A Travellerspoint blog

March 2015

Lima – A Flying Visit

sunny 33 °C

More than ten million Peruvians can’t be wrong - Lima looks like a great place to live. But, while the chilly Humbolt current can usually be relied upon to keep the locals and the lettuce from flagging, we are wilting in the mid 30 temperatures and after a fleeting visit we are flying off to the cool of the Andes to visit the ancient Incas.

The ocean-side, and very modern, city of Lima is renowned for its numerous Catholic edifices but it seems that god has not always been impressed. This monastery of San Francisco in the city centre has been destroyed four times by earthquakes since its inception in 16th century…
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But the Peruvians are a persistent bunch and today the churches and cathedrals are busy gearing up for Easter with parades and special services…
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This weighty silver icon was on its way into the Basilica in Lima accompanied by an oompah-band and dozens of uniformed bearers in a tradition that began in 1850.
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The expansive cathedral plaza in the centre of the old city is dominated by both the Basilica and the enormous presidential palace, and surrounded by elegant colonial buildings housing some pricey lodgings and eateries…
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Things may look rosy here today, but in 1990 there was an economic crises that led to the collapse of the currency and the average wage falling to less than $2 a day. However, judging by the prices of hotels and restaurants, the huge numbers of casinos and fancy shopping malls, and the fleets of BMWs and Audis on the streets, the average citizen seems to be doing pretty well. Apart from the nightmarish traffic jams, Lima’s streets and boulevards are a fashionista’s paradise…
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The European influence is obvious on the street here and both men and women would look at home in Milan or Paris. There are entire malls dedicated to luxury fashion and many of the snazzier districts have upmarket boutiques and jewellery stores lining the elegant side streets, but the developers may have gone too far. One mall alone has over a thousand stores, but some of the smaller malls are blighted with empty shops and heavily discounted prices…
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Fine dining is another passion with European roots and in recent years Peru has risen to the heights of haute-cuisine with its restaurants and chefs garnering international accolades. Today, Peru is one of the world’s destinations for foodies and we’ve kicked off our visit with a local favourite – Lomo Saltado accompanied by Pisco sour…
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The tender chunks of fillet steak with onions, peppers and French fries, were absolutely delicious – as was the Pisco sour; an addictive cocktail made from Peruvian Muscat brandy with lime and egg white - less than $50 for two for the whole enchiladas.

Posted by Hawkson 14:51 Archived in Peru Comments (4)

Ecuador Farewell

sunny 30 °C

The arid offshore islands of Chile, Peru and Ecuador have been home to countless seabirds for millions of years and each one left behind a little gift for future generations. These little ‘deposits’ accumulated over time until they were the height of a twelve story apartment block. But when the prospectors realized that this ‘guano’ was a nitrogen-rich natural fertilizer in the mid-1800s, the whole lot was dug up, loaded onto old sailing ships and sent off to nourish the fields of the U.S. and Europe from these old city docks in Guayaquil...
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Guayaquil’s waterfront Malecon today is pristine,..
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The only odours are from the numerous restaurants and cafes that line the beautifully restored quayside, but in the 19th century this port was enveloped in the overpowering stench of ammonia and clouds of guano dust. Guayaquil today is a largely modern city with some beautiful buildings dating from the early part of the last century. This is the magnificent city hall..
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…and this is the cathedral…
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Guayaquil has a reputation for being unsafe and tourists are warned not to venture from their hotels at night. While this may make sense in some quarters the only thing we found scary were the huge iguanas that roam the cathedral plaza…
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For such a small country Ecuador has an incredible diversity: From the highest Andean mountains and volcanoes to the Amazon jungle; from the lush coastal plain to the colonial cities of Cuenca and Quito; and from the modern city of Guayaquil to the timeless Galapagos Islands - Ecuador has something for everyone. It is a land of fantastic scenery, incredible biodiversity and beautiful flowers, both natural and cultivated…
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There are signs everywhere in Ecuador exhorting the citizens, (and visitors), to look after the trees and plants; to take care of the environment; to cherish the water and the air. And legions of cleaners and garbage collectors work around the clock to ensure that Ecuador’s cities, toilets and roadsides are, generally, some of the cleanest we’ve ever seen.

As for the food in Ecuador - apart from the fact that almost everything seems to be deep fried, we have no complaints at all. However, we came across very few uniquely Ecuadorian dishes other than fanesca – a delicious fish stew with beans…
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…together with quails’ eggs and the somewhat ubiquitous patacones – deep fried slices of plantains.

We are now in Lima, Peru, in the midst of a heatwave, and we are fondly remembering the pleasant temperatures of the Ecuadorian Andes and the refreshing crystal waters of the Galapagos Islands. This is a shoal of cow-nosed golden rays in the shallow harbour of Puerta Ayora, Santa Cruz…
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We have much to look forward to in Peru in the next few weeks, (especially the food), but we will certainly never forget the truly amazing sights and the lovely people of Ecuador.

Posted by Hawkson 14:40 Archived in Ecuador Comments (3)

The Birds of Paradise

sunny 30 °C

We’ve had many ‘National Geographic’ moments around the globe but few are quite as memorable as our encounters with the animals that thrive off the nutrient-rich waters surrounding the Galapagos Islands. Charles Darwin may have been disappointed with the generally drab finches, (although it was the variations in these birds from island to island that confirmed his belief in evolution), but the skies, (and souvenirs), here are abuzz with seabirds of every size and hue…
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Red footed birds are a dime a dozen in the world and there are many in the Galapagos - like this slender-legged beauty wading in the salt-marshes of Santa Cruz island …
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But birds with bright blue feet are surely cartoon characters…
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Not so… This is one of the famous blue-footed boobies which, along with their nocturnal red-footed cousins, are emblematic of this remote archipelago…

Penguins, flamingos and albatrosses can also be seen at certain times on some islands, while great flocks of elegant frigate birds soar constantly above the islands' cliffs…
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Photographing birds in flight is always a difficult task, but snapping them from the bobbing deck of a small boat offshore is almost impossible. We did however manage to catch the mating ritual of some frigate birds on camera…
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The males inflate their chests into an enormous red balloon as a show of virility.
We are not ornithologists and can identify few birds – but we know pretty ones when we see them…
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The fearless, lumbering pelicans are the real comedians. No fisherman’s catch is safe when this guy is waddling along the quayside in search of an easy meal…
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When it comes to easy meals - this little chap joined us for breakfast every morning on San Cristobal and sang sweetly to us before tucking into our bread, butter and jam…
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Sadly we soon have to say goodbye to our little friend as we head back to the Ecuadorian mainland and the ancient port of Guayaquil.

Posted by Hawkson 08:00 Archived in Ecuador Comments (4)

Galapagos -The Enchanted Islands

semi-overcast 30 °C

As much as we enjoy describing our experiences in our own style we have decided that this blog would best be written by the Englishman who first revealed the mysteries of the Galapagos islands to the world. These then are the actual words of Charles Darwin as written in Chapter 17 of his 1839 literary diary, 'The Voyage of the Beagle', (The basis of his 1859 opus magnum, ‘On the Origin of Species' in which he conclusively debunked the myth of divine creation.

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Darwin wrote:
The Galapagos archipelago consists of ten principal islands situated under the Equator between five and six hundred miles westward of the coast of America. They are all formed of volcanic rocks and some of the craters rise to a height of between three and four thousand feet. Nothing could be less inviting than the first appearance. A broken field of black basaltic lava, thrown into the most rugged waves, and crossed by great fissures, is everywhere covered by stunted, sun-burnt brushwood, which shows little signs of life…
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As I was walking along I met two large tortoises, each of which must have weighed at least two hundred pounds: one was eating a piece of cactus, and as I approached, it stared at me and slowly walked away; the other gave a deep hiss, and drew in its head…
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These huge reptiles seemed to my fancy like some antediluvian animals. Some grow to an immense size: Mr. Lawson, an Englishman, and vice-governor of the colony, told us that he had seen several so large, that it required six or eight men to lift them from the ground…
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The rocks on the coast abounded with great black lizards, between three and four feet long ...
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and we will now turn to the order of reptiles, which gives the most striking character to the zoology of these islands. The species are not numerous, but the numbers of individuals of each species are extraordinarily great...
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Of land-birds I obtained twenty-six kinds, all peculiar to the (island) group and found nowhere else. With the exception of a wren with a fine yellow breast none of the birds are brilliantly coloured. Hence it would appear probable, that the same causes which here make the immigrants of some peculiar species smaller, as well as very generally more dusky coloured…
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(Note – this is an offspring of one of the dusky finches that enabled Darwin to conclusively deduce that all creatures evolved based on their ability to adapt to their environment and circumstances – i.e. survival of the fittest.)

The natural history of these islands is eminently curious. Most of the organic productions are aboriginal creations, found nowhere else; there is even a difference between the inhabitants of the different islands; The archipelago is a little world within itself. Hence, both in space and time, we seem to be brought to that great fact -- that mystery of mysteries -- the first appearance of new beings on this earth.
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We found it amazing that we were able to experience, and photograph, exactly the scenes and animals that Darwin encountered more than 150 years ago. Perhaps the most amazing fact is that there are tortoises still alive that were born shortly after Darwin's visit.

Posted by Hawkson 17:35 Archived in Ecuador Comments (8)

Swimming with the Sharks

sunny 32 °C

Our Canadian home overlooks the ocean and we often enthuse about the aquatic life we view from our windows. But here, in the warm equatorial waters surrounding the Galapagos islands, a few hundred seals and sea lions, or an occasional pod of killer whales or dolphins, is just kids’ stuff. More than a thousand sea-lions dominate the harbour and the streets of Puerto Banquerizo Moreno, the tiny capital of San Cristobal island. Try asking this lot to move if you want to get down to your boat…
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The harbour is just jammed with sea life, and at times it’s also jammed with cruise ships. But, while many people enjoy cruising, we independent types prefer to take the paths less travelled. So we jumped aboard a speedboat together with a small group of adventurers to snorkel here in the crystal clear waters at Kicker Rock off the north coast of San Cristobal…
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Puffer fish and turtles surrounded us as we stopped at a deserted beach to don wetsuits and masks in preparation for our dive…
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And then we were off to the deep waters and undersea canyons for an experience of a lifetime…
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This Jacques Cousteau world is beyond description. Words cannot convey the incredible joy of being part of the undersea ballet: diving, dancing and playing amongst sea-lions and giant turtles…
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Here's James chasing a couple of fleet-finned turtles...
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And we found ourselves swimming alongside shoals of multi-hued fish: fish that were more exotic; more colourful; more varied, and infinitely more numerous than those in the tropical fish tanks at the world’s best aquariums. These giant leopard rays simply flapped their wings and soared off into the depths as we approached ...
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Perhaps the most amazing thing about the wildlife in the Galapagos islands is that it is not really wild at all. The creatures on land, sea and in the air have no fear of man. Birds eat off our breakfast table without flinching, sea-lions and iguanas expect us to step over or around them on the streets and beaches, while inquisitive fish swim up to peer at us through our masks.

Vivid sea anemones and sea urchins, together with numerous multi-coloured aquatic plants, grow in the undersea canyons of Kicker Rock like exotic alpine flowers, and we spent nearly two hours watching millions of brilliantly hued fish grazing their undersea pastures. And then, just as we were getting ready to climb back aboard, a giant shoal of bait fish as dense as a thundercloud appeared in the water just a few feet beneath us…
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Within seconds a feeding frenzy began. Sharks and sea-lions pounded time and again into the living ball, tearing it apart…
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As the voracious predators crashed through the mass they twisted and turned with lightning speed, grabbing mouthfuls of fry, but as soon as each attack was over the ball reformed to await the next onslaught. On and on it went until it was time for us to leave this magical sight. These fabulous undersea images were taken by Juan our knowledgeable guide who photographed our entire expedition, but mere pictures cannot compare with the incredible memories that we have of the day we dived with the sharks in the Galapagos.
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Posted by Hawkson 17:24 Archived in Ecuador Comments (7)

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