April 25, 2012

Greek Busts, Peacocks, & Semana Santa

We spent the last week of our trip in Huaraz, Peru. Our visit to the Cordillera Blanca (white mountains) coincided with Semana Santa (Holy Week). Parades marched through the streets with full brass bands in tow to set the pace. Women wafted urns of burning incense while the men took turns bearing the heavy load of the altar pieces as a demonstration of their piety. The altars were made of wood and carried by ten men who stumbled methodically down the rough streets, just as Jesus would have done when he bore the cross. The Easter morning processions which began at different points throughout town united in the Plaza de Armas for the commencement ceremony. One of the altars was a giant hand painted globe which cracked open. Jesus emerged from the center of the globe amidst the flapping of pigeons escaping confinement and a cloud of fuchsia smoke. It was at that moment that the German girl standing by my side asked me if the word kitsch exists in English. "Yes, it most certainly does."

Alas, despite our disinterest in Lima, it was inevitable that we would spend at least one day wandering its streets. Taking an overnight bus which left at 10:30 pm, arriving in Lima at 5 am. Snagging a fellow gringo who was traveling alone, we figured out how to walk to Lima's Plaza de Armas from the central district. Warding off baffled taxi drivers who understandingly did not comprehend these three heavily loaded gringos who were bound and determined to save a buck (even at pre-dawn), we set off in the prescribed direction. Our search proved to be relatively. simple and fruitful because thirty minutes later the empty plaza came into view. Relaxing on a marble bench, the three of us shared cookies and fruit, swapping stories and enjoying the sunrise.

Lima's Plaza de Armas

Grimy from our overnight bus ride, we decided to find Hotel Espana to see if they would let us store our bags, hang out in their lobby, and take showers. Our flights were leaving around 1 am so we wouldn't be spending the night. Between my friendly Spanish and a sympathetic hotel manager, we were invited to spend as much time as we needed in the hotel without paying a single dime for their hospitality! The building was quirky and packed with religious baroque paintings, antique tiled floors, gaudy chandeliers, super-sized Greek busts, and a rooftop garden complete with live tortoises and peacocks. I had a new found respect for Lima after that sleepy, but pleasant day spent reading and wandering to different cafes in the central district.

After nearly four months of traveling, we were finally headed home. We have trekked nearly 250 miles, bussed approximately 5,000 miles, flown 3,000 miles worth of intercontinental flights, and boated more than 1,500 miles. Tallying our efforts is rather arbitrary, but seeing the numbers reminds me of how we managed to see so much and go so far without feeling rushed. We always managed to slow down and appreciate where we were--especially in Chile and Argentina!

So thanks to my voracious readers who were allegedly foaming at the mouth at the thought of reading my next post. Alas, this is the last post (ah hem, I have admittedly been back in the US for two weeks now) until the next trip! Adios folks!

Final Photos...

Easter Sunday Procession, Huaraz Peru

See Will standing on the rock? This was a hike that took us to a lagoon at 14,600 feet. Ooooh, altitude made it rough--I walked especially slowly to make sure I wouldn't lose my lunch--but it was worth it. Had the hike not been at altitude, it would have been a mere hop, skip, and a jump of a day hike up the mountain.

Cultivated highlands, approximately 12,000 feet

Back in Maine just in time for Bill's birthday! June figured out how to make chocolate leaves for this elegant cake.

April 6, 2012

The Great Hot Water Myth

Even the best of us need a shower on occasion. After leaving steamy Ecuador and riding on the second floor of a non ventilated bus for 8 hours along the brutally hot desert coastline, we were keen on a well recommended hostel which advertised 24/7 hot water, wifi, and free breakfast for $7 per night. The trouble one runs into is that when asking for wifi passwords or the secret to coaxing hot water from a dribbling shower head is that the staff will either a) give you a confused look and suggest that you ask someone else...until you give up... Or b) just give you a funny look and tell you that such amenities are not provided. Nonetheless, the sheets are clean, the blankets are warm, and the roof deck where breakfast is served affords fantastic views of the dramatic snow peaks. Welcome to Huaraz, home of some of the best trekking in South America!

March 31, 2012


Salt is everywhere here. It's especially potent in the warm waves, but ever present upon our lips as beads of sweat evaporate and reform without regard to day or night. Relief from the heat arrives precisely at 6 pm when dusk cloaks the vivid blue of the sky with pale colors and then blackness for exactly 12 hours. Hostels and homes alike empty as people take to the streets for the sheer pleasure of escaping the cinder block walls from which the afternoon heat is passed. Shopkeepers sit on their steps and restaurants set up tables which spill across the sidewalk into the middle of the road to accommodate the locals and tourists who come with appetites after being able to eat little thanks to the heat. The foods I do eat during the sweltering heat are usually limited to fruit juices to try and stay hydrated, and locally made ice pops made from heavy cream and fresh fruit purée.

Puerto Ayora is a clean, charming town whose inhabitants smile at their visitors. Everybody I talk to here is kind, helpful, and curious about who I am. Locals ride scooters and bikes for their short commute around town, and leave bikes unlocked and unattended at municipal bike racks around town or propped by their pedals along the sidewalk curbs. Thievery, apparently, is nearly irrelevant. I am delighted to have a week to savor this island community, salt and all.

This afternoon brought forth the most refreshing of events. All morning, clouds had been obscuring the sun, providing shade from direct sun rays, but increasing humidity. Will and I worked through the heat by reading Catching Fire (the third Hunger Games book) in its entirety with a fan pointed directly at us. I occasionally paused from our marathon to take a tepid shower to rinse away sweat and cool my skin. Without warning, the dark clouds finally gave way to a heavy downpour which instantaneously over flowed from the large gutter. We climbed from bed and walked out our open door to stand directly in the stream of cool water that poured from the leaky gutter without regard to the clothes I was wearing. I sensed that the storm would be short lived and didn't want to waste time searching for my swimsuit. The storm abated in just a couple of minutes, but it's cooling effects lasted all day. Though that didn't stop me from craving another fruit pop.

March 28, 2012

Flightless cormorant defying the odds.

This juvenile sea lion approached me as soon as I sat down near where he was wrestling with some older (and grumpier) peers.

Night Heron (must double check this with Will!)

Cerro Negro Crater

Galapagos photos....

Fur seals.

Galapagos Penguins.

Marine iguanas soaking up the heat by facing the sun.

Rayas Doradas

More photos....

Frigate Birds

The male frigate bird enlarges this front pouch to attract the attention of the females during mating season.

Primary succession.

Blue Footed Boobies!

My favorite!

Performing the mating dance on the nesting ground. Will might have taken this. He is napping or I would ask!

Galapagos continued...

Marine iguana.

The flycatcher that flew into my lens.

Animals here often seem to be oblivious of one another's presence. It's not uncommon to see cormorants, boobies, and sea lions basking together.

Dormant cinder cones and the clouds of an afternoon thunderstorm that never came.

The Galapagos

I woke up at 4 am on our first morning, eager to begin the day. Alas, breakfast (or as our guide with his thick accent says, "brekies") wasn't until 6, and our landing at 6:30, but my body didn't want to sleep. I was too eager to jump in that beautiful blue water and explore the outrageous landscape. Anybody who knows anything about my luxuriously long sleeping habit can appreciate my excitement for exploring the Galapagos considering how early I voluntarily woke that morning. However the sun would not rise for another two hours, so I managed to convince myself to doze in snatches until it was time to ready myself for the day. The sun would also set promptly 12-ish hours after sunrise, thanks to the fact that we were within 30 miles of the equator, so while days start early, they also end early.

The Galapagos is at the intersection of the Nazca, Cocos, and Pacific plates, creating hot spots of activity which allowed for the formation of the Galapagos. Because the archipelago is located on the eastward moving Nazca plate, the older eastern-most island, Espanola, is the shortest at 200 meters, while the youngest, biggest, and tallest island in the West, Santa Isabela, is 1,000 meters at its highest point. Theory suggests that Espanola is shorter, not due to erosion, but because the Nazca plate is subducting, thus moving downward. Notably, the Nazca plate moves eastward at a projected rate of 7-10 cm each year, scooting slowly under South America, creating the Andes.

After visiting Florida, June challenged Will to identify 27 birds in one day, so he focused his tour on bird identification. Our bird encounters were numerous, and I believe Will identified 30 birds--though not in one day. During one hike across the scrubland lining an empty, remote beach, a female flycatcher attacked my lens 4 times as I was photographing it. I realized that it could see its reflection in my polarizing filter, and likely thought that it was another flycatcher encroaching upon her territory. The most unique opportunity we had was to visit the mating and nesting ground for frigates and blue footed boobies. The boobies would whistle and march, extending their brightly colored webbed feet as far up and out as could be extended. Their awkward marching could easily be twisted into a form of satire against the military. Once a female was attracted, the males would continue their hilarious dance, as well as pluck small twigs and pebbles from the surrounding area as a gift for the females and delicately deliver it to them with their beaks.

A colony of frigate birds was beginning the mating ritual just feet from the booby colony. Males would fill their bright red gullets with air and flash them to females flying overhead in hopes of attracting their attention. While I saw no interactions between the sexes, I can understand why the color red is successfully used as a form of mate attraction. No other color is as bright amid these black volcanic rocks, white sands, green shrubs, and blue waters. At the end of the day we sat on our private porch and drank wine. Frigate birds soared effortlessly in the boat's wind stream and storm petrels skated across the glassy water as we motored toward our next destination.

The most extraordinary aspect of the Galapagos Archipelago is that the wildlife is so fearless of humans that the animals will often instigate interactions with people rather than the other way around. Sea lions, being the most charismatic of mammals here (though there are very few mammals) will occasionally frolic with snorkelers, playing games of chicken by rocketing as close to our faces as is possible without actually touching us, save for the brush of a wiry whisker. The sea lions are bored with snorkelers in most areas, but we were fortunate enough to be the sole boat of the day to visit a snorkeling location that the park had just opened. The water happened to be quite cold that day, so Will and I had paused to snuggle together to slow the chatter of our teeth, and in that time, 7 juvenile sea lions began to swim circles around us, occasionally challenging us to play in a mischievous but friendly manner, but sometimes just floating past, examining us with one large eye and blowing bubbles.

The sea lions tend to steal the show with their prankster antics, not only while snorkeling, but in their interactions with other animals. Marine iguanas feed on the algae below the water line and swim to these locations using only their tails. Sea lions amuse themselves at the iguanas expense by sneaking up behind them and tugging their tails, making the iguanas lose control and sink--though not without protest. The surly reptiles seem to scowl all the more for being so humiliated. On another occasion, a great blue heron was plucking its way carefully along the waterline, hunting for small fish. Out of nowhere, a sea lion came bursting out of the water, sending the elegant bird squawking uphill with the sea lion right on its heels. Dignity does not survive in the presence of a juvenile sea lion.

My experience is best told with photos, though I have none of the life below the waterline. A week of swimming with Galapagos penguins, eagle rays, manta rays, black tipped reef sharks, 9 sea turtles, and multitudes of colorful fish darting about the crevices of the volcanic rock left me feeling thrilled. The underwater world is one that I've seen so little of, but this problem was remedied by about 14 snorkeling trips during the tour.


Horns honked all around us as we drove away from the airport terminal. The water we drank was heavily chlorinated. Two local buses boxed us in and spewed their black fumes through our open windows while a jet plane passed just 100 feet over our head. A woman breast fed her sleeping child from the back of a motorcycle. We were more than 3,000 miles away from clean and quiet Patagonia, sorry to leave, but also excited about our new destination: the Galapagos.


Naturally, I'm posting this a week late... At this point we are back from our tour. We flew in with no trouble, found a hostel, and hit up the town to search for tours. We happened upon a cruise that was leaving in two hours that gave us an awesome deal for being last minute sign ups. When shown to our private cabins, we realized that we had accidentally made our way onto a luxury cruise! Ahhh, the beauty of being a last minute sign up during the slow season....

March 21, 2012

Cochamo Valley

The trail leading up Cochamo Valley was treacherously muddy. What could have been an easy 3 hour walk turned into a 6 hour crawl, slogging through unavoidable patches and detouring through the thick jungle in others. Erosion caused the trail to drop 6 feet below the ground, creating a sort of tunnel that my pack was barely wide enough to fit through. Darwin wrote about his experiences in this very clime, and though his account took place farther south than here where we did some other great day hikes, the forest he describes accurately conveys the conditions of both locations.

"In vain we tried to reach the summit: the forest so impenetrable, that no one who has not beheld it can imagine so entangled a mass of dying and dead trunks. I am sure that often, for more than ten minutes together, our feet never touched the ground, and we were frequently ten or fifteen feet above it, so that the seaman as a joke called out the soundings. At other times we crept one after another, on our hands and knees, under the rotten trunks. In the lower part of the mountain, noble trees of the Winter's Bark, and a laurel like the sassafras with fragrant leaves, and others the names of which I do not know, were matted together by trailing bamboo or cane. Here we were more like fishes struggling in a net than any other animal. On the higher parts, brushwood takes the place of larger trees, with here and there a red cedar or an alerce pine. I was also pleased to see, at an elevation of a little less than 1000 feet, our old friend the southern beech. They were, however, poor stunted trees, and I should think that this must be nearly their northern limit. We ultimately gave up the attempt in despair." (The Voyage of the Beagle)

The Alerce

Knowing this was our last trek, we had decided to splurge on food, both as a means of providing us some additional physical challenges, but mostly to explore new options in trail food. Will has a ton of ingenuity in this regard, no small thanks to his open-minded creativity in the kitchen, but also years of experience in leading trips for Chewonki. I also must add that he's been an invaluable Sherpa to me: I have been ruined to think that I never have to carry my camera gear, or that somebody else will shoulder some extra food weight so I have room in my pack for 10 pounds of camera gear. I do my best to hold up our tacit agreement of taking as many great photos as possible. Thanks for your support, Will!

We had quite a feast planned for our three days in the valley. Hard boiled eggs as snacks, mac and cheese with fried cabbage, avocado and tomato sandwiches, lentils and curried rice for dinner (from scratch with my modest spice kit), and best of all, French toast with plain yogurt and blueberry sauce made from fresh local berries. We had planned to make sugar donuts, but we forgot to copy the recipe before leaving town. Whenever people complain about the woes of trail food, I can't help but smile at their Ramen induced misery. Given a bit of foresight and creativity, trail food does not have to be limited to instant noodles and canned tuna--though we do get our fair share of tuna.

Cochamo attracts climbers from around the world who are daring enough to scale its Yosemite style granite peaks. Trail riders frequent the valley (a large cause for such corroded trails) and hikers visit to day hike to various natural landmarks in the valley, including natural water slides and 400 year old Alerce forests. The Alerce was heavily logged throughout Cochamo valley until the land was turned over for grazing. Now the cleared lands serves as a spacious campground, as well as a reminder of what is no longer there. However a stiff uphill hike brings you back in time. The Alerce, which resembles a redwood in both bark texture and scale, lives in the hills that were too difficult for loggers to reach. One Alerce is 3,000 years old, as researched and concluded by a group of silviculturalists from Princeton.

March 18, 2012

The Original Settlers

Leaving Puerto Montt, the bus wrapped its way around fern laden volcanoes and mountains that drop steeply into quiet estuaries. Orange and white buoys section off the commercial fish cages where salmon are spawned and mussels cling. Sheep and red dappled cattle graze bright green pastures which contrast abruptly with neon orange and blue boxes; the boxes contain colonies of commercial scale honey bees which feed 6 months of the year on flowering trees and plants. I was already in love with the region and I had not even set foot off the bumpy bus.

Waiting for the bus to leave Cochamo...

Cochamo is a tiny seaside village nestled on a spit of land across the Reloncavi estuary from volcan Yate. An unpainted shingle sided church with a single steeple stands along the water's edge, surrounded by modest houses which boast gardens beaming with red dahlias and pale peach roses. Wildflowers and blackberries grow wild in the ditches and along the sea wall, providing us tasty, albeit tart snacks. The only thing which disturbed our image of this quaint town and its friendly people was a man on his front porch wearing short blue shorts and a skin tight tank top which he had rolled up to expose his potbelly which he slapped with both hands as he circled his porch. So as not to tarnish the reputation of the town, I must tell you that the incident was isolated, but the awkwardness of it provided for a good laugh.

Volcan Yate in the background.

We interviewed one farmer for nearly two hours about his commercial bees. Like many beekeepers in the US, he used Italian stock, and generally with good success. Luckily everything translated very easily for me, and I found myself conversing freely with the farmer about his struggles with varroa mites and how to best over-winter your colony. I was surprised to see that everything he practiced and knew appeared to be, word for word, what I had learned in college. I would have liked to spend more time with him to see where we had differences in knowledge. He was delighted that we were interested in his work and intently excited about sharing ideas and solutions. It was heartening for me to meet somebody who was so keen on collaborative knowledge.

Just south of here begins the Aisen region from which we just returned. The region is subject to a series of economic development initiatives, excluding status as a tax free zone that the economy of Punta Arenas enjoys. These initiatives focus instead on the need to populate remote and uninhabited lands due to border disputes with Argentina. We spent the night on an hacienda, a ranch South of La Junta where the farmer's wife runs a modest hostel from her home in her "spare" time. I was impressed at the quality of the food, as I had become accustomed to thinking of the Completo (a hot dog with avocado and tomato) as Chilean ethnic food. Instead we ate tomatoes from the garden with scrambled eggs from the chickens out back. Accompanying these delights were farm cheese from neighboring pastures, and homemade butter, fresh baked wheat bread, and home canned strawberry preserves.

The farmer and his wife moved to their 70 hectare plot of land in 1958. The land was given to them for free by the Chilean government, with the intent that it be used for agricultural production--most likely cattle and sheep. The catch: The Aisen region had no infrastructure. These were bold frontiersmen. The supply of staple foods and good occurs once a year by charter flights to Puerto Montt and cooperative purchasing power with other locals. The 1.5 lane gravel highway is being paved as you read this (hopefully it will survive at least one winter's worth of Andean landslides). A mere four hour drive brings you to the ferry which takes only 8 hours (weather permitting--sometimes departures are delayed 24 hours) to go to Puerto Montt, meaning that you can be in the big city in 12 hours time.

How times have changed.

Roberto, the farmer, relayed some of the obstacles he faced when starting his life here. It took about 25 days to deliver supplies. The trip commenced first on horseback, ranging from 15-20 days across rough terrain and through volatile weather. An 8 hour ferry ride took you across sections of water that could not be avoided due to the mountains. Then a combination of rowing across glacial fed tidal rivers and horseback riding would eventually lead to the steps of the farmhouse. Roberto's son would keep an eye on the cattle while he was gone. Eventually the town of La Junta was established 4 miles from the hacienda, so acquiring some supplies became easier, but it still took a full day to go to town and back due to the enormous ocean current driven river, La Palena which had to be forded by rowboat multiple times. Now cable bridges stretch their way across the river, aiding in the efficiency of our passage.

I must add, that while dining on their scrumptious farm products, I considered three things. First, their food is organic, but out of years of knowledge and practice, as well as necessity. Second, they make butter because they will not have any if they don't--certainly not because it's in vogue. Third, they had a poster hanging on the wall demanding that dams should not be installed on their rivers! This sealed the deal--how could I not appreciate these farmers and what they stand for!

March 15, 2012

Blogging on the Bus

Most of my writing comes about during dry spells. Long bus rides (i.e. Anything more than 5 hours) tend to provide the stillness--at least of mind and activity--which allows me to focus on my blog. We have a six hour ride tomorrow, so I plan to pacify this raving audience (or so I picture it) after skipping the last 10 days. Until then, enjoy:

Cochamo Valley, Chile (Aptly coined the Yosemite of Chile)

Same photo, but fun in B&W--especially the mossy tree on the left.