Goodbye Awesome

June 17, 2010 (Day 30)

The time had finally come.  

Yes, my trip to South America was quickly coming to an end as we boarded our plane back to Canada. 

A bitter sweet moment.

Four weeks ago, we started our journey, not knowing what lied ahead of us but a few ideas of what we wanted to do, and so it began with visits to Cusco, the Amazon Rainforest, Machu Picchu, Puno, Lake Titicaca, Copacabana, La Paz, Death Road, the Salar de Uyuni, San Pedro de Atacama, Arica, Arequipa, and finally back up to Lima. And we survived!  It was an amazing trip filled with spectacular experiences that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

That being said, it was good to be coming back home.  Once we hit Arica, with all the major highlights of our trip done and over with, and all the amenities of modern society quickly returning into our everyday lives, I felt like it was time to come back home to family, friends, fresh air, lush green forests, and a bath tub.  Packing and unpacking a backpack almost everyday was starting to get a little old as well.

As you may have noticed, my posts for the latter part of the trip waned a bit. I apologize for that but I just wanted to get this done while my memories are still pretty fresh in my mind.  I had big plans of keeping a journal of my journeys but that quickly came to an end after I was still writing about Day 1 on Day 11.  Yes, I was more interested in taking in as much of the local sights and culture than making notes in my journal or heaven forbid, spend time documenting them in front of a computer.  I was on vacation after all, and I was going to enjoy every minute of it, as best I could.  If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to ask me.  You know how to reach me and there is always the Comments section below each blog post, where you can express your thoughts.  And if you want to keep track of my journeys in the future, you can always subscribe to my blog.

As for my next trip, who knows? 
I have a long list of places I'd love to visit and there's probably an even longer list of great places I don't even know about yet so we will see what happens...

Thanks for dropping by.

Countdown in Lima

June 16, 2010 (Day 29)

Last night, we walked down Calle de las Pizzas (Pizza Street) to find a place to eat a late dinner and sure enough, solicitors barraged us with their menus until we settled on a place to eat.  Such pesky soliciting tactics were overwhelming and quite frankly obnoxious, and tarnished the potentially great atmosphere of this out-of-the-way pedestrian mall.  We had enough of these experiences over the past month so I guess we were glad they would soon come to an end.

Yes, it was the last full day of our trip, and I was set on seeing downtown Lima.

With a population of close to 8.5 million, Lima is the largest city I've visited to date, and I wasn't about to let its less-than-appealing tourism reputation get in the way of seeing its downtown.  After taxiing to the historic center of Lima, which I have since learned is yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site, we walked around the city core and took in the sights.
The World Cup was on and South Americans love their soccer so a big screen was set up in the main plaza so no one would miss a second of the action.
We concluded our visit of downtown Lima with a pleasant afternoon meal at a little restaurant just around the corner from the main plaza as we people-watched and enjoyed our last hours in South America together.

Looking for Love

June 15, 2010 (Day 28)

Once again, we had the option of busing or flying to our next destination, and considering a flight to Lima was only $59 USD (+ a few dollars for the airport tax) vs. spending 18-24 hours on a bus, we chose the Peruvian Airlines option, and soon found ourselves in the Peruvian capital. After taking the most expensive taxi ride of our trip (50 Soles) to our hostel in Miraflores, we were given a given ample advice by the hostel's owner, Francis, on what and where to go, see, and eat.  Oh yes, eat. Francis was a big fan of eating and provided many suggestions as to where we can find the best meals in town.  After countless suggestions that could have easily lasted us a couple of weeks' worth of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks, Francis outlined on his unique maps of Lima, the areas of the city we should not enter. Ummm.... excuse me Francis, what did you just say? What happens there? You don't want to know, he responded. He marked those areas with big X's and soon we were on our way out of the fortress.
Our hostel, Albergue Miraflores House, was located in the Lima suburb of Miraflores, which is supposedly a safe neighbourhood for tourists and thus is home to many hostels and American chain restaurants.  After lunch, my traveling companions headed for the nearby theatre to watch a movie while I spent the afternoon strolling through the streets of Miraflores and coming across many embassies, consulates, markets, stores, and banks.
Our days of basic South American living were definitely over as we hit the big city. This city had it all... from major movie theatres to 2-storey Pizza Huts and KFC's to ScotiaBanks on what felt like every corner.  If it weren't for the armed bank guards and palm trees, you would think you were in a Canadian city... well, almost.  There was a little thing called Spanish in there as well.
Going back to the guards, the money transporters (ie. the guys in the Brinks' trucks) were walking out of banks with their guns out and ready for anything.  No holster-holding guards here... they were ready to shoot in a split-seconds' notice.  Luckily, I did not encounter any trigger-happy guards, and safely made my way around the city.

After passing Air Canada's Peruvian head office, I found myself searching for love at the Parque del Amor (Love Park), which is nestled on the cliff's edge overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
The park sign self-proclaims itself as  an "Outstanding Park that shows the famous sculpture "El Beso" ("The Kiss") designed and sculpted by the artist Victor Delfin." 

"My shadow's the only one that walks beside me
My shallow heart's the only thing that's beating
Sometimes I wish someone out there will find me
'til then
I walk alone..."
- Green Day

The Shattering Glass Incident

June 14, 2010 (Day 27)

Since Arequipa is such a major tourist destination, I won't talk much about the city as you can easily find info elsewhere but I will say that I wish we had more time to explore this beautiful city and its surrounding area. With all the natural attractions, such as the Colca Canyon, el Misti Volcano, and hot springs in its vicinity, I could have easily spent at least a week in and around Arequipa, and probably not seen everything worth seeing.
But unfortunately, our time was limited, and we soon had to be on our way back to reality but before we did, we spent the day strolling the streets, markets, shops, plazas, and courtyards of Arequipa.
And then to finish off the day, we enjoyed some gelato at a little spot around the corner from the Plaza de Armas that didn't think that little shards of broken glass would interfere with one's gelato experience but let's not go into that incident right now.... 

Taxiing Across The Border

June 13 (Day 26) 

After two days of beachbumming around Arica, it was time to make our way slowly back up to Lima, but not without visiting Arequipa first.  But to do so, we had to get across the border into Peru first.  There are a few options available but apparently the easiest is to grab a collectivo taxi from the bus terminal, and cross the border to Tacna by cab.  From there, you have the option of bussing or flying to Arequipa.  Considering the flight to Arequipa was priced at $30 USD (plus a few dollars for an airport tax) on Peruvian Airlines and took less than a hour, we decided to "splurge" on air travel to save us the time and risks associated with bus travel. 

So there we were waiting for our taxi outside with the hostel staff who recommended the taxi+flight strategy to us, only to find out that they never done it, nor have they heard back from anyone who had done it. Ummm... is this the greatest idea then?  Hmm, they heard back from no one?  Not very reassuring when you're taking a taxi in unknown territories and crossing an international border.  That being said, the staff members were an Australian couple just working a few weeks in Arica before their planned train trip to Peru. But why were they choosing the train over the taxi+flight?  Before we could get an answer, our taxi arrived, and we were off to the Arica Bus Terminal.  Well, that's at least where the Australian told the driver to take us.  Sure enough, we stopped just outside the bus terminal and before you know it, there's a guy taking our backpacks out of the trunk, and offering us a ride across the border.  Ok, let's go with the flow.  We got into his car, and he asks for our passports.  By this point of the trip, we got used to pulling out our passports for every single little thing because it seemed like almost everyone wanted to check our ID when traveling by bus, train, boat, or plane.  So we handed over our passports, and he quickly scooted out of the car and into a nearby storefront.  Ummm... what just happened there?  There better be only one door out of that store.  Luckily, he came back with our passports and immigration forms already filled out with our information a few moments later. That was a relief!  

As we drove towards the border, we could see in the distance, miles upon miles of beaches and spectacular waves.  We hit the border and got out of the car to show our paperwork at two modern offices (one Chilean and one Peruvian), and we were soon on our way to Tacna Airport.
The whole cab ride took less than 2 hours and we arrived with plenty of time to lounge around and watch most of the Germany-Australia World Cup game.  Funny thing is as Steph walked through the security scanner, Germany scored their first goal, and well let's just say, scrutiny was very lax at that moment and the moments soon thereafter as I passed through the gate (as I later found out in the screening section at the airport in Arequipa)... oops!  I meant no harm!
After landing in Arequipa and being escorted to our hostel, we headed out to have a customized, right out of the cookbook, traditional Arequipan dinner at a restaurant overlooking the main square.
The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it's hard to argue its inclusion on the list.

Life's a Beach

June 12, 2010 (Day 25)

Another day in Arica meant another day at the beach. Sharky was ready, and so were we.

Walking along the pedestrian mall on the way to the beach, we came across the tequila-carrying mule

and around the corner, the little church, Mr. Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame, designed.

After that, it was another sunny day at the beach....

“Our memories of the ocean will linger on, 
long after our footprints in the sand are gone.”
- Anonymous

Arica and the Chilean Pacific

June 11, 2010 (Day 24)

I guess to compensate for our previous freezing cold bus trip, this overnight bus trip to Arica, Chile was extremely hot.  They really cranked up the heat, and I must have dozed off and fallen unconscious for the majority of the 10-hour bus ride.  It was like a sauna in there!

Arriving in Arica at around 6am, we took a taxi to the Arica Surf House, our hostel for the next two nights. Arica is apparently the driest city of Earth, with an average annual precipitation of only 0.76mm.  With that in mind, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that a significant portion of the hostel does not even have a roof.

but don't worry, we weren't sleeping under the stars..... but how cool would that have been?

Arica is right on the Pacific coast so it was definitely time to hit the beach and relax to the sounds of the crashing waves.

“The sea gives, and the sea takes away.
The sea gave me a great deal,
but fickle as it is,
it tried to steal it back,
and nearly me with it.”

- Kimberly K. Jones

Geysers, Hot Springs, and a Missing Jeep

June 10, 2010 (Day 23)

It's five o'clock in the morning. Time to wake up. We're leaving in 30 minutes. 
Yes, morning has finally arrived!

We boarded the jeep and made our way to witness the sunrise amongst the geysers and hot springs.

It was time for breakfast and the other jeep wasn't behind us. Perhaps, they stayed back at the geysers a bit longer. Maybe the Australian girls were still in bed at the lodge. Maybe the jeep got stuck.  These were all theories that passed through our minds as we waited for our English-speaking tour guide and cook to arrive with the other jeep.  Our Spanish-speaking driver did not have a radio to communicate with the other jeep, and was just as clueless as the rest of us.  We had to be at the Chilean border by 9:45am to catch our bus. Time was quickly ticking away. Around 8am, our cook arrived and informed us that the other jeep broke down by the geysers.  She hitched a ride to the cabin to prepare our breakfast while our guide and that jeep's tour group stayed behind to attempt to fix the jeep. Luckily, we weren't in that jeep.  We rushed through breakfast and continued on our journey towards the border.  Our driver was flooring it. Even though the jeep's speedometer did not work, it was evident that were driving much faster than the posted speed limit. I still don't know why they have speed limit signs there but perhaps it just meant that we were slowly approaching civilization again.

We arrived at Laguna Verde, where the water is a hint of green in colour. Once again, definitely not as vibrant as in all the photographs, but beautiful nonetheless.

We then headed off to our final destination, the Bolivian-Chilean border, where we waited by a little building until our shuttle bus arrived.

Now for a quick review of Andes Salt Expeditions Tour Operator:

On the plus side, we arrived at our final destination safely and on time without any incidents.  That being said, I found that our tour wasn't very time efficient, and from what I could see (and what do I know), our entire tour could have easily been completed over a 2 day / 1 night period.  By the time our tour started, it was already past noon on the first day. We could have easily started earlier and traveled further on our first day (or stayed longer at the two main stops to take even more funny pictures or further explore Fish Island, if the location of our lodges was the reason for our late start). The second day definitely ended too quickly as we were at our lodge by 3pm with nothing to see or do for the rest of the day. We could have easily continued onto the geysers and hot springs for a late afternoon dip before heading back to the lodge.  I assume the location of the lodges was again the issue but since they were so basic, why not build new lodges in more convenient locations.  But anyways, this is probably an issue common to all the operators. As for our English-speaking tour guide, he was in the other jeep so we really didn't benefit from any of his services outside the few comments he made at the stops. He also did not hang out with us at the lodges in the evenings. Luckily, we didn't pay too much extra for his services because we ended up relying mostly on the explanations our Australian friends received from their personal English-speaking Peruvian tour guide. As for our driver, he was a bit adventurous, taking the road less traveled in many instances, which was more than fine with me, yet he wasn't too friendly or considerate. He was never drunk and did get us to our destination safely so that should be recognized as we heard tourists talking about a drunk driver (from another tour operator) who apparently flipped a jeep the day before our trip began.  You definitely don't want that to happen when you're in the middle of nowhere in a salt flat or desert. As for the jeeps, ours was ok, despite the band-aid on the passenger door ;) These jeeps take a lot of abuse under a variety of conditions so it is to be expected that they wouldn't be in the greatest condition but it should be noted that the other jeep had mechanical problems that disrupted the tour.  All in all, Andes Salt Expeditions showed us the sites as promised so while they might not be the best organized tour operators, they managed to get the job done for us.

Now, back to the day's events.  We crossed the border into Chile in what can only be described as one of those modern airport shuttle buses you see in North America, 

and made our way down a paved downhill highway to San Pedro de Atacama, where we got our passports stamped and belongings thoroughly examined by hand. The officer checking my backpack noticed my first aid supplies, and asked me if I'm a doctor. I giggled under my breath and said no.  Apparently, if you have a first aid kit in Chile, you're automatically considered to be a doctor!

Welcome to Chile!  Home of the $5000 pitcher of beer!

The menu prices are, of course, priced in Chilean Pesos, but besides the extra zeros involved in the currency conversion, things were still considerably more expensive than in either Peru or Bolivia.

San Pedro de Atacama is a quiet little town, once again geared towards tourists, as it acts as the Chilean starting point for a lot of eco-tours and outdoor expeditions.  Unfortunately, we didn't have more time to explore the local natural attractions as we were soon on our way on our next overnight bus trip to Arica, Chile.

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