Saturday, September 19, 2015

Monday September 7th 2015

A South American Tale

This trip took a while to decide where to go - and even more time how to do it.

I knew I had 11,5 days and a few possible target zones. I decided to go with my good friend Henrik again (known from Mexico!) and together we decided for South America.
We then made a list of what we wanted to see - and removed just enough of stuff to make the time limit.

This, my friends, is the result. It will be a trip filled with flights (and waiting at airport terminal), because this continent is huge! Plus hopefully some interesting places.

I might not have time/wi-fi to blog everyday as it happen, but eventually all days will find their way to the web.

Today was all about travel - and I am not even halfway there. My first stop was at London Heathrow where I by some very strange rookie mistake read my boarding pass wrong and only got to my gate 25 minutes late.

Fortunately I there discovered the flight was one hour late so I made it. But this trip could have started with a disaster.

After about two hours+ in the air, I landed in Madrid. This is where I will spend six hours - and get together with Henrik who is arriving directly from Stockholm.
We are about to board the flight to Santiago, Chile from here.
It leaves at 23:55 - so this day is over even before we cross the Atlantic ocean.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Tuesday September 8th 2015

After 12 hours flight the morning broke on the air plane and we flew over the beautiful mountain range of the Andes.

Getting closer to Santiago, the view was just one big cloud with some mountain peaks breaking the whiteness.
And this is where we started our decent - and went straight through the cloud (among said peaks). You could not see anything outside the windows - and then all of a sudden we landed (still in the cloud). Much respect to the pilots who land here!

Stepping out from the plane meant that I was on the southern hemisphere for the first time. Nice! :)

Interesting observation while we waited for our luggage; dogs (presumably drug sniffing dogs) were walking freely inside the area, across the luggage - and the luggage tracks.

Then we were picked up by our ride who drove us to our hotel; Le Rêve Boutique Hotel.
We had some problems with the shower in our first room (303) - it did not work - so we got a new room (302).
After a shower and refitting, we went out to look at Santiago.
First impression; it's not that different from a south European city. Second impression; it's freaking cold here!

We travelled with the Metro to the Baquedano station and ate a pizza at Patio Bellavista square. Then we took the Funicular up to Virgin Mary statue at Parque Metropolitano. 


View from top side of funicular over Santiago:

Then we went back to the hotel to chill a bit.

In the evening we went out to eat dinner at a nearby restaurant (called Lomit's) where I had a very nice Filet Mignon with bacon. Henrik had the salmon.
We also tried the local alcohol Pisco, which is made of fermented grapes. We were thinking shots. They did not.
The waiter put two real drinking glass on our table and started to fill them up. We had to stop him from poring after a while.

Henrik did not finish it.
Neither did I.

Then back to the hotel. Early wake up tomorrow.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Wednesday September 9th 2015

Up at 5:15 for a quick breakfast and then heading to the airport.

A looong flight (probably six hours, but felt like 60) took us to Easter island. The very small, isolated island in the Pacific Ocean famous for its statues, the moais.

We landed on the large air port strip on the island (built by USA during the 60's to function as an emergency landing strip for the space shuttle [never used for that purpose - yet] - NASA still has personnel here).

After a chaotic luggage retrieval, we got picked up and driven to our hotel.

Our hotel here is Taha Tai Hotel. We are staying in their Bungalow #6.

Me and Henrik had discussed a lot how to go about going around the island; our options are renting a car, going on a tour bus - or getting a private tour guide.
The tour bus was out of the question early, since we are only staying here for two half days. (to see all we wanted we would need a full day tour).
Renting a car (for about 100-120 USD) had the disadvantages that there is no car insurance on this island; ie you break the car, you pay for it - and you loose the guide experience.
So we settled for a private tour guide (for 350 USD). Fortunately, we could get a tour guide to our hotel very soon after we settled in. His name was Tongariki and was a very nice guy; he understood that we did not have much time and was very knowledgeable regarding the island and it's history. He probably thought we were crazy only staying here for 26 hours though.

He might not be wrong.

We drove along the southern coast line and got to Rano Raraku; the dormant volcano where all the moais were created. There were about 600 moais scattered around the grounds (out of the 900 on the whole island).

This was really a sight to see!

After walking outside the volcano, we also went inside the crater.

Then off to the largest Ahu (platform where the moais were standing); Tongariki (where our guide got his name from).

This ahu has been restored to it's original shape. Most moais on the island has fallen down and not raised again, but here they are shown in its intended glory.

15 magnificent statues, however most are missing their red "hats" (it's really their hair). The rest of the hats were laying not far from here, but they were not put on the statues since they had corroded and were damaged.

Then off to the beach!

We first made a stop by some sites to watch some ancient hieroglyphs, very interesting. Kinda.

The beach (called Anakena) was very nice and this was also the place where the Polyneesian people first came to the island.

These moais were raised in that honour (it is of the royal family that came here).

Me and Henrik also took a swim here. The water was cold going in, but once there it was really nice. I wouldn't mind staying there longer, but it was soon time to push on!

Then we were heading towards the south tip of the island, but we got word that it closed at six, so we were too late to see that part. Our plan is to see it tomorrow if time permits.

After a stop at the hotel (shower, change and drinks), we took a taxi to a restaurant we had read about; Tataku Vave, where we got their speciality, lobster for starter (it was much smaller than we were used to back home) and then the Easter island speciality raw Tuna for main course.

We got the food in a sea shell - and it was a lot of food. Unfortunately neither the lobster nor the tuna was to our liking so we left a  lot on the plate where we were done, much to our waitress' disappointment.
It could be worse though, Henrik could have told them to give the leftovers to some random cat.
Oh, wait...

When we got back to the hotel, we took a moment to watch the beautiful, but very unfamiliar, night sky. An amazing sight without all the light pollution we have at home.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Thursday September 10th 2015

My telephone is apparently still on Santiago time so it woke us up two hours early.
Back to bed and then up again at 7:30.

The plan was to see the southern tip of the island before heading for the airport so we rented a taxi to be able to get there - and back.

The taxi driver drove us to the dormant volcano Ranu Kau, which was really cool to see. The crater looked amazing.

Next stop was further out to Orongo, where we got a lovely view of the small islands south of Easter island.

Then it was time to return to Santiago. The flight wasn't as bad as yesterday, but it was still long.
Back at the mainland of Chile, we were met by our driver.
He didn't even have a sign this time; he knew perfectly well which gringos he was here to pick up.

We are staying at the same hotel as two nights ago, the Le Rêve Boutique Hotel. This time we are in room 203 (a mirrored replica of our last room).

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Friday September 11th 2015

Another day - another flight.

Today we actually had some time in the morning to take it easy. Our taxi to the airport didn't pick us up until 10.

No problem at the airport and we departed on time.

After about two hour flight we landed in a place called Iquique (still in Chile). There we had to leave the plane, go through customs, wait a little bit - and then go on the air plane again.
Then we could fly again - towards Bolivia. Why they couldn't just have a customs booth at the Santiago airport is beyond me.

Anyhow, after flying over the Andes again - and this time even land in the majestic mountain range, we arrived at the world's highest located airport El Alto (4062 m above sea level).

From there we took a taxi down to La Paz (around 3600 m). First impression of the city: a lot of pollution in the air (exhaust fumes and whatnot) - and there are even more loose dogs here, than in Chile.

You can defiantly feel the high altitude here, but as for now it is survivable.

We checked in to our hotel; the Suites Camino Real, where we had asked for a non-smoking room - so we got a smoking room, but the key came with a "non-smoking card" to prevent us from smoking. The room still had ash trays.
Very strange. So naturally we made them change our room to a real non-smoking room, which we got; room 404.

After this, we went out to ride the cable car system (recommended by friends as a good way to see the city).

La Paz is the first city in the world to use a cable car system as public transportation; they have three lines in operations now (with more to come).

So we went to the the green line which was located very close to our hotel, took that, continued on to the yellow line. Both lines takes 17 minutes end-to-end.

The plan was to see the city, but five minutes after we got on it, the sun set so we mostly saw the city by night - which was nice too.

Then back to the hotel and ate at the restaurant there. I had Llama; it was good, far from the best meat I had, but not the worst.

Then time to sleep, we are going up crazy early tomorrow.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Saturday September 12th 2015

Wake up call at 4:30. Pick up at 5:15.

The night has been rough on both of us with very little sleep.
The thin air has finally got to us.

Today we had booked a day-tour to Lake Titicaca; the worlds highest navigable lake (3800 m).

The trip from the hotel to the lake took about 1,5-2 hours. Then we got on a small boat that took us from the smaller part of the lake to the land that divides the lake.

During the trip, the guide told me I looked like the singer from Alphaville (Marian Gold). With that eyesight, I am glad he isn't the one driving today.

Another bus ride got us to the town of Copacabana where we had 1,5 hours to explore by our self.

There were some other tourists joining this tour, but only one who stayed for the whole day (like us); a woman called Renata from Equador. She was very nice and also helped us with the language when needed.

In Copacabana we went to a café where we were introduced to the local altitude-sickness-remedy; Coca tea (coca leafs in hot water, preferably with sugar).

Yes, coca leafs.

Then we went on a catamaran that would be our vessel for most of the day.

The ship took us to Isla del Sol (Sun island) where we disembarked. The tour then went up some steps; 206 of them to some kind of sacred fountain.

This took all breath I had left for today. And after these steps there were 70 more. Henrik is almost dying now.

Here we went through some carefully prepared tourist culture sites, like a big herb garden.

There were also a some dried vegetables on display, shipbuilding, a priest who blessed us (by sacrificing candy and other stuff) and a museum.

They also had a little pen with llamas and alpacas.

At least the view was lovely from up here.

Back to the harbour and onto an "old" reed ship (it did have an engine and modern seats).

We even got to dress up in ponchos and Bolivian hats and they got us to row (this motor boat).


After we got to the bird palace on the Sun island, we changed boats and onto the catamaran again.
Then we had 3-4 hours boat ride back to the shore.

Me and Henrik tried oxygen from a tank on the boat (partly because of curiosity, partly for needing it). Non of us really felt any effect.
But at least now I have tried it.

Back to shore - and the bus, we went back to La Paz. After about 3 hour we were back at our hotel.
Dinner (I had Alpaca this time which tasted about the same as the llama - maybe the llama was a little better, but it could all be because of how it was prepared).

Then sleep. New country tomorrow!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sunday September 13th

Up at 6:30, time to leave Bolivia and head for Peru.

At the airport, we got a surprise; the airline had decided to move our flight from 10:10 to 11:00. Not so good when you have a train to catch at around 13:00 - in a city two hours away from the arriving airport (note that Bolivian time is one hour ahead of Peru time).

We were stressed all the flight and of course the immigration papers ran out on the plane so we had to fill those in on site. Time wasted!

We ran out of the Cusco airport, grabbed a taxi (our negotiation skills weren't the best at this point: "we have to be at this city ASAP. How much?").
But at least we negotiated down the price from $100 to $85 (normal price for this is around $65).

Our taxi guy couldn't speak English, but he could drive fast! :)
He managed not to hit anything on the way (but he did do the cross sign over his chest at one point) - and incredible enough, get us to Ollantaytambo just in time (took him about 1 hours and 40 minutes)!

Because of this we made a deal to pick us up tomorrow when we are returning.

The train ride took us through the Peruvian mountains and it was beautiful.

Henrik had a bad time though, he is just getting worse.

After almost two hours, we reached Auges Calientes (aka Machu Picchu city). Going out from the train station, we had to go through millions (well, almost) of souvenir shops. Very tourist-y, very not-nice.

The town is pretty small so we reached the hotel after just a few minutes, even though it was on the other side.

The hotel was called Tierra Viva and we got room 508 on the top floor.

The view from the room was very divided:

While Henrik was resting, I went out and looked at the town.

It didn't take long.

When I got back to the hotel, I took a quick rest then we went out to a restaurant.

I had a Peruvian dish, Lomo Saltado (beef with vegetables and rice + french fries). It was good.
Henrik went home before the food arrived. He really doesn't feel well.

Then time to sleep. We have yet another early morning tomorrow.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Monday September 14th

Another super early morning; up 4:30, check out at 5:00, Breakfast at 5:05. Leaving hotel at 5:15.

The deal with getting to Machu Picchu is that you need to take the bus (or walk if you are cheap/crazy). A return ticket cost $24.

The first buses goes around 5:30 - 5:45 and even when we got to the bus station at 5:17, there were already a massive cue (around 150 meters).

So, yeah - you need to wake up early because everyone else does (and the earlier you get up there, the better).

So the queue started moving at around 5:39. We got on a bus at 5:51.
The bus takes you up the mountain, through the fog that was extensive today, and up to the Machu Picchu entrance (we arrived at 6:14).

Finally here! Another one of the Seven wonders of the Modern World!

The fog embraced the ruins in a mystical and adventurous way, however it also limited your vision so you couldn't see that far.

Sometimes the wind would clear some of the fog so you can see more, but it always came back.

Me and Henrik went through the "higher part" of Machu Picchu (following the recommended path) until we got to the other side. This is where the gate is if you want to go to the top of Wayna Picchu, a high-ass mountain next door.

We had bought the combo-ticket for both Machu Picchu and Wayna Picchu, but even though Henrik was feeling better today, he didn't feel good enough to walk up this mountain.

We had a pass for the early time; 7:00-8:00. We got there at 8:05, but fortunately the guard let me pass anyway (but I had to sign in with the time "08:00"). I was the last out of the gate with number 161 (there are only 200 part time slot - and there is two time slots per day, the other is 10:00-11:00).

So I started walking along the path towards Wayna Picchu. Since it is another mountain, I had to go downwards a bit, before I could start walking up the actually mountain I was there for to climb.

F*ck this is high!

Once on Wayna Picchu, the path were basically just a large amount of steps. Irregular and often steep.

I don't know how many times I had to stop and rest before I fell over dead, but I got closer and closer. My legs are trembling and my knees are hurting. And I have been out of breath since I left the gate at Machu Picchu.

I met a few going down again (after being at the top) and one group told me that I was just a few minutes from the first real view point to see Machu Picchu. They had been there for 30 minutes before they gave up. The fog was still there and you couldn't see anything.
Damn. :(

Eventually I got to the place they told me about (at 09:00) and I rested there and took some photos of the invisible Machu Picchu.

But after just a minute or two, the fog started lifting and we could finally see Machu Picchu!

Then I started walking upwards again (and I had to climb through a cave/tunnel to get there!?).

I finally reach the top at 09:15 (it wasn't that far from the first view point, but there was a lot of photo opportunities on the way that made it go slower).

I had made it to the top!
Even I was amazed about it! :D

Here we saw the small, small Machu Picchu in the distance, but also the rest of the view from here was stunning.

I had now gone from Aguas Calientes at 2040 meters above sea level via Machu Pichhu's 2430 m to Wayna Picchu at 2720 m.

I stayed here for a little bit to rest and then it was time to head back (09:30).

The way down (especially close to the top) was very steep. It was very easy to fall and/or sprain an ankle. And now my knees are pretty much dead. So much pain.

It was somewhat faster going back, but it still took a while. At 10:25 I was finally back at the gate. I was very happy to have made it! :)

Walking through Machu Picchu again, the fog was gone so you could see the whole site.

However now it was  very, very hot here. I was already totally drained and it hurt just to take a step. I got flashbacks from my near-death experience at Gibraltar.

Not only the heat is trying to get hold of you up here, the mosquitoes and sand bugs are attacking you as well!

I considered myself done with Machu Picchu at 11:25 and took the bus down the Aguas Calientes. I met up with Henrik at our hotel and I could finally get some rest.

After a hour or so, we went to get some food at a restaurant before it was time to catch the train back to Cusco at 15:20.

The train ride was long and boring, but after almost four hours we got there.

Our taxi driver from yesterday was there waiting and took us to our hotel for the night, the JW Marriot El Convento Cusco. It feels really good to be back at a JW Marriot hotel. I should always stay at their hotels!

We got room 123 and after a room service meal, I went to the spa to sit in the jacuzzi and just relax. I figured that I had deserved it. In the mean time Henrik was regaining his strength watching the NFL season first game with Denver Broncos.

We also got these cakes courtesy of the hotel, really nice of them (but we never finished them).

Info box!
So how do you get to Machu Picchu? This is what we did:

Since there is a limited access to Machu Picchu (2500 per day), we ordered our tickets long before our trip to South America. We bought the tickets at the official Machu Picchu web page.

They have a few different tickets, but we chose the combination ticket Machu Picchu + Huayna (Wayna) Picchu since we we figured we might want to do that peak too. The difference in price wasn't too much so in case we decided on site to skip Huayna Picchu, it wouldn't really matter.

The ordering was quite easy (once you have your passport number) and the tickets were sent electronically.

The train to get to Machu Picchu was another story.
You travel with PeruRail and as a non-Peruvian, you have three different trains to choose from;

Expedition, Vistadome and the luxurious Belmond Hiram Bingham.
I would recommend the Vistadome trains which have big panoramic windows to better see the lovely nature outside. Unless you can afford the Belmond Hiram Bingham of course! :)

The tickets are easily available from their web page.

Note that each passenger is only allowed to bring 1 bag or backpack (max weight 5 kg).
There are luggage storage at the train stations of Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu, but if you need to bring more luggage on the train, just contact PeruRail and they can probably take care of it (they did for us). Information can be found on their web page.

You would usually take the train to Machu Picchu from Cusco, but the trains do have other stops.
The train ride takes about 3-4 hours.

Of course there are inca trails you can walk to get to Machu Picchu, but we took the train so you'll have to investigate those yourself. :)

Tickets to the bus from Aguas Calientes to the site can only be bought in the town at the bus station.

If you go to Machu Picchu, I would recommend you to get up there as early as possible. Yes, it was a lot of fog when we were there, but you get to do most of it (including Wayna Picchu) before it gets to hot. I can't even imagine me climbing that mountain in the heat that met me when I got back to Machu Picchu.

You need a good mosquito/bug repellent. Mine works at home, but had no chance here. I got bitten plenty.
Maybe a good option is to get whatever the locals have? That repellent should work for the local mosquitoes.