Tuesday, October 31, 2006

In Argentina


I have been on a bus a lot the past two days. I took a night bus to Potosi, which used to be the richest city in South America due to the Silver mines. I had a couple of hours there as I decided to keep on going to the border. While there though, I did manage to lose my second debit card to an ATM machine. I started the trip with 3, had one stolen in Costa Rica, and now am down to 1. Oh well, I still have one. While on the bus, I finished El Zahir by Paolo Coehlo, and managed to catch a pickpocket who tried to rob me when I got off the bus. It was quite an ingenious scheme. The guy in front of me dropped his things, including his wallet, while the guy in the seat near where I was standing reached into my pocket. I do keep my wallet in my front pocket, which he knew, but luckily I seem to have adapted to stepping back and checking all my things when something strange goes on around me. I count myself lucky this time.

Well, that is all for now. I am about to get back on a bus, and will wake up in Salta around 4a.m.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Deutsch y Espanol

Ich werd ein bisschen auf deutsch und Spanisch schreiben weil viele Leute nicht English koennen. Ich bin begeustert das ihr die seite besuchen, und wollte danke sagen. Ich bin sehr glucklich das ich diese moeglichkeit haben, und freue mich schon viele von euch zu sehen in die nahe Zukunft. Ja, ich weiss das ich viele fehler haben auf Deutsch, aber das ist besser als nichts. Zurzeit bin ich in Bolivia und werd bald nach Argentinien fahren. Dort habe ich ein Freund und es werd gut mal ruhig mit freunden sein. Danke fuer denn besuch und schreib mir bitte mal ein email bei christoph.heinzer@gmail.com

Gracias por la visita a mi sitio. Creo que muchas que leen esto son amigos que conozco en mi viaje. Tenia un buen tiempo en todo este viaje, y queria escribir un poco en espànol por Uds. Tenia y tengo mucho suerto en este viaje. Gracias a todos por los buenas recuerdas y escribame por favor en mi correo christoph.heinzer@gmail.com. Solo tengo dos semanas mas en America del Sur, pero estoy seguro que voy a retorna. Me gustaria mi tiempo aqui, y todos los lugares que visite.

Gracias und Danke viel mal,
Christoph

Titicaca and Boliva


After leaving Cusco I took a bus to Puno which included a stop to buy souvenirs and an interesting looking blue yed alpaca. I stayed in Puno to visit some floating Islands on Lake Titicaca. This was once again a tourist activity, but quite interesting as people use the Totora reeds from the lake to build boats, houses, islands, and for food. I have a picture of myself on a reed boat and of the general island scenery.


After that, I caught a bus to the Copacabana, a small town on the other side of the border, also on Lake Titcaca. It is essentially a small Hippy town that has boat rides to the Isla del Sol, where according to Inca tradition, the first humans came from. While on the island, I was playing with some kids and ended up taking their picture. They promptly asked for 1 Boliviano each, and I paid the mother. After that, I figured I had to put their picture online. If you notice, the girl is on a rock that is too big for her to get down from. It was fun watching her try though. Anyway, I took a 3 hour hike to the south of the island, before catching a 2 hour boat ride back (about $1) and then caught a bus to Lima.

When I arrived in Lima, I negotiated for a cheap room, and went for a walk, having some street vendor egg and beef sandwich and a haircut. That is right, I shaved, cut my hair, and then went to bed.

Today, I walked around and started talking to a travel agent about stuff to do when I return, and how to get to Argentina. I was offered a job as a mountain bike guide down the ¨worlds most dangerous road¨ because I can bike and speak a few languages and she liked me. I guess several hundred people die on the road annually, mostly buses that go off the edge. Anyway, something to think about. I also inquired about housing and land as the location of Lima is great in terms of mountains, rainforest, inca ruins, close to Peru, etc... It is also extremely cheap. I bought some souvenirs for the first time as I am close to being done with S. America. I also bought a sweater of Alpaca wool. I can actually look somewhat respectable at the moment. I am sure that won´t last long though.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Macchu Picchu via Salcantay route


My first morning in Cuzco I was picked up at 5a.m. and we got onto local bus to Mollepata. This was a 3 hour journey, and it was around 75 people on a bus that seats 40ish. It was horrible, since I had been out quite late and we had several hours of hiking in front of us. The bus got a flat tire and once we arrived, we had breakfast. This may not seem significant, but this breakfast was not included. The very first theng we did, on an all-inclusive trip, was not included. Not only that, but my group of 5 or 6 had become 15. I remained positive, and everyone was really nice. Several people bought ponchos, but I had a really nice jacket so I figured I was fine. I mention that because it didnt take long before it started raining, and apparently my jacket is no longer water proof. Oh well, I was lucky it didnt last long, and an Australian teacher named Dave gave me his poncho as he had become quite attached to his garbage bag. The lunch was excellent with Coca tea, noodles, and soup. We would have soup a lot. We kept walking until almost dark, and it was really cold when we arrived. We had popcorn and unidentifiable animal crackers and then waited a couple of hours until dinner. There were interesting conversations and card games before going to bed. Of course, I woke up in the middle of the night, as my tent was leaking heavily in the rain, and I was soaking wet. I went to go sleep in the porter-guide shelter and found a bit of room under a table. I cant say it was horrible, but the following day I arrived at camp first, and made sure to inquire about which tent was the best.
The following day, we were heading towards the highest point of the trip near a mountain called Salcantay. It was climbing all morning, and I had my ipod out and felt great. I didnt stop and caught up to some porters from a group ahead of us who called me an Inca. I corrected them that I was a GrInca and many of the porters called me that from then on. I made it to lunch before the rain, avoiding having to use the poncho, and took a nap. After lunch, I took a fork in the trail assuming it would lead to the same place. It actually was a much higher route, and had great views. It also made me come straight down the mountain to get to camp. It was very interesting and I took a picture of myself up high, with the correct trail being near the river below. At camp that night, I ended up eating two dinners as I went to visit a Spanish group at another camp and ate at ours as well.
The following morning, I left later than the group, waiting fo the rain to stop. I played with some kids who were roping a cow skull tied to a post. After I got started, I wandered past a guy making horseshoes and helped him stoke the fire while I watched. It was amazing to see him bend and beat the horseshoes, which took him about 90 minutes each, and were for mules. I left after the porters had caught me, realizing I was at least an hour behind the rest of the group. One major advantage I had was I was wearing shorts and sandles that morning. I am not sure why I decided to start a freezing day like that, but it was the smartest thing I did all trip. The trail was extremely muddy and we had many river crossing which I skipped through like nothing. After hiking another 30 minutes from the blacksmith, one of the guides, Wilbur, had been waiting for me assuming I had taken another wrong trail. He waited at a hot spring so when I arrived, we went dipped our feet, and eventually I just went for a swim. The picture doesnt do a good job of showing it, but the path was actually on top of some wooden branches, a crude bridge which I doubt many people would have ventured over. After leaving the springs, Wilbur and I made a quick trip down the trail, and I even lent my sandals to another guide from another group to help his team over the river. We arrived where we were to have lunch and sat around having beer and enjoying the weather. After that, we caught a shuttle to Santa Theresa, where there was another hot spring for us to indulge in. The shuttle ride was a very rough, as we filled up the truck, and my seat didnt end up being to comfortable. I did manage to snag bananas and several flowers from my perch high upon the truck. After unloading the truck we got a new passenger named Gilbert, a cute 6 year old who also wanted to come swimming. He was always watching the glass bottles, making sure his mom would get them back at her shop. He was also a fearless swimmer, who couldnt really swim, though he could do underwater sommersaults. After relaxing, showering, etc... we went back for dinner, and ended up having a really late night drinking with the guides. This was quite stupid as the next morning we had to leave around 5a.m. for Zlactapaca, another ruin on an opposite mountan from Macchu Picchu. It was also a 3 hour walk up followed by excellent views which included Macchu Picchu and a beatiful waterfall. On the walk down, several of us were being goofy with the walking sticks, pretenting to be wizards. See the picture if you are confused. We met at a Hydroelectric plant for lunch thoroughly exhausted. After that, all the smart people decided to take the train to the town of Macchu Picchu, where we would spend the night and hike up to the Macchu Picchu the ruins in the morning. Nick, Cam, Alex, and I decided to walk all the way to town, which of course meant it had to start raining as soon as we left. We made it, saw the coolest VW train thing, found our hostel, and met for dinner later that night. One of the best things we did was figure out the tips then, and physically hand the cooks an equal portion of the tips. After my experience with the guides, I am sure they would not have received an equal portion had we not done that. The following morning, We had breakfast at 4a.m. and started walking. We all beat the first bus, but didnt see a sunrise because of the clouds. There was close to a 3 hour tour, and then a bit of exploring. I climbed up WaynaPicchu, which is a higher peak just behind the main ruins. It was excellent for pictures, and was not at all crowded. The last picture is on the back side of Waynapicchu, me being goofy and setting the timer on my camera. AFter getting down, there was a train, then a bus, and then we were backin Cusco. Most of us met for dinner, and went out for a few drinks. The following day I read 11 Minutes by Paulo Coehlo, met everyone for dinner again, and saw a live band. The following morning I went to visit one more ruin at 5:30 am and caught a bus to Puno, on lake Titicaca. It was a pleasant bus ride with stops at several other interesting sites along the way.

Arrival in Cuzco

After I arrived in Lima, I just wanted to get to Cuzco so I took an afternoon flight for $90. Once I arrived, I found a hostel and booked a trek for the following morning to hike to Macchu Picchu. Since the Inca Trail is reserved months in advance, I had to take the Salcantay route, which is longer and goes through higher elevation. Cuzco is a beautiful city, and there is plenty to do. I walked around a bit, and ended up taking street artist and shoe shine kid out for dinner. Later I bought a soccer ball and we got a street game going with whoever came by. It was the street artists birthday in a few days, and I assumed he was lying so I asked for his I.D. That is the downside of being scammed, you quit trusting people.

I said I would buy him his own soccer ball, and he said he would rather I give my dollars to a local shelter we were walking by at the time. I couldnt believe it. I told him I would give the money to the shelter in his name, and that he had to go with me. I gave all the dollars in my wallet, and started crying. This isnt the first time something like this has happened, but I havent written about it in the past. He went on to say the soccer ball wasnt important, and that the ball I bought they were supposed to share anyway. I was so impressed how he wanted to earn his own money. I tried to help him sell paintings and realized how hard it was. He knew exactly where everyone was from, and could tell in advance who would blow him off. Really nice, street smart kid.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Peru, Scammed at the border


I sort of got scammed into trading for fake money at the border. Upon entering the country by bus,I was the only reason the bus had to wait at the border because I had to get my passport stamped. Normally, I take my time and ask security guys what to do, but since the bus was waiting, I rushed with some of these jokers that can help expedite the process. I got my stamp, the bus continued, and the guy was going to help me get the next stamp upon entering Peru. I went with him, asking where I could get Peru money from an ATM. The first warning light went off when the money I got was dollars and not Soles (peru money). He then told me that I needed to have Peru money when I get stamped because the border guys need to see it. That was warning light number 2, but I asked the nearest taxi guy, and he agreed that it was often the case. Then, I asked for a paper to see the current exchange rate, and actually got a street exchanger to match the rate, which was my 3rd warning light, and I even asked how it was possible he didnt make commision, and they explained black market blah blah and I looked at the money, and it was all nice an new, and it had the pictures of the presidents or whatever in the water marks, and the fancy shiny threads. In any case, I then took the cab, asked several more times about the exchange rate with others on the street, and they always quoted a worse rate. I even asked a cop, and everything seemed in order. Anyway, when I got on a cramped 22 hour bus ride, I asked the lady next to me to check my money, and she said it was fake. I knew it for some reason, and I realized the exchange guy, the expeditor, and the cab driver all worked together. I was upset, but others on the bus assured me they were really good fakes, and that I could pass them on because everyone trusted tourists and werent as critical. I was successful with 3 50 sole notes before I felt bad thinking the locals wouldnt be able to use them, and figured I would only use the money in bars, as they have enough money. Long story short, the guide from the Macchu Picchu trek used them to buy train tickets down for everyone, and then proceeded to tell me the money was taken by the train company. Not until later did another guide tell me he had no problems using the money, and that he pocketed the cash. So in reality, I was scammed twice. Oh well, I complained to the Tourism board about the guide, and will also complain with the company. Who cares if he has 3 kids with 3 different women. I hate when people violate my trust.
The folks in the pictures are a friend I met on the bus who got a kick out of my fake money, and coached me on where to use. I spent the day with him and his son in Lima. They buy things in Peru, get back on the bus, and sell them in Ecuador. Can you tell which of the bills are fake?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Ecuador


I spent 4 days in Quito, looking around a bit, and doing a little bit of hiking. It is a very global place, with people coming from all over the world to study spanish, dancing, whatever. The first day I spent walking around the old town, and managed to luck into witnessing another changing of the guard, which only happens once a week. It was quite interesting, and made more entertaining by a dog that followed the guards barking constantly. I also hiked up to a large statue of Mary standing on a serpent on top of the globe. It included a great view of the city. The following morning, I took the opportunity to hike up a bit of Cotopaxi, the worlds largest active volcano, and made it to my highest ever elevation of 4800m. After lunch, we hiked back down to the parking area, and took mountain bikes down the dirt road. That was a lot of fun and by the end of the day, I was truly exhausted. I did end up going out that night with Darren, an Australian I met on the trip, and we had a few drinks in various locations. I once again proved I can´t dance, but didn´t really care. The following day I felt ill, and hung out at a coffee shop almost all day, reading. That evening, I went up another mountain to 4100m with the barista from the coffee shop, Maggie. She was an excellent guide and also an avid BMX biker. After a short dinner, I caught a night bus to Peru.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Leaving Colombia

I officially left Colombia today. Below is an update of the past week in Colombia, with pictures to follow shortly.
Night diving
In Sta Marta, the night before I left, I went night diving. It was pouring rain and I left at dusk. The second dive was around 9 pm. It was really interesting diving on a wreck at night, and I saw lobster, sea horses, and all sorts of things that werent there during the day.
Cartagena

When I arrived in Cartagena I went for a long walk and joined a party bus with a bunch of people from the hostel. It is exactly what I usually avoid as I already do enough drinking on my own, but it was a lot of fun. I volunteered my seat to a couple, so I sat with the band on the bus, and was allowed to play a bit of accordian (picture), and I didnt have to share my rum, as the band wasnt drinking. In fact, they got me two more bottles. It was a crazy night, and I even ended up on a Chilean TV show (picture)>, as they were doing a special on Colombia. Things got a bit hazy after that, but I know I ended up at a disco with a few italians from Treviso. The follwoing day, I did a bit more walking around, and bought some Christmas presents, which (knock on wood) will make it with me all the way to Thailand for Christmas. The picture is of Guillermo Doria and one of his girlfriends. He is happily married with several girlfriends who all know of each other, the one in the picture being pregnant. Apparently that is accepted on the coast. We discussed my buying a farm and opening a school for artists, teaching Ceramics and painting, etc.. If anyone is really reading this, please let me know what you think of me starting a venture of some sort, that starts with me buying a Colombian farm. If there is interest, I also have details on a rabbit farm. Anyway, enough of that small tangent, and back to the pictures. The sculpture on the left of the picture is a Bolero, who Guillermo and his son both do excellent ¨tribute¨ paintings of. That evening, it was pouring rain, and I had a hard time making it to the bus station. I had to take a normal bus and walk in the rain as all the taxis were full. That, amongst many other experiences, has shown me that the Entreprenerial spirit is very alive here. Several people boarded the bus, selling candy, combs, toothbrushes, etc..
Medellin to the border
The bus to Medellin, like all buses which have A-C, was freezing. When I arrived, I shared a cab with a Norwegian and a Finnish guy, who had been travelling for 12 years, not staying in one place for more than 8 months. They were a fun group, and we walked around Medellin together, playing mini golf, eating, and drinking. That evening, I took another night bus to Cali. I decided to skip it, as I generally dont like big cities and needed to get heading south. Finding a bus to the border at 5am was surprisingly easy, and was supposed to take another 9 hours. I ended up going with the driver who let me sit up front. It was great, as the bus was one of those relatively small vans, and I ended up working, yelling out the at people in the street to try and recruit passengers. The transport system is quite efficient, and they alwasy try to fill up as much as possible. For instance, collectivo cabs won´t leave until full, etc.. Anyway, it was funny for the passengers, as at first I didnt have much luck. Everyone practically cheered when I got my first customers. It was also extremely hot, so many laughed when at the gas station I came back with hair all wet, and one pant leg drenched in water. I held my leg out the window and it cooled me off nicely. When i arrived in Pasto, we didnt have enough passengers to warrant the trip to Ipiales, so I got moved to another Super taxi (a really nice Mercedes van) but there wasnt room. All that really meant though, was that I had to leave the bus station and go flag down the same van on the street, as when they leave the station, they arent allowed to have more passengers than seats for safety reasons, which only means they just pick up passengers after the station, which is where I was.
Ipiales

I arrived in Ipiales on Thursday evening, and was going to just cross the border, but a couple told me not to miss the Cathedral which was just above a river built into a cliff ,with the taxi driver, and at night). They claimed it was the most beatiful cathedral in S. America, so I got a taxi and went to have a look.(I have a picture of it from a distance
The taxi driver was a nice guy and became my personal tour guide for $8, which included transport to the cathedral, and then to the border. We ended up attending the later part of the mass, eating Hamster or Guinea Pig (called Cuy, a specialty that was quite good), and I had a tour of the city.
Since I wasn´t sure if the Cuy was a Guinea Pig or a Hamster, I included pictures of them alive, grilled, and me finishing off the last bit, which happened to be the head.


It was getting late, so I decided to stay, and he took me to a hotel which charged $4, including hot water (my first time in Colombia) and a tv. After losing some money at a Roulette table and making many friends in the local casino, I went for a drink at the bar down the streetThat is when all the fun-trouble began. That is where I met Henry, MaFe, Carolina, Fernando, Rollo, and a few others.(the first picture) Long story short, 2 nights later, I was still at that bar, now considered a local. That night, I think we put down 4-5 bottles of Aguardiente, a local liquor, and several beers. After bar close, they went to a random unmarked window to get more, and we went to a park to finish that off(picture)I think I got back around 5ish, and then went to work with Henry the following morning as he offered to take me around and teach me in the ins and outs of the rice business.
It was great fun, with an excellent breakfast, and several stops at warehouses filled with rice. It was amazing to watch how the trucks were loaded. Teams of 6 guys would build a ramp out of pallets and bamboo into the truck. Then they would pick up 100lb bags of rice and run up the ramp. These gusy were small, but TOUGH. We also played a bit of billar while waiting for a truck. It is a great game which involves 3 balls, and you need to hit two of them with the ball you are hitting to get points and keep going. In my opinion, it is much harder than regular pool, and most pool halls here are full of mainly this style of table. Friday night, I decided to stick around, as they promised it was a good night out. We went to the same bar, and switched to Whisky.
Keep in mind, this place was very cozy, and you bought drinks by the bottle. Again, I didnt make it to bed before 6, and the following morning, Henry picked me up to get Brunch. We met several of his friends from the rice business and I learned all sorts of new words while eating steak and drinking whisky. I dont think these guys even went to bed. I meant to head to the border, but at this point, I had to nap a bit, and then it was off to my local bar again, where Henry never took a rest. After the place ran out of alcohol, literally, we went to a disco where i was able to prove to everyone that I really cant dance.
After that closed, off to get more again, though Henry had long left, and we ended up in a house listening to all sorts of good music, once again, until the sun came up.
Anyway, feeling thoroughly poisoned now, I slept a bit and headed to Ecuador. I was torrentially rained on, and am now in Quito on election day, where they forbid the sale of alcohol to make sure things run smoothly. I think it is probably good for me to not have a drink for a change. In any case, I now have several new friends in Ipiales, and one more local bar. Now that I am in Ecuador, I think I will hike to close to 5000 meters and do a bike trip. I need to get in shape and figure now is as good a time as any.

By the way, if there is a bad link on a picture, click on it, and the picture will open up anyway. Blogger is a bit weird with pictures.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Diving and Relaxing


After the hike, my feet were covered in bug bits and blisters, so I decided to go diving for a day. It was great, as we went to a small island where we literally dove all the way around the island. Then, we went to this sweet cabana on the cliffs to relax and have lunch, and I found this little boa on the chair, and we all sort of played with it a bit. After that I went on another dive, where I saw large eels, sea horses, and Barracuda. Very relaxing. that night, I went to a disco, and spent the majority of the afternoon sitting around drinking beer and listening to Cuban music on the street. On Sunday, I slept in, went for a walk on the beach, and will go for a night dive or two. Who knows. The pic below is of the Sta. Marta Beach on a Sunday, when everyone is out with their families.
I have attached one picture I took a while back to remind people about the some things I no longer have to worry about.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Ciudad Perdida

I just finished a 6 day hike to the ciudad Perdida, a lost city in the jungle just east of Sta. Marta, Colombia. It belonged to the Tairona people, and now there are Kogui Indigenous people living in the area. It was quite interesting, and made me realize it is once again time for me to be doing more hiking and getting into shape. In any case, I will post pictures shortly. Just wanted to let everyone know I was ok.

The following image is a Kogui village, which is actually used.

The dog in this picture is named Fortunato, and lives with the gentleman who cuts the wood and lives by himself at the camp on the second night. He is 71 years old, and has a wife in Sta. Marta he returns to, I think about once a month. He delighted in telling me how crazy all the tourists are, making teas of various hallucinogens, and doing too many drugs to recall.

This picture is of the government soldiers which patrol the area. A couple of years ago there was a kidnapping of people on the trail for over 100 days. Our guide actually led the military as a guide to track the guerillas, but the president ordered them to not open fire.

There were several butterflies. As can be seen below, and the one below that on the dung.


Below is the bus we took to get to the hike, which is just a converted landcruiser.

This picture shows an ancient map of the area, with the verticle grooves representing rivers, the horizontal ones representing trails, and some stuff about a sun and moon and the mountain ridge. I started to think much of it was bunk when the guide explained on another rock that a crack represented a tunnel, and how he told me that some of the guides said some scratches from archaelogical tools were really ¨ancient writing¨.

This is the sunset at our final destination. It was beautiful, and we are actually spending the night in the lost city.

This metal box is used to cross the river when the current is too strong. When we went, the water was a bit over waist high, so the thing wasn´t needed. I asked to use it anyway though, as it looked like a lot of fun. As several bolts were very loose, I did inspect it thoroughly to insure safety before I was released, sailing over the river.

These guys are the guide and porter. The guide´s current girlfriends´ brother is the porter and is named Gabriel. We got along great. Rodrigo is the guide, and is an expert BS´er. Very funny, good hearted, and lover of the ladies.

This boy I met on the trip, and taught him how to spin his top and coins without the use of the string he had. We had quite a bit of fun.