New Flights Between Australia and South America

August 17, 2011 § 1 Comment

Qantas Airlines announced yesterday in early 2012 Qantas will
begin a new service to Santiago, Chile. The new route is part of Qantas groups
five-year plan to create a modern, customer-focused and competitive global
airline.

The new South America route will operate three times per week using
a three-class Boeing 747 reconfigured with Airbus A380 product, and replace
Qantas’ current direct flights between Sydney and Buenos Aires. Over time
Qantas looks to increase the service to daily flights. Flying time from Sydney
to Santiago is 13 hours and flying time from Santiago to Sydney is 14 hours 25
minutes.

Qantas is a member of the oneworld alliance and the new service
dovetails with oneworld alliance partner LAN whose hub is in Santiago. Arriving
in Santiago travelers can make easy connections throughout the region including
flights to the Galapagos Islands and Cusco, Peru  the gateway to Machu Picchu.

10 Best Railroad Journeys in South America – #8 The Devil’s Nose

February 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

Devil's Nose Train Ride Ecuador

Devil's Nose Train Ride Ecuador

Originally part of the rail line connecting Quito and Guayaquil, today the most popular train ride in Ecuador is a the train ride from Riobamba to Alausi.  The train heads down the Central Highlands through the Avenue of the Volcanoes where passengers have stunning views of the Andes snow capped Andes Peaks including Tunguragua, El Altar and Chimborazo the highest mountain in Ecuador on both sides of the train.  The most popular way to travel the route is by sitting on the roof of the old box cars offering the best view of the countryside.

The highlight of the trip is a section of the track known as the “The Devil’s Nose” at the time it was built it was called “The Most Difficult Train in the World”. An engineering marvel the makes its way up a series of nail biting zigzags to climb the sheer  stone face of the mountain climbing a gradient of  1-in-18 from 1800 meters to 2600 meters.  Engineers designed the route by having the train goes forward and backwards up the series of switchbacks that are near parallel to each other.

Part adventure ride, the The Nariz del Diablo train uses a relatively modern engine to pull the beautiful old carriages.  These days, the train is often replaced by one of two ‘autoferros’, which are basically a bus body mounted on train wheels.  You still see the same views, but it can be disappointing if you were expecting a train ride and there are also fewer seats.

Las Fiestas de Santa Cruz – Tortuga Bay

January 25, 2011 § 1 Comment

Fiesta at Tortuga Bay

CONSERVE TORTUGA BAY

The Galapagos Islands are known as a modern day Garden of Eden, a Mecca for scientists, conservationists, and nature lovers from around the world. The islands and the surrounding waters are highly regulated in order to preserve the natural wonders native to the islands.

In the early part of the 20th century settlers came to the Galapagos and set up small villages.  Life on the island was remote and not easy.  Each year, the few families that lived on Santa Cruz would gather together and have a celebration this celebration became the Fiestas del Galapagos. As the population of Santa Cruz grew so did the Fiesta, and as more hotels were built the Fiesta became a destination party for people from the continent.  In recent years the Fiestas del Galapagos has become a week of parties, parades, various contests all of which culminate in a huge final festival held at Tortuga Bay.

Tortuga BayFor those of you who have never been to Tortuga Bay, it is a beautiful white sand beach located approximately a 30 – 40 minute walk outside of Puerto Ayora.  The beach is a nesting site of sea turtles and marine iguanas.  There are ghost crabs, brown pelicans, Darwin Finch white tipped reef sharks and rays. On most days you can walk out to Tortuga Bay you may come across local surfers or boogie boarders enjoying the waves found here.  If you walk across the beach you’ll see marine iguanas heading out to sea, or ghost crabs making a quick dart back into their sandy home.  Arriving at the second bay you may find families enjoying a day at the beach or random visitors snorkeling along the water’s edge.

The peaceful idyllic scene that is normally Tortuga Bay is shattered on the Fiesta de Galapagos in Santa Cruz.  The whole of Puerto Ayora moves to Tortuga Bay for the day.  Stages are set up with blasting music, bikini contests, beer stands every few feet and thousands upon thousands of locals all arrive to party the day.  The party itself seems more like Cancun than Galapagos.  In many the party at Tortuga Bay seems to defy the very nature of Galapagos.

While I enjoy a party as much as the next person – the Fiesta del Santa Cruz at Tortuga Bay raises concerns.  A group of local people have started a petition to try to get the local government to change the site of the party to a less environmentally sensitive area.

“What do we celebrate in this party in the Galapagos? Originally, this party consisted of a family event for the privileged permanent residents of the Galapagos. However, during the last years, this party has turned into a massive event, which draws thousands of people that consume alcohol and produce trash and other environmental impacts. We consider that this type of event should not take place in a National Park, because it creates negative impacts such as trash generation, acoustic pollution, harm to the habitats, and the unwanted movement of animals. We suggest that other type of events should take place in this beach, with activities in concordance with this area so important for the nesting of protected species and where the relation to its natural settings is a priority. The native and endemic species cannot adapt to the accelerating rhythm of change to which we are putting them under. Let us sign this petition and promote the celebration with REVERENCE to this World Natural Heritage Site of which we all are responsible to preserve.”

If you share our concern for the Galapagos Islands and Tortuga Bay we encourage you to visit the facebook page to stop the party.

Quito – American Capital of Culture 2011

January 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

For those traveling to the Galapagos Islands your international itinerary includes either Quito or Guayaquil. While Guayaquil is the commercial center of Ecuador, Quito is rich in history and culture.

- From the Quito Convention Bureau

Declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO 32 years ago, Quito was named last September American Capital of Culture 2011 by the International Bureau of Cultural Capitals (IBOCC).

In 2011, Quito will be a global cultural reference point, motivating locals and foreigners alike to learn about the city’s treasures and understand why it has been chosen as the American Capital of Culture.

One of these treasures is the Historic Centre, an artistic jewel covering 320 hectares, with monuments and 5.000 building listed as heritage sites. Quito’s Historic Centre is considered the largest, least altered, and best preserved in America.

Quito was the cradle of ancient peoples and cultures that over the centuries have converted the city into a unique place. Nowadays, it amasses four centuries of memories, creation, faith, art, ancestral knowledge, consciousness and rebelliousness, life, determination and hope.

Throughout history, Quito has played host to religious orders, scientists, warriors, architects, emperors, and a great number of men and women that understood the value of this land and contributed to the development of this metropolis.

Thus, being declared the American Capital of Culture is not merely a title; it is a merit to all those generations that transformed this city into the cultural treasure it is today.

Galapagos Checklist: Six Points to Remember

January 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

Cruising the Galapagos Islands

We are frequently asked about the question – What is the best trip to Galapagos.  Really that depends on who is traveling.   Galapagos Cruises allow you to visit the more remote islands, however for people who like a less structured program an Island Based Program like our Finch Bay and Sea Finch Program is perfect.  Time Magazine printed this article which provides one traveler’s impression on how to pick the perfect trip.

By Erik Torkells for TIME Magazine

The frustrating thing about once-in-a-lifetime destinations is that only after visiting them do you really know how to do them right. Take the Galapagos Islands, which I went to earlier this year. I learned a lot about how I should have gone about my trip — but I’ll never return. (As wonderful as it was, there’s too much else in the world to see.) Maybe you can benefit from my newfound knowledge.

1. Go for a Smaller Boat
Ecuador licenses 77 boats to sail to the islands. My partner and I were on the Eclipse, which holds 48 passengers. While there were moments when the number of people came in handy — if I grew tired of someone, I could avoid them at the next meal — I occasionally felt like I was spending more time studying humans than the animals for which the islands are famous. Plus, the more people, the more time you’ll spend waiting — at meals, to disembark, to rinse your wet suit and so on. One day, we spotted a catamaran that our guide said held 14 passengers, and it looked like heaven on water.

2. Get Used to Being Herded
When I travel, I like to explore. That’s impossible to do in the Galápagos, and for good reason. The plants and animals on the islands thrived because of isolation; invasive species, tracked in by humans, are a threat to their existence. As a result, travelers cannot wander off trail.

3. The Water Is Your Haven
My favorite moments involved kayaking (we ducked into a cove where the guide, back on the dinghy, couldn’t see us, making him very anxious) and snorkeling. When you’re in the water, you can drift to the edge of your group, where you’ll feel much more alone — and you’ll likely see animals no one else sees. Don’t forget to splurge on an underwater camera. While snorkeling, I had a play session with a baby sea lion that I wish I’d photographed.

4. Your Cabin Isn’t Important
Our cabin was neither the largest nor the smallest, but size is irrelevant. We were never in it except to sleep. When we did have downtime, we spent it on deck because the scenery was nonstop gorgeous.

5. Guide Quality Is Variable
We had three (you couldn’t choose whose group you’d be in on any given excursion). One was obsessed with snorkeling, one came most alive around the birds and iguanas, and one — well, one wasn’t great. In fact, at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island, he announced, “Personally, I just don’t believe that human beings evolved from worms.” What?!

6. Research Your Timing
One of the photos that made me want to go to the islands in the first place was of male frigate birds puffing out their red chests. Well, that tends to only happen during the peak of their mating season, which is around March and April. We saw much more that was exciting and strange, but if there’s something you really want to experience — hammerhead sharks, baby sea lions, whatever — make sure you’re going during the right time of year

Check out our Galapagos Calendar to help with your timing.

Strikes in Cusco – A Change of Plans

October 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

Strikes in Cusco

Strikes in Cusco

Have you heard the phrase – the best of plans..? For me that was Cusco – but when one plan changes it’s just time for a new adventure.  In recent years Cusco has become strike city with frequent strikes closing down the city including taxis, busses, the train, airport and many businesses.  During my visit there was a two day strike over the cost of drinking water.

I had arrived in Cusco on Monday afternoon.  The plan had been to see Cusco Monday afternoon, visit the Sacred Valley on Tuesday, Machu Picchu on Wednesday and then head south towards Arequipa and Puno.  Yet, when I awoke Tuesday morning I awakened to the sound of drums and thousands of people chanting “Cusco Represente….”  The city had officially been shut down due to a strike and under the circumstances my plans needed to change.  Instead of going to the Sacred Valley I would be spending the day in Cusco – so that’s what I did I explored the city taking photos and talking to people.

The strike itself was impressive at least the first day—well organized, many participants, strong voices, drums, loud speakers and flags.  The force traveled around the city down to the main highway and back again.  Camera crews, reporters and tourists all watching the spectacle.

To support the strike many of the businesses were also closed it seemed the only group really profiting from the strike were the local Quechua people dressed in their traditional costumes many of which had animals with them – there for one purpose to make money from tourists wanting their picture. With a city full of tourists not knowing what to do, these photos were in high demand and they seemed to be making the most of the strike.

In the morning the strike would last just the one day – no big deal – but by evening I learned it would be at least two – another change of plans. Day two of the strike was a quite a bit less organized than day one.  Everything was still closed but instead of instead of thousands of protesters there were less than 100. 

As I walked around Cusco, the reason for the diminished number was evident.  Rather than spend the day protesting water prices, the local people seemed to think the day was better spent as a family holiday.  There were numerous impromptu football (soccer) games there were volleyball nets created from ropes tied across the street from one side to the other – all of which would not have been possible if the city had not been shut down.  There were people laughing and drinking beer the city was clearly on vacation.

As the only way to leave Cusco was by foot, that’s what I decided to do.  Hike my way out of town and see some of the ruins above the city.  Heading up from the main plaza I walked through San Blas always a favorite of tourists, this artisan street was now shoulder to shoulder jam packed with tourists in search of the perfect souvenir.  Making your way through the crowd you got the idea that Cusco appeals to visitors from all over the world you could hear Spanish, English, French, German, Italian and Japanese all being spoken simultaneously.

Continuing up the hill fewer and fewer tourists were to be seen, however the steep pathway to the main road seems quite popular with locals.  While I gasped for air taking occasional breath taking breaks the local kids seem to fly by me many of them running or skipping along the way.  I had to remind myself – I was not incredibly out of shape after all I exercise almost every day but the locals were use to the altitude and I was not.

I made it up to the main street – yeah!  Then the next trail took me through a Eucalyptus Forest.  Reaching the top of the knoll I found my first set of Incan Ruins a small site known as K’usilluchayoq.  Then a short distance further was Laqo a larger site with numerous caves and unusual shapes cut into the rocks.  Laqo served as the Temple of the Moon which is still used in ceremonies to celebrate the full moon.

At the far side of the ruins the terrain opened up into pampa and a small lagoon with birds swimming in it.  Along the side of the lagoon were some young boys selling horseback rides uphill or to any of the local sites.  After a couple hours of hiking uphill the horses seemed like a great idea. 

Sacsayhuaman

Sacsayhuaman

A 9 year old boy rented us our horses and worked as our guide to Sacasayhuman.  The cost 20 soles per horse and he would run alongside telling us stories about the Incas and the local area. He made the trip fun telling stories of Incan Mines, Tunnels connecting the region with far off lands where people could get lost forever, and where to go for the best views.  The ride was approximately 40 minutes to the top of the Saccsayhuman complex where he said good-bye but said he would be happy to show me more places if I came back on Saturday at 10am – he would be there waiting with the horses.

I waved good-bye to my guide and hiked down the hill to Sacsayhuman arriving at the rockslide area – no not where rocks had come crashing down the mountain – but the side where the rocks were so polished that you could slide down them like a slide at the park.  This seemed to be a very popular activity with the locals.  As I crossed over from the slide area to the main part of the ruins it began to sprinkle just as I arrived at the main site.

Sacsayhuman is an ancient stone fortress located on a hill above Cusco near the Christ figure you can see from town.  Named a UNESCO world heritage site in 1983 it is one of the most impressive archaeological sites in the Americas.  Shaped as a puma the carbon dating has shows the site goes back at least a millennium.

Walking through the great plaza the massive stone walls are mind boggling.  How did people move these stones into place without the use of any machinery?  The shaped boulders at Sacsayhuman are the largest used in any building in pre-Hispanic America.  Their size is the reason much of the site still exists.  Smaller stones were taken by the Spanish to construct their version of Cusco.

The tour of Sacsayhuman takes 45 minutes to an hour where you walk along the walls, through doors, up the stairway and to the vista point of to view Cusco below.

At the end of my visit I walked to the parking area to depart and found a couple of taxis there.  I asked if any could take me back to Cusco.  One said that he could take me to the city limit, but couldn’t enter due to the strike.  So I finished my day with a ride back down the hill and a late lunch at a restraint overlooking the main plaza.  During lunch the strike leaders came to the Plaza to get their photos taken and announce the strike was over.

Viewing the Nazca Lines

October 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

Flying over the Nazca Lines - Viewing Spaceman on side of the Mountain

Flying over the Nazca Lines - Viewing Spaceman on side of the Mountain

The only way to view the Lines of Nazca is from the air.  The best way is by taking a flightseeing tour, there are flights  available every hour from sunrise to sunset.  To make your reservation you can ask at your hotel, book at a local travel agency or go directly to the Maria Reiche airport to ask directly with the planes for pricing.  Prices vary depending on where you purchase the ticket and how many people are on board.

Cesna Planes at the Maria Reiche Airport

Cesna Planes at the Maria Reiche Airport

Plan to arrive to the airport approximately 20 minutes before your scheduled flight and remember to bring your passport with you or you will not be able to board. You’ll first need to fill out a form with the airlines that includes details like your name, passport details, age and weight.  Once you’ve provided the information, you’ll pay the 20 Soles airport departure tax and head through security to board your plane.  On board each passenger is given a set of headphones to hear the captain and a map to help with identifying the puzzling desert figures.

The tour lasts roughly 45 minutes flying over the Nazca Plateau is a desert in the truest sense of the word – rain is almost non-existent here. The hot dry environment worked as an oven baking the earth’s surface over the millennia.  The result is a near perfect canvas where any disturbance to the surface’s crust over the centuries could be seen.  The Nazca Lines were created by the Nazca Culture sometime between 300 BC and 800 AD.  The Nazca people removed the reddish-brown stones that cover the Nazca desert to display the white soil underneath.

These geoglyphs were rediscovered in the 1930’s by American Archaeologist Paul Kosak.  It was years before their significance was realized in no small part due to the work of Maria Reiche a German born mathematician and archeologist who dedicated her life to restoration and preservation of the figures.  In 1995 the Lines of Nazca were named as a UNESCO world heritage site.

As you might imagine with their recent discovery in an area that had been inhabited for centuries there are other impressions in the desert those of tire tracks, and water flows from years past.  Due in part to these other marks the first few figures are among the most difficult to recognize.  Partially due to their geometric nature, but as you fly over scanning over the desert floor you’ll suddenly realize that these marks are significantly different from any other and were not done as a fluke accident but instead were purposefully placed in an exact form. 

The flight continues over the plateau the astronaut can be seen on the side of a mountain pointing towards the sky.  Then the tour reaches its climax as the figures the dog, monkey, parrot, heron, spider and condor can all be seen close together.  You’ll pass overhead of the viewing towers where people who prefer not to take the plane ride can climb up an observation tour to see the hands and the tree. 

The flight-seeing tours are aboard small Cesna planes.  I had been cautioned ahead of time not to eat anything before flying to avoid air sickness.  This is sage advice, the planes fly between 2200 and 3200 feet elevation.  Along the way the pilot makes a circles above the figures banking from left to right to provide optimum photo and videos for both sides of the plane at each figure. 

I traveled in the cool time of the year and the small plane became a sauna in the warm sun.  I travelled in the afternoon – which in hindsight was probably not the best time of day for the trip.  The other 3 people and I were all drenched by perspiration by the end of the flight. 

I would recommend planning your flight for the early morning hours before the sun reaches its peak and wearing light clothing to make the experience as comfortable as possible.  Based on my experience and the reaction of my companions I think more people get air sick due to the combination of the circles, banks and heat than any air turbulence.

I recommend the flight to get the best view of all the figures and ponder firsthand about why the ancient culture created them.

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