Thursday, May 26, 2011

Chillin in Chile

Chile. Wow. It was quite evident that we had made it to this South American skiing snowboarding mecca. Even the desert folk had their boards out anxiously awaiting the nearing ski season.

This was in the Valle de la Luna near San Pedro de Atacama in northern Chile. The thing to do here is go on a walk through the valley and check out the caves. I am really not too sure about this. As we walked through here all the sedimentary rock was creaking and crumbling.... We got outta there fast.

But the formations from the erosion were pretty cool.

Enjoying the sunset...... Again.

I think a giant was buried by a really, really big landslide here.

Wine country!!!!

This is what Bolivian roads do to your suspension system.......Thank goodness for finding probably the only guy in all of Chile with a few old Vanagons in reasonable condition to pick parts from!!!

Santiago, Chile. 

A reminder of home..... They had us fooled for a minute.

Kumu is now rip roarin to go and we are stoked for the trip south into Patagonia! 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Shona is wasting away!!!!

After the roads we chose to take to get to Macchu Picchu, we figured we had enough of some of the gnalriest roads in the world and decided to head straight south from La Paz and skip the Death Road in Bolivia. We really wanted to avoid the rough stuff for a little bit.  It's not a huge cliff face with cars racing back and forth, but let me tell you it my body is still vibrating from the washboard affect!

In Challapata, we realized why all the gas stations had no gas. All the locals buy it up on the day the fuel truck arrives and sell it at a premium until the truck returns again the next week! The guy with the red hat was the gas station attendant who abandoned the station to take us to gasoline alley - the black market for gas with probably over 100 people selling overpriced gas!

An amazing sunset at 4000m in the desert.

After another day of driving we finally arrived at the Uyuni salt flats. Unfortunately, the edges were still covered with water from the rainy season. Many people braved driving through the saltwater to get directly onto the salt.......

But since we are driving a 27 year old vehicle, we opted to spare Kumu the pain of being exposed to the corrosive liquid and walked to the salt instead.

No more freezing feet!

Just a sidenote- this is what happens to an Olympian when they decide to travel from the tip of North America to the tip of South America in a van and are not in the gym 6 hours a day. They waste away to NOTHING!!!!!!!!

But she's still stoked to be here!

But I do have to admit, she's still pretty strong!

This is how we get our tablesalt!

From here, its on to Chile..... Pretty excited!!!!!!

After the roads we chose to take to get to Macchu Picchu, we figured
we had enough of some of the gnalriest roads in the world and decided
to head straight south from La Paz and skip the Death Road in Bolivia.
We really wanted to avoid the rough stuff for a little bit. It's not
a huge cliff face with cars racing back and forth, but let me tell you
it my body is still vibrating from the washboard affect!

Titicaca and Poopo, heh heh......

After our time at Macchu Picchu we decided it was time to head on to Bolivia and see what it had to offer; that is, after smoke screening a couple of cops that were trying to snag some cash from us..... again. I am beginning to lose count of how many times we have had to get creative and outsmart the corrupt coppers so that we can get away with our money still in our pockets.....

When we got to the border, we had Copacabana and the Lake in our sites. Unfortunately, the border was closed for vehicles, so we had to wait till they opened the gate. But that didn't stop the locals from crossing.

Or from importing (smuggling) certain goods. - Its just a gate.

Heh heh......

Shona really loves the Panoramic photo capturer on the camera! This was our spot for a few days of R+R on the lake.

Did you expect you'd see something different from the southern hemisphere at night?

From Copacabana (and for some reason I thought this was the same place as in the song) we took a ferry to the other side of the lake. This is what the ferry looked like.

Chattin' with the locals on the ferry ride.

From here we passed through the town of Poopo (heh heh). This part of the trip was quite unbelieveable as it was at 4000m with super strong UV rays during the day and seriously freezing temperatures at night. On our way to Uyuni we slept in the desert one night and the water in our water bottle froze INSIDE THE VAN!!!!!!!!!! Man, we are back in the cold!!  Next stop Salt Flats!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Macchu Picchu...Check!

Macchu Picchu was one of the few things that was actually on our list before we headed out on our big adventure. But at the time it seemed so far away. Fast-forward 8 and a half months and here we are. South eastern Peru heading towards one of the worlds biggest tourist attractions. But that doesn't mean they make it easy. Here is the picture story of our journey to the city of the Incas.

We started by driving from the city of Cuzco. It was a 7 hour drive to get to Santa Teresa. Check out the map page to get an idea of where we drove!

The highest pass we went over was a massive 4316 meters! 

The road gradually got gnarlier and gnarlier and the last 1 1/2 hours was spent billy goating our way up this crazy road to the pueblo of Santa Teresa. 

For a little insight into the road, check out this video. However it doesn't even do it justice to the sheer drop over the edge, where one wrong move would send us plummeting to our DEATHS!

Untitled from Shona Rubens on Vimeo.

At Santa Teresa we caught a cab ride 30 minutes up to a hydroelectric plant where we caught the last train of the day the final 8 kilometers to the town of Aguas Calientes. 

Aguas Calientes is a necessary stopover for everyone going to Macchu Picchu. Its overly touristy but still manages to retain a certain charm about its narrow cobblestone streets.

We booked a cheap 12$ hostel for two nights so we wouldn't feel rushed while visiting the ruins. Apparently we chose the cheapest... the one that included pets for free! This massive 'thing' joined us for the first night as well as about 6 nasty black spiders. After having a small extermination party, we fell into an uneasy sleep dreaming of huge scary insects... or at least I did.

Our alarm woke us at 4am and we quickly headed out the door to wait in line at the bottom of the hiking trail up to the ruins. We wanted to arrive at the entrance before the first busload which left Aguas at 5:30. The first 400 people into the park are allowed to climb Wayna Picchu, the mountain seen in most of the typical shots of Macchu Picchu. The trail opened at 5am, and it was a mad dash up the 1751 stone stairs to the entrance of the ruins to make it before the busses arrived at 5:55. We made it with our lungs burning and beat the crowd by a few minutes and we managed to have a few minutes with the ruins pretty much to ourselves. It was a incredibly magical moment and one I won't soon forget.

We were part of the lucky 400 who were allowed to climb Wayna Picchu and I celebrated at the top by scaring Andrew and posing on this jutting rock which has about a 500 foot drop below it!

We had a few moments like this. Sitting and staring in wonder at the scenery and the location of this old Incan city. It was more about the area than the ruins themselves. Looking out over towering mountains draped in lush forest greenery instilled a sense of awe and wonder and made me realize just why this is one of the worlds top attractions.

Climbing down the stairs of Wayna Picchu was not for the faint hearted! At the bottom of these perilous stairs was a sheer cliff face that dropped straight to the valley bottom!

Continue at your own risk!

The Macchu Picchu postcard picture, the one you all know and love. The mountain overlooking the ruins is Wayna Picchu. You can see the crazy stairs right up at the top!

Macchu Picchu has something for everyone, from the rich to the poor, to the hippiest of hippies bringing their spiritual magical rocks from all corners of the world.

After getting down from the ruins we enjoyed an adult beverage in the town square as the townspeople celebrated Mother's day. We enjoyed people watching and discovered my next year's sexy halloween costume: Inca Maid.

We opted out of taking the expensive train ride back to the Hydroelectic plant and walked the 8 kilometers instead along the train tracks. We only had to flee from the train once when we got caught in one of the tunnels... good thing we are in super shape and can out run trains!

Taking a break on the rails

All in all our Macchu Picchu experience was one to remember. It quickly became a highlight of our trip and anyone who gets a chance should definitely make it there one day (there are easier ways to get there than the road we took although more expensive!)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Vanessa Fun Day and Nasca Lines

For 8 and 1/2 months now we have been keeping our eye open for and
activity that would be worthy of Vanessa Day. Before we left, Andrew
promised his friend Vanessa that we would do something really great
and exciting in her honour. What we really wanted to do was to learn
Kite Boarding as that is one of Vanessa's favorite pass-times... but
apparently kite boarding is a little over our budget...
Finally we discovered the sand dunes at Huacachina and thought it
would be the perfect way to enjoy Vanessa Day. Huacachina is about
300kms south of Lima in pure desert. The cool thing to do is to go
sand boarding, and as this has been the first season ever for both of
us without hitting the ski slopes, we jumped at the chance! Even
though we didn't have skis, we thought we could still hack it with the
single planker.

Hiking up the dunes was a hot and sweaty affair, but we were confident
the ride down would be TOTALLY worth it.

It felt really strange to be holding a board wearing sneakers, shorts and a t-shirt!

The view of Huacachina from the top of the dunes... it was actually pretty steep!

Looking over the dunes toward the town of Ica... yes the white spots you see IS unfortunately garbage...

Road off into the desert wasteland

Andrew at the top, contemplating his line.

So to be honest... sandboarding was a little bit lame. Perhaps you can tell by the look on my face. After all that, it was impossible to turn and going straight you could only make it like 5km/h. Not exactly the adrenaline rush we had been looking forward to! It was only AFTER we returned the boards that some new friends we had met informed us that you actually need paraffin wax to make the boarding worthwhile... Ah well... Vanessa, we had good intentions for your day and even though it wasn't mind blasting, we still enjoyed our day in the sand!

From Huacachina we headed to the famous Nazca. Home to the Nazca lines.

We were too cheap to spend the money on a plane ride over the lines, which is the only real way to see the lines. The only other option is from this rather small viewing platform. You can just make out the lines in the desert. Im sure it would have been pretty neat from the air.

We travelled for a couple days with three friends from Germany. They were traveling in this old transformed German Army vehicle named Mops... although we dubbed it The Green Monster.

Enjoying a Gas station parking lot party with the germans

From there we headed back into the Andes and towards Cusco. Check back for that blog!