A Travellerspoint blog

September 2016

Arequipa & the Colca Canyon


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Well, while Alli and I are getting better at Peruvian night buses (managed to sleep ~3/4 of the time), it was a very groggy morning in Lima. Which may have been the previous nights gravol, or the 6 on the clock, who knows for sure. We unfortunately had to spend too many hours in the Lima airport waiting for our plane. Now, to be fair, airports aren't necessarily my favourite in the first place, they're stressful, or crowded, generally not the best to hang out for 6+ hours, but the Lima airport is now officially my least favourite airport. I acknowledge a portion to my sleep deprived state and the rest for the stupid organization, terrible restaurant service, terrible wifi, pushy taxi people, and waaaaaay overpriced stores. I've never been happier to get on a plane!! We only had an hour and a half jaunt to Arequipa and flew in with a great view of the setting sun and the volcanoes that surround this adorable city. It was a quiet night out for supper and then hanging out with the two other guys (Cesar from Lima and Mark from London) in our dorm room. We managed to get a decent sleep before a sightseeing day in Arequipa.
We started our time with a free walking tour, joined by Cesar as well. Started in Plaza de Armas main square and took in churches, cloisters and other architecture of the white city (most buildings are made with white volcanic stone), history of the Incas and Spanish, the local market and views of the volcanoes (El Misti, Pichu Pichu and Chachani) and the city.

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After lunch (at a picanteria for local food) we walked to another viewpoint..

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This engraving (roughly translated by Cesar) says 'you were not born at the bottom of a volcano for nothing.

Then back to the hostel to book our adventure for the next two days... Colca Canyon! After buying snacks for this, we had supper with Cesar and Mark and headed to bed for another early wake-up... 3:00am. I'm beginning to think an 8 hour sleep is something that I can only dream about... ;)
We spent the first 3 hours in the morning (after the 3:15am pick-up) trying unsuccessfully to sleep on a freezing cold bus. My small daypack crammed full of only necessities for the next two days did not hold the warmest clothes. After a quick stop for breakfast in the small town of Chivay, we continued to the viewpoint for the flight of the condors (and all I could think about was Flight of the Concords). These huge black (and brown when younger) birds are carrion feeders, mate for life, can live up to 80 years, are endangered, and only reproduce every couple years. And look pretty majestic flying through the canyon.

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Next stop was the start of the trekking. Our group included 3 people from France, two Germans, and two fellow Canadians, Liam and Kelsey, that we buddied up with immediately (obviously, eh), and our guide Roger. The first leg was only downhill and only 8km but it felt so much longer and harder because of the heat. Had to remind myself to stop and take in this beauty.

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After our lunch stop we had another 8km that was more up and down. Some of the climbing was pretty killer, we obviously had to take a few celebratory pics when we reached the days highest point.

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And a selfie with our cactus war paint...

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After this was the last few km of a rocky downhill to reach the km 18 sign and a lush waterfall, just a taste of the beauty to come.

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Our final stop across the bridge was the Oasis. We stayed in the Garden of Eden. And that's exactly what it felt like when we got there, saw the pool with waterfall and immediately donned our bathing suits and cannon balled into that beautiful blue water.

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Have you ever seen two girls happier to be in a pool!?

Enjoyed the waterfall with our Canadian companions...

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This is a picture from the beginning of the day. Shows our zig zag path down to the oasis in the bottom of the canyon.

After a few drinks, visiting, and supper, it was another early night because, you guessed it, we had to get up early again!
The problem with the oasis being such a beautiful spot in the bottom of the canyon is that it means you have to climb out. We had a 4:45am start for the 5km, 1000m climb out of there. This was the one that felt like running a marathon. Even more so for Alli who was unlucky enough to catch a cold right before we left for these two days. Reaching that canyon summit was in one of my top trekking finishing feelings. Especially after accomplishing the estimated 3 hr trip in just over two hours.

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We enjoyed a big breakfast after this, as well as the knowledge that our bodies didn't have to carry us any farther, the rest of the trip would be by bus! We made our way out of the canyon with a number of stops along the way. First a great viewpoint..

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Then the natural hot springs...

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Last two were at the highest point on the edge of the canyon, 4900m, with a view of the areas volcanoes. And a stop in the national park amidst a bunch of alpacas and llamas (where we learned their differences and uses).

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And finally back to Arequipa. For a quick rushing to pack, get some supper and get on our favourite.... Night bus!

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Posted by elliehirch 19:31 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Hiking in Huaraz


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Alli is here, Alli is here!! Ellie is happy. We had a wonderful reunion in the Lima airport after both flying overnight (I at least got to sleep in a bed until 2:30am!). After a taxi to the bus station to drop off our bags and a bit of a 'now what?' moment, we found a Starbucks, some coffee, and wifi to decide where to go in Lima. We ended up spending the afternoon in the Barranco district, walking around the area, down by the ocean, buying a few things and drinking a few beers. Didn't take us Canadian girls long to find the local brewery! They also served really good food.

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We started our first duo travel leg off with a night bus to Huaraz. While this was quite the fun experience, it did not end up being one that involved getting much sleep ?. We very much underestimated the windy roads, slow speed, and stops and starts. Even the comfortable reclining seats, neck pillows, eye masks and sleeping pills did little to help the cause. Two very groggy ladies stepped off that bus in Huaraz! And rallied to get our bags and walk to our hostel in the early morning light. We felt like the luckiest people in the world after being treated to an early check-in, a 6-bed room to ourselves, a hot shower and a nap! Huaraz was looking up! And this hostel view!

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We spent the rest of the day acclimatizing to the 3100m altitude (just a liiiitle bit higher than the 1000m in Calgary and the sea level in Rio I had come from). We had a delicious huevos rancheros breakfast with a view.

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And found a rooftop lookout at our hostel.

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We also drank copious amounts of water and took our altitude pills and walked as much as we felt up to. And Alli enjoyed three naps :). All in preparation for two days of hiking we planned!

Our first hike was to Laguna (Lake) Wilcacocha with a local guide, Robert. He was so wonderful for helping us navigate a collectivo (local bus which is basically a shuttle people hop on, hop off wherever). This trip was chosen as a first day hike as it's shorter (3-4hrs) and a good initial outing for trekking at altitude. Let me tell you, it felt like one hell of a trek. It starts out winding up a dirt road into the hills. By about the second turn Alli and I looked at each other and said, between heavy breaths, ohhhh that's what hiking at altitude feels like. We took lots of breaks as we continued up, through a small village, and to even steeper, stone stepped areas.

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Our guide's house in the village

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Those damn steps were about the point that my nausea got the best of me... (Rocheal, remember that day at Temple's new location when we put way too much weight on the prowler the first time and felt like we were gonna die, or puke, or both? This felt like that.. Only I had to keep going!). The trip up was 3km long and 600m elevation gain. Alli compared it to hiking Ha Ling in Canmore, deathly hungover, and carrying a 100lb backpack. She was not wrong! Reaching the top was a huge relief! The lake itself wasn't too much to look at...

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But this view made it all worth it! And the proud feeling of having done the approximately 2 hr trip in 1hr 40 despite almost dying...

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We could see almost the whole way along the 180 km that make up the Cordillera mountain range. We were on the side of Cordillera Negra (black) looking over at Cordillera Blanca (white). We could see the tallest mountain, Huascarán, standing at 6768m (which Robert has climbed to the peak of!).
The way down was slightly easier and it didn't take us long back at the hostel before we were napping again! After a quiet afternoon walking around and having supper (and our first Pisco sours!.. Delicious), it was an early night for the 5:30am pick-up the next day.

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Day 2 of hiking was the journey to Laguna 69 in Parque Nacional Huascarán (in Cordillera Blanca). The bus ride took about 3 hrs total with a stop for breakfast. By the time we had eaten breakfast, reached the park and started the trek, Alli and I had already joined an impromptu group of other backpackers that we would spend the rest of the hike with! Kai and Samara from New York, John from Scotland, and Paulo from Brazil. We had the greatest time! (Plus, these were some pretty cool New Yorker's who recognized my hat as a Canadian Tilley Hat!).
Our first stop along the way was at Laguna 65 (all the lakes in the park are named by number). The colour of the water is absolutely breathtaking.

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Then began the second day of hiking, which I was extremely nervous for given the difficulty of the day before! And I am happy to report that no such struggles were had! This trek gained an altitude of 700m (from 3800m up to 4600m!) but it was a much more gradual ascent so I thankfully did not have a second experience of feeling I was going to die! Talking with other people really helped pass the time, the scenery was absolutely phenomenal, and we also chewed coca leaves the whole way up. While being very bitter and fairly disgusting to chew on, they really do help with the altitude. I know what we are stocking up on for Machu Picchu!!

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Everything that we saw along the way was colourful, unique, amazing!

We reached the lake in good time and were not disappointed by the view!!

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Again, the colour of the water is like nothing I've ever seen. The rock face is topped by glacial peaks running down the waterfall into the lake. We could hear/see rock and ice tumbling into the lake. Talk about a phenomenal lunch spot with a great group!

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It started snowing a little bit before this picture!

Laguna 69 was one heck of a treat! Alli and Ellie hike Peru is off to a grrrreat start!

We made the return trip early enough that we could enjoy a leisurely pace and reached the bus just as it started raining! Perfect timing to enjoy a double rainbow from the shelter of the bus!

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After the return trip on the bus, we were able to shower at our hostel (where they gave us an empty room to use to shower!), get our bags, finish check out, and taxi to a pizza place to meet the group for dinner. Then back to the bus station for another night bus. And copious prayers that this bus would be a bit more successful sleep than the last!!

Posted by elliehirch 10:36 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Bye Brazil


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A quick post about my last events in Brazil and my favourite things over this whirlwind two weeks.

I had one last day to spend back in Rio. Unfortunately it involved not feeling the greatest as I appear to have caught a cold. It was probably inevitable to get a bit run down after so many busy days! And I didn't let that stop me from heading out to hike to Corcovado to see Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer). I went with a few German girls from the hostel. The hike was really beautiful and fun, amazing to be hiking in the forest right beside the city.

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Saw some monkeys on the way as well.

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And then the fun and challenging part up the metal steps and chain link rope. It was actually pretty steep- 704m up over about 3km to the top. I'd rate that one about 50/100 burpees . Let's just say it was a pretty sweaty hour and a half ?

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At the top, Cristo was shrouded in cloudy fog, and still spectacular to see. Unfortunately that meant we didn't get to enjoy the view of the city, but we were able to get a good look at the huge statue.

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And some street art on the way down.

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After the train down and returning to the hostel, I was running out of energy for anything else in Rio. And the 2:30am wake-up to fly to Lima was looming. So it was an early night!

And some time to reflect on my favourite things about Brazil:

- The coffee- available everywhere and traditionally served strong and very sweet- Grandpa you would love it!
- Street food- deep fried bundles of deliciousness found all over. Also the hot dogs. With an array of toppings from corn and peas to quail egg and deep fried Parmesan. Seriously delicious.
- Justin Bieber- I wouldn't say this is necessarily a 'favourite'.... But this token Canadian has basically followed me everywhere, I don't think I've gone a day without hearing his music!
- Caipirinhas- Brazil's most popular drink. Made from cachaça (sugar cane liquor- literally what other kind of alcohol do I need in my life), lime, soda and sugar. Yeah, I had a few.
- And the people. So friendly and nice, even with a language barrier that is present more often than not.
-The whole country is so bright, colorful, beautiful. And definitely on my list of places I want to return to someday.

After only one country I've remembered so many things that only seem real when you're traveling. It feels like I've been gone for longer than I have, meeting great people is easy, leaving places is always hard, there's no end to the amazing destinations you can see. Traveling opens your mind to a whole new world and wealth of experiences.
"Traveling is like flirting with life, it's like saying, 'I would stay and love you, but I have to go; this is my station'."
- Lisa Saint Aubin de Téran

Posted by elliehirch 11:04 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Perusing the Pantanal


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Put away your cell phones kids.. The Pantanal is like Pokemon Go in really life... Only ten times better because you're in the wetlands collecting sightings of amazing wild animals!

I had a smooth and uneventful flight to Campo Grande via São Paulo and spent the night in easily the nicest hostel I've ever seen. I had a ten bunk dorm on the top floor to myself, complete with huge closet, huge bathroom (jacuzzi tub, marble counter, massive mirrors), and balcony with a great view...

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Then pick-up the next morning for the drive into the heart of the Pantanal. Talk about a beautiful drive. When we left the pavement for the dirt roads I was switched to a seat on top of a big truck. We weren't down the road more than 5 minutes before the driver stopped to point out a baby caiman, a toucan, and then a big track across the road from an anaconda. I'm actually happy to report that was one animal he looked around for but we didn't see!
Our first stop in the afternoon was at the jungle lodge by the river for a boat ride. I was given the choice between a smaller canoe or a ride on a bigger boat. I opted for the bigger boat as it would cover a larger distance and head towards the river otters. Again, we hardly covered much distance before spotting capybaras, howler monkeys and many birds. And then.. The magic happened. As were looking at a big heron on the other side of the bank.. We saw it.. Jaguar. Sitting perfectly at the water's edge as if it was posing. I managed to stop shaking long enough to get my phone to video, and then enjoyed about a minute soaking in the presence of such a beautiful creature before it yawned, turned, and stalked off into the bushes. Guides that I asked estimated around 5-10% of visitors to the Pantanal are lucky enough to see one. I felt very lucky indeed.

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What my post jaguar excitement looked like.

The rest of the ride was also beautiful, just a little more calm! The greenery in the Pantanal is truly spectacular. And the smell. Sweet, floral smells throughout the whole place. I've never experienced anything like it. We saw kingfishers, cormorants, and other birds along the way, including the bird that is the symbol of the Pantanal, Tuiuiu or Jabiru stork. Ironically, no river otters. That's ok, I'll take the jaguar any day.

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Jabiru stork, largest bird in Brazil

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The ride ended with the sunset!

I spent both of my two nights there at São Joao farm. I absolutely loved seeing a Pantanal farm and experiencing the similarities and differences to an Alberta farm!

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If you look carefully you can see the caiman in front of the farm on the left and the capybara on the right.

For the rest of my time in the Pantanal I enjoyed walking tours, both daytime and nighttime, horseback riding, jeep/truck rides and piranha fishing. My luck ran out at the fishing. Using long bamboo poles and red meat bait, we waded out into the lagoon, right next to some baby caimans and I attempted to hook some of these toothy fish. When they start to nibble you need to yank the line out of the water to hook them. I managed only to send one flying through the air rather than hook it. Free ride. The guide I was with caught two which I got to enjoy with my dinner. Not much meat on em but it's pretty tender and tasty!
From my ~ 3 days on the tour, the list of animals is so long that I actually started having to write it down on my phone to remember! More capybaras, toucans, caimans and black howler monkeys. Hearing them howl (which they do usually morning and evening or when the weather changes) sounds really weird, almost like airplane jets from a distance. I also saw blue macaws (like Blu from the cartoon Rio), red macaws, agouti, lizards, feral pigs, giant anteater, armadillos, coati, small ostrich, parakeets, egrets, cranes, herons, loads of other birds.

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Toucan!

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Blue macaws

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I love the armadillos! Got so close to one at night I could see the ridges on its back!

And then there is the Pantanal cows. Much skinnier than those I'm used to. The humidity and heat that they have to survive, as well as the floods probably makes them tougher than the cows I'm used to as well. The hottest days in the Pantanal will be up to 45 degrees. I don't even want to know what it 'feels like' with the humidity. I only had to endure about 35 degrees while I was there. I showered 4 times that day.....

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Lastly... Some of my favourite images of the scenery...

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And the classic walking photo!

Everything about the past 3 days was amazing. Beautiful scenery, amazing animals, good food, nice people (I even had a guide for just myself some of the time). Truly spectacular way to experience more of the wonders that Brazil has to offer!

Posted by elliehirch 19:41 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Last Minute Island Life on Ilha Grande


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After a night out at a bar in Copacabana and a few quick hours of sleep it was up and at em at 6am to grab my things, check out, and catch the transfer shuttle to Ilha Grande. I fell asleep probably the second the shuttle left the hostel. Then enjoyed the ferry ride despite the cloudy skies to arrive on the beautiful Grand Island and walk along the beach to my hostel.

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(It's the white building)

This island feels like a paradise dream, humid, lush, secluded (no cars, just bikes), mountains in the middle with jungle that makes me feel like I am in Tarzan.
The view from the hostel and some pictures of the town...

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I waited to check in at the hostel and caught up on the blog, then walked around town with probably the only two other English speakers in the hostel, Farhad from Canada (wooo) and Jessica from Switzerland. The three of us had supper and spent way too long trying to figure out the next day's weather for a potential sunrise hike. We ended up getting up at 2am to attempt it but were unable to get to far as the rain just continued to increase farther into the jungle and rain clouds and fog would have obscured the summit view. So back down for only a few hours of sleep before a boat tour. Despite not reaching the summit, which is always a favorite moment for me, I wouldn't take back the experience. Never hiked through jungle like that and it's never worth it to regret a unique adventure with fun people.
And then we had a few more hours sleep to enjoy the day out on the boat. It started sunny and then got cloudy which didn't diminish the beauty at all. The tour started at the western edge of the island at Gruta do Acaia. A cave that was quite tight to crawl down to where the water glows blue from the light coming through. So cool. This is the best picture which barely begins to show the glowing water!

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Then we stopped at Lagoa Verde (Green Lagoon) and Lagoa Azul (blue lagoon) for some beautiful snorkeling. The water is clear and amazing and there's some beautiful fish all around.

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And the views in the lagoons aren't too bad either.

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Then one last stop here for a late lunch

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And back to the island.

After a quiet night spent eating pizza, drinking wine and listening to Edmonton radio for the Eskimos game (only to hear a heartbreaking loss to the worst team in the CFL), it was off to bed before a sunny morning (of course) to catch the ferry and transfer shuttle to the airport. I'm off to Campo Grande and the Pantanal to hopefully see the elusive jaguar ✌?️.

Posted by elliehirch 12:59 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

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