Monday, October 31, 2011

Rest, Eat, Sleep. Repeat

One of the things I have learned is to do what you body tells you to do, dont fight it. So with that being said the last 2 days have been eating, sleeping and getting lots of down time. The Colca trek took the piss out of me more than I thought. No worries though. My bed is comfy, I have my Ipod, Wifi and a decent book, The Reason Why - The story behind the Charge of the Light Brigade. It is completely irrelevant to being in South America but it was in the book swap here. When you add to the mix that the sun has been shining every day sitting on my deck overlooking Misti and Chachani just chilling and drinking what seems like a gallon of water ever day its been a few good down days.

Now there is one excpetion, my nemesis the Rooster. They are cool and quite beautiful when they go thier thing for an hour or so in the morning. This group of "soon to be soup" bastards start at 5 am and dont stop ALL day, seriously. It is 12 or 13 hours straight plus they dont have the amazing crow like a great rooster should. They sound like they are dying a slow death (see future soup). I think somewhere along the way I am going to have to get therapy, go to a hypnotist or buy a gun because I can't get past them, weird.

Anyways there is a regroup of GVI team members today. Looking forward to seeing Jenny and Stuart of course, plus Amy and Meghan. It will be good to meet up and close the loop on GVI before I head off to Chile on Tuesday or Wednesday. Ecuador and Peru have been good, lets see what Chile and Easter Island can bring to the table.

** 9 hours later**

Just got back from meeting everyone in the Plaza Del Armas, good fun. I wandering into town to grab a coffee and chill in the park just after 1:00. Not 5 minutes later Meghan walked by and when I called out her name I scared the crap out of her. Timing is everything because Amy wandered by not 10 minutes later. Time for a cold beer on a sunny day.
We connected with Jenny and Stuart  (thanks Facebook) and my simple coffee turned into midnight and the long dark walk back to the hostel. We are meeting tomorrow at 1:30. Jenny is going to get her tattoo, Amy maybe a nose piercing and then its finding costumes for holloween. This town is decked out and ready to go.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Colca Canyon: Day 3

An so it begins. A 4:45 wake up for 5:15 start. Our goal is a 4000 vertical foot climb in an estimated time 3.5 hours. I dont think we have any idea what we are in for, but that is the good stuff. Matt and Karen were a bit hesitant but optimistic despite the brave front. They were thinking we were all Olympic Athletes and were prepared to sprint up the trail. We sorted that out pretty quick.

Part of our group ready to get going (counter clockwise). Karen, Matt, Sara, Ken, Norma, Serge, Matt, Angie

As all climbs go its started off easy enough. The trail switchbacked up the canyon nice and easy. All the groups left at the same time so there were about 50 people on the trail. We reached the first marker at about 300 metres and Norma told us to go at our own pace. Just be carefull of locals coming down the trail with thier donkeys. Move to the inside of the trail and stop. Wait for them to pass before you start again because we dont want anyone to be Condor food. Good advise, thanks Norma.

The climb was fantastic. Stopping to enjoy the various views as well as guzzle water, eat cookies and catch our breathe is what makes these climbs worth the effort. The valley below expanded with each stop and the view became more spectacular. Yuppers there were Donkeys and well as some lame as pack horses going both up and down the track. Step aside young man, animals coming through!! Somewhere in the distance I know there were a few Condors just watching and hoping!

Two hours and 15 minutes later and here we are, Peter, Anna, Ken, Marie Clare and Serge taking a well deserved rest. I think Peter had a smoke. Peter first, next Marie Clare. Anna, Serge and me waited for each other with 20 metres to go so we could finish together. We hung around the top for about 30 minutes taking it all in with the 20 or so others from various groups. Next up Breakfast!! We walked the 10 minute to Cabanaconde where our food was ready and waiting. Never had eggs, bread, cheese and instant coffee tasted so good. There was a nice terrace overlooking the plaza so after breakfast we settled in waiting for the others with 10 or 12 others. As they straggled in and we stood on the terrace and applauded them as they walked across the square. Every single person had a huge smile on thier face for a job well done. Last up were Matt and Karen at just over 4 hours. No issues, just smiles all around. Congrats guys. You were a great team to be with!!

..but the day was not over. Who ever put this tour together knew what they were doing. As it was now about 9:30 we had the day ahead of us. Thirty minutes down the road were the local hot springs. Now how perfect was that. Seriously, I have hiked up some crazy volcanos/mountains but my legs were shattered ands screaming YES when asked if they wanted to his some 40 degree celcius pools. An hour in the pools then it was off for lunch. Never have I been so happy to be dropped off at a tourist buffet in my life. Pasta, Alpaca meatballs and chops, lots of fresh veggies, soups, salads, fruit and desserts. I hit that bad boy hard.

The 3 hour drive back to Arequipa was broken up with a few stops. One at Pinchollo which is the deepest part of the canyon for a good long last look and final photos. Then off to Yanque where you could take photos will llamas, falcons or other animals, plus load up on ice cream and other snacks. The town was 1 street but really cool in a holy crap tourist kind of way. A stop to take photos of grazzing llamas (most of us just staying in the van) and one finals stop where you could view the 7 volcanoes in the area which was pretty cool. Chachani  and Misti were calling out to me.

Colca Canyon: Day 2

Day 2 started easy enough with a 7 am wake up and this view from my room, a little breakfast and off we go. Todays trek was more of a casual stroll through the valley. We were to walk for 5 hours through a couple towns, Cosniruha and Malata perched on the canyon slopes overlooking the Colca River. There was nothing bus brilliant sunshine and smiles all around. I did learn that this area of Peru has the second most year round sunshine in the world. Along the way Norma was giving us the 411 on the local flora and fauna. She turned over a cactus leaf to show what looked like white fungus. Instead it was an insect (forget the name) that lives on the cactus and the white was a natural sun block. Again, well done Mother Nature. She then explain that these insects are harvest monthly for export to Europe, Asia and America as a main ingredient for make up. We all stared unimpressed until she squashed (read killed) the little bugger and she smeared the brightest red blood I have ever seen. This was used during Inca times as Warrior makeup so naturally we all went on a bug killing spree and did the obvious.

We arrived at Cosniruha which was almost a ghost town as it had been destroyed over the years by earthquakes and rock slides. There were no more than 20 building and the church stood as a testiment of time having been re-constructed many times over the years. Moving along the trail about an hour we entered Malata and were immediately treated to the fermented corn drink Chica. First we had to give thanks to Pachamana (Mother Earth) as all things come from Pachamana. A tip of the glass to give thanks and then the big gulp. I have had Chicha before and it was as good as I remember. We were then treated to visit a museum and were given a great tour by local community elder. Norma was not feeling well so she asked if I could translate for the group which went off with out a hitch to my complete surprise. We could learn so much from this culture about embracing Pachamana and thanking her for giving us so much. I know, its easy for me to say while I am here but lets see if I can evolve towards that direction first before I suggest we all do.

Next and final stop of the day, the bottom of the Canyon and the Oasis at Sangalle. Yuppers those are swimming pools in the photo and Oasis it was. We arrive at 1:00 and by 1:15 we had a water polo game in full swing. Although the day was easy trekking wise, the sun was hot, we were dirty and this was our reward for a job well done. If anyone mentioned the next day and the long trek up they had to buy the beer..Nobody said a word! The oasis was fully functional with Solar Energy although they kept the rooms electricity free, candle power baby! This is the meeting place for all groups in the Canyon on thier last day (There are various 2, 3 and 4 day treks) so there were lots of new faces and people to meet. People from everywhere with great stories of travel in the Canyon as well as South America.

After a great pasta feast we settled into the night with cold beer and other shenanagans like teaching Marco how to play Texas Hold'em. He was a funny kid full of life. He just came over and started chatting away telling us that his mother worked in the kitchen, he like football did I like his hat. Pull up a chair kid, we are going to teach you some very valuable life skills. Three of kind beat 2 pair, Full house beats a Flush. Marcos mother came over to see what the fuss was all about and just smiled, patted Marco on the head and asked us if we were still hungry.  We built a bonfire to end the night, sitting and repeating the staring at the sky from the night before. As an aside Norma did teach us a humbling lesson on gathering firewood Peruvian style and from that moment on she was referred to as Reina de la leña. She smiled and said she like that.

Colca Canyon: Day 1

As excited as I was to get the trekking boots out, 3 am was a very painful way to start the day. My pickup arrived with 11 other very tired looking souls and off we went. Our first stop was breakfast, 3 hours away in Chivay. A quick good morning to everyone, on went the IPod and away we went.

Breakfast was good. Bread, cheese, fruit and coffee. Everyone started to chat and the mood was casual. Our next stop was El Mirador Del Condor and since I am a bird guy I was stoked. The view of the canyon was insane  The lookout located in a part of the canyon where the thermal float up and the birds just float and coast without effort to start thier day. I guess similar to a large coffee and newspaper.
It was better than imagined. There were 4 (always pairs) that came so close you could reach out and touch them, and they were huge! Thier 3 metre wingspan had to be seen to be appreciated
** Quick Condor facts. They can live up to 75 years. They mate for life. If a female condor dies the male will fly to an extreme altitude and then missle dive to his death. Condor suicide. If the male dies the female gives a "meh" and moves onto find another mate. (Nice one Mother Nature)

We moved on to San Juan De Chuchoo to start the hike. Seeing the canyon from the Condor lookout had everyone ready to go. We walked across a fairly flat plain for about 500 metres, then it was all downhill from there. The trail started easy enough, long winding paths swithbacking down the mountain. The views were beyond beautiful and at times overwhelming. Then of course I realized I had to climb down this monster. What could go wrong, the trial seems easy enough. Smooth wide dirt track, lots of view points for pictures, the sun was shining. What could go wrong?

The the trail changed its mind  thats what could go wrong! The trail started to put a nice angle under our feet and get a we bit narrower...with lots of scree!! The hikers antagonist. A 1000 metre drop to my left, and a scree laden path underfoot I thought I better stop yakking an focus. At this exact moment the world went quiet, the conversations stopped and there was pure focus from everyone. It was a total "holy shit" moment. After the initial few minutes of well sheer terror everyone settled in nicely. The trail was easy, the change just caught us off guard. It was only 5 hours down to lunch and our stop for the night, the Andean town of Tapay.

Tapay was a great way to end the trek and the day. A tiny village of 6 buildings plus a kitchen and very basic hostal accommidations. There were 12 of us and we had a nice lunch. Afterwards nobody left the table until it was time for dinner, 5 hours later. Needless to say we just chilled, drank some well deserved cold beer and joked about how sore our legs were from the walk down. For the record walking down a mountain or into a Canyon is harder on your legs then walking up. We played with the coolest cat possible (check out the eyes) and after dinner when the sun had set we took our chairs to the courtyard and just stared at the sky. It is impossible to explain the quantity of stars. We watched shooting stars, pretended we could identify planets and constellations and awed at the satellites cruising across the sky (my personal fav). Myself, Anna, Peter, Serge, Angie and Norma (our guide) sat for hours, stared at the sky and talked about the enormity of it all.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Colca Canyon Tomorrow

3 AM !! We are leaving at 3  freaking am!! The idea being to reach the first Mirador at sunrise. This is special because it is also where the Condors coast on the thermal updrafts and these huge suckers pass so close you can touch them...but its still 3 am dammit!!

We are heading in for 2 nights and 3 days. Its a great Trek, considered one of the top 10 in the world. We will be plunging into one of the deepest canyons in the world, see the families of condors, lush river oasis, hot springs, many small andean villages, and I believe a total of almost 50km of hiking.

No webbernet for 3 days so until then..

This will give you an idea although not the group I am going with.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Challange of Real Change

When we say things like "people don't change" it drives me crazy because change is literally the only constant in all of science. Energy, Matter, It's always changing, morphing, merging, growing, dying. It's the way people try not to change that's unnatural. The way we cling to what we perceive how things were instead of letting things be what they are.

Our history is who we are plain and simple. Deny it, twist it, ignore it, or putting it in front of rose coloured glasses or blaming someone else does not change it, it’s done. We need to embrace it, both the good and the bad with everything we have. There are moments that are irreplaceable and forever perfect, but it’s the way we cling to old memories instead of forming new ones that allows years to pass by waiting for “someday”.

Pink Floyd - Time
Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
You fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way

Tired of lying in the sunshine
Staying home to watch the rain
And you are young and life is long
And there is time to kill today

And then one day you find
Ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run
You missed the starting gun

And you run, and you run to catch up with the sun, but it's sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way, but you're older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death

Every year is getting shorter
Never seem to find the time
Plans that either come to nought
Or half a page of scribbled lines

Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone
The song is over
Thought I'd something more to say

Home, home again
I like to be here when I can
When I come home cold and tired
It's good to warm my bones beside the fire

Far away across the field
The tolling of the iron bell
Calls the faithful to their knees
To hear the softly spoken magic spells

The way we insist on believing that anything in this lifetime is permanent. Change is constant. How we experience, embrace and adapt to that change that's up to us. It can feel like death or it can feel like a second chance at life. If we open our fingers, loosen our grips, go with it, it can feel like pure adrenaline. Like at any moment we can have another chance at life. Like at any moment, we can be born all over again. Every day is a fresh start, what you do with it is up to you and only YOU! Don't be afraid. Feel the Fear and do it anyway

What we need to understand that there comes a time in your life, when you have to walk away from all the drama and people who create it, no matter who they are. You surround yourself with people who challenge you and make you laugh. Forget the bad, and focus on the good. Love the people who treat you right, give hope to the ones who don't. Falling down is a part of life, getting back up is living.

Death’s Coming, Life’s Foreplay


Two days and 1200 km later here I am in Arequipa. I did see some crazy breakers along the coast, they looked abnormally large. When I checked Lonely Planet it said waves along that part of the coast can reach 6 metres. Beautiful desert mountains on the left, the Pacific and those large ass rollers on the right and the double decker Cruz Del Sol blasting between them. Arrived here about 11:30 pm, found my hostel and was in bed by midnight. I think long bus trips take more out of me than long flights.

Its Sunday so that means Arequipa is closed. A beautiful sunny day so I wandered around to get my bearings. Found the Spanish school, a german restaurant with bratwurst (best in peru the book says), The main square and of course cathedral, a museum I want to go to that has the remains of Inca human sacrifices. Not any ordinary but kids that were found at over 21,000 feet in the surrounding mountains. **It was an honour to give your kids to the gods**. I also found my 8 soles restaurant (soup, quarter chicken, fries and salad, $2.50). I negotiated for my room because I am staying for 2 weeks. I have a private room and bath, hot water plus breakfast (eggs, coffee, bread) for $8 a day. It was $12. Now your thinking why try and get it down to $8 when its cheap anyways. Well saving $4 a day for 14 days is  $56 and trust me when I say, $56 goes a long way here.  As an example I am heading to Chile on november 7th. That $56 will pay for my bus ticket, food along the way plus my 3 nights in Arica Chile so there is method to my madness.

I am also going to find the time to hike in the Colca Canyon, deepest canyon in the world. Twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. There is a Condor Lookout along the way where these massive birds just float on the thermal updrafts and they are so close you can almost touch them.
There are some amazing very climable mountains near here. The most popular being Mt. Misti and at
5,825m (19 110 ft) and Chanchi at 6075m (19,931 ft). Either one is a two day hike and you need an experienced guide and because of the altitude they bring oxygen just in case.
There is also a GVI school here and some of the folks from Ecuador are going to be making thier way here by next weekend.  So I am going to settle in for 2 weeks, do some studying, get some exercise, experience some culture and history and get prepared for the move to Chile and Easter Island.

Final thought of the day. Somewhere along the way I am going to pick one of these towns and stay permanently. Find a job as a guide or teacher but opening my own hostel/bar is my goal. Right now my top 5 towns on the ever changing list are:

1. Leon Nicaragua
2. Cuenca Ecuador
3. Arequipa Peru
4. Otavalo Ecuador
5. Suchitoto El Salvador.

I am looking forward to Mendoza Argentina, Sucre Boliva and Cartegena Colombia.This list will expand, contract and change over the next 3 years but one day I will just STOP and Stay.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Quick Stop in Nazca

Home of the famous Nazca lines this town was about 8 hours by bus from Lima. Another stunning drive through the desert. I am now in this little valley town that is surrounded by high rolling peaks. But, dont let that fool ya, this town is a bit of a shit hole tourist town. Getting of the bus the touts run right to you with Deals on hotels and trips. They have fake tourist badges and their english is impeccable. Any hotel you are staying at is closed but they know a better one. Its funny.  I am sure they get thier share of doe eyes tourists like anywhere. (*ahem, Niagara Falls*)

The Nazca lines would be worth the effort but there have been 3 plane crashes this year alone killing everyone on board. The planes are old, over booked and my favourite they dont fill up the fuel tanks to save money. They do the tour, turn off the engines and glide back to the airport. Nice. The Pilots and tour companies are rich and powerful in this town so the government does nothing. There is a Mirador or lookout up the highway, I can catch a bus for 4 soles, about 50 cents and have a look. Its not amazing but then again I am not real interested. Somethings grab your attention and you will do anything to be a part of it, others no so much.

I am at the El Mirador near the Plaza de Armas. A typical 2 start jobber but the terrace on the roof overlooks the square. I just downed my daily Pepsi and watched a random Holloween parade while contemplating my next move. I am only going to stay the night and catch a bus to Arequpia tomorrow but the choices are limited. For whatever reason many of the buses are night journeys which means hanging around until 10 pm. There is a 1 30 bus that  will get into Arequipa around 11pm so I can deal with that.  I do like travelling in the day as the countryside here is spectacular and forever changing. This is definately NOT the Niagara QEW to Toronto.  However, every guide book says that the night buses between Nazca and Arequipa have the highest rate of violent robberies. Well go figure its in the middle of the mountains and desert, with nobody around and the buses are usually full of tourists. Why chance it eh, what is my little pocket knife going to do agains a fully armed and angry Ladrone! knowing I would do something stupid.

To recap, gross little tourist town, planes crashing, violent  highway robberies and random hollween parade all topped up my an ice cold Pepsi. Thats not in the guide book! Sorry, I forgot the great street meat on a bun for a dollar.

Jenny and Stuart have moved on to Cuzco for a week. Hopefully we will regroup in Arequipa with a few people from GVI Peru. They have been fun to be with and its always nice to have a friendly face with you on the road, even for a short while. There has been some talk of the Colca Canyon, a hike up Misti and Tattoos!

Random photo in Plaza Del Armas, Lima

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lima The Return

I was in Lima about 6 years ago and had no intention on stopping here on this trip, but its pretty hard to get to where you want to go when heading south and no pass through. A couple nights were not going to kill me.
The bus ticket on Linea was and expensive $20 and there was a bit of grumbling until we got on the bus. Holy crapola. Huge soft seats would have been more than enough to justify having to take the VIP bus. 30 minutes in we were served a hot meal, chicken, rice and brocolli. It was better than most meals I have had on any flight. Then came the soft drink, dessert and tea. A couple hours later, after our first of 4 movies (9 hour bus ride) we were given pop corn and soft drinks. Then a bun with cheese and meat and as much tea or coffee as we wanted.

The ride was through the amazing Atacama Desert with massive sand dunes on the left and the Pacific Ocean on the right and the long black highway cutting a pretty impressive swath through the middle of it all. There were a few towns along the way and we stopped infrequently, I think for the drive to take a pee. Arriving into Lima at night is always a sight. The 300,000 squatters who have set up homes in the surrounding hills give the entire town a ghostly yellow light palor. I forgot how insane the drivers here are but from the top level of the bus it was just fun to watch. 

Checked into the hostel and ran out for a quick beer and some grub. Ohhh the tourist area of Miraflores, avoid it at all costs. Restaurants lined up one after the other and touts doing thier best to lure you into thiers and with every 20 steps a new offer of Hash or Pot, Kareoke or some dance club with happy hour makes Lima a town trying real hard to be hip and find itself. Trying to hard always fails!

The morning brought a trip to Plaza del Armas. The entire plaza is ringed with yellow colonial building and churches with the exception of the massive and I mean massive Royal Palace in its stately white. We wandered around then decided a trip into the catacombs of San Franscico church would be a nice eerie thing to do, and it was. With a few more offers of Hash we walked a few blocks to the Plaza Saint Martin. Pretty typical but all the buildings surround the park were white. Quite the contrast to Plaza de Armas.

A Nice day, better than expected for Lima..oh I almost forgot. Dove into a Pisco Sour after the Catacombs. Tart and delicious.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Huachanco and Chan Chan

To the Beach!! I love the Pacific Ocean, regardless of the fact I have a recurring dream of being munched by a Great White Shark. I wonder why it is that beer always tastes better while on a patio, in the sun watching the ocean. It was a good day.


 After said beer we hit the beach with a boogie board and started to think about surfing. The water was damn cold (damn antarctic current) but after a bit no worries. I was the only fool out there wet suit. There was a few feeble attempts at duck diving but it was mostly getting bowled over by the waves and not trying to do a Jeff Buckley. I think the surf shop owers, who were laughing at us knew we had a few drinks and came to the beach to watch. For thier amusement yes but probably more for thier insurance policy. (please note, there seems to be a bit of talk about lots of drinking on this blog, that really is not the case, just fun to write about when we do)

There was a brilliant sunset and the color spectrum changed every 2 or 3 minutes. There a lots of clouds so maybe tonight it will be a repeat. Like a bonfire a stunning sunset brings the same tranquility.

Good dinner of a Burritos and cold Quesquna (the best beer in Peru bar far), then off to a bar we went just drinking and chatting. A guy showed up, played a few songs on his guitar for us then asked if we wanted to smoke a joint. We passed. Stuart went home early and Jenny and I brought our drinks to the breakwall across the street and had a great chat..OH YEAH, I found meat on a stick, it was brilliant!!. So naturally after a bunch of rum Jenny decides she needs Meat on Stick, god bless her. So off she goes into the night. Usually watching my friend walk drunkenly into town alone would not happen, but I have tremendous confidence in her. Sure enough, back she came with the best fries ever. Booze like dope does give you the munchies (Although not a chicken wing to be found).

                                                   ..oh and dumb guys trying to play darts

We caught a local bus this morning (after a long sleep in and big breakfast) to Chan Chan, an archaeological site near Huachanco and is the largest Pre Colombian City in South America. It was a Chimu civilization that was built from the Moche civilization before that. For those keeping score its Moche, Chimu, Inca, Spanish..I dont know and dont feel like looking up Pre Moche.

Off to Lima tomorrow, 7 hours by bus. I have been to Lima and its a bit of a shithole although Miraflores is as touristy and safe as it gets. One day for me then off to Nazca to see the famous Nazca Lines. After that is Arequipa to chill for a while, maybe 10 days or so. I have registered for a week of spanish there because, well my spanish still sucks.

Pura Vida

Sunday, October 16, 2011


The town of Trujillo jumps out at you pretty quickly after another 4 hours bus ride through the desert. Like any other country in Latin America the bus service is brilliant, although Peru takes it to the next level with double decker comfort. We left Chiclayo at 1:00 and cruised past desert towns like Chpen, Pacasmayo and Huanchaco, although the last one is more a beach town and we are going to go there tomorrow for a couple days....and just drink! (sorry mom)

Well Trujillo is a wealthy down according to the guidebooks and any of the past 3 Peruvian revolutions in the past 200 years have started here. Its has an edge but the Parque Central is the best I have seen in any country. There is a great walking mall and lots of good eats. The main street is one big outdoor market and if we wanted there were any assortment of protective devices to buy. Guns, yup right on the street, brass knuckles, any assortment of martial arts hardware, amazing knives and just when you get settled in a boy walks down the main street with his llama. It was awesome!!

Jenny and I took a tour to Huaca Del Sol y Del Luna. A 2000 year old temple site that pre dates the Inca by 1500 years and was populated by the Moche who are long but forgotten. There was way to much information to try and download into my brain but I have become a bit inspired to move away from reading about modern political history of Latin America to more Ancient studies because it really is amazing stuff

A few picture of Parque Central which I found fantastic

After a slow start Peru is starting to pick up some stream and show itself. After the ease and beauty of Ecuador it was easy to cross the border with high expectations give all that Peru has to offer. Moving south will bring that with places like Pisco, Nazca and Arequipa. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Piura to Chiclaya

I woke up in Piura with a real nasty view of the town, and for good reason. Its not awful but its just a large dusty working town. Walking down the streets looking for a bank I actually had way to many people just staring at me with that ¨Gringo, what are you doing here¨ look. Not to worry because everything works out..Something that should always be remembered.

Walking back to my hotel I found the street that Jenny and Stuart were staying on and found thier hostel easily enough. A quick talk and off to the bus station we went, bus buddies to Chiclaya. As we rolled out of town we passed through a few large shanty towns where the Sechura Desert started. The desert is more of a scrub land but stretched on as deserts do. The only challange as with so many places in Latin America is Trash. There was so much plastic and garbage clinging to the shrubs and blowing across the desert that it actually made me sad. There is no respect for Pachamama outside the indigenous cultures. People just toss garbage on the streets and out bus windows without any regard.

We pulled into Chiclaya and found a hostel easy enough..then grabbed some beer as quick as we could, then off for a stroll through the town. We stumbled onto the market, which was massive and mostly outdoors. Anything was available including car stereos that were obviously stolen. It was a happy day as I found a new CASIO!!, having lost mine along the way. To the novice the Casio is the only watch to have while you travel. (Casio time now is 11 03 45). The market had its sketchy side but was colorful and loud. We started taking pictures and a lady walked by and told us to be careful with our cameras, they will disappear. I love being warned by locals. Drunk guys offered me beer, other vendors tried to sell us calculators, yup you read that right. Sunglasses, socks, chica, whatever you wanted. Latin American  markets are awesome, even if most things are stolen, even I suspect my beloved Casio.

I dug right into a huge pasta and stir fried chicken dinner at La Romana which is exactly what my body needed after two weeks of fried chicken and fries. A few big beer later and we were back ready to crash. Jenny had an interview with Dom Williams from GVI in the morning and I needed to clean the sand and dust out of my nose, eyes and ears.

Its nice to have travel buddies, although Stuart and I pick on Jenny relentlessly. I wonder if that is why she drinks so much rum when we are together...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

And into Peru

Today was a travel day from Loja Ecuador to Piura Peru. I really like crossing land borders in Latin America. Its chaotic at times with Gringos walking around looking dazed and confused, money changers jumping all over anyone who moves and lots of great street food.  The money changers with thier calculators at the ready crack me up. Knowing the daily exchange rate, which you can find at  does give you the upper hand. Then the conversation is usually light hearted and fun and everyone is happy. Today I got 2.60 Soles to the Dollar, the bank rate is 2.75.

My day did start with a bit of anxiety about crossing the border. I have a 1 year visa for Ecuador and it was suppose to be registered with the government office in Quito within 30 days. Well that did not happen as day 29 was the day "everything changed". I also recieved a 90 day tourist visa at the airport which is standard for everyone. So some of the options when I hit the boarder are
1. Nothing and I pass right through
2. I am forced to go back to Quito and register it
3. Go into my emergency pocket with the $50 surprise look what I found money

I get to the window and hand over my passport and paperwork, but I have an angel on my shoulders. Two Latinos were trying to cross ahead of me without a passport and were causing a bit of a fuss. The guard was being polite and showing documents etc showing they need the passport etc. This was about 5 minutes of talk while he reviewed my passport. ** Just a little note, I bent my passport open to the page that only showed the tourist visa, yup like that was going to work. **

Well the guard who was pretty amicable considering all the fuss ahead of me "cafefully opened my passport and reviewed all the stamps including the full page visa on page 1. I stood quietly and he asked if it was registered and did I have my residence card. (which I would have had of course). I calmly said. No, porque estoy veniendo antes 90 dias entonces quiero usar la visa tourista.  I got the quick knowing stare back. " I can either make your life miserable and send you back to Quito or let you through, and you know it Gringo!!   With great relief my passport was stamped and I quietly but quickly walked over the bridge to Peru.

And now into Peru. I arrived in Piura, the city within the border. I loved it at the start. It was Tuk Tuks and cabs everywhere. I jumped into a Tuk Tuk and was just enjoying the insanity of the guy weaving in and out of traffic. THEN we got pulled over by SUAT, SWAT to you gringos. The cop said hello to me then kept the tuk tuk driver for about 5 minutes. The issues was that there was gringo in the tuk tuk and they were looking out for me. OK, still good.

I then experienced my first standard Latin American scam. The driver almost got to my hotel then said, Oh No, yout hotel is dirty lets go to another hotel. Not so awful considering the new hotel was my second choice anyways and I was just enjoying the scam. We get to the hotel and he runs in, as is the case, to let them know he brought me there. It was just funny to be a part of it. The driver was asking for more $$ because the drive was further. Fine, I gave him 3 Soles (about $1) and then he wanted a tip for finding the hotel and demanded $10. I stared at him, laughed and checked in. He was following me getting louder and louder asking for his $10 when I stopped at the stairs and said to the girl at the desk. No me gusto el ladronne,  me puede ayudar o no voy a quedarme aqui.
That stopped him in his tracks and out the door he went.  Fun Times
I just heard from Jenny, her and Stuart are here after some time in Mancora. They had some shit experiences when they got here. I will share if they give me the ok. Maybe head out to Turjillo in the morning as quick as possible.

As an aside, the hotel room has a TV with English reruns. I am just staring like it is Christmas.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

La La La La Loja

Well another brilliant bus ride through the Andeas into Loja. Lonely Planet does describe the bus drivers here without mincing words....INSANE. They pass up hill on curves (remembering that there are 500 foot cliffs just to thier right) and more times than not race other bus drivers uphill. I find the music which is blaring normally tends to increase in volume with each race. All the locals seem to be sleeping (out of fear probably) or not concerned while I just stare out the window, looking down said cliff and thing..well thats not a BAD final resting spot.

Loja is unusually clean being the first city in Ecuador with a recylcing program. The town appears fairly wealthy but its goes to sleep around 7pm. The internet here is sloooow and is killing my buzz so I will see you in Peru in 3 days!

Oh yeah, I had chicken feet soup for lunch today. Not bad.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Last Day in Quenca

Why the little slow this morning? A big thank you to SCOTLAND!

Now Sundays being what they are, a universal day of lazy I headed straight for...wait for it...INCA Bar. They have the NFL package and the Bills were playing. There is also something called NFL red zone. Whenever a team, no matter what game, reached the red zone they switch to that game. It is a pretty intelligent idea.
So today I found my tribe. North Americans drinking beer, eating Burgers and watching NFL. Jenny god bless her hung around, as did Stuart because I think they drank a little to much rum last night and it was just to hard to get out of the chairs. But as we left Jenny just said, I dont get it! Its no different than watching sport in Scotland but nope, I dont get it.  * The Bills did hang on to be to win over the Eagles 31 -24. Holy crap  4 and 1. Who would have thought.

I also recieved an invitation from Canada to join a hockey pool. Today just can not get any better. I sent of my team. We have a 65 million dollar cap and need 9 forwards, 5 defense and 3 goalies. Come on Phil Kessel now is your time!!

All in all a decent day of sports, the most amazing burger and chilling with Jenny and Stuart (and a bunch of loud football crazed American Xpats). I watched Into The Wild yet again, packed and prepped for my 5 hour bus ride to Loja.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Cuenca: Afternoon beer is NEVER a bad thing

Jenny and Stuart are in Cuenca and we made a plan to meet at my favourite bar in Cuenca, INCAs. To that point, they have NFL on all day tomorrow so "I shall return" at noon (we are 1 hour behind EDT) to just stare at the TV. I dont care who is playing really.

Oddly enough as I was wandering looking for a place to get something to eat they they were, big smiles and all. We tried to get food but both times we stopped the restaurant said they were closed, but the doors were open and we sat down. It was around 1 so I think it was Siesta time but who knows. This is Ecuador, you just accept it and move on. And move on we did, right to Incas where we spent the afternoon just hanging out passing the time. (although most of the time was spent winding Jenny up about anything possible). I am going to go meet them at 7 (its 5 now) where we will continue to drink (them rum, me beer) on thier rooftop and see what happens after that.....back later

...Back and I had the oddest experience while I was going to update this post. The hostel has a quiet corner upstairs near my room (downstairs someone is always on MSN with that annoying audio that always plays when someone sends you a message). So here I sit after when 3 doors down I hear a couple sexing it up, and I mean she is loud!! So I go and get my Ipod and put in my ear buds. Who am I to bother young lovers. Anyways the buzzer at the front of the hotel rings and the door to the love shack opens. The young guy running the place runs past me with a shit eating grin on his face to answer the door. A few minutes later a Not so young, fairly heavy woman leaves the room. Head down, she sprints past me down the stairs and into the night. Well done kid! I am thinking. Now the odd part. The young kid comes backup stairs, (same shit eating grin) and goes back into the dirty room. Not a minute later he comes out again BUT he is carrying another guy who seems to be a paraplegic or has one of lifes numerous diseases where he can not walk. Past they go, down the stairs and again, into the night.

** My conclusion. Older woman was a hooker, young guy set it up for his buddy who could not walk and the two of them went to town on her. What a country this Ecuador!

After this odd situation off into the night I went, laughing and giggling to myself to meet Jenny and Stuart at thier hostel. We sat on thier rooftop patio, they drank rum and I of course drank my litres of Pilsner. It was fun just talking, laughing but mostly Stuart and I took the piss out of Jenny. She is a good sport. She was jumping to get out because she "wanted to stay out late", so we walked over the the coffee shop (I forget the name) and sat there a while. The streets were packed with young Saturday night partying Ecuadorians and to keep the peace, many many police and soldiers. It it a wide open plaza that you would find similar in any European city. We hung in there until almost midnight (whoohooo) then that was it. The big staying out late night was over.

Tomorrow is all day at INCA lounge watching football. Tonight its just a belly full of beer.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Ecuador vs. Venezuela

I just finished a session at the INCA pub watching Ecuador vs. Venezuela in a World Cup Qualifier. If there is anything that connects people I have to believe it is sport. My spanish is, well shit although I can Forrest Gump my way through the day but cold beer and sports on TV eliminates any language barrier.

Ecuador has a pretty decent squad having qualifed for the last couple of world cups. They have guys like Máximo Banguera who play for Barcelona and Antonio Valencia who plays for Man U. so these guys have skill. From the start it was all Ecuador and although the nuances of the game are lots on me (even though I played for many years pre booze, drugs and music) the energy of any sport is the same. Yelling, screaming at the TV, Gooooooal and high fives are universal...and some where outside there was a crowd with a bunch of drums. I was afraid to look.

Final score, Ecuador 2 Venezuela 0. The streets were filled with people emptying out after the game, no different that a Leaf game. Cars blaring thier horns, people drinking on the street and its controlled chaos because.......LOTs of police, military and other soldiers in various uniforms on the street, riding motorcyles, in cars and all of them have very large weapons. I like it! Allows a drunken gringo like me return home (and go out again in about an hour) with out an issue. (*** Not that there would be an issue).

So after a day of running around taking photos of probably the prettiest town I have been to yet I now sit with a cold Pilsner and think about the Leafs. Toronto fans could not be this much fun, no matter how much they try (same with Montreal or Vanwhorever )

UNESCO Heritage for a reason.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Latacunga to Cuenca

Although unofficial I think today is the beginning of the rainy season. Now that being said there was a reason I had my eyes closed for much of the bus ride today from Latacunga to Cuenca. The road was a South American cliche. Narrow, winding and huge drop offs on one side. Thankfully the bus driver was only going as fast as manically, I mean mechanically possible.

All told the drive was amazing. We came through some brilliant mountain passes, the clouds hung low and when the sun was setting it was a very impressive site, those Andeas Mountains. We passed through Alausi, a town that seemed to be hanging just on the edge of the cliffs. Through Canar whose Cathedral was posted high in the hills and lit up for everyone in the surrounding valleys to see. My plan was to stop in Alausi to take the train ride, the Nariz del Diablo through the mountains. You can actually ride on top of the train so that had me going..BUT the train is cancelled because of the rain tomorrow and Friday so I just stayed on the bus and made my way to Cuenca.

On the bus I did have a great talk with a local farmer. Jose was a native indian, about 60, had 8 kids who all lived at home and worked the farm with him. He tried to teach me some Quecha but I kept screwing up so we laughed and just rambled on in Spanish. He could not comprehend flying and was speechless when I said I could fly from Canada to Ecuador in about 6 hours. *** Remember this is a peasant farmer who just got electricity to his house 10 years ago***.

He asked me if I wanted to come to his house in his town (dont remember but it was on the bus route), have dinner and meet his family. Now normally I would think this odd but this and other offers I have recieved are genuine. For him to walk into his house with a Westerner for dinner he said it would be a huge celebration. I dont know why I said No but thank you. These are the reasons I am on the road and it would have been brilliant. I am sure after dinner and lots of Chicha there was a bed for me and a walk back to the bus in the morning. ** I can NOT pass up these type of opportunites any more!!**  I can talk to all the Germans, Aussies, Brits and Americans in any hostel.

No worries, I have a cold Pilsner in front of me, I am at a great hostel and there is a Moroccan restaurant next door, time for some grub that is not Seco Pollo.

Latacunga Nights

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs - Well Done Sir!

"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life," 

"Because almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure -- these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important."

"Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

--- Steve Jobs

‘If you live each day as if it were your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.’ - Steve Jobs

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Volcan Quilatoa and Latacunga

Another day, another shift in gears. Ishmal the owner of the Cuello de Luna offered me a ride to Latacunga yesterday. Today he said he had a tour going to Volcan Quilaota and we will be going through the interior and visiting some small towns along the way. It took me no time to say "count me in". The topping was he would still drop me off in Latacunga as it was on the way.

So off I went with ***Ishmal and Meike, Hanz (Germans) and Stephanie (Czeck). A quick side not about Ishmal. He is Swiss and came to Ecuador 35 years ago to visit his sister, and never went back. Got married, has 4 kids and a thriving life. His real name is Walter but about the time he came to Ecuador he paid a visit to a friend in Chiapas state in Mexico. This kids there did not like his name so they started calling him Ishmal for whatever reason. So he kept it and to this day everyone, including his family call him Ishmal. Freaking great story.

The drive was amazing, up and down mountain passes. The wild thing about Ecuador right now is that the president, Rafael Correa has a huge push on infrastructure. He as built over 5000km of road and wants to get 10,000 more done before his term is over. Everwhere along the way we were stopped for construction. It was incredible.  We arrived at Quilatoa and as is always the case when your up in the freaking clouds at 14, 000ft, it was raining. We started descending down the crater in a path that ran between tall carved out rocks, pretty impressive stuff. As we continued down (forgetting that we had to climb back up) we got under the clouds and the lake appeared. Not glossy green like in the brochures but impressive enough as crater lakes are. The hike down was unevenful except for the 5 of us acting like crazed japanese with our cameras. Oddly enough, each one of us had a Panasonic Lumix, so weird.

After hanging around the bottom and reading the legend of the Condor and the lake, we peered back up and said, well lets get it done. It wasnt brutal but it took about 90 minutes. I think I am finding my hiking legs because without racing I was first up by about 15 minutes.  Meike gave me shit because I looked like a goat on the trail (That will crack up my sister kelly). After a lunch of Potato soup and of course chicken and rice we drove back to Latacunga, stopping in Zumbahua and Tigua. I found my way to Hostel Tiana, even though they had moved, with the help of Ishmal, said good bye to everyone and checked in. I went for a little walk around the square tonight and was surprised with a fireworks show that lasted about 30 minutes. I asked the owner of a local tienda why the celebration and he said something about it being a saints day, thats all I got.

With Ishmal heading to Volcan Quilatoa

Halfway down to the Crater Lake

Cotapaxi ReDux

Today started as a "I am going to drink coffee, read and well do nothing day" and it ended up being "lets rent bikes, go up to Cotapaxi then return back and drink lots of beer". I like how it ended.

Jenny (who I worked with in Otavalo) and her friend Stuart showed up at my hotel which was a great surprise. After a couple of coffees and catch up chat we rented bikes guessed it, return to Cotapaxi. All was good though. It was cloudy, raining and our bikes were old so what could go wrong! It took us about and hour and a half to get to the ranger station that was only 5km away, but it was all up the freaking volcano trail!! Stopping more than once for water or to contemplate "walking or riding" up the next hill kept us laughing. I am sure I heard a good Scotish.."FOOK THAT" more than once.

At the entrance to the park.

Milling around the ranger station the decision to coast back down and go for beers was easy. Off we went down the freaking bumpiest road and full tilt. My hands were shattered when I got back. The three of us leaped of our bikes when we got to Jenny and Stuarts hotel which was just inside the park and ran into the bar. The owners had a fire going to dry us off, and we chilled for a couple hours drinking the litre beers I have come to love.

Next up, dinner back at my hotel. Only problem was multiple large beer on an empty stomach and having to cross the crazy busy Panamericana Highway. No worries but HOLY Crap, the 1.5 km back to Cuello de Luna was Brutally tough for all of us. We ordered great Pasta and Meat sauce, drank a bit more, laughed alot then had a night cap by the fireplace.  A very good day indeed although I can not feel my legs.

The end of a good day.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Cotapaxi National Park

No matter where you are in the world and what amazing event you have planned there is nothing worse than the god awful sound of an alarm at 5:00 am. So after prying open my eyes and opening the curtains expecting to see the awesomeness of Cotapaxi I saw a cow, a couple of llamas and lots of clouds, my new nemesis.
No worried, after a pretty damn good breakfast I started my walk. It was 2km to the park, 5km to the ranger station then 14km to the lagoon, my destination. Situated at the base of the Volcano I figured this would be the perfect spot to chill, have lunch, take photos and again, stare in awe at Cotapaxi. I was not prepared to summit so I had to be a tourist on the volcano today.

I walked into the park easy enough and no sooner did I hear what I was pretty sure was last nights party still going on. Pretty routine stuff in Americo Latina. Sure enough, there was a small town called Santa Ana. I slowly wandering into town (7:30 am) and everyone was shit faced. Ladies drinking what I assumed was chicha, drunk ass dudes pouring themselves another beer and everyone laughing and having a good time. No problems except when I walked past said drunk dudes I got "Gringo, Gringo, Venga. Compartimos las cerveza. Now normally I would take up any off like this, but not when the boys have been drinking all night. (*note*  having a beer before 8:00 is still my favourite beer drinking time). I just wandered down the road, looked at the glossy eyes of old woman smiling at me and giggling...then the dogs. Out of nowhere the standard pack of local dogs started coming at me in a rage. I am sure I heard them bark "Leave our drunk ass owners alone". For anyone travelling down here charging dogs area an easy fix. Bend over and pick up a rock. These little bastards will stop in thier tracks and turn high tail.
So a lively start to the morning. Then I start the hike. The road leading to the rangers station was 5km, about an hour. I was surrounded by tall pines, the outlines of the Andeas peaking through the clouds, some dumb ass insect making a clicking sound (which I figured out later was my boot). There were lots of cars and small pickups passing by as this is a weekend retreat for the folks from Quito. I was fully stocked so just walked and enjoyed it.

At the Ranger station I paid my $2, registered, got some directions and off I went. They boys asked if I was walking, laughed, said good luck. I hope your legs are strong. Well they were no kidding. I got about another 4 k (guessing) into my hike (I am now on about 10K) and It was not until then that I noticed, hey I am climbing uphill and I am freaking tired.  Well just like that an old school bus pulls up and the driver smiles and says get in. I never moved so fast. He was with his wife and daughter and they owned the restaurant near the top. We talked, they laughed at me alot which was fun. From thier restaurant I grabbed a hot chocolate and started the 4 km up to the lagoon. Not 5 minutes in a car pulls up going down. They guys yells over and gives me water and a few biscuts. He saw me when he was on the way up and wanted to know how long I had been walking. 3.5 hour I said. He yelled out a Chupta, laughed and said Buena Suete. I love this country.

A young couple pulled up right away and offered me a ride to the top. Indeed I will thanks and off we go right to the Lagoon. Well the views were good not amazing because of the clouds and it was a perfect spot to chill for an hour. Then the long journey back.

Long story short, walking back, met up with a bike tour and about 5 km. I came across some farmers picking blueberrys from the side of the road. They called me over, told me they were mortiño (blueberrys) and offered me up a handful.  The same young couple pulled up, laughed (I am sensing alot of laughing at me today) and said No mas caminando. They drove to the park entrance. Another good day. Not because of the sights but because again it confirmed how amazing and helpful people are. I just hope I can take some of that away with me and make it Contageous.

Tomorrow I am just going to rest my aching legs, read and just chill at this amazing hostel.

On my way back down. Photo taken by a member of a bike tour.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Volcan Cotapaxi? No those are clouds..and rain, RUN

Ok, so clouds are covering Cotapaxi and its raining and cold, but I do have a roaring fire in my room here at Hotel de Cuello on the edge of Cotapaxi National Park. The bus ride from Quito was simple enough (as most bus rides in Latin America are) and the $1.80 it cost was typical. Usually $1 per hour.

I did get dropped off on the side of the highway (again as is the norm). You just have to tell any bus driver where you want to stop and BOOM, there you are. It was not until I strolled over to the big Welcome to the National Park sign did I see the little sign that said the Volcano is 16km inland from the highway. MotherFu*****. Well tomorrow will start early and it should be easy enough to grab a ride, or several short ones from other hikers, milk trucks, locals or a donkey or two.

Best part of my day hands down was after I got off the bus and started the 2 KM trek with full gear to the Hotel, In the opposite direction of the Volcano!! The Hacienda, not hotel is nice and worth the $18 a night, breakfast included. (pictures later). Ok, back to the best part of my day. Along the trail I reached T and there were signs for the Hacienda..BUT NO ARROW. Whats a guy to do. I naturally went straight as it seemed logical enough. Walking along getting a little tired and starting to realize my choice was wrong along came a beat up old pickup truck that I waved down. I screeched to a halt and stalled. Funny enough, but went I walked over to ask my standard Como Puedo llegar... I notice a kid was driving, and I mean a kid. The older boy next to him had a younger girl on his lap. Thinking nothing of it I ask for directions and the older boys said jump in the back, we will take you there. Typcial of any situation I have encountered on this trip.

Just for fun I ask the kid driving, your just learing to to drive how is it going. "first time he says". Well your doing great, how old are you. "I am 10 and my older brother is teaching me to drive, he is 14, but he is a good driver".  Ok, what the hell, I jump in the back, and wait for one of the oncoming trees to bounce of my skull as I get piched back and forth on this hilly, rock strewn, pot hold "road". Son of a bitch, this kid could drive!!  I arrived alive and as I waved good bye the two of them had Huge grins on thier faces.

Adios Quito, fue la diversion