Latin American logistics

November 25th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

A few people have asked about who we used for our Latin American trip, and what the itinerary was. For those now planning to go there, here’s the basic details.

  1. 2 nights in Santiago, Chile
  2. 5 nights/6 days around the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
  3. 3 nights in Quito, or surrounding area, Ecuador
  4. 3 nights in La Paz, Bolivia
  5. 3 nights in Amazon Rainforest, Bolivia
  6. 2 nights around Lake Titicaca
  7. 4 nights in Cusco
  8. 3 nights on Inca Trail
  9. 1 night in Cusco

The NZ company we used was Harbour City Travel, through Trish Brennan. HCT worked with Viva.

In each country there was a local company that would pick us up, do all the transfers, and give us the vouchers and details for the activities in each country.

In Chile the local company was CTS Turismo. They were good. No problems, and did a vineyard tour, a city tour and walked around some parks. Around all you want to do there.

In Ecuador it was Galacruises Expeditions. The cruise we went on was the Grand Odyssey which was superb. Highly recommended. The Quito tours were very good and we had the same guide for four days which was helpful. Recommended.

In Bolivia it was Transturin. For the first part of our stay they were very good, with the city tour and transfers. However I would not use them for the Lake Titicaca experience as they constantly ran late, and their pick up and drop offs point were not well thought out. From others we spoke to, they said it is better to do Lake Titicaca if going from Peru to Bolivia rather than vice-versa. For the Amazon we stayed in the Chalalan Eco-Lodge and that was very good – good guides, good food, and great location. Facilities very basic though.

In Peru it was Coltur and for the Inca Trail it was Pachamama Explorers. Pachamama Explorers were first class on the Inca Trail and guiding us around Machu Picchu. William was our guide- ask for him. Coltur started well, but did not cope with some changes needed due to illness, and we didn’t get consistent information from them.

All up we were away for 31 days. If doing it again I’d do it in the reverse order (Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador) as ending with Galpagos would be great and Lake Titicaca works better that way. We had to do it in that order as the Inca Trail was all booked up earlier in our trip. Was pretty exhausted at the end of it (now need a holiday to recover from the holiday) so with hindsight would have a couple more do nothing days. We only had one of those in 31 days (which became a large shopping day!). I’d also have a policy in future to make sure all hotel stays are for at least two nights as getting to a place late at night and leaving the next morning is not so much fun.

But overall an amazing trip, and a great way to see some of the highlights of Latin America.

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Red Riding Hood

November 20th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Had a very enjoyable Saturday night at the opening of Roger Hall’s latest (annual) pantomime at Circa. It was an enjoyable Wellington centric piss take of the old story, which was first published in 1697.

Gavin Rutherford plays the lead role of Grandma Hood with applomb. He is an old hand at playing these roles and his ability to ad lib adds to the humour – especially when he discovers the person he has picked out of the audience at random is also called Gavin.

Carrie Green plays her daughter, Dahlia Hood. Think of a red headed version of Paula Bennett and you’ll get the idea. Her and Grandma Hood are both keen on the same man – Sir Roger Bounder.

Bounder is the villain of the show, played by Patrick Davies. He wants to buy their homes and them turn Zealandia into a housing sub-division so their home values will increase and he makes a profit. The kids happily boo him everytime he is one stage.

Jane Waddell and Jonathan Morgan play Boris and Morris, and provide a lot of the comedic event. They’re ex MPs not on work schemes.

Simon Leary is Lance, the hero of the play – a DOC ranger. He of course wants to stop Sir Roger and win Red Riding Hood’s heart.

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Awhimai Fraser plays Red Riding Hood and excels in capturing her innocence.

Finally Tom Truss plays the wolf, who provides more humour than fear.

It’s a good cast, and a very funny script with lots of jokes for the adults – and many Wellington references.

Definitely a great play to take the kids to, or just to go to yourself if you want a couple of hours of laughs.

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Machu Picchu

November 17th, 2014 at 12:24 pm by David Farrar

The final full day of the month in Latin America was at Machu Picchu, after doing the Inca Trail. It’s a 15th century Inca settlement that was rediscovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911. It is the most intact Inca site existing today.

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The main part of Machu Picchu, as you enter.

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A view from below of the scores of terraces.

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Again, the quality of the construction is astonishing. They fit perfectly together.

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Up in the Temple of the Stars.

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Was amused that this little creature not just made its way into the Temple, but managed to get all the way up there. A few hundred years ago he or she may have ended up being worshipped as a god.

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It’s hard to get all the terraces into one photo.

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From near the guardhouse, you get this view of the main site plus see Huayna Picchu behind it. There is a narrow and steep trail which you can take up to the peak of Huayna Picchu.

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After going around the main site, we took this path to the Inca Bridge.

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Was rather glad not to actually go over the Inca Bridge. One slip, and ouch.

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You can see where the trail used to be on the far side of the bridge. It was a sort of back route into Machu Picchu, as a defence against invaders.

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Then we headed up to the Sun Gate, passing these llamas on the way.

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People enjoying the view from the Sun Gate.

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The view from the Sun Gate, which I also saw the previous day. Just after this it started to pour with rain, so we then headed back to the entry, and down into town.

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Then it was on the train back to Cusco.

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The train staff do am amusing dance routine, and also model clothing from Sol Alpaca. Makes the trip go faster.

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And on the way out we passed the entry point for the Inca Trail where I started four days earlier.

After that it was one final night in Cusco, and then four flights home to Lima, Santiago, Auckland and finally Wellington. All up 31 days in Latin America.

 

 

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Inca Trail Day 3

November 14th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

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Day 3 started off with a climb of course – but only 200 or so metres today.

 

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The campsite behind us as we leave.

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Another snow covered mountain top.

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A view of the valley beyond the pass.

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The trail than evens out.

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Lots of birds and butterflies on the trail.

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A zoom view of Aguas Calientes, the town near Machu Picchu, taken from the third mountain pass.

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Then we start a 1,000 metre descent. The steps are steep.

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These ruins are called Phuyupatamarca and they were only discovered in 1983.

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More downhill.

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And even more down!

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The sun has coloured these leafs purple.

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A view of the main valley which the trains come in on.

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Stairs up at Phuyupatamarca.

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Enjoying the view.

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There’s over 40 terraces here. It would have been a major agricultural site.

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Then down the stairs.

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Some llamas that have made it their home.

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A short walk to the final campsite. Most people camp here overnight, and trek to Machu Picchu on Day 4, but we only had a lunch stop here.

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Lunch as always was great – much better than normal tramping food.

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Then around a two hour trek towards our final destination.

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Steps heading up to the Sun Gate.

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Finally, we reach Intipunku, or the Sun Gate.

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The initial view of Machu Picchu and the road up to it.

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A close up of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate.

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Myself and William, my guide, at the Sun Gate.

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Then a final half hour trek down to Machu Picchu itself.

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Posing above Machu Picchu.

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Then headed down into Aguas Calientes, to meet up with the SO. It’s a cool little town with many good restaurants and shops plus these very relaxing hot pools. Was much nicer to spend the evening here, than in a tent!

Tomorrow is the final day of the holiday, being an exploration around Macchu Pichu.

 

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Inca Trail Day 2

November 14th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

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Up until the day before the Inca Trail, I just assumed that I was part of a large group doing the trail. But is turned out I was wrong, so I was a bit embarrassed that there was just me, a guide, a chef and four porters! The chef is on the right, and the porters on either side of me.

Basically you need the same number of support staff whether it is one person or half a dozen, as the weight is with the tents, the cooking gear and the food.

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This is the view from the campsite.

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Some pigs looking for food.

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And some new born chicks.

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Then it was time to get going up the hill.

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The track was not too steep at first.

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Around 80% of the trail is the original Inca Trail, built around 800 years ago.

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The morning has a vertical ascent of 1,200 metres from 3,000 to 4,200 metres. The first 800 metres is a combination of uphill and flat but the last 400 metres is just pure uphill – and almost all steps.

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One can see Dead Woman’s Pass at the top.

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Looking back down you can see the 1,200 metres ascended.

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Very happy to have made the pass. Normally take around four and a half hours to do, but I did it in around two and three quarter hours.

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The view down the other side. You then descend 600 metres to Pacamayo campsite.

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Had lunch at Pacamayo. The meals were better than in most restaurants!

Normally one stays the night here, but the porters suggested to the guide that as I was trekking so fast, that we could attempt to do the four day trek in 3 days. As that would get me back to the SO a day earlier, I was keen to try this.

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However did have a quick siesta after lunch.

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Then after lunch it was another 400 metre climb to the second pass.

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One can see the lunch campsite below.

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The steps are very uneven and can be challenging to go up, and even more so down.

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Near the top, a small lake, where deer sometimes drink,

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Then we got to the second pass, which you can see below me. Pretty tired as by this stage have done a total of 1,600 vertical metres ascent.

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Then another 400 metres descent down the other side.

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The steps going down, around 800 years old.

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This is Sayacmarca, which means ‘Inaccessible Town’.

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Then a relatively easy 150 metres climb up to where we camped for the night.

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And these alpacas were happily grazing outside my tent.

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Inca Trail Day 1

November 13th, 2014 at 4:30 pm by David Farrar

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The final part of the Latin America trip was doing the Inca Trail in Peru. It is a 46 km long route that goes over three mountain passes. This is the start a little way past Ollantaytambo. The elevation here is 2,600 metres.

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The track is initially quite flat.

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The Vilcanota River which goes through the entire valley.

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Then heading into the mountains, to be surrounded by the Andes.

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A flowering cactus.

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This is Patallaqta, a former Inca settlement which was destroyed by the Incas as they fought the Spanish. Because of this the Spanish never went more deeply into the mountains, and never discovered the other sites there.

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These are the Willkaraqay ruins, which is a former hill fort and shrine.

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A very tall and lonely tree on the trail.

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We climbed around 400 metres on the first day to 3,000 metres above sea level. The neighbouring peaks have a fair amount of snow.

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This is the tent I was sleeping in. We camped at Wayllapampa, which means grassy plain. It was my first time sleeping in a tent on a tramp for many years!

Crashed early as had to be up at 5.30 am the next morning for the longest day of the trek.

 

 

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Sacred Valley of the Incas

November 13th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Did a full day bus tour to the Sacred Valley of the Incas, or Urubamba Valley. Our guide very honestly told us that no one visited it when it was just called Urubamba Valley, so they renamed it Sacred Valley of the Incas and they ow get over 100,000 visitora a year through it :-)

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On the way out of Cusco we noticed the riot police near out hotel. It seems a demonstration was planned for later that day and they sometimes get out of hand.

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A view of the valley as we get close.

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An Inca agricultural terrace. These were used to grow potatoes and corn. The valley is very well suited for corn, and it grows very large there.

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A couple of birds at our lunch stop.

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The view from part of the way up the temple at Ollantaytambo.

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Note again the great architecture with each stone fitting the ones around it. Also they use male and female grooves to make them an even tighter fit.

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Some of these blocks weigh 80 tonnes or so and required 1,600 people to drag them up a 8 degree slope to the top of the temple.

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Me at the top.

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The following day went to a free (as part of your tour tickets) performance at a theatre demonstrating Peruvian costumes and songs.

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The show lasts a bit over an hour and is very entertaining.

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Cusco Day 1

November 12th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

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First full day in Cusco, we did a half day city tour. Cusco is the former capital of the Inca Empire and this building was almost opposite out hotel.

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The architecture is amazing. They fitted the blocks together perfectly.

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A painting showing the Milky Way Galaxy as a llama.

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The grounds of Qoricancha.

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Then went out of town a short way to Sacsayhuaman.

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Some tourists using the local rocks as a slide!

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The ruins stretch over a large area.

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And go underground.

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The Cusco Catholic Cathedral. It is actually three churches in one, and as usual the interior is an amazing sight of gold and pictures.

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The fountain in the Plaza de Armas.

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Another shot of the Plaza de Armas. IS surrounded by tourist attractions and also some excellent restaurants.

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Qoricancha from the front.

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A typical side street in Cusco.

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A huge collection of melted candles at the Inka Grill.

 

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Puno to Cusco

November 11th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

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The view from the hotel at Puno. Sadaly we got there late at night and had to leave early the next morning, so didn’t spend much time there. In future would make sure we had at least two nights there.

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I had been dreading this part of the trip for several days as generally I hate bus travel, and spending an entire day on a bus can be a form of torture. But this bus was excellent, and I had a great time.

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First of all the seats were wide and comfy. You could use the foot rest and recline the seat to be more comfortable than most planes. They had a detachable tray you could work or eat on, and had free wireless on board the bus. Plus it was a double decker and we were upstairs which was great for photos and views.

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We were travelling on the 2nd of November which is the Day of the Dead in much of Latin America. Every cemetery we went past was full of family members who spend the day with their dead relatives.

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We had lunch at this very nice restaurant, with great views.

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Many houses in Peru have bulls on their roof as a symbol of good luck and fertility.

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The church of San Pedro Apostol de Andahuaylillas, built by Jesuits in the 16th century

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You could not take photos inside some of the church, but it has stunning artworks – is known as the Sistine Chapel of Latin America.

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One photo from inside.

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As in other places, they even do advertising on the hillsides.

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Remains of the Temple of Wiracocha which was a large Inca structure surrounded by a 4 km long wall.

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The Incas were good at building in straight lines.

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Lake Titicaca Day 2

November 6th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

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On Day 2 we sailed South and landed near Yumani.

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A fairly steep climb up the hill. We are close to 4,000 metres above sea level (Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world) so was hard going.

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This structure pre-dates the Incas, and is thought to be 3,000 years old.

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This is some of the inside of this 3,000 year old structure. The island was only opened to the public around 35 years ago and previously it was used to hold political prisoners – some of whom lived in here.

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These two Bolivian girls were on the cruise and bus with us. The story behind this photo is they are showing off their new sunhats, which they purchased  after they got a bit burnt yesterday. They had exclaimed how they would struggle getting boyfriends due to their sunburn. An Australian commented he didn’t think they had to worry much :-)

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A great view from on top.

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One alpaca.

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And another.

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This garden is a display of all the traditional plants and vegetables and what they were used for.

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We had morning tea here with this view.

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Then went around a museum – saw a large display of crops they use.

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Traditional inca costume.

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Another costume – to represent a Morenada.

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Had a brief cruise on this traditional sailing ship. A scientist has a theory that the Pacific Islands were colonised by Latin Americans sailing on ships like this.

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Then we headed by bus up to Puno, which is also on the shores of Lake Titicaca, but in Peru. This is the no mans zone between Bolivia and Peru.

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And now we are in Peru, the last country of our trip.

 

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Lake Titicaca Day 1

November 6th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

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After a very brief stay back in La Paz, we headed by bus up to Lake Titicaca for a couple of days. The road out of La Paz was quite congested.

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This is the foreshore of Copacabana, which looked like an English seaside resort with all the recreational devices.

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The Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana which was another incredibly beautiful Catholic church. Most don’t allows photos inside, which is a pity as they are stunning.

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Two dogs using a prank bench as shelter.

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An entire street that sells basically nothing but popcorn.

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Instead of Coca Cole, they have Inca Kola. At first I thought it was a rip off of Coke, but it turns out to be produced by Coke. Tastes like Mellow Yellow.

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Some cool architecture.

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A view of Copacabana from the Lake.

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We went to Challapampa in the north of the Isla del Sol or Island of the Sun. This is regarded as the birthplace of the Inca Empire. We then got transferred by rowing boat to a shore.

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This is where we landed.

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We then saw this 800 year old Inca structure.

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Then a walk of a couple of kms back to the town.

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Lots of donkeys on the island.

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Challapampa.

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This pig is tied up down at the beach. I hope for his sake, this is high tide, not low tide.

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Amused by this house. You wouldn’t want to walk out the second floor doors in a hurry!

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Popped into a local house, and they had this guinea pig pen, which is of course for dinner that night.

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The catamaran we were on, which includes an overnight stay on it.

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Amazon Day 4

November 5th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

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Day 4 was mainly travelling by boat back to civilisation.

In some areas the rainforest is way above the river level.

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Some black vultures.

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We got up at 5.45 am for an early breakfast and trek out to the river and return boat trip to Rur.
Saw this family of six capybaras as we went downstream. Note the bird riding on the back.

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They have just had a Presidential election and the candidates don’t just do hoardings but have their messages spray painted everywhere – including on the sides of rivers!

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Only three hours going down stream so we got to Rurrenabaque around 10.30 am.

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This is the gate at the airport!

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Our plane landing at the airport. A lot bigger than the one we came in on – 50 seats compared to 19.

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Then back at La Paz, we went out again to Hallwrights, which as you can see is a very nice wine and tapas bar.

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This Bolivian wine was very drinkable. Keen to try and buy some more.

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And the meat and cheese selection we had.

A very comfortable end to four days in the Amazon.

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Amazon Day 3

November 4th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

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This snake was next to the path to our hut. I didn’t even notice it but then suddenly behind me, the SO screamed.  I turned around wondering what it was, not thinking it was necessarily anything nasty, as I’d learnt a scream can mean anything from mild surprise to major shock. Well as it happened there was a two metre snake scuttling off the path, but also coiled up, with its head in the air.  I agree that definitely merited a scream!

We saw four snakes in total during our time there. This is the only one we managed to get much of a photo of.

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The previous night we went out on the lake at night and looked for Caimans with our flashlights. Their eyes reflect the light from hundreds of metres away. We saw a couple of dozen, such as this. Most of them relatively small, but some can get to four metres.

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The official sign for Chalalan at the river.

It was a very interesting place to stay, and I enjoyed experiencing the Amazon. It is worth nothing that the facilities are, as expected, basic. There is no power at all, except some lights and a power lug from 6.30 pm to 10 pm from solar panels. No fans in rooms. No communications. The shower is not heated (but the water is moderately warm).

I wouldn’t let that put you off. Just to be aware of what your expectations are.

The guiding was great, and the food also very good. And it wasn’t as hot as I thought it would be, due to our time of year.

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This is Kermit. He decided to move into our hut.

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The inside of the hut.

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We went out for a three hour way in the morning, and saw another deer.

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Part of the trail. At times it could look like NZ rainforest.

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Not sure what this was!

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Trying out my climbing skills!

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An interesting looking bug.

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A butterfly that landed on Fabian’s shoe. Fabian is a Swiss meteorologist who was there for the same time as us. We were lucky that the three of us had a guide to ourselves. In fact we were the only three people in camp the first night. But a dozen Americans turned up the second day.

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These berries were delicious. Most you were told not to eat, but these ones were okay and superb.

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Another butterfly!

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Not sure which bird this came from.

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I love these natural spikes on a tree, designed to stop them being climbed. Of course, the monkeys swing onto them from other trees.

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More of the trail.

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Not sure what type of plant or fruit this was, hanging down.

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An unusually shaped tree.

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On the way back, some of the locals were dragging a new canoe along the two kilometre trail from the river to the lake.

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This squirrel monkey doing gymnastics for us.
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In the afternoon we went down river around six kms.

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A small farm was there, including pineapple trees.

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Those shapes hanging down are nests. Not only do they have eggs in there, the birds can fly in and out of them also.

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An agouti.

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A mango tree.

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An unusually coloured bird. Not yet identified it.

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This is the Santa Rose lake, which is much larger than Chalalan. They are the only two lakes in the area.

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We then went fishing for piranhas in the lake. The only thing that went wrong is I fell into the lake off the log, while casting my line. It is bad enough falling into a lake, but worse when you are deliberately trying to attract piranhas.

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Some monkeys turned up to shake fruit down on us as we fished.

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A total of seven piranhas were caught. This is our guide, Obi.

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You can see here the teeth in the piranha. That is why they can be a menace to humans.

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And we had the piranhas for dinner that night. They tasted really really nice.

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Amazon Day 2

November 3rd, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

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As we were walking out of breakfast, a staffer told us to come over to the bush and nervously lurking in there was this small deer.

We were told that normally it is very rare to see the deer. We had luck with us as we saw deer on three occasions.

Unlike the Galapagos where the wildlife just ignores the humans, in the Amazon they are skittish (due to hunting in times past) and most of the photos are taken at a distance.

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We then went off for a four hour walk through the rainforest to look at flora and fauna and the rest.

These are poisonous 24 hour ants. Large and nasty. The 24 hours refers to time the pain from a sting lasts. The pain from a sting is rated equal to being shot and you have waves of burning, throbbing all-consuming pain.

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The remains of a wild pig, killed by a jaguar.

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A butterfly almost camouflaged on a tree.

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The River Tuichi.

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Most of the Amazon is green, but you get a fair bit of colour.

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A brown capuchin monkey.

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Two capuchins fighting.

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Another butterfly.

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Our hut. The hammock is superb – much more comfortable than NZ ones, and great for relaxing and reading.

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This is me having a swim in the Chalalan Lake. I was somewhat nervous about doing so as around the sides of the lake, are several dozen Caimans. The guide assured me that they don’t tend to come out during the day, but it is fair to say I was somewhat nervous while in the water.

Was worth it though. It was very hot during the day, and cooling off in the lake was very refreshing.

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This is a view of Lake Chalalan from a lookout on the far side of the lake. We canoed over to it, and around a half hour climb to the lookout.

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My GF told me not to move as there was something on my hat. I froze, wondering if it was a tarantula, or some other nasty beast. It turned out to be this butterfly she wanted a photo of. I suggested next time she tells me why I am freezing :-)

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A red macaw way up in the tree.

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A reflection of the trees in the lake.

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A couple of cormorants.

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A Caiman, which despite what I was told, was out during the day!

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I spotted this frog on the path which was quite hard to do as it blends in so well.

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These are Walking Palms, and are all over the place. They look like the roots grow up, instead of down.  I suggested they could be the long lost Entwives!

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We ran into another wild pig.

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A couple of red howler monkeys enjoying a rest. You can hear their howls from around 4 kms away.

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Almost all the food in the lodge is local, and prepared by local villagers. In fact the lodge is owned and operated by the local village. Villagers take turns of three months each working at the lodge, and then return to the nearby village.

 

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Amazon Day 1

October 31st, 2014 at 1:53 pm by David Farrar

After two days in La Paz, we got up at 4.15 am to make a 6.30 am flight to Rurrenabaque.

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This is the airport we landed at. Not so much an airport as a strip.

So why did we fly to Rurrenabaque? Because it is the gateway to the Madidi National Park in the Amazon Rainforest.

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We then headed by boat up the Beni River.

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Had to check in at the National Park Service, and then continued up the Beni River, followed by the Tuichi River.

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The boat trip was 100 kms in distance and took around five and a half hours.

This boat (not ours) got stuck, and you can see the guide trying to haul it out. There were many areas where it was very shallow and the engine had to come out of the water.

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A flock of Cormorants.

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Heading further upstream.

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Three Capabanas. They’re the world’s largest rodent! Surprisingly cute.

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Some tourists rafting down the river in a canoe.

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We then arrived at the entry to Chalalan Eco-Lodge.

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It’s a half hour walk into the lodge.

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The lodge is next to Lake Chalalan, which is both beautiful, but also attracts a lot of wildlife.

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This is a pair of Hoatzins. Stunning birds. They are the most genetically debated bird, with huge controversy over their taxonomy.

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Another photo as I like the so much.

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As we were hiking to the camp, our guide stopped us and told us there were some wild pigs nearby he could hear. We got nervous as they got closer and closer as the noise they were making had us thinking of something from Footrot Flats. Was relieved when we saw they were relatively small. However they are quite wild and can be nasty.

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A yellow squirrel monkey. There’s quite a few of them down by the lagoon.

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A termite nest on the tree by the river. They have them off the ground due to the Aardvarks!

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A brown capuchin monkey.

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A Cormorant out on the lake.

 

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La Paz

October 29th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Landed at La Paz, Bolivia at 3 am so did little the first day except sleep, and a walk around the neighbourhood.

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We’re staying in the diplomatic area. This is the nearby US Embassy.

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Even in Bolivia, zombie movies are the rage.

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A statue of Charlie Chaplin. He is credited with inspiring the introduction of the bowler hat to the Quechua women in Bolivia.

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Thanks to Trip Advisor, found an excellent tapas wine bar.

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The next day we did a half day tour of La Paz. It is truly a mountain city. At the top you are above 4,000 metres.

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They have built almost everywhere/

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We were very lucky that this gondola opened just a few weeks ago. A great way to get around, and to get to the top.

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One of their many football grounds. La Paz is the only FIFA approved ground in the world over 2,500 metres. There was a lot of lobbying to have it approved.

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A Quechuan in native dress.

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Did a quick our around Moon Valley.

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Love this clay structure which looks like some sort of lizard.

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This peak is called Devil’s Tooth.

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Also toured a local craftsman where we purchased the mugs above, and some jewelry.

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The frotn flag is the flag of Bolivia and the more colourful one behind is the indigenous flag.

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This is their Parliament Buildings.

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Looks closely at the clock, to notice anything different.

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The Presidential Palace, with a guard outside. We got to see the changing of the guard.

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This is the main plaza by Parliament.

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Thousands of pigeons here and if you have food for them, they are not shy.

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Saw two women (trying to) walk this dog. He is a puppy – only a year old!

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Finally a visit to the Witches’ Market.

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That would be such a cool ski hat!

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The market had a variety of, umm, interesting artifacts.

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This is the Andean Santa Claus. Love it.

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some beautiful architecture on the walk home.

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Am amusement fair in the local park.

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And one of many statues and small parks in La Paz. This is two blocks from our hotel – the Hotel Mitru, which was very good except for the noise from the night club across the road!

 

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Otavalo

October 28th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

After Quito, we headed North for a day a a night to visit Otavalo. It is a mainly indigenous city of 90,000.

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On the way we noticed this intimidating wall with not just barbed wire, but also spikes. We wondered if it was a prison. It turned out it was a school. We asked if the spikes are to keep the students in, or strangers out. It seems that the school is a prestige girls’ school, and the spikes are to keep the boys out. From time to time a few have made it in. I’m just glad the security at Erskine College in Wellington wasn’t like this :-)

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Possibly the largest retaining wall I have seen, to protect the main road from landslides.

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The view coming into Otavalo.

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Otavalo is famous for its markets. We spent a couple of hours at them bargaining away for various artworks, belts, bags, scarves and jewelry.

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A short drive from the city, is a lovely park and camping area.

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This is the Peguche Waterfall.

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Our accommodation for the night was at the Las Palmeras Inn, where you get your own bungalow.

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With a nice fireplace inside.

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This was the dining hall.

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And rather amusing was this sculpture on the roof. It is amusing because guinea pigs are a delicacy in Ecuador, and the dining room was known as the guinea pig room. I guess the angel was taking its soul to guinea pig heaven!

 

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Quito

October 26th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

We had two nights and a day in Quito. I’d never even heard of the city until we started planning the trip, but so glad we came here, as it is one of the most beautiful cities around. It is also the highest capital city in the world, at 2,800 metres above sea level. They city has a population of 2.7 million and is narrow and long – 8 kms wide but 60 kms long.

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Our hotel was a small but lovely boutique hotel called Boutique Portal de Cantuna. The rooms are quite small but the common areas are beautiful.

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The 1st floor conservatory.

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This is the Church and Monastery of St. Francis and the Plaza de San Francisco. Our hotel is 20 metres from it, and wonderfully central. The church was constructed between 1534 and 1680.

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The amount of gold in the church was staggering – but not as much as another church we went into.

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This is the Plaza de la Independencia or Independence Plaza. It is the heart of the old city. On one side is the presidential palace, another the cathedral, the third is the city hall and the fourth is the old Archbishop’s Palace.

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This French designed monument was unveiled in 1906 as a symbol of independence.

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The Cathedral of Quito.

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We also went into the Church of the Society of Jesus. You can’t take photos inside, but this photo of a jigsaw of the interior gives you an idea of what it looks like. Possibly the most magnificent church I’ve been in apart from the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome.

Quito has 27 churches just in the old city. There is almost one on every corner.

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The streets are quite steep!

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Finally on the church front we went to the imposing Basílica del Voto Nacional.

The basilica remains technically unfinished as local legend is that when the Basílica is completed, the end of the world will come.

Incidentally a huge proportion of properties in Ecuador are unfinished with the start of an extra floor on the roof, or painting not completed. This is because you pay more tax on your property to the Government when your home is complete, so many simply never finish their home! Shows how people respond to incentives!

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A state of Juan Pablo II outside, known elsewhere as John Paul II.

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The interior from the 2nd floor view.

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One can take a number of staircases up to the sanctuary and tower. A total of 211 steps and the final climb is on a narrow exterior near vertical ladder. You are as high up as the clock towers.

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A view of some of the city from the top. Note the structure you can see at the top of the hill on the right.

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That structure is a 45 metre tall stature of the Virgin Mary, or Madonna. It can be seen from miles away.

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A view from the hill, El Panecillo, which the statue is on.

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We then headed north, where we had lunch. I ordered corn and cheese, not realising rather than a dish, it would simply be a cob of corn and a slice of cheese!

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Then we went to the Museo Etnográfico Mitad del Mundo, which is a museum at the Middle of the World, on the equator. This monument is on the actual equator – not to be confused with the larger one which is 240 metres north of the equator.

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Your shadow here is much shorter than anywhere else.

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We then headed back to Quito and dined at this rooftop restaurant – Vista Hermosa Cafe Mirador Restaurant. Good food and stunning views. Our guide recommended it, and glad we took his advice.

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A photo of the San Francisco Church at night, as we headed home.

 

 

 

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Galapagos Day 6

October 25th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

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Our last day in the Galapagos, and a rainbow as we arrive at San Cristobal Island. We were meant to fly out just after lunch, so were not expecting to see much today.

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However the place we went to was packed full of breeding birds and sea lions. Here you can see a new born booby under their father or mother (they take turns)

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Here you see Mum, Dad and two chicks.

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And a close up of the two chicks.

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Just five metres from the boobies, were scores of sea lions and cubs.

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The cub on the left having a feed.

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And some play fighting.

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We then headed into the main town, which is also the political capital.

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Had to laugh at this. This was designed as a slide for children into the lagoon, but the sea lions colonised it.

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And they have taken over this bus shelter also.

Now we were meant to leave around now, but our flight was delayed by three hours so a guide took us to a local beach.

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There we saw two iguanas having a fight for domination. They butted heads constantly for ten minutes or so.

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A sea lion cub born that day.

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And this cub is just a couple of hours old.

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I love this shot – people sub bathing at the beach, along with a few dozen sea lions.

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You can see how close you get to them.

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They are quite large, as you can see.

After that we headed to the airport which was five minutes away and flew back to Quito.

Was an amazing six days. Photos can’t do it justice. The variety, the quantity and the closeness of the bird, land and sea life was amazing. The Galapagos have a place in our history helping Darwin On The Origin Of Species, which is the cornerstone of evolution today. But even 185 years on, it is still a unique and incredible place to visit.

 

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Galapagos Day 5

October 25th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

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On Day 5 we sailed around Isabela over to Santiago Island where we did our first wet landing from the zodiacs.

Spent around 90 minutes walking around, including through this area which looked like a movie set.

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We then got this view from higher up.

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Back down below, this is a lagoon during the wet season.

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This is where a sea turtle has dug a hole to lay her 100 to 120 eggs. Once she has laid them she takes off, and they are left to the warm sand to hatch them after 90 days.

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Had a nice walk along the beach, and then went swimming for a while. I had a pelican fishing just three metres from me in the sea.

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Lots of Ghost Crabs around. I love how they scuttle sideways.

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A Galapagos Whimbrel enjoying the sea

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This Galapagos Hawk landed in a tree next to us and stayed there for an hour or so, despite us being metres from it.

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After lunch we went to a different bay and this is where we landed. I love the sea lion, iguana and crabs all in the same picture.

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These sea lions are in a pre-mating ritual. He seems keener than her.

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This picture is from just two metres away. This is the amazing thing in the Galapagos – the birds allow you to get so close.

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A Yellow Crowned Heron.

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American Oystercatchers.

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A Plover

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We saw some fur sea lions also but this is a Galapagos Sea Lion cub.

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I wanted to take him home!

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And a newly born cub feeding off Mum.

After this we went snorkelling again. I saw two white tipped sharks, and also got accidentally (well I think it was an accident) rammed by a large marine iguana.

When I got back on shore after seeing the sharks, I noticed my knee was bleeding from where I had been thrown against some rocks. In hindsight following sharks while bleeding may not have been the best idea!

 

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Galapagos Day 4

October 24th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

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On Day 4 we went to Fernandina Island which is the only major island with no introduced species. This Great Blue Heron greeted us as we came ashore.

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The marine iguanas and sea lions sunbathe next to each other.

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On this island are 250,000 marine iguanas. It is basically their island. They are everywhere  and you have to be careful not to stand on one.

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This is the current alpha male sea lion. He spent quite a bit of time bellowing at us. If you bellowed back he might take it as a challenge and attack.

The alpha male doesn’t eat while he is the alpha, as he spends his time protecting the territory. Hence on average they last only 20 days in the job until they get defeated by someone else.

However not all bad, as once defeated they go to a separate island with all the bachelor males, and single females and enjoy themselves there.

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Cute – a baby iguana looking out on top of an adult.

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The rare Flightless Cormorant. This is their nesting area.

These birds can’t fly but they have adapted as they can dive up to 25 metres under thewater to hunt fish.

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More marine iguanas.

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A lava lizard.

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A baby Flightless Cormorant under his or her mother.

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An Iguana swimming in the water. The next day when I was snorkeling I had one swim into me!

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They look like they are posing for a rugby photo!

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These two baby sea lion cubs playing in a rock pool.

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The Galapagos Hawk, up a tree some distance away.

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We did three water activities today, after the walk. Two lots of snorkeling, and also went kayaking. This is a couple of our shipmates.

The snorkeling was great – in the morning we got to swim with some very playful sea lions. We are told to go no closer than six feet, but no one told the sea lions that. They hovered all around us and followed us for ages.

In the afternoon snorkel, we had some penguins swim past us, barely a metre away. Also a great experience.

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Got this photo of the pelican while out kayaking.

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We then headed up top to go whale watching. No whales, but some rays doing jumps and flips, and lots of sea lions and turtles.

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The sun setting.

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And we crossed the equator from South to North at 7.16 pm, as you can see from this GPS on the Bridge.

 

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Galapagos Day 3

October 24th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

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On Day 3 we sailed to the West of Isla Isabela and went ashore at Punta Moreno.

It is lava basically everwhere.

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A cactus in the lava.

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And slowly life is returning, including this flower.

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Some of the lava. This type is almost in sheets.

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While in other areas it is very rocky.

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Growing in the lava is of course a lava cactus.

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And a Galaneau living in a lava tube.

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And who would have thought, but a family of six flamingos have settled in the middle of the lava, in a little lake that has formed there.

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A close up of a pink flamingo.

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A lava lizard.

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Out on the rocks, the penguins and iguanas happily share.

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A blue footed boobie giving us the stare.

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While in the zodiac, we had some bottled nosed dolphins turn up!

It is quite rare to see them, so we were lucky.

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This pelican guarding his rock.

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This time penguins and crabs on the same rock.

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In the afternoon we did a zodiac (they call them pungas) trip through the mangroves.

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Love these trees.

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A Great Blue Heron.

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That is a sea turtle underneath the water.

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A pelican flying alongside us.

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And back to the boat.

We also did snorkeling in the late morning and that was incredible. I shot some underwater video but don’t have the cord with me to transfer the files. But masses of fish, and a couple of dozen giant sea turtles. Getting to swim alongside or above a majestic sea turtle was so cool.

 

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Galapagos Day 2

October 23rd, 2014 at 4:30 pm by David Farrar

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We moved overnight to Isla Isabela.

The second day was amazing in terms of what we saw, in just the one day.  It started with a zodiac ride out to the White Tipped Reef Shark Canal. On the way there we saw out first sighting of the Blue Footed Booby.

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Waiting for us on shore was a Sally Lightfoot Crab.

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And also on shore were lots of marine iguanas. This one has a young one on its back.

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Down in the water were the white tipped reef sharks.

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A beautiful brown pelican.

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An American Oyster Catcher.

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You may have to look twice here to see the dozens of iguanas!

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This sea lion gave birth not long ago to her cub.

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As we walked back along the beach, the iguanas were everywhere. You had to literally step to get around them.

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Then after lunch we headed back into the main settlement. This sea lion had decided one of the boats makes a good sleeping spot.

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While this sea lion caught a fish.

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We then did a two hour return trek up the Sierra Negra Volcano. The view at the top was fantastic. We were very lucky to manage to do it on a day with no clouds up there.

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The crater (which is active) is 7 kms long and 11 kms wide.

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A typical landscape on Isabela.

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Back at the waterfront, a pelican at home on a roof.

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Some Galapagos Penguins swimming.

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An Eagle Ray under the water.

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This photo is from an amazing scene which lasted 20 minutes or so. A school of fish came into the waterfront area, and the boobies were dive bombing the area like kamikaze pilots. They fly straight down into the water, and can descend to five metres below, to try and catch a fish, and bring it up. They can even steer and swim under there.

Seeing dozens of boobies dive bombing nearly non-stop was amazing.

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Then we went to the lagoons and saw a pink Greater Flamingo.

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After that we went to the second of the three land tortoise breeding centres where we saw Grant Robertson, Andrew Little and David Parker, with David Cunliffe heading off in the background.

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Some of the smaller tortoises all bunched up together, and even walking over each other.

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A Galapagos Yellow Warbler.

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This is a two month old baby tortoise. You can see how vulnerable they would be in the wild to predators.

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A Great Frigatebird overhead.

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We then had a spare hour in the town, with this lovely beach.

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The iguanas are not just on the isolated islands, but these two were just sunbathing in town.

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This sea lion enjoying the park bench.

We saw an incredible variety of creatures, and all in just one day.  Apart from the density and variety of them, what is perhaps unique is how unafraid of humans they are.  Nothing runs away from you – to the contrary many of them come over to you to show off.

 

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Galapagos Day 1

October 23rd, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

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This is Baltra Airport on Isla Baltra, which is the main airport into the Galapagos. Flew from Santiago to Quito the night before, got into out hotel at Quito around 10 pm and had to be up at 3 am to get back to the airport for an early morning flight to Baltra.

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We then took a bus, ferry and another bus (around an hour all up) to the Charles Darwin Station on Isla Santa Cruz. This is the biggest settlement on the Galapagos. We then went out to our catamaran, the Grand Odyssey. The rooms are huge – 25 square metres, and you get a panoramic view from the windows.

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Up on the top deck are two spa pools, a number of double sun beds and a bar.

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Then after lunch we went to the breeding centre for young land tortoises. Here you can see a baby tortoise, not much bigger than the shoots.

Due to introduced species, only 1% of tortoises in the wild make it to 25 (when they can reproduce). 80% die before they are eight years olds. The breeding centres protect them until they are eight, when their carapaces are hard enough to protect them more.

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They have a few older tortoises here also, including Lonesome George who was the last of his species and died just two years ago in 2012. It wasn’t all bad for George though as he shared his enclosure with two female tortoises from another species. They tried to mate them, but there were no eggs before he died. However the female tortoises can store his sperm for up to three years so if one of them gives birth in the next year, his species may partially live on.

This is a saddleback tortoise above.

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A larger male land dome shape tortoise.

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They also breed land iguanas here, to help boost their population. The marine iguanas are plentiful, but not so much the land ones.

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This fatter one looks very happy and content. However they are kept in separate enclosures as they can get aggressive and fight.

 

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DPF out of touch

October 18th, 2014 at 12:16 pm by David Farrar

For the next five days I am in an area with no cellphone coverage and no Internet coverage.  Hence I will be uncontactable, for anyone wanting to contact me.

This also means I will not be blogging obviously!

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