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On the Gringo Trail

On 27 October 2010 from Arequipa, Peru | comments closed

On Friday I took the bus from Lima to Ica together with together with Kath, Liz, Sarah & Natasha (all from the UK). From Ica we got taxis to Huacachina, a natural oasis in the middle of huge sand dunes. This place is now totally ruled by backpackers with lots of restaurant and nightlife (OK, 1 place).

Saturday morning the sand dunes needed to be conquered with a sand buggy, driven by Jesus. After driving across the dunes with speeds of up to 85km/h (as measured by my GPS), we stopped on a sand dune to make photos. When trying to depart, our buggy did not start anymore, but luckily Jesus had the skills to hotwire the buggy. The next stops were devoted to sandboarding down the dunes. As boarding down something has never been a skill of mine, I decided that laying on a board would be way more effective. It was, except that I got sand literally everywhere. Luckily the hostel had a swimming pool to cool down in. When resting at the side, I was offered a direct ride to Nazca. This turned out to be much faster than the bus, driving up to 155km/h on the Pan-American Highway (once again measured by GPS, the speedometer on the car stuck to zero).

In Nazca I went shopping for flights over the Nazca lines. Due to either fuel shortages (the story I was told) or safety reasons (the story I suspect) only 3 airlines were operating, boosting the prices. When I was certain I could not get a better deal, I booked a flight with Alas Peruanas. In the evening, I visited a show on the Nazca lines in the
Planetarium Maria Reiche, getting a cool photo of the full moon through a telescope.

Sunday morning I made the flight over the Nazca lines with a 6-seater Cessna (2 pilots + 4 passengers). Of course I totally forgot to take anti-motion sickness pills, and with a plane kept banking from left to right to show the lines, that was pretty hard on my stomach. But the lines were clearly visible from the sky, and it was very interesting to watch these man-made geoglyphs that have still not been explained exclusively by science.

In the afternoon I visited the Chauchilla Cemetery together with Jacqui (from New Zealand) who was also on the flight in the morning. Afterwards we went to the archeological museum (Didáctico Antonini).

Sunday evening an overnight bus from Cruz del Sur brought me to Arequipa, where I met Kath, Liz, Sarah & Natasha at the hostel again on Monday morning. Together with 2 guys we went into the centre and checked out the frozen Inca maiden in the Santury meseum.

Tuesday morning started at 03:00, because the bus to Cañón del Colca was picking us up at 03:30. Around 09:00 we arrived at the Cruz del Cóndor, from where we could see a number of condors fly through the canyon. At around 10:30 we started to trek down into the second-deepest canyon in the world. FYI: the deepest one is Cañón del Cotahuasi, but it would have take a 12-hour bus ride over unsealed roads to get there, and I could not be bothered for the extra 150 metres depth. After hiking down for 3 hours we reached the bottom, crossed the river and went back up for half an hour to have lunch. From there it was another 2,5 hour to get to Sangalle, an oasis at the bottom of the canyon, complete with swimming pool and bungalows.

Wednesday morning we started the climb out of the canyon at 05:50, and reached the top (1100m higher) after an exhausting 3 hours. We had breakfast in Cabanaconde and drove to Chivay to relax in the 39-degree thermal pools and have lunch there as well. After lunch we drove to 4910m altitude and back to Arequipa. Funny thing is that during this tour I have been alternating in speaking English, Dutch, German and my few words of Spanish. If my French had been any better I would have used that too.

I called this post “On the Gringo Trail” because that is what it feels like. Most backpackers travelling from Lima to Cuzco stop in these places and do these activities (perhaps except the Nazca lines flight). I actually looked into going to Cañón del Colca by myself using public transport, but it would take at least a day longer and only be marginally cheaper. So the Gringo Trail it is, at least up until Cuzco.

The Journey Begins

On 21 October 2010 from Lima, Peru | comments closed

The journey began on 19 October 2010 at 06:00, when my dad gave me a ride to Düsseldorf Airport. From there a KLM Cityhopper Fokker 70 took me to Schiphol. I decided to take the flight from Düsseldorf as there was no difference in the ticket price and it is a lot easier to reach Düsseldorf Airport in the morning than it is to reach Schiphol; the departure time at home would have been the same. From Amsterdam my longest flight ever (12,5 hours) was starting, and I was all prepared: netbook battery full, MP3-player battery full and lots of magazines. As it turned out, I didn’t even need most of this, as the in-flight entertainment system was excellent, so I watched “Grown Ups”, “Knight and Day” and “The A-Team”. And every time I was remotely starting to feel hungry or thirsty, one of the cabin crew was offering food or drinks.

Upon arrival in Lima, everything went smooth, with a taxi driver waiting for me and bringing me straight to the hostel. After getting some money (Peruvian Soles) and food, I had a really nice and long night sleep.

Wednesday I went exploring the nearby 1500-year-old ceremonial site of Huaca Pucllana together with Kath, Liz, Sarah & Natasha, who arrived at the same day. In the afternoon we went shopping for a new pair of waterproof overtrousers, which I completely forgot too bring. After not having any luck at 2 large department stores, I finally found an expensive pair at a The North Face store. I also got some altitude sickness pills. After some nice ice-cream with a view over the Pacific Ocean, we went back to the hostel. In the evening we went out for a few drinks on Calle de Pizza (pizza street), ending up in a karaoke bar with too many pisco sours.

Thursday morning there was a Spanish lesson at the hostel. Very useful and lots of fun as well. I used the rest of the day for getting organised and planning the next couple of weeks. Travel planning is so much easier when you can ask other people about their experiences. I also decided to give most of the sights in Lima a miss right now, because it’s simply too cold (less than 20 degrees during the day and always overcast) and I will be back here when the weather is nicer. I almost bought the Starbucks mug of Lima for my collection too, but first I need to find a way to get it home in one piece.

What to Pack?

On 18 October 2010 from Reuver, Netherlands | comments closed

Even though I have packed bags hundreds of times by now, it can still be a challenge, and is usually something I tend to leave to the last minute. Packing for business trips is easy: suits, shirts, socks, underwear, toiletries, done. Only evening outfit and coat are dependent on the weather. For my trip to South America weather I need to pack for both the cold and rain of the mountains in Peru, and the hot summer beach weather in Brazil. As a guideline I used my packing list that I made for Australia and New Zealand in 2003, and found it fairly useful, although the amount of gadgets that I am bringing has increased quite a bit, as well as the number of warm clothes (I remember buying sweaters in Australia). Here’s the full list.

Things to wear
Large backpack (Lowe Alpine, 70 litre)
Smaller daypack (Berghaus, 25+5 litre)
Sleeping bag (Nomad, 1,5 kg)
Lightweight Travelsheet (150 g)
Long trousers (2 zip off and 2 regular)
Wind- and waterproof jacket (Gaastra)
Fleece sweaters (2)
T-shirts (2 longsleeve, 4 polo)
Button down shirt
Underwear & socks
Thermal underwear, hat, gloves
Light hiking boots (Hanwag)

Things to use
Towels & serong
Hat, sunglasses & sun protection spray (Nivea Invisible, factor 30)
Swimming shorts & prescription diving goggles
Small medicine bag, mozzie spray (DEET) & malaria tablets (Malarone)
Large toiletbag (including electrical toothbrush and shaver)

Things invented
Netbook (Asus Eee PC 1015PE)
Camera (Canon PowerShot S90) + underwater cover
GPS Travel Recorder (QStarz BT-Q1000X)
Phone (Nokia 6300)
MP3-player (Philips GoGear Spark 4GB)
Compass (Recta, for worldwide use)
Pocket knife (Wenger, Swiss of course)
Headlight (LED)

Things written
International driver’s license
Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate
Debit card & credit cards
PADI Advanced Open Water card
Lonely Planets (Peru, South America on a Shoestring)
Books & magazines

Time for a Sabbatical

On 12 October 2010 from Prague, Czech Republic | comments closed

Ever since my trip to Patagonia & Antarctica in 2007-2008 I have wanted to go back to South America. From other travellers in Argentina and Chile I heard great stories about Galapagos, Machu Picchu and Salar de Uyuni. I was planning to go to these places at the end of 2008, but decided to travel in South-East Asia with a Swiss friend instead. At the end of 2009 there was no chance of taking a leave from the project in Prague for 5 weeks. So in 2010 I can finally make my dream come true. 2,5 months of paid leave and 3 months of unpaid leave should provide ample time to visit these places, and more. I am basically going back to slow travelling (like slow food or slow IT – Ron Tolido wrote some interesting columns on the topic), the method of travelling I got used to during my time in Australia, New Zealand and Patagonia. With a 5-month trip there’s not the (self-inflicted) rush there was in South-East Asia, where on some days I would be travelling by bus for 7 hours in the morning, do some sightseeing in the afternoon, and travel another 7 hours by bus the next day.

Obviously I will be exploring all the highlights of the places that I am visiting, but also the less known sites, of which I generally treasure the fondest memories. And it will allow me to simply stay longer in a place that I like, for example Ushuaia and Bariloche in Argentina. Arequipa in Peru is likely to qualify for this as well. To keep things flexible, I decided to have only a short list of must do’s for this trip: the already mentioned Galapagos, Machu Picchu and Salar de Uyuni, as well as the redeemer of Christ in Rio de Janeiro and Chitzen Itza. This way I can see all the new world wonders in the Americas in one trip and boost my score from 1 to 4 out of 7. And 5 countries (Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, Mexico) in 5 months seems a lot more managable than 5 countries in 5 weeks.