Colombia – the final frontier … for this trip

Sanctuary of Las Lajas- looks like a fairy castle from the road above

We said goodbye early in the morning to Ecuador. Right across the border we detoured to the east to check out the Sanctuary of Las Lajas (The Slabs) we read about on the internet. It is considered the second greatest marvel in Colombia, and well worth the detour. The church was built right into the rock slabs on a steep ravine some 130 feet above the Guaítara River. Unlike so many Catholic Churches that make you climb innumerable steps to get up to them, this one has you climbing down over a hundred steps and several steep paths to get to the church. The catch is you have to climb all that to get back home again after! We saw more than one panting little nun on her way into town!

Town Square in Pasto

Since it was still early in the day, we decided to quickly check out the town of Pasto and then continue north. It was a very pleasant town, being the seat of government for that province of Colombia. You can see some of the agriculture on the hills, and some of the colonial buildings on the main plaza. The street goes right under the brick arch you see in the background.

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Popayán

After spending the night in a nice little hotel on the ravine along the road, we arrived in Popayán around noon the next day. Also the seat of government in its province, it is a fairly large city with a beautiful historic center.

The White City

The city has been referred to as the White City for many years. I imagine you can figure out why, but despite what you see, it is losing that nickname because more and more buildings are being painted with murals and in many colors.

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This is one happy man 🙂

While walking, it began to rain. This gave Raul a good reason to get this umbrella that now doubles as a lethal weapon of defense – just in case.

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The following pictures of two bridges in town come with interesting stories.

The Bridge of Safekeeping

In the early 1700s, Don Jacinto Mosquera, a rich man in the town, watched a poor priest trying to cross the river to bring communion to a sick parishioner. He saw the priest debate with himself for fear of being washed away in the river.  Because of this, the Don took it upon himself to build this little bridge with his own money so that that would not happen again. He himself named it El Puente de la Custodia – the Bridge of Safekeeping.

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The Bridge of Humbling

This bridge is referred to as the Bridge of Humbling because in this place before it was built, in order to get across the ravine the people had to practically climb on their hands and knees to get up the steep sides – thus the humbling experience. Built in 1863, it continues to be a beautiful and solid bridge today.

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Protest for Peace

From Popayan, we headed to Cali. Along the way we were rerouted to give these people room to march for peace on one side of the highway between two towns. Just the day before they had faced guerillero action – including bombing and kidnapping of military and police. The people do not support the activity of the guerilleros and want it to end!

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Historic District – Cali

Santiago de Cali is the third largest city in Colombia – behind Bogotá and Medellín. We entered the city with a couple hostels on the list of possibilities. We soon found that, though many list their hostels as having parking, none of them do. Parking is on the street at your own risk (not recommended), or in a parking lot blocks away that charges by the day. We finally found a hotel near the historic district in the San Antonio neighborhood with parking. We were told it was extra for parking, but we were not going to look any further. We were within walking distance of the places we knew we wanted to see and close to public transportation for anything else. In the end, they didn’t charge us any extra 🙂

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Teatro Municipal Enrique Buenaventura

This Municipal Theater was a short distance from our hotel. The evening we got into town, while walking around, we came upon it full of young people and their families, performers on stilts and photographers. We stopped to ask what was going on and they told us that a local school was putting on a play. What a gorgeous place to do it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me and we had to return the next day to get this photo – not quite as exciting.

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Saint Francis religious Complex

The St. Francis Religious Complex, built between the 17th and 18th centuries, consists of the Church of St. Francis you see at the front, the moorish Tower of Mudéjar toward the back, the Convent of San Juaquin and the Chapel of the Immaculate – built right in the center of the original city. It’s well worth the visit.

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… us in some plaza??

I am not exactly sure who the statue is of, but we look good here, so I put it in 🙂

Actually, he is the famous Conquistador, Sebastian de Belalcázar – I googled it. He came to the Americas with Christopher Columbus on his third journey, remained to aid in the conquest of Peru, founded the cities of Quito, Pasto, Popayan, and Santiago de Cali. There is something significant in that he is looking down into the valley where the city is while pointing away from it – not sure what is is???

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Cristo Rey

On a nearby hill overlooking Cali is the statue of the Cristo Rey – Christ the King. Though not quite as dramatic (or visible) as Christ the Redeemer in Rio, it’s quite nice. Just because I wanted to know, I checked – Cristo Rey is nearly 102 feet tall with base included, while Christ the Redeemer is about 125 feet with base included. While they are pretty close in size, Christ the Redeemer in Rio can still bring tears to my eyes when I see it.

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The River Cat

The River Cat Park is down near the center of town along the river. It is a park dedicated to this cat and his 16 girlfriends.

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the dirty cat – kind of looks like Max 🙂

In the park are 16 identical cats representing the river cat’s girlfriends – each decorated up in a different way by various local artists.

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I went out for a walk around town … be back soon.

… well 15 – check out the sign at the empty spot 🙂

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Raul, me, Scott and Mark

To top off our visit to Cali, without any manipulation to schedules or routes, we were able to spend the day with our future in-law, Scott, and his friend Mark – the man who will perform the marriage of our youngest daughter to Scott’s son, Torsten. They just happened to be in Colombia on a short mission trip. I had had the opportunity to meet Torsten and his whole family except Scott when last in California, but Raul hadn’t met any of them in person. We enjoyed a wonderful visit. Don’t we have a great God ♥

check out the hitch hiker 🙂

From Cali we headed back up into the mountains toward Bogotá.

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Bogotá – no small town!

Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, is a city of about 7,500,000 inhabitants – the biggest in Latin America. It is the third highest capital city after La Paz and Quito, at over 8,600 ft.

Once again we found Colombia to be parking-challenged and surrendered to the idea of the distant parking lot while staying in a crazy conglomeration of old houses-turned-hotel in the historic district with a great feeling and a greater staff.

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This is the Plaza Bolivar, where in 1985 the guerrilla movement M-19 took over the Justice building, resulting in 25 Supreme Court Justices and 12 guerrillas dead. Today it is calm and safe with local police making sure it stays that way.

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The Cathedral of Bogota

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… roof-top art 🙂

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No … not a man up there, just art.

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the piece the collection began with

Museo del Oro – Bogotá

my favorite piece

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a tiny thing – not much bigger than an inch

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Included within the Museum of Gold is an entire section with art by Colombian artist, Fernando Botero. Something I just found out is that he and I share the same birthday … with a few years in between.

This bronze sculpture kind of made Raul feel like he was in the hand of God  🙂

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Botero’s Mona Lisa at the age of 12

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There was a story we read that told of a time when this painting was displayed in New York’s Museum of Modern Art at the same time as Da’ vinci’s Mona Lisa was being exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Botero’s young son was quite upset when his teacher announced that the Mona Lisa was in the museum and he said he knew, because it was his dad who had painted it – and no one believed him 🙂

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Simon Bolivar’s lovely dining room

After the art museums we headed to the Simon Bolivar’s Country House Museum. It was so lovely – well maintained with beautiful gardens all around. I particularly liked this dining room. It is set apart from the house, all on its own with french doors on all four sides looking out to the gardens. It makes for a beautiful room in the lovely, cool climate of Bogotá.

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… at the top

From one of the higher points in Bogota we caught the funicular in order to climb nearly 2000 ft above the city to visit the Cerro de Monserrate – a beautiful spot popular on a natural, religious and gastronomical level. It has a beautiful cathedral overlooking the city below, a couple fancy restaurants that were not open yet when we were there, and some beautiful trails for hiking. At over 10,000 ft above sea level, it was a bit chilly and left us a little bit breathless for the hiking – I loved it!

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in the choir loft of the main chapel

Moving on, in the little town of Zipaquirá, not far north of Bogotá, you find Colombia’s first greatest marvel – the Salt Cathedral. Begun as a little stop-over place for the miners to ask for God’s protection as they entered to work, it slowly became a chapel, then a church they invited their families to, and finally an all-out cathedral carved into the very salt they mined. At the time we visited, the original cathedral was no longer accessible, but a few years after it closed for safety reasons, they began to carve out another to take its place in tunnels they no longer mine.

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the largest salt cross in the world

The cross behind the altar is the largest salt cross in the world at 14 feet tall and it’s also a great optical illusion. It is not hanging by anything or supported on the floor. It would weigh too much and the arms would break off. It is actually carved into the salt wall and lit in such a way to look like it is standing out from the wall.

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Baptism Room

This is the baptismal room. The fount that Raul is leaning on is carved out of salt, not granite.

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Water mirror

Apart from the various chapels and the main cathedral hall, there are many other rooms for various uses. There is a theater with a 3D show on how this was all built, another hall for a really fun light show, gift shops, wall carvings, a cafe at about 600 ft underground, and this 860 square foot mirror of saltwater.

It looks like a deep rocky pit with a railing around it, but it’s really a perfectly calm pool of very salty water about 8 inches deep that comes right up to the edge. What you see is the perfect reflection of the rocky ceiling above and the surrounding walls. Being right there it was hard to tell it was just a reflection. This is a good picture to click on and enlarge.

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Villa de Leyva

Another interesting and beautiful little colonial town near Bogota is Villa de Leyva. It was declared a National Monument on December 17, 1954 to preserve its architecture. Antonio Ricaurte, a Captain of Simon Bolivar’s army in the war of independence of Venezuela and Colombia, was born in here.

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Plaza Mayor

I heard from our German friends that the town set up a huge tv here for people to watch the Gold Cup games. They enjoyed watching Germany play I believe???

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This looks like a great dog park to me 🙂

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our new Venezuelan friend, Raul

While we were wandering around town looking for a place to stop we ran into the first Venezuelan campers on the trip. We had a lovely evening camping alongside them, sharing a really nice dinner and even better companionship 🙂

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the Bridge of Boyaca – a symbol of the independence of South America

Not far from Villa de Leyva is the Bridge of Boyacá, where the definitive battle that led to the independence of Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, and Ecuador from Spain.

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Bolivar Monument overlooking the Bridge of Boyaca

We enjoyed a very interesting lecture by a freelance historian while we were there.

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Chicamocha Canyon

If you were to google the grandest canyons in the world, Chicamocha Canyon would be on that list. Though very difficult to get the magesty of the place, my little camera does give you a little idea of the beauty. We stopped here at a park and took a cable car ride that goes from the top of one side, down nearly to the floor of the canyon, across the river and back up the other side. It was a lot of fun … and a bit scary on the way back, as it descended a lot faster than on the way there!

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there are at least 4 different kinds of crops here

The rest of the trip to Medellin was very lovely as well. Lots of green, lots of farming …

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fried bachacos – inch-long queen ants – eeek

… unusual food choices …

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(A word to the wise – just eat the behind, it’s crunchy and not bad. The front end, though equally crunchy, leaves spiky little things like legs and pinchers in between your teeth – eeeww.)

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can’t you just imagine chickens running around in there?

… and every now and then, one of these crazy buses.

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Medellin is a very beautiful and modern city. It is the only city in Colombia with a metro system – it is all above ground. It’s clean, efficient and economical. Included in the price of the ride, you can take a cable car about half the way up the side of the surrounding mountain – not so bad for those who had to either climb or take buses or taxis before to get home, or tourists who want a good view of the second largest city in Colombia.

me with the Cat – it’s only fitting 🙂

The only reasonably good pictures I got of us there are with some of Botero’s bronze statues in the Cultural Center of the city. So here are a couple 🙂

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Raul with the Dressed Woman – you can see a little of the overhead metro system behind him to the left.

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We enjoyed a few days in Medellin and then headed out toward El Peñol to visit a big rock we were told was worth the day trip – El Peñon de Guatapé.

El Peñol as seen from the top of the big rock.

The drive was really lovely and the area was beautiful – rivers and lakes everywhere, farming, clear, cool climate – we wanted to stay!

El Peñon de Guatapé – amazing to think it is one single rock – and we’re going up there!

The big rock ended up being an incredible monolith of a rock with 715 stairs from the base to the very top – I know – I counted! An elevator would be a lovely option here!

our guardians along the road

So … having survived the climb both up and back down, we continued on our way north toward Cartegena de Indias. Here I was able to get a quick snapshot of the National Police working together with the military to keep our travels safe. They are wonderful, dedicated young men and we pray for their safety.

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Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas Fortress

Cartegena is a large sprawling city, and since the historic walled section is down at the water, we had a time of it getting to it. The first sight of historic importance is this amazing fortress – the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas built in the 16th and 17th centuries. You might recognize it from the movie Romancing the Stone 🙂

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The fortress and the walled section of the city were listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites in 1984. They are beautifully maintained and today serve as locations for social and cultural events offered by the Colombian government.

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Raul under the Colombian Flag at the Fort

I love awesome  flags … and this definitely qualifies 🙂

In the background to the right you can see the walled city, and to the left the upscale hotel area of Bocagrande and El Laguito – where we stayed – not the upscale hotel – just the area 🙂

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inside the walls

Cartegena was so very hot and humid, the way to visit the walled city was by night. Cool ocean breezes, music everywhere and the lovely buildings twinkling in the low lights made it almost magical.

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We saw so many beautiful places and things in Cartagena …

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… beautiful walks along the water …

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… busy, bustling businesses …

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… cool statues …

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… colorful architecture …

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The “Simon Bolivar” – Venezuelan Naval School Ship

… and imagine our surprise when we ran into a vessel from home – the “Simon Bolivar”. Built in Bilboa, Spain in 1979 and commissioned in 1980, she continues to serve as a Venezuelan Naval School Ship and participates in many of the tall ship events all over the world. We enjoyed a lovely tour of the ship given to us by one of the cadets.

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Moving on …

Cathedral of Santa Marta

… we continued across the coast of northern Colombia to Santa Marta – the oldest city in Colombia and the second oldest city in the Americas. The Cathedral in the photo is the oldest church in the Americas and has recently been restored. Pretty isn’t it?

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Santa Marta is designated a Cultural and Historic Tourist District by the Colombian Constitution of 1991 and is one of the main tourist destinations on the Caribbean coast.

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Simon Bolivar’s bedroom

Just outside of town is the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino. This is where Simon Bolivar spent his last days, and subsequently died.

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Monument from Colombia to the Liberator

Within the compound are many interesting structures such as the one you see in the photo and guided tours are available giving a history of the area and Bolivar’s life while there.

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interesting structure

Well, all good things on this earth come to an end, and we are approaching the end of our trip through Colombia and through South America, as well.

Our last stop in Colombia was Riohacha, before heading into Venezuela through Maicao. The end was truly in sight now. This was a pretty little coastal town, but the road was calling, so after a nights rest, we headed out.

Colombia is an incredibly beautiful and productive country – definitely worth the visit, and hopefully more in the future. The ad we see in Venezuela is true: Colombia … the only real danger is that you won’t want to leave.

… so from here, with mixed emotions – sad to see this amazing trip coming to a close, and yet happy to see family and friends – we head back into Venezuela.

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Ecuador – Part 3

I’ll never clean these again!

With Galapagos mud on my shoe, we said good-bye to our friends in Guayaquil and headed to the coast, then north from there to Manta.

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The coast road was beautiful.

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Montañitas

We visited Montañitas to check out the waves, but couldn’t get anywhere near them. It is a cute little surfer/tourist town with crammed streets, lots of surfers, backpackers and tourists and no access for the car to see the beach – and there was no where for us to stop, so we continued north.

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We were hoping to see our German friends, Ralf and Ramona in another day or two. We had agreed to meet at a hotel in Manta on the following day.

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together again!

Imagine our surprise when we passed up the hotel we were planning on, stopping at another up the street and found them sitting down to lunch. It was great fun surprising them as well. We had a great visit just hanging out together and they prepared a German barbecue for us – goulash over an open barbeque flame – it was awesome!!!

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typical houses along the road

After a couple lovely days with our friends, we headed out toward Quito. The countryside was beautiful and green. Along the way we saw lots of these houses on stilts made of either bamboo or some other cane. They were interesting.

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free car wash 🙂

This is another common site … washing cars and trucks along the road by waterfalls and rivers.

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this was a ministry having to do with Women’s Rights

Once we arrived in Quito and found a lovely place to stay, we set out on foot to see this great city. Quito, the capital of Ecuador, was the first city, along with Krakow, to be named a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1978 – it has one of the largest, least altered and best preserved historic centers in the Americas – and we were going to check it out.

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All along the streets are these beautiful buildings with flowers on their balconies. Everything is so clean and neat.

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Plaza del Teatro

This was one of the first of many lovely plazas we came upon. A ‘cellist from the US was going to be playing there the next week.

Plaza de la Independencia

This is the central plaza – Independence Square.

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Presidential Palace

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me in the plaza

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Bacilica del Voto Nacional

The National Basilica of Devotion is found up from the center of town.  It is the largest of its kind in the New World and is quite impressive. It measures more than 450 ft long by 115 ft wide and the towers rise more than 350 ft.

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You can see it from all over town and from far above in the surrounding hills. Construction was begun in 1892 and technically it remains unfinished. Local legend says that when it is finished, the end of the world will come – so I don’t think they are in any hurry.

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… another interesting street with the building in the back arching over the road

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Raul and I with a very serious guard at the Presidencial Palace.

We visited the Presidential Palace and were given a free photo of ourselves. While a nice gift, we had the feeling it had more to do with security.

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Banquet Hall

Our IDs were taken upon entering, our pictures taken – as a free gift – and then the tour began – with guards in front and behind making sure no one went where they shouldn’t or lagged behind.

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Raul with Simon Bolivar

Simon Bolivar, the Liberator of six South American nations, is highly honored in all of these countries.

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Independence Square as seen from the Palace

At the end of our tour, we each received our ID and a nice photo. The security was understandable, but felt weird.

Our moms will get the photos 🙂

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San Francisco Convent Museum

San Francisco Convent Museum is the largest architectural complex in any of the historical districts in the Americas. It consists of the square, the main church, the chapel of San Buenaventura, Cantuña Chapel and the Convent.

There was some folkloric dancing going on in the square when we passed it. I couldn’t get any pictures, but we enjoyed it.

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a view of Panecillo

Ecuador also has its Sugar Loaf – Panecillo (little bread) – a hill that rises above the center. There is a lovely park up there with a 360° view of Quito …

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The Virgin of Quito

… and a very large statue of the Virgin of Quito.

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Central Quito seen from Panecillo

I only got a small part of the city in this photo, but if you enlarge it and look very closely at the left center-top corner, you can see the Basilica. Its stone-grey color makes it almost fade into the background, but when you see it, you get a better idea of its size, as it dwarfs anything around it.

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Mitad del Mundo

Just about 15 miles north of the center of Quito is the Monument to the Middle of the Earth – the Ecuator.

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… checking with my GPS

With one foot north and one foot south, I checked my GPS for the true coordinates …

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barely south of the Ecuator

Well, according to my GPS, it is off by a very slight margin. Not bad when you consider that the measurements made in 1743 were done with nothing so advanced as my satellite-accurate GPS.

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not sure where this was ???

Now, after nearly 8 months we have returned to the northern hemisphere. We were heading to Otavalo – widely known for its incredible craft markets. It also had really friendly people and beautiful surroundings.

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San Luis Church

Of course, we checked the sites out before we hit the market …

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A nearby volcanic lake was the first on our list.

Cuicocha

We heard stories about these small islands from both the man who ran our hostal and our taxi driver. Both grew up here and as children they used to enjoy weekends heading to the smaller of the two islands in the center of the crater where they would hunt cuy (guinea pigs) and have lovely family picnics. They say the name – Cuicocha – is derived from the large number of cuy running wild on the island. Unfortunately, no one gets to visit the island any more. Some careless person didn’t put out his fire well enough and in the night, when the wind picked up, the entire island was destroyed – trees, bushes and wildlife – all gone in a single night.

“Guinea Pig” Island re-seeded

The island was re-seeded and animals introduced, but it is not the same. You can see the difference in the vegetation – and no one takes their families for week-end picnics any more.

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incredible farmland

The trail along and around the lake was so beautiful, with flowers everywhere and views of the beautiful valley you see in background.

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Cotacachi

Cotacachi, a small town near Otavalo is becoming a very popular spot with the retired US people. Because of good prices, lovely climate and even more lovely people, there are whole developments being built just for the expats.

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cool architecture

… all these little towns are so clean and neat 🙂

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Luis Conejo – local artisan

We met Luis on our way to visit the Pechuge waterfall. His specialty is wood instruments. Daddy got me a flute. Luis played it for me so I know it works well – I have yet to get any good sounds out of it. But I’m not giving up. Poor Daddy!

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Raul on the bridge at Peguche Falls

We had a lovely walk through the woods to get to this waterfall.

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One of the flutes Raul got fell from this bridge into the river – my fault. Surprisingly, it wasn’t completely washed down the river. It got caught in some weeds on the side. Raul climbed down the muddy side to the river just as the flute broke free – so he jumped into the water and rescued it! He is my hero!!!

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Otavalo Craft Market

On the last day we hit the craft market. It takes up a full city block everyday but Sunday, when it spills out into the surrounding blocks. It’s a good thing this was a weekday, because there was so much to see. I can’t imagine going on Sunday. Raul never would have gotten me out of there.

The young girl in the photo is in traditional Ecuadorian indigenous clothing.  We even saw school uniforms like this. They are probably the prettiest of all the indigenous groups we’ve seen on this trip – inside and out 🙂

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Police Station at the Ecuador-Colombia Border

Well, here ends Ecuador at the border with Colombia. Ecuador was really lovely. We would love to return and do more hiking, biking, rafting, snorkeling and visiting with our dear friends. What a beautiful country!!!

Into Colombia we go! God bless

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Ecuador Part 2: Galapagos!

Crystal clear waters …

Visiting the Galapagos Islands has been a desire of mine since I first learned it existed. Raul wanted to treat me for my birthday, so who am I to refuse! So we left Subby at Adriana’s house in Guayaquil and off we went. After a short trip involving a two hour flight to the island of Baltra, one short bus trip to the wharf, one short ferry trip across to the island of Santa Cruz and a one hour long, bumpy bus trip to Puerto Ayora – we arrived here ←

Sally Lightfoot Crabs

These little crabs were scampering all over the rocks at the port. So bright and colorful, they were fun to watch.

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Raul amidst the flora

That first day, after finding a place to stay, we set off to explore the Charles Darwin Research Center.

The walking paths were lovely and the vegetation was pretty nice, too 🙂

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Giant tortoises – Geochelone elephantopus

These are a few of the giant tortoises they have in enclosures. These are young, maybe 30 or so, and are small as these guys go – roughly 2 feet tall.

I read on a website that the oldest recorded tortoise lived over 150 years, and they can get over 5 feet tall.

I remember wanting to ride them at the San Diego Zoo when I was a kid 🙂

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Land Iguana

This big, fat dude is a land iguana. He looks little here, but he was about three feet long and round as can be!

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Marine Iguana

We came upon this sad looking character on our way back to our hotel. He hadn’t been there when we passed through here earlier, but he looked like he’d been there dead for a few days. He wasn’t – just soaking up some rays, and the crusty parts are the salt expelled that he ingests from the ocean water. He was big – about 3 feet long.

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Raul outside one of the twin sink holes

The next day we took a short tour around the island with a taxi driver. It cost about 1/4th of what a true guided tour would cost – and he did a great job!

Our first stop was to view the craters referred to as the Gemelos (Twins). They really aren’t craters, they are sink holes left behind after lava tunnels underneath colapsed. They form their own ecosystem inside because of the warm, humid, protected conditions. It is very lush in there.

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a small sink hole

This smaller sink hole is not one of the twins. It is only about 10 feet across and I couldn’t see the bottom.

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… down into the lava tubes

After visiting the Gemelos, we headed for the real deal – lava tubes. These are tunnels formed by underground lava flows that have receded, leaving behind long cave-like tunnels. This particular tunnel is anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 feet depending on which turn you take. Fortunately, we didn’t take the wrong one.

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… so glad the power didn’t go out!!!

It is a good thing that they had these lights strung through the tunnel showing us the short route.

Without them, we would have been at a loss as to which way to go, because there were a few offshoot tunnels that would have had us guessing.

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Do I look like a flamingo to you???

From there, our driver took us around to find a giant tortoise in the wild. This really wasn’t the season to see many, but he wouldn’t give up. We did come across this Galapagos dove who kept hopping closer and closer till we could get a good picture of him. Our driver said he was related to the flamingo – a fact that you can see in his reddish feet.

Well … I don’t know about that, but he was so cute and definitely up for being photographed.      ♥

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Santa Cruz as seen from the highlands

Much of this and other islands are covered with introduced plants that are pushing out many of the endemic flora. This island has a lot of farming and ranching.

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searching for free tortoises

The search continues …

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At last! A giant tortoise in the wild! Our driver took us all around, up and down bumpy dirt roads till he found this one and a few others. All in all – a good trip. I’m just glad it was his car and not mine 🙂

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Dang! This was hard to get in and out of!

Our driver told us at the beginning of the tour that he would take us to see the human tortoises – it was a required part of the trip. So here I am! The giant tortoise shell will give you an idea of the size of these guys.

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… is that a shark??!!!

The next day we headed out for the island of Isabella – about a two hour high-speed boat ride from Santa Cruz. We got a good one – it took an hour and a half as opposed to the 3 hours it took others we spoke to 🙂

The first thing we did was take a snorkeling trip to the Tuneles (Tunnels). The fin you see in the ocean is from a huge manta ray, not a shark. These were everywhere as we headed to the snorkeling site. One even slapped right against my side of the boat, surprising us all and soaking me!

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Where’s Waldo???

We saw lots of different sea life. One of the funniest ones were the seals and the places they got themselves into. Any boat that looked like it hadn’t moved in more than a few days had one or more of these characters lazing on the deck.

I hadn’t even see the seal on this ship when I took the picture. See if you can find him with his nose in the air sunning himself in the early morning sunrise.

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How did he get in there??!!!

This one is in a little cave in a pile of rocks off shore called Roca Union. We were taken all around this pile of rocks about 4 times and I couldn’t see how he got in there. There must be a back door we couldn’t see.

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Penguins at the equator!

This little penguin was so cute. He is a Galapagos penguin – measuring only about 16 inches tall – half the size of the Magellan penguins we saw in Argentina – so cute!

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I love Boobies!!!!

Blue-footed boobies! I love these birds! They are so pretty. Their feet are progressively bluer as they mature, so one of these is juvenile and the other is slightly more mature. Can you tell the difference?

They also have a few different kinds of these birds, including red-footed boobies, but we didn’t see any.

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Los Tuneles, at last!

Well! It took about 40 minutes on the boat, at times through high waves, and seeing lots of cool animals along the way, but we made it – Los Tuneles (the Tunnels).

This was the first stop of our snorkling trip. These tunnels were formed by lava flows.

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our first snorkling spot in Galapagos 🙂

We snorkeled through the tunnels at top speed because our guide had more places to take us. We saw large sea turtles here, but no sharks.

I didn’t get any pictures at the next spot because there was no opportunity. Raul sat this one out – poor guy! I swam with sea turtles that were longer than me, saw large rays, a huge lobster ready to pounce anything that got too close,  a small octopus and groups of beautiful white-tipped shark. One shark took me totally by surprise, swimming directly under me – close enough to touch. It was about 6 to 7 feet long. EEEK! Next time I bring a waterproof camera!

it’s rough – but someone has to stay here 🙂

Back in town, this is the view from our hotel room. Not bad.

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Sierra Negra Crater

The next day we headed out on a 16 km hike to visit a couple of active volcanoes.

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No – we didn’t see this. This happened back in October of 2005. Our guide took this picture himself.

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Sierra Negra Volcano

This is what the crater looked like when we were there. It is not a tall, cone-like volcano, but a low, very wide one. This helps in that this volcano will never explode, or spill lava down into the towns below. In the previous picture you can see what it does – it oozes out through several fissures and just fills the inside rim with red-hot lava.

me at Sierra Negra Volcano 🙂

The crater measures about 4.5 miles wide by nearly 6 miles long. It would make for a long walk around, but we just walked along one side.

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… a nice long walk

After passing the Sierra Negra crater, we headed further north to visit Volcano Chico. We were only half way there at this point.

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Whew! It was a long walk!

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Volcano Chico

This little puppy erupted last in 1979, lasting two weeks. The previous eruption in 1963 lasted for a full month and the lava flowed all the way down to Elizabeth Bay, taking all the vegetation with it as it went. From where we were, we could see the black trail all the way down to the ocean. The red lava you see in the picture is due to the high content of iron.

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Eeeww! It’s hot in there!

All around the area of Volcano Chico were these steam vents. In some places they were large enough to form pockets of tropical vegetation in an otherwise barren landscape. When I went to check this one out I got a pretty good puff of hot steam in my face! It wasn’t too hot, but it surprised me.

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Now we just had to make it back the eight kilometers to the bus that would take us to town. We did the sixteen kilometers in about 4 and a half hours – stopping for lunch, photos and all. Raul and I kept a pretty quick pace and were not left in the back of the mostly young crowd, but we were pooped when we got back to our room! A quick dip in the ocean and we were done for the day!

crack of dawn

Next morning was time to head back to the airport. We were up before dawn because we had to make it back to Santa Cruz and then the whole trip back to the airport.

Galapagos was amazing. I hope that one day we can go back – but we’ll have to stay longer – so much to see!!!

What a great birthday present  ♥

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If you’re interested in more info on the Galapagos and its flora and fauna, you might want to check out www.animalcorner.co.uk/galapagos/about.html.

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What a trip!

The only question now …

Where will He lead us from here?!

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Ecuador – Part One

These bananas are probably headed to a supermarket near you!

Ecuador – what a lovely surprise! There is so much to see and I have too many photos to try and show it all in one post, so I will start with the first few places we visited.

On entering Ecuador, one of the first things you see are bananas! Ecuador was one of the original Banana Republics back in the day. The plastic bags you see on the fruit are placed there as soon as the plant flowers and remains to protect the fruit until harvest time.

Dairy farms

But Ecuador is much more than a Banana Republic. As we drove north toward Cuenca we saw so many beautiful towns like this with prosperous dairy farms …

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… and extensive crop farming.

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Loja Avenue leading to the center of Cuenca

Cuenca was our first destination. The Historic Center  is an UNESCO Heritage Trust Site.

We camped about 2 or 3 miles from the center, so we decided to walk. It was a very nice walk.

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Cathedral of Cuenca

Cuenca was delightful – very clean and safe.

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This was an interesting building, built in a moorish style with colored tiles.

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… government buildings

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… the Cathedral on the plaza.

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walking back to Subby

We took our time walking around town and then stopped for a light dinner on the way home. It was so nice and peaceful – and perfectly safe.

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… checking Subby before we continue.

Our campsite at Cabanas Yanuncay was very nice and we had a good nights rest. But now it was time to move on again.

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Baños de Agua Santa is one of the most popular tourist destination in Ecuador and it was our next stop. One of the most common sights in Baños are the candy shops with the guys pulling taffy, or melcochas right there on the street at the front of the shops. It’s fun to watch and the sugar cane taffy was pretty good while still warm, but it got pretty hard once cooled.

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the tree house

The next most common sight are the tour shops. Baños is a wonderful site for many activities from hiking, biking and dune buggies (though I don’t know where), to visiting volcanoes, waterfalls and river rafting. We did the second group. The first night we traveled up to view the volcano.

This treehouse is on the edge of the mountain that rises above the town. On the right of the picture you might notice someone on a swing swinging out over the void. They made me very nervous since the long ropes holding the swing were old and hanging from a piece of bamboo, but they survived it.

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,,, view of Baños

We waited and waited for Volcano Tungurahua to come into view. It is still active and we were hoping to see the light given off by internal eruptions. We didn’t see any volcano, but we did get a great view of the town below. The bright blue lights are the towers of the church on the town square. I have a theory about the volcano. I think the volcano has been stolen and they filled the void with a cloud that never leaves. We spent four days there and never saw it. Some friends we ran into later were there a few days after us and they never saw it either. It’s been taken and they don’t want anyone to know!

Cathedral of Baños

This is the church with the blue lights you saw in the previous picture. It is made with volcanic rock from the nearby volcano that we never saw.

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That’s me 🙂

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This waterfall, called the Virgen of Sacred Water is right on the edge of town. At the base are some of the lovely hot springs. That is another happy pastime here.

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Off we go a-rafting

On my birthday we decided to go river rafting. They told us it was level 4 rafting – whatever that means. So we hopped into this “chiva” and off we went with the other six adventurers.

The river was a little intimidating at first – the level was high from recent rains, and fast – but our guides were wonderful. They had us rowing like crazy and kept us from getting into any trouble.

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that was a blast!

We had so much fun we wanted to go back and do it again!

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What’s for dinner???

The next morning we were getting ready to go on a tour of the waterfalls and we came across these in the market – roasted cuy (guinea pig). We thought about maybe giving it a try once we got back. It never happened.

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Off to see the waterfalls …

On our way to the first waterfalls we got stuck here in this tunnel for a while. I don’t know what the holdup was, but I remember thinking how we could possibly get back to town.

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The Bride’s Mantle Waterfall

We did make it through the tunnel – we were only stuck for about 15 minutes. The first stop included crossing a ravine in a rickety-looking “tarabita” cable car, so we opted out.

This waterfall, however, was worth the crossing – both a cable car down the side of the ravine and the suspension bridge you see here across the river.

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Take the picture quick – I’m getting soaked here!

This was once a single waterfall. Last year, much to everyone’s surprise, it broke a new path (the left side) and is now two waterfalls. The new waterfall took out a lot of the park below and they are still working to recuperate paths and other areas for visitors.

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Polly says “hi everyone!”

This beautiful parrot was really bugging these tourists trying to get his picture. He would not look up from his preening for anything. Then Raul called to him in spanish and this is the picture he let me get 🙂

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looking down from “El Pailon del Diablo” – “The Devil’s Pot”

The next and last waterfall we visited took some serious hiking … first down into the ravine and then up the side of the mountain, sometimes having to scrunch down under over-hanging rocks to get to where this picture was taken. If you click on the photo you can get an idea of how far up we are. This is as far as Raul got because it got very wet from here.

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I’m really getting drenched here – and this water is COLD

Since I don’t mind getting wet – and actually look forward to it – I left Raul with the camera and continued up. There is a small space behind this waterfall where you can pass to the other side – but you have to be willing to get very wet!

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… wet and happy

The fun didn’t end there. After climbing back down and through the rocks, we crossed another suspension bridge – a few at a time – to see the Devil’s Pot from the other side. Now all that was left was getting back up the hill before our bus took off!!!

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… dancing in the street

Baños was a great place to visit. It is a small tourist town, but safe and clean (you might have noticed clean is important to me), and it provides the jump off point to so many activities. We even saw bridge jumpers and rock climbers, too. We really enjoyed our time and the Hostal Carolina right near the plaza by the Church was lovely. We wish them well with their business.

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Our friends and hosts in Guayaquil – Carlos and Adriana

From Baños we drove directly to Guayaquil. Guayaquil is the largest city in Ecuador and would have been very intimidating if we didn’t have friends to help us through. Adriana opened her house (and garage) to us and she and Carlos treated us to all the great sights.

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Las Penas – previously a dangerous filthy area.

Raul had been in Guayaquil about 15 years ago and he (and Adriana) said that it was a disaster. It is not a disaster now. It is big and beautiful, modern and busy – our hats off to the local government!

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I’m still breathing!

Here Raul is at the top of the stairs from the previous picture – something like 440 steps!

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El Papagayo

Spread around town you will find some really interesting works of art – huge sculptures of Ecuadorian fauna. They are so amazing, but set in areas that are hard to stop in your car to get a good picture – but we tried. This was the easiest to photograph.

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La Iguana

This one was a lot harder. We had to drive by two or three times to get this photo. I don’t know how they don’t have accidents from people surprised by these. They are gorgeous – all made with intricate tile work.

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El Mono Machin with artist Juan Sanchez

This one I could not get, and it’s probably the best, so I took this off the internet. He is located right before going into a tunnel. You don’t see him at first because his colors almost blend in – and then it looks like something is coming out of the bushes – and then … he’s there!

… and then you’re gone!

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Walking along the Guayas River

We also walked down the Malecon Simon Bolivar along the Guayas River – so lovely!

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Santo Domingo Church – Downtown Guayaquil

Everything is so clean (there’s that word again) and though they say the city is dangerous – as any big city – the areas we walked in were perfectly safe.

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crazy iguanas

The park in front of the church is full of these crazy iguanas. They are everywhere and they are not afraid of you. They will come right up to you begging for whatever you would want to feed them.

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Moorish Tower or Municipal Clock Tower

With this riddle I will end this first post on Ecuador. What do the Clock Tower and the Brooklyn Bridge have in common? They have both been sold numerous times … illegally. This tower was sold three times by the same man before he was caught. Warning to the unwary tourist – it is not for sale!

🙂

Thanks for reading! Next installation from the Galapagos Islands!

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God bless ♥

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Peru in Three Weeks!!!

Peru – where to begin … We were glad to pass the border though we were warned by the Customs Officer not to allow the Transit Police to hassle us as – all our documents were in order and we were good to go. Not one block later we were hassled about an insurance policy they said we needed even though what we had was accepted by their customs people and every country we had been in so far. Raul got past it by telling him we would go with him  to the customs officer who said we didn’t need it. No more was said and we were on our way.

such beautiful patchwork agriculture!

The scenery along the lake was lovely. Though we had seen small patches of these beautiful crops in Bolivia, on entering Peru we began to see them more extensively. For those of you who enjoy this grain, the red and yellow stripes are quinoa. Yum! Mixed in with that is corn, wheat and something else we never identified.

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Catedral Basílica San Carlos Borromeo, Puno

The first town we came to as we drove around Lake Titicaca was Puno. It was late, it was dark, and our GPS had no map for Peru. The only thing we had to find a place to stay were coordinates I could enter which gave us a dot on an otherwise empty screen. So we wound our way around the town and the lake trying to get to that dot. Then began the pouring down rain. Not fun! When we finally found the dot it was an amazingly elegant and exclusive hotel on its own  private little island on the lake looking back toward the town. Beautiful. We had read that they would let us camp in the parking lot for a nominal fee – so looking like a drowned rat, I went in to enquire. While they were very nice, they no longer allowed camping in the parking lot, and a room was over $300 a night – in US dollars. That wasn’t going to happen, so they gave me directions back toward town to the Sonesta Hotel – also on the edge of the lake. When we saw a couple campers there, we realized they did allow us to stop there – so we did for $20. We had a lovely dinner and slept in the car to the sound of the constantly falling rain. An interesting night. By morning the rain had stopped, so we checked out the sites and then moved on.

Popular public transportation

Trying to leave Puno we were stopped by the police two more times with the demand that we purchase car insurance for foreign travelers. Once the officer got to the point of trying to make it easy for us, I pulled out the camera and started the video. That was the end of that – into the next town we could get the coverage – and we were on our way.  We got the insurance and were never even stopped again – how did they know we had it??? Anyway, these little vehicles in the picture are like cockroaches flooding the streets of most towns we visited in Peru. We saw one with a sheep calmly riding in the basket in the back with his legs pointing up – tied. What ever works!

Our campground above Cusco

Cusco – our next destination – is a huge, crowded city for the most part. We tried for a long time to get anywhere near our dot on the GPS, but couldn’t do it. Once again, the forlorn gringa traveler entered the most exclusive hotel in the Historic Center to enquire. They were wonderful, and though they didn’t know the place I was looking for, they googled it, printed me up a map, and walked to the car to give Raul directions as well. We couldn’t find the way from the GPS dot because it was a very windy road that went up the mountain north of Cusco to the Sacsayhuamán complex. It had rained a lot and the place was quite soggy, but we got in and set up with no problem. Chickens everywhere, sheep grazing one day and llamas the next made it interesting. But if it kept raining, getting out again looked like it would be a real challenge 🙂

Sacsayhuamán

Our campsite was about a mile and a half above the Historic Center of Cusco and a two minute walk to Sacsayhuamán – so you know which we visited first.

Sacsayhuamán, the former capital of the Inca Empire, was probably built over 1,000 years ago – the bases and walls still stand despite the devastating earthquakes Cusco has experienced.

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The precision cuts, the interlocking fit of the rocks, and the way the rocks lean in toward each other is believed to be the reason they still stand. The fit is so precise without the aid of mortar that not even a slip of paper can pass between the rocks in most places even today. The smaller stones that comprised the tops of the structures were removed by the Spanish Conquistadors to build their governmental and religious buildings and even many of the homes. The remaining rocks were too large to bother with.

check out the people in the photo for perspective

The longest of the walls remaining is about 1200 ft long and 18 feet tall.

Very cool 🙂

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Next day we walked down the mile and a half into town. It was a great walk with cool, almost cold, clear weather. Up would be another matter!

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Cathedral of Santo Domingo. That’s me in front there ♥

This is one of those Spanish projects using the Inca’s rocks.

The Cathedral of Santo Domingo was built on the foundation of the Inca temple, Kiswarkancha, in an effort to replace the Inca religion with Spanish Catholicism in the early 1600s.

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Plaza de Armas

These former Spanish government buildings are now restaurants and shops.

While walking around the periphery, we came upon a McDonald’s tucked away in there. It looked more like a museum inside with artwork, jewelry, and pottery displayed on the walls. No golden arches here.

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Church of the Society of Jesus

Around the corner from the Cathedral, also on the Plaza de Armas, this church was built on the foundations of the Inca ruler Huayna Capac’s palace by the Jesuits.  They designed it to rival and even overshadow the Cathedral.

On an ironic note – during construction with the Inca stones, an earthquake leveled this, while the Inca structures remained intact. It was rebuilt and completed 18 years later. It looks like it has held pretty well since 1668.

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Fountain of Pumaq Chupan on Av. Sol

From the center we took a long walk checking out the sites along the way. Not far from this fountain we had our first Peruvian meal – the best ceviche in Peru (sorry Lima and Trujillo). What did it for me was the touch of fresh-grated ginger!

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checking out the Inca version of the chaise lounge – a little hard

Back on the road (yes we did get the car out of the mud with no problem, thank you), we headed to the Sacred Valley on our way to Machu Picchu. Everywhere you go is another archeological site. This was one not far from Sacsayhuamán. Sorry, I don’t remember the name. The valley was gorgeous – wide and long and so very fertile – I can see why they felt it was sacred. The pictures I took just couldn’t do it justice.

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Ollantaytambo

This place I remember because we spent the night here both going to Machu Picchu and coming back. Only about 40 miles from Cusco, it took us 4 or 5 hours to get here with the stops along the way and the twisting mountain roads.

Ollantaytambo (say that 3 times fast!) was the royal estate of one of the Inka emperors and a ceremonial center – later a stronghold against the Spaniard invaders. There are Inka structures all over these hills.

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Aguas Calientes – this one’s for you Teddy 🙂

As you can see, it took us a long time the next day to get to Aguas Calientes, the town nearest Machu Picchu. A train ride from Ollantaytambo that takes one and a half hours through the valley took us 6 hours up and around the mountains, 40 minutes in a taxi along crazy dirt roads that didn’t seem wide enough for one car let alone two, and another half hour on the train. But we made it, got our bus tickets for tomorrow and hit the sheets!

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Machu Picchu – the Main Event

Machu Picchu was really incredible. When you top the hill, having passed little interesting structures here and there and the whole view opens below you, it’s amazing – and at the same time it’s what you expect from having seen so many pictures and documentaries.

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… waiting out the rain

Unfortunately, we hit a foggy, rainy day and the visibility was poor and photos were difficult. It would just clear and you look away to get the camera, point and … the fog was back! On the good side, there were not a tremendous amount of tourists, though still too many to really absorb the feel of the place.

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… welcome 🙂

Still, we were able to walk around a lot and see so much.

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It is so amazing that these structures stand so intact. Really the only things missing are the organic parts – straw roofs and leather doors.

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Huayna Picchu

Huayna Picchu rises about 1,100 feet above Machu Picchu. The Incas built a path up the side to the top where the High Priest and the virgens supposedly lived. At the top are terraces and temples. It was about an hour and a half trek on a good day and this was not a good day. The path was narrow and steep, and today slippery, so we did not try that one.

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… walking the train tracks

We had thought to get some good exercise climbing down Machu Picchu to the train tracks and back to where we could pick up a bus back to Subby, but the trail was so steep with maybe 5,000 irregular wet stone steps, so we took the bus back down as far as the tracks and headed out. We had been told the 30 minute train ride takes about 2 hours to walk – definitely do-able.

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… walking over rivers

The ride to Aguas Calientes had been so lovely, and it was turning into a really lovely day. We had enough time to make the buses back easily with time to spare.

All along there was a trail on one side or the other of the tracks – except where it crossed a river. But no worries, we only had one train go by at the beginning and it passed very slowly – easy to avoid.

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… what gorgeous views

You couldn’t beat the view! Perhaps you can recognize Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu in those peaks.

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… I don’t hear any train coming

After just over 2 hours we began wondering just how far we had to go yet. Maybe we could catch the next train that came along, huh?

Not really. It was a wonderful walk, and though tired by the end (2 1/2 hours) we felt great and had really enjoyed it. We had lunch and into a mini-bus back to Subby. What a wild ride that was – my ribs still hurt from the jumping and twisting we did along that crazy road.

In the end, we had taken the long (and crazy) way to Machu Picchu, but we don’t regret it at all. We wouldn’t have missed it. Next time though, if there is a next time, we take the train from Cusco – 3 hours instead of 2 days!

… the mountain “road” between Sta. Teresa and the Hidroelectrica

Now that we are safely through all this, I will show a couple pictures of the highlights of the “road” we took to get back to Ollantaytambo.

This one taken through the front window shows the narrowness of this 2-lane dirt trail. Not sure you can appreciate the crazy precipice this is on – and on our side this time.

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… braving rivers

We nearly got stuck in this on the way to Machu Picchu, so Raul had to go quite fast this time as the river was higher and stronger than the first time. There was a small bridge for smaller cars, but ours wouldn’t make it. I used it to get this picture. I got one chance and he was out and ready to pick me up on the other side. Whew!

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… our haven in Ollantaytambo

We had arrived to Subby at around 3 pm and then drove the road you saw above. Parts were great, others difficult. At one point we were up over 14,000 ft in the fog. But we made it back to Ollantaytambo in time for bed. It took us 6 hours and I don’t think it was 100 miles. We stayed at the same place we did the day before. THE DAY BEFORE!!!??? It felt like we had been gone a month! What an adventure!

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… mountain high patchwork quilts

The next morning we pushed on over the Andes toward Nasca. Everything was so green and productive. Farm land everywhere.

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… a lovely place to set up camp

Despite the good road, we could not make it all the way to Nasca in one day. Raul started looking for a place to hide along the road. God, who always directs us (when we listen), gave us the perfect spot – down from the road along a sparkling, rushing river. A few people passed on their way across the river, but just a few and the sound of the road was covered well by the river. We had a good night 🙂

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. more tassled llamas

The next day, the road took us up and over the Andes. I think we topped 15,000 ft at one point, with snow on the peaks to our right and left and ice on either side of the road. It was really interesting.

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… landslides

We came across quite a few of these, too.

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… where did all the green go???

Then I fell asleep for not more than 10 minutes and I woke to this – dry, dusty and lifeless. What wasn’t dead was dying. Oh dear, not desert again!

It was bound to happen as Nasca is a dry, dry desert.

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… cactus everywhere

Once down into Nasca we did see a whole lot of cactus patches.

We asked if they were grown for the cactus fruit. In fact they are grown as a host for the bugs – valued at about $100 per kilo.

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… eeewww

Cosmetic companies use these aphids for their brilliant and quite permanent deep red color upon smashing.

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… down in to clean the aqueducts – they put the tourists to work here!

As you have seen, Nasca is dry, dry, dry. The name is a derivative of a word meaning “place of sorrow”. but don’t despair. Those clever Nascans devised a way to divert the water from the mountains and a fairly nearby river through these aqueducts – before the Incas even showed on the scene. Many of these aqueducts are still in working order today. The water is crystal clear down there. This spiral is repeated every so often for the farmers to enter the aqueduct. They actually go underground from spiral to spiral to make sure the ducts stay clear and continue to deliver water.

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… the yarn

You can barely see in this small picture, but behind us are some of those famous Nasca lines – small ones that can be seen from a little way above. This group of lines etched in the rock represent an important livelihood – weaving. Represented here are the loom, the needle and the yarn.

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… the loom and the needle

You ask how do they do that – easy. The surface of the rock is a chocolatey brown, while 3 to 4 inches deep it is a creamy sand color. The lines are etched about 4 to 5 inches deep. And you ask how they stayed visible and maintained all these hundreds of years? The wind does it. Every afternoon the wind picks up and spins in little whirlwinds effectively cleaning them of any accumulated dust and debris.

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… oh my!

We also visited the Nasca tombs, but I felt it was disrespectful to photograph the poor mummies that have been put on display in their tombs after having been opened and looted by grave robbers. It was a sad place.

Anyway, on a happier note, we found that with a little water this is an incredibly fertile land. It is amazing that in a place of such dryness and sand, so much can grow with just the least bit of encouraging water 🙂

Driving toward Lima, we were told we had to check out Ica, and better yet, Huacachina. Ica was a big and busy city – not what we were in the mood for. So we continued the few miles west to … sand dunes as far as the eye could see. We found the little town in the middle of all those dunes with loads of dune buggy tourists. The one street ran pretty much in a U shape not much bigger than a city block with shops, restaurants and hotels crowded together on either side. There was no room in the inn for us, so we decided to have lunch and continue. They pointed us down a hallway that wound around to the back of the building. Imagine our surprise when we found this at the back …

Dang!

… a natural oasis in the middle of all that sand – well exploited of course! It was so lovely. There was no indication of this natural pool from the one road that circumvented it.

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Arriving in Lima that evening, we had nothing again but the dot and the name of the place recommended. Again it was late, we got lost and finally stopped in the first decent looking place with a garage. We endded up in a really yucky area – the street sounds of traffic, people partying and drinking, and the lack of air conditioning made it difficult to sleep. But no worries, it was still better than what we had driven through and we were all safely inside. In the morning light we found our destination and were able to relax.

Marriott Hotel, Miraflores

This was more like it! We’re getting closer.

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La Rosa Nautica – not bad …

This was a beauty, too. But no – it’s a restaurant, not a hotel.

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Hitchhiker’s Backpacker’s Hostal

Here we are 🙂 This is more our speed. Located a couple blocks from the beach cliffs, near bus routes and in the center of the upscale, lovely Miraflores – we were home. Most nights we had a private room, but we did have to sleep in the car one night 🙂

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Historic District of Lima, Peru

Once settled in, we took the city bus about 7 or 8 miles to the Historic Center of Lima. The road along the way was pretty straight forward and the areas were nice. The center was lovely, clean and bustling with a good presence of police keeping the order.

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Plaza de Armas

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Cathedral of Lima

After wandering a while in the center, we came to the bridge we had been advised not to cross. Across that bridge was the more dangerous and seedy part of Lima. Ah – that’s where we came in last night 🙂

It was such a lovely day, we headed back the other way and decided to walk back to Miraflores. It was long, but it was lovely.

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Lighthouse

Miraflores is a truly lovely place. Nice weather, great for biking, or walking. Clean and pretty with gardens …

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playgrounds

… playgrounds …

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Love Park

… and parks all along the cliffs over the ocean.

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Suicide bridge?

This bridge over the underpass down to the ocean recently had to be covered with barriers due to people using it to commit suicide. I wonder if it’s location directly next to Love Park is significant …

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the cliffs

The cliffs are pretty significant themselves, but the city has provided many paths and stairs and overpasses for the local surfers to easily make it down and back up again in time to catch a few waves before the stress of the day begins.

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Plaza de Armas, Trujillo

Lima was great. We had dinner with an old friend and his son one night, made new friends at the hostal, ran across Mario Vargas Llosa on one of our bike rides and ate lots of good food. But all things come to an end. North to Trujillo we went.

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Cathedral of Trujillo

Trujillo is referred to as the birthplace of Liberty for its role in the Independence of Peru. It was designated the capital of Peru twice and is known now as the Cultural Capital of the country.

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Oh my! … where to start!

It is also famous throughout the country for its cuisine. We weren’t disappointed 🙂

Their ceviche was excellent … and picante … but Cusco spoiled me with that fresh ginger!

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Huacachina

Trujillo also has the second largest population in Peru – so we headed for the nearby coastal town of Huanchaco to stay for a couple of relaxing days.

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… a few local fishing vessels stacked against the retaining wall

These cool kayak-looking vessels are made by strapping reeds together. I thought they were for rent, but I guess they were the real deal for the fishermen.

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… not peacocks again!

Our campsite was nice – only about a block from the beach. The only problem were the peacocks – but don’t worry – they didn’t try to attack Raul like the one in Argentina 🙂

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Cathedral of Piura on the Plaza de Armas

From Huanchaco we continued north to Piura. Piura was the third Spanish city founded in the Americas and the first in Peru by Francisco Pizarro.

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foot bridge over the Piura River

Not a whole lot to visit, but it was a good stop-over place on our way north.

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Raul working away on our balcony …

Our friend we met in Lima told us we had to stop in Punta Sal. He had a friend with a hostal right near the beach and we would be well treated. We were. They were wonderful. They also had some of the best food we had eaten in a long time. May they never lose their cook!

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Punta Sal

It was a wonderful place to spend our last few days in Peru – peaceful, beautiful, good service, friendly people. Thank you to Carlos, to Jose and to the whole staff at El Bucanero for such a lovely way to end our time in Peru.

Well, that’s it for now.

Next up … Ecuador!

Until then – God bless ♥

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Bolivia in a Week!

So … into Bolivia we go. Sorry to say, I didn’t get any pictures of the border town. It was busy and colorful  … and crowded and crazy, so we headed out quite quickly.

little adobe chapel on a hill

The drive from the border was better than expected. We had heard so much about the flooding from the month before and how bad the roads were, but we really had no trouble. They were working on the roads all along 🙂

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typical ABANDONED adobe village along the way

So many of the little villages along the way looked like this – abandoned. We weren’t sure what had happened – we thought maybe the severe flooding had run them off. We found out later.

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Potosí - Cerro Rico

Cerro Rico – Rich Mountain, nearly 16,000 ft, was founded as a silver mine in 1546. So much wealth has been removed from that mountain by the Spanish, that all of South America could pay it’s external debt a few times over. In Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes used the word Potosí to refer to extraordinary wealth. The mine ran very rich for nearly 300 years. Today it continues to be mined for silver, but at a much humbler rate.

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Raul pretty tuckered out from walking around Potosi

The city of Potosí, at over 13,400 ft, is one of the highest cities in the world. It took us a little getting used to, but we did not have a repeat of the altitude sickness we had experienced in Tatio, Chile – thank you Lord!

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Potosi Cathedral on the Plaza de Armas

Here, like we have seen in other mining towns, there is a proliferation of cathedrals and churches. They were built as pledges for promised wealth and in response to attained wealth. We could see the towers in every direction.

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Interesting mixture of old culture and new

The indigenous women are so cute in their traditional garb. They are also very hard working!!!

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Can you tell what she's carrying?

They carry everything on their backs in their aguayos (mantles). It’s also the one article that shows their love of bright colors, I think.

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This old girl keeps popping up all over - she must be famous!

Check out that girl behind me 🙂

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road hazards ... again

From Potosí we headed toward Uyuni to visit the amazing Salt Flats. Along the way we met with some more of those road hazards.

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... and more

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... and more!

Aren’t their little ear tassles cute 🙂 ?

All kidding aside, these are real dangers. We shared our room for a little bit with a British man who had a “too-close-encounter” between a cow and his motorcycle last night. He ended up with a destroyed bike and a dislocated clavical. The cow won.

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Another silver mining town.

We passed this town along the way. It’s claim to fame is being the most famous silver mining town of the 19th century – doesn’t look like it lasted into the 20th.

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on the edge of the Salt Flat

The Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat in the world measuring more than 4,000 sq. miles. Located at nearly 12,000 ft, it is also incredibly flat – varying only about a meter in height overall. This in combination with the wide clear skies makes it a perfect spot for calibrating the altimeters of the Earth observation satellites.

The road here from Uyuni was all we heard it would be. The worst 15 miles of the trip!!!

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Esto es para ti Mario!

Here I am proudly flying the flag of the Magallanes (from Punta Arenas) over the Salt Flats. We were hoping to fly it near the hotel that has all the flags from different nations flying, but the flats were still very wet from the earlier rains and we couldn’t get there – so this will have to do!

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Goodbye to the Salt Flats - and the flag comes with us!

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typical HABITATED town along the way

On the road toward La Paz we encountered many little villages like this. There were small agricultural patches along the way as well, but nothing extensive.

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curious rock formations

I took so many pictures of the landscape – it really was beautiful – but not many really showed its grandeur. I decided to use this one because I thought it was really fun. If you enlarge the picture, the rocks to the left of the hill look like huge toes wiggling in the air.

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Mountains behind mountains - and the muddy Santa Maria River.

… a little more landscape 🙂

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OruroBecause the road was so long, we decided to stop in the city of Oruro for the night. It was the first truly large modern city we encountered in Bolivia. On the outskirts of town there was a huge open market, with traffic congestion and car pollution and garbage everywhere. Oh my goodness!!! I have never experienced pollution like that in my life. I felt like I had to cover my mouth and breathe in a very shallow manner so as to avoid taking any of it in. It didn’t get any better as we drove around looking for a place to stop for the night. I remember that I saw a small playground near the road – I felt so sad for the children who have to grow up in that. I prayed for their poor lungs. We spent the night and left early the next day.

Iglesia de San Francisco - a Baroque facade with a crazy mixture of native and Catholic art. I hope you can see some of the detail.

La Paz is a huge city on many levels – in altitude, culture, architecture, and economy. The metropolitan area varies in height from almost 10,000 ft to 13,500 ft, making it the highest de facto capital city in the world. It makes for some crazy driving – I’m glad we don’t have a stick shift!!!

That’s me Teddy – blocking the view of the cute little Indian lady on the steps of the church – darn it!

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This was a really interesting street market in downtown La Paz – it went on for blocks and blocks with all kinds of food, crafts and textiles. Cool! A little crowded for Raul. I do believe this is what has happened to all those empty villages. The women are sharp business dealers! Walking up these steep streets at this altitude was a definite accomplishment for us. It reminded us of a local warning – camina lentito, come poquito, duerme solito (walk slowly, eat little, sleep by your little self) – wise advise!

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Old and new, smooshed and crowded

This picture doesn’t show it, but these roads are so very crowded – it took us over an hour to get about 5 miles from this point to our hotel. They must all be trapped at the previous light 🙂

Check out the hills in the background – they are jam-packed with poor little houses right to the top.

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Plaza Murillo

La Paz is not the capital of Bolivia – it is Sucre (which we didn’t visit), but because the Executive and Legislative branches of the government are here, it is sometimes referred to as the administrative or de facto capital. Most of these government buildings are on this plaza.

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another view of the Plaza Murillo

Like this one – the Presidential Palace.

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Oberland Hotel, La Paz - our room was in the top facing corner.

We (most fortunately) stayed outside of La Paz in an area called Mallasa thanks to White Acorn who recommended this spot. The hotel was lovely, the people were wonderful, the internet worked, the area was beautiful and the food was great! It was really an oasis.

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our view with the sun setting on the surrounding mountains

The view wasn’t bad either.

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... the crossing

Trying to find our way back out of La Paz was such a mess with traffic, road blocks, protests and the lack of a decent city map, that by the time we found it we were ready to just leave Bolivia – so instead of heading toward the Tiwanacu ruins we had intended to visit and then head north to cross Lake Titicaca the next day, we headed directly to where we would cross the lake and enter Peru. Once out of the city and the surrounding area, it was a lovely drive and we arrived without problems to where we would cross the lake. How we would do that was a mystery – but we had faith it could be done though nothing showed a viable road in that direction. There was a way to cross – on these little flat, rickety barges.

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... so beautiful, cool and so CLEAN

Lake Titicaca lived up to its reputation. It is really blue and beautiful and immense – all at about 12,500 ft.

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... the disembarking

Getting on and off the barge was a little scary with nothing to really hold it there but that man who is directing Raul off – not to mention that the boards didn’t look like they could hold Subby! But we made it 🙂

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... ain't it a beauty???

Once over the lake, the ride toward Copacabana was so lovely.

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I thought this little lady was so cute with her llama companion I had to take a picture, though I’m not sure she was so happy about it.

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Copacabana

Copacabana – the main Bolivian town on Lake Titicaca. It has been a sacred place since before the arrival of the Spanish as the location of a fertility god, like Venus to the Romans and Afrodite to the Greeks. He was believed to live in the lake and have mermaid-like creatures in his court.

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Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana

This Moorish style Basilica was built by the Spanish in the late 1600s on the same sight of the Inka temple before it. It remains one of the two principal sacred places of importance to the indigenous peoples and Catholics of Bolivia.

It is immense and very well maintained with a huge courtyard …

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Raul in the courtyard of the church

… I couldn’t get it all in one picture.

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... Bolivia behind ... Peru ahead

Well, that is a a bit of what we visited in Bolivia. It was quick, not always pleasant, but worth seeing. Perhaps we will come again and take a better look one day. So with one last look back at Bolivia we say bye for now …

God bless!

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A Fond Farewell and up Argentina We Go …

The house that Ana Maria built 🙂

I can’t very well continue without a little farewell to Punta Arenas and our new family. So here are a couple farewell photos. In this first shot is Alejandro and Ana Maria’s home. Ana Maria, with a love of architecture, designed this home with the large windows of the living room overlooking Punta Arenas all the way to the Strait, and the bedrooms snug and warm on the ground floor. Can you see Max and Rex peeking out at us?

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This little house over the garage is where Ana Maria and Alejandro started. We had a lovely time living here for the three weeks we were there. One day they hope to turn it into a vacation rental.

I’ll rent it!!!

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Celebrating International Day of the Woman

This was a lovely lunch to celebrate International Day of the Woman. Seated at the table starting with me are:

me … Ana Maria’s mom … Raul … Alejandro’s mom … Ana Maria … Alejandro …

Gracias a nuestra familia Magallanica por recibirnos con tanto amor y cariño. Hasta que Dios nos junte de nuevo – que Dios los bendiga abundantemente!

The river breaks it's borders!

Just a few days after we left, Punta Arenas was seriously flooded. We had been walking down that very street and at that very corner not three days before. From what I remember, those buildings are about 2 to 3 feet under water 😦

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Feeding peacocks in Sarmiento

Our travels back north – this time through Argentina alone – took less than two weeks. We drove about 350 miles a day and stopped at night just to rest for the next day. Even still we had some fun adventures.

The female peacock on the left of the photo became my fast friend – never far away. The only problem was that she didn’t like Raul much. When my back was turned she attacked him, jumping at him with both talons and beak!

making dinner in El Maiten - beautiful spot

El Maiten Municipal Campground was lovely – and no one was there to charge us for the stay.

Near El Bolson, it was a lovely area with mountains for hiking and rivers for swimming – if you don’t mind hypothermia!

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Just north of Bariloche - free from volcanic ash ... awesome!

We saw some places we had been before through new eyes. The rains had cleared the haze of the volcanic ash and turned the hills green. It was great. This picture was in the post back in January – covered in ash. At that time I had said that we needed to come back through here once the ash had cleared. I guess somebody heard …

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Farming in the Province of Mendoza

The central and northwestern regions of Argentina are beautiful agricultural territories. In fact, passing from one region to another we lost all fresh fruit and vegetables – which was hard since we were eating just that to try to drop some of the weight we happily put on in Punta Arenas!

Anyway, we saw extensive vineyards, corn, soybean, various fruit and olive trees for days.

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... flowering Cardon Cactus - perhaps 15 feet tall ...

Further north we began to see a different landscape – whole hillsides covered in these prickly giants.

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... awesome sandstone formations ...

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... campsite in Catamarca

Here’s another quick stopover in a lovely municipal campground – no charge

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... palo borracho - the drunk stick ...

This was a pretty tree with big, bright flowers. I think the name is fun because it did look so happy

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The Indian - at 3600 feet

Traveling through the Province of Tucuman we wound our way through a dense subtropical forest – the most lush we had seen in a long time – up twisting mountain roads. At one particular turn we stopped at this Monument to the Indian with small craft stands along the road.

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Caution - Rockslide Zone

It was a little scary climbing that mountain with the dense forest and the overhanging rocks – especially when we saw this sign and the reality of the fallout all along the road.

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... goats

Once out of those mountains, we came across a different form of road hazard – free-roaming animals …

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Stews: Lamb, Goat, Llama, Rabbit

Run guys! You’re on the menu!!!

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... sheep

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... horses

This horse, seeing us, separated from the others and ran right out in front of our car.

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... burritos

In the little town of Cafayate, these characters were just meandering down the street.

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Cathedral Our Lady of the Rosary, Cafayate

Cafayate, in the middle of wine country, is a lovely little tourist town – with a bit more class than some of the others we saw in the south – maybe because they are in wine country 🙂

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Craft market along the central plaza

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We passed through Cafayate hungry at a bad hour – 4pm – not a single restaurant open for at least 2-3 more hours, so we moved on.

Quebrada de Cafayate - amazing!!!

We chose a road between Cafayate and Salta that took us through the Quebrada de Cafayate – the Cafayate Gorge. Dang! It was amazing – each turn in the road exposed a more spectacular view than the last! If you look close in this picture you can see another of those road hazards. Good thing we had stopped for the picture or we might not have been able to avoid these in time!

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beautiful mountains upon mountains with the muddy Santa Maria River running through

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Central Plaza in Salta

Salta – Lonely Planet finally pegged one. We arrived in Salta – a MUCH larger city than we had imagined – and found a restaurant suggested by them that was both still running and worthy of their praise.  We also found the Municipal Campgrounds. They have redeemed themselves 🙂

The next day we headed to the historical district of town. Founded in 1582 as an outpost between Lima, Peru and Buenos Aires, it still has a lot of beautiful architecture of the time.

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Not sure what you're standing in front of - but it looks good 🙂

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Cathedral of Salta

This doesn’t look so grand in this picture, but notice the size of the people in the picture and just wait till you get inside …

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... ornate enough for you ?

Stepping inside was a shock – we hadn’t seen anything that ornate since the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain! And you can’t see the side salons or the beautiful stained-glass windows of the central dome with the light shining in. Pretty fancy!

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Monument to Manuel Belgrano

Still further north, we came to Jujuy (pronounced who-who-y). Another colonial city founded in the late 1500s (on April 19th by the way), the place to go is Belgrano Plaza with it’s monuments …

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seat of the Spanish government - now a museum

… the Cabildo …

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Cathedral of St. Francis

… and the Cathedral.

In Jujuy we had to make the decision of whether to head west to Chile, or continue north to Bolivia.

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When we were last this far north – in San Pedro de Atacama – the rains were so bad we could not enter Bolivia. This time we couldn’t find out any information about road conditions in Bolivia from anyone, so we decided to continue to the border town of La Quiaca. It wasn’t that much further – we could just come back and go to Peru through Chile if we had to.

Colinas de Siete Colores - Purmamarca

So north we went. But first we made a little side trip to Purmamarca.

Purmamarca is a small, crowded tourist town with very narrow streets and low adobe houses and structures. It’s claim to fame are the hills of seven colors.

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Once again, the photos don’t do it justice.

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… very beautiful.

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Back on the road north, we continued to have plenty of colorful scenery.

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... llamas!

Uh-oh … another road hazard!

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fearless ... or foolish

These guys are nothing like their cousins, the guanacos. They have NO fear of motorists. They are totally unfazed and will walk right in front of your car, or just waltz slow across – like this one. But they are so cool!

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Church of La Quiaca on the Independence Plaza

At last in La Quiaca, we found out that the road was clear and we would be able to continue north into Bolivia without much trouble. So here we leave you with a pretty shot of the town that is otherwise a dusty and lackluster border town.

Bolivia here we come!!!

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