Monthly Archives: March 2013

A Warm Welcome to Peru!

This weeks travels

This weeks travels

After fixing up the van we enjoyed a ‘free day’ in Banos. This consisted of a walk to the nearby village to try the highly recommended empanadas and to see the waterfalls.

Enjoying some fantastic emenadas

Enjoying some fantastic empanadas

Christine at the falls

Christine at the waterfalls

After, we took a bus into the main town of Banos to find some hot springs which the area is famous for (and named after). However we got distracted by eating ice cream and then every darn place where you could soak up the hot springs was closed! We went home, disappointed, to the van and decided to try the trout farm next door where you fish your own trout and then have it prepared and cooked on site. But would you believe this was closed too! Maybe this was just not our day.

Dyslexic humour - hehe...

Dyslexic humour – hehe…

The next day we headed out pretty early and made it to the UNESCO World Heritage city of Cuenca. It’s a cool colonial cobblestoned town. We’ve seen a few of these on our trip! It was a nice place to walk around and Christine even found a shop to try on a dress. No luck still and the search continues.

Not quite what Christine had in mind

Not quite what Christine had in mind

Peru was in our sights for the next day. This was an uneventful driving day except for the encounter with the Ecuadorian police who stopped us after observing us go over a double yellow line. Now this is after a long long time following many trucks going very slowly and being overtaken by many yahoo’s unsafely. We just happened to peak around this truck and saw the truck drivers hand frantically waving us back. However, too late! We were stopped and told by an officers english friend he called on his mobile that we made a “very, very, very, very, very bad infraction”. The fine was $150USD to be paid immediately to the officer. Well this did not go over well with us and we stated we had no money but would get some and pay at the police station or bank. He wasn’t quite sure what to do and we said we could wait all day if necessary. You could see his little brain working but in the end he couldn’t come up with anything and waved us on. No extra Easter money for him!

Road side delicacies in Ecuador

Roadside delicacies in Ecuador

We got into Peru after a great and easy border crossing despite it being 1.5 hours to complete.

We headed to the beach, and the warmth! We ended up in Mancora staying in the parking garage at a hostal. We were surprised at what a touristy and surfers place it was. Christine enjoyed her first Pisco Sour, Peru’s national drink, on the beach.

Christine enjoying the sunset and Pisco Sour

Christine enjoying the sunset and Pisco Sour

Driving through the deserts of Peru

Driving through the deserts of Peru

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Camping on a horse ranch down the coast

Camping on a horse ranch down the coast

Chiclayo was our next destination and was a special stop as Christine’s parents used to teach there 7 years ago and still had many connections. We met up with their good friend, Gladys, who does great things in the community with Centro Esperanza, an NGO.

Christine with Gladys and her friendly family

Christine with Gladys and her friendly family

She showed us around and then we were treated to lunch at the community Soup Kitchen where they are trying to help with the large problem of poverty and malnutrition of the young school children. Here the mother’s volunteer and learn to cook healthy budget friendly meals while helping to feed part of the community.

Christine working in the kitchen

Christine ‘working’ in the kitchen

Sharing lunch with the local children in Chiclayo

Sharing lunch with the local children in Chiclayo

The mother’s and children prepared a great afternoon for us. There was singing and dancing and the highlight for the kids and adults, I think, was the tour of our van, Ginger! They all thought our trip was amazing and never knew it could be done. It was a great and insightful afternoon for us and them! A very worthwhile project.

Outside the Soup Kitchen

Outside the Soup Kitchen

The kids were fascinated with Ginger

The kids were fascinated with Ginger

Only 7 children - we had 11 adults inside at one stage!

Only 7 children – we had 11 adults inside at one stage!

We enjoyed spending more time with Gladys and her family and were overwhelmed by their hospitality. They hooked us up with a hotel room right downtown, helped us get a safe place for the van, fed us many delicious meals and were just the most wonderful hosts! We didn’t want to leave but knew that we needed to stay on target if we wanted to get to Argentina before our time runs out. So we enjoyed one last lunch with Gladys, prepared by her sweet mother, and then hit the road.

We drove a few hours and made it to a beach area just north of Trujillo.

Traditional fishing boats at the beach

Traditional fishing boats at the beach

The next day we planned on a long days drive to get us back into the mountains and to the start of our next trek. We ignored the directions given by our GPS, as we could see a much shorter, and obviously quicker, route on the map, so we were taken by surprise when we realized that it was going to take 2 days of driving on our chosen crazy windy switchback road, averaging less than 25km/hr.

Climbing into the mountains on our crazy road

Climbing into the mountains on our crazy road

Christines view as we climbed

Christine’s view as we climbed

We decided at 5pm that the fog was so thick that we needed to find a roadside campsite. Not easy when the road is precariously hanging from the side of a mountain – but we did it.

Climbing into the clouds

Climbing into the clouds

Our roadside campsite

Our roadside campsite

The town we were headed for is at an elevation of 2,000m, so we were again greatly suprised when our ‘shortcut’ kept climbing to over 4,300m, and then found the roads even more scary on the descent.

Beautiful mountain views on the way up

Beautiful mountain views on the way up

At the pass - Gingers new (and unplanned) altitude record - 4,314 metres

At the pass – Gingers new (and unplanned) altitude record – 4,314 metres

Dave was an awesome driver though!

Looking down one of many sets of switchbacks

Looking down one of many sets of switchbacks

Looking across the valley to fields cultivated on amazing slopes

Looking across the valley to fields cultivated on amazing slopes

As we neared the bottom of the descent, and we could see the town in the distance we checked the GPS once again – the town was 7km away, but would take over 25km of roads to get there, it was that windy and switch-backed! We had almost made it to our town when we came to a washed out bridge. After checking out the signposted detour we found that bridge inadequate too.

The suggested detour - we decided to keep looking for another option...

The suggested detour – we decided to keep looking for another option…

After a bit of searching and checking with the locals we eventually found another option about 40 minutes away and crossed into the town of Caraz.

Not perfect, but it will do!

Not perfect, but it will do!

Not the quaintest of Peruvian towns but it’s a jumping off point for the trek we want to start tomorrow. Wish us luck!

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The Equator…. Finally!

Travelling South out of Colombia

Travelling South out of Colombia

We left Salento and headed South. We made a stop outside Cali at a nice, quiet Hostel on a river in a beautiful valley. It was Sunday and the small towns and river banks along our route were packed with people taking advantage of the nice weather and weekend. It was a completely different place when we left the next morning with the streets pretty much deserted!

Camping outside of Cali.

Camping outside of Cali.

We then headed towards Ecuador and were hoping to hit the border town to spend the night, so we could cross over first thing the next morning. The mountain roads and traffic were a lot slower than we had expected, so we ended up pulling into a big 24hr gas station and asking to spend the night. No problem! Not the best of sleeps but a relatively safe place to hunker down for a few hours.

Sleeping with the trucks again!

Sleeping with the trucks again!

Beautiful hills in Southern Colombia

Beautiful hills in Southern Colombia

The next morning we were up early and made a stop to see a very cool church that is built on a bridge! Las Lajas Sanctuary is a Gothic style church that is built on the site where an apparition of the Virgin Mary was seen in the rocks. It’s also a popular pilgrimage site with many people claiming miraculous healing. An impressive place!

The view down to the church (bottom right, in the valley)

The view down to the church (bottom right, in the valley)

Las Lajas Sanctuary

Las Lajas Sanctuary

The inside of the church, with the cliff wall behind the altar.

The inside of the church, with the cliff wall behind the altar.

After the church we crossed into Ecuador with ease despite a bit of waiting in line ups. We even picked up a fellow Canadian traveller who we drove to our next destination, Otavalo, Ecuador.

This weeks travels in Equador

This weeks travels in Equador

Otovalo is known for having the largest market in all of South America! Well at least on the weekends but sadly (or gladly depending on how you look at it!), the majority of stalls, and all the live animal market was closed and the scene was very laid back. There was still a good market and Dave did end up getting a very dapper Ecuador hat!

Numerous soft and fluffy things available at the market

Numerous soft and fluffy things available at the market

Dave with his new 'Ecuador Hat'

Dave with his new ‘Ecuador Hat’

QUICK TRIVIA: Panama hats are actually originally from Ecuador. In 1945 for the World Fair Ecuador sent over all kinds of hats but since they travelled through Panama to get there the people in Paris assumed it was made in Panama. So poor Ecuador got no credit at all!

Our view over the town of Otovalo

Our view over the town of Otovalo

After hanging out at some nice cottages overlooking Otavalo we hit the road again and finally crossed the equator. It’s about time! And it’s only taken us 7.5 months. But it was very cool to see the line and a good photo opportunity. Now wouldn’t you think that the equator would have nice hot weather?!

Christine posing over the equator line

Christine posing over the equator line

Each in our 'home' hemispheres

Each in our ‘home’ hemispheres

Next we drove into Cotopaxi National Park to do some hiking and biking. Cotopaxi is the second highest mountain in Ecuador and is a snow capped vision (and an active volcano)! When you can see it that is! The roads were a bit rough going into the park especially this one corrugated area where we thought the van was going to vibrate to bits. Thankfully she didn’t, but we did manage to squash and cut a cable on our auxiliary battery, causing a short circuit with the battery. There was smoke, and a lot of running around and panicking, but phewf no fire!

Smoke and burn marks on the battery cover...

Smoke and burn marks on the battery cover…

Badly overheated battery cables

Badly overheated battery cables

The shakes also wiggled our furnace into not working. And when you’re on the side of a glacier mountain this really sucks!

Camping in view of the volcano

Camping in view of the volcano

All the winter gear was required up here (over 3800m elevation)

All the winter gear was required up here (over 3800m elevation)

We stayed on the mountain for two cold nights with all our blankets and thermal undies on. We could have handled the cold but on our lovely long bike ride around the valleys an unexpected storm blew in with heavy rain and hail

Christine catching her breath - biking at 4000m is just as hard as hiking!

Christine catching her breath – biking at 4000m is just as hard as hiking!

Another one of our 'typical' volcano photos...

Another one of our ‘typical’ volcano photos…

Christine keeping her dental skills up

Christine keeping her dental skills up

The roads turned into gushing rivers full of hail and our hands seized up from the cold. And the lightening was stiking so close it was scary! We were soaked to the bone and poor Dave just couldn’t get warm again. After a few hours and a long hot shower we started to feel our toes again.

New snow on the volcano - this fell during the storm of our bike ride...

New snow on the volcano – this fell during the storm of our bike ride…

We picked up another traveller coming from the park! This time a British guy who was having a hard time in Ecuador with tales of being robbed and being taken advantage of. Hope we helped him a bit! We dropped him off on the Quilitoa Loop which is a beautiful yet rough road around a volcanic lake and surrounding lush valleys.

Patchwork hills around Quilatoa

Patchwork hills around Quilatoa

The crater lake of Quilatoa

The crater lake of Quilatoa

Pretty and impressive! We had planned to hike around the crater lake, but the weather didn’t cooperate and with rain in the long and short-term forecast we decided to move on.

The loop road around Quilatoa

The loop road around Quilatoa

Beautiful views from the loop road

Beautiful views from the loop road

We moved on to the little town of Banos where we were the only guests at the Pequeno Paraiso Hostal. The owners are ex-overland bus drivers and specialize in taking in the huge overlanding tour groups, but the season hasn’t started yet.

The grounds at Pequeno Paraiso hostel

The grounds at Pequeno Paraiso hostel

Enjoying a 3 course lunch in Banos - all for US$2.50 - amazing!

Enjoying a 3 course lunch in Banos – all for US$2.50 – amazing!

With the entire run of the place we got Ginger all  fixed up again! That includes running new battery cables and getting the furnace working again. Dave is not only handsome, but handy too!

Christine checking the electrical connections to the furnace

Christine checking the electrical connections to the furnace

Dave running new cables back to the auxiliary battery

Dave running new cables back to the auxiliary battery

A big development in our plans is that we have found a buyer for Ginger! A few weeks ago we put her up for sale on a website popular with people doing similar trips as ours. Well wouldn’t you know we received an email from a British/Canadian guy who is keen to buy Ginger for a year of exploring around South America! A few logistics still to be worked out, but we are very happy that she’ll have a great new owner, and that we don’t need to stress out about finding a buyer any more.

Tomorrow we plan on getting into seeing the sights around here before moving on and finding some new places to explore.

 

This weeks banner - biking around Cotopaxi National Park - in the cold and thin air.

This weeks banner – biking around Cotopaxi National Park – in the cold and thin air.

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Into the coffee regions

This week has been a pretty laid back one. We vegged out in Villa de Leyva for 4 nights recovering from our big hike in El Cocuy. Not exactly sure what we did there during that time but get caught up with our families and email, oh yes and eat a lot of pizza. We eventually headed toward Bogota and made it pretty close before it started to get dark. We went looking for a place that some previous overlanders had given GPS coordinates for on their blog – but we just couldn’t find it. However, in the dark we managed to stumble upon a pretty nice camping area with hot showers and owners that gave us copious amounts of ‘aromatica’ which is a hot drink of infused fruits.

Our nice camping area in Guatavita

Our nice camping area in Guatavita

The next morning we saw what a nice place it actually was and the owners were super friendly and again gave us some more free cups of the fruity tea like drink. They were also very interested in the van and the younger son said it was his ‘sueno’ or dream to have a vehicle like ours and travel like us. We gave them a little tour of Ginger, got some pictures and then headed toward the big city.

Our mission for Bogota was to find a wedding dress shop! Christine could not find that many online here in South America, but there was one that sold nice dresses and looked good. The map from the website was incorrect but thankfully our GPS eventually got us there. Of course Dave was required to stay outside and ended up being harassed by the parking attendant for the entire time he was waiting there. The dress mission was not successful but was very informative and gave Christine a few things to think about. Like how difficult it is going to be to try and find a dress on the road! That will be an ongoing mission we think.

After fighting our way out of Bogota traffic we headed north east towards the coffee district. We were a bit nervous about road blocks as everyone and their dog are on strike down here – coffee growers, truck drivers, miners, teachers, etc… We had no problems with strikers, however the road was long with a huge mountain we had to go up and over with tons of slow moving vehicles. On our descent we literally drove between 15-28km/hr behind molasses like trucks. Needless to say at the bottom of the mountain our brakes overheated and gave way. Pressing the brake pedal to the floor with no effect is never fun! By this time it was late at night (8pm) and we don’t really like to drive in the dark. However what can you do! We continued on to Salento, a cool small artesan town, and found our recommended hostal/camping site at La Serrana EcoFarm and Hostel. We found a spot alongside another overlander from British Columbia and got some dinner before falling into bed. We had started the day at 2,900m elevation, dropped down to 300m, climbed back up to 3,300m and then dropped again to 1,500m – no wonder the brakes were overheating!

Salento is a cool little town with lots of “arts and crafts” shops as Dave would say.

The central plaza in Salento with wax palms

The central plaza in Salento with wax palms

Dave trying (successfully) to find a new inner tube for his bike

Dave trying (successfully) to find a new inner tube for his bike

Swinging in Colombia

Swinging in Colombia

The view from the towns mirador (lookout)

The view from the towns mirador (lookout)

Salento is also really close to Valle de Cocora which is the principal location of the Wax Palms. It is the national tree and symbol of Colombia and a protected species, especially from all those folks that used to use it for celebrations of Palm Sunday (no joke!). We took a jeep taxi to the start of a day hike and climbed the mountain for the great views. Of course we had cloud coverage and couldn’t see a darn thing!

Heading up the mountain

Heading up the mountain

Climbing through beautiful farmland

Climbing through beautiful farmland

Wax palms disappearing in the clouds

Wax palms disappearing in the clouds

A great view from the top

A great view from the top

But on the way down we did get some wonderful views and I think pictures!

Cocora Valley

Cocora Valley

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One not so good thing is the dogs around here! As we wrote back in Mexico, Christine’s mom got bit by a dog and since then Christine’s been a bit skiddish about them. Dogs down here are a whole different breed and are not like the nice friendly pets at home. Christine went to check out the view of the valley from the other side of our Hostal and was charged by 2 vicious dogs. There were lots of bared teeth and saliva but thankfully they didn’t bite. It was a close call though!

Tomorrow we head south and hope that we don’t come up against any roadblocks!

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El Cocuy National Park

This week we completed a six day hike around the mountains of El Cocuy National Park in Eastern Colombia. This turned out to be a very educational experience for us, with some of the major lessons being:

  1. Driving through Central America eating Pringles and Fajitas does not prepare you for hiking at 4000+ metres.
  2. Just because we drive our van Ginger to high altitudes does not prepare us for hiking at high altitudes.
  3. If everyone on the truck says this is your stop, make sure to check with the driver before getting off.
  4. Cold temperatures are even colder after months of sweating through Central America.
  5. A sleeping bag rated for -10C is not actually bearable at this temperature.
  6. Night buses suck! Day buses aren’t much better. Gravol certainly helps to prevent barfing and is a great sleeping aid!
  7. Nights in a tent are VERY long when they start at 6pm.
  8. You should not feed the crazy Peruvian man, as “he needs to be forced back into the real world” (according to our new British friend Phil)

We started our adventure to El Cocuy National Park with a long overnight bus trip which dropped us into the town of Cocuy at 6am. We managed a few hours sleep in a hotel then finished off our preparations with a few last minute items, buying our park pass, etc… The next morning we hopped onto the Lechero (milk truck/local transport) after confirming with the driver that we wanted to go to the Northern end of the trail where we would check into a nice Cabana for the night while acclimatising to the altitude. However, we got off at the wrong end of the trail because we listened to our fellow truck mates who assured us it was correct. Oh well!

Our first morning of unexpected hiking...

Our first morning of unexpected hiking…

We quickly changed gears and plans and knew that the real fun had begun with a half day of hiking and the start of 5 nights in our tent.

Our first nights camping next to a small lake

Our first nights camping next to a small lake

We got to the lake campsite around 2pm and set up for the evening, and a long evening it was. Each day it got dark around 5:30pm and then the real cold set in. Every night we ran into the tent to get some warmth at around 6pm and stayed there, cocooned, for 12+ hours. Let’s say they were looonng nights, and sadly not a heck of a lot of sleeping due to the effects of the altitude and cold.

Our mornings usually started around 7am when, if we were lucky, we’d get a bit of sun on our tent. A quick breakfast of oatmeal and then we were on our way. Each day we had at least 2 mountain passes to get up and through, usually between a 300 to 500 metre climb for each one. And at this altitude most activities are much more difficult, your legs feel really heavy and catching your breath is even difficult. Plus we had heavy backpacks and at least 2 litres of water each to carry. Sometimes a bit of a nagging headache too, which is one of the first signs of altitude sickness. Nothing that a bit of ibuprofen couldn’t get rid of luckily!

Christine climbing towards the first pass on the hike

Christine climbing towards the first pass on the hike

For the first few days of our hike we had great weather, with the sun making appearances throughout the day. This was super but the first day because we weren’t prepared for a long hike we got blasted by the sun and the intense UV up there. We learned to try and keep covered (hence Christine’s gloves, hood, etc…) and to reapply our sunscreen regularly. The great weather sadly didn’t keep up and on our fourth night we woke to the sound of rain on the tent. Cold rain! Unfortunately the rain and cloud set in for the next 48+ hours, which saw us hiking, cooking and sleeping in a constant light, did I mention cold, rain. The ever present clouds also blocked out the views and often made finding the trail difficult.

In short the trail was very tough, especially because of the altitude. Right up until the half way mark we had repeated conversations about turning back, normally while trudging up towards the next pass and stopping every 10metres to catch our breath. After the half way point we knew we were committed to finishing.

Now that we are finished, and have had a couple of recovery days we are both very glad that we chose, and finished, this amazing and remote trail, in an area that sees very little tourism. Until 2005 the park was occupied by FARC and ELN guerrillas and saw no tourism until recently. It is also predicted that within 10-15 years all of the glaciers in the park will have disappeared (based on recent glacial recession rates), so we are happy to have seen it when we did. It’s difficult to show the grandeur and magnitude of the mountains and landscape but I hope our pictures at least give you a taste of what we experienced!

Dave in his camouflage coloured clothes

Dave in his camouflage coloured clothes

Happy to arrive at camp.

Happy to arrive at camp.

Beanies and down jackets definitely required up here!

Beanies and down jackets definitely required up here!

The crazy Peruvian sleeping in the open under his poncho. He claims to have taken 2 years to walk up from Peru, and is an 'artist'....

The crazy Peruvian sleeping in the open under his poncho. He claims to have taken 2 years to walk up from Peru, and is an ‘artist’….

Hiking around the side of one of many lakes

Hiking around the side of one of many lakes

The track was never easy and often required rock scrambling skills

The track was never easy and often required rock scrambling skills

Looking along the trail, with th small gap on the horizon being that afternoons pass

Looking along the trail, with the small gap on the horizon being that afternoons pass

Looking back along the trail (day 3)

Looking back along the trail (day 3)

Great mountain views

Great mountain views

Phil and Borna, our loosely affiliated trecking partners

Phil and Borna, our ‘loosely affiliated’ trekking partners

It was a very barren landscape at this altitude.

It was a very barren landscape at this altitude.

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Dave still managing to smile somehow...

Dave still managing to smile somehow…

Once again looking from one pass to the next

Once again looking from one pass to the next

Christine lily-pad hopping along the valley bottom

Christine ‘lily-pad’ hopping along the valley bottom

Lily-pad valley and surrounding mountains

Lily-pad valley and surrounding mountains

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Cold camping conditions

Cold camping conditions

The view to our friends Phil and Borna's campsite

The view to our friends Phil and Borna’s campsite

Christine at another pass, with glacier close behind (day 5)

Christine at another pass, with glacier close behind (day 5)

Dave happy to be nearing the end (day 5)

Dave happy to be nearing the end (day 5)

Lakes and glaciers

Lakes and glaciers

The clouds setting were relentless

The clouds were relentless

Dave giving a GQ pose

Dave giving a GQ pose

A glacier with very obvious recent recession

A glacier with very obvious recent recession

Celebratory drinks back in Villa De Leyva

Celebratory drinks back in Villa De Leyva

 

This weeks banner - mountain view in Cocuy National Park

This weeks banner – mountain view in Cocuy National Park

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