Thursday, December 28, 2006

Iguana!


As some of you know I was quite the avid amateur herpetologist when I was young...SO seeing so many Iguanas was pretty darn cool! Check out me mate ´ere...

Galapagos!


You know you´re in for a treat when you arrive at Baltra Airport and see an iguana lazily ambling off the runway to avoid the taxiing plane that you are on!
An hour or so of driving takes you through a myriad of microclimates and ecosystems and habitats - from barren scrubb dotted lava fields to catcus forests and temperate rain forest.
Even in the islands largest town iguanas, pelicans, boobies and massive red crabs mingle in close proximity to the locals.
Seeing giant tortoises & iguanas at the Charles Darwin Research Station can not prepare you for (and doesn´t come close to comparing to) the abundance of shear fearlesness of the island´s fauna.
There is a graphic juxtaposition of life in all it´s glory, and death. Experiancing in a matter of minutes sea lions frolicking in the water and then a seal pup carcass being picked over by Galapagos hawks.
Snorkelling here is unrivalled. Tropical fish of all shapes and all colours of the rainbow in huge numbers and bigger fish too - barracudas and other sleek silvery predators the names of which I have forgotten or never knew! And sharks, penguins and yes the Sea lions. A highlight for anyone visiting the Galapagos is the playfulness in the water of the Sea Lions. Our first day snorkelling I was floating and watching a huge school of neon tetra like fish swim beneath me and sensing something watching me I looked up to see a Sea Lion looking directly into my eyes through the mask only mm´s away from my face! Understandebly I got the fright of my life and I pulled away and recoiled in shock only for the Sea Lion to mimic me and do the exact same thing!
She quickly came back though and as she dived and tumbled under water I did the same and she copied me, I copied her and we played...it is amazing how human they seem...or perhaps those things we see as ´human´ - fun, happiness, playfulness, inquisitiveness - are in fact more universal than we think?
The Galapagos defies words. Where else do you literally trip over iguanas - land and marine and can sit seperated by no more than a hares breath from Sea Lions, Seals and Tortoises?
Without native humans and without predatory animals this place is unique and has thankfully remained so. 97% of the islands are national park and the remaining 3% are for the people who have moved here this century.
There is pressure from humans though. Fishing, poaching, illegal land clearing, pollution and most of all political corruption, populism and cronyism that has infected Ecuador and hindered it´s development, all could destroy one of the most important ecological places on Earth.

Quito

Travel can make you weary, with all the wonder and excitement, amazing sites, people and places you can still find your mind wandering home. We live in such and amazing country. It´s safe and clean. The people are by and large friendly and we have such amazing natural beauty, it´s a shame we don´t always appreciate and too many of us spend time bemoaning the things we think are wrong in ´´gods own´´.
Quito thankfully was a welcome respite after the last few days of hijinks and capers in Peru. Our journey post-border took us through Marchala, Ecuador´s 4th largest city and I would bet one of the few with 1/4 million people and no movie cinema....!
As the self proclaimed Banana capital of the world it has plenty of my favourite fruit though! Unfortunately however hard we tried the abundance of bananas couldn´t occupy us for an entire day so when the time came to leave we were pretty stoked!
Quito is great. Muy tranquilo, with plenty of places to eat, drink, salsa and a beautiful cityb to boot. The people are friendly and helpful, it has a beautiful old town with colonial iglesias, edificios and an imposingly awesome basilica dominating the skyline and a new town with bars, restaurants and plenty of dancing.
A good walk, great sites and a night out dancing helped to reinvigorate these weary travellers.
And one more thing to add to our Sth America experiance...a riot!...
We were trying to catch a bus out of Quito to visit the ´Mitad del Mundo´ (equator) and were a little perplexed as to why there was no traffic on the (normally busy) stretch of road that we were to catch the bus from. We were even more surprised to see a bus do a U-turn OVER the low median barrier to turn away from the stop! But this is Sth America and people do drive a little ´loco´!
The true story became evident when we got sick of waiting and stood up to look down the street and lo and behold not 20m from where we were sitting there were kids in face scarves throwing rocks, bottles and molotov cocktails at heavily armed riot police who were returning fire with tear gas!
As the fray seemingly heaved and pulsed and edged closer to us we decided that voyeurism was possibly not the fetish of the day and with clouds of gas erupting around us we picked our way back to the hostel. Walking back we were surprised a few times to round a corner only to be confronted with more cannisters of tear gas and street fires! Strangely it was not scary in the slightest, in fact we didn´t feel intimidated or threatened at any time at all in Ecuador and I really hope that the riots we saw were a passing thing and don´t escalate like the riots and social upheaval that nearly engulfed and destroyed the country in the early 2000s.
Ecuador is a great place and I just hope that the social inequality and political corruption can be dealt with to allow this place of enormous wealth to take it´s rightful place among the truly developed nations of the world.

The Border...Peru to Ecuador

More Hijinks....
We had read that one of the better options for getting to the Ecuador border was to Taxi and then bus onwards once over the border. I suppose you can´t always believe what you read!
The exit point for Peru is a few Km back from the border and the entry to Ecuador is about 6km on from the border...leaving the gap between - perhaps a vestige of those countries war in the 90´s which cost a few thousand lives?
OK so we find a taxi, the driver quotes a very reasonable 5 soles...but we should have again listened to the internal radar when his friend, a ´guide´ who is going to ride along for security, got in.
After getting our exit stamps from Peru we head further north to the actual frontier which is basically a chaotic street market populated by money changers and oil smugglers,but for some reason we don´t cross the border but instead end up behind the ´´town´´ with the driver, his friend and a ´security guard´ with a very large hand gun holstered at his hip.
And the deal now seems to be that we are to pay the Taxi driver 50 soles and the security guard 50 soles...all because the border is SOOOOO dangerous and tourists are routinely robbed etc etc. I´m sure many tourists are taken in by this wee scam after having the bejesus scared out of them by the tales of knifings and worse, and to be fair the border is not the safest place in the world, BUT we weren´t really that keen to be taken in by a modern day protection racket and politely (...and not so politely) told them in our own Kiwi/Spanish way to ´bugger off´. Now you have to remember that at this point it´s me and Em against 3 guys, one much bigger than me, one much smaller than me and one about the same build as me...but with the advantage of a 9mm pistol...not really my type of odds. So we negotiated a lower rate, got rid of the security and managed to finally cross the border, only to realise that we couldn´t get the bus that we had been told we could get!
I guess we had got a little complacent over those last few days and that let us in to some potentially sticky situations. And to be honest it did spour our Peru experiance. From the hawkers in Cuzco to the incessant tour operators throughout the country and the scams and blatant rip offs, it is a place that perhaps has let itself be soured by the tourist dollar....Still I loved much of it but that ugly side...well...

Friday, December 22, 2006

Mancora - Still Peru ;-)

We had heard that Huanchaco was more ´tranquilo´ than Mancora which has a touristy, resort reputation but it is still an awesome place to stop and hang out. It has good waves, cheap board hire and a much closer break to the residences. If anything i found it more relaxing because it´s cleaner...and easier to get in the water...not to mention a fare bit warmer!
And it remained great until our last day....
It´d been a great surf that morning - and yes Mr Sisam....I did catch a few waves.. and while I had a kip in our room Em decided to go for a leisurely walk along the busy beach with her/our/my ;-) Ipod....
I know what some of you are thinking...silly move right? Well yes, but in our defence the beach was packed and plenty of people were doing the same.
However they perhaps did not wander quite so far up the beach where we later learned it´s pretty sketchy.
And as she headed up the beach listening to some ´Like a Storm´ she was accosted by another ´´jogger´´ weilding a 12 inch blade and demanding the ipod.
Good ol´ Em at first decided to have a scrap but thankfully saw the light and gave up the gadget and ran home. As you can imagine I was pretty pĂ­ssed but thankful nonetheless that my girl wasn´t hurt. I guess we can add one more to the list for South America now and we again proved our adage that you never know what to expect here....or perhaps you do!

Huanchaco


They say that the first surfers in the world came not from Hawaii or another part of the Polynesian triangle, but from Huanchaco, where ancient engravings show fisherman surfing their totara reed boats into the beach. It´s not hard to imagine when you can wake every morning to see the descendants of these peoples in the very same boats doing the very same thing with their catch of fish.
After being out of the water for so many months our seaborne activities were much less adept that we would have hoped...but it is always worth floundering in the surf and getting some salt and sea on the body. We did manage to dig in and catch a few waves...and with all the left handed breaks we were forced to get a bit better at the ol´ back hand to boot!

Huacachina


Ica is an oasis....Huacahina outside of Ica is an even smaller oasis...Rimmed by sand dunes that look as if they could engulf the town at any moment, Huacachina is like a themepark playground, some strange resort, a festival lagoon with not quite the buzz and atmosphere...or people that it needs.
The local Oasis´ flow into a man made lake rimmed by stately hotels well past their prime and neo-classical and art deco buildings that are but shadows of their former selves that eerily hint at their grandiose past.
The food is well....OK...the hotels and hostels are....OK..and the desert is absoluetly superb in it´s breathtaking enormity.
We have huge sand dunes back home but we do not have them lined up, one after the other in a seemingly endless parade of silicon sentinels. The major pastime...and let´s face it, reason for Huacachinas existence now is that we - tourists, both Peruvian and other can tear all over these majestic dunes in souped up dune buggies and indulge in (the only moderately!..) more sedate sand boarding.
I did wonder whether this fit the bill of ´responsible tourism´ and am still unsure but it was thrilling and I hate to say not worth missing!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Nazca


...and finally we get to experiance the benefits of a full, no holds barred ´bus cama' ride with fully reclining, wide berth padded leather seats and full service with dinner, refreshments etc etc. It was definitely needed on the 15 hour ride from Cuzco to Nazca, winding roads down through the Andes and foothills to the desert that is still inhabited by the descendants of the pre-inca civilisation that for some inexplicable reason etched enourmous figures of humming birds, monkeys, parrots and other animals...and even an 'astronaut' into the rocky desert.
That the designs can only be appreciated from the air has spawned a plethora of theories. From signals to extra terrestrials, the handiwork of extraterrestrials or as some remnant of ancient flight or shamanic dream flight they still provide a mystery. But in mystery there is possibility, perhaps there are things that we will never be able to explain? One thing we have learnt is that even relatively recent covilisations such as the Inca (15th and 16th century) have left many mysteries relating to what they did, how they lived and more importantly what they knew.
Who knows...?? I for one wonder why an ancient civilisation in a place where there has been no appreciable rainfall since the last ice age would create designs they could never see to appreciate? And the very wondering opens the doors to possibilities.

Post Script....
I have to say that buzzing arround in a tiny single engine plane over the desert was one hell of a buzz in and of itself! ;-)