Archive for the ‘South America 2008’ Category
New spots, new guide, new luck!?
We try, the first dive site is supposed to be a very good site to spot white tips and hammerheads, the second to see Rays (eagle, golden and maybe manta).
After a semi-complicated start caused by the new girl that didn’t have enough weight and the DM loosing her, we start drifting. After a couple of minutes luck seems to be playing with us, the fists mini school of white tips is just there. We stop, hold on a rock and watch. With the time passing, they get more and more curious and start checking us out, very cool! Meanwhile, schools of fish and turtles keep on passing by. We start moving again, we still want to see the hammerheads. As the dive goes on we keep on seeing white tips and turtles but no hammerhead, after all luck didn’t totally play with us. 60 minutes into the dive we start the ascend, three more minutes of safety stop and then it happens, at 1 m depth there they are, two beautiful small hammerheads waiting for us. Amazing! With big smiles on our faces we surface and get ready for more.
After a short lunch break we go rays spotting, as we drop to the bottom it is immediately clear why this site is so good for rays, an immense plain full of huge garden eels extends in front of us. Garden eels are thin eels that live in vertical holes in the sand, when no predator (first of all eagle rays) is around they come out of their holes standing upright catching food. When a predator (or a diver) is getting too close they quickly retract into the safety of the hole. They live in big groups creating what looks like gardens, hence the name.
After just a couple of minutes we see the first medium sized eagle ray, but it is just an appetizer to what is to come, seconds later a group of 12 spotted eagle rays is effortlessly passing five meters in front of us. The sight is amazing, but what is even more impressive is the size of the rays spanning from 80 cm to 3 m of wingspan, massive and still the most elegant sight you can imagine. The school stays around for a good five minutes giving me the chance to take some good (I hope – remember my display is not working) video shots. We move around a bit just to find another school and enjoy the spectacle. Not enough, while I’m filming Sarah spots a hammerhead!
Definitely a good day and at 2pm we’re back in Puerto Ayora to rest and enjoy our memories.
Eagle ray video coming
Early day today, we meet at the dive shop at 7… we leave for Floreana, the southernmost of Galapagos Islands, about 30 nautical miles from Puerto Ayora. The trip there lastas about two hours and the ocean is fairly calm but it manages to knock down Ryan and Luca’s wife and to make Sarah focus on the horizon.
Once we get there the Capitan decides that (to help the seasick ones) we will first do the land visit. On the dock we meet huge marine iguanas, pelicans, sally footed crabs and sleepy sea lions. A short bus ride gets us to the visit site, first we go for a stroll to see where buccaneers used to live and hunt in the 17th century then we go to the giant land tortoises.
What to say about them… HUGE! Those things can live up to 150 years (rough data) and keep on growing until they are around 80. Well, you’ll ask what the secret to such longevity is, definitely take it easy!
Half more hour of navigation takes us to the first dive site: Champion. Here we are supposed to se white tips, seals and a lot of fish. The site is very nice; there is a “bit” of current but nothing dramatic. As expected we se sea lions and white tips and lots of fish. Unfortunately no big surprise coming from the blue but for this the second dive should be better.
After lunch we move to Enderby where big big things (I’m talking whale-sharkish here) could surprise us.
First we go after the weird looking batfish over a sandy bottom. For once that I’m not being the lowest one to follow what our guide said, the others saw it and we didn’t… oh well. Then we moved to the rocky reef where all the activity was. There we saw plenty of fish, an octopus, a school of jacks and we fought hard against the very strong current waiting for the big ones to pass by but we were unlucky again. Well, not really unlucky, the dives were really cool; we just do not seem to be meant to see hammerheads and whale sharks…
Yipiha..we are finally going diving!! With all the underwater advertising picture that we saw, we were more than ready to see school of hammerheads, whale sharks, turtles, penguins and all the rest. Apparently the place is one of the best to see what we really want to see: Hammerheads. We had the video camera of the dive shop with us, it was part of our deal for 130$ for two dives. The problem is that the housing screen is not working, so Marco will have to record without really knowing what he will point at. Will see… It was a short one hour ride from Puerto Ayora to the dive site. The current was stronger that we were used to. We had to grab the rocks to be able to stay at the same place for a while. During the first dive, I kind of see my first hammerhead but he was pretty far and disappeared fast. We saw lots of turtles sleeping at the bottom that we could admired from close.
The second dive is pretty much the same, thousands of fish everywhere. We hadn’t seen that anywhere else so far. It is really nice even though nothing big…BUT WHERE ARE THOSE SCHOOLS?
We stayed 4 days in Baños. The place wasnice (even though Vilcabamba had a better setting) and I would say with too many tourists around. We had great plans and hips of activities to choose from but my stomach didn’t let us enjoy the place as much as the rainy weather. So Marco decided to work night long on the website and between to “bathroom run”, we had time to rent a buggy to explore the waterfalls. The scenery was really stunning until it started raining…was funny anyway!
Otherwise, during our time in Banos, we managed to eat a RACLETTE! the first one after a year and a half thanks to the swiss bistrot that we discovered here! ! just deliiiiicious.
A two hour boat ride that brought us to Isla del Sol on the Titicaca lake was sooooo slow, that swimming would have been faster. Anyway the landscape was just amazing. The lake is dark blue and the islands are yellowish. Isla de Sol is supposed to be the beginning of the Inca religion because of a big rock where one can see ( with a lot of imagination) the face of THE god.
For the story, the boat drops you off on the south side of the island and catch you up on the north one, so that you can walk for a few hours and visit the place. We bought the entrance ticket for the museum and the ruins (south part) and then start walking to the north. Once in the middle of the island we were stopped by a nice old man asking for the ticket that allowed us to go to the north part ! well we had to buy a new one…A little bit further on the north side, this time a family asked for the north side ticket!? Are you kidding me? No,we needed a third ticket to simply walk through the island. Sometimes I really think that a $ is tattooed on tourists forehead!!!
The 3 days boat ride we did a few days earlier saved us about 18 hours of gravel road. Even though it was the budget of 2 days, we decided to take the plane, bringing us back to La Paz. As we arrived at the airport, we saw a bunch of cows grazing the landing area!! About 10 min before the first flight was supposed to land, they finally decide to move them outside the gate…
The flight in this small plane of 16 persons lasted 45 min (remember instead of 18 hours of bus..). Unfortunately the windows were really dirty and we only distinguished the majestic Andes. In La Paz we took a bus to Copacabana on the Titicaca lake side.
No picture for this post: just an explanation. After our 3 days in the desert, we headed to Potosi. The 6 hours ride by bus ( first experience with Bolivian bus) were just the worst…After the good no wonderful quality of service in Argentina, we ( I) were not prepared to THAT. -10°c inside by night. Apparently it is common not to have an heating system, because people are coming with one or two blankets when they take the bus. Well we didn’t know…..Oh MY GOD!!!my poor icy leg. For the record, that night we found the only backpacker hostel in whole Bolivia with ….a heater in the room and really warm shower!
Finally the bus company tells us that the Paso de Jama road (around 5300m) has been cleared from snow and that we can leave for Chile. The ride is magnificent, form Salta (around 1000m) it’s all up, we pass Jujuy, Pumamarca, Salinas Grande and finally after an incredible valley, get to the Argentinian border (4000m). From there the road keeps on climbing and we get into the highest part of the Atacama desert (the driest worldwide) where the Andean cordillera is mainly made of 6000m high volcanoes. As we start descending we are at 5300m, it’s the highest point of the whole trip and the headache we all have confirms it. A short ride down, some customs formalities and we’re in Chile.
San Pedro is a town like there are in every country: small, pretty and full of tourists. It is a pleasant place to stay and the fact that we’re there during the year’s biggest celebration makes everything even better. The day of San Pedro y Pablo is when all the local and neighboring communities converge to San Pedro to venerate the town protector with a parade of dance, music and alcohol (not necessary to mention that the night was short).
Well it was a long day on the road but just fantastic. The morning was meant to be a 50 km – 2 hours and a half of driving to a small village named Iruya so you can imagine the road conditions. Well we could have been on time if we hadn’t flat the tire about 10 km after the start. Mhhh- Mhhh. We kind of agreed to keep going with the spare tire. Apparently and according to the bus driver, in this small village, somebody is repairing tires…not sure but we will see. And the guy was right, so in 45 min and for …2 Swiss francs we had a brand new old tire! The village is a tranquil place with amazing surroundings with impressive colorful mountains. It really worthed the long ride. Back to Humahuaca, we continued to the famous “Quebrada de Humahuca” and the “Sierro de siete Colores” at Pumamarca. It is a marvel. Let you enjoy the pictures.
Unfortunately the train de las Nubes (of the clouds) isn’t working anymore, so instead we rented a Fiat punto for two days to follow part of the same way. That was an excellent idea. The road was amazing (even though really bumpy for our small old car). Mountains were colorful and cactus were shining under the sun. The first stop was under the third highest bridge in the world (4700m). Well, our breath was short…we were still not acclimatized to the altitude. Then we headed to “Salinas Grande” which is a salt flat of the small lake size. Pretty amazing. They extracted the salt here making small piles to let it dry out and the next step is on your table… .
We spend the night in Humahuaca, nice and quiet cobbled village.
After leaving Mendoza we got to San Agustin de Valle Fertil, a small village the is known among travelers only for being the starting point for trips to the Ischigualasto (moon valley) and Talampaya parks. Once we got to hostel we met Thierry, a Fribourgeois we had met in Malargüe coupple of days ago and a Spanish couple. We spent the evening eating asado (typical Argentinian BBQ), drinking wine and watching Argentina vs. Brasil for the world cup qualification.
In the morning we leave for our long day visiting the two geologically incredible parks (UNESCO . Our first stop is at Ischigualasto, one of the only places where a complete superior triassic sediment series is visible. As well, the oldest dinosaur fossil was found here. The nickname of the site is valley of the moon, and as you can see on the pictures it is a very good nickname.
The place was formed (or better said put in this state) during the formation of the Andes around 100 mio years ago when the Nazca plate and the South american plate collided and created a subduction zone. The old triassic (250 to 205 mio years ago) lake sediments where then pushed up in a 45° angle by the subducting Nazca plate forming the nowadays visible series.
Ischigualasto is an incredible landscape marked by different colors like red, green, orange, yellow and gray coming from the different mineral composition of the sediments. Furthermore, the seasonally torrential rainsand the high winds create an extreme erosion that contributes in shaping the moon-like landscape.
Talampaya is geologically similar to Ischigualasto (although the series visible here are from the inferior triassic) but geomorphologically the two parks have nothing in common. In Talalmpaya the main erosion was (and is) fluvial, resulting in a huge canyon. At the beginning of the canyon we see some rock arts that show how the locals ancestors hunted and farmed guanacos (the local llama). The further we get into the canyon the more spectacular it gets, high walls of about 200m with condors flying around and some vegetation at the bottom, very very cool! As well we experience the best echo ever, from a special spot (like a big u eroded into the wall) the canyon repeats full sentences up to four times.
Around six our driver drops us off at an intersection where a bus is supposed to pass by and take us to La Rioja and then to Salta. After two hours of waiting in the local store-restaurant-ticket office-bus stop house having some cheese and wine and counting 5 cars passing by, the bus arrives and we’re off to Salta.
6968 m, the highest point of the Americas, this is the Mt. Aconcagua, 3 hours SW of Mendoza. Of course, many people come here to conquer this giant, but not many do that in June (beginning of the southern hemisphere’s winter) and neither do we. Anyway, being so close to it we decide to go for a stroll at its foot.
The tree hours bus ride to Puente del Inca are awesome. We pass form beautiful wine country trough the magnificent pre-Andes and then up to over 3000m at Puente del Inca. Here some hot sulfur springs formed an awesome natural bridge where before a huge flood in the 40s a thermal hotel was found.
From there we start walking uphill for about an hour to reach the mirador (viewpoint) del Aconcagua. The mountain is a pretty impressive view although, being already at 4000 it didn’t seem soooo impossible (in fact, in summer it’s a “pretty accessible” climb – in about 10-15 days almost anybody can do it).
At the mirador we decide to continue a bit further to get to the Aconcagua national park entrance from where the actual climb starts. On the we we spot an hare and a 8 dogs… yep regular city dogs like anywhere in South america.
On the way back to Mendoza we see couple of condors and we enjoy the pre andine scenery in the sunset light.
So, here we are, the wine-country of mendoza. All the best argentinian wines come from her and of curse, we’re goin to taste as many as possible.
We dedicated the first and second day to visiting the lovely city, watching euro08 games, eating and drinking fine and working on the usual web project.
The last day we (Sarah, Me and Vincent – a swiss guy we met at the hostel) take a bus to the nearby town Maipu of where all the vineyards are. Once we get there we try to rent a bike but we decide that it is too expensive and that hitchhiking will do.
First stop the wine museum, unfortunately we get there 10 minutes to late and we have to wait after the lunch break so we decide to go and look for some food. The only thing nearby is the “Chateaux de la Griffouniere” a small wine house that prepares awesome empanadas. We buy a dozen empanadas, 2 bottles of wine and have a mini picnic. An our late we return to the museum (late again) and we get to join an already started visit. At the end we get to taste a generous glass of very good malbec. A short walk and some hitchhiking and we get to the next wine makers where a young pretty girl (Vincent is in love) shows us around and lets us taste four different wines. At the end we decide to buy one more bottle and sit down in the vineyards to debate some post modern philosophy issues…
Another hitchhike on the back of a truck and a small bus ride and we’re back in mendoza ready for some great spagetti alla carbonara!
For the French speaking people, the opening day of the “Las Lenas” ski resort was a live remake of the movie “Les bronzés font du ski”. That day was free for everybody so 14 buses of students from Mendoza showed up for this occasion with Mam and Dad outfits from the 70′s…sssoooo funny. Not to say the lifts are going pretty well with this decade. In other words, you could have been in Europe 30 years ago. No kidding. Our friend from Steamboat, Axel, who is working there in our “summer season” told us not to take one lift that is so old he find it dangerous.
We hadn’t our ski stuff with us so we composed with what we had. I ended up skiing in……jeans!!!!!Even the people in Fluo Killy suits were laughing.
San Raphael is the place where our friend from Steamboat Axel live the rest of the year and it is on the way to Las Leñas where we want to ski!!! and guess what! there is wineries around…founded by swiss people! we visited the “Suter” one. the difference between home and Argentina is that they produced is really big quantity..so it doesn’t have the charm of a small cave with a small production. Anyway the wine is good and…so cheap! a good bottle cost between 3 and 10 chf. Argentina is probably the only place in the world where you see backpackers drinking wine every night!
With the swiss national team playing that day, we thought that we could visit a small village nearby called colonia suiza and watch the match with swiss people because this place has been founded by two swiss French family (the mermod and the goys) about 3 generations ago.What a bad idea! To get there, we were supposed to take the bus…45min later and no bus we hitchhiked with success. The village really looked like a small Switzerland with little chalet and swiss flags all over the place but unfortunately the weather was not on our side! it was raining cats and dogs and as it was “only” 11 a.m everything was closed…A nice guys found us 30 min quasi in an hypothermic state in front of his chocolate shop and offered us the Argentine hospitality: mate in his shop. He told us that no more swiss were leaving there and …that they didn’t had cable TV!let’s go back to the hostel with the first bus! the hostel had a big flat screen television…(no comment on the result!)
We are in well-know Bariloche. The place is wonderful, we could be in Lausanne and it would be the same! lake and mountains in front. They just took OUR St-Bernard dogs as they were from argentina….pfffff!
El bolson is settled in a really nice place, surrounded by high mountains, unfortunately it is raining so we don’t really get the chance to visit this place. Only the small local “feria”, with a few hippies standing behind their stands and selling their own marmalade or wristband in order to survive…you know what i mean….
After the awesome days at el Chalten we decide to move a bit back north. Patagonia in winter is great but unfortunately in low (if not death) season and a lot of services are not available anymore. Our plan was to hit north on the Ruta 40 which winds trough the Andes up all the way to Bariloche. Unfortunately, the last company to cut down this service did it last week… everybody tells us to go back to Rio Gallego and from there to Bariloche… no way! So we look for alternatives and find a small company that runs a minibus across the country and not in a v shape down to the bottom of Patagonia and then up again… not bad, saves 8hours and 700 Km… Only thing they run the service 3 times a week… in summer :/ well we’re lucky, in winter it’s once a week and right now.
Beside the driver realizing that he forgot his license after 40 min and having to go back to get it, all goes smoothly… we get on the Atlantic coast by 10 right when Federer is playing at Roland Garros. We watch the game and 2 hours later are off to Saramiento, well almost. On the way we have a stop from 18 to 20.30 in Caleta Olivia where we plan to have dinner… Game: try to find an open restaurant before 8…
Finally at 00.30 we get to Saramiento… well not the paradise but we find an “hotel” (that’s what they claim to be) and fall asleep.
We stopped here to visit a petrified forest nearby. So after looking for an hour to find a coffee we hire a taxi to take us there. On the way we see a local kind of ostrich and once we get there we are really positively surprised, the town kind of turned us down but the landscape here is great. Weird colors, mountains made of sand and ashes, really slippery silt, a fox and petrified stems make it for a great little trip. The highlight are the petrified stems (buried in marine sediments 65mio years ago when the region was a flourishing lagoon full of dinosaurs) and now getting to the surface thanks to the action of water and wind erosion.
We spend the afternoon in a “cafe” writing blog entries and at 00.30 we’ll take of ti El Bolson near Bariloche.
it was an “only” a 4 hours drive to el chalten (hihaaaa)! there was even a “pee stop” in the middle of nowhere. Just a “panaderia” that we seemed to wake up! For the explanation, the sun rise around 9.30 a.m here so everything you do around this time is really early for the locals. Anyway it was really funny, among the customers..a cow and a guanaco ( it is like a lama/alpaca). At the same time, we discovered that guanacos could be domesticated. They are acting like dogs.
Marco’s note: “Remakably enough, on the panaderia window full of stickers the coolest one was “un cuore bianco-blu”… for the non hockey fans it’s a simbol for the hockey club ambri piotta… I wonder how many sportteams worldwide have their stickers 15000 Km from home ona a remote panaderias window…”
The arrival in el chalten is amazing: perfect weather with no clouds. The Fitz Roy range is majestic so we decided to go walking for a while after finding an hostel for the night. In the bible lonely, it was written that most of the town was closed during the low season but we didn’t expect some kind of total shut down. After an hour walking in this small town, we found one and it looked that we were the only tourist staying for the night!
One of the only stable (not getting smaller) glaciers in the world is the Perito Moreno glacier, that happens to be just an hour from where we lodge… (maybe that’s why we’re there…)
The other really cool thing about this glacier is that it ends in a lake and it continuously calves (blocks of ice breaks from the glacier into the water – it is how icebergs are born).
We get there really early (at 10.00 and it’s barely day) and so we are the first “tourists” (in “” bacause the real tourists get there by noon with guides etc…
The morning hours are really cool, I mean cold! And cool! Everything is quite and we can ear the ice crack and twist under it’s own weight and from time to time a big block falls into the lake, a real spectacle! (my geographer heart is going nuts )