A Travellerspoint blog

Peru Part 1

Mountains and mummies

all seasons in one day 20 °C

Moving straight on from the end of the last entry, I continued my frantic dash towards Peru with a fairly epic three day bus journey. I had chosen the more adventurous and remote option for crossing the border via La Balsa, which turned out to be quite interesting. The first day got off to an inauspicious start when the bus I had planned to take from Vilcabamba was canceled, so I had to wait another hour for the next one. It wasn´t long before we hit our next hurdle - roadworks on the dirt road towards the border. Unlike in the UK, you don´t just wait 5 minute for the lights to change- we had to wait at least half an hour before being allowed through. The rest of the journey took us through some stunning mountainous scenery with the surrounding hills green with lush vegetation, definitely worth the hassle (so far). We arrived at Zumba, the nearest town to the border two hours later than I´d hoped and I then found I had to wait another two hours for the next collectivo to the border. The upshot of all of this was that I didn´t arrive at the border till 7.30pm, instead of the 3.30 I'd been aiming for!

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Road to Zumba

Road to Zumba

Leaving Ecuador was straightforward- just a quick stamp in the passport and I walked across the bridge into Peru, which is where things got interesting. There was an office which looked like it should have been the immigration office right by the bridge, however it turned out that it wasn´t and a helpful guy sitting inside eating dinner with his kids pointed me along the road to the immigration control. I had been expecting some form of formal building, not just someone´s house, so it took me several trips before a helpful kid finally showed me the right place. He then had to wake up the guy in charge, who was watching tv upstairs. He eventually came down, clearly not impressed at having his evening interrupted by me. After filling in the forms, it turned out I then had to go find the police post to get them stamped. So I retraced my steps for the third time and found the policeman in football shirt and shorts chatting with his mates in a nearby shop. He took me down the police station and, having had to open everything up specially, stamped my forms before explaining that I had to go back to immigration to get my passport stamped. Eventually I had legally arrived in Peru! By this time it was almost 9.00pm, way too late to get a collectivo to the next town, my original destination, so I ended staying the night in the only hotel in the village, which fortunately had a bed free.

The next day, I was up early and soon in a taxi to San Ignatio, the first proper town in Peru. At first, I was very comfortable as the only passenger, but we soon stopped to pick up more passengers - first a mate of the driver, then a pregnant women and her three children and finally another old man. So we ended up spending the next hour hurtling along the dirt roads with 6 of us crammed in the back, listening to Rod Stewart and the Bee Gee's ¨Staying Alive¨. At San Ignatio I hopped in another taxi for the three hour trip to the next town, where I had a quick trip across town in motorised trike before boarding my final bus of the day to Chicalayo. Fourteen hours after starting out I finally arrived and collapsed in a hotel for the night.

The road to Chicalayo

The road to Chicalayo

Next morning I got a 4 hour bus to Trujillo, a nice little city with a very pretty centre. My next bus wasn´t till the evening, so I had an afternoon to kill in town, starting by enjoying a huge and delicious plate of ceviche - raw seafood marinaded in a mix of lime juice, chilli and various other bits and pieces - tentacularlicious! The afternoon was spent pottering around enjoying the views, before hopping on the overnight bus to Huaraz.

The main square, Trujillo

The main square, Trujillo

Colourful buildings, Trujillo

Colourful buildings, Trujillo

View of the mountains looming over Huaraz

View of the mountains looming over Huaraz

Here I spent a pleasant three days enjoying the beautiful surroundings and stretching my legs after far too long on buses. I had decided not to spend the 4 days minimum necessary to do a proper multi-day trek, so contented myself with a couple of spectacular day hikes. The first of these was to Laguna 69, a stunning azure blue lake at the base of some of the snowy peaks forming the Cordillera Blanca. It was a pretty tough hike up to the lake at nearly 4800m, not helped by the 2.5 hours crammed into tiny mini-buses before and after.

Mountainous Scenery

Mountainous Scenery

First glimpse of Laguna 69

First glimpse of Laguna 69

Laguna 69

Laguna 69

The next day, I dragged myself out of bed at 6.30am again, ignoring the various aches and pains, and enjoyed another day of good hiking, this time to Laguna Churup at the slightly lower altitude of 4450m. The views of the surrounding peaks were even better today and I had a thoroughly enjoyable walk, helped by teaming up with a couple of Brazilians I met on the way. The lake itself, though not quite as startlingly blue as laguna 69, was very pretty and this time I could actually see the mountain peaks above.

The path to Laguna Churup

The path to Laguna Churup

Laguna Churup

Laguna Churup

Back in town, I treated myself to a very English curry, complete with a bottle of London Pride (at a price even greater than in London!), before catching the night bus to Lima. Somehow, I very annoyingly managed to lose my nice hat from Colombia along the way -suddenly realising I wasn{t wearing it as the bus pulled off.

My next day in Lima was one of the most frustrating I've experienced. My main task was to try and get my misbehaving camera fixed. After a couple of false starts and "helped" by a local who decided his mission was to take right round Lima to find somewhere (obviously he wanted paying for this) I finally found someone who said they could fix it. So I happily headed off for a few hours exploring the cente of Lima, coming back as requested at 4 O'clock to find the little shop locked up, and my "helper", who I'd already given some money and bought lunch for, waiting for me with a story about how his sister had broken her leg, and he needed another 50 soles (about 12 quid to pay the hospital). After waiting for over an hour, I gave him the cash just to get rid of him,then had to wait another 2 hours for the guy to return. Then, he announced that it would take at least 5 days to order the components to fix my camera, so he hadn't actually done anything! So all this cost me 40 quid with no benefit other than a day lost and to cap it all off I found I had lost my bank card when I got back to the hostel!!

Plaza de Armas in Central Lima

Plaza de Armas in Central Lima

The one amusing part of the day was when I was in the centre of town and found the statue of Madre Patria. Apparently when this was commissioned in Spain, they specified a crown of flames on her head. Unfortunately the word for flames in Spanish is also llama, so the sculptor got a little confused and put a little llama on her head instead!

Llamas on the brain

Llamas on the brain

The next day was somewhat better - I didn't do much other than try and find/cancel my card and have a potter round Miraflores, one of the nicer neighbourhoods in Lima, which is located on some very pretty cliffs overlooking the Pacific ocean.

Miraflores, Lima

Miraflores, Lima

The main highlight if the day however was dinner. I had booked in to what is supposedly the best restaurant in Peru, Astrid y Gaston, where they fuse traditional Peruvian cuisine with French and Spanish influences. I went all out and had the 12 course tasting menu, which was probably the best meal I've ever had. Each course was a mouthful of incredible flavours, all beautifully presented naturally - I only regretted not taking my camera along! I won't list the entire menu (you can find it here if you like) so I'll just mention a couple of stand out courses;

Cuy Pekines
Acompañado de encurtidos de chifa, hoisin de rocoto y crepes de maíz morado
(Basically crispy fried guinea pig, complete with soy suace and mini pancake)

Cilindrada de pulpo (Octopus from a smoking barrel)
Con burbujas de botija, jugo de anticucho y crema de papa amarilla
Octopus smoked in an iron barrel with anticucho juice, crispy garlics, capers and boteja olives bubbling foam and yellow potato cream

I staggered out almost 4 hours later, extremely full and content. A complete extravagance and definitely a one-off, but worth it. Back to pasta and tomato sauce the next day though! The next morning I left Lima and moved on to Nazca, the home of the famous lines in the desert. It was quite a shock to step out of the bus into the blazing heat of the desert after a couple of weeks in cooler climes. That night I went to an interesting lecture on the lines, which was particularly useful as I didn't know much about them before. The most popular theories for their existence are as a part of ceremonies relating to water rituals (as water was so scarce in the desert it had a huge significance in their lives) and astronomical events, although the alien conspiracies are still a popular alternative. It's amazing to think that the lines were constructed over a timespan of 800 years, almost as amazing as that no real evidence remains as to their true purpose.

The next morning I actually got to see the lines up close. This involved a trip in a very small plane to view the lines, whilst bouncing around in the thermals and being tipped from side to side as the pilot tried to give us the best view possible. He then capped it off with a few acrobatics just for fun - fortunately none of us lost the contents of our stomachs, unlike on some of the other planes!

Nasca Lines

Nasca Lines

Nasca Bird

Nasca Bird

Nasca Spider

Nasca Spider

In the afternoon I visited Chauchilla Cemetery, a traditional burial site for thousands of years. The incredibly dry conditions in the desert have preserved the mummies, complete with hair and clothes, in a slightly disturbing arrangement of graves, complete with skulls and other bones carefully arranged around.

Chauchilla Cemetery

Chauchilla Cemetery

Bad hair day

Bad hair day

Chauchilla Cemetery

Chauchilla Cemetery

That evening I hopped on the night bus to Cusco, where I'm finishing off this post. Hopefully the next one will cover my trek to Macchu Picchu, amongst other things.

Posted by Davelanky 20:17 Archived in Peru Tagged landscapes mountains lakes hiking lima nazca huaraz cordillera_blanca Comments (0)

Ecuador

Animals and mountains

sunny 20 °C
View South America on Davelanky's travel map.

I'm trying to fit all of Ecuador into one post, so this is probably going to be a huge one! A couple of long days on the bus from Colombia brought me to my first stop in Ecuador at Otovalo, a pretty little market town near the border. The town is famous for it's Saturday market, where people come from the surrounding area to sell an astonishing range of goods, so I had raced down from Colombia to get there for the Saturday. I had also unintentionally arrived during a local festival, so that I found myself just 50m from my hostel after 14 hours on buses, but unable to get there for a couple more hours due to a huge parade in the way!

The market the next morning was amazing, with everyone dressed up in the traditional dress of the area and selling a huge range of food, clothing and other brightly coloured items. I took advantage of the bargain prices to do a bit of pressie shopping and just generally had a great day wandering around, taking the odd picture.

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Colourful gifts at Otovalo

Colourful gifts at Otovalo

On Sunday I travelled to Quito, the capital of Ecuador, with my first priority to try and sort out a last minute cruise to the Galapagos islands. I thought I had left it too late, but at 3.30pm finally got it arranged (the shop shut at 4.00, so you can't get much more last minute than that!). This left me just enough time to have a quick wander through the very pretty historic centre before packing my bags for the early flight the next morning.

Rainbow over the historic centre

Rainbow over the historic centre

Central Quito at night

Central Quito at night

I arrived in the islands at lunchtime, and it was only when the incredibly blue water and bright yellow beaches appeared below the plane that I began to really get excited as it sunk in where I was. We were met by our guide, Galo, who took us back to our home for the next few days - the Seaman Catamaran. The boat was absolutely amazing - I had managed to get a great last minute deal on a luxury-class boat, so as you'd expect it was lovely, with generous cabins, a nice big communal area and lots of sun lounging space. I was also pleasantly surprised by the mix of other guests - I had been expecting lots of rich, old Americans, but found that almost everyone was in the same position as me and had picked up last minute deals.

Seaman Catamaran

Seaman Catamaran

The main living space

The main living space

My cabin, complete with beautifully arranged towels!

My cabin, complete with beautifully arranged towels!

After the first of many delicious meals we headed off to our afternoon excursion, a quick motor round some large and impressive volcanic outcrops teeming with birdlife followed by a bit of snorkelling. The water was freezing, even wearing wetsuits, however seeing our first sealions up close in the water made you forget about the cold. They were happy just playing around us, chasing each other and knawing on bits of rope attached to the boat, all amazing to see. I alos got to try out my birthday present from some friends of a waterproof case for my SLR, which was great. We emerged from the water to be served hot chocolate, before indulging in long, hot showers to thaw out.

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Sealions playing

Sealions playing

The next morning (after a bit of a rough night) we woke up moored by Española island and after breakfast (cereal, fruit, eggs, bacon, pancakes and maple syrup..mmmm), we headed ashore. We spent the morning on the beach, one of the few areas of the islands where we didn't have to be strictly controlled by our guide. We wandered freely along past big groups of sealions completely oblivious to the groups of tourists snapping away, iguanas sunning themselves on the rocks and incredibly coloured crabs, glistening bright orange against the black volcanic rocks. It was a photographer's dream and the couple of hours we had there flew by. We then had time for a bit more snorkelling before lunch, this time with less sealions but an amazing array of fish.

Galo explains sealion biology

Galo explains sealion biology

They really are cute!

They really are cute!

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The paparazzi snap away

The paparazzi snap away

Iguana chilling

Iguana chilling

After lunch we were back on land, this time at one of the bird colonies on the island. We saw our first blue-footed boobies, complete with fluffy and very cute babies, together with albatrosses (with slightly less-cute babies), frigate birds, gulls, and many others. It was all pretty overwhelming for the first day, and we retired to the boat for a well-deserved beer and several hours of editing the thousands of photos taken earlier.

Blue Footed Booby and baby

Blue Footed Booby and baby

I want one of those!

I want one of those!

Baby Albatross

Baby Albatross

The next day saw us on Floreana island, where the wildlife wasn´t quite as spectacular (maybe we were getting used to it by now), but still interesting. Galo explained more about the history of the islands and their spectauclar variety of life and we got to see some of the varieties of Darwin finches as well as baby rays and off course more sealions.

Ray spotting

Ray spotting

Crab on the rocks

Crab on the rocks

It was during our snorkelling shortly afterwards that tragedy struck- I was enjoying snapping away under the water using the waterproof case I was given for my birthday when I found my camera stopped responding. Upon surfacing, I discovered that the lens had almost completely died, and would only just about work with manual focusing, not ideal for fast-moving animals.

Later that afternoon we visited Post Office Bay, which is famous for the tradition of the post office - a barrel that you leave your postcard in, and instead take one form a location near your home to hand deliver/post when you get home. Apparently this dates back from when whalers used to leave their mail to home hundreds of years ago, and the tradition is still going strong, although the average time from leaving a card to having it delivered is down to under 2 weeks (somewhat shorter than the whalers were used to I suspect). Unfortunately no-one had mentioned this tradition to me before, so I didn't have a card to leave, but I did pick one up, though I feel slightly sorry for the recipients as it won't be delivered till Christmas!

Post Office Bay

Post Office Bay

We also did some more snorkelling, where I had the experience of watching four giant turtles happily grazing on seaweed within touching distance - pretty awe-inspiring, even if I was gutted to find that every single photo I took was massively under-exposed when I got out of the water.

The next day was my last onboard, with a trip to visit the amazing giant tortoises in the morning (fortunately they proved to move at the perfect pace for my new manual-focus lens!), followed by a trip to the Darwin centre where they run a breeding programe for the giant tortoises to repopulate some of the islands. The tortoises were fantastic to see up close, absolutely huge and incredibly chilled as they slowly grazed the grass and tottered around.

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Giant tortoises lazing around

Giant tortoises lazing around

The following day was supposed to be my day of diving before flying back to the mainland, but it all turned into a complete farce. I'd been introduced to a friend of our guide who ran a dive shop and who was taking a dive group to a place called Gordon Rocks that day. This location is known for some of the best diving in the Galapagos and the highest chance of seeing hammerhead sharks, but also some extremely strong currents- so strong that some dive companies insist on a mnimium experience level of 30 dives. This guy had no concerns about my mere 4 immersions, so we set off with the sun shining and in good spirits. Our problems started just as we were suiting up; a park rangers patrol boat came over and started a long discussion with our captain, with various pieces of paper being passed around. We were getting bad vibes when the divemaster came over and explained that for some reason we didn't have a permit to dive Gordon Rocks today, so would have to go somewhere else. For me, that was almost a relief, but for a couple of the others who were paying the $120 just to dive there and see hammerheads, it was real blow.

Anyway, we moved on to the next site, and had just finished a brief dive to check buoyancy etc. when the same patrol boat appeared again and another half hour argument ensued while we sat there fairly bemused. At the end of this, the patrol boat confiscated our captain's logbook and we were told that our boat had no licence to dive at all! Eventually we transferred to another company's boat and were told that we only had time left for one dive instead of the two we'd paid for. A couple of our group decided at this point to cut their losses and try and get a full refund, whereas I just wanted to dive as it was supposed to be my last day. So the remaining three of us ended doing a fairly poor dive (it turned out afterwards the divemaster took us to the wrong area to see much stuff!).

We returned to town in bad moods, just wanting to try and get our money back. After several long arguments with the owner, he finally agreed to give the two who hadn't dived a full refund and the other three of us 50% back. Bu this time we'd all decided to try again with a different company the next day, so I rushed of to change my flight, then went to sign up with the new company. This guy was a lot more upfront and even told us that everyone is diving without the proper paperwork- apparently new rules introduced in the last year are so complicated no-one can follow them. Therefore it comes down to whether you know the patrol crew and keep them happy (i.e. slip them cash under the table). The only thing our divemaster the previous day had done wrong was to be inexperienced and not know the correct procedures for bribing the park rangers! The silver lining of all this was to enable us all to get to know each other, and we went out for a few drinks to celebrate before heading to our beds.

The next day turned out to be completely different. The new dive company turned out to be fantastic, and we ended up having some amazing diving - the currents were mild and we saw loads of hammerhead sharks as well as a giant 5-6m manta ray, that even our divemaster got really excited over seeing. So it all turned out well in the end, and I was incredibly glad I stayed the extra day and left on a real high.

Everything's OK!

Everything's OK!

Giant Ray

Giant Ray

Inquisitive Turtle

Inquisitive Turtle

Hamerhead!

Hamerhead!

Back in Quito, I spent (wasted) a day or so finding somewhere to firstly get a replacement lens and only then find somewhere to get the original lens repaired. So I am now travelling with 4 lenses, which even I think is maybe a trifle excessive, even though they all do slightly different things! I then headed south, the first leg just a couple of hours through spectacular volcanic scenery to Latacunga, a town known for the hiking in the surrounding mountains. I only had time for a couple of day trips, one to a spectacular volcanic crater lake called Quilotoa, and one to trek up Cotopaxi. This involved taking 4WD up a steep track to 4000m, then hiking through snowstorms to a refugio at 4800m, where we stopped to catch our breath and have some lunch. We then continued onwards and upwards to the start of the main glacier at just over 5000m. The scenery was stunning, and although it was freezing cold and hard to breath, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and kind of wished I'd had the time and money to sign up for the complete two-day ascent to the summit at 5800m. Oh well, maybe in Bolivia...

Quilotoa Crater

Quilotoa Crater

Cotopaxi emerges from the clouds

Cotopaxi emerges from the clouds

Interesting weather and terrain on Cotopaxi

Interesting weather and terrain on Cotopaxi

Made it!

Made it!

Stunning views as the clouds clear

Stunning views as the clouds clear

Sadly, I had to move on swiftly, with the next few days spent mostly on buses, with just a brief overnight stop in the very pretty Cuenca, before heading down to Baños, a very pretty town surrounded by mountains. Here I had time for a bit of biking down the valley enjoying some stunning views of waterfalls cascading over the edge of the mountains, especially Pailon del diablo, the most spectacular of them. We got back to town to find that it had partly been shut down for a car rally, so we enjoyed watching the cars careering past crowds protected by no more than a flimsy piece of tape.

The blue domes of Cuenca's cathedral

The blue domes of Cuenca's cathedral

Old buildings in Cuenca

Old buildings in Cuenca

Great views in Baños

Great views in Baños

Pailon del Diablo, Baños

Pailon del Diablo, Baños

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Rallying in Baños

Rallying in Baños

Finally, I jumped back on the bus to my final destination in Ecuador - Vilcabamba, another little town nestled in the mountains. Here I enjoyed my first day of proper hiking on the trip, with some stunning views of the surrounding mountains, despite the amzingly thick smog that covered the area. I stayed in a lovely little place called the Rumi Wilco Ecolodge - a series of adobe rooms nestled at the foot of one of the mountains outside of town. It was created by a couple of Galapagos guides who have settled here, bought up a some land for conservation and created a lovely little place to stay, together with lots of hiking trails and information on the flora and fauna of the area. But soon it was time to head on to Peru, which I´ll cover in my next blog.

Rumi Wilco Ecolodge

Rumi Wilco Ecolodge

View from the mountains over Vilcabamba

View from the mountains over Vilcabamba

Sunset over Vilcabamba

Sunset over Vilcabamba

If this description of my last week in Ecuador comes across as a bit frantic, then that's pretty much how it has felt. as I've tried to cover enough distance to avoid falling any further behind my schedule than the week I'm currently behind. On the downside, I've rushed through several places I'd loved to have stayed another few days, like Baños, Cuenca and Vilcabamba. On the plus side, at least I've seen them, and I know I won't be compromising my time in Bolivia and Chile in another 6 weeks or so. So that´s all for now, I hope at least someone made it to the end of this post without falling asleep! As usual, there are more pics in my album if you´re interested.

Posted by Davelanky 13:53 Archived in Ecuador Tagged animals galapagos Comments (1)

Life's a beach...

...and then you dive (Colombia part 2)

all seasons in one day 30 °C
View South America on Davelanky's travel map.

Well, another two weeks have flown by and it's only looking back do I realise how much has been crammed in. I'll try and keep this a bit shorter than the last few posts, but we'll see how it goes.

Having finally torn myself away from Villa da Leyva, I headed up through northern Colombia to a little village called Taganga. Over the past few years this has become one of the major gringo hangouts on the northern coast, thanks to its cheap diving and easy access to the Tayrona national park. Unfortunately the village has struggled in some ways to evolve from a small, peaceful fishing community to the current tourist destination with the increase in gringos and all the good and bad things that come with us. The village has a certain charm, but it also has problems with rubbish, uncontrolled expansion and a general lack of direction as to how future development would be guided. Hopefully Taganaga will manage to overcome these issues and cope with the increase in popularity without losing the qualities that brought the first gringos along.

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Views of Taganga

Anyway, enough philosophical debate, I was there to learn to dive, so dive I did. I signed up with one of the best schools in Taganga called Aquantis and for the next three days enjoyed an intensive programme of dives in the morning and self-directed study in the afternoon (i.e. sitting in nice coffee shops reading my PADI dive manual). The diving was fantastic fun and I was pleasantly surprised how much there was to see - we spotted a moray eel, a turtle, an octopuss, not to mention thousands of fish and loads of coral. Three days later I had dived to 18m and was officially an open water diver - I even managed to get a free t-shirt for acing my exam.

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Diver dave

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Moray eel

Straight away, the next day, I headed off on my next adventure - a teek to find the Ciudad Perdida (literally lost city). This was a full-on 5 day trek through the jungle to find a set of ruins only discovered in the 1970's. It is generally likened to Machu Picchu, but without the crowds as only one group of around 10 people can trek in each day and there is no other way of getting there. Our trip started with a couple of hours on the main road before turning onto a small trek for an epic hour of off-roading to the village where the trek starts. We were fording rivers, almost toppling sideways and generally making the most of 4 wheel drive capability. At the start we had the opportunity to grab a quick lunch and also see one of the groups who had just finished - they all looked exhausted, covered in dirt and genereally very relieved to be out of the jungle - all slightly intimidating.

After lunch we set off, just as it started raining. The first hour was an easy flat path along the river, with a couple of crossings along the way. I diligently removed my boots, rolled up my trousers and crossed in sandals, determined to keep dry feet. The third crossing was more interesting, as by now the rain further up the mountains had swollen the river to almost waist level. Our guide struggled across with a rope, which we then used to cross, hanging on for dear life. Still, I made it across with dry feet and damp trousers, feeling slightly pleased with myself. Immediately we hit the first proper hill, an exhausting hour's climb up a steel and slippery switchback. By the top of this I was soaked with sweat and wondering why exactly I was paying to do this. It was around now the heavens opened properly - there seemed little point putting on waterproofs, so we carried on, getting wetter and wetter.

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The first serious river crossing

Once at the top of the hill we headed down the other side, as the path got muddier and muddier. We were soon slipping and sliding down through thick red mud up to our ankles, with water cascading down the path.

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Mud mud mud

Eventually we reached the bottom and our first camp, with just one further river crossing. Of course, having avoided falling over in the mud, I immediately slipped in the river and got one final dunking just to really make my day. We arrived at our shelter for the night soaking wet, freezing cold and generally wondering what on earth we were doing here. Fortunately a dry set of clothes and some hot food made the world seem a slightly better place and we spent the rest of the evening getting to know each other a bit better. My group was a pretty mixed bag of 13, from a group of dutch guys to a few brits, an ozzie a couple of French guys and even some Colombians. Everyone was really friendly though and we all got on pretty well. We didn't have that longs to chat though as everyone was knackered from the first day and tucked up in bed by 9.00.

The second day dawned with sun and bright skies, whoch made things a little better. Putting on soaking wet clothes and boots was pretty unpleasant though - by now I'd given up any though of keeping dry feet. Our route continued through similar terrain to the day before, not quite as muddy but still pretty bad. At least we had some stunning views of the mountains to enjoy - yesterday they had been shrouded in mist. Another, even longer hill awaited us though and soon we were staggering and swearing our way up. The heat and humidity made it really hard work, and my pack which was almost double the size of most peoples (due to camera etc), was a real handicap. But we made pretty good time and reached our next camp by lunchtime. Our reward was a refreshing dip in the river nearby, followed by an afternoon in the dry watching the rain pelt down outside.

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Sun makes everything better!

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Yet another hill

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Rain..

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..Rain..

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..And more rain

Day three started off slightly differently with a river crossing involving being swung across a canyon on a small platform suspended by a not too thick cable. Then it was yet another, even longer, climb and then another steep descent. This was followed by a couple of hours walking through the dense jungle and then a final section scrambling along the river to reach camp 3. This section took us through the area occupied by the indigenous people, called the Koguis, who are the descendants of the original Tayronan settlers who founded the lost city. They live their lives in small villages, until recently almost completely isolated from the modern world. Today, contact with other Colombians and tourists trekking here has begun to have a significant effect on their way of life and there is a risk it will totally change future generations.

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River crossing by cable

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Splashing around

We made camp by 11.00, which gave us plenty of time to enjoy the beautiful river, complete with plunge pools, waterfalls and other amusements. For once, the rain held off so we got to spend most of the afternoon relaxing, which made a pleasant change. Our guide Nicholas, had told us that the traditional weather patterns had changed significantly over the last few years, with the normal wet and dry seasons becoming far less distinct and consistent - another indication of the effect global warming is happening?

Day four was the summit day, thank goodness. Another early start and a half hour scramble along the river brought us to the foot of the 1200 step staircase leading to the city. By now we were getting used to the lung-sapping climbs, but it was still painful work slogging up. The sight at the top was worth it though - a series of terraces interwoven with the jungle, each containing stone circles forming the foundations of the original houses. The city was only rediscovered in the 1970's, first by Colombian graverobbers, who began looting the site. Fortunately one of the graverobbers made a deal with the government to lead them to the site, which they then protected and began to investigate. Only a proportion of the city has been uncovered, as the site is still sacred to the Koguis and is still used by their Shaman at certian points of the year. It's an amazing site, even better than I'd expected, as the guidebooks tend to underplay the actual ruins.

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Steps to the city

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Views of the city

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Indiana Dave

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Views of the city

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Views of the city

After a couple of hours on the site it was time to start heading back, first to camp 3 and then continuing down to camp 2. It was the longest day so far, but we all made good time and hit camp by mid afternoon. Again, the rain held off just long enough for us to get to camp dry. Well, we got to within sight of camp dry, then had to cross the river again, this time at a point where it came to shoulder level. By this point we no longer even stopped and thought about it, just plunged in and enjoyed the cool water. There were some more nice boulders for jumping off, so we enjoyed some more time messing about in the water.

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Another river crossing

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Cooling off

Day 5 was the longest day, combining the first two days into one long, hot 12km slog. It was hard work, but we knew what to expect this time, which made it easier. Just to make it worse, about two hours in I properly sprained my ankle, ironically on the only rock in one of the few relatively flat sections. Fortunately I was wearing boots, so there wasn't much else to do other than carry on even more slowly and leave the worrying about it till later. Despite this, we all made pretty good time and arrived back in civilisation by lunchtime, ready for the first cold beer of 5 days. Overall, it was one of the most challenging treks I've done, with the steep and long hills exacerbated by the heat and humidity. Looking back, definitely worth it, but I'm not sure I'd do it again!

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More mud

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Finished at last!

After a day's recovery in Taganga, I headed on, my early morning departure somewhat enlived by the screams of a guy in my dorm, who got stung 3 times by a large scorpion hiding in his shorts. Whan I left he was just staggering off to the medical centre for anti-venom (apparently it wasn't deadly). Not something I'd been worrying about until then! My next destination was Cartagena, a beautiful city further along the coast. The city was one of the most important Spanish colonies, and has a beautiful historic centre still encircled by the original walls and with most of the original buildings now restored and looking good. I had a very nice day wandering around, taking a few pictures, as well as visiting one of the forts guarding the city. The city was captured by Drake in 1586 but ransomed back. The British tried again in 1741, but were repulsed by this fort - apparently this was the key point in preventing us taking all of the Spanish colonies in South America.

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Entrance to the city

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One of the many churches

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Old meets new Cartagena

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Typical street scene

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Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

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View inside the fort

Sadly I soon ran out of time and headed south, taking a large jump to Salento in Southern Colombia. This is in the coffee growing region and is home ot a unique place called Valle de Cocoro which has amazing wax palms growing up to 60m tall, as well as hummingbird sancyuaries serving hot chocolate and cheese (for dunking). I managed a quick day there, before my time in Colombia drew to a halt.

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Wax palms and Hummingbirds, Salento

Whilst I've spent quite a bit longer than planned here, it still feels far too short, with some amazing places missed off my itinerary. I've had a brilliant time and can see why Colombia is the next big tourist destination, if it's not already! Now I'm off to Ecuador.........

Posted by Davelanky 15:04 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Colombia part 1

all seasons in one day 18 °C
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Well, I've been in Colombia two weeks already and it's completely flown by. I landed in Bogota to find a far more comfortable temperature than the 32 degrees plus in Manaus, which came as quite a relief. From the first minute I stepped out of the hostel the next morning, the city has had a lovely feel to it; the sun was shining, the streets were busy with students chatting and people ambling around - it all felt really friendly and relaxed. I stayed in an area called the candelaria in the centre, which has most of the oldest and prettiest buildings and proved to be a really nice area to wander around. My first day was spent having a nice relaxed explore round the candelaria and main square, with a visit to the gold museum as well. This tuned out to be one of the best museums I've seen in a long time - really well organised, lots of fascinating information impeccably translated into english and some stunning exhibits.

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The Main Square

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Painted house in the Candelaria

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Gold Museum Exhibits

The next day I visited Montserrat - one of the mountains overlooking the city, which you can reach via cable car. You don't realise how huge the city is until you get up there and see it disappearing into the distance. By the time you get up the top, you're at over 4000m, so suddenly everything seems like much harder work and my usual running around taking pictures had to be somewhat curtailed.

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View from Monserrat

The next day was my final day in Bogota, so I promptly left the city to visit a little town called zipaquira, which has a famous salt mine and cathedral. This involved getting on the transmillenio, a very impressive priority bus lane system whisking you through the city with speed and efficiency. It's maybe not quite as good as the London underground, but it comes close and is currently being massively expanded as well.

The salt mine is an amazing place- salt has been extracted there for thousands of years, but only properly mined using modern technology in the last few decades. In one area of the mine, the miners have built a stunning underground cathedral, with various attached chapels and other attractions. It's all beautifully lit and pretty awe-inspiring. The main cathedral nave is over 100m long and 20m high. Ther are also 14 chapels symbolising the stations of the cross, each beautifully carved and lit. It's a pretty amazing place, especially if you like taking photos!

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The main nave

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The font

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One of the smaller chapels

All too soon it was time to leave Bogota and move on - it's a fantastic place and somewhere I could happily spend a lot more time. My next stop was a little town of Villa de Leyva, nestling in the mountaisn 4 hours out of Bogota. The town was declared a national monument in the 1950s, and no new building has been allowed since, so it has retained all of the traditional buildings, mostly aligned around a huge central square. I had planned to stay just one night, but arrived on a Friday to find the main square being set up for a 3 day kite festival, so it seemed rude not to stay a bit longer and participate!

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The main church

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The Monastery

The Saturday morning is the town's main market, so it was an early start to get down there and get some nice pcitures whilst enjoying the atmosphere. In the hostel, I had met Joanna, who was also keen to visit the market, so we tagged along together. Within 5 minutes, she had encouraged me into getting a matching Indiana Jones style cowboy hat with her; within 10 minutes it became apparent I had met someone even more fanatical about taking pictures than me! We had a thorougly enjoyable morning snapping away, first at the market and then the kite festival in the main square. There was a huge range of kits, from kids with tiny little ones to vast 5m kites that need two people to launch. It was also very picturesque and good natured, with hundreds of people sitting about the square drinking and watching.

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Market faces

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Indiana Jo

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Hats anyone?

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Taking a break

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Kites

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Revellers in the square

The next day Joanna took me along to a little town called Raquera, which has a reputation for producing amazing pottery. There is a road full of shops selling the pottery and other tourist stuff and we had a pleasant (slightly hungover afternoon) pottering (excuse the pun) around and, guess what, taking more pictures! We got back to Villa de Leyva to find the festival continuing, with even larger crowds partying in the main square and generally fetting very drunk, all in a very cheerful atmosphere.

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Toucans!
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Where's my pot?

On Monday, I had my most ambitious/exhausting/painful day yet. The plan was to hire bikes to cycle to a set of waterfalls (relatively) nearby. Ignoring the warning from the hostel staff that it was rather uphill and fueled with almond croissants and coffee, we set off on the ancient, battered mountain bikes the hostel provided. Almost immediately, a combination of lack of fitness, altitude and riding a ridiculously small-framed bike with wobbly cranks kicked in and I began to struggle. The next two hours almost killed me as we pedaled (well largely walked in my case) up hill after interminable hill. Joanna would happily pedal into the distance and disappear round the corner, then have time for a little snooze as I staggered up, sweating, cursing, my legs burning.

Eventually we made it though and I have to say it was just about worth it - the waterfalls were very nice- with one impressive 15m fall and some very pretty smaller ones (even if not quite on the scale of Iguacu). We had a nice afternoon exploring and taking pictures, before getting back o the bikes. On the the way home, it became apparent just how high we had climbed as we freewheeled virtually the whole way at high speed (I also found out it was 15km each way, so not too bad for an unfit gringo!).

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Waterfall views

On my final day in the area, we headed out to another natural attraction nearby called Paso Del Angel. This is a spectacular area where two rivers have carved away on each side to leave a narrow ridge you can walk along. It's mostly a couple of metres wide, but at one point is just 20cm or so, with a 50m vertical drop on one side and a 120m near-vertical drop on the other. After posing for photos (slightly nervously on my part), we walked on to the next attraction, a set of waterfalls where the two rivers join. The most spectacular is 80m high, although it's hard to get a good view from the top. We also found a much smaller one, where you could actually get right under for photos/masochism. The water was pretty freezing and the pressure impressive even for a small one, so we didn't spend long before heading back.

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Colourful Greenhouse

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At the Paso

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The spectacular view

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Looking Down

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It's cold!

The next day, having burned through a ridiculous number of memory cards under Jo's influence, I moved onwards to where I am now - learning to dive on the north coast,- more to come in my next post.

Posted by Davelanky 14:59 Archived in Colombia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Up the Amazon..

... without a paddle

sunny 32 °C
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Wow, the last 10 days have been pretty intense, and only now have I had time to actually stop and take stock of everything I've done. I'm afraid this blog post is going to be a long one, so grab a cup of tea before you start.

After leaving the beaches further south, I travelled to Sao Luis, a medium sized city on the coast. It has a lot of beautiful historic buildings, which are in various states of disrepair as the city gradually tries to restore the centre of town.

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A typical run-down but beautiful building

The Portugese influence is particularly strong here, with lots of the buildings tiled with Portugese style "Azulejos" - even the traffic lights are tiled!

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This was just a brief stop before I hopped on a flight to Santarem, deep in the Amazon jungle. Here I had a couple of days stop whilst I organised my boat trip up the Amazon. Whilst here I enjoyed a day trip to the beautiful river beaches of Alter de Chao and also the surreal sight of the main road along the river being blocked by loads of dancing cowboys and cowgirls promoting a car showroom.

Soon it was time to leave the heat and humidity of Santarem and board my boat for the two day trip upriver. I was a bit apprehensive, having read descriptions of the boats as overcrowded, dirty, smelly and with nothing to do. I was therefore pleasantly surprised by the experience. Our boat was pretty large, with a cargo deck, two hammock decks and an open-air bar and sun deck area. I have to confess that I chickened out of going for the hammock option and had a (very small) cabin, which in hindsight I regret.

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My boat

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Some of the hammocks crammed in

We set off at midday and the next two days were spent largely watching the jungle pass by, reading and dozing. I was lucky enough to meet some friendly Argentinians who spoke good English, so we also spent a lot of the time just chatting. The jungle was a bit different to what I had expected, less vast trees towering over everything and more a range of diffeent trees, open pastures and wetlands. The boat hugged (worryingly) close to the shoreline, so we got a great view of the jungle, as well as the many river dolphins that popped up to say hello.

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A typical house along the river

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Amazon sunrise

Everyone on board was very friendly, with entire families cramming ito the packed hammock decks. The bar area was constantly busy, with people spending the voage drinking, listening to loud music and watching the widescreen tv!

I was actually quite disappointed when we arrived in Manaus with the dawn- I had been expecting and looking forward to another day of boat life. My next task was to organise a jungle trip, which was made easier by getting some recommendations from people who had just returned in the hostel.

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Dawn arrival in Manaus

So the next day we set off, picked up from the hostel at 8 in the morning for the multi-vehicle trip to the jungle. The first stop was the port, where we had a brief tour of the fish market before boarding a tiny boat to cross the river. We were just out of port when the heavens opened and it started pouring with rain - I found out afterwards that we were the last boat able to cross the river because the waves were too big. But we made it to the other side, and transferred to a minibus for a 40km drive along the trans-Amazonia highway, stopping to admire giant waterlilies on the way.

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Then we crossed into another, even smaller, boat for the trip up river to the base camp. The journey had provided an opportunity to get to know the others in my group, who were all really nice - Pierpauolo and Francesca from Italy, Anthony and Elena from France and Etienne and Josie from France (via Washington DC).

We arrived at camp in time for lunch and brief introduction to our guide and driver for the next few days - Luis and Ducamo (a nickname meaning "little toucan"). Then it was straight out for a boat trip on the river. Luis explained how the water level had already dropped 2-3m from the peak level, but would continue to drop another 6m, so we were there at the perfect time. Vast areas were still flooded, with the river merging into the jungle and lakes.

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We motored up river, before heading into the jungle proper, weaving between the trees powered by paddle only. The atmosphere was really incredible, with the only sounds the occasional bird, the splashing of debris falling in the water and the quiet noise of Luis paddling. We managed to see plenty of birds, a couple of sloths and some Squirrel monkeys - not bad for the first afternoon!

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Paddling in the forest

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Beautiful light deep in the forest

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Iguana hiding in the trees

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Our first sloth!

The next day we headed out in the morning for our jungle trek. This meant actually stepping foot in one of the dry areas of jungle and then hiking around with Luis pointing out some of the many plants and trees used in traditional medicine. We also got to try eating a, not particularly tasty, grub and saw tarantulas up close- Luis actually used a leaf to tempt them out of their lairs, then picked one up to show us the centimetre long fangs - rather him than me!

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Eating a grub

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Luis holds a tarantula

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The group tries out natural anti-malarials

That afternoon we went Piranha fishing. They were quite a bit larger and more aggresive than the Pantanal ones, and we managed a pretty decent catch (although I only managed to catch tiddly ones which had to be thrown back!). As we motored back to camp we had a spectacular sunset to enjoy as well.

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A rather small catch by me

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Our combined catch is slightly more impressive

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The third day kicked off with a dawn paddle around the lake, then after breakfast a trip to visit a local caboclos family. We got to see the (tiny) house that 9 people lived in as well as the plantation where they grew manioc to turn into flour, pineapples and other fruits and vegetable.

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A typical home

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view of the kitchen

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the family watch us poke around

The visit finished with me being given the run-around on the football pitch by a 7 year-old girl and her brother, which turned into a full 5-a side game of Brazil vs Europe. I'm pleased to say Europe won, just!

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My tormentor!

After lunch we headed out for the highlight of the trip- a night sleeping in the jungle. This involved taking the boat for an hour or so to our camp site, where we rigged a fishing net to catch dinner, before setting up our hammocks and collecting firewood.

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Our campsite

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Laying the net

As the sun set we returned to the net to find a pretty good catch of 7 or 8 fish, which formed the basis of dinner. After dark we returned to the river for some spear fishing - this was mostly unsuccesful, although Luis did manage to catch one more fish. Finally it was time for dinner and whilst Luis and Ducamo prepared the BBQ, we focused on the most important aspect - making Caipirinha's with the cachaca we picked up earlier from the floating river store. Amazingly, we even had ice and the resulting drinks were some of the best I've had in Brazil. By the time the food was ready we were all a bit tipsy and the BBQ'd fish and chicken tasted absolutely delicious, eaten off the jungle plates and with spoons Luis had carved from a palm tree. After that, there was only time to head for bed and a night of sleep somewhat interrupted by the cries of howler monkeys nearby.

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Our jungle utensils
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the end result

The next day was my final day, so after striking camp, we had a last few hours on the water before returning to camp to pack. Then it was time to reverse the journey of the first day and head back to civilisation, a flat bed and an absence of mosquitos. The next day was my last day in Brazil and was mainly spent recovering and sorting stuff, enlived only by a tour the Theatre Amazonas, the most impressive building in Manaus, completed in 1896 at the height of the rubber boom using materials from all around the world - marble from Italy, cast iron from Scotland and of course beautiful hardwood from the jungle nearby. The theatre has been recently restored and is still used for performances, unfortunately I didn't make one.

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Teatro Amazonas

Phew, I hope at least someone's still awake after that rather epic post. I've only included a few photos, there are more in my photo album if anyone is interested. That's finally the end of the Brazil leg of my trip, It's been fantastic fun but all too short. - I'm now in Bogota, Columbia and looking forward to a slightly cooler climate for a few days at least before hitting the beaches of the caribean.

Posted by Davelanky 15:57 Archived in Brazil Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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