I first asked my dad for advice, despite the Death Road experience, but surprisingly, contrary to what I expected, he told me to go for it and try sign up if I could. I asked at the hotel how to get to the street the runner from the morning had told me about but he said it was a huge street and I had no number or reference to ask for. I thus checked online the departure point of the race and decided to try go there and see if I could find someone who could help me sign up. After a bus ride and a long walk following google map's indications, I eventually got there and found some people setting up the road for the race.
Then, as I was going to cross the road and speak with them, a man came up to me and asked if I was running tomorrow. I said I wasn't signed up but would like to. He made a few phone calls and initially was told the registration was effectively closed but after that he gave me someone else's contact and told me to go to the place people were collecting their numbers and see the guy he gave me the contact who would help me sign up. Then he offered me to join them to the finish point since it was closer to the place I had to go to. So I went with him and a few of the set up guys in the van to the finish point and could see as well part of the route I'd be running tomorrow.
Then he said they were having lunch just opposite the street at a buffet and asked if I wanted to join then I thought, if I don't I'll probably start walking and skip it but I needed energy for the run so I ended up having lunch with some of the organizers of the race. After that, I took a bus to the registration place. It took me a while to find it but eventually, I got there. I signed up and then, the next challenge was to find some running shoes since I only have hiking boots and flip flops with me. Asics was selling some with 20% discount for the runners but still, they were pretty expensive, nothing under 400Rs. I was then suggested to try a shopping mall nearby. There, I actually found a shoe shop that was having liquidation discounts and after trying a few different pairs, found on reasonably good quality/price. I decided to do the walk back to the hotel so I could get used to them before the race. It was already dark when I left the mall but it didn't feel unsafe walking the forty minutes back to the hotel. On the way I grabbed some food to take away from a street stall and ate it as I got back home before having an early night to rest as much as possible before the 4am wake up.
A very different day but which allow me to go to normal places locals go to, tomorrow would be a different story 😉
So, this morning 4.15am I was up eating some breakfast I had bought yesterday (which consisted of a banana, some yoghurt and water). Got a shower, pinned my number on my t-shirt and got ready for the run.
I had a short nap waiting until 6am for the hotel's breakfast to start and grab some cereals and then booked a uber ride to the starting point. Because of the road closure for the race, it took him longer to come and I had less than 20mins to get there. He was pretty slow too despite me trying to make him realise I was kind of in a rush. Anyway, I eventually made it four minutes before the start, just had time to drop my bag and run to my group, C to start the run. I couldn't even go to the bathroom.
It was raining a little bit since the morning but as the run started, the rain got worse, really not how you imagine running a half marathon in Brazil but to be honest, it was probably the best weather we could have had (better than the asphyxiating heat of the afternoon). I started following the steps of the sub 2h pacers hoping to beat my PB of 2h04 but after a while slowed down since I wasn't in the conditions to do so, running without any training, in a climate I am not used to and with brand new shoes, all the sins a runner can do! I found a running buddy who was running at the perfect pace for me and asked him if he didn't mind me following him, otimo, he replied!
I ran with him up until Km7 when he had to go to the bathroom and he never caught up again, at that point, the race had reached the beach and was happening all along the beach walk. The rain hadn't stopped for a second and I only stopped twice to tie my shoe laces. My legs were getting tired but I was forcing myself mentally not to give up, not to stop. One more Km, reach the 10, almost half way there, reaching the turn, 14, that's two thirds! And so on and so on. The great atmosphere also kept me going, people were joking, laughing, it was really nice! I had to stop one third time to tie my shoe lace and that time was really had to keep running. I could barely feel my legs any more and I still had 5K to go. But somehow, not entirely sure how, I managed! 2h15'15'' I crossed the finish line 💪
What an achievement, the feeling is impossible to describe but it was just amazing! I took some pictures with the Finisher background, drank some more water, ate some of the food they provided and even got to have a massage and dip my legs into a cold water bath for 3 mins, that really helped with my legs which were actually hurting now as well as my knees, from the tremendous effort. I took some more pictures and as I was taking one on the podium, a guy even came up to me and asked me to stay there as they were going to fly the drone towards me.
After all that, I returned to the hotel for a much needed shower and a short nap and then had lunch there. After that, I took a bus to the Pelourinho which was quite empty and visited o museu da Misericordia who had been a hospital, a cementery and a church. I had a really nice private guided tour with spectacular views on the harbour and then walked around and took another bus to Barra and got there just on time to visit the farol and see the sunset from there. I had dinner in the area and make my way back to the hotel by bus after a long and exhausting day well spent. Definitely an unforgettable experience!!
This morning, my legs were still sore from yesterday but I had no choice and get through the pain since it was my last day to visit Salvador de Bahia. My plan was to do some sightseeing in the morning and the relax a bit on the beach in the afternoon.
First, I headed back to the Pelourinho for a quick visit to the information centre which today was open although the lady there was not helpful at all! I asked her if any museums were open today despite it being Monday and she just told me that, no, none around would be open, not even churches but I told her about the ones that were closed yesterday and she replied that Sunday and Mondays are very quiet and most things are fechadas. Then I asked her if she could suggest some places I could walk to but again she couldn't come up with much except the lighthouse where I had been yesterday. I just asked her to give me a map of the city and I would figure out the rest by myself.
Actually, on the same main square, I entered in the museum of African heritage and guess what? It was effectively open! I visited it and enjoyed some beautiful paintings and learned more about the different African cultures that influenced Brazilian culture due to different migration spots and routes.
Then, the cultural house was also open but I was the only visitor and a guy was setting up the paintings on the walls, that was a quick tour. I also had the chance to visit the memorial to the Bahiana, the traditional women from Salvador which, again were strongly influenced by their African roots. After that, I took the famous elevator Lacerda that links the upper part of the city of el Pelourinho with the lower part. But, unlike what I expected, no scenic views at all: it was a closed lift without cristal windows...
Then, I walked around the famous mercado modelo and had lunch on the first floor with beautiful views on the harbour and from there, took a bus to see Nosso Senhor do Bonfim, the main church of the city, people of Salvador are very devote to him. I tied some of the famous bracelets on the fences of the church making wishes as people usually do. Then, as planned, I wanted to try enjoy the beach but unfortunately there was no direct bus from here to Rio Vermelho or Barra where I wanted to go. I had to take two busses and got stuck in peak time so by the time I made it to Rio Vermelho, it was sunset time. I walked along the beach walk and then stopped for dinner on a terrace on the main place, then headed to the hotel for some well deserved rest, it had been quite a walk with my sore legs!
I didn't want to leave Salvador without swimming in its beautiful coast so I decided to go see the sunrise and have a swim in the Atlantic ocean before breakfast. I set up my alarm for an early morning rise at 5am to be on the beach opposite the hotel by 5.30am admiring the sunrise although it was a bit cloudy today.
The beach was surprisingly busy at this early time: some people were running along the beach walk and groups were gathering for early football and volleyball games. Around 6am, I got in the water for a short swim, the water was quite warm and saltier than it is on the other side of the ocean but it was good, I enjoyed it. I had the water to myself, only after a while I was joined in the water by some surfers. By 6.30am I was back at the hotel and had breakfast around 7am, packed everything and booked an uber ride to the airport as I had my flight scheduled for 10.15am.
I had two flights to take: the first one to Recife with a one hour layover and then second one from Recife to São Luis. Again, I forgot to specify I 'd like a seat near the janela and got seated in the corridor on the first one. I was looking forward to the second one where I had a window seat but it turned out I was on the wrong side: as we were approaching São Luis, the pilot told us to watch on the right had side as we were flying above Lençois de Maranhenses. Guess what? I was on the left... and my seat neighbour couldn't be bothered move to watch the views or let me watch them so I had to wait for the surprise, and guessed it must have looked quite epic from people's face (the ones who were seated on the right side). Anyway, this happens and it was fine since I was going to be there soon and see it in person but for future reference or if someone reading this is planning on flying from Recife to São Luis, try to get a seat on the right had side if possible 😉
I arrived at São Luis in the afternoon and booked a uber ride to my hotel. The driver first messaged me to know where to drop me which I found a bit suspicious but it turned out it was actually because I was only his third ride, he had started last night and he was afraid to drive to certain places. He turned out to be really nice like most of them so far and told me about a day trip one can do from São Luis to Alcântara which he only did recently and really enjoyed.
As I arrived at the hotel it was already 4pm and despite being all sweaty and tired, I did not waste any time and went on a hunt for tours to Lençois de Maranhenses, actually my main reason to come to the Northwest of Brazil. I checked out the agency there but it didn't seem very professional and then decided to walk to another one my dad had sent me the link which had a great rating on tripadvisor. I made it there after about 40mins walking in the sun, following google maps (thank God for this great invention!!). It was actually an office in a big building, more like a call centre rather than a agency one goes in person. It was past 5pm but luckily they were still there. I tried to book a trip for tomorrow to Lençois and they told me the multiple days tours are usually three days and two nights. I had no much time to check elsewhere so decided to go with them and booked my three days trip leaving tomorrow 7.30am for Barreirinhas.
I walked back to the hotel, exhausted but excited about the upcoming trip which is probably the one I had the most expectations about. I had a much needed shower and then decided to have dinner next door at a pizzeria for convenience, so I could go to bed early and rest before the next few days.
I was so excited for today!! I'll share here the story on how I found out about the unique place that is Lençois de Maranhenses. It was pure coincidence: it was actually through a youtube channel called GeographyNow, one of the only ones I am subscribed to but an excellent educative channel about Geography. In one of the special episodes, Barbie, the host made a top 10 of his favourite places to visit, one of them (unsurprisingly once you see it) was Lençois de Maranhenses, which he had been told about when doing the Brazil episode. Since I heard about that place, I was fascinated and since I planned on coming to Brazil, it was always in my itinerary (one of the very few places I knew I'd go to before traveling). And what a discovery! Everything in life happens for a reason and I believe I was just meant to come across this magnificent masterpiece from nature!
Early morning again today, I got up around 5.30am to pack what I needed for the three days trip and leave the rest in São Luis. I had breakfast and soon around 7.30am, a bus came to pick me up. Everyone there was speaking Portuguese and many people were quite old I thought. No backpackers on thus trip, it was quite different from what I had done so far. We had a 4h ride to Barreirinhas, the city from where the trips to Lençois depart. The bus dropped everyone at their hotels, everyone was quite scattered in different small pousadas for the majority, there were a few bigger lodge kind of hotels but further from the centre of the town. Mine was actually very well located and 10mins away by walk from the centre. I was dropped off at about 1.30pm. I had less than one hour to grab some lunch and be ready for my first excursion to Lagoa Bonita, in the Lençois.
Around 2.30pm, an open 4x4 came to pick me up, as well as another couple from my hotel. There was only one other girls already there, Camila also traveling alone. We then picked up another two couples an another hotel and another one at another place. We had about one hour drive in a bumpy road without asphalt crossing a river at some point in a very interesting boat with out any power engine but pushed by another small one moving on the sides of it. During the drive I made good friends with my seat neighbours, Camila, the solo traveler from São Paulo and the older couple from my hotel, Tereza and Etel, he was from Bahia and she was from the South but they now live in Paulo. They were truly lovely, I was actually the only foreigner, the rest of tourists were all nationals which was great for me to practice my Portuguese (I actually got complimented on how good it was 😁).
And then, after approximately one hour drive, we arrived in what I can only describe as paradise, another masterpiece of nature! It was love at first sight for me. I already had high expectations which is not always ideal but the place actually surpassed my expectations. It was mind blowing, breathtaking: contrary to what you'd expect, the sand is not hot so we left our flip-flops on the car and walked barefoot on the dunes. When you get high enough and have a panoramic view on the extensive dunes with their lagoons which were actually at their best: we were at the perfect time for visiting, during rainy season but we were extremely lucky it actually didn't rain during the visit. We walked until we reach lagoa bonita where we stopped for a swim. The water was delicious! It was still water very pure because filtered by the sand and there was enough of it to be able to swim. I felt like in heaven! 💖
We continued our walk and reached another lagoon where we also had the chance to swim for a bit and then walked to the top if a dune and appreciated a wonderful sunset which the guide told me was actually quite rare for this time of the year when the sky is usually clouded and we don't get to see it properly but we had been fully blessed today. This again felt like a place where you cannot deny God's existence. It is just a miracle of a place quite difficult to understand how this lagoons happen to be there.
As it was getting dark, we drove back to Barreirinhas and dropped people off hotel per hotel. During the trip, I had also asked our guide for some advice on what to do the next morning since I had the morning free in my schedule but didn't want to waste it in Barreirinhas. He told me about a half day trip people do on a buoy in a small river and I asked him try sign me up in the same group with Camila who was also doing that tomorrow morning.
When we got back to our hotel, Tereza, Etel and I agreed on meeting up for dinner and she would let me know through whatsapp when they'd be ready because they had been told about a place which makes the best cachorros calientes in town. We went there but it was unfortunately closed. We then decided to go to one of the pizzerias next door. I had a great time with them, a very friendly couple. We shared a pizza and had some caipirinha. Then, as we were about to leave, talking to the waitress who was also the owner, we found out her husband was Italian and had fallen in love with this place. Tereza got really excited since her grandparents came from Italy and they had been visiting the country last year. Etel had loved it so much that he is currently learning the language. We waited for him to be done with the last pizza of the day and talked with the chef. They had moved here about seven months ago after living on Italy for about eight years. They used to visit Brazil on their holidays and the husband had fallen in love for the place. Seeing my enthusiasm for the place they gave me their contact details and told me to get in touch if I ever considered moving here 😉
It was a wonderful day in wonderful company, I can only wish for many more like this!
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