A Travellerspoint blog

Kalimantan

The honeymoon continues

We started our Kalimantan adventure in Banjarmasin, this town is known as the Venice of Indonesia but besides having canals/ river, well I don’t see it. Yes there is a certain charm about the city but its buildings though crumbling don’t have that old world charisma. The charm of this place lies within the people themselves. The river is the center of life for many that live around it; it’s a bathroom, shower, washing machine, sink, swimming pool, transport hub and a place to catch up on the local gossip. We did an afternoon canal boat tour to see some of this for ourselves. The children that were swimming come speeding toward the boats for high fives while some pose for photos like their lives depended on it. The atmosphere is crackling with good spirits and you can’t help but smile at everyone. It was through our guide Taila that we did this and also organized our trip to Tangung Putting National park. Taila is a ‘famous’ guide in the LP guidebooks but to be honest when we first met him he just seemed like an aging hippy who was embarrassed by his fame. Later he became a persistent guy who was on the border of getting on our nerves but more of that later.

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So now it is time to talk about Orangutans. The national park is a rehabilitation site and has semi wild and wild orangutans. We floated down the river in a klotok,( a luxury boat, with a shower, toilet, kitchen and sleeping area for the cook, guide and boat captain downstairs, and upstairs the deck had mattresses for us to sleep, a dining area and a mini terrace area) in which to chill and watch the passing scenery. The river is surrounded by lots of greenery which is filled with birds, orangutans, macaques, proboscis (nose) monkeys and crocodiles. While we were there we were quite lucky to meet Dr Birute Galdikas. She is known locally as the professor and is one of the world top female ape experts, starting her research there back in 1971. We were told afterwards that it is rare to meet her as she is so busy and in high demand. Honeymoon luck strikes again. I won’t go overboard with the descriptions here of how amazing this place is and how much it needs to be protected as I wouldn’t be able to do it justice but wow this was a highlight for me. The animals are beautiful and I’m so happy that I saw them.

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Back in Banjarmasin we decided it would be nice to do some jungle hiking and as Taila is so well known for it, we headed to Loksado for two days of hiking through the jungle, sleeping in Dayak villages and then taking a bamboo canoe back down the river. Initially we thought it was going to be an easy hike, but well Taila decided that Arjan was Tarzan and that I was spider woman so he made part of the trek up as he went a long, choosing steep climbs when possible, sliding across rivers, dragging ourselves up hills with fingers crossed for not falling and generally cutting out a trail with his large knife. It was definitely a good experience when we look back but I’ll be honest and say that at some stages I was ready to scream, especially when we could see an easier and equally scenic route just a few meters away. Also to hear from locals that your second day trek of over 8 hours (up and down mountains, falling down ravines into the rivers before crossing, stinking of sweat, could be done on the main road by ojek in 15 minutes was not a great moment. Each evening was spent talking to locals late into the night while the morning started before dawn with children playing and breakfast before hiking all day. This is partly why we look like zombies in the photos. The final day was bamboo rafting which was really a lot of fun, with Arjan taking over as captain in the end. We even had two little stow aways climb on board for the final journey. Strangely enough Taila seemed very proud that I was the first female who hadn’t cried on this type of trek, he thought I should see it as a great thing, but I felt sorry for his other trekkers and could understand that at certain points it could be easier to give up. Besides why would anyone be proud that he made them cry? The scenery at some of the view points was fantastic but sometimes the toil of just getting up the mountain through the dense shrubbery meant that it wasn’t always easy to appreciate the views.

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While in Banjar we also visited the morning floating markets….some photos below…….

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We really enjoyed our time in Banjarmasin but were ready to move on. Taila was becoming annoying, though he seemed to care and came to the hotel to check we were okay all the time, he was also always asking us to do tours or walk with him on the street so he could attract other tourists. The number of guides out numbers the tourists so competition was high during low season. But I hate feeling hassled and I hadn’t been well for a few days so the limit was when he called to our room door in the hotel when we just wanted our privacy to relax. Don’t get me wrong, he is a nice guy, but competition has made a lot of the guides needy, clingy and annoying.

So after this there was a visa run to the border and well it took a few days and won’t be interesting for most of you so we’ll skip the town descriptions………Except to say that we went via Berau to head up to the border and to head to Pulau Derawan, if you can skip staying in Berau then you should!!

Ahhh Pulau Derawan, this is a fishing village island that is already a bit jaded with tourism and the increased numbers of accommodations. It is a pretty place but seems to lack some soul. The main and best reason to come here is for the marine life. Turtles swim around you, lay their eggs on the beach and stare at you with curiosity while you sit on your balcony. A short boat trip away brings you to a small island with a lake that is filled with jellyfish, that you swim/snorkel with, as they have no sting at all. A little further and dolphins follow your boat, criss crossing in front of it in their own games, while you head off in search of Manta Rays. The mantas are amazing to snorkel with, so impressive in grace and size. Below are some photos of the water life and island that I managed to take………

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These photos next are from Anna and Arnaud, they are a Spanish couple that we went snorkeling with. Another couple leant them an underwater camera for one of our trips so that we could capture some of the beauty of the manta’s and fish. So here is a few of the photos that Anna took when I was beside her, so now you can see what I saw.
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From here we travelled back to Berau and on to Surabaya, Java for the final leg of our trip.

Posted by Rraven 04:23 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Leaving Sulawesi & heading to Molucca

Honeymoon

So we finally got a bus to leave Rantepao and head to Makassar. This town was to be our gateway to the Moluccas’. Makassar is for me a town best forgotton. Maybe the nonstop rain effected my perception of the place but I found it to be the most depressing place we’d been on this trip. It is a dirty, over populated town filled with bad tempers, sleazy men and uninteresting buildings. Even the point of interest that is Fort Rotterdam was unappealing and forgettable. Also this is the first place I didn’t take any photos at all but we did get cheap flights to Ambon.

Touching down in Ambon we were greeted by blue skies and sun. We had made it to the Moluccas’, the famous Spice Islands. In the past the nutmeg famous islands had been fought over by many countries, including the Dutch, English and Portuguese. While in Ambon we meet many locals who have relations living in the Netherlands, for me it was funny to be asked did I live near Houten as three separate men had family living there, one even said it’s near Amsterdam and some small village called Utrecht. That comment was from the Ojek driver who couldn’t understand my laughter. For the people back home, an ojek basically is a motorbike taxi; they are sometimes the easiest way to get around. In Ambon there is still a heavy military influence which is seen by the many barracks around the place. These are constant reminders of the religious troubles of about ten years ago. One of the days a truck driver brought us into town from our hotel, he was a nice guy who picked us up on the road when he saw that we would be waiting a while for a local minivan/bus. His first question though was about our religious beliefs and he proclaimed us to be good people because we weren’t Muslim….so the religious peace is for appearances after all, it was a strange talk but we got into town to book our pelni tickets. Pelni is the boat company who would take us to the Banda Islands. Not much else to say about Ambon except that one of the cafes was quite funny with its décor. It had many photos of famous Moluccans, to Arjan’s happiness there were many Feynoord players and to his dismay there was also a poster of the vengaboys……he really wishes they weren’t Dutch….lol.

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So the Pelni boat. We had managed to get a first class cabin and were very happy for this. We had heard some stories about this boat from Juliette and Peter and none of their stories were exaggerated. The boat is huge and looks like it is the titanic. There are people everywhere, piled on top of any available surface, the stench of human sweat and urine is over powering as we battle our way to our cabin and thankfully close the door. We met Abba who owns one of the guest houses’s when we were getting on board. He helped us reach our cabin and get on board as easily as possible, but still we end up covered in bruises from the elbowing of people and bags. We walked around the ship after we stored our bags and were glad that we paid the extra money for the air conditioned cabin with beds and private toilet. We heard from Abba that there had been boats rescheduled so that this boat had the equivalent of nearly three boats passengers.

While in Banda we choose to stay at Vita guesthouse, it’s beautiful to watch the sun set with the volcano Api towering over us with a cold beer in your hand while sitting on the pier. Having dinner at Abba's guesthouse meant having tasty food and combining the best of the two places. My favourite part about Banda is the snorkeling. It is here that I saw my first shark!! It was a black tip reef shark of about a metre long. We also saw a school of double headed parrot fish, many napoleons’, barracuda’s and triggerfish. Ah triggerfish, now they can be quite scary, their teeth are so sharp that they can bite through coral and well it turns out that if you swim anywhere near their nests, which you can’t see, they tend to attack. Yes, you guessed right, I made the mistake of swimming too close to a nest, according to the books their zone for protection is in a cone shape that expands as it reaches upwards. While swimming and stalking a ‘nemo’ fish I felt a tug on my flipper, turning around I saw a trigger fish bearing its razor teeth menacingly at me. I swam a way but it kept coming for me even when I tried to scare it with my flippers so I turned to the girly girl approach and screamed to Arjan for help. After his second attempt to scare it away it finally left us in peace but damn that kind of freaked me out for a few minutes. That happened at Pulau Ai, hmmm I preferred pulau hatta, the visibility there was better and the variety of fish amazing, besides it was wear I saw my first shark. Really it has nothing to do with scaredy cat reactions to trigger fish, uh huh.

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After Banda we headed back to Ambon for one night before flying to Kalimantan. Yes, we were finally on the island for Orangutan’s, one of the animals that Indonesia is most famous for.

Posted by Rraven 17:28 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Tana Toraja & Funeral traditions

Honeymoon

semi-overcast 23 °C

So now it’s time to talk about some of the local traditions. Toraja people are kind of known as the hillbillies of Sulawesi, they hold elaborate funerals which can last several days. I don’t see them as being of lower class the way some locals do. Out of all the towns we have been to in Sulawesi, this one probably has the highest concentration of people who speak several languages, with English being their main second language and sometimes Dutch and German. They have a funeral when the person dies and then a more elaborate one at a late date. The length of the funeral and the amount of animal sacrifices give an indication to the stature and wealth of the person and family. On New Year’s Eve we attended our first day of a funeral. The funeral itself was for a local well know dignitary who had died two years ago, his family had his body embalmed and it sat in the family house until the preparations were complete. This is normal in this area. We had been told that this funeral was a very special one and one of the largest ones in a long time. The whole funeral was from Dec 26th to Jan 5th. It would last most of the xmas holiday. On New Year’s Eve there was the acceptance of the guests which was the first day we attended. This involved processions of the family, close and distant, neighbours, and friends. The main people in these processions wore traditional clothing and were ornately decorated.

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All guests are supposed to wear dark clothes which are similar to other religious beliefs but you are also supposed to bring a gift. The guidebooks all suggest sugar or cigarettes but when you talk to locals and the official tourist information office then you are told to bring a carton of cigarettes. We have heard many tourists say they don’t want to encourage smoking but for me this is not a big deal. I’m not a smoker but don’t feel the need to lecture someone else. The cigarettes are an important part of the ceremony as they are offered to other important guests as openings for meetings. At the funeral we attended there were public agreements from people to build roads, improve houses, the resolution of family feuds which had lasted for years and many other promises. When you get to the ceremony you are presented to a part of the family, it is the head of this part that is the receiver of your gift, in our case; it was one of the sons of the deceased. While we sat in a structure that was built for the funeral we could see an overview of everything that was happening. We were sitting in a traditional looking structure that had two levels; there were about 50 of these structures in a square to create an event area. Normally these structures are created for the funeral and afterwards they are taken down. In some towns this didn’t always occur as the structures were handed over to the community for housing. It’s obvious to see at the ceremony why the towns hotels and accommodation were so busy with local visitors, it seemed like there was 100s of people at the funeral, we heard people had flown in from all across Indonesia, also with family members coming in from abroad, the Netherlands, Australia, etc…. In the event area the squealing cries of pigs punctuated the air which swam with the pungent smell of blood. The ground was muddy from the rain and the stamping of people and animals. Only a couple of feet from us there was buffalo being slaughtered. A man would hold the buffalo by a rope which was fed through the nose, the animal sensing what was happening would pull backwards which would mean that the neck was stretched and ready for the knife to slice the last breathe out of the animals. Unfortunately this didn’t kill the animals instantly; the animal would fall to the ground or try to run while the blood spurted forth out in a strange decoration on the mud. Sometimes a second or third stabbing would have to occur for the animal to finally be allowed to rest. Through this the crowd would shout their approvals. Over the course of the whole funeral we were told that about 200 buffalo and many more pigs would be killed.

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That day we saw about twenty being killed. We left the ceremony and headed back to town for food, while some of us chose non meat dishes, Arjan chose a local specialty dish. It’s too easy after all to forget that just because your meat may have come from a supermarket that it was originally an animal. I just like to think that they didn’t die for a show of wealth. Buffalo can cost locally on average around 25-35,000,000rp with the sought after white/pink buffalo with the black spots being killed for 300,000,000 rp. Again we’re back to 200 of these being killed. Our guide had told us that the meat would be divided between the locals but that still there would be far too much meat to be consumed so some would be dried out for later use.

Our second day of attending the funeral was on Jan 3rd, this day was being celebrated with buffalo fighting. A specially constructed arena had been created for the event. Some of them had serial numbers on them while others had been given names or adorned with football team tribute names. The buffalo were being cheered whether they fought to the death or was just big enough to frighten the other buffalo into running away from the arena.

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The third and final funeral day for us as part of the event in Sereale was on the 4th, this was the slaughtering day and the end of the events as such. There are not enough words to describe the blood bath of carnage that we saw. Whereas on our first day the animals were killed quickly, this was no longer the case. This day was all about the performance and show. Again they would slice the neck of the buffalo but this time not as severe as before. It was enough to weaken the frightened animal; they would then let the animal loose to run through the arena which is filled with dead animals and other animals awaiting their futures. Many times the buffalo would escape into the crowd sending people running to all sides for safety. So though I wanted to leave at this stage, well we safely couldn’t. We were on the scooter and didn’t feel like taking the risk of having a terrified dying buffalo chasing after us. We moved from our side view to stand on one of the platforms, this was a safer place to wait it out and to watch with morbid interest the rest of the killings.

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I understand that the local belief is that the deceased will need the same possessions in the next life and for this the animals are slaughtered and sent with him/her to the afterlife. This story gets tainted though when you are told that it also means the rich in this life are presumed to have the same standing in the next life and that more animals must be killed. Talking to one local woman was an eye opener. She doesn’t believe that this has anything to do with beliefs but more to do with showing off, like burning money because you can afford to. She finds the whole tradition to be embarrassing but when asked would she take a stand, she said she would like to change hers but then if everyone changed you would have less tourists and income for the locals so she would keep it alive. The tourism in the area is also for the traditional houses, the old graves (some hang in trees, some are in caves and some are carved into rock), for rafting and for hiking through spectacular hills/mountains dotted with rice fields, traditional buildings and ancient stones. But I have to agree, though we may have still visited here to explore the countryside, it was the strange funeral traditions that piqued our interest to visit here.

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As the town was so busy with visitors for the funerals and Christmas visits a lot of the buses were prebooked with people leaving so we had to stay a few days longer then originally planned. This worked out well as we had a better opportunity to explore the area and get to know the locals. The people were very friendly and open. We hired a scooter and spent our days looking at old sites and walking. the surroundings are beautiful and though are time there was longer then planned, it wasn't boring.

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At a later stage I will add more photos and videos of the slaughters but for the moment it is taking a long time to load them.

Posted by Rraven 18:37 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Togeon Islands and Living in a postcard

Honeymoon

semi-overcast 30 °C

So last time I updated this we had arrived to Gorontola to stay in the Melati hotel to await our boat for the Togeon islands. To be honest we didn’t do too much in Gorontola, the town was a bit depressing and anything really worth seeing was on the outskirts of town. While staying in the hotel we met a Belgian couple who had just returned from the islands and from a new resort called sunset. We had already read the review books written by other visitors at reception and had already half decided to check the new place out. It was good to talk to them about their experiences which were very positive. As Sophie and Matty were from different parts of Belgium, the whole Flemish/French thing meant that they had to speak English together. As it was my birthday the next day when we had to travel we decided to have some beers. In the evening Julieth and Peter arrived at the hotel after their long journey from Manado, we had originally met them in Bunaken and again in Manado but hadn’t had a proper opportunity to get to know them. Julieth is Colombian, while Peter is from Germany; they had been living together in New Zealand and were making their way back to Berlin to start a new chapter of their lives. This is a totally great way to relocate. Peter’s sister and her boyfriend had been in Indonesia before and while in the togeons she had been on a fishing trip with an older Indonesian man. It was Julieth and Peter’s mission to find this man, after all he had shown the guys a great time but also brought them to a spot where they saw a shark. It was after piecing together lots of stories and reviews that they found their man – papa uni. His daughter Uni actually owned the new place where we had chosen to stay. With the four of us travelling together it meant laughter and stories flowed. The ferry was an overnight uneventful one; we had a cabin so slept through the night. In fact it was the captains cabin because of my birthday. Arriving bright and early at port we were met by Uni and her father, the famous papa Uni. We first walked to Uni’s home to get the boat to Togeon Island were Sunset Beach was situated. Uni was married to an English guy, Ian who stayed on the island with us. Their son, Sam was a papa uni in training, trying to steer the boat from the start and help his ‘opa’ with the controls.

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Sunset beach had only opened a few months previously and had four bungalows for rent. The costs included three delicious meals with a large variety of vegetables, rice, eggs and fish. The restaurant was raised with stilts and sat high so that you could take advantage of an uninterrupted sunset and capture some of the refreshing sea breeze in the evenings.

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The only other guest was Peter from the UK; he travels six months of the year and spends his summers at home living in his caravan. The two couples, Peter and Ian formed an easy going group who did snorkeling trips all day with papa uni and played card games at night with cold beers (the cheapest of the islands). They were easy days, broken up by the race to the hammocks to chill. Each bungalow had only one hammock so it was fun to have the battle of the sexes between the couples. We spent xmas eve around a bonfire on the beach with a great music playlist (thanks to Julieth), great company and a roaring fire. Though we didn’t see the same things as Peter’s sister we had an amazing time and now Peter is more famous than his sister whom they still remember, after all he is the first westerner that papa Uni has seen to climb a coconut tree.

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The snorkeling trips were to Karina beach, a postcard perfect beach (to steal a line from Julieth; it was like living in a postcard), to Taipei reef to see an amazing amount of fish above beautiful coral and along the wall, and around Taipei Island which is owned by Paradise beach but is deserted.

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On xmas day the four of us decided to travel together to Poyalisa. This retreat is just off the side of Bomba. At low tide it is one island but at high tide the restaurant is separated which shows it as two islands. It is obvious that this place has been open for more years then Sunset beach as they are more prepared with water resources but it doesn’t detract from the memories of our first stop in Togeons.

It’s at Poyalisa we met a Belgian guy called Lucas, he has worked in the boatyards for most of his life, he was offered early retirement and now travels for half the year. He easily fitted into our little group and every evening was spent playing games and teasing each other. He introduced everyone to a game most commonly known as dog, this led to everyone’s competitive sides coming out and a natural flow of banter followed. Lucas had been staying there for a while and had gotten to know the locals quite well. His stories kept everyone in stitches, especially the ones involving his pursuit of cats and preventing them from killing the birds that flew to his garden every year. Poyalisa was run by Dr Ismail. Though we had most dealings with smiley giggles (his nickname because of his infectious good moods). He has a heart of gold. On Poyalisa you can have free snorkeling trips (for short distance ones) and a small contribution is needed for full day trips. They also organize trips to the town and a local bat cave. But the main attraction for many is: the coconut crabs that live here. There was a lot of excitement when we got to see one. It was very sad to leave Poyalisa and the togeons after eight blissful days but it was time to move on.

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Its at Bomba that Arjan tried his first Durian fruit, and possibly his last....

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The boat to Ampana was small and the waves came to a few inches below the windows. The sea was very choppy and though the journey is only a few hours it felt like a lifetime. You know it’s not your imagination when locals look sick and some even start to pray. Arjan and I were sitting below deck near the engine, the fumes weren’t helping but the boat was crowded so we were lucky to have somewhere to sit. Julieth and Peter were on deck but also had a rocky journey. When we reached land we were very thankful. From town we had arranged to get a car to Tentana were we would spend one night before continuing to Rantepao in Tana Toraja. It took a little while to organize the transport as it was the holiday season (Dec 30th) but after eight hours in the car we arrived in town in the evening. Here we realized that nearly everything was booked out and all prices were at high season for the holidays. We booked into Wisma Monton for four nights, the accommodation was nothing special but the restaurant meant we had fantastic views for the New Year’s Eve fireworks. The rest of the sightseeing of the town will be continued in a separate entry as it is mostly about the funeral traditions which include the slaughtering of animals that not everyone will want to read. While Julieth and Peter had to leave town for their next journey, possibly through India we changed hotel to Pias Poppies. This is situated on the outskirts of town with a beautiful garden and charming rooms, and now for a girly comment; the stone bathroom is very cute and I love the tiled bath. The food here is the best in town and we feel a little bit spoiled…..

Posted by Rraven 02:06 Archived in Indonesia Comments (2)

Indonesia Week 2 Sulawesi

Honeymoon

sunny 28 °C

Yeah another flight delay but finally we got to Manado. By the time we got to the centre it was close to midnight and we just wanted to sleep. A standard taxi costs 85,000 to the centre. Our budget choice was Rex Hotel, it should have been called Wreck. A room with shared toilet was 80,000rp and 100,000 for private bathroom. This place was so noisey it felt like you were on the street, with people puking outside the window and a room with bugs, well we got up very early and moved on. I’m just glad its in the past.
We decided to head to Batuputih by public transport. This is where the fun begins with our backpacks. First from the hotel we had to get a mikrolet (small blue minivan that can get 10 people at a squeeze in) to the bus station Paal 2, from here it was a local bus to Bitung, we asked to stop at Girian as per our book but nope, not today, and at Bitung we changed to another mikrolet. The last mikrolet was just the two of us so we had loads of space. The vehicles nearly all have huge speakers under the seats playing lots of drum and base/ r nb / hip hop so far, the seats felt like they are moving. In Batuputih we stayed in Mama Roos which was 250,000 for a double room including 3 meals. It was a nice place.

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On arrival we were given lunch while they finished sorting out the room, someone else had just vacated it. Lunch was a type of nasi goring with chicken, not bad at all. After this we headed down to the local beach. It had black like sand, according to the local guy it was because of volcanic ash. While we sat there lulling ourselves to a half sleeping state with the sea we were approached by a little girl. Within a few minutes we had been accosted by a dozen children. They were fascinated by how pale we were (We thought we were starting to get some colour, they thought this was even funnier). One girl has smatterings of Dutch from her great grandfather, just the basics but enough for a basic chat. The kids were funny, besides the paleness, they thought it was hilarious that Arjan was so tall and kept looking at him. One girl then started putting on a show of dancing and singing in the sea, she’s a shakira style dancer !! Some of the other girls became a mini girl band and sang some local songs while the boys showed off. They were a funny group and very sweet. They came and went to check on the fishermans catch’s from the sea but otherwise stayed with us till we headed back to Mama Roos.

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Back at the rooms we met some of the other guests. They were a Norwegian film crew who had been travelling for two months around Malaysia and Indonesia. The main presenter was Kris who was a self proclaimed naturist rather then a biologist. There was also Billy, his Australian bodyguard. Billy works in a zoo just outside of Melbourne, part of his job entailed wrestling with alligators, wild boars, or basically anything. Kris and Billy had known each other for many years so it was a way for them to mix business with pleasure. If Kris got into any trouble making the wild life documentary then Billy would jump in and wrestle the animal. There was a lot of banter that evening over dinner. The night before Kris had accidently stabbed Billy in the leg, while they rushed him to a nurse to be stitched up their producer and director stayed on the beach with the bonfire drinking alcohol and getting drunker. He said there was nothing he could have done anyway. That evening over some bintangs and local palm wine there was plenty of laughter. With some of their stories it sounded like a show for MTV instead of BBC. Their guide and translater from Bali was in a for a lot of ribbing as they said he hadn’t been very good at arranging anything except cold drinks though that evening they were very happy as they had seen a large boa that was very hard to spot normally. They were singing the praises of their guides. The snake was long enough that it took eleven men to lift it, their photos were very impressive.
They left in the early hours to catch their flight back to Bali to end their trip.

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That day we hired a guide for a 5-6 hour trek so that we could try to see some animals ourselves. We saw black macaques (monkeys), at the start, we followed them for awhile while they walked beside and around us, with the smaller ones playing in the trees above our heads. We were also quite lucky to see cuscuses, they stay very high in the trees and can be a bit difficult to spot, but of course the guides know what they eat so they also know what trees to look in. To me they look quite similar to sloth’s. From here we walked a bit further to see Tarsiers. These are one of the smallest mammals around, looking a bit like real life gremlins. They wake in the afternoon, and start off very sleepy. This is good for us so we could take some photos as they starred back at us with their huge eyes. The guides attracted them out of their hidden holes in the trees with grasshoppers. The tarsiers were so quick to jump to the food and back. I managed to get a video of this as I wasn’t quick enough for photos of that part. After the feeding we went to see a tree filled with bats, to check out some more wildlife and some fauna before settling for 30-40 mins to wait for nightfall. It is then that we went looking for snakes and spiders. We didn’t see any snakes but we did see a huge tarantula.

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That evening the guide told us some stories about the film crew. Nearly everything they saw was real except the large boa. It is in fact possible to see them when trekking but it is extremely difficult. As the film crew were so eager, the locals decided to help but didn’t let them in on the secret. They had rented the snake from the local zoo in Bitung. The film crew still don’t know but I wonder how they would feel, it was one of their proudest moments. In total though they had some amazing stories of their trip so I doubt it would have taken too much from the experience.

We left the next morning by local pick up truck , and then the usual swap and change with local transport to get to the port. It was time for us to chill a bit and recover from all the mosquito and midge bites from the forest.

We took a local boat for 25,000 rp to Bunaken. The boat takes about an hour which isn’t long but with the rain etc and an open side, well we arrived like drowned rats to check into Daniels homestay. Here a budget cabin was 150,000 per person a night with three meals included. The last available cabin had no off switch for the electricity which doesn’t work with mozzies, so they let us stay in the nicer cabins for the same price for one night ( normally at 250,000 pp/pn). Ahhh we were finally at the beach to snorkel. We stayed on the island for three nights to soak up the rays and see the fish. Yes, we saw Nemo !! among many others. When you swim out you will first see a field of seagrass. There are many seastars amidst the grass. Most are brightly orange coloured with black spikes. Then the coral appears and after about twenty metres there is a deep abyss. This is where you find most of the fish. I have spotted parrotfish, anemonfish, surgeonfish, butterflyfish, damselfish, angelfish, wrassers, sweetlips, fusiliers, coral breams and snappers.It really was nice once you swam about 50 - 100 metres from the shore to the coral…Besides snorkeling, we just walked, swam, read , drank and chatted to people. Very relaxing few days.

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On the last day we clubbed together with some others to get a private boat back to Manado in the afternoon as none of us wanted to wake up early for the public one. There is only one public boat per day. The boat though had to land on the other side of the city because the tide was too rough for the boat to go to the normal port. This meant an overpriced taxi back to the center but sometimes you have no choice, well it was either that or walked with the packs for multiple km’s ( I should mention we both had severely burned backs and legs at this stage, the snorkeling meant forgetting time easily, so the sunscreen wasn’t always put back on quick enough).

Back in Manado we stayed two nights as Arjan wanted to visit Tomohon market, we got there around 8am. The surrounding area is nice but the market is a one time visit. I’m not going back there. This market is quite famous for the meat that it sells and we had heard about it before. If you have delicate stomachs then stop reading this paragraph. This market has section with what looks like from a distance as charred/burned carcases of possibly pig, as you get close you see it is dogs, beside the tables are cages with live dogs waiting to be killed, as you approach some look resigned to their fate while others howl for help. Above one cage, a piece of cardboard sits that still drips with blood, a wooden mallet holding it down, also covered in blood. We had already heard that sometimes a dog would be killed above the cage and that the blood would drip onto the other victims. To be honest I couldn’t handle this and had to wait outside, after getting confused in the market and walking past these tables numerous times I stayed at the bus station. Arjan went back in for curiosity, he saw also bats, rats, cats and snakes….not even just little snakes but really large ones. While he was looking around and saying to himself it’s a good thing Nikki didn’t come back in, I was having my own experience. While I was waiting some people walked past to the bus’s with their groceries, which included the charred remains of animals. It seemed standard that they burned the fur and possible insects from the animals before people took them, all but one. One man walked past with the body of a young dog over his shoulder, with his bouncey walk the body banged off his back, to make sure it was dead he banged it off the kerb, when he saw me flinch, he smiled and did it again. Moments later Arjan came back and I was ready to leave.

After our market experience we headed to the bus station to find out about the bus’s to Gorontola. We had the choice of the local cramped bus at 5.30am or a minibus with legroom at 10am…The price difference was big enough but considering it’s a nine hour journey, well we paid for the space. It was 135,000 a person (public bus is 80-90,000). The minibus also dropped us to our hotel door which is handy with the bags. Only thing I will say about the journey, it wasn’t too bad until the driver bought some fruit to put in the boot. Lets just say I hate Durians. Why do people like them? I understand why they are banned from many places. The car really stank for half of the journey so it was windows opened time……

Posted by Rraven 19:19 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Indonesia Week 1 Bali

Honeymoon

sunny 30 °C

We left The Netherlands on an overcast grey to head off on honeymoon to Indonesia . The flight itself began with a thunder and lightening storm. The nose of the plane was struck but the pilots announced that the plane was operationally still fine to continue the rest of the journey and that no emergency landings were required. When we touched down in Singapore to swap passangers and for a refuel but they said that because of health & safety with the lightening strike they had to check the complete plane before taking off again, so a longer then usual delay but no sweat, we’re on holiday anyway 

So anyway we arrived in Den Pasar around ten thirty pm to a blast of heat and what felt like 100’s of taxi drivers screeching about their ‘deals’. For Ubud we were offered taxis for various prices ranging from 300,000 – 500,000 rp, so ignoring them we headed right after arrivals to the official taxi (taksi) centre (kiosk) and got one for 195,000rp. Ubud is about 1-1.5 hours away from the airport depending on your taxi driver and the traffic. By the time we got to our prebooked accommodation we were running very late. The place was in complete darkness with no one around. So we checked into the place across the road for one night, Nicks hidden Bungalows. It was great to wake up and see the pool in the morning but at 450,000 rp a night it was double the cost of our previous choice so after breakfast we moved to Keketung Bungalows which was 225,000 a night. It was situated in the middle of the rice fields away from the noise of the town. The manager told us that he waited last night as long as possible but with a pregnant wife he couldn’t wait too long. On a side note his wife had a baby girl on the Friday, they named her in reference to the new moon as they saw it as a good luck sign that she was born the same time as it was :) .

So the Ubud Summary:

Tuesday:
Blanco Museum:
The artist is described as the local Dali. To be honest at the start I couldn’t see this. His paintings were nice enough but not really ‘out there’ with imagination. The museum is set in his original house, on entry the first thing you see is a photo of the artist grinning with Michael Jackson whom he had met years ago. It was at the exit of the museum where you have his final room of paintings that the Dali connection becomes more clear. This room contains many paintings/collages with attached comedic erotica poetry. This guy was hilarious at times and completely crazy at others. We couldn’t take any photos inside the museum so below is the garden ones.

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Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary:
So in this forest the monkeys run free and are the bosses. They showed us quite quickly that this is the case. As Arjan was taking his camera out of his bag one quick monkey reached in and took the plastic camera rain sleeve. I tried to grand it back but received a hiss and was nearly attacked but I jumped back out of the way. Good thing I’m a coward and jumped away  ..These were not nice cute cuddly animals but wild animals well used to humans being in their world. They were reaching into people’s pockets and bags for food, tearing at materials if they could smell banana’s etc… there were people selling the fruit outside so they were used to being fed and would assume everything was for them. At one stage I took water from my pocket to see a large older monkey getting ready to jump on my backpack to check if it was for him. In the park they also have a temple of the deceased were they hold daily ceremonies, there were some fires lit here, the monkeys stayed at a distance from this part. The park itself was very nice and was interesting to see the monkeys but I’m looking forward to the next ones. We did go looking for Arjan’s rain cover just in case the monkey thief dropped it but it was long gone.

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Wednesday:
We spent most of Wednesday walking around the town and visiting various temples. There are a lot of them, mainly we were still trying to get used to the heat.

A.R.M.A Museum:
Originally we headed here to watch some dancers but with schedules etc it didn’t work out so we checked out the museum itself. The gardens are nicely laid out and are very peaceful. Part of your entrance fee includes a welcome drink in a nice terrace in the grounds. We decided to walk around the artwork first. Not everything was to my style but the artists life stories were fascinating. After this we went for a free tea and chilled. While there a man joined us and told us that he had just received the latest magazine to add to the collection for guests to read. This particular issue was all about the culture of Bali and how to preserve it while still moving forward. The man was very friendly and it was interesting to talk to him. It was only when we left that the ticket guys asked us if we recognized him, emmm sorry but no, out comes another magazine with an interview of the museum owner and a photo. He was a friendly guy and I don’t think that the conversation would have been any different if we’d known who he was earlier.

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Thursday:
This was our trekking day, the day of lets get to know the countryside. The original plan was a few short walks and lots of breaks, of course our map wasn’t the most accurate and we ended up combining about 4-5 walks in one and spent most of the day walking. It wasn’t all hard walk as a refreshing lemon juice saw us relaxing in a great café:
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In the evening we went to see traditional dancing at Pura Batukaru for Kecak fire and trance dance. The dancing is accompanied by music provided by human voices rather then instruments. The story itself is a fragment of the Hindu epic, Ramayana. It was an amazing production and totally blows you away. No descriptions I give will do it justice. I will try to load the videos at some stage so that you can see some of it.

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Friday saw the arrival of Arjan’s birthday. For the day he wanted to see some more of Bali and the easiest way without joining a tour or risking driving ourselves was to hire a car and driver for the day. The owner of the place were we were staying worked out a deal for us with his uncle that undercut every other offer we had offered in town (including after we had negotiated them lower), so happy days.
We got out of the car at Jatiluwih rice fields to stretch our fields and take our tourist photos. Every car/motor and person that enters has to pay a small fee to enter the main road through here as they try to maintain the area and keep it clean.

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Pura Luhur Batukau:
This is a state temple and probably the highlight of the day. While we were there witnessed a traditional ceremony. A man in traditional clothes explained that the group had travelled from his village to the temple over a number of days to celebrate the fresh spring water which is related to the god who overlooks their homes and who’s temple this is. Though we didn’t understand the ceremony itself it was obvious that it was quite spiritual to the group. They allowed us to accompany them on their walk around the grounds as long as when it came to the final words that we stayed outside the central temple area for their final celebration. It was really nice to see and when we returned to the car to talk to the driver he was surprised that it was going on as he said normally they wouldn’t have allowed tourist visits on those days.

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On the way back to Ubud the driver brought us to Tanah Lot. He thought we might like it as it is one of the most important sea temple on the island. Its also a major tourist trap and our worst stop of the day.

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During the day he also brought us to see traditional Bali coffee being made. Basically the coffee beans are eaten by an animal, then after digestion and excretion the bean is extracted for use. It is heated to change the colour and enhance the aroma.

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Through the day we saw a royal castle, lots more temples, the national forest and lakes. These were just nice additions by the driver so that we could stretch our legs and see a bit more.

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The driver also explained how to recognize if something was a temple or a private/family shrine, this is in relation to the entrance being either two open arches or a closed archway. He also explained about the offerings to the spirits to look after the houses and people within them.

All in all it was a nice day and we got to see quite a bit. That evening we went for some good food and then to a bar. The bar had a really funny mix of people. It had a reggae rock feel. There was a local band playing with their star groupie being an aging Australian hippy who lost himself in the music. I think he had one of the bar’s special cocktails, no clue what was in them but the sign had mushroom images so…….The hippy guy was dancing most of the night inbetween looking for a woman, looking at the variety of women he approached you think that finally one would give in, lol…..I ended up talking to Gloria from Venezuela. She’s been living in Spain for the last few years and is dating the lead singer of the band so spends a lot of time in Ubud. Arjan and I spent of the time giggling, drinking and dancing. It was a good end to his day 

Not much to say about Saturday really. It was the day we left Bali to fly to Sulawesi.

so this was written in a hurry so there are typos...sorry !! Will correct it a later date :)

Posted by Rraven 08:04 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Buffer Blog

overcast 10 °C

So its been many years since i've actualy updated this....I didn't even finish blogging about the last big trip. I know, shame on me.....I will get around to it at some point as I did keep an old fashioned diary on that trip so i still have all my notes :) but i have only about a month left to update you on that one :)

So four years ago I was back in Ireland after the 8 month South American trip..........now we're living in The Netherlands...yes still the same guy, except now we're married and the next trip is three months around Indonesia and time dependent we'll pop in Borneo, as you do :) The trip is our honeymoon.........

So a note to the subscribers :) if you don't want to be updated then you are free to unsubscribe, after all you may have been more interested in the previous countries......

Posted by Rraven 07:22 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

Sth America -14 - Leticia, Bogota, Salento, Medillin,

Leticia, Bogota, Salento, Medillin,Cartegna, Playa Blanca, Santa Marta

sunny 35 °C
View South america 2007 on Rraven's travel map.

We arrived in Leticia, Colombia on a very warm day; it was a day of burned sweaty faces. We checked into a hotel after traipsing the streets looking for one that wasn’t already full, great idea to arrive on a Friday!! We got there too late to get our visa stamps at the airport so for one day we were illegal, does anyone care, no, it happens all the time here when you arrive by boat. Our first surprise on getting to Colombia was the price of the hotel room, its more expensive here then we originally anticipated, ah well, every country has been, damn guide books are way out of date. For a double room ensuite, with fan and fridge, its 50,000 soles, about US $25. In the town itself there isn’t much to do unless you’re going on jungle tours but already the atmosphere was a million times better then what we had left behind in Iquitos. From nearly every building music spews forward outs a bounce in your step and a smile on your lips. Its hard to describe but you already feel like you’re closer to the Caribbean :) The nightclub we went to was funny and strange. There was two dance floors, one for singles and one for couples, they didn’t seem to mix, of course we didn’t stick to the rules ;) This isn’t typical of places here, and I still don’t know why they did it here. Two military officers surveyed the place with figure eight walks carrying large weapons with their hands ready to jump into action should anything happen. That’s a major factor with Colombia, there are police and military everywhere, you can tell if its not military but guerilla by the boots or so we were told, normal army boots = army, wellies = guerrilla. Okay so back in the nightclub, around midnight they had a stage show of five ´professional dancers dressed in skimpy versions of traditional Indian costumes doing set dances. The guys drooled a lot and the locals seemed to enjoy the show a lot but really they were terrible dancers, not in tune with the music or each other. It was entertaining though, we probably shouldn’t have laughed but we couldn’t stop so we left....

We had tried to see if we could get from Leticia to Bogotá by bus but to no avail, the surrounding land is no go area, its controlled by guerillas so we had to take a plane, $157 later we reached the capital. Bogotá is a bustling city that has more people then the whole of Ireland. It’s very modern and cosmopolitan, from its fancy restaurants, bars to suit every taste, sky rise buildings, huge malls to the usual designer names beaming out of shop windows. It also contains a lot of charm in its old buildings, pride in its history and culture and the variety in street performers. It feels like a young city with the hustle and bustle of many college students going to the universities or gigs. But for all you could see through rose tinted glasses (which I seemed to wear there for the first few days) like every other city there is a seedy undertone. One evening when we were in an Internet cafe a prostitute kept hassling Arjan, she wouldn’t leave us alone, even following us to a cafe later, eventually she got bored but as she was so freaky it can unsettle you. There are many beggars and junkies on the streets, a lot of shops, restaurants and pubs close completely very early on a Sunday evening so it can be a depressing city to walk through were every second step is followed with hassle on dark streets. But still I don’t dislike the city, the gold museum was as fantastic, as the Botero gallery was funny. By the end of the week we spent there I felt like I could get around the place without a map easily, but then it is very easy, the road names are in a grid system, similar to American streets of avenue and street numbers.
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From Bogotá we got the bus to Manizalles. The center is forgettable, on our first night we stayed in it, we found it hard to get accommodation as with the bank holiday weekend nearly everything was full, the only hotels not were the love hotels, the ones you can also rent by the hour, the hotel neuva york was a bit dirty but at 25,000 soles a night it was somewhere to sleep before moving on to a hostel in the suburbs the next night. In Mountain house they are very helpful and it feels like you’re in a home rather then a hostel, similar to a bnb but without imposing on people. If you’re going to Manizalles its worth staying there, 20 mins walk from the centre and close to the surrounding mountains for good walks.

After two cities we felt like it was time to go to the countryside for a while so we headed to Salento in the coffee region, close to Valle de Colca. Our original choice of hostel , Plantation house was full so we stayed in a hospedje managed by the Lisa, the daughter of the Palm hostel owner, for 30,000 soles we basically had our own mini apartment, it was great and after seeing how busy the other place had been we were glad that we had been moved. As we had tried to stay at plantation house they made us honoree guests which meant we could avail of their facilities, book exchange, broad band internet and the coffee farm discount. The owner Tim had struck up a deal with two local coffee farms that if he sent people from the hostel they would get a discount, instead of paying 10,000 soles they would pay 4,000. The farmers agreed to the price for a tour as there is a lot of competition in the area and this meant they would have nearly guaranteed regular additional income. The deal was with a large coffee farm run by Don Raul and a smaller family runs one by Don Luis. There is a nice walk down to the farms through country paths, the farms themselves are in a town called Palestine, the border between there and Salento was a burned out house. The walk back was harder, well after an hour and a half of downhill we could only go back up and decided since it was a nice day not to take the bus. We had been told about a shortcut, which was shorter in distance but included a lot of climbing and sweat. We looked wrecked at the end :) Anyway we had chosen to visit the smaller coffee farm, and it was really good, the owners son did the tour and he was a really good guide, as he had no English and we had little Spanish, he spoke slowly, repeating when necessary and even tested our understanding at the end, that was a bit cheeky but he was really proud when we did understand the process (so were we!!!). At the end of the tour they roasted the coffee beans in front of us and then served us cups of coffee. I normally don’t like coffee but wow here it was fantastic. While in town we also decided that we had to see the regions highlight - Valle de Colca. You can get a jeep to the edge of the park for about $1.50, from here there is a five hour circuit walk through the mountain paths, a private house that opens its gates so people can see humming birds,
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cloud forests and the famous wax palm tree forest. The palm trees can grow to 50 meters high (that’s 25 Arjans), the trees are so tall and skinny that I kept expecting to see one break.
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The walk was really nice, even the muddy uphill crawling. The last climb is about 50 mins uphill at a steep incline, from here we emerged from the cloud forest into a fog filled field and out walked a white horse, maybe from the tiredness or the strange scenery we both expected to see Gandolph from Lord of the Rings to be walking behind him. It was like being in a fairytale. When we got back to the base we found out we had missed the last jeep back to town by 15 minutes, so we had to walk the 10km back. The walk was long and involved a number of hills but we weren’t too worried, okay well a little. It was starting to get dark quickly, our torch batteries had died, it was starting to rain and we had no coats. We had also been told to be careful as there had been guerrilla sightings recently and people didn’t like to pick up people on the road just in case. Millions of fireflies lit the road for us until the rain got too heavy, after we had walked about 6km and gotten soaked in the storm we heard a beeping horn. A local woman in a jeep felt sorry for us and told us to get in and she would drop us back to town, she wouldn’t take no for answer and told us not to worry about soaking her seats, she said she couldn’t just leave us there. Normally I would be cautious about getting in strange cars but we were just so grateful for the lift and the shelter back to the town.
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From Salento we decide to travel up to Medillin, our chosen hotel was really good value, 25,000 soles for a very clean double room ensuite, cable TV (with all kinds of stations), fan, phone, and room service. We were in the middle of the city centre but the reason our hotel was so cheap, it doubled up as a love hotel and was on one of the worst streets in the centre. The shops sold produce through steal bars; our road was home to many drug dealers, junkies, sex shops and prostitutes. In general there was not much to see in the city, it wasn’t very pretty, etc. Botoro plaza was nice to walk around and look at the statues but that was about it. The surroundings of the town were much better. While we were there though there was a music weekend festival going on so there was many street performances, which was really nice.

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Drum role......... we then went to Cartegna, which is by the Caribbean, the old city is really nice, beautiful buildings with nice balconies and though its very touristy there isn’t too much hassle from sellers etc.
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We decided that we just had to spend some time at the beach ;) so we spent three nights on Playa Blanca. It’s a boat journey into the Caribbean Sea away from the city. The beach was really nice, the water was clear and when all the tourists left the place was practically deserted, it was pure heaven. On a busy day there was about 15 people on the beach in the evening, by the day there was more when the tours arrived but that was for 3 hours only.
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Even then the beach was big enough not to be crowded. The first two nights we stayed in Wittenburg, its run by Gilbert from France. You can pitch a tent for 5,000, sleep in a hammock with mosquito net for 8,500 or have a room ensuite for 20,000 per person. It was so nice to be able to wake up and run to the sea and swim for a few hours before breakfast. The sun was very strong though and my factor 50 wasn’t strong enough, ah well.
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On the third night we had to move to another place further down the beach because Witterburg was being knocked down. The Colombian owner had sold the land to the Sheraton hotel chain that had bought up the whole beach. :( They were going to destroy the desert island effect to make it an exclusive place for the rich...so if you see a Sheraton hotel spit on it for me!! As we were getting ready to leave Gilbert told us they had been told they could still use part of the land for the camping and hostel for about another two months and then after that it was all over. It’s terrible!!! The local people have all lost / are losing their jobs in the restaurants, hammocks accommodation, etc and they have been told that they don’t have any chance of getting jobs with the hotel because they were bringing in specialized people. The local people live in a village one hour through the forest that backs the beach. It’s such a shame to have seen something so basic and perfect and know that in a few months it will have changed beyond recognition. If you are in the area, visit it soon, so many of the other islands now have high rise buildings and are all so expensive that you can already see that they are going to change all the beaches eventually.
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Back in Cartegna we visited a local fishing village and a mud volcano. The mud volcano was great, you could sit in it and have a mud bath, and it’s supposed to have healing properties and did ease the pain of my sunburned pealing skin. On the trip we met a Dutch guy Willem who was very funny who had been traveling for a year and a half. So that night we went on a pub-crawl and dancing with him. We had a great time but it was time we started moving again.

So now we’re in Santa Marta, we’re here to arrange a tour to the lost city. You can’t get to it without doing a tour. It takes about 6 days of hiking there and back and is supposed to be an amazing experience so I’ll let you know about that next time. While in town we took a day trip to Taganga which is a local fishing village, I was so disappointed by it, I’d heard how nice it is but after Playa Blanca I found the beach terrible (more gravel then sand), the water is not as clear and well the only thing to do there is drink.........

Posted by Rraven 14:53 Archived in Colombia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Sth America-13-Festivals, Nasca, Amazon River

Paucartambo (Festival Virgen Del Carmen), Nasca, Pulcallpa, Iquitos

sunny -17 °C

Okay so last time I updated you about our whereabouts etc. was after the riots and strikes. We had returned to Cusco to see a few debris on the road but the centre basically untouched. The evidence showed that most things had happened away from the tourist areas.
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As we had been delayed we tried to figure out what we should do, should we rush to the next place? No, we hung around for a few days to go to a religious festival in Paucartambo, now before you start groaning, I should explain a bit. The celebration is for the ´Virgen del Carmen´, who is of mixed blood, i.e. she is a mixture of the traditional religions of the local people and the catholic religion, which had been forced upon them by the Spanish invasions. The festival is celebrated by colourful processions and dancing.
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The dances all hold meanings and the participants were masks, and brightly coloured ornate clothes. Its an amazing sight, and on a side note these guys know how to party, there was loads of dancing and drinking going on. We had arranged to spend one night at the festival, go to see the sun rise at tres cruces, then back to the festival before heading back to Cusco. On the trip we met up with Emma, a girl who had been living in the States for a few years but had just returned home to Malahide, small world, huh. She was really excited as she had been looking forward to the festival for a while, it coincided with her birthday. Our tour group was small and when we got to the town we discovered that there weren´t many tour groups at all, mostly just locals, yippee...
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The first evening we watched the dancing and costumes in awe, and then with screams and astonished giggles we ran to the side streets or crouched against the sides of buildings as some of the entertainers picked up some of the fireworks and ran through the crowds, they were crazy. It was scary and amazing to see at the same time. No one knew what to do. The fireworks were a great success albeit a bit strange. There was one part that included people jumping over fire, girls being grabbed from the sides to dance through the streets by the dancers and loads of beer and spirits.
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After the excitement and fun we had to go back to the bus at midnight to start the journey to tres cruces. Here we were to see a beautiful sunrise that is supposed to contain mirages etc.... but it was an overcast day with clouds, so though it was nice, freezing ourselves for a few hours on the side of a cliff for an average sunrise was disappointing, especially when we had all wanted to stay and party.

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We headed back to town, cold but all wide-awake, which considering no one had had any sleep was surprising. The morning and afternoon was followed with more dancing and partying, an open air mass and the religious procession. It really was a great party.
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Feeling like we’d been in Cusco for long enough we tried to get to Arequipa, after a few changes to the buses etc because of a few lingering strikes we got there on a cool evening. The main square in Arequipa was really nice but here there was a lot of hassle from agency touts and restaurants. While in town we visited a few museums, one that contained the body of Juanita, an Inca mummy. This was really interesting and our guide was very friendly and full of information. She was student in the college and her teacher was one of the people who found the original body. We also visited the convent of Santa Catalina; it was like a city within a city. The city is nice and we spent a few days at museums, historical sites etc, while waiting for a clothes to dry. Ahh the simple things in life are great - clean clothes!! From here we decided to go to a small town called Chivay, which is at the start of the Colca Canyon, it’s a nice town with a great setting. Loads of walks and relaxation at hot springs put us in the mood to see more. So we set off into the canyon to see Condors, and terraces from Inca times that were still in use today.

After a few days we headed back to Arequipa for the night to catch a connecting bus to Nazca...this was one of the main things that I had been waiting to see. The town was nothing special but the lines were fantastic. We had a clear perfect view with not a cloud in the sky. We were lucky, we heard people a few days before couldn’t go up in the planes because of the weather. The lines were so clear. I had expected to be disappointed as I had built it up in my mind but I wasn’t. Yippee!!!

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After Nazca we headed to Lima, We had heard so many stories about the place we thought that we would hate the town but nope, it was a city like any other, loads to see though. As we had a flight to catch we only had a few days. We went to a ceramics museum which was really interesting, they also had an erotic section which was very clinical, various sex acts were on the sides of jugs etc but far from being a form of soft porn they all seemed to have lessons, with attached babies or people with stds, very strange!! Some of the pieces were really old and very graphic. We had also heard about many people being robbed in the city but we saw nothing like that at all. We’ve just been very lucky!!

Pulcallpa was our next stop. It’s a small town with a big personality. Nearly all the traffic is mototaxies, (the front is a motorbike but instead of a back wheel you have a bench with two seats and two wheels, its like a child’s three wheel bike with an engine and space for two additional people). They were a great way to get around. It was so warm that sometimes it was the only way to get a cool breeze. The town had a certain charm but also a strange sight. Flying over the town and perched on the sides of buildings were loads of black vultures. It was very weird. One day we took a wrong turn and ended up in the slum area, the vultures were in force and the smell of death was over powering. From here we had decided to take a cargo boat to Iquitos up the Amazon. We went to the docks to book a cabin, as we wanted somewhere to store our bags etc without having to worry about them. We were shown a boat that was leaving the next day - the Camilla. The cabins were like saunas, no air to breathe but we were told that was the only boat leaving the next day and during the day we could put up hammocks outside to keep cool. So without paying we booked the cabin and were told to put a lock on the door. That evening after further thought we decided to go to another port to check out other options. We were shown a larger very new boat that was also supposed to be leaving the next day. This boat was a millions times better then the last with a large cabin, attached bathroom and a fan in the room!!! So we decided to book Henry 7 and set up our hammocks. The boat though didn’t leave on time and we stayed on board in the port for two days. Ah well it was free accommodation while we waited. On a side note we saw the other boat leave the day it was supposed to. The boat journey took four days but it was a lot of fun. We met some really nice people, there was a couple from Utrecht, Jessica and Geert, a crazy guy from Belgium, Ronald, a group of guys from Lima who smoked weed all day, an English and Danish couple, Mike and Inga, an Argentinean guy following che`s route, Nicholas, a Columbian and Canadian couple, Alessandro and Stephanie and loads of children who wanted to listen to everyone’s ipods or look at their cameras. The mix of people on board was really nice and though we tried to practice our few Spanish phrases it was mostly dictionary time (much to the amusement of the younger children). The ship was only supposed to hold about 300 people but there was much much more on board, I was really glad we had a cabin!! The hammocks were great to relax in but not for sleeping. They were all squashed together and hung anywhere and everywhere possible. To get from one end of the ship to the other you nearly had to crawl but I still wouldn’t have changed any of it. There were loads of funny incidents, there was a young boy who was my shadow for the journey, he even made me a bookmark to remember him by, but he was very clingy and was obsessed with Madonna’s song like a virgin. After hearing it a million times I could have screamed. Or there was the young guy who did a heavy metal air guitar solo to abbas mamma mia.... to see the funny side, you really would have had to have been there.

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When we got to Iquitos we were all tired but it was also nice to be on land and choose our own food etc.... We expected to be blown away by the town but to be honest I didn’t see the appeal. I think our timing was wrong. The security guard at the Columbian embassy kept telling us to come back later, the taxi drivers were annoying, we couldn’t find a book exchange, the owner of the Texan grill fired one of his staff while screaming at her in the middle of the restaurant for a simple mistake, we bumped into the captain of the Camilla boat who gave out to us for not taking his boat, and when we went to the market it was closing up and people, dogs and vultures were rummaging through the rubbish for scraps to eat. Not great first impressions of the town. The next day went better, we booked a fast boat to get to Leticia for the following day (9 hours instead of two days), I managed to change one of my books with an English man who owned a tourist agency, the Columbian embassy gave us loads of information and photocopied a circular that I could show immigration if they gave me any hassle on entering the country. All in all it felt like a good day. We also had a mini reunion at dinnertime to say bye to everyone off the boat. Loads of fun and we even thought maybe we should have stayed longer. They all seemed to really like the town but I was impatient to get to Columbia.

Now we’re in Leticia and though it’s a little more expensive then we expected, I love it here. The vibe on the street is more positive and every building has music spewing out.

Posted by Rraven 17:09 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Sth America-12- Machu Pichu and Local protests

Tourist visits, Machu Pichu and Local protests leading to the hut down of roads..

overcast -17 °C
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Okay so we arrived in Puno on the other side of Lake Titicaca on a bright day. With in a few minutes of being there we knew that we had preferred the Bolivian side to the river. Puno is full of tourists and locals trying to sell you anything and everything. Every step is accompanied by hassle from tourist agencies; restaurant workers, shopkeepers, beggars and of course pesky shoe shine boys (they were among the most annoying!!). We decided to book to half-day tours with an agency called Best way Travel, they seemed to be the cheapest option. (They’re not reliable and I would advise anyone to never use them!).

In the morning we visited the Los Uros Islands. Originally we were supposed to be visiting three islands according to the agency but it turned out to be only two of them. The islands are about forty in total at the moment but this number changes islanders fight and divide up islands or join them together. The islands are made up of reeds and are floating on Lake Titicaca. It was interesting to hear how they live and how the islands are made. To walk on them is really strange, you feel like your bouncing with every step. The first island was two meters in depth, yes the same height as Arjan, the islanders really enjoyed that fact and presented him with a chain. The second island was the `market island, souvenir stalls covered part of it. It was nice to visit the islands but it did feel a bit like being at a zoo. I found out that I would never make a press photographer, it felt a bit strange taking photos of the people, ah well I’ll just have to practice more.
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The afternoon tour was to the funeral towers, which date back to Inca and pre Inca times. It was an interesting site but I felt the tour spent too long there. Also the guide was supposed to stop somewhere for a sunset photo but they raced back to town instead.
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Both tours reinforced in us why we don’t like doing tours. You have no control over how long you spend at things. We booked our tourist class bus tickets via the agency to Cusco for the next day.

This is were we started to get annoyed with the agency, they sold us a tourist class ticket (basically a clean bus with a toilet, it was supposed to stop at one site for photos and be a direct bus.) The agency was supposed to pick u up at our hotel at 1.30 for a bus at two. By 1.50 no one had shown up, the owner of the hotel was really helpful and rang the agency to find out what was going on. Finally a young boy arrives to collect us (yes we were surprised too), we catch a taxi to the station were a girl from the agency is waiting for us with our tickets saying that the bus is due to go. We race on and sit down. Looking around us we realise that it’s a local bus and we’ve just been ripped off. We have no problems with local buses but it’s the principal of them overcharging us for it because they were too late to pick us up for the correct bus. So if you ever have to use an agency, don’t use them!!!!!
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So anyway we made to Cusco, the centre is really nice. Upon arrival we already had a good feeling about the place. We spent a few days here exploring, visiting the Inca museum (was interesting to learn a bit about the sites we would visit), Museo de Arte y Monasterio de Santa Catalina (so much wealth in this place), contemporary art gallery (out of all the pictures and displays, I liked one picture only) and Museo de Sitio del Qoricancha (after the Inca museum this was just a summary version in four rooms and a corridor). A shot uphill walk led us to the site of Saqsaywaman (pronounced sexy woman). It was very impressive and we spent a long time walking around and exploring. Its crazy to think how much the Incas built and created in such a short time.

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While we were in town we had checked into various tours for Machu Pichu but found them to be too restrictive time wise and expensive (about $130-180), so we decided to do it our own way ;). We decided to stop off on the way in the towns of Pisac and Ollantaytambo to visit the Inca sites there, (after all we had already paid for a tourist ticket, entry to 17 sites for 70 soles, 3 soles - $1). The sites were really impressive, especially the terracing for the various eco climates to allow the growing of various agricultural crops. Both towns were quite nice too. In Ollantay we got the train to Agua Calliente ($57 return); this is the nearest town to Machu Pichu (entrance $40, but hey its once in a life time). The town felt like any tourist resort in the canneries with people screaming out happy hour, 3 drinks for the price of one. In town there is the perfect place to escape and relax, the hot springs, ahhh... F

rom town we took the first bus at 5.30am to the Machu Pichu site, we wanted to catch the sunrise. Unfortunately the weather was bad, slight rain on and off all day and a fairly grey sky. But it still didn’t take from the site!!! The views looking down on it are amazing and you can sit for hours just gazing at it.

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While walking through it you don’t necessarily appreciate the size of the site but with the terracing it appears to grow out of the mountain. We spent most of a day wandering around the site, feeling really happy that we didn’t do a tour; we saw the groups arriving and leaving in the space of a few hours.

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We headed back to Ollantaytambo by train on the tenth and decided to spend one night before heading to Cusco again. The next day though there was a teacher and transportation strike. We heard a group walking through the streets shouting in protest. As the day passed the group seemed to grow, in the plaza they were holding placards and stones. They didn’t touch tourists (we even visited a local site were the Pumamacha, were the Incas were to have started according to local legend) but if you were driving a bus or taxi when you weren’t supposed to be a hail of stones, cans and bottles were thrown. Some taxis also ended up with slashed tires and some injuries trying to stop people touching their cars. Protest groups had blocked all the roads in and out of town with rocks, boulders and themselves. The next day the strike was supposed to have stopped but it was still going ahead, locally the group was getting bigger. A few fights broke out among the groups. We heard that in Lima, Cusco and Arequipa the fighting was worse, buildings had been set on fire, many people attacked and even some killed. The police were trying to stop the crowds with teargas. While we were in a local cafe near the square the police arrived to say that there was bomb scare, all tourists were to be kept indoors till they searched. They didn’t find anything. From the windows we could see a few fights breaking out over taxies and mostly people running onto large trucks to move to were the action was. We arrived back in the hostel just as a small bomb went off, no one was hurt. A lot of the time was spent running in and out trying to get updates. We heard about 3 policemen who had been stripped and stoned close to the town. The reports were mixed about them being dead initially and then much later to that maybe they were in hospital. Everything quietened down when more police arrived with weapons, tear gas and rioting gear. What started quickly and seemed to last a long time was quickly over as the government issued statements of arresting people. The police were still patrolling as we left town, earlier then we thought when it all started. On a side note the local stations news wasn’t carrying the story at all, but we could catch updates about the other towns on CNN and a station from Venezuela. The Peruvian government represtatives blamed Venezuela for putting pressure on them, if you ask around this is not the case at all. It was also quite ironic that the government here had slammed the Venezuela government for revoking a TV license to a station that didn’t agree with their policies but here the news was kept quiet locally. On one Internet page it only talks about the loss of tourism revenue. Just fewer than 2000 people were prevented from seeing Machu Pichu, they say that with them returning home disappointed and bringing their stories it could cause a drop in tourism of 10%. The country makes about $5 million dollars a day from tourism so it could mean people out of work and pocket.
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Anyway it was a strange few days and though there is debris on the roads they seem to be passable again in some areas. Locals say it’ll happen again but they don’t know when. We’ll see and for the moment keep going...

On a side note you shouldn’t let this put you off the country. Though we’ve really only seen the sacred valley, and Cusco, I can still say its beautiful place. Flowers_of_Peru1.jpg

Posted by Rraven 12:56 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Sth America- 11- End of Bolivia

A short one to finish off Bolivia...

all seasons in one day -17 °C
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Okay so after Serere we headed back into Rurrenabaque to originally spend one night before flying out the next day... instead we ended up staying two nights...

After checking into our hotel and grabbing a little food we headed to a local pub called PachaMama run by an English girl Katrina and her boyfriend, to meet up with some of the group from Serere and ´the volunteers`, Kit and Meghna. Kit had been marketing and selling the place to everyone when we were in Serere. Its a nice pub/cafe, good music, movie rooms, book exchange, food, etc..... good atmosphere too. But as it’s at the edge of town, a whole five minutes more walk many people don’t visit it, (a tip the drink here is a little cheaper then the wildly advertised and visited Mosquito bar)!! Anyway after many drinks and games of pool, Arjan got talking to Katrina about the place. She was looking to sell and he was seriously considering buying it. After taking the grand tour of the public and private areas, he really was convinced that we should invest in it and lives there. Okay so we may have been drinking a lot but the money side of me had to ask a few questions, yearly profits, seasonal trends, cost of living, and growth potential. I know I could have just got hooked on the fantasy but the reality and answers told me that this was not the business for us!! So after convincing Arjan that he shouldn’t buy it, or let Kit away with his tab if we did as a good will gesture we proceeded to get very drunk and have a laugh. Besides we still have a few months of traveling a head of us and we’re not ready to stop. The next day there was no way we could fly so we changed the flight and relaxed.

So we flew back to La Paz, relaxed and happy. But after the clean lowlands the city appeared to be unbreathable, dirty and too noisy. It was hard to get used to it again so we decided one day was enough and off we headed to Copacabana. The town is situated on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake. The altitude caused a few problems for me but at this stage Arjan was flying around. The town is nice and though its touristy you don’t feel hassled all the time. While we were there we decided to spend two nights on Isla de Sol. From the dock on the island you have to walk up Inca steps to get to the town, after loads of breaks, huffing and puffing we made it to our hostel. Wow, the views from our room were amazing, three of the walls had huge windows overlooking at the bays, perfect for catching the sunrises and sunsets. The island was nice but as I was having altitude problems I was glad to leave, I couldn`t walk too far without feeling ill, while Arjan was able to explore the whole island.

After returning to Copa for one night we then headed to Puno in Peru...

Posted by Rraven 12:32 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Sth America 10 - Serere...

Tour with Madidi Travel to Serere, Bolivia

sunny -17 °C
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Okay so while we were in La Paz we looked into going to Parque Madidi but the agencies we spoke to were either too expensive or just didn’t interest us (they only wanted to sell a tour without knowing what they were selling).

While we were in a cafe we came across a brochure for Madidi Travel SRL. After a quick read we were interested enough to go to their offices and ask questions. Unlike other companies their main focus isn’t tourism its about conservation. The tourism was just means of finance and a chance to open people’s eyes. The company is highly respected in the conservation world. They played a crucial role in the setting up of Madidi National Park, The national geographic society were led by them through the park and were featured in the magazine and on line. They have also been featured on French TV. If I sound like I’m running a sales pitch its because I am, as you read on you’ll see how much I loved the work they did, especially now in Serere and the people are fantastic. Its not often I gush but hey this entry is all about gushing....

(Serere is a protected sanctuary in a flood plain in the north of Bolivia, about 2-3 hours by boat from Rurrenabaque. It is completely owned by Madidi Travel and exclusively run and used by them).

When we got to the office we read a few of the ads outside, we found out that the director had won a prize and recognition for her conservation work in the international world of conservation. Suitably impressed we went inside and were met by a remarkable woman, Rosa Maria, who spoke which such dedication and enthusiasm about the work of the organizations recent protected area Serere that we decided that we had to go there for as long as we could afford. Rosa Maria explained that there were three different packages to allow Serere to be accessible to a wide range of people and budgets. We chose the cheapest option of $40 per day for six days. We’re lucky it’s a promotional year as prices may rise and it would have been a shame to spend any less time there. We found out that our enthusiastic source of information; Rosa was in fact the same director, woman who had won the prize. As luck would have it we would be traveling out on the same flight to Rurrenbaque with Rosa, Martha (another friendly, helpful woman from the agency), and another couple who were going to Serere for 4 days. We met the other couple at the airport, Lee and Anna are from the UK and are on a year world travel trip, and they had only started a few weeks before. While we waited for our flight we found out that this was Rosa’s first trip back to Serere in months as a caiman while swimming one day had attacked her. She was very excited to be going back and her enthusiasm was contagious to the rest of us. Through much informative conservation we were told that when Rosa was young slavery was still legal and that many indigenous tribes were not even recognised by the government. As well as the conservation of the land, animals, etc.... the company is also involved with indigenous tribes and is active land titling and community projects. Much of the work involves human rights. The more stories you hear the more you want to know.

When we got to Rurrenabaque we met the fifth member of our group, Holy from Germany, who was nearing the end of his travels. In the office we also met a volunteer Meghna, she’s a very nice girl who had kind of fallen into the job with her boyfriend, Kit who me met when we got to Serere. They had done a video about the area and were sharing their time by working in the office and being translators in Serere. They’re a cool couple with their heads screwed on, even with loads of alcohol (more about that later).

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As we were now in the lowlands there were no more altitude problems. It felt fantastic to be able to breathe again. No more having to stop every two seconds to catch breathes, yeah real energy to explore. Arjan, I, Lee and Anna were sharing one cabin while Holy was sharing with three Dutch people who were leaving the next day. The cabins are great!! There are no walls as such; instead there is netting for bugs and mozzies. To wake up seeing the plants, butterflies, and sometimes birds and monkeys are amazing. Every morning you can hear the howler monkeys greeting the new day with their calls. The main lodge ground floor is were we had most of our main meals prepared by a great local chef. While upstairs you could relax in hammocks or on couches, it’s a great place to watch the animals and the sunset! Or just to play cards, rummy was the game of the trip and with a few misunderstanding on my part (I thought I’d won when I hadn’t), it was a good laugh.

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While we were there we had a very informative friendly guide called Jesus. He brought us on various walks and canoe rides. Even showed us how to make rings and necklaces out of nuts and seeds. Though are Spanish was terrible and Jesus has little English we could all understand each other, to the point we were all taking the piss out of each other and seemed to be laughing a lot!! The atmosphere was very relaxing and entertaining. From Holy always wanting to see anacondas, to Lees obsession with the ants (Anna are you prepared to have an ant farm when you get home!), to Arjans obsession with seeing a tarantula (he didn’t see one but I did, one night walking to the lodge I saw one near some logs, I think my surprised scream frightened the spider, whoops, but he was as big as my fist!!). Also Jesus and the other guides can make similar sounds to the animals and called out to them a lot, to hear the guys try to the same as well provided a lot of laughter, especially the caiman calls. Some of them sounded obscene.

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In Serere we saw many monkeys, spiders, birds, caimans, fish and various plants & trees. It was amazing; I really can’t stop saying that. On the Friday night the staff were having an offering to Pachamama to thank her for everything that she had done and we were lucky enough to be invited to witness it. It was really interesting to see the plates and offerings which we had read about it museums and seen in markets being actually used. It was quite special to have been able to see something like that for real and not just as a tourist gimmick. We had a good group and it was sad to see the other guys go before us.

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On Lee, Anna and Holys last day a new group of five arrived, an Irish couple (Kathleen and Liam), a Dutch couple (I always forget their names, even though we’ve seen them many times since then, whoops), and an Australian girl (Hayley). Overall they were a nice group but the original is always the best? As we were there a little longer then the general groups of 2/3/4 days we got to know some of the staff, they’re so friendly and helpful. Also we got to know Kit a bit better, he’s a very funny guy, with a good sense of humour, and even gives you the heads up on the new people ;). Through conservations Jesus let slip to Kit that one of the other guides, Oscar, sometimes gave nicknames to people when he couldn’t remember their names. He’d renamed Arjan..................... Antonio Banderas. Hehehe I’ve no problem with that and Arjan thought it was funny, especially as he’d had to sit through Desperado a million times! Poor Oscar didn’t know we’d been told and got a bit embarrassed by it but after realizing there was no offense taken, he relaxed quickly and thus Arjan became Antonio B.
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I should probably also tell you a bit about Serere and what you can do there. You never know you may want to visit there soon (and if you don’t, are you mad???). While you’re there you have a choice of many different walks, depending on your time and on the interests of the group. In general everyone is catered towards and if you don’t want to do something then you can sit in a hammock and watch the world go by (even with a nice cold beer ;)...) In Serere there are four different lakes, one is directly in front of the main lodge while the other three are a short walk from the lodge. Lago Gringo is the nearest of the three to walk to. The other two, Lago Isla and Lago Negro are a little further but the adventurer in you gets to cheer as you cross dodgy logs to get across swampy areas with sticks to keep you from falling. Its loads of fun!! Lago Negro involves a bit more arm muscle for the rowing through the plants but as with all the lakes its great for spotting birds, sometimes monkeys, or course caimans and maybe if you’re lucky anacondas (we didn’t see any but we weren’t as obsessed as someone else). On all the lakes it’s possible to row in the canoes and it’s a great experience. If you haven’t done it, you should, especially if your guide calls to a black caiman you roars his head in reply and dives with a huge splash!! Besides the lakes you can also see the agricultural side to the area by visiting `el Chaco` directly across from the lake near the main cabin. Here you can see the various vegetables and fruits that they grow to be used in the lodge and sometimes by the cheeky animals that pilfer the site. You can also go fishing depending on the season and learn to make natural jewelry!!
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All the trips are either half day or full day trips; there are also trips in the morning before breakfast and in the nighttime after dinner that way your opportunities to view the animals and wildlife are increased.

As you can guess this really was once of my favourite places ever!

Posted by Rraven 16:57 Archived in Bolivia Tagged ecotourism Comments (1)

Sth America- 9- Sucre, Potosi,Uyuni, La Paz

Sucre, Champions League Final :-) , Potosi, Uyuni, La Paz

sunny -17 °C
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Okay so last time I was on line we were in Sucre but I had yet to tell you anything about it. We ended up staying longer then expected due to flue or a bug, basically we weren’t able to travel further :(. Don’t worry though we didn’t spend the week suffering and doing nothing. The hostel Charcas was in the city centre and within walking distance of the main sites. (Stats - double room shared bath 80 bolivianos, private bath 130 bol.) Sucre is known as the white city, as well as being known as the most beautiful city in Bolivia, though it is a nice city this description was spoiled by coming through the usual roads filled with rubbish that seems to great us on arriving at any city here. While we there the city was celebrating a 25-year anniversary. Every night and day the sounds of marching bands could be heard practicing in the schools, and any available space, As the main day, Friday, crept closer they took to the streets. The whole parade and practice sessions were taken very seriously as the country’s president was going to be watching the final march. On the Thursday night the local army barracks set off various firework displays, which we could appreciate from the rooftop in the hostel. On the Wednesday morning we visited the cathedral and capilla de la virgen de guadalupe. It was nice but quite gaudy at times; one room contained an altar with the all Seeing Eye seen in Egyptian art. Across from it was a burial bed decorated with various pictures of the grim reaper, over looked by angels on the ceiling. There were also statures of a saint as a child with a slit throat, blood included of course. The statue of the virgen is adorned with jewels and precious metals and is worth an absolute fortune but then the whole effect is turned into a joke by the surrounding multi coloured lights that belong in a disco or at an Xmas party. I wonder who is claiming that idea. We also ran into Helen and Chris in the pub that afternoon, (the couple from the road trip in Argentina). They were taking Spanish lessons locally, and by the sounds of it were doing well. They also told us that they had finally booked their flights back to the Uk but only for a month and then they were off to Korea to work, after nearly two years they’d decided to try and settle somewhere.
That afternoon we headed to the Joy Ride pub to watch the Championship final with Liverpool and Milan. By now you all know the score and you can imagine the atmosphere in a pub filled with Dutch supporting Liverpool because they had two Dutch players`, there was also a young Liverpool supporter who cried at the end of the match much to the amusement of a local Caca supporter and thus now a Milan supporter. To add insult to injury upon leaving the pub he rubbed the crying guys head and said loser with a sloppy smug grin.
In town we also visited a textile museum, which explained the history and methodology behind the various weavings created and worn by the indigenous people.
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It was quite interesting and also contained a section on dance. The only down side is that there is an abundance of information to read which can make your head feel like exploding by the end. We also checked out Casa la Libertad.
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It has many pictures of ex presidents including one that Bolivar said was the best representation of him.
On the Friday night there was a feeling of celebration after the marches and demonstrations we decided to go to a blues night in Bibliocafe. There were three bands playing, one of them was La Maya, the band we’d previously seen in Santa Cruz. On the Sunday we were supposed to go to the market in Tarabuco but weren’t feeling up to it, between lack of sleep and feeling unwell it just wasn’t meant to be. We were disappointed about missing it but found out that afternoon that one of the buses returning from the market, containing a lot of tourists had crashed, killing one person and harming many more. Now we count our blessings that we didn’t go, you never know...
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On the Monday we headed to the worlds highest city Potosi. This is where the problems with high altitude really kicked in.
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The city is nice and the mountains overlooking it are beautiful but when you’re constantly out of breath it can be hard to appreciate them completely.
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Potosi is a mining town, previously it was silver but now it was mostly tin. Many people died in the mining of the silver for the Spanish crown, many of them locals and slaves, we were informed that the working conditions haven’t changed that much over the centuries, the life of a miner is short, the work is extremely hard and the mines contain toxic gases. We were considering visiting them but the breathing problems prevented us from doing so. While in town we visited the mint, the tour was interesting, though very cold, the museum contains, coins, melting machines, pots, minerals, and even mummified babies. We also visited a local church were you could walk along the roof to have amazing views of the city and surroundings.

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After Potosi we headed towards Uyuni.
From here we arranged to do a three day tour around the South of Bolivia, taking in Salar di Uyuni (the salt lakes),
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Colchani to see how the salt is processed, Isla Inca Huasi (cactus island),

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various lakes,
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arbol (stone tree),
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a stone valley, geisers,
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hot springs,
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dali valley and along the way flamingos, andean foxes, llamas, etc.... The trip was really enjoyable and the group we were with was nice. The trip started with a train museum that we ended up seeing twice as we had stumbled on it ourselves on our first day in town.
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In Uyuni itself we stayed in the local Hi hostel were the owner’s son chatted up all the girls, evening pinching bums, he was starting young at 3. The best place in town was the American run minuteman, really good pizza and pasta with a smile.
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From Uyuni we took a seven-hour night train to Oruro. Instead of heading straight onto La Paz like some of our fellow passengers we decided to stay in town for two days. We had heard a lot about the masks made in town for the devil festival in Feb and le gran poder at the beginning of June. I must have looked like a child in a candy shop checking out the costumes and masks. They were amazing and I really wanted to buy loads but the sensibilities kicked in about trying to carry everything and the cost of post so we bought one which, fingers crossed, makes it through an post back to Dublin.

So now we `re in La Paz and have been for a few days. We had been told that it was the best place to shop but so far nothing has jumped out, :( so instead of the original plan of buying loads I bought a new rain cover for my bag as my other one is in bits and a pair of combats, ohhhh last of the big spenders, no! I think if the trip was shorter it would be easier to shop but where would the fun in that be. In town we visited the local coca museum, it was interesting but as its been renovated is badly laid out and hard to follow. It’s also presented as being a balanced view of the history but I found this to not be the case. They talk about how the Bolivian people use the plant for spiritual reasons and to allow them to work harder and that the rest of the world use it only as a drug, for profit and exploitation, they also say that the world points all the blame at them but as we all know many countries are blamed and Bolivia isn’t completely innocent either, we’ve seen many non spiritual users here.

Posted by Rraven 14:20 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Sth America - 8 - Santa Cruz, Samiapata, Following Che

Santa Cruz, Samiapata, ValleGrande, Sorreano, Sucre,

all seasons in one day -17 °C
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Okay so after the hassle of having to backtrack in Paraguay to get the bus we wanted we arrived in Santa Cruz, Bolivia on May 10th. Our accommodation of choice was Residential Bolivar. For a double room with shared bathroom it costs 120 bolivianos (about $15). The courtyard is a very relaxing place with hammocks to while the hours away while watching the permanent residents, two toucans. One shy, while the other is cheeky and plays biting games with guests. Don’t get me wrong he’s not vicious, just playful and Arjan swears it doesn’t hurt. Hopefully the photos turn out :)

The city itself is nice and clean in the center, it’s quite a sprawling city and near the bus station isn’t the nicest.

The street of our hostel was shut down, as there was a sit in demonstration for disabilities, the posters covered deafness, blindness, lost limbs and wheelchairs. From the day we arrived till the day we left four days later they were sitting there 24 hours a day. It seemed to be a peaceful demonstration made up of all ages, from a baby a few weeks old to a man in his eighties; it’s just a pity that the street was turned into a public toilet. There was also a demonstration and mini march around Plaza 24 de Septembre. It only lasted a few hours but trouble was expected. Armed riot police overlooked the group of indigenous protesters chanting anti political words.
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As we still weren’t sure if we had seen condors we headed off to the Santa Cruz zoo (price 10 bol), its bigger inside then it looks. We discovered besides seeing condors from a great distance learning how to fly we hadn’t actually seen any before then. So now I just have to figure out what birds are in the photos ;) The best part in the zoo is a large cage, which you can walk into and either take a tiny stroll or sit and watch the birds fly over and around you. It’s a very relaxing place to sit. Outside the zoo are telephone boxes shaped like parrots, though they were unique but we’ve seen them a few times now.
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As the spiderman 3 movie had just come out we tried to find a cinema to see it but lo and behold the ones we knew about were either shut down for a long time (judging by the state of the buildings), had turned into churches (don’t ask) or were closed early. So we headed for a quick drink in the Irish pub, we had decided to give it a second chance. We’d been there during the week and though the layout and music were good the service was absolutely terrible. The pub has many waitresses, too many really, who either stand at the bar chatting or all shout the orders at the three equally confused barmen. The barmen all seem to try to catch all the orders and then get themselves into a knot. For example we were sitting right beside the bar but the barmen had a waitress take the order and then it proceeded to take 20 minutes to get two bottles of beer in a quiet pub... but we gave it another chance because we were told it was good and we probably got it on a bad day.... well we went back, service improved a tiny bit but if you’re in town you’re better off going somewhere else. Anyway after a few drinks we headed back to the hostel to hear some really good music coming from a balcony. We sourced it to the upstairs Lorca Cafe on the square, a local blues band, La Maga was playing. So the band and the cafe saved the night, but not counting what we drank led to really sore heads the next day.

On the Monday we caught a shared taxi (25 bol each) for the 2.5 hour journey to Samiapata. We checked into La ´Posada del sol, run by Trent and Rosario. They’re a really friendly family. The room itself was a spacious spotlessly clean double room ensuite with a separate area in the corner with laundry sink. May sound like a small point but its a nice touch. The balcony with comfy chairs enjoys a view of the surrounding mountains. The damage as they say for this was 80 bol/ $10.... not bad.... oh and they also had the best breakfasts of any of the places we’ve been to... In the town there seems to be a lot of foreigners living there, we found out later it appears this way because they’re all in the tourist or food trade, there are about 50 out of a population of 3000. It means though that the standard in a lot of the places is higher then you would originally expect from a small town. The best restaurant in town for food, drink and a really nice atmosphere is Latina Cafe run by a friendly French owner and his Bolivian wife (who doubles as chef). They told us that it took them 5 years to build the place but it looks great. The town has many agencies and tour guides but I found the best one to be the German run roadrunners. The guys are really friendly and helpful and they have a large book exchange, which I really needed at that stage. They also have weather information and can tell you all about the local area without pressuring you into buying tours. They even advised one customer that for their requirements of staying in the Omboro Park they should book with the Dutch run, Ben Verhoef tours, as they were the only group licensed to negotiate with the lodge. We were also thinking of doing one of bens tours taking the old trade route to Sucre combined with part of the Che route but at $250 it was over our budget.

On one of the days we went to the museo Arqueologico. Here we met with a Belgium couple who had been traveling for eight months and had only 4 weeks left. They were a bit depressed about it. I wonder how we will feel when it’s our turn to be counting down days. Enviously enough they did the Mongolian express from Russia to China...that’s something I would love to do in the future. Anyway the museum wasn’t very good and the video was cheesy, but the ticket of 32bol also included entrance to the UNESCO world heritage site - El Fuerte, the remains of a pre Inca ceremonial site. Though the site was interesting it was a bit dissappointing, some of the etchings that I had expected to see had either been covered with mud/moss or were too far away to see. As it was a nice day we'd got a taxi up to it (30 bol) and walked the ten km back. The views of the valleys were well worth the uphill struggle at times. Though the walk as a whole wasn’t hard and quite quick to do.

From Samiapata we got a bus to ValleGrande for 20 bol each. While waiting for the bus we met up with Anat from Israel who has been traveling for eight months through central and south America, though she has another four months to go and wants to see everything she admitted she was getting tired. In town we checked into Hostal El Marques, which had been recommended by Trent and Rosario. It was more a hotel though then a hostel. The room was huge, ensuite, TV and balcony for $10. After dropping the bags we met up with Anat who only had a few hours in town before catching her next bus. We headed to the Che museum; it was quite a morbid place, filled with various photos from different angles of his dead body. He had been shot nearly 40 years ago (in oct) in the nearby town of La Higuera. After been shot his body was moved to Vallegrande were it was put on show in the laundry room of the local hospital. The museum has photos of people posing beside the body and in the accompanying texts some admit to not knowing who he was while others had heard of him but didn’t realize he was close by looking to start a revolution. Its a pity when you hear he was in the wrong place and that if he had been in Potosi he would have been welcomed as they were looking to start something at that time. The museum ticket of 10 bol covers all the local Che sites so we headed to the laundry room.
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It feels strange to walk through the hospital grounds, past open wards, queues of sick people and washing to get to the old laundry room. It’s quite small and covered in graffiti. A local man proudly points out were people from our respective countries have left their marks while we stand there and cringe. He also seems to take delight in asking if we would like to see the area were Che´s hands had been cut off. After this we take a taxi to the site near the airport were his body had been originally buried in an unmarked grave. The site is undergoing repairs but then to be honest there is not much to see there anyway. Previous to general Vargas 1995 admission to the whereabouts of Che´s body it has gone by unnoticed.
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In 1997 the Bolivian and Cuban governments worked together to move his body to Cuba. Later in the day we had dinner in the local restaurant El Mirador. The food was filling which was good as we were all starving. There’s no menu, you get a choice between beef, chicken, fish and pork. It’s served with rice, chips, and salad. The next day we started to feel the effect in the changes in altitude, to be honest we didn’t expect to feel it so soon, Its horrible to be out of breathe all the time when you know if you were lower you’d have no problem with the little walks around town. So we took one easy day for Internet and to try to get tickets to Sucre. This proved harder then we thought. The first company said we had to catch a bus to Matarrel and if we were lucky we might catch a bus around 7ish, this all sounded a bit dodgy and the girl wasn’t very helpful so we headed to the other office, El Senator, on the same street as the hospital. The lady here was really friendly, we were to get a bus the following day to a town that wasn’t on our maps Sorreano and from there after a few hours (3 or 4 we understood) we would transfer to another bus to Sucre. So the next day we got the bus around 2 and discovered that we were in fact taking the old trade route we’d wanted to do before. The scenery was beautiful and though we couldn’t stop and take photos it was nice to see it. Though some of the roads were scarily tighter on the side of the cliffs, especially some of the bends. We arrived in Sorreano at 8pm and were told that our next bus wasn’t until 7am the next morning. We had totally misunderstood! After walking through the plaza while been gaped at we found the only place in town to stay, Alojamiento Central. A room ensuite was 50bol. ($6) The room contained four rusty squeaky beds that had seen better days. The room smelled of an old damp and musty area that hadn’t been aired in years. The bathroom was disgusting and as I don’t want to ruin anyone’s appetites I won’t describe the stains. But we had nowhere else to stay and it was only for a few hours. It came accompanied with a group of girls who stood outside giggling; Arjan had managed to get his own fan club. It turns out that they don’t get many foreigners and especially not tall blonde pony tailed men. So though the room was horrible, all we could do was get a fit of the giggles, only us, its just typical, but hey we got to see another side of the country.

The next morning we were at the bus stop before six as instructed to secure our seats and join the queue. There was no way we wanted to miss the bus. We arrived in Sucre tired and happy. We’d just calculated that we had done the tour we had wanted in our own way for a lot less, accommodation in both towns, food, transport, entry freshet cost us $40 each compared to the tour price of $250, which hadn’t included all accommodation and food.

Posted by Rraven 11:29 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

Sh America - 7 - Posada to El Chaco

Asuncion, Concepcion, Vaille Mi, filadelphia, El Chaco

all seasons in one day -17 °C
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So we decided to go to Paraguay via Posada in Argentina for less border problems. Our original choice of hotel in Posada was booked out, or so they say, the place was more up market then we originally were told and they don't take kindly to backpackers, especially ones who had just gotten off a dusty bus...We found a nice place around the corner, and nice by a lot of standards and not just ours....hehehe... Not much to say about the town as it was a stopgap for us. The next day we caught an early bus to Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay.

This is done with much anticipation, as we don't know what to expect. We can't find a guidebook on it, the information on the web is inclusive and (boo hoo) some travel helpers didn't reply to Arjans query...so finally after the ease of travel in Argentina we had a bit of a challenge on our hands. The information we did have was a couple of pages from the lps south America on a shoestring...When talking to other backpackers most generally looked vacant and said cool but why or gave us a lecture on how other countries have so much more to offer and why waste your time, no one goes there.... but that was half the appeal to be honest ;)

Anyway we pass through the Argentina border with no problems then we reach the Paraguay side. An official goes off with everyone’s ids and passports to get the visas etc; on the large bus there is only about 10 passengers so there was plenty of space to relax. As we sit there we watch as a dozen men start to walk to the bus. No. Not new passengers but "del boy" sales people. They open they're jackets to reveal walking shops, as long as you don't ask questions you can buy jewelry, cameras, watches, gadgets, souvenirs, cosmetics, bags.etc...anything they can carry, after a few minutes two cars pull up and eight more people board the bus trying to sell things, its getting ridiculous, there are more of them the passangers. Children also approach with candies and sweets.... soon another bus with more people pulls up and the sales peoples all leave to chance there arm with the new victims...As we get our passports back we're told welcome to Paraguay, what am introduction to the country (especially when we knew the border crossing on brazils side had the worst reputation for contraband goods, weapons and drugs.)...

We drive to Asuncion through some contradicting scenes, there are some really expensive modern homes and buildings beside some run down shanty towns that reek of stale urine, sometimes the smell is so strong you can smell it through the windows a few more blocks after you've passed by. We reach the town by late afternoon. It’s a sprawling city with many broken and unpaved red roads. Some of the women appear caked in the red clay and pretty soon the dusty air and sweat paints us similarly. Our Hotel is Hotel Miami, for a double room ensuite it costs 100,000 guiranis, bit more then we thought so we try our luck at a discount, so a little haggling and we get it for 90,000 without breakfast. The hotel itself is quiet and in the center of town, the staff are friendly and the place is secure, an inside gate can only be unlocked by the receptionist and is always locked... It’s not the most up market place but when you're on a budget you just want somewhere to crash that’s cleanish. Strange part is the John Wayne tapestry that’s outside our bedroom...

The city has a strange feel to it, by day there are a lot of police walking or sitting looking bored tapping very large heavy guns, On the Friday there appears to a peaceful demonstration and public talk in the plaza uruguaya. Policemen paying acute attention, down all the surrounding alleys, are watching it carefully and streets are groups of waiting heavily armed riot police. It’s as if they're waiting for a major fight or trouble but nothing happens and they traipse the streets in the afternoon back to their usual faces of boredom. When walking around town we see more contradictions that followed the journey into town, there is the Palacio de Gobiero that is a stones throw from the tin houses of the prostitutes that work plaza indepencia in the early hours. There is the camona de diputades; a very well equipped expensive building that’s huge glass windows mirrors the shantytowns that overlook the river. Food wise, well in general it was okay, noting to write home about, especially after being spoiled in Argentina. One thing though is the Confiteria Bolsi; it has the best burgers ever. In general, though we expect the deteriation of the city we expected more historical buildings, a bit more colonial architecture but then we didn't know too much about the place to start so I can't be too disappointed. The local tourist office proves to be very helpful.
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Originally we were going to go down south and visit a national park but due to time restraints and the fact that we've already just recently seen many butterflies, which is one of the main attractions, we skip it. The time restraints are down to a boat trip. We wanted to travel on the Rio Paraguay and were advised that though many people travel from Asuncion to Concepcion it is nicer to travel from Concepcion to Bahia Negro. The girl in the tourist office assures that there are buses from there to our next destination of Filadepfia. So we packed our bags and got the bus to Concepcion, the early buses are a bit of a killer.
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Concepion is about six hours north of the capital. We pass through some sparse scenery that is full of some beautiful birds. It’s a bird watchers paradise. The colours and amazingly diverse. In Concepcion we check into Hotel Center which is 35,000 for a double room ensuite with fan, or 60,000 with air -con. The evening we arrive Sunday seems to be good timing. There is a local celebration in relation to a local regional moto cross competition. The streets are brimming with people on scooters or in 4*4 jeeps blasting music from huge speakers. There is a mood of excitement and celebration; I'm presuming that whomever they support did very well. We check in the hotel about the boat and we find that we are just a few blocks from the dock were we can arrange everything. Heading down there the next morning we wander aimlessly around the port, we try to figure out who to get tickets from but nothing is very clear. The boat is docked and we can see crewmembers fixing it up, doing basic repairs and starting to load some of the goods and cargo. A security guard directs us to the offices - the green building- the colour is faded and pealing and not easily spotted but we get there. The guy in the office tries to be helpful but our understanding is terrible. At the start we thinks it’s our poor Spanish letting is doing and start to berate ourselves for not knowing more but then we realise that he's actually speaking the national language Guarani. Two French guys approach us; they too want to do a similar journey with the car they bought in Chile. They’re traveling for about four months. Their car though is too big for the boat so they strike a deal with a different boat and head that day but before they go they help us and act as translators, their Spanish sounds near perfect. We find out the boat leaves every Thursday at 11, so the following day, it reaches Bahia Negra on Friday but as its the rainy season the roads or non roads as he describes are wiped out, we'd be stuck so we instead decide to go to Puerto Olimpo which arrives on the Thursday but he assures us that there are onwards buses out of town. He also says to sleep its good to have hammocks, so with our tickets in hand we went to pick up some locally. The next day we get to the docks around 10 as told. The boat is already overflowing with people and produce. This after all is not tourist boat but a local way to cargo transporter. Though we expected some of it we didn’t realise how full the boat would be. We find out later that there is between 200 and 250 people on board and this is the norm...The boat is filled with fresh fruits, vegtables, drinks, breads, baskets, sweets, clothes etc....its bursting at the seams. No wonder there was no room for the French guys car...As we walk around we see the boxes are piled high and that there are hammocks hanging from every available space. You guessed it problem number one, we possibly have no were to sleep for two days...We finally find the only place left to stand at the back of the boat near the stairs. We’re right beside the showers and toilets. The smell can be overpowering and mixed with the smell of food and fresh produce it’s a real strange mixture. We’re also close to the engines so the heat is intense. But we decide instead of turning around and getting straight off, we’d give it a chance and with some luck the scenery would be amazing and we’d see some amazing wildlife. We’d been told that you could see monkeys, loads of birds and some really nice scenery. On the boat its like musical chairs, if you move you lose your seat and this is how we gain some seats after a few hours...Good thing too, we were starting to get sore legs. The saving factor in the end isn’t the scenery, we saw nothing at all!!! Its nice but not mind blowing...the saving factor is the people, we were in the rural areas and they don’t get many tourists and they made us feel so welcome. They were among some of the friendliest people we’d ever met and some of them were very entertaining. It turns out that there were three travelers in total on the boat, us and a young polish guy who was taking two weeks off from his Brazilian college exchange course.

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Okay I’m going to attempt to describe the people but I know I’m not going to do them much justice....

Were we are sitting there is a mother and child with so many boxes that they take over a long bench. They’re very quiet but very smiley. The son keeps smiling and staring at us, he looks like he wants to say something and after 12 hours or so comes over and says quick hola and runs back very proud of himself. There is a large man sitting beside me that seems to know a lot of people as many stop by to talk to him, he’s treated with a lot of respect. I’m just jealous that he has a seat and a hammock space, not fair!! There is a cheeky smiley elder man who tries to start a conversation with Arjan, its strange, they talk to me through Arjan, they direct all the questions for me through him. And no it’s not a matter of understanding differences but how they treat women. Anyway after a few minutes of talking to the smiley cheeky guy and its turns to a debate about which countries have the best beers and which countries can drink a lot. He seems to have a lot of respect for the Dutch and Irish drinking prowess. He seemed to adopt us and kept making sure we had enough to drink and eat, though he didn’t have much himself he kept offering us beer and chocolate.... very funny guy but we stuck to our water, well after carrying 5ltrs we wanted to get rid of some of the weight of it :) There is a quiet man who watches everything, he doesn’t say much but smiles kindly and keeps checking we’re okay. There is a young man who moved to the area a few months back, as a recently qualified doctor. He has good English and quickly becomes our translator and source of information. Through him and the group around us we find out that our plan is doomed, the roads at our stop our washed away from a rainfall from the previous week. After talking to him about all the main stops with useable roads and getaway plans we decide to get off earlier then expected at Vaille Mi. The stop is the following evening so that means only one bad nights sleep on the wooden seats that are sending our backs numb with pain. The town is supposed to have one hotel (Paroda) so we’ll have somewhere to sleep and three possible ways to leave town, there is a flight every Friday to the capital for usd 45, and from there we could catch a bus to Filadelphia, a bus service that depends on road conditions and if the worst happens return boat journey at the weekend. The man in charge of the engines comes around to our part of the boat quite a lot, as his luggage is stored there. He is a character and knows everyone. He is also the man in the know. He managed to secure the last hammock space for the cheeky smiley guy; it’s even in one of the best positions on the boat. Mr. Engine guy also has the hairiest back I’ve ever seen but that’s not the strange thing, its very patchy, its as if someone waxed inch cubes sporadically on his back. His vest is ripped and filthy and his shorts are an indiscript colour, but he seems to be a very clean person, as he always seems to be coming back from the shower area with his washing, always underwear. We know this because below one of the seating areas in front of us there are holes- windows into the engine room and he’s hanging his clothes through the holes on nails to dry. I’m not sure if everyone has noticed as they’re using the holes to rest their feet. There is a young couple on the other side of the toilets that stare at us all the time. The girl is the only person on the boat who appears hostile, my back knocked her slightly when we boarded but so did everyone else’s, that can’t be the reason but from her looks you’d swear I got up and slapped her in the face, ah well that life. Her boyfriend has a blank bored look. No idea what he’s think but doesn’t appear to be much. Though our position on the boat may be accompanied by a distinct smell I wouldn’t change it, its great for people watching and the group we’re in our great. Its also convenient for the shops on board, some of the market sellers are not waiting till they get to the markets to start selling, main meals are around 11.30 and 6, otherwise there’s plenty to buy and eat. That evening some of the older guys in the group refuse to sleep until I’m in some sort of sleeping position, even allowing me to use their ice boxes as foot rests even though they’d spent half the day telling other people not to lean on them. They’re very into chivalry and respect, its really nice. That night between millions of possessed demon mosquitoes and taking turns with Arjan to lie down on the bench there wasn’t much sleep to be had. The next day everyone on the boat was up around five, we looked like zombies... Later that morning we met the polish guy who is studying in Brazil, we didn’t know he was on board before then. He was also trying to determine how to change his plans because of the rainfall and had it half sorted out. There was a polish missionary priest on board who had been living in the area for over thirty years who would bring him part of the way. He offered to bring us to and though it was a really nice gesture we didn’t know how we would get from the place he would leave us, we’d probably have to walk over 100km, in our state we thought it was better to decline. We also found out from the doctor that we could get off the boat earlier by a few hours and catch a bus to the town of vaille mi. So feeling stinky and looking like part of a slashed zombie movie we got off at a stop called three mountains. It meant we could check into the hotel a lot earlier; after all it was now few nights without good sleep. Local young men agreed to show us to the bus stop and were the hotel was. It was really nice but before getting to the hotel he got off the bus early (we didn’t know this) and paraded us through town like zoo animals calling out to people that he didn’t even appear to know. He was a nice guy but I wanted to kill him, we were in the midday heat with little energy, sweating buckets and the backpacks seemed to be getting heavier with every step and on top of all this he had a bad knee and picked up his scooter and was sitting comfortably. Anyway enough moaning the hotel turned out to be a bit expensive at $20 for a double room but worth it. It was spotlessly clean, comfy bed and a good shower. The next morning we caught the 5.30am bus back to concepcion, we had been told it was rapido and that we would be there by midday, and we were just happy to be able to keep moving for 60,000, it was a way out and lot cheaper then the plane. The scenery from the bus was really nice, so many birds etc, it was what I was expecting from the boat. At around 10am the bus came to a stand still, everyone had to get off the bus and carry all their belongings, climbing over a fence and then walk 40 minutes on a hot day through a farmers muddy field. With swear pouring down everyone’s flushed red faces we kept up a quick pace as if you stood anywhere too long you started to sink in the mud up to your knees. When we got to a part of the bus we boarded another bus, we had just swapped buses with the passengers going the opposite way. There was no other way to pass and the rod was a rover in parts and huge trenches in between. After that we had to wait an hour for all the baggage and cargo to be swapped. Eventually we got to town three hours later then expected muddy, tired, ready to drop but still smiling. We went back to the same hotel and decided that three days of little of no sleep meant we should check in for two days to recover. But between the heat and those evil possessed mozzies we got no sleep, mixed with a place were the water was temperamental which meant no showers we were wrecked.

We left town on the 7.30 bus to filadelphia , a town that had been set up by Russians and Germans. Many people in the town spoke German so yippee we ´d be able to understand, okay Arjan would!! Come on in job if you didn’t understand German you couldn’t do the job fairly. Walking through town there are clear divides between the original local people and the new groups. The hotel we’re staying in has 24 up market rooms with silent air-conditioning, mini fridges, ensuite and TVs for 120,000 g or like us you can get one of the budget rooms for 60,000. These rooms have shared bathrooms, noisy aircon, nothing fancy, cells really but somewhere to sleep. It’s a good hotel and considering the good we’ve had lately the attached restaurant is great. But yes you guessed it loads of mozzies and flies, mostly hovering around the showers.... The bite marks are now competing with my freckles, and they’re numerous. After a few relaxing days walking around and sleeping we were hoping to get a bus to Santa Cruz in Bolivia without backtracking but the info we had was wrong so we had to back track to the capital and get the bus from there.
Tree_in_Fi..araguay.jpgTree_in_Fi..at_dusk.jpg
The journey though long at 22 hours was really nice and took in some of the Chaco scenery....

Posted by Rraven 15:00 Archived in Paraguay Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

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