The First Leg

Luckily, it all went as planned and I met my friend and travel partner Mark at the Frankfurt airport for our connecting flight to Chennai. We landed a little after midnight and got a taxi to our accommodation. We had arranged to stay with a very nice couple that we had found on warmshowers.com, like couch surfing but for people cycling. We finally got to their house at about 2.30 and quietly set our tents up in their garden as arranged.

Backyard camping

In the morning their driver found us and showed us to the room we would be staying in for the 3 nights we were here. They had a bike stand and all the tools I needed to put my bike back together after the flight.

Getting the bikes ready

We spent the next 2 days finding Mark a bike, sampling the local cuisine, wandering  the beach, and getting everything  sorted.

Best tea and cake ever!

We left the safety and cool of our air con at 6.30 Saturday morning in the hope the East coast road (ECR) out of the city would be a little quieter than the insanity we had witnessed in our time there. This paid off and we had an easy, cool 43km first ride down the coast to Mamallapuram. We got in at 10:30am just as it was getting hot and found a room for the night.

Hotel room in Mamallapuram

A quick word about  the  heat, it starts  our day at 6.30  am, glasses  fogged, sweat forming on our brows, the heat here is intense. The sun is out and in full force by 7am, we are covered  in thin  light layers, but to no avail! The inescapable  sun drains us of all our energy. We are drink about  8 liters of water a day and still always feel on the verge  of dehydration. Thankfully  most villages have communal taps and we find it enjoyable to see how many locals we attract when refilling our bottles!

 

The city of Mamallapuram is a world heritage listed site because of its ancient rock carvings. There are small temples and rock carving dotted around the main hill in the center of town.

The beach here is also interesting with colourful boats and fishermen sorting their nets. We were surprised to find a flourishing  tourist industry here in complete contrast to what we saw in chennai.

Fishermen in Mamallapuram

After only one night we were off heading south on the ECR. This time the road was a bit busier with busses, motorbikes, and even Sportscars flying past. So in an attempt to get on to quieter roads and see the real India we left the ECR and turned inland to follow smaller quiet  “roads” that were still taking us south.

Almost immediately we knew this was a wise decision.  People were waving and shouting hello as we passed and other then the odd motorbike or cart we had the roads to ourselves. The quality of these road vary dramatically with some freshly sealed with smooth tarmac but other just being sandy, rocky tracks. We cycled most of the day, enjoying riding through small villages and open rice fields.

 

We racked up 84 km before finding somewhere for the night. The only problem with being off the main road and away from big towns is that you have no were to stay. So that night after trying to find a hotel in a small town with no luck we resorted to a hidden spot off the road to camp.

Camping on the beach

Today we took a wrong turn and ended up back on the ECR. So decided to see just how bad the traffic here in India really is by heading into the center of Pondicherry (One of the few French  influenced  cities  in India).

Typical Indian roads

The ride in was mayhem with thousands of motorbikes, busses, bicycles, and cars, all weaving in and out in an almost indiscriminate  manner! This certainly made for an exciting ride. The city is meant to be nice so we plan to explore it and have a little time off the bikes.

 

The Start of an Epic Bicycle Trip

The next phase of our travel adventures see Luke heading off to India with his bike.  He had a bit of help customizing his steed Doris, with hand made dry bag panniers, handlebars, and racks.  The final finishing touches were made in Squamish a day before he left.

Getting Doris ready

Luke is meeting our friend Mark in Chennai where they will get themselves organized and start a long bike ride to Goa, about 1,000km to the southern point of India and back up over the next 3 months.  Their route is yet to be determined, but I can tell you that they are planning on camping and avoiding major cities as much as possible.

If you are wondering what you would possibly pick for a trip like this the contents of Luke’s bag looked a little like this…

Bag Contents

There are a couple of reasons why I am not going along on this adventure, one is that cycling around India in monsoon season isn’t 100% my thing!  And another small reason is that I need to behave like an adult for a bit and earn some money.  So I’ll be in Canada until June, trying to keep tabs on Luke and keep you updated on his journey.

 

He’s off!

Brazil

After the stunning beauty of Iguaçu Falls we headed inland towards the Pantanal, one of the world’s largest tropical wetlands, an area rich in wildlife in the southeast of Brazil.

Sunsetting over the Pantanal

We stayed for 3 nights at a farm/eco tourism lodge, Santa Clara, with macaws and toucans in the trees and caiman and piranha in the river.  We trekked through the jungle and rode horses across green fields.  In such a beautiful setting it was easy to forget how hot we were and how many mosquitoes were biting us.

Macaw

A highlight of our stay here was a boat trip up the river, where we saw so many beautiful birds as well as capybaras, the largest rodent in the world.  We watched them munch grass on the banks of the river, and then completely disappear under the dark water.

Capybara

Tucan in Flight

We also spent an afternoon fishing for piranhas’, a pastime in which I was not very successful but Luke of course excelled at.  He managed to catch 9  which along with a few caught by some others were then cooked up for our dinner.

Piranha for dinner

Piranha up close

 

 

 

 

Competing with us for space along the river bank were caiman, a smaller relative of the crocodile who supposedly only eat fish.  Some of them got very close, and some of us got close to them.  We did swim in the same river with the piranha and caiman, although I didn’t stay in long after I felt things bumping my legs.

Caiman close up

Our next stop in the Pantanal was in Bonito, where we had come to see one of the clearest rivers in the world, the Rio Prata.  There is a section of the river where people are allowed to take guided snorkelling tips, and it is very worth doing.  The water is crystal clear and teaming with big fish and underwater plants.

The Rio Prata. (Thanks Dave for the photo)

While we were in Bonito Luke and I also went on a river tubing trip.  I imagined something similar to floating down the river where I grew up on an old tire, but this was quite different.  After being made to put on helmets and life jackets I guessed it would be a little more intense.  It was a fun hour of going over little waterfalls and rapids down a lovely jungle river.

river tubing in Bonito

Paraty is a beautiful little colonial beach town between Sao Paulo and Rio.  We stopped here for a few days before reaching the end of our trip.  The sea here was almost too warm to swim in, but it was nice to spend a few days soaking up the sun and relaxing before hitting Rio in the full swing of Carnaval!

Paraty

Rio is an absolutely mental place, and I imagine it would be on a regular day as well as during the biggest party week of the year.  Throughout the city there are street parties at all times of day and night.  These basically consist of a float or band slowly making their way through a neighbourhood followed by a large crowd of dancing, dressed up people.  It is a crazy sight to behold, but a fun thing to be a part of.

On one of our days in Rio we did a city tour, which was actually a great way to see all the major sights without waiting in long line ups.  Our first stop was up one of the mountains surrounding the city to see the Christ the Redeemer statue.  This iconic spot is packed with people all trying to get the perfect selfie, but as we got there pretty early it was not as bad as it could have been (or so we were told!).  It was an impressive statue, but the views of the city made going up there worthwhile.

Doing the touristy bits

We also took the cable car up Sugar Loaf mountain for more great views of Rio.

Rio from the top of Sugar Loaf mountain

There is a lot of cool graffiti dotted throughout the city.  We spent an afternoon wandering the streets in Santa Teresa checking out the street art and also visited Selaron’s Staircase, where one man spent years creating a masterpiece of tiles.  People from all over the world have sent tiles to help the artist along in his work.  Sadly the steps only became an official tourist attraction a couple of years ago after Selaron’s body was found burned on the steps.

Street art in Santa Teresa

Selaron’s Staircase

We did of course visit Copacabana beach.  It was nice, but very busy and the sea is quite rough for swimming.

Copacabana beach

On our last night in Rio we all had tickets to go to the Sambadrome to watch the Carnaval parade.  It is not mandatory to cover your body in glitter or dress up, but we all did our very best (even Luke embraced it!).  The floats and dancers start around 8pm and finish at 7am the next day.  We didn’t last quite that long, but it was amazing to be apart of and a good way to say goodbye to the friends that we have made on the truck over the last 4 months.

At the Sambadrome

Looking back over our travels through South America it is incredible to think of all the things that we have seen and done in four months.  It was a bit of a whirlwind, and at times we wished we had had more time to go off and do things on our own, but overall we enjoyed life on the big yellow truck and all the amazing things we have been lucky enough to experience. Our next adventures are just around the corner, so stay tuned…

Sealions, Tango, and Waterfalls – Argentina has it all

As we left Ushuaia it began to snow, and little did we know that in a few days time we would be wishing for the cold climate of southern Argentina as we made our way north.  But before getting too far out of the cold we stopped at a King Penguin colony.  The penguins have only been coming here to nest for the last 6 years, and it was incredible to be able to get so close to these fascinating and beautiful birds.

King Penguin colony

After a few days of driving and camping along the beach we reached Puerto Madryn, an old Welch whaling colony.  There are a few protected sea lion colonies here and Luke and I decided to book a trip out to snorkel with them.  I was a bit nervous getting into the water after seeing a few huge males swimming around, but it was such a cool experience.  The young sea lions came right up to us, just like curious puppies, to play.

Snorkling with sea lion

 

Our next stop was the beautiful city of Buenos Aires.  It was hot and humid, but such a great place to wander the streets.  We were warned that it can be dangerous here, lots of people get mugged, but we had no problems and never felt unsafe.  There is beautiful graffiti decorating any unused space, and the most amazing steaks on every corner.

Street art in Buenos Aires

Street market in Buenos Aires

The night life in BA only really kicks off at around 2am, and the city parties all night every night.  It’s hard to keep up for someone who likes to go to bed by 10pm!  I did go to a Tango show/lesson one night.  The lesson was a bit of a write off as we started on the wine beforehand, but it was fun to learn a few steps and the show was amazing.  Tango originated in Buenos Aires in the 1900’s as a dance between men trying to impress the ladies.

Tango show

We visited the famous cemetery in Recoleta where Eva Peron is buried.  Her tomb is not overly impressive, but the cemetery itself is worth a visit, full of elaborate marble mausoleums.

Cemetery in Recoleta

Inside one of the mausoleums

The last stop on our Argentinean itinerary was Iguaçu Falls.  Right on the border with Brazil and Paraguay the falls are so impressive.  About half of the river flows into the narrow chasm called the Devil’s Throat, but there are hundreds of other little falls that cascade over the edge making it unlike any waterfall I have ever seen before.

Iguaçu Falls

We visited the falls from the Brazil side as well, and it is worth it to go to both as they give very different views.  On the Argentina side you spend most of your time above the falls, but get better panoramic views from Brazil.

Looking into the Devil’s Throat

To sum up Argentina in a few words is impossible.  We have loved the dramatic scenery of Patagonia, the beautiful beaches along the east coast, the wildlife and the vibrant cities.  It is a brilliant country with friendly people, worth making it a priority on your places to visit.

Brazil side of the falls

Patagonia

The southern part of Chile and Argentina – Patagonia, is one of the most beautiful places we have ever visited.  The high Andes mountains are snow capped even now in the middle of summer and lupines cover the hills and fields that are dotted with sheep and horses.  For anyone who loves the rugged outdoors, or you just love amazing scenery, visiting Patagonia is a must.

One of the peaks in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile.

We stopped at a little farm near Futalefu in Chile for 2 nights.  It was rainy and cold, but we kept the fires going for hot showers and a sauna.  Luke caught 2 trout in the river which we had for lunch.

Fishing near Futalefu

Christmas Eve was spent in Queulat National Park, and although it was raining again we still hiked up to a viewpoint of a glacier.  Although we couldn’t really see the glacier it was a beautiful hike up through the forest.

Wet Christmas Eve

We got up early Christmas morning, but instead of unwrapping presents we hopped on the truck and drove to Coyhaique where we dried out in the sun and started preparations for our Christmas feast.  Chickens roasted on a spit over the fire, mulled wine and secret santa made for a slightly unorthodox but thoroughly enjoyable day.

Lisa with santa

Our Christmas feast

Back in Argentina we arrived in El Chalten, to an absolutely breathtaking view of Mt Fitzroy.  There is only a small town here, a base for people who want to explore the mountains and glaciers.  Luke and I walked out to a glacial lake at the base of Mt Fitzroy, about an 8 hour return journey through beautiful valleys.

Road to El Chalten

Resting at the bottom of Mt Fitz Roy.

There is also an amazing waffle restaurant which was right beside our hostel, and we treated ourselves with a pork and apple waffle after our days hike.  I know it sounds strange, but it was so good.

Pork and apple waffles

Our next stop was El Calafate where we visited the Perito Moreno Glacier.  We stood watching the glacier for about an hour, hoping that in the sunshine a piece would break off, and much to our delight a huge piece of ice calved into the lake.

Perito Moreno Glacier

On New Years Eve we drove into Torres del Paine National Park, back in Chile, a definite highlight of Patagonia and a must visit if you are coming to this area.  Luke decided to do the 3 day “W” trek here with 3 others from our truck.  I opted for doing day hikes to avoid carrying a big pack.  We dropped them off at around 6pm and carried on to a farm just outside the park where we camped.  New Years came in pretty quiet this year, I stayed up until midnight but was in bed at 12:01 for an early start and a 10 hour hike the next day.

Sunrise on new year day in Torres del Paine National Park.

Luke really enjoyed the trek, and we both saw some amazing scenery while in the park.  I also stayed back at the farm one of our days there to go horse riding.  It was an absolutely stunning place to spend a few days, and is a place that we would easily come back to.

Watching the avalanches

We are now in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, gateway to Antarctica.  The wind is strong and cold here, and although it is the middle of summer we are wearing our down jackets.  It is amazing to think that 6 months ago we were at the top of North America and now we are at the bottom of South America!

Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world

Patagonia

Wine Country – Argentina and Chile

 

Leaving Bolivia and entering into Argentina was a bit of a culture shock, suddenly we were into modern towns with big supermarkets.  Crossing the border was a long process, taking us about 4 and a half hours, so we pulled into Salta late that night.  The next morning we got picked up and taken out to a ranch to go horse riding.  It was a beautiful day and we rode through some lovely countryside.

Last night in Bolivia with fireworks

Possibly the best part of the day was the BBQ after the ride.  Our first taste of Argentinean steak did not disappoint, and the unlimited wine was pretty good as well. 

Yummy Argentinean steak

Leaving Salta we drove through Quebrada de los Conchas National Park on our way to Cafayate.  It was a stunning drive and we stopped at a few narrow canyons and viewpoints along the way.

Quebrada de los Conchas National Park

Quebrada de los Conchas National Park

Mendoza was the third town we visited in Argentina, also a famous wine region.  I did a wine tour here to sample some of the local goods.

Over the next few weeks we cross in and out of Argentina and Chile and we wind our way south.  After another border we found ourselves in the bustling capitol of Santiago.  It is a huge modern city, not really the kind of place that Luke and I love but we found a few interesting places to check out.

Santiago

After a sad goodbye to 3 of our group leaving us here we travelled to Salto El Laja, a beautiful campsite by an impressive waterfall.

Salto El Laja

And then we arrived in Pucon, a beautiful little ski resort town in the Lake District.  Surrounded by volcanoes this amazing spot has great German beer and lots of chocolate shops, what more could you want?

Luke and I decided that we would try and climb Villarrica, an active volcano that last erupted on March 3 of this year.  It was a long hike up, for which we needed crampons and ice axes as we got onto the glacier near the top.  After about 5 hours of steady up we reached the crater.  Donning gas masks against the sulphur and chlorine fumes we could just see in and catch quick glimpses of the lava below.

On the way up an active volcano

It was an absolutely amazing view from the top, so worth the climb up.  But the best part of the day was yet to come as we pulled little plastic boards out of our packs and prepared to slide down the mountain.  It was the best sledding I have ever done in my life, and I think that I would probably climb the volcano again just to slide down.

We are now back in Argentina in Bariloche, a place that reminds us a lot of New Zealand.  The town itself has a ski resort feel, with chocolate shops, brew pubs, and loads of overpriced stores.

Submarine hot chocolate

We are a bit behind on the blog, but we hope you have all had a good Christmas and a very happy New Years!

Happy Christmas

Bolivia

We had just over a week in Bolivia, not really enough time to see it properly, but enough time to bike the Death Road, see the world’s highest and biggest salt flat, and explore the depths of a dangerous silver mine.

The world’s highest and biggest salt flat

We had a few days in La Paz, a bustling city with lots of outdoor markets and beautiful squares.  Luke and I did the walking tour which started off at the square opposite the San Pedro prison.  This prison was made famous in the 90’s when a British inmate arrested for drug trafficking started doing tours and even allowed tourists to spend the night in his room.  Our walking tour guides advised against this these days as tourists have been raped as well as forced to pay large amounts of money to get out of San Pedro.  If you’re curious about this story check out Marching Powder, it’s a fascinating book.

La Paz

Another highlight of La Paz was the witches market, still used regularly by the local people.  A llama foetus buried under your house will bring good luck, and there was an array of different love potions for sale.

Dried llama foetus

Potions at the witches market

From La Paz I decided to bike the Coroico Road, also known as the Death Road.  Luke wanted to but wisely decided that the 60km of bumpy track would be bad for his hand.  It was a scary experience, but so much fun once I got more confident on the bike.

On the Death Road

After La Paz we drove to Potosi, the highest city in the world at 4090 metres (13,400 ft).  The town sits in the shadow of Cerro Rico (rich mountain) which is the main reason the town exists.  Huge amounts of silver were discovered  here, supplying Spain with fabulous wealth at huge cost to the miners.  Today miners are still bringing out silver, along with other minerals, and the conditions are probably somewhat better.

Entrance to the mine

Luke and I took a tour into the mine, first buying gifts for the miners of coca leaves, 90% alcohol, and dynamite.  The miners now work independently and only get paid for what they bring out.  The mine was damp and cold, but as we got further in it became hot and stuffy and the air smelled of sulphur.  Added to the decreased oxygen of being at high altitude all made it a rather unpleasant experience and I did not envy the miners their job in the slightest.

Miners loading up

Our last stop in Bolivia was Uyuni, a town on the edge of the world’s largest salt flat (10,582 square km).  It was an amazing experience to drive out onto the salt, seeing nothing in any direction but a sea of white and mountains in the distance.

Sunsetting over Uyuni

Cactus island

We had lunch on a cactus island and finished off the day at a train graveyard where ledgend has it one of the trains was robbed by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  Overall it was a great day, well worth a trip.  We’ve felt the same about Bolivia.

The train graveyard

 

Our last bushcamp in Bolivia

The Peruvian Highlands

Leaving Peru’s deserts and beautiful beaches we began our ascent to Arequipa, a beautiful colonial city where we could start to acclimatise before getting to Cusco.

Main square in Arequipa.

From Arequipa Luke and I did a day trip out to Colca Canyon.  It was a very early start, getting picked up at 3am, but this was to get us to the canyon early enough to see the condors.  These gigantic birds fly up out of the canyon on the warm air currents as the sun rises.  We were lucky and spotted 2 near the road eating the remains of a cow, and also saw a few soaring high from the edge of the canyon.

Condors on dead cow.

We learned a lot about the history of the Inca and pre-Inca peoples who lived here as well as stopped in some nice little towns.  It was a long day, but worth it for the beautiful views and to see the condors.

Colca Canyon.

After leaving Arequipa we climbed up to about 4000m and camped at a natural hot springs that were very popular with the local people.  We were feeling the effects of the elevation here, but after chewing coca leaves and drinking sweet coca tea we did feel a lot better.  Coca leaves are the natural ingredient in cocaine, however there is a significant chemical process that occurs before the leaves resemble anything narcotic, and they do help with altitude sickness!

Natural hot springs

Our next stop was Cusco, where we dropped down to 3500m (still significantly high).  We had an evening here to get ready for the Inca Trail, a 4 day hike finishing at Machu Picchu.  Cusco was the centre of the Inca empire in the 1400’s, literally meaning the “navel of the world”.  The Inca Trail was part of a system of paths that joined the empire together.

On the Inca Trail

We set out early with a group of 18 to start the trek.  The company we went with was called Pachamama (mother earth) who were absolutely amazing.  On our first day we had a few hours of easy hiking to our lunch stop.  The porters and our cook had beat us there and we had a great lunch before heading off again for another couple hours before getting to our campsite.

Our trekking group.

Day 2 was much harder.  We had an early start, woken up with a cup of coca tea.  The majority of this day was a steady uphill, made more difficult as we climbed higher and higher.  The top of the pass, at 4200m (4km above sea level) is known as Dead Woman’s Pass, very aptly named.  Luke stuck with me and we got up to the top in about 5 hours.  It was a pretty great feeling to know that we had conquered the hardest part of the trail.

Dead Woman’s Pass

The third day of trekking was the longest day, but more ups and downs and lots of stops at old Inca ruins.  Once we reached our campsite for the evening we went into see the ruins of Winay Wayna (forever young), and impressive ruin where travellers heading to Machu Picchu would have cleansed themselves before arriving the next day.  I opted out of the cold shower and resigned myself to arriving grubby and worn out.

Winay Wayna

That night after another fabulous dinner we thanked our porters and cooks with a hug and kiss on the cheek, there were about 20 of them.  The porters are no longer allowed to walk to Machu Picchu on the Inca Tail after an accident on this narrow section of trail.  An alternate route was made for them, but now means that most of the porters never even see the famed ruin.

We all woke early at 3am to have a quick cup of coca tea and grab our packed breakfasts before heading down to wait by a gate for 2 hours.  Our guide has suggested we get there early to try and get to the sun gate before the crowds.  It was worth it.  After 45 minutes of hiking at a very quick pace we arrived at the sun gate and looked down at Machu Picchu.  It was a magnificent sight, made better by the road we had travelled to get there.

Our first view of Machu Picchu from the sun gate.

The Inca’s worshiped nature and built everything in places of significance, using natural products and never disturbing the face of the landscape.  Machu Picchu is located in one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.  As the Inca empire spread they absorbed the best from all the tribes they conquered.  This made them experts in astronomy, agriculture, construction without iron tools, as well as warriors.

Steep section of the Inca trail.

Our guides showed us around and then we had a few hours to chill out before heading down to catch our train back.  As the day progressed it became so busy, bus after bus dropped people off, and we were very glad to have arrived early.  It was an amazing experience that we will never forget.

Machu Picchu.

Back in Cusco Luke and I had a few days to recover from the trek and check out the city.  When the Spanish conquered the Inca’s they tore down all their temples and replaces them with cathedrals.  The central area of the city is now a UNESCO world heritage site so the narrow cobble streets and red tile roofs are protected.

The narrow cobble streets of Cusco

Our last stop in Peru was Lake Titicaca, the world’s largest high altitude lake.  We had the opportunity to stay with a family on one of the small islands in the lake.  We were told to take a sense of humour, so not really knowing what to expect we set out with a guide onto the lake.

Lake Titicaca

Our first stop was on a floating reed island.  While very set up for tourists, people are still living on these tiny man made islands.

On the floating reed island

We got to the island of Amantani and met our host mama who took us to her home for lunch.  Peru has about 4000 varieties of potato, many of which come from this area, so we had a lot of potatoes during our stay here.  It really was a privilege to be able to stay with a local family, despite not really being able to communicate.

Our host mama cooking up dinner.

That afternoon we hiked up to a pre-Inca ruin to watch the sun set.  Even though we are both feeling acclimatised to the altitude at this point any climbing leaves us short of breath.  However we were rewarded for our efforts with beautiful views over the island and lake.

Sunset over Lake Titicaca.

After dinner our host mama asked us if we wanted to get dressed up and go to the fiesta.  This meant getting into their traditional dress and dancing around in a big circle to pan pipes.  It was good fun, something that Luke and I would have never done had we been on our own.

 

 

 

Our next stop is La Paz in Bolivia, stay tuned for more adventures!

Peru – A land of sand and sea

Crossing into Peru was a fairly painless process,  we got our passports stamped and had some time to spend the last of our coins from Ecuador before our trusty yellow truck was ready to leave.  Right away we noticed a difference from Ecuador, the land seems drier and there is rubbish everywhere, but still has a unique beauty.

On the road in Peru

We stopped in the beach town of Mancora for a few hours to get lunch, change money, and wander along the very touristy streets before heading 30km out to Punta Sol.  We spent 2 full days at this beach paradise, doing very little besides relaxing and swimming.

Beach camp paradise

 

Chilling by the pool

Our next destination was Huanchaco, another little surf town, but filled more with local tourists than foreigners.  We had ceviche and fresh fish looking out over the beach where fishermen still use small boats made out of reeds.

Sunset in Huanchaco

Fishing boats in Huanchaco

From here we went to the Chan Chan ruins, supposedly the largest mud city in the world.  Built before the Incas about 2000 years ago the sheer size of the place was impressive.  Our guide was lovely, serenading us at times with his panpipe, and he congratulated us all on being travellers.  He said that the reason we travel is because we have so many questions.

Small part of the Chan Chan ruins

We also visited the moon temple, built during the same time as the ruins, but only found by accident in the 1980s.  Sand had buried the pyramid structure, leaving much of the painted walls protected.  The temple was apparently used as a place for human sacrifices, they found many decapitated skeletons and pottery showing pictures of the rituals.

Outside the moon temple

The inside

That night we pitched our tents by the sea on our way to Lima.  The wind picked up and when Luke went to check our tent to peg it down it was gone, blown into the sea, sleeping bags and all.  Luckily a few guys helped him pull it out of the surf and our truck friends supplied us with spare blankets.  I was a bit upset, but had to laugh in the end, nothing was damaged, just very wet and salty.

Lima, Peru’s capital, is a huge city with terrible traffic.  Luke and I were unfortunately a bit unwell during our visit here, the tummy bug that had been plaguing our fellow travellers caught up with us.  At 3 weeks into our trip we are all quite comfortable discussing the consistency and frequency of our poo, and it’s a high five for a solid one.  Needless to say we were very happy to have our own room and toilet for 2 nights!

Lima

We did venture out into the city a bit, had a look at some old buildings and checked out a nice craft market.

Colorful craft market in Lima

Our last couple of days in the Peruvian desert were action packed.  We drove to the beautiful oasis town of Huacachina and  went out in dune buggies, which was a very fun and sometimes scary experience.  They stopped at 4 different dunes for us to slide down head first on a little board, also very fun (and a little scary for me).  We were then driven out to our campsite for the night where a bbq was waiting for us.  It was a great night sleeping out under the stars.

Dune buggy in Huacachina

Sand boarding

Night under the stars

In Nasca we met up with a local archaeologist who took us out to see some of the ruins of the Nasca people.  He showed us an elongated skull that still had bits of hair left on it that was just laying out in the sand.  There is still so much of this area that has been undiscovered due to lack of funding, but our guide feels that more study of the people who lived here could perhaps better explain the mysterious Nasca Lines.  Many of the ancient graves have been robbed, and like the skull he showed us there is no one to protect them.  We also visited a cemetery that had many preserved mummies.

Elongated skull just laying around

Just one of the mummies in the cemetery

Luke and I decided to do the 20 minute flight over the lines, which is really the only way to see them properly.  There is a tower that you can climb up but to really grasp the magnitude and geometry of the lines they need to be seen from above.  Some of the lines go on in a perfectly straight line for miles, and others form shapes of animals.  While we were both very impressed, we were also quite sick as the tiny plane leaned from side to side to give us the best view.  Worth it, but perhaps with an antiemetic first.

Our small bumpy plane

Mysterious Nasca Lines

From here we head inland and back up to higher altitudes in the Peruvian Highlands.  Not long now until we tackle the Inca Trail!

Ecuador part II – Waterfalls and an Old Colonial City

Driving through Ecuador has been an amazing experience, the roads wind up through the Andes and down into jungles.  We stopped at a campsite near the town of Banos in a place called Rio Verde.  There is a big volcano here, which was active but not erupting, and national parks on either side up steep green mountains.  It was a beautiful place to spend 2 days.

Lunch stop on the road side

Active volcano

We walked to a nearby waterfall on our first day in Rio Verde, stopping first for an amazing lunch of fresh empanadas.  The waterfall, Pailon del Diablo (Devil’s Cauldron), was very impressive.  There is a small tunnel that you can crawl through to get right behind it, not without getting soaked however.  But being in the tropics on the equator it felt good to get wet and our clothes dried in a matter of minutes.

Pailon del Diablo

On our second day we hiked a little further down to another beautiful waterfall, whose name I can’t remember, and found some pools built into the rocks at the edge of the river.  After the long, steep climb back up we felt we deserved another lunch of empanadas. 

Our next stop was Cuenca, a beautiful old colonial town where the Spanish influence clung to old cathedrals and houses.  We arrived on the weekend of their independence celebrations so the town was bustling with craft and food stalls down every street.

Cuenca

Cuenca

A very clean town, Cuenca also had lots of beautiful graffiti, a nice contrast to the old building.  We went to one free museum which although all the captions were in Spanish was still very interesting, showing the history of the people of Ecuador.  A highlight was seeing a few very well preserved shrunken heads, and one creepy shrunken sloth head.

Shrunken head

Cuenca

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before leaving the city we stopped at a “Panama Hat” factory.  Apparently these famous hats are all made in Ecuador from a type of palm that only grows here.  They got their current name when they were shipped by the thousand to Panama for people building the canal.  It was actually very interesting to see how they were made and the amount of work that went into them.

Trying out the Panama Hats

Next up we cross the border into Peru.  We have loved Ecuador, the 2 weeks we spent here went by too quickly and I think it could very well be a place that we return to to explore a little more thoroughly.  The food here has been amazing, and the people very friendly, all combined with stunning scenery has made it an unforgettable experience.

Just some of the great street food.