Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cuzco and sacred valley

Six week travelling behind and now I'm in Peru and the Andes. The temperature is not anymore +30 degrees, but more or less between 15-20 degrees. I have been already get used to more warmer climate and thus these chilly nights here feels a bit cold.

Cuzco at night

After Galapagos flew to Cuzco, where have been 3 days to acclimatize for thinner air. Cuzco is beautiful city located high on the Andes (3500 m) and near the sacred valley of the Incas. Nowadays you can find remarkable inca ruins like Pisaq and Ollantaytambo in the valley.

Sacred valley

Cuzco is starting point to Machu Picchu trips. Tomorrow heading to km 82 post and starting 4 days Inca trail to Machu Picchu. Therefore I should be at Machu Picchu at new year. Let's see if Machu Picchu is as amazing than 8 years ago. At that time visited this sacred Inca city without trekking the Inca trail...

At the same time I wish everybody happy new year. I'll continue updating this blog next year :)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Marvellous Galapagos islands

Giant Tortoise (Santa Cruz subspecies)

Galapagos islands went to top 3 ranking on my list. It's amazing how close you can get to animals and how plentiful there are endemic species which to watch and photograph, not to mention swimming and snorkelling with them. Just to mention some of the species during 8 days cruise on the islands, there were sea lions, penguins, albatroses, blue-footed boobies, masked boobies, lava lizards, marine iguanas, land iguanas, white-tipped sharks, sea turtles, giant tortoises, flamingos, sting rays, and so on... In addition of these species there were subspecies of these different from island to island.

Cruising ship Estrella del Mar I (16 passengers)

As an example land iguanas were black on Isla Seymour, yellow on Isla Plazas and green on Isla Santa Fe.

Yellow land iguana at Isla Plazas

There are still 11 subspecies of Giant Tortoises, but only one Tortoise is still living from the subspecies from the Island Pinta. His name is Lonesome George and he is currently in Charles Darwin station at Santa Cruz island. When he dies then there will be only 10 subspecies left, unless scientists can reproduce him or get him to mate with the females tortoises from the other islands. These Giant Tortoises can live up to 200 years and can weight even 600 kilograms.

During 8 days cruise, ship visited on 10 different islands and there were possibility in addition of hikes on the islands to do snorkeling nearly every day in warm waters. I was able to spot and swim with various different species like Galapagos penguins, white-tipped sharks, sea turtles, stingrays and sea lions, not to mention tens or hundreds of different colourful fishes.

This was a trip worth of every penny, just awesome experience! But you need a plenty of time to check all the photos and select best ones.

Sea lions posing to camera at Isla Espanola

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas at Ecuador and Galapagos

Quickly passing Panama and Colombia, I arrived to Ecuador couple of days ago, where I`m planning to stay a little bit longer. Quito is located at 2800 meters above sea level and you noticed it, if you arrive directly from the sea level. Couple of first days you need to take very slowly and taking the breath constantly even when walking slowly on the streets. Quito seems to be nice city and especially the Centro Historico, which was declared as Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO, is cozy with small restaurants, hotels, and boutiques.

Two days in Quito has been busy to make bookings for the one week Galapagos islands cruise. I got the cruise on last minute deal price, which is remarkably cheaper than list price. In addition the flight tickets to islands were included on the price. Tomorrow morning flight from Quito to Galapagos and then 7 days and 8 nights cruise on the islands. It means that christmas eve will be spent on the Galapagos. Anyway the boat doesn't have internet connections and therefore most probably there will be one week holiday :) from updating this blog. Anyway I'll try to post some photos of Galapagos animals after the cruise. I wish everybody a merry christmas and lots of useful gifts...

Monday, December 14, 2009

Cerro Chirripo

After spanish studies I had to have some physical exercise and indeed, I got what I ordered.

Cerro Chirripo is Costa Rica`s highest mountain (3820 m) in Chirripo National Park. I took the bus on friday evening to San Isidro de General, did the packing, bought some food and slept few hours before early bus (5:30 AM) took me into national park. After paying the entrance fee and the accomodation in the mountain refugio "Base Crestones" I started from the village San Gerardo, at 1500 m. It was hot and humid day. Paths are full of mud and the climb is cruel. Base Crestones is at 3400 m and after 14,5 kms and nearly 2 kms higher than the village I reached the Refugio at exhausted. My legs had cramps on the way, and I was having only 5 bananas, 2 chocolate bars, cookies and couple of bread with me for the whole 2 days climbing. There were no possibility to buy any food on the mountain.

After resting the evening and having short sleep before 3 AM wake-up I started to climb to the summit with headlamp showing the path. It was still 6 kms and 400 vertical meters to the top. Finally at 6 AM I reached the summit shortly after first sunrays.

Finally at the top

However I was still on halfway, and I had to descent back to village during the morning, because I had reserved a bus to Panama City at 14:30. Therefore after a short break at the top, I started descend of 20 kms of muddy path with 2,3 kms vertical difference.

Above the clouds

This was one of the hardest climbs I have ever had. After the climb I had 15 hours bus ride ahead of me to get to Panama. I haven`t slept well for three nights, due to early wake-ups or bus ride. Today, when I arrived to Panama I just took the hotel room and had a little of sleep.

Central America has been travelled through, but there are lot`s more of interesting places to see on Central America, than what I was on this short trip. Now it`s time to move on to South America. Tomorrow I`ll have a flight to Bogota, Colombia. But today I`m having a rest well deserved...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Spanish course at Heredia, Costa Rica

Intercultura school for students in spanish & english

I'll be studying spanish in Intercultura at Heredia in Costa Rica this week. Teachers are professional language teachers and the athmosphere at the school is relaxed and motivated. Stuff is extremely helpful and friendly. I'll have spanish lessons 4 hours per day from Monday to Friday.

My spanish teacher, Nuria

I'm staying at a homestay in a local family, not far away from the school. It takes about 10 minutes to walk to the school. Heredia is small city just 11 kms from the capital San Jose and therefore it's more relaxed environment than huge San Jose to enjoy and learn new language. My family is just great, excellent and delicious breakfasts and dinners together with family. Good practice for spanish to discuss with family members and get to know Costa Rican way of life more closely.

My homefamily Campos Rojas

For those who knows already some spanish have a look the following dictionary of Costa Rican vocabulary :)

Costa Rican vocabulary

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Pura Vida! (Pure Life)

Pura Vida is Costa Rican way to say hello and literally means "pure life".  Two days ago I left behind Granada and it´s hot and lovely athmosphere.

Hotel Patio del Malinche in Granada, lovely place to stay

Started 15 hour boat trip over the Lago de Nicaragua. Sleeping in not so soft seats were nearly impossible. Though got few hours sleep before arriving at 5 AM at San Carlos harbour in southern Nicaragua.

On the upper deck of the boat

We had bananas with us :)

I recommend to avoid San Carlos - Los Chile crossing from Nicaragua to Costa Rica. It is not the fastest way to get over... When arriving at 5 AM, the immigration office opened at 8 AM. We had to queue at least one hour to get our passports stamped and everything paid. Then still waiting 1,5 hours before our boat departed.

Waiting on a boat for departure

Finally on the way to Los Chile, Costa Rica

When arriving into Costa Rica, you need to wait until your lauggage is searched. Then wait until immigration office will open and stamp your passport. All this takes another 1,5 hours. Anyway I managed to get into Costa Rica and got the bus to take me to La Fortuna. Bus drive is another nightmare with constant stops. The bus will stop in every 100 meters to either to pick-up somebody or leave somebody. It took some 3 hours to get to La Fortuna (roughly 60 kms). Therefore I decided today to visit thermal spa with hot springs close to La Fortuna and just enjoy after 28 hours trip from Granada. Oh, it was heaven...

There is "real" Erick-Son TV :) I didn´t know Ericsson is making TVs as well...

 Erick-Son TV

These are the 8 Central American countries. From upper left to lower right corner:
Mexico (Pesos), Belize (Belize Dollars), Guatemala (Quetzals), El Salvador (US Dollars), Honduras (Lempiras), Nicaragua (Cordobas), Costa Rica (Colones) and Panama (Balboa = US Dollars)
Central American money

Each of the countries has own slang and the people are calling themselves differently. Guatemalans are "Chapins", Costa Ricans "Ticos", Salvadorans "Guanacos". It´s like Savolaiset, Karjalaiset and Lappilaiset in Finland, when you know where (s)he is coming from you can immediately characterize him/her :)

So, Pura Vida to everybody from C.R. and remember to celebrate the independence day of Finland.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Recovering from 2 days bus drive

Lying on a hammoch and reading LP Costa Rica, which is the next country

I have been just resting, walking around the town, eating well and enjoying the athmosphere here in Granada after exhaustive 2 days bus drive through El Salvador and Honduras. City seems to be as pleasent as I was assuming. I could stay here even longer, but unfortunately need to continue, cause there are other plans for coming weeks.

Iglesia de Guadalupe

I have had a little pain in my right side of the back and therefore I went for the massage. The blind people are having massage service in a local cafe just next to the central square. It was excellent!

My masseur

Today I´ll be heading to the southern tip of the Lago de Nicaragua by boat. The boat trip will take some 15 hours to cross this huge lake, which is the 21st largest lake in the world. By the way Saimaa is ranked on 36th. There are even sharks in the lake, bullsharks, they can live both in freshwater and in saltwater. Lago de Nicaragua is connected to Caribbean sea by the Rio San Juan. San Carlos is border city to Costa Rica and I´ll be crossing the border with another small boat up the Rio Frio to the Costa Rican border station at Los Chiles.

On the shore of lago de Nicaragua

P.S. It´s even possible to get Eskimo icecream in Granada :)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Safe trip

M16 guns everywhere

Long bus drive from El Salvador to Granada, Nicaragua is finally over with KingQuality. Oh boy that was tough. There are security guards with M16 guns everywhere in El Salvador. They are standing in bus stations, petrol stations, in the streets, in hotels, in restaurants, etc... I haven´t get used to it yet. El Salvador is the most violent country in Central America, roughly 10 murders every day. I don´t wonder it at all, when there are guns everywhere and on TVs all movies are extremely violent. I haven´t seen a single movie in the bus, which wouldn´t have been shooting, fighting and violent.

KingQuality bus

Now I need to rest for a while in Granada, which seems to be a nice colonial city on the shore of Lago de Nicaragua.