3 Cities in 5 days! Paracas // Huacachina // Nazca

21.10.16 – 26.10.16

Unbelievable, but it’s the end of October, which means it’s getting colder and colder at home – fall has begun, the days are shorter, nights are cold…and we sit on our hostel balcony in shorts and Tshirt, enjoying the ocean view. 🙂

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As you can imagine, we haven’t regretted our decision to quit our jobs and our apartment once. Of course, we both do crave for some mum-homemade-food or just simple good bread, but all in all we arranged well with the Peruvian cuisine and after some time of trying a vegetarian way of life, we slowly get back to eating meat. And at the coast we obviously enjoy seafood, for example in Paracas!

Paracas is a very tiny village at the ocean, which doesn’t offer a lot. For us it was rather a short rest after our hiking days in Huaraz. And we wanted to enjoy the sun a little bit longer. 😉 The first activity for both of us was a morning trip by boat to the “Islas Ballestas”, the so called cheap version of the Galapagos. Funny. 🙂 But we were surprised how many sea lions we saw in the end! They gathered around the rocks and even big males with their 5 females watched us curiously. Thousands of birds flew around our heads, the boat ride was impressive. Later this day Jakub decided to visit the Paracas National Park, which included a visit to the red beach. The next 2 days we mostly spent on planning further our trip.

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Sea Lion Rock No. I

Bird's Bridge

Bird’s Bridge

Sea Lion Rock No. II

Sea Lion Rock No. II

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Big Male and his wifes 🙂

Red Beach

Red Beach

Our next destination was then Huacachina, again a very small place being famous for its location: it’s an oasis in the middle of the desert! The only thing this village had to offer was a ride with the buggy and sandboarding – we had to try it. 🙂 Late in the afternoon we started the ride with this huge selfmade buggy. You cannot imagine how bumpy a sandy road can be when you speed through the dunes in such a vehicle! We were screaming and laughing at the same time and the driver kept making his buggy jump through the desert. Stopping at a very steep dune, we got our wooden boards and while we were still wondering how the hell we would make it down that hill safely and without being injured, the first person in our group was already sliding down…head first…OMG. What a crazy adventure! It was not as fast as we thought it would be since the sand brakes you down a lot, but still thrilling enough to try it again and again. 🙂 As the sun set we sat on the dunes, enjoying the beautiful sky and the illuminated oasis.

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Uuuh yeah! :)

Uuuh yeah! 🙂

Aaaaaah

Aaaaaah

Huacachina

Huacachina

The next day we caught a bus in the morning to Nazca. This place is actually very famous – in 1932 , archaeologists found some very characteristic lines, the so called Nazca lines. Additionally, when air traffic became more popular pilots spotted the lines in the desert of Nazca which looked a lot like figures or animals. It turned out that the ancient population of the Nazca had created these lines in the dry desert sand, without actually seeing what they will look like in the end! The people must have been very intelligent, since the lines are so straight that the creation of such had only been possible with mathematical knowledge. Still, scientists are not sure why they “drew” these lines – assumptions vary from astrological to religious reasons. For tourists, the city offers flights over the Nazca lines in small Cessna airplanes and since it was Jakubs big dream to do it, we booked a flight! 🙂 Reading some recommendations, we skipped breakfast the next morning – the flight can be very bumpy and unusual for your stomach. After waiting at the small airport until the fog has vanished, we finally boarded the plane together with 4 more people and up we went. What a feeling!! Being in such a small airplane you feel every change in wind, every curve we flew goes directly in your stomach…but it was thrilling, amazing, wonderful, awesome, incredible. 🙂  The first figures we saw were smaller than we thought and you needed to look very closely to spot them in the desert. Nevertheless, we saw all 12 animals and as the flight ended, we had 2 full vomit bags from not so well feeling passengers and 4 big grins from happy passengers (we were the happy ones). 😉

Can I still get out?

Can I still get out?

Nazca Figure

Nazca Figure

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What an amazing experience!

In the afternoon, we booked a guided tour to Cahuachi because we wanted to learn more about the culture of the Nazca. This place used to be a major ceremonial center of the, based from 1 AD to about 500 AD in the coastal area of the Central Andes. The site contains over 40 mounds topped with adobe structures. Scientists believe that it was a pilgrimage center, whose population increased greatly in relation to major ceremonial events [source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cahuachi]. Interestingly, the Nazca built very smart water wells the people nowadays in Nazca still take water from.

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The water system

The water system

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Cahuachi ruins

Cahuachi ruins

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Some crazy days ended and we looked forward to board our night bus which would drive us for the next 14 hours to Cusco. There, Machu Picchu is waiting for us, one of the big highlights of our trip and something we looked forward to from the beginning…woohoo!

Oh, and after our time in Latin America, we should actually count the hours we spent on buses – feels like we have spent half of the trip in mini vans, long distance buses, transporters,… 😉 That just belongs to our trip I guess!

Hikers Delight: Huaraz

14.10. – 20.10.16

For the next couple of days we set our home base in the mountain city Huaraz, known for its many trekking trails and tours. 🙂 We’ve already received many recommendations, especially for the famous “Laguna 69” trek and the 4-days Santa Cruz hike, but we would like to draw our own conclusions and plan to start asking around at the uncountable tour agencies for trips. It’s gonna be some exciting days and we cannot wait to discover the beautiful Cordillera Blanca and Negra and enjoy nature around here. And the very “delicious” specialty around here: guinea pig!

Still alive...

Still alive…

...not so alive anymore...

…not so alive anymore…

But before that, we check in our hostel and for the first time, we feel like home. 🙂 The room at “Casa de Ana” hostel is wonderful big, with comfortable beds, AND with real blankets! Typically we sleep under linen or thin fleece blankets, but here we have good normal blankets just like at home… what a feeling. We sleep like babies.

The owner of our hostel gave us some advices for good tour agencies and the next day our first mission is to set up a tour program for Huaraz. 🙂 So far we’re not 100% sure whether we wanna hike the 4 days Santa Cruz trek or not. We’re in the middle of the rainy season here and our mountain equipment is not fully applicable to these weather conditions. To be honest, seeing some backpackers here and their outfits we feel like bloody tourists in our not so fancy “North FaKe” jackets, haha. 🙂 After our first visit in one agency however, we’re pretty thrilled about that hike – best example of how well customers can feel when they’re being consulted in the best possible way. The guy from “Eco Ice” had a Google Earth 3D map prepared, showing us exactly how we’d hike, how difficult it might be, where we camp etc. Wow! Where do we sign up? 😉 No other agency was as professional as this one (which was also the most expensive one), but we still wanted to buy us some time. The plan was to do a first day trip here to find out how the weather might be and then start the trek in 3 days.

Hence, our first day trek the next day should be the famous “Laguna 69”. Early in the morning we waited for our transport, which should pick us up at 5:00am, but of course, typically Peruvian, didn’t arrive until 5:40am. A 3 hours bus ride, including a small stop for breakfast, later we arrived at the starting point. Several times we were being educated about altitude sickness, because it is no fun walking up to 4.900m within 3 hours. For the body, if not well acclimatized, it can have dramatic consequences – we saw some examples this very day! But first of all the hike started very easy in a beautiful surrounding, picturesque nature with a river tranquilly floating through the valley, cows passing our way and pure sunshine.

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Nature

Nature

After 30min we began ascending and wouldn’t stop until we’re all the way up. Unfortunately, after one hour hiking it started to rain and we learnt: having an emergency rain poncho from Drogeriemarkt Müller for 1.99€ in the backpack can save your life! 🙂 The last 30min of the trek where the most difficult ones… due to the altitude, your legs and body somehow feel heavier than they actually are, a light headache begins and breathing felt like our lungs shrunk to half of their size. Additionally, it started snowing!! Our first snow this year, what an unexpected surprise. 🙂 And then we reached the top and although the Laguna was mostly covered in fog, it was an amazing view. The color is beautiful turquoise and seems so unreal!

The foggy Laguna 69

The foggy Laguna 69

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Topmodels! 🙂

We stayed for 10min, having a fast lunch and then headed down because our hands started to freeze and it got colder and colder. A quick descent led us back in the valley where the weather was sunny and great – of course! 😉 We met one guy on our way down, still fighting his way up, saying that he is close to. turning around due to his bad condition. He had 5 more minutes to go so he pushed himself further up, although it can be very dangerous to keep ascending when you have alerting signs of altitude sickness. He was pale as a wall, felt an aching chest pain, was short on breathe and had a headache. The curious thing s that his physical condition was very good – he however only arrived the day before in Huaraz and had no time to acclimatize. Another girl was sent back down from the guide 10min before the top because her pulse was too low to go further. One girl even fainted on her way back and lost consciousness! After this experience, we were glad that we made it up and down safely and had a great first hike. But: this day also showed us how unpredictable the weather can be and how quickly it might change. So we decided against the Santa Cruz trek but planned to do more daily hikes.

2 days later the next laguna was on our plan, called “Laguna Churup”. This time we planned it by ourselves since it was very easy go get there. We caught a small van from the city center which would bring us to the village Pitec 45 min away. The ride was such a funny adventure – normally, the van has 8 official seats… we were all together 20 people in the van, one guy sitting on the roof and somewhere was a dog running around in the van. 🙂 Arriving at the starting gate we needed to register and it went straight uphill. I would consider this hike difficult, not only because of the altitude, but mainly because of the continuous uphill path. It was stony and uneven, and sometimes we would climb on rocks holding on to a rope. I was just exhausted when we arrived at the top. 🙂 Again, the view was worth the pain – this Laguna was filled with crystal clear water, snowy mountains in the background…just the perfect mountain panorama!

Uphill we go

Uphill we go

Jakub's stone formation

Jakub’s stone formation

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But as always in this area, the mornings are nice and sunny, the afternoons rainy and cloudy. We already heard the thunderstorm approaching us and quickly made our way back down. How great that a warming Jakub-made soup waited for us in the hostel 😉

Our last day in Huaraz we dedicated to the famous Chavin ruins, an archaeological site from the pre-Inka Chavin culture. This archaeological site is a large ceremonial center that has revealed a great deal about the Chavín culture. Chavín de Huántar served as a gathering place for people of the region to come together and worship. People went to Chavin de Huantar as a center: to attend and participate in rituals, consult an oracle, or enter a cult [source: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chav%C3%ADn_de_Huantar%5D.

Indigenous woman trying to sell pictures with her sheep ;)

Indigenous woman trying to sell pictures with her sheep 😉

Main plaza at Chavin

Main plaza at Chavin

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Returning to the hostel we packed everything for our night bus to Lima, which would leave in 1 hour, when Jakub returns from the kitchen, saying:

“So, I just talked to this couple and they directly drive to Paracas from here…should we maybe skip Lima!? I heard from everyone it’s anyway ugly.”

“Well, I only wanted to go their for the food – we could even cancel the hostel without paying any cancellation fee…”

“Pfff, so yes, let’s skip Lima and go to Paracas!” 🙂

That’s how we sometimes do decisions here – as you can imagine, we do appreciate this freedom of having no fixed route, planning spontaneously where to go next and what to do. Okay Lima, you’re out! Paracas, the small coastal city will be our home for the next 3 days! 🙂

Buenos días, Perú! Máncora and Trujillo

08.10. – 14.10.2016

Our last days in Ecuador are over and we are very curious for Peru, especially because our plan is to spend minimum 5 weeks here – the longest time in one country so far!

We have booked an early morning bus from Cuenca in Ecuador to Máncora in Peru, a small northern coastal city. All in all it should take us 8 hours to get there, assuming that at the border it takes us probably 1 hour. We will learn what a wrong conclusion this was. 🙂 As we approach the border we first have to quickly change buses, since ours stays in Ecuador. Hurrying in the new bus, checking our stuff – good, we didn’t forget anything, what a relief… the last time we rushed out of a bus like this Jakub sadly left one lower part of his zipp off pants in the bus. 🙂 He still grieves for it…At the border we can already see the long line of people waiting for immigration – 1 hour is a very optimistic guess! In the end we would wait 3.5 hours. What was the problem? Let’s analyze it from a German perspective 🙂

  • no separation of citizens and foreigners
  • the line was not a line but more a circle and no one knew which spot one had
  • no arranged lanes or safety barriers (see example airport immigration)
  • police was there, but when people almost started a fight because obviously new arrivals tried to sneak in the line did not intervene
  • from 5 office workers who do immigration, 3 were women being more busy with chatting

If someone from the Peruvian border reads this: no offense guys, but from all the borders we’ve crossed in Central and South America you seriously stole the show.  😉

But hey, we have time and anyway cannot change the fact that we need this stamp. But the end was near and as we were back in the bus, the ride to Máncora continued an after 12 hours we arrived. And we learnt 2 days later from an English couple that you can even wait longer at the border: 11 hours!! Due to a blackout and no internet. Hell yeah, we were lucky.

Approaching Máncora we saw the sunset over the ocean and looked forward to a couple of days on O meters in altitude and sun! Since tomorrow would be Jakubs birthday my initial plan was to organize stuff once we arrive in Máncora in the afternoon… well, due to the waiting time at the border this didn’t work out at all, very disappointing. Luckily Jakub forgave me and we enjoyed a long birthday breakfast the next day, had some fresh juice at the beach and booked a whale watching tour for the next day (which was supposed to be his present for today). 🙂

At 6:30am the next day our driver picked us up together with another group of people to drive to the harbor. We were super excited and curious – would we even see some whales? There’s of course no guarantee for it, but reading more about the whales on the internet we found out that the high season is from July until end of October. During these weeks, the whale cows take care of their babies, feed them and teach them how to do jumps out of the water. By the end of October they migrate back further South were their feeding ground contains more nutrition. Sounds like we have a good chance! We start heading to the open ocean with our boat and spot all of a sudden a huge swarm of dolphins, playing in the water and jumping next to the boat, spectacular! But then… they are here… humpback whales, mothers with their babies, diving up to catch some breath and disappearing in the ocean again. What a spot!! These animals are enormous and can have a body length of up to 17m, the females being bigger than males. We are thrilled to see them diving up and down and catching breath. Suddenly, the boat goes faster and there it is: a jumping whale, just like you normally see it in documentaries on tv! 🙂 It’s a young whale and obviously he practices jumping with his mum, amazing. He keeps turning in the water as well and it appears to be a wave at us – a dance of the whales. 😉 The whole boat is excited and we’re so happy about this encounter. An amazing morning which ends with a visit of the museum and a lot of great information. What we really liked is that the company “Pacifico Adventures” had marine biologists on the boat who were very careful in the treatment of the animals and kept distance. Highly recommended if you are in Máncora!!

It's Sunday and everyone's at the beach!

It’s Sunday and everyone’s at the beach!

How many pelicans fit on one Fisher boat?

How many pelicans fit on one Fisher boat?

Dolphins

Dolphins

A humpback whale trying his first jumps

A humpback whale trying his first jumps

The rest of afternoon we spent packing and planning the further route through Peru – do we still wanna see the Amazon rain forest or head directly to the mountains…? Still not sure what to do we decided to take a night bus to Trujillo, another city at the coast.

We arrive at 7:30am in Trujillo after a surprisingly comfortable bus in which we’ve booked a cama seat. The buses here have different options, for example the cama seat (“cama” means bed in Spanish), on which you can lean back 160°, on the 1st floor of the bus and additionally, waitress service is included. 😉 The semi cama is 145° and of course cheaper and then there’s the super cheap option with economic seat.

Arriving at the hostel the nice lady offered us breakfast and gave us a detailed map and tips what to see. We decided to not lose time and visit the famous Chan Chan ruins close by. They used to be the capital  from an ancient culture called “Chimu”, who lived before the Inca conquered Perú. At peak times around the year 1300, approximately 60.000 people lived there. The UNESCO declared Chan Chan as a World Cultural Heritage, although it git destroyed mainly by the weather phenomenon “El Niño.”

Chan Chan ruins

Chan Chan ruins

Unfortunately, not a lot of information was given at the actual site (unless you wanted to pay a guide on top of the entrance fee) which is why we didn’t spend a lot of time there and took a bus to Huanchaco, a famous beach town. The weather was great and we felt sleepy from the night in the bus, so we relaxed at the beach and returned late in the afternoon to Trujillo. Walking through the city center we felt like coffee and stopped at the next restaurant to have one to go. Apparently the people here are a little bit confused when asking for a coffee to go, because the waiter looked startled and asked us to sit down. Then he brought two plastic cups and asked us to prepare our coffee by ourselves… okay!? He then brought a big cup of hot water, a big cup of milk and “essence of coffee”, as he explained. Which was cold..we were looking at each other, not knowing if we should either laugh, cry or run away. 🙂 So we started mixing and left quickly, missing the good old Colombian coffee times. *sigh* Oh, and another anecdote: if we ever thought that the we have found the city with the loudest and most honking cars, we were wrong. It is Trujillo. Reasons for honking can vary, but we think we found out a pattern when they honk: I’m coming, watch out, I’m leaving, watch out, go out of my way, stay there I’ll pass, Hola chica, you look beautiful!, you f%*”$# idiot! and many more. 😉

Our next day trip brought us to another well known site around Trujillo, the “Huaca de la Luna”. It’s a pyramid built by the Moche culture between the 3rd to the 8th century AD at the foot of the Cerro Blanco mountain. Here, we first visited the museum to learn a lot about the people and their beliefs, about the construction of the pyramid and the findings. Then we visited the actual site (with a guide, included in the price ;)) and were stunned by the paintings and the enormous size of it. Most of the paintings show mystic personalities, animal forms, anthropological creatures as well as stars, flowers and the sun. What we learned is that Peru is definitely not only about the Inca! 🙂

Huaca de la Luna

Huaca de la Luna

Beautiful painting on the inner wall

Beautiful painting on the inner wall

The outside wall

The outside wall

Bye Bye Trujillo!

Bye Bye Trujillo!

On our last day in Trujillo we finally made up our minds and decided not to head to Iquitos, the jungle city, but to continue down and see Huaraz, a city in the Andes famous for its trekking routes and beautiful nature. Up again on 3,100m!

Galapagos Islands – a Miracle of Flora and Fauna

28.09. – 04.10.2016

Galapagos, here we go! We really did think about whether to visit these islands or not, since the costs are immense  – but we will never come back to Ecuador only to visit Galapagos, so let’s do it. We finally sit in the airplane which brings us to Baltra Island, where we are supposed to be picked up from our guide from our boat Santa Cruz II. Oh my god!! The famous Galapagos islands, and we are here! But what is so special about these islands? Here is a brief introduction:

The Galapagos Islands area situated in the Pacific Ocean some 1,000 km from the Ecuadorian coast. This archipelago and its immense marine reserve is known as the unique ‘living museum and showcase of evolution’. Its geographical location at the confluence of three ocean currents makes it one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world. Ongoing seismic and volcanic activity reflects the processes that formed the islands. These processes, together with the extreme isolation of the islands, led to the development of unusual plant and animal life – such as marine iguanas, flightless cormorants, giant tortoises, huge cacti, endemic trees and the many different subspecies of mockingbirds and finches – all of which inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection following his visit in 1835.

The Galápagos Islands may just inspire you to think differently about the world. The creatures that call the islands home, many found nowhere else in the world, act as if humans are nothing more than slightly annoying paparazzi. [Source: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1 and  http://www.lonelyplanet.com/ecuador/the-galapagos-islands/introduction]

To be honest, we are really curious what the rest of the guests on the cruise might be like… in our imagination, we’ll be sitting at dinner with 70 years old ladies and gentlemen, being dressed fancy and watching us suspiciously. 🙂 We’re more than happy when we spy some other backpacks being loaded on the bus which transfers us to the dock to board the boat – more young people like us, yes! 😉

Day 1
With small boats, called Pangas we are being brought to the very big cruise ship, lying majestically a couple of meters away from the dock. On board, the crew welcomes us with a delicious Guanabana juice and we are being brought to our room. OMG. The second of many “OMG’s” which will follow. 🙂 Our room is great, with a huge bed, oceanview and a comfortable bathroom size. Right away lunch is served from the buffett – delicious, OMG. 😉 We enjoy choosing whatever we would like to eat and how much we want to eat. We are in food heaven! We sit alone at our table for 6, when the waiter points two girls in our direction: Martina and Eveline from Switzerland, our lovely company for the next 5 days. 🙂

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Our home for the next days

Our home for the next days

Our program, except eating half of the lunch buffet, is to see North Seymour Island in the afternoon. We already have our group with which we’ll be visiting all of the surrounding islands and additionally, our guide Henry who will explain us evey detail about Galapagos. The first island, according to Henry shows a wildlife full of bird colonies, blue footed boobies, sea lions, land iguanas and frigate bird. And wow, we saw each one of them, even the famous blue footed boobies, which are endemic species on the islands. This island set the expectations already very high and we cannot wait to explore more!!

Never leave the boat without the life jacket!

Never leave the boat without the life jacket!

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Sea lion

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Land Iguana

Our Guide Henry :)

Our Guide Henry 🙂

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Day 2
We cruised through the night to reach Isabela Island the next morning. We actually crossed the equator twice on our way! Our destination on the island is Punta Vicente Rosa, where we start exploring the coast by panga. Well, at least I’m sitting in a boat while Jakub discovers the under water world by snorkelling. We saw turtles floating through the water, sea lions playing in the water and again, the camera couldn’t capture these incredible moments. Returning from the boat ride the first thing I did was joining Martina and Eveline for the jacuzzi – so posh. 😉

In the afternoon, Fernandina Island (Punta Espinoza), the youngest island of the archipelago awaits us. It offers a very unique environment with black lava soil and mangrove trees. Black Marine iguanas take a sunbath on the hot stones, a Manta rey in a laggoon majestically makes circles, sea lions sleep ashore and we spot the flightless cormorant! Evolution at its finest, because the flightless cormorant regressed his wings to be able to dive depeer. A great day ends and although the program will be strict during the next day, we enjoy this cruise so much.

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Fernandina Island

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Birds Nesting Area

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Hiding Sea Lion babies

Hiding Sea Lion babies

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Manta Rey

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Day 3
This day we start on Isabela Island again at Tagus Cove. We disembark with the pangas at this island, which provided a favorite anchorage for pirates and whalers over the centuries. A short uphill hike to the rim of a crater allows us to see the Darwin lake, filled with salt water. Afterwards, we head to the snorkel area. Lucky us that the Santa Cruz offers wetsuits, since the water temperature is only 18C!! Everyone tells me later that they saw turtles and even pinguins in the water… I only saw rocks and later my goggles floating down to the ground…I lost them, grrr. 🙂 Moreover, we suddenly here through the speakers: “Room No 105, Jakub and Ellen, are you back on board? Please come to the reception!” Damn it! We forgot to sign back in after our disembark! 🙂 The Santa Cruz ship hung a magnet wall with all the rooms and the amount of people in the rooms on the wall you necessarily pass before you leave the ship. The magnets need to be put on when you leave and removed when back…we forgot to remove them… happened once and never again! 🙂
Later that day we check Urbina Bay, a fascinating result of uplifting of ocean floor in 1954 and do a light walk to see huge land iguanas. This evening, we learn that Eveline is an amazing musician! We sip some rum on the deck  and Eveline plays her guitar and sings…we hope this cruise never ends. 😉

Penguin!!

Penguin!!

Darwin Lake

Darwin Lake

Land Iguana...just doesn't care that we're there

Land Iguana…just doesn’t care that we’re there

Beautiful Turtle

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Day 4
Its already the 4th day on our cruise ship, time flies by! But we’re busy from morning until evening and really have to say: the itinerary and program are perfect!
Today we stop at Santa Cruz island, Puerto Ayora, the main island of the Galapagos islands. We disembark to visit the Charles Darwin Research station, which serves as the headquarters of scientific research as well. Here we see the giant tortoise breeding center and visit the museum.
Since we indeed enjoy the food on the boat and always eat a lot, we decided for some workout and do a bike tour to an ecological sugar cane farm. 😉 Our guides tell us all about the production process and the making of the strong sugar cane alcohol the farm sells, when we observe 2 Chinese guys from our boat holding 2 bottles of this alcohol in their hands. Okay, we have to admit: the alcohol is filled in small plastic bottles and might be confused with water… which obviously happened to the Chinese, because they take a huge sip and suddenly spit everything out! OMG, we’re almost dying from laughing!! 🙂 🙂 I know I know, it’s so mean to not warn these poor people, but “for the show” it was hilarious. 🙂

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Someone waits for fish :)

Someone waits for fish 🙂

Giant Turtoise

Giant Turtoise

As we head to the highlands of the island to have lunch, we pass many green fields and are stunned to see giant turtoises walking around! Just like cows on meadow in Germany, we see the turtoises here in the nature – so cool! Our day ends with a great live band in the evening, playing some folklore songs from Ecuador. Man, this cruise really knows how to make us happy. 😉

Day 5
Day No 5 is dedicated to Floreana island, where we head to the post office bay. Here we find a very cool place and love the story about it: there is this historic barrell where postcards are traditionally left for guests from other vessels to hand deliver them to their destination. Whalers and sailors used this system hundreds of years ago to bring news to their families. So whenever some ships stopped at the barrell the old sailors checked if the adresses of the letters are close to their home to bring it to the familiars – awesome! Of course we took some postcards with adresses of Stuttgart and also left one card… I’m curious when someone from Biberach stops by … 🙂

Post Office Bay

Post Office Bay

When might we get our Postcard...?

When might we get our Postcard…?

Afterwards, we kayak around the island and enjoy the warm sunny day on the sea. One last time we signed up for snorkelling at Champion islet and cormorant point. The water is actually crazy wild and the current strong, but once in we observe the wonderful marine life, we see sharks, turtles, sea lions, and colorful fish. We are so amazed by the wildlife and fascinated by it. The nature here is wonderful! Galapagos also taught us a lot about the protection of this sensitive eco system which we do keep in mind and are very careful when seeing animals. Watching is okay, but no touching. Keep distance to them, because you are the visitor, not them! But most of the animals were too curious and came very close!

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Curious Sea Lion

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He wants to steal our camera 🙂

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Elegant Sea Lion underwater

Shark!

Shark!

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The last evening on the boat offers a great program : we sing Karaoke!! 🙂 Of course I decided for a classic song: Backstreet Boys, Quit playing games with my heart. 😉 Thanks again, Eveline, for your wonderful voice and the support, haha!

Day 6
Nooo! Is it really over!? Do we again have to plan everything by ourselves?? 😉 Honestly, it was a welcomed alternation to our typical way of travelling and we did enjoy it a lot to not needing to take care of accommodation and trips for one week.

For the last time we appreciate the wonderful breakfast buffet, the ocean around us, the great people we met and even get to see a presentation of all the pictures the boat photographer took during this week.

We disembark together and say good-bye to the amazing week! All in all, this cruise was simply marvellous. Beginning with the great itinerary which allowed us to see the remotest islands, the guides who were so passionate about their job and the nature they wanna protect and ending with the new friends we have made and the “worry-free-package”. We have seen a whole new world and realized that this trip has also changed the way we behave in nature, giving each animal their natural space and carefully taking steps when being outdoors. There is always the option to explore the Galapagos archipelago on one’s own and plan day trips to the islands. However, we seriously enjoyed the planned route and trips and recommend doing a cruise to fully immerse in this miraculous world.

 

The Quilotoa Loop

19.09. – 26.09.2016

Alrighty, since we are already super professional hikers (not really ;)), and heard from many people that the Quilotoa Loop is on every hikers bucket list, we cannot miss it! 🙂 Basically, the 3-4 day loop takes travelers on a bumpy road into the area around the Quilotoa volcano lake, leading through several villages with indigenous people and through a beautiful landscape.

It took us a little bit of planning before we got started, because we needed to leave our luggage somewhere and pack only what was necessary. We also booked our hostels in advance, which turned out to be not really necessary – most of the hostels in the villages you pass have vacancies. The trek can be done either starting at the volcano lagoon Quilotoa and end up in Latacunga, or in reverse to end up at the beautiful lake, which is the tougher trek. Guess which one we chose? 🙂 Yes, the harder one!

At our hostel in Latacunga (called “Latacunga Hostel”) the owner offered us to leave our stuff we wouldn’t pack in his storage room for free . So friendly! And now the packing started – what do we need for 4 days hiking in a height of over 3.000m and very cold nights… actually everything we have. 🙂 But we had to be aware that our backpacks would be on our backs all day long, so packing light was crucial. 3 T-shirts, 2 pants, 2 long sleeves, warm socks, and of course a warm jacket! It was actually the first time for us that we hiked with our big backpacks for several days and so we thought we’re helplessly over-packed. 🙂 In the end, it turned out that everything we carried with us we did need and that you get used to the weight pretty quick. If I learnt something on our trip, it would be, among many other things of course, to pack only what I really need…so satisfying. 😉

Okay, here we go, ready for the first big trek! We took a bus from Latacunga to Sigchos at 11:30am ( here is another one leaving at 10:30am or 12:15pm). The bus dropped us off together with 4 other tourists who obviously planned to hike the loop as well. We came to talk and noticed that they had a good map. We had none. So we better walked all together. 😉 Good decision, because with 2 of the 4 we hiked the rest of the loop and it was a lot of fun – Sonja and Artur from Germany were the perfect match for our hiking pace and great company. The first part of the trail led us on a 3.5 hours hike through green landscapes and a river valley up to Isinlivi, a small mountain village. We checked in the first hostel (called “Llullu Llama”, highly recommended!) and fell in love with this place! The fireplace was already lit on, there was coffee and tea for free and from the dining room and terrace we had a spectacular view over the valley. The sun just went down and we enjoyed these silent moments… Shortly after, dinner was served, consisting of a soup as a starter, lasagna and cake as dessert. It was so delicious! After a comfy night in the dorm beds, we enjoyed breakfast: they served homemade granola, tons of fruit, delicious bread – just perfect for a long hiking day.

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Ellen still smiling on the first day 🙂

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The view from Llullu Llama hostel

The view from Llullu Llama hostel

Day 2 started with great weather and warm temperatures. We hiked on stony paths and encountered very aggressive dogs which were fought off by Artur with his walking sticks. 🙂 Luckily, we never got lost on our way, thanks to the great map we received from Llullu Llama hostel… okay, we also had a bunch of electronic help. 😉 The trek went uphill and downhill and lasted around 5 hours. We took several small breaks, for example when it suddenly started to rain and we hid in a small cabin or when we crossed a river balancing on a tree which served as a bridge. We’re living such a risky life. 🙂 In the afternoon, we arrived at Chugchilán and checked in the hostel “Cloud Forest”, which was unfortunately not as nice as the first one but served dinner and breakfast as well.

Rainy day

Rainy day

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Hello!

Hello!

The next and last day would be the longest hike for us, because we needed to go all the way up to the Quilotoa lake as high as 3.900m. This day was the most challenging one! We constantly walked either uphill or downhill, had narrow paths but also great views over the valley and the beautiful mountains and kept either putting one layer off or on due to the changing weather conditions. We passed 2 villages where we met some indigenous school kids, being very curious about the “Gringos” and being even more curious about our sweets and candy we were about to eat. 😉 We kept hiking up and up and up and after 5.5 hours, the lake finally revealed itself with all its beauty. We made it! Strong winds welcomed us up there and that stunning view over this huge lake. Wow. It was amazing and worth to hike this exhausting trek. But: it was not the end of the hike, because we still needed to continue to the village where our hostel was. Another hour of hiking, uhh. We were all happy and exhausted when we arrived at the hostel. The charming part of this accommodation was that we had our own small oven in the room which we fired up immediately – it was super cold!! This hostel unfortunately didn’t offer free coffee or tea…we started at the best hostel and actually ended at the worst. 🙂 Anyway, we slept like rocks and the next day we took a a bus back to Latacunga, grabbing our things quickly to continue to the next place, Baños.

Ready to hike?

Ready to hike?

School kids

School kids

Beautiful lake

Beautiful lake

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Quilotoa village

Quilotoa village

All in all, and my very personal resume of the hike: it was challenging for me. I am not a trained hiker and it’s not my biggest passion to steadily hike uphill. 😉 I had fights with myself, I wondered what the hell I’m actually doing and sometimes I also thought I reached my limits… but I continued (thanks to Jakub and chocolate bars ;)) and made it. So my personal lesson is: be aware of the physical condition you have and the requirements for the trek. And tell your brain you can go further. 🙂

Jakub’s comment: It was awesome, doable, fun 🙂

Here we aaaare!

Here we aaaare!

In Baños, a village known for its hot springs and the variety of outdoor offers we decided to calm down and enjoy relaxed days after the hike. Hence, the first evening we spent in the hot springs to relax the muscles and treated ourselves to a massage. The good life. 🙂

Hot Springs

Hot Springs

The next day we signed up for our first “we do it together for the very first time” experience: rafting! Meeting at 9am, we all got our wet suits at the agency, a helmet and shoes. Driving with the bus for one hour we arrived at the river and were assigned in different groups. Our guide told us where to sit in the raft, what the different orders he would be yelling mean and how to behave in case the river is to wild and the boat flips…which, according to the guide rarely happens. Well, we ended up in the water twice and found out that the guide purposely made the boat flip and laughed about it. Not really funny for us, exposing us to such a risk purposely, since the whole group was only beginners and for the first time in a raft. And I swallowed at least 5 liters of disgusting river water and totally panicked. Exactly the reaction our guide said we should avoid. 🙂 But the last hour was surprisingly fun (we didn’t fall in the water anymore), we rushed through the rapids and enjoyed the thrill. What an experience!

Jakub’s comment: It was awesome, doable, fun 🙂

Oh shut up, Jakub! 🙂 🙂

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In total, we spent 5 days in Baños, seeing the “Casa del Arbol” from which a swing takes you into nowhere…

Casa del Arbol

Casa del Arbol

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Wuuuiiiiii 🙂

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Juhuuuuu 🙂

…and visited beautiful waterfalls.

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Ahead of us, however, lies probably the greatest experience of our whole trip so far: the Galapagos islands!!! We are super excited for our boat and cannot wait to board. We’ll tell you aaaaaall about it when we return – now we’re on vacation. Haha. 🙂

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Quito, the Capital and Latacunga

12.09.16 -18.09.16

Our new destination after Colombia was Ecuador – we are really curious if this country amazes us the same way Colombia did… let’s see! 🙂

In the evening we landed in Quito and took the bus to the city centre. It was quiet a way and took us around 45min until we got to the Old Town part. Once we arrived at our hostel and checked in, the friendly guy at the reception showed us the city map and firstly indicated all the areas where we shouldn’t go after 7pm – well, good to know! 😉 We were really hungry and asked for restaurants close by. Surprisingly, almost everything such as supermarkets or restaurants close at 7pm. But we found one small bar where we ordered lasagna; and we were shocked by the prices! Since Ecuador uses the US dollar as their official currency, prices were way higher than in Colombia! And what we found out later: they don’t have good coffee and additionally not everywhere available. We miss Colombia already. 😉

By now a free walking tour became mandatory, which is why the first thing we did was participating in one the next morning. 🙂 Again, it was very interesting for us to learn more about Quito and the times during Ecuador changed its currency from Sucre to US Dollar  – it must have been crazy! This American expat puts the situation very well in a nutshell:

It was so strange; I left the country for a few months to find that they’d thrown all their money in the trash (not literally of course) and switched to the money I’ve known my whole life. We arrived in Ecuador in 1997. At that time the Ecuador sucre wasn’t fairing too well. The value quickly diminished.

At the beginning of 1997 we were getting 4,000 sucres for every dollar we exchanged. By 1999/2000 it was up to 25,000 sucres for every dollar. For those of us who had dollar accounts, life was good. Since the dollar was much more stable, we did not have currency that was loosing value every day. But prices of food and our rent contracts were in sucres. Because the people of Ecuador only had sucres, the prices of everyday things could not be hiked at the same rate as the devaluation of the sucre. This was in our favor, especially when it came to rent.

At one place we signed a rent contract for 800,000 sucres which was 200 dollars. By the time we moved out, a year later we were only paying 75 dollars [Source: http://www.life-in-ecuador.com/ecuador-currency.html#sthash.6GICDFan.dpuf%5D.

Plaza Santa Domingo

Plaza Santa Domingo

Food market

Food market

Endless sweets and candy

Endless sweets and candy

Street food: Salchipapa

Street food: Salchipapa

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Later in the afternoon, the big mission was “Finding cheap last minute deals for Galapagos”. What a mission!! In the end, it took us 2,5 days and 7 travel agencies to find a suitable (we won’t use the word “cheap”, since it is everything but cheap!) offer. Jippiii!! Jakub did some intense research before we went to the agencies, which is absolutely necessary. There are several islands in the Galapagos area and each one of them offers a variety of animals and has their own charm. We made a list of which islands we would like to see, to be able to tell the agencies the route we’d prefer for a boat. Jop, boat! 🙂 Although I swore that after our Panama sailing trip, I would not go back on a boat, admittedly the easiest way to explore Galapagos is to book a boat tour, including visits to different islands, accommodation and food. The offers we received varied from small boats, holding 25 passengers and cruising around Galapagos for 4 days to 6 days on a big ship with up to 90 passengers. The very best offer, eventually was a so called “luxury cruise ship”, with a tour where we might see whales, lasting 6 days and even including a small surprise for our honeymoon trip. Haha yes, we pretend to be on our honeymoon. 🙂 Although the price was still high and includes neither flights nor the entrance fee, it was still approximately 50% cheaper than anything we would have booked from Germany or too many days in advance! AND: it will be a big ship and not a small sailing boat where at some point you feel claustrophobic. 🙂 Now we still have 12 days until we leave and we’re so excited and happy to start another great adventure! ❤

Until that, we wanna discover Quito plus surrounding a little bit more and decided to go to the middle of the world, “Mitad del Mundo”. It’s a monument a couple of kilometers outside Quito and shows the exact location of the equator with the coordinates 0’00’00. It was build in honor of the first geodesic mission of French scientists in 1736, who conducted experiments to test the flattening at the poles of the characteristic shape of the Earth, by comparing the distance between a degree meridian in the equatorial zone to another level measured in Sweden . Later they found out, due to latest GPS technology that the equator actually lies 240m north of the monument…well…what can we say. 🙂

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At the middle of the world together

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The next day we decided to meet up with Kerstin, a German girl we met at the walking tour to go to the Teleferico. It’s a famous lift which takes you from 3.120m to almost 4.000m height to see Quito from above and do some light hiking. Kerstin was joined by a Canadian girl and we additionally met a guy from Kazakhstan, so a nice group of 5 started to walk up in direction to the summit. The view was stunning. Not only could we overview Quito, we also saw the volcanos Cotopaxi and Pichincha. But the weather can be a big drama queen and typically changes within minutes. 😉 Dark clouds rolled oved the mountains and it was too instable for us to continue up until the summit. We still had a nice hike though and headed back to the city for late lunch together.

Quito from high above

Quito from high above

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We decided to not stay longer in Quito, but to make our way to Latacunga, from where we wanted to plan our further steps. One was to visit the great Cotopaxi volcano. 🙂 You can easily do it with a planned tour, having lunch included, a guide and bikes to speed downhill from Cotopaxi. But of course it has its price, which is why we decided to do it on our own. 😉 Early in the morning at 7am we headed to the bus terminal in Latacunga and caught a bus with direction Quito. It dropped us off at the entrance to the Cotopaxi national park after around 20min. At the entrance, we were welcomed by some friendly guides (we read that since a couple of months it is only allowed to enter the park accompanied by a guide), offering to accompany us. Luckily, another tourist couple showed up in that moment and we could get a better price for the 4 of us. We hopped in the guides 4×4 truck and entered the park area. First task: registration. Continuing for another 20 minutes we stopped at a museum, where our guide told us a lot about the Cotopaxi volcano and the surrounding area and villages. Heading further into the park area, we stopped at a small lake to acclimatize to the height (at this point we were on approximately 3.500m) and take pictures.

Cotopaxi in the background

Cotopaxi in the background

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The last stop with the car was a parking lot, where we all got off to start our 50min ascent  to the “Refugio”, a wooden cabin as high as 4.860m! 🙂 The path all up to the summit is closed and it is prohibited to go any further than the refugio due to the instable activities at Cotopaxi. Anyway, almost 4.900m is already something and once we got out of the car, we immediately perceived the thin air, letting our lungs feel 30% smaller than they are. Luckily we got used to the less oxygen surrounding quickly and started to walk up. Snow was lying everywhere, combined with stones and ashes from the last erruption dating 130 years back. After 50min we reached the refugio and were happy that our guide obviously showed us the easier way up, walking zigzag instead of straight. 😉 Once we reached the highest point, we felt really happy and good – the first time for both of us that we were that high up!! In the refugio, we had hot chocolate, which let that nice winter cabin feeling come up and had a light lunch. After 1 hour we headed back down to the car and we were so glad that we started early! The weather changed again in the afternoon and most of the surrounding hid in the clouds.

We're soon up...

We’re soon up…

We made it!!

We made it!!

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Such a great day! We decided to end it with a homemade dinner, which we cooked in our hostel kitchen…which was not a normal kitchen, but belonged to the restaurant adjacent and we cooked in a fully professional equipped kitchen! 🙂

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