Volcano eruption tonight at 9pm
since the last one..
== Lima ==
From Pisco we headed up to Lima. Nobody really likes Lima but we
stayed one night, just to develop some photos, post film rolls home
and get a haircut. It felt strange to be in a sort-of rich big city,
hadn't seen escalators, electric hand dryers or KFC since Rio back in
in February. (most of Lima isn't that rich though..apparently half the
population doesn't have electricity/clean water..). Everything cost
2-4 times as much as the rest of Peru as well, 10-15 sol instead of
2-5 for taxi, 20$ instead of 20 sol for a room (but you can take out 4
times as much on the ATM's as well). Haircut was cheap though (see
Edel's mullet photos later as to why :-).
From Lima back up into the Andes - 10 hour bus to Huaraz.
== Huaraz ==
Took a couple resting days first, then got ourselves on a tourist bus
to the Chavin de Huatar temple - seemed the easiest way to get to the
temple. Tour guide was pretty annoying and talked the full 3-4 hours
there, mostly about things unrelated to everything and was wrong about
a good bit of it (there's 7 planets, blabla, at high altitudes there's
an optical phenomena that makes mountains appear closer, blabla, +
adding half a millenia to the age of the temple..). There were some
nice people on the trip though, we talked a bit to a friendly
travel-mad old lady in her 80's. She was greek-swiss, had been to
China recently, to Cuba and tons of other places. "I never feel like a
foreigner when I travel. The earth was made for me as well - if people
draw borders and make up countries that is not my problem". Wonderful
philosophy - think her greek side was the stronger..
The Chavin temple was built around 800-400 BC, dedicated to a scary
cat-like god with massive teeth. It had tons of gargoyles, but most of
them are now in the little museum next to the site. Most interesting
to explore was the labyrinth of underground tunnels under the temple,
several layers deep and lots of entrances.
The next day we did a trek in the Cordillera Blanca - close to the
highest peak in Peru "Huascaran" at 6768m. The target for the trek was
a colourful glacier lake "lake 69" at 4600m - we got a map and a bus
ride to the start of the trek at 4000m with a Huaraz tour agency. The
trek was very nice, passed a couple waterfalls and through a small
forest. After a good climb we walked past a smaller lake, some fields
and then got pretty lost (well the map was bad ok!). We'd passed a
high mountain to the left with a small path heading uphill but just
didn't believe it could be that much climbing left....it was of
course. Looked worse than it was luckily and didn't take that much
longer to reach the top (felt good since when we first got up to 4000m
in Potosi-Bolivia a few months ago we barely had energy to walk the
streets..). The reward for the walk was worth it - the lake was really
crazy blue, very beautiful sitting just under some glaciers.
The next day we went ice-climbing in the Pastoruri glacier at 5200m -
there was an hour uphill walk from where the bus dropped us off and
here we could really feel the altitude...very little air in the air..
It wasn't that cold though, and the glacier was actually dripping away
in the sun! The guides told us it gets a couple meters smaller each
year. Back 5-10 years ago you could see the white tips of these
mountains all the way from the pacific, but the glaciers are a lot
smaller now. I've read that within 15 years Peru will most likely
loose all it's glaciers (it already happened in Venezuela). Amazing
there's still politicians that don't "believe" in the greenhouse
So anyway, we set out to climb an 18 meter vertical wall of ice on
this glacier, before Bush and the boys has it all gone.. The guides
had brought ice-picks and spikes for the shoes, one guy went up first
to secure a rope at the top and then it was our turn to climb. Was
really tough, (you get tired fast at this altitude) - halfway up it
felt like the ice-picks were ten times as heavy when you tried to
whack them into the ice to get a grip, and the legs also started
trembling. We both made it up anyway - was fun to try it but I don't
think we'll ever get into real mountain climbing..
After some rest (I could barely stand up afterwards..) we had a look
at a blue ice-cave and then some strange plants - 10 meter big
bromeliads (pineapple family) that grow for about 100 years, then set
flower once and die.
== Ecuador -Cuenca ==
From Huaraz we did a long bus-marathon (at least as exhausting as the
ice-climbing), overnight bus to Trujillo and the next evening another
overnight bus to Tumbes, then crossing the Ecuador border in the
morning (while honouring our fine tradition of getting ripped off by
the taxi driver at every border-crossing) then another 6 hour bus to
Think we reached a new level of filth with this 2.5 day no
shower/change of clothes (felt cleaner coming back from the jungle).
During the day we spent in Trujillo we visited Chan Chan - another
pre-Inca ruin built around 1100AD. It was made from adobe so very
different from the other ruins we've seen. Nice fish and bird figures
In Cuenca we (after some welcome showers..) headed to have a look at
Ingapirca - the only major Inca site in Ecuador. It wasn't very
impressive having seen some of the ones around Cusco though. Funniest
detail was someone standing on top of the ruins, hands in the air
preaching with a collection of school kids standing in straight lines
From Cuenca we also went for a day trekking in the El Cajas national
park not far away. Not many trees, very craggy and wind beaten looking
landscape..sort of beautiful though with lakes and mountains. Got
pretty lost again (well the map was bad ok!).
== Riobamba ==
From Cuenca we headed north to Riobamba - 6 hour by bus (Ecuador is a
lot smaller than Peru so no 15 hour buses for a while :-).
In Riobamba there's this scenic train ride to do....should have known
better after our experience in Curitiba-Brazil at the beginning of the
year.. The most exciting part of the train ride is called "El Nariz
del Diablo" - The Devil's nose - a near vertical mountain side that
gave the track the "the most difficult railway in the world" name when
it was built (after several failed attempts..) and you sit on the roof
to enjoy the view fully. The train departs at 7am.
Somehow sitting on the roof of a moving train high up in the Andes at
7am failed to ring any alarm bells in our heads regarding
temperature.. We were the least properly dressed of all the tourists
(locals don't do this...there is a bus) up on the train. After a few
minutes sitting on the roof lost it's novelty value, and a couple
minutes later I also lost sensation in my fingertips. The train trip
is 4 hours to the top of the Devil's nose, then one hour down another
hour back up, an hour wait then return to Riobamba. After about 2
hours it finally stopped for a minute so we and a few other of the
most frozen gringos could get down and inside the train. The scenery
hadn't been that interesting so far but it was sort of fun with the
little kids by the side everywhere running for the train and the candy
some gringos up there were throwing at them - there were a few people
(probably dentists) walking around on the roof selling candy just for
the tourists to throw.
Anyway, the scenery was pretty boring - I slept the while way down the
devils famous nose, and was cranky from being woken up most of the way
up. We got off at the top and caught a bus to Riobamba to save a few
When we got back we weren't blue from the cold any more but it would
still have been nice with a hot shower - this, same as last night, was
impossible in the hostel we were staying. They were also very
unhelpful when Edel pointed it out. "Hot water - just run shower for 5
minutes" "-We've tried that." "Don't worry, don't worry...". Packed
our bags and left for the first bus to Baņos - felt safest to get out
of Riobamba before something else goes wrong.
Baņos is a nice little village by the foot of an active volcano.
== Baņos ==
The volcano, "Tungurahua", has been on yellow alert since 1999. The
town was evacuated by the military in 99 but the people broke through
the blockades and returned a couple months later. It's a fairly
touristic little town though, lots of hotspring baths and several tour
agencies on every block.
Before we got there there was another mishappening on the bus though..
Usually people think that you're "Swedish" means that you're "from
Switzerland" - at least nine times out of ten ("No, it's the one with
volvo, not the one with the silly clocks.."). This
sing-on-the-bus-for-money (there's salesmen/beggars on every bus) guy
was sure it meant "gay" though. There must have been something odd
about him though cause he thought "Irlandesa" meant "gay" as well..
Anyway.., the first day in Baņos we went to the zoo, and then had
ourselves booked on a tour to a viewpoint to look at the erupting
volcano in the evening (every agency in Baņos does this and has lots
of fiery red-lava volcano photos in their window) - we had seen the
smoke from it arriving with the bus.
Walked over to the agency a couple minutes beforehand and there was a
touristy looking bus/truck standing there with a few people waiting so
we jumped on and shortly after an old guy in a baseball cap jumps in
the driver seat and drives off with us without saying a word. The
driver, I'll call him Lasse Kongo, stops for gas and then later for
some snacks for himself on the way. Not even when we finally stop
somewhere and everyone gets off does he say anything. The place we
stopped has sort of a nice view of the Baņos city lights below but no
sign of a volcano - we're wondering a bit if this is it or if we're
continuing to another viewpoint where you can see it. Turns out this
is it - Lasse Kongo comes over and explains a bit about the volcano
that apparently is one of the dark shadows we can see in the distance
(not sure which one). For example he explains that the (unmistakeably
cricket-sounding) sounds we can hear is sounds of rocks rolling down
the volcano... Then he goes on to build a campfire, and everyone is
given as not-that-nice hot drink with optional alcohol
(transparent-looking from an old water bottle). Most people opted no
on the moonshine and I think the driver drank most of it.
Another bigger tour-group arrives and they start their own big mighty
campfire. Our campfire is dying. They have fire-jugglers. Lasse Kongo
tries to get our fire going by pouring some of the moonshine on it.
People from our group is leaving to have a look at the fire-jugglers..
There's still no volcano though - I guess you used to be able to see
it a few years ago (when our guidebook was printed as well) and that
it's calmed down by now but they just keep going with the
volcano-truck even though you can't see anything. Back in Baņos they
also dropped us a couple blocks off and we had to walk home in the
Can't believe we fell for a second tacky tourist trap within a
week...if this continues we'll have to go to the monument outside
Quito that points out the equator (incorrectly as it happens, by about
1/4km) and buy plastic souvenirs.
Next day we did a couple walks around Baņos, passing some of the
viewpoints but the volcano was still hidden in the clouds. Also got a
bit lost (well the map..).
The hostel we stayed had some funky steam baths we also had to try -
you sit in a wooden box full of hot steam with just your head sticking
out. It's supposed to be good for just about everything (except an
itchy nose - your hands are in the box as well). We tried it the next
morning and you feel very refreshed after the cold water shower at the
end. My skin looked strange for about an hour afterwards though, some
red-white pattern...almost like when they gave me the wrong medication
when I had glandular fever last year..
After this we rented bikes to bike a bit of the road downhill east to
Puyo (and then the Amazon). Almost the whole way is downhill and the
road follows a river down in the valley below, with lots of nice
waterfalls down the mountainside along the way. They had managed to
hang a power line in front of every single one of them though so the
views weren't that great.. Biked as far as Rio Verde and then got a
pickup truck back up (us + 6-7 others and their bikes on the pickup).
Next day another steam bath and then bus to Latacunga.
== Latacunga ==
In Latacunga we first did a daytrip to the Cotapaxi national park.
Cotapaxi is another volcano, this one not active at the moment. It
last erupted 1904 but was fairly frequent before that - Latacunga has
been destroyed and rebuilt five times since the 1500's!
From the jeep on the way back we saw lots of large rocks lying in the
fields and forest, the biggest over 10m diameter - the guide explained
they'd been tossed there by the volcano! Back home rocks like that
were usually moved to where they are by slow glaciers during the last
ice age, not hailing from the sky..
Next day we headed for Quilotoa, a crater lake on the other side of
Latacunga. The lake was very bright blue and green and the crater
massive - had to take three photos standing on the edge to get it all
in.. We did a nice 4-5 hour walk around the lake following the crater
On the way back we discussed Ecuadorian driving with the driver
Javier. He told us that up until three years ago you could practically
buy your driving license - no tests. When he took it there was an eye
test - the doctor asks you if your eyes are ok and if you say Yes you
Explains a lot.. There's a lot of "macho" in the driving style here -
someone trying to take over you is a direct insult and noone will ever
give up a position without a fight. Even the big buses race each
== Quito ==
Headed to Quito the next morning and the next day we did a daytrip to
the Pahuma orchid reserve in the cloud forest just an hour away.
There's about 500 orchid species in their little reserve (they also
found 9 new ones unknown to science) but it wasn't the right time of
the year so we didn't see many blooming. The forest was very beautiful
though and we walked a few trails, to a couple waterfalls and then to
a refuge on top a small mountain. From there we took a different path
that we thought would eventually lead back to the entrance but no need
to mention what happened (didn't even have a map this time..). The
trail showed less and less signs of having seen humans in a while,
more and more spiderwebs across the path and large trees lying fallen
over it. After an hour or so this one came out to a different path,
this one very old looking, eroded 2-3 meters down into the ground by
feets over hundreds of years. The trees fallen over it made it like
walking in a tunnel in places. We thought this one must eventually
lead back to the entrance :-). When it finally went through an area of
very thorny plants and disappeared after an hour something we decided
to walk the whole way back where we came from.. Was late in the
afternoon when we made it back but it was at least still light and we
could flag down a bus back to Quito.
Next day we headed off for three days to Bellavista, another cloud
forest reserve also not too far from Quito. It's a real birder place,
we stayed in a lodge together with a lot of serious ornithologists and
there were hummingbird feeders hanging everywhere (you could see over
12 different hummingbird species there we learned).
The first day we did a short guided walk, the forest was just gorgeous
- lots of epiphytes, bromeliads and ferns, moss and ferntrees. And all
of it covered in white fog. Second day we headed out on our own, the
trails were well signposted and we had a good map (anyone who knows me
well knows that all the other maps were probably not that bad
either..). Stayed out the whole day and saw a few different birds, one
nice blue-faced toucan (the "plate billed mountain toucan" we learned
afterwards..) and a few less colourful birds. Plus a few ones we made
up :-). The spectacled flightless duck, the common tree ostrich and so
on. The norwegian forest elephant (smaller than it's african cousin
and have almost completely lost the ability to fly) could also be seen
migrating through these woods..
We're not very serious birders...
A few of the trails were pretty tricky, steep or muddy or rope a
couple meters down a mountainside and balancing on tree trunks across
a stream. Or walking in a stream..regretted not borrowing rubber
Found out in the evening (after cleaning our shoes for a good while..)
that one of the birds we had seen - round brown cangaroo-jumping thing
(or "giant antpitta" as we learned it was called) is one of the
ornithologists favourite here - one guy had been looking for it for
two full days! Poor guy, think he was a bit devastated that even us
non-appreciators had got a good look at it (it was hopping along
directly on the path we were walking..). He still hadn't seen it when
we left the next day - hope he had some luck over the next few days..
== Puerto Lopez ==
Didn't escape night-buses completely for Ecuador, the one from Quito
to Puerto Lopes down by the coast was 12 hours. Arrived early in the
morning, got a hostel and slept until midday.
The next day we got a bus with way too many (but very friendly) people
on it to drop us of by a beach, Playa los Frailes, just north of town.
It's in the Machalilla national park and there's a nice walking trail
that leads past a couple smaller beaches and a viewpoint over to this
one. There were tons of little lizards running off into the bushes
when we walked the path, and lots of crabs running around on the
beach. Not a single other person though. We had borrowed snorkel sets
for the beach but it was really to big waves and too little
visibility. Was a great place to collect seashells, bounce around in
the waves and run around naked though (am swedish after all).
Next day we went on a boat tour to Isla de la Plata an hour or two
away. The island is called "poor mans Galapagos" for all the sea birds
there, and it's also part of the national park. Did a guided walk
around the island and saw lots of bluefooted boobies everywhere, (some
even making a nest directly on the walking path), frigate birds (a
couple with the strange red throat pouch inflated), lots of Nazca
boobies and a couple redfooted ones and some tropic birds and
pelicans. We also did a bit of snorkeling before returning - slightly
better visibility and saw lots of colourful fish.
On the way back they took a longer route and I was starting to feel a
bit seasick (the sea was very bumpy) - forgot that quickly when we saw
the wales though. Humpback wales migrate through here June-September
and we saw a couple tail splashes and the spray in the air when they
breathe. When the boat was getting back to the harbour it was getting
dark and there was a neon-blue glow in the waves from the boat in the
water. Phosphorescence - caused by plankton in the water being
disturbed by the boat. I would really have loved having a swim in it
but it stopped when we got in to the harbour...probably to dirty for
Next day we headed off into the inland part of the Machalilla national
park with Ernesto, our guide. The park protects the 1% that is
remaining of the coastal rain forest. Ecuador doesn't have that much
left of it's Amazonian rain forest either, that's been disappearing
quickly since oil was discovered here in the 60's. Not even the
national parks and reserves have been safe from oil drilling, and the
indigenous living in the forest have been left pretty much alone to
fight the oil companies. They're getting better organized in their
fight though, there was a massive lawsuit going against Texaco for
dumping toxic waste-water directly into the amazonian river system for
20 years instead of putting it back into the ground for example.
We started the walk from the little village Agua Blanca close to the
coast, had a look in a small museum about the Manteņo civilisation
that had it's center here 500BC-1540AD, then had a quick swim in a
sulphur-stinking hotspring and headed further inland into the forest.
Was interesting to see the vegetation change on the way, from dry
shrubs, cactus and strange algarobbo trees (green bark and very
"swollen" looking) when we started and gradually into bigger trees
drowning in bromeliads. When we got closer to the place we were
spending the night, San Sebastian, it was beautiful
rainforest/cloudforest with lots of bamboo and ferns. On the way
Ernesto, the guide, had found a small ceramic head from the Manteņos.
Nicely made, about 10cm big - it was lying face down in the dirt
directly on the walking path! Strange it hadn't been found before..the
path wasn't that old though - the old path had been destroyed recently
by El Niņo. El Niņo's getting stronger and stronger and more and more
frequent (also global warming..), Ernesto pointed out lots of things
in the forest that had changed the last few years because of it,
He guessed the head was about 800 years old.
We had thought San Sebastian would be a little village in the forest
but it turned out to be just an abandoned house in a small clearing.
And this house turned out to be where Ernesto, our guide, had spent
his first 35 years. No wonder he knew the forest so well... Felt
privileged to stay in his old childhood home. In the morning we went
looking for howler monkeys (didn't see any but had had no trouble
hearing them when they woke us at 6am..) before doing the walk back to
the road and the pickup truck waiting.
From Puerto Lopez to Guayaquil, staying in a lousy hostel with no hot
water (and they had a padlock on the toilet paper roll to stop people
from nicking it..), waiting to fly to Galapagos. I'll write about it
in the next one..
Lots of new photos up on http://david.tryse.net
take care, love to hear from you all ;-)