A Travellerspoint blog

It's all over!

It’s with the inevitable sadness that comes with finally finishing something great that this will probably be the last blog for this tour. We’ve made it to our last destination and I’ve managed to somehow get a few hours on my own to reflect. P1010277.jpg Our last stop before home is hardly adventurous but it somehow suits us. We are on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii. We have come here for a couple of reasons, firstly to see the big wave riders of Banzai Pipeline and Waimea Bay and secoP1010824

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ndly to try and calm down and relax before we get home. We have mixed feelings, happy to see family and friends again and have the familiarity of home but also a bit of melancholy that this really cool life we have led for the past 12 months is over. We had set out to see the world and have different experiences by trying to immerse ourselves as much as we could into the local scene wherever we went and often taking the road less travelled. P1010557.jpgP1010519

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We found that was always more rewarding and we managed to meet a lot of great people along the way. Sometimes that road took us in a minivan hurtling along dirt roads at breakneck speeds or four of us complete with packs squeezed onto a tuk tuk ( motor bike with side car) . We have slept on luggage racks on trains in India,P1030024.jpgHoli Festival

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taken seats that weren’t ours and then defended them only to find out we were on the wrong train….twice, slept on ferries, bancas buses, been run over by taxis, missed trains and planes, travelled by horse and cart, drunken taxi drivers, bicycle and dune buggy and lets not forget Princess, our 7 metre camper van that housed us for three months. We are masters of the Tube in London, the subway in New York, the metro in Beijing and generally any other public transport system that serves the city’s that we’ve been through. P1060646

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Hopefully that experience will serve the boys well when we get home and save Patti and I a lot of running around. P1040352

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We have stayed in some really nice places and the odd night in a dump when there was no alternative but I’d have to say we had no experiences with the dreaded bed bugs and apart from getting a “dose” of the runny bums’ now and again, we all remained extremely healthy. I think I could write a book on hostels and some of the characters you meet in them. There are people that upon arriving in South America go immediately out and find a street vendor and have dredlocks attached to their short back and sides hair cut, buy any pants that are drawstring, get some sandals and a hemp t-shirt and attach as many arm bands as possible to their wrists. P1020720

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They tend to have an aversion to soap and anything else that may be considered socially acceptable like buying food and drinks with their own money. On the other hand I’ve met people that have been travelling for years and just cannot give up the lifestyle. They are generally well educated but can’t bring themselves to join the rat race. Some of the hostels have been eye openers as well. We generally stayed in them for a bit of social interaction for the boys and mostly in South America. The Chill House in Cartagena, Colombia had a house rule of always having music playing. The cocaine dealers would call up to the veranda from street level. The Loki in La Paz, Bolivia was three stories of pumping house music and bar. The boys loved it and were regulars at 2 am, Patti and I not so much.P1060634

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We have been extremely lucky with safety and have not experienced one bit of threatening behaviour. Given that we travelled into some city’s and countries with terrible reputations and stayed in some pretty dodgy areas, we count ourselves as very lucky. Mind you, common sense goes a long way. At one point we did think disaster was just around the corner when we avoided a bomb in Manila, a Volcano eruption in Legazpi, a ferry disaster in Halong Bay and an earthquake in China. We managed to beat all by about a week but it was a bit disconcerting to read about these events exactly a week after we had been there.
We set out to try as many different experiences as possible without tiring ourselves out and also becoming complacent with our travel. Some experiences we have shared and others have been individual. The boys both gained their PADI diving accreditation in Coron, Phillipines. P1010038

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Brenton spent his Eighteenth birthday at the three day Oxygen music festival in Ireland with family he hadn’t met before. He has to take our word for it that he was there, some reason its all a bit of a blur. Matthew dared to jump from the highest cliff in Nerja, Spain and unsuccessfully tried to lure me in. He again terrified his mother by taking her driving a buggy in Banos, Equador. P1020395

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Patti and I had a beautiful couple of days on the west coast of Ireland. I managed a zipline that was nearly two kilometers long that screamed down a river. Brenton and I climbed a 6000m mountain not before both the boys threw themselves off a 120 m bridge swing. We learnt to ski and snowboard in Utah and surfed at Cocoa beach. We have trekked to the hill tribes in Sapa, Vietnam and watched Condors in the Andes of South America. It seems we have been to so many places and experienced so much that I have to wonder what will be next for us. How do you settle after this? We met so many great people that I hope will come and visit one day and although I can’t believe it is all over, I don’t feel we were rushed. We relaxed and laughed a lot. We are hoping that this feeling will remain with us.
I will sign off by saying that it was not all beer and skittles. We all had our moments and thankfully we had three other travellers who were very understanding and forgiving. Andiamo .P1010893

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Posted by mike1967 11:30 Archived in USA Comments (0)

La Paz, the Death Road and Huayna Potosi

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La Paz promised to be another one of those places where adventure and adrenaline activities were high on the “to do” list. Firstly we booked into the Loki hostel which is an adventure itself. Not a bad place if you’re a kid, lots of noise, partying and generally a cool place to hang out. Not so good if you are in your forties and value sleep and a warm shower. Patti and I have often made these kinds of sacrifices so the boys can socialise with people around there own ages but trying to sleep when “ duff duff slap yo mamas ass duff duff “ is vibrating through every bone in your body from the super sub woofer, can make one a little testy. The only small bit of pleasure I used to get was when the little darlings would finally take there rest from having a party outside our room and want sleep I would have no hesitation in giving a door a good slam and stomping around. It’s terrible to be old and bitter. Hehe
Uyuni salt flats was our next tour so that involved another 12 hour bus ride that shook us to the very core. At least half of it on corrugated, potholed dirt road. We set off in the Toyota Landcruiser for what was going to be 3 days cruising the salt flats and desert terrain of Uyuni. It was amazing. First stop saw us at an old train steam engine graveyard. P1060646

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It seemed these trains were pushed to the end of the line and just left to rot in the desert, only they get a red rust hue but the dry desert air preserves them from further damage. Great place for some odd photos. P1060733

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Our group consisting of Phil and Sophie, an English couple we met on Salkantay and us continued on for more funny photos on the salt flats and finally made our nights accommodation at a hostel made completely of salt. The tables, chairs and beds and even the floor was crushed salt. All it needed was some vinegar and fish and chips and we never would have left.P1060751

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As I said the tour is three days in a car driving to various spots of beauty and interest but one of the highlights for me was the Flamingoes. I was surprised at how beautiful the birds are up close and seeing their reflections on the water just made it seem even better. Over the course of the three days we ended up seeing thousands of them but I don’t think I will ever forget that first image. We made the driving go a little quicker by blasting some good music through the car and describing great meals we had had. Sounds odd but when your diet has been llama, vegetables and rice for months the thought of a “masher special filet mignon with pepper sauce and roast potatoes” can send you over the edge. For some in the group a vegemite sandwich on brumbies bread was the ultimate. We all have our demons.P1060883

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Death Road
Back to La Paz and once again the terrible dirt road but this time a more comfortable bus. We did the trip a bit easier. We had a day recovery in the city and then decided on the “Death Road” mountain bike challenge. The death road has been declared the most dangerous road in the world because of a couple of reasons. Firstly it drops from an elevation of 4600m to 1600m meaning there are drops off the road that are 500 m or more. It is just wide enough to allow two vehicles to pass if the cliff side vehicle scrapes the wall. It is the only road in Bolivia where the direction of traffic changes so the left hand driver can see that his wheels don’t go over the edge by leaning out the window. There are no guardrails. There have been hundreds of bus and truck fatalities over the years but thankfully there is now an alternate route and traffic is low compared to the old days. This has allowed the mountain bikers to roar down the road and although they generally lose one or two backpackers a year it is safe enough if your not a complete idiot.
We started out in what I can only describe as horrendous conditions. High altitude seems to whip up conditions that can test the most hardy but starting off in a snowstorm was a bit much. The tour guide to us a little lower into the sleet, hail and rain and set us off. Twenty five minutes later we hadn’t even hit the “death road” and were soaked to the skin and freezing despite having two pairs of gloves and the rest of the safety equipment. Patti came into the first rest stop with ice encrusted on her ears and cheeks. That was it and she retired early to the comfort of the van. Good move, conditions did not improve. The rest of us “smashed “ the Death Road and had a ball scaring the shit out of ourselves. We all made it without falling off and earned the t-shirt. Another day would have been clearer but I don’t know if it would have been more memorable. We came in covered in muck. A great boys day out.

Huayna Potosi
We had heard of a mountain just outside of LaPaz that was supposedly the easiest 6000m + mountain in the world to climb. Brenton and I decided to see if we were up to the challenge and decided we would take the three day expedition. The day before we left we had to be fitted for all of our climbing equipment including snow boots and crampons and ice axes. Our guide for the climb was an older guy and looked extremely fit. Tao advised us that we would need five layers of clothing and lots of energy chocolate bars if we were to have hopes of reaching the summit. From speaking to another mate who had just done it I knew this was not going to be easy and Tao seemed to be confirming that. P1020574

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Our first day saw us making the first camp which is at 4800m. We carried most of our climbing gear to a glacier and practiced climbing the walls using the crampons and ice axes. A good experience on its own. Back to the camp and we were encouraged to drink lots of Coca leaf tea to stave off the effects of altitude. An early night saw us up day break for the trek to the high camp at 5300m. This little trek alone takes about three hours over rocks and boulders and it seems you are constantly climbing. For me this is where the nerves began to come in. There is not a lot to do at the high camp except look at what’s ahead of you and think about making it to the top and not failing. P1020583

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Rest is what you need but reading all of the graffiti on the walls can get a little addictive. “ never doing that again” wrote a 22 year old from Canada, “ when your going through hell, keep going” a Winston Churchill quote, “ I am totally wrecked” from another plus hundreds of others, all fairly similar in content and sentiment. As well as many that didn’t make it.
We caught some fitful sleep and were up by midnight and ready so we could start the climb by 1am. With our headlamps blazing, Brenton and I tethered to the guide we set off on what was without a doubt the hardest physical and mental task I have ever done. The climb is in mostly thick heavy snow that makes every footstep seem like lifting a weight. The added equipment is heavy and the altitude makes every breath feel like work. Combine this fatigue with headaches and nausea and the fun just keeps coming. The bonus of making the ascent in the dark is you don’t get to see what’s ahead. I think that would be heartbreaking if you actually saw the vertical climb.
We climbed throughout the night and with the dawn breaking we were in sight of the summit but still about an hour away. Tao was beginning to get concerned that we may not make it so after a bit of a motivational talk amongst us we decided to give it everything we had and finally after about 45 minutes we reached the summit. P1020595

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The feeling was surreal. We didn’t have to energy to yahoo or anything like that, it was actually very quiet. We shook hands with the guide and hugged more for the relief than the congratulations. We were totally spent. We wouldn’t have spent much more that five minutes on top before a few photos and the descent.
The descent was no walk in the park either and when you actually follow your tracks down it is hard to imagine that we came that way. Vertical walls of snow and ice and crevices revealing 20m and 30m drops. The conversation was light on the way down but the sun on the slopes made it very warm. The snow was melting and sticking like mud on our crampons and we fell sometimes just out of fatigue. After finally making the high camp and then having the two hour trek with all of the equipment to the lower camp we arrived absolutely exhausted but really satisfied that we had accomplished something special. AndiamoP1020602

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Posted by mike1967 12:02 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Salkantay to Macchu picchu and Lake Titicaca

sunny 8 °C

Another country and finally a chance to put up a blog. The internet can be a little dodgy and unreliable in Bolivia so although its been a while, it doesn’t mean we have been standing still. We are now back in the USA and after a couple of nice days back in Miami we have just arrived in the freezing cold city of San Francisco.
Salkantay
Firstly we had our hearts set on a trek through the mountains of Peru where we wanted to end up in the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu. We chose a lesser known and trod trek over 5 days called Salkantay. The Salkantay trek took us to an elevation of 4600m that encircled the Salkantay mountain and followed an old Inca trade trail. We were with a group of about 10 other trekkers complete with a guide, horseman and a cook and tents. Most times throughout the five days we were completely on our own and didn’t see a soul. It was a great way to meet people and we made some great friends. Each day promised an early cold start but once a bit of breakfast and hot tea was on board we were ready for the long days’ walk. P1060395

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The scenery throughout the days was spectacular and the usual chatting along the way made the days go quickly. Most days a cup of tea,,a warm meal and a couple of beers were enough to send you off to bed to near coma level. There was an afternoon of international soccer where there were at least six nations represented . Competition was fierce amongst young men but good spirited. There was one Israeli who fancied punching above his 51kg fighting weight but no injuries were recorded despite his efforts. The soccer pitch was a great size and in a beautiful location but with a few added inclusions, rocks. There were boulders strewn throughout the pitch just to make it interesting. For the record I believe the Invitational Peruvian National team made up of mostly guides and locals won the day 3-2. We continued our trek reaching milestones of toughness and elevation however by the end of the third day we found ourselves in a soaking hot spring sending all of the aches and pains into oblivion. We managed to see a few Condors soaring above the mountains and the whole experience was very nice.
The fourth day of our hike saw us arrive in Aguas Calliantas, a small town at the base of the ruins of Machu Picchu. We stayed overnight, had one last dinner with the group and headed for the ruins via the old track. We opted for that as it seemed a bit ridiculous to balk at the 1 hour and a half climb after what we had experienced the previous 4 days. We could have taken a bus but arrival times at the ruins would have seen us getting there with the throngs of tourists and we wanted the place to ourselves even if was only for 15 minutes or so. Our fitness levels must be high, Brenton the mountain goat made it up under 40 minutes and I think the rest of us under 50 minutes.macchu Picchu

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The ruins were spectacular, despite only living there for a short time the Inca’s achieved quite a lot. Their way of building and laying interlocking blocks together for beauty and strength is beautiful. It seemed every structure is carefully thought out and located according to an overall plan that when viewed from the air seems to represent a Condor. They built representations of sacred mountains and calendars marking Eqinox and Summer and Winter solstice to tell them when to plant and harvest. A very simple but effective way of living. When visiting the site you can only imagine the hardships they must have faced just creating the site. P1060504

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They literally carved a community out of stone to make terraces and level housing sites and all at the top of a mountain.P1060450

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Lake Titicaca
Moving South Lake Titicaca beckoned and saw us on a bit of an organised tour throughout the number of small reed floating islands that is home to these island people. They create the islands themselves by cutting down through the reed base and by lashing the large pieces together, drag them wherever they want to go. Securing them with tethers of rope they ensure the island doesn’t float away. They cover the entire island with more levels of grass and start building their huts on it.P1060604

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The feeling is like walking on a firm water bed, a little spongy but not wet. Although it was interesting and the islanders skills and abilities with seemingly being able to make anything from the reeds was very informative, I was happy to move on from the touts and see more of the lake. Part of our tour was an overnight stay on one of the islands with a local. Our local “mama” met us at the wharf and soon had us in her tiny kitchen feeding us vegetable soup and making us feel welcome. A bit of a tour around the island was on the cards and the boys even managed another game of football with some other travellers and some more locals. I think they may have won this time. Our “mama” dressed us up in traditional clothes and took us to the local hall for a disco. P1060634

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We had a great time dancing with the locals. Another day on the lake saw us exploring another island and sharing a great lunch with a beautiful view. This was followed by a long slow steam back to port but sitting up on top chatting to other travellers made to trip go easily.
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Posted by mike1967 11:38 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Banos and back to Quito

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We took off for Banos for a few days and had a great time there. It is a small town with big adventure activities and at a fraction of the cost you would pay at home. We managed to do a bit more ziplining ( 1.5 kilometres down a valley) , we went abseiling down waterfalls, bridge swinging, white water rafting, mountain bike riding and buggy driving. P1020395

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Matt was in his element driving the buggys. It's a pretty small place so getting around was easy and safe, unlike Quito which is probably the opposite, big city and dangerous.
We ended up back in Quito because i'd needed some dental work and finding a good one in the Ecuadorian countryside would be difficult. I would imagine that the waiting room would resemble a veterinary surgery. I managed to get some really good care in Quito but the whole ordeal cost us a week of messing around. We managed to do a few day trips in between visits. P1060161.jpgP1060154.jpg We hopped a bus to Otavalo which is a small town about 3 hours from Quito but is known for its Artisans market. We wanted to get a little bit of warm gear for Peru so the list included Lama and Alpaca wool socks, beanies and hoodies. The stuff is really nice and looks great over here but i would imagine it may have a limited use at home. Snow holidays only. The problem which has dogged us from the start is the inability to carry any real souvenirs. Our limited pack size means that a lot of things just get left behind, although the markets were great fun and some of the stuff was great value, we just have to say no.
The equator line naturally runs through Ecuador and although it also runs through many other countries it is considered the true marker because of its altitude. Don't know what that has to do with anything but they've claimed it and built a massive monument so it must be true. Unfortunately about 15 years ago some one came through with a military grade GPS and discovered that they were out by a couple of hundred meters so the real centre of the earth is up a dirty little track that leads to a really interesting place that has all sorts of experiments where you can watch water flowing straight down from a plug or shift the basin either side of the line and watch the water go in opposite directions. You can have a go at balancing an egg on a nail and a lot of other quirky kind of stuff. It was pretty interesting, had genuine shrunken heads, penis invading fish ( i hear you gasp, goes in microscopic if you pee in the water but comes out looking like an alien sea horse... ouch!) and other indigenous displays. P1060221

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We finally got the all clear to leave Quito and jumped the bus heading for Peru. Not very interesting first leg, about 12 hours on a bus and then dinner and bed and the second leg was similar except a bit of excitement at the border. For some reason Brenton's passport was stamped on entry to Ecuador but wasn't recorded on the computer ( computer said no) so they weren't going to let him go and he was technically illegal. I had suspicions they may have wanted a little extra and didn't realise we were travelling as a family. The border crossing has a terrible reputation for police corruption and we reckon they might have thought he was an easy target. Anyway once we started huffing and puffing they sorted it quickly and we took our illegal immigrant with us into Peru. Bus ride was nicer and the after a few days in a dusty little town waiting for a plane we have arrived in Cusco. We plan to trek for about 4-5 days and end up in Macchu Piccu. After that, not quite sure. We need to leave Bolivia by the end of the month so a lot to do before then. A massive
bunjee jump is planned and a ride down the world's most dangerous road. Should be exciting. Andiamo P1060224

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Posted by mike1967 07:15 Archived in Ecuador Comments (1)

Cotopaxi

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The best-laid plans can always go astray so now we find ourselves in the shadow of one of the largest and highest volcanoes in the world, Cotopaxi Ecuador.P1060003

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We were originally heading for Banos but the road was cut so the next bus was heading here and we jumped on. We finally arrived at the eco-lodge hostel hoping they would have a room and with a little bit of shuffling they squeezed us in thankfully. It was going to be a long road back if they couldn’t. P1060064

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Cotopaxi stretches up to well over 5000 m and although the heart says climb to the summit the mind and body says different. It seems somewhere between 10 and 20 percent only actually make the summit where crampons and ice picks are necessary. We need to acclimatise again here for a couple of days as the altitude can really make you a bit ill. Any kind of exertion can affect your breathing where just taking a short walk can take a bit out of you. Our first day here saw us take the small waterfall trek which winds further uphill and through bush to a beautiful little waterfall with a swimming hole. Only the bravest of the brave or the stupid take the plunge as the water is absolutely freezing, fresh after defrosting from the snow.P1020131

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P1020132.jpg It goes without saying that the challenge was met. We made the trek with our guide Peter and about eight other brave souls and after about half an hour found ourselves standing at the edge of a ten foot waterfall in our togs just about to do the most stupid thing in our lives. I don’t know what was worse, the wait in the freezing water while some poor fool jumped or the plunge into the pool. Suffice to say I only jumped once but the boys managed a few goes before succumbing to the numbness. Matt even did the obligatory flip just to prove he was more manly than anyone else.
The following day we decided to take on the Pasachoa trek. Pasachoa is a climb that took us over 4200 meters and allowed us to see all of the volcanoes with a 360 degree view. P1060050

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The climb is pretty difficult without the altitude but when you add that in it almost feels like every step takes your breath away. We finally made it to the top and managed a few photos before we headed back down and a bight to eat. All up it took about six hours and we probably climbed or fell with style for most of that. The hostal had beautiful warm soup and bread waiting for us and after a shower we felt brand new. Patti hit the bed, Matthew took the walk to the waterfall again and has gone swimming and Brenton and I are veging out.
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Banos is a place the boys have been really looking forward to. We were in the place about 2 hours and they decided to jump off the Sanfran Cisco bridge. P1060084

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The drop is 120 meters.... crazy. P1060086

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Tomorrow its white water rafting. Andiamo

Posted by mike1967 20.10.2011 19:25 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

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