June 27, 2004

the Santa Cruz trek

Every once in a while when you're travelling around, you happen across a town that you just don't want to leave. Huaraz, Peru was definitely one of those places.

For those of you who know Liz and Kylene, I had been planning for some time to meet them here to do some trekking. For those of you who know Ben and Sarah, I had also been keeping in touch with them for the last month with the intention of meeting up as well. It just so happened that all of us ended up together in Huaraz at the same time, so suddenly it seemed half the hostel was full of people I knew.

Speaking of the hostel, it was amazing. 6 bucks a night gets you a dorm bed with an excellent matress, a hostel with a rooftop patio surrounded by glorious views of plus-20,000' Andean peaks, a TV room with a selection of about a hundred movies, an in-hostel bar and a rooftop sauna and steamroom - probably the best hostel I've ever seen.

The first couple days in Huaraz were unfortunately spent in bed recovering from my bout of food poisoning. However Liz was kind enough to get sick at the same time, so at least I had some company.

After recovering, I headed out on a 4-day trek through the Cordillera Blanca called the Santa Cruz trek. It was pretty awesome, camping out at 4250 metres and hiking through a pass at 4750m - about 15 580 ft - the highest altitude I've ever been at. You definitely get pretty short of breath. I probably noticed it most when I was sleeping though - I kept waking up gasping for breath. The only negatives of the trip were it was cloudy when heading through the pass, so we probably missed the most spectacular views, and the fact that Liz was still sick and wasn't able to make it. So much for our plans.

This morning me, Alex, Liz and Kylene caught a bus out to Lima. The girls are heading back to Vancouver later tonight. I'm staying in Lima tonight, and tomorrow I head south down the coast, first to Pisco, then Ica and Nazca. Honestly, I don't want to spend any more time in Lima than I have to. I'm sure it has lots to offer, but it's a big, dirty city, and that's not what I'm here to see.

Posted by major at 10:16 PM | Comments (1)

June 20, 2004

recovering in Peru

Well well...lots of catching up to do.

First, the Galapagos. Amazing. I don't know what to say. I think it's nearly impossible to adequately describe the place without pictures - and hopefully I'll have some of those up soon.

I was on a 94-foot sailboat (although we used the motor the majority of the time) with 14 other people, cruising the islands for 8 days. It was a pretty funny group of people. There were 2 other guys roughly the same age as myself, and other than that it was mostly single middle-agers from the UK. Watching these people interact with each other was almost as interesting as watching the wildlife.

By the end of the trip, I was pretty glad to get off the boat. Striking fisherman setting up blockades of some of the islands forced us to run the usual itinerary in reverse, which meant heading into the wind and against the current a lot of the time, making for very rough seas. Everyone on the boat was popping Gravol like candy. It even took a day or two on dry land to get rid of the feeling that I was rocking with the waves.

From the Galapagos, I flew to Guayaquil, the biggest city in Ecuador. Guayaquil falls off the radar of most tourists - it's got a reputation as a big, dirty, dangerous city without much to see - but for me it was a must-see, as I had an offer to stay with an Ecuadorian couple that I had met earlier in Cuenca. I spent 4 days with Jorge and Gail, living in their home, touring the city, and getting a taste of a side of Ecuador that few tourists probably see. The area I was staying in certainly hadn't seen a traveller in ages.

From Guayaquil, I caught a bus down to Mancora, Peru, a laid-back surf and fishing town in northern Peru. While wandering around town with my face buried in my guidebook like some clueless Gringo looking for a hostel, I happened to run into this German dude Alex that I had met 3 weeks earlier in Ecuador. We're heading the same way and have the same basic schedule, so we've been travelling together since.

I was in a bit of a hurry, as I needed to meet up with some friends in Huaraz, Peru on the 18th, so the next day I took off for Trujillo, 9 hours by bus down the coast. Trujillo is famous for the city of Chan Chan, the 600-year-old ruins of a simply massive mud-brick city. Most of the ruins are pretty dilapidated, but what really gets you is the sheer size of the place. Apparently they estimate it was once home to 60 000 people. I also checked out the Huacas del sol y de la luna, a pair of mud-brick pyramids that date from before Chan Chan. Again, they're pretty run-down - mud bricks aren't exactly that resilient, and the only reason any of these ruins have survived is the lack of rainfall in the area - but there were some pretty impressive paintings that have been uncovered.

I had planned on only staying in Trujillo for 2 days, but on the afternoon
when I was supposed to leave, I suddenly came down with a pretty serious case of food poisoning. After a terrible night, I did make it out to Huaraz, but spent the next couple days in bed recovering.

Posted by major at 01:48 PM | Comments (0)

June 01, 2004

Churches, snowstorms, and tropical islands

Colonial architecture summarized: churches, balconies, cobblestones, pastels, churches, balconies, churches and more churches. I spent the day yesterday walking around the old part of Quito. Kinda cool, but honestly, you've seen one colonial town, you've seen them all. That's when I decided that I don't feel like visiting any more big cities on this trip. Bor-ring. Think I'll give big ol' Lima a big ol' pass.

The other day I checked out the monument at El Mitad del Mundo, the Middle of the World. It's a monument built about 30km or so north of Quito, right on the equator. It's every bit as touristy and cheesy as you're probably imagining right now. I guess it's one of those things that you just have to do. Yup, there it is. There's the line painted on the ground. That's the equator. Yay. Oh look at me, I've got a foot in each hemisphere! Wait, now I'm balancing right on the equator! I tried crossing a few times back and forth, but I didn't even feel like I was migrating or anything. Then I went and used a washroom on the north side and then on the south side. The water went down the same way in both. So much for the Coriolis force.

After all that walking around and snapping photos that can be more easily obtained through Google, I decided I needed some adventure, so today I went out mountain biking on Volcán Cotopaxi. It's a volcano south of Quito, one of the highest active volcanos in the world, although all it's done for over 100 years is let out a few puffs of gas. They take us up in a truck as far as you can drive, and then from there it's mostly downhill - which is good, since the start is at over 4500m, i.e. over 2km higher than the peak of Whistler! There were a few uphill sections, but they weren't too long so I managed to survive ok.

When we got up there, there was a full-on blizzard going on, with the winds just howling. Not expecting snow on the equator, I was in my shorts. Smart. It didn't take too long though to get down to a lower elevation (only 4000m), and the weather improved as well. Overall the trip was pretty wicked. Crazy terrain - it's all páramo, high-elevation treeless terrain covered in lichen and a few stunted plants - looked like the arctic. I also got to witness the most spectacular bike crash I've ever seen. This Venezuelan named Ivan was right beside me, and we were just ripping down and I was watching him when his front wheel slipped and hit a big rock. Complete high-speed endo, totally pretzled both wheels. Somehow he wasn't even really shaken up.

Tomorrow I'm off to the Galapagos for 8 days, which should be amazing. Since I'll be out of touch for a while.....GO FLAMES!!!!!!

Posted by major at 03:47 PM | Comments (5)