Monday, December 29, 2008

Lima - Life is what happens ...

Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans. Once again I have to quote John Lennon ;-)

Yesterday night I took the night bus to Lima with the intention to getting my tickets today (Thomas sent them to the Travex Agency in Lima) and fly to Rio de Janeiro tomorrow. The flight looks good so I didn´t expect any problems...

But when me and Couchsurfing friend Enzo arrived at the Travex Agency this afternoon they didn´t know anything about the tickets. They said they don´t even offer the service of receiving mail for Amex customers. I went back another time but no chance, they told me that they had no idea what I am talking of and don´t have the tickets. So it seems as I will spend new year in Lima, which actually doesn´t seem too bad at all ;-) Weather is perfect and there are lots of things to do around here! And I have met someone at the Plaza de Armas - like in Ecuador you won't be alone for long on Peru - and we went for a walk and a game of table football tonight and he seemed very happy about my misfortune ;-)

Moche, Chimu and back to the future

After spending two days lazing around in Trujillo and Huanchaco beach I finally overcame my inner temptation and went on a tour to visit the archeological sites around Trujillo. Usually I don´t like tours and also this time I got a bit pissed as we spend too much time waiting for people, having lunch in a bad restaurant and so on. But the sites we visited definately "valen la pena" - are worth it.

In the morning we first visited the Moon Temple. The Moon Temple belonged to the capital of the Moche empire, build and inhabited between 100 BC and untill around 800 AC. The Moche worshipped nature and most of all the sun and the moon. The sun and moon, day and night, represented to them the duality of nature, the positive and the negative side. The Moche accepted both sides and tried to find harmony and balance between the two. They also represented their Gods both smiling and angry in various pictures to represent this duality.

The buildings of the Moche empire are all made of mud bricks which braved the winds and rains - but unfortunately not the various attacks and worst of all, lootings. Today you can still marvel at part of the mural paintings which have been excavated and restored but the graves of the Moche rulers and their treasures have been looted by the Spaniards. Unfortunately the treasures can´t even be found in Spanish museums anymore because the Spanish melted them down into gold coins. In their greed for gold the Spanish even changed the riverbed of the Moche river to flood the Sun Temple - which used to be the biggest pre-Columbian building in the Americas before this happened - to make the water wash out the treasures of the tombs and chambers.

Somehow it made my really sad to learn about all this - so much beauty and craftmanship lost forever! And even though the human sacrifices of the Moche sounds very cruel - their admiration for nature is something we could learn from today and its a pity that there is not more left to study their culture. But yes, the human sacrificas which are also depicted in the murals are quite scary. For example they used to drug prisoners and push them from a rock close to the city whenever there was a storm or other indication that "the Gods where angy". This ritual was depicted on some ceramics excavated at the site and later confirmed by bones found at the bottom of the rock.
After visiting the Moon Temple we went back to Trujillo to have the usual lunch break - too long as always - in a typical tourist restaurant. The best way to spoil any nice tour... but ok, I survived and we went to visit the Rainbow Temple, a Temple belonging to the city of Chan Cha, the capital of the Chimu culture which successed the Moche culture and was finally conquered my the Incas. In the Rainbow Temple the murals depict mythological creatures and human sacrifices - especially children. Our guide explained that they usually sacrificed the most intelligent and brilliant kids. We where all wondering what future a society can have that sacrifices the most promising of its children... Maybe that´s why in the end the Incas took over.

After the Rainbow Temple we went to the main Chan Chan excavations and visited what is left of one palace and the burial grounds. But also here the site has been looted so many times that absolutely nothing has been found by the archeologists. Some Spanish texts exists about when the Spanish found the site - at that time they still found some beautifully dressed mummies wearing exquisite jewlery - but by the 1950s when the archeologists started excavating the site everything had disappeared - what a pity!

One witness of Chima times can still be found at the site - the naked Peruvian dog! Ugly as sin but worshipped as son of the moon by the Chimu. The Chimu used these dogs in religious ceremonies to ask the Moon to send rain. Nowadays the Peruvian dogs just laze around and pose for tourists taking pictures ;-)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Tranquilo in Trujillo

On December 25 I took the bus to Trujillo. I had chosen a daytime bus beause I wanted to see the landscape but then ended up sleeping most of the way as there was not much to see - the region between Piura and Trujillo is desert like with only a few villages and Chiclayo as the only bigger town inbetween.

Trujillo itself is very charming - just the right size to walk around the town in a day or two, visit the many stunning colonial churches and buildings and test the numerous little cafes along calle Pizarro.

I used the first day to relax a bit and make the usual "pit-stop" of checking my mails, looking for a "lavanderia" (laundry) and - getting my nails done! During the last weeks and months this has turned into one of my favourite pasttimes (besides going fishing ;-)). Its a great way to meet girsl - as usually as a gringa you will mostly meet men - and have a chitchat about life in general and particular. And then of course I got many compliments for my untypical backpackers hands and feet ;-) Today I was especially lucky in my choice of "sala de belleza" - the girl doing my feet was very good in her job and also well liked by the others, I guess, as they sat down next to us to have their lunch break. I stayed at least one hour and we covered subjects from the economic state of the US to the affect of family planning on Peru´s society. The girls were really sweet and definately much better educated and informed then you´d expect from the average esthetician.

So, next time you think of paying for a Spanish class in Antigua or Cusco - save up the money and better invest in a pedicure in Trujillo ;-)

I rounded up this nice and sunny day with a yummy dinner of avocado sandwhich and fruit salad at a lovely Italian restaurant-café planning my adventures for 2009 :-)

This is the view from my hostal, Hostal Colonial Trujillo at sunset...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Actually Roberto and I had planned to go camping for christmas and spend "Noche Buena", the night from December 24 to 25 on the beach. But then I got the mail from Thomas telling me he would be in Rio de Janeiro for New Year. So I decided to hurry up and leave Puerto Lopez before christmas - which, I have to be honest, I do regret now, even though I had a nice christmas in Piura.

As I didn´t know anybody in Piura I was expecting to spend christmas in a hostel, reading or sleeping. But - how so often on this trip - I was lucky and met a fellow "Northern Light", Martin from Hamburg. He had seen in the hostal register that I was from Mainz and when we later met in a cyber café we started talking... and decided to have christmas dinner together. Later we went to mass in the cathedral which was really beautifull and breathtaking. The church was so crowded, people were standing outside on the sidewalk. Only when "Silent night, holy night" was playing I got a bit homesick... but Martin with his wonderfull northern accent managed to cheer me up quite soon. Actually we had a great time later on as to most kids we were by far a much bigger attraction then the different Santa Clauses offering to pose for a picture ;-)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

We will always have P...uerto López!

After 10 days in Puerto López it was really hard to say goodbye. If I hadn´t Bill and Thomas waiting for me in Rio de Janeiro I would have stayed for at least another 10 days, definately! Another 10 days of fishing, cooking and playing "Shitty Head" ;-)

Puerto Lopez is a place where you leave your cellphone and wallet at the beach to go for a run and when you come back it will still be there. You can also leave open your door at night - which makes it easier for your friends to come in in the morning and kick you out of bed ;-) I will miss all of this.

But most of all I will miss Roberto who made my stay in Puerto Lopez so relaxed and memorable, always giving his best to show me the beauty of the place, tasting the best local food and meeting the nicest people. He took me fishing, running, cycling, snorkeling and taught me dancing on the beach, we went to mass and to the circus, we had coffee and "cachos" in the afternoon and wonderfull dinners at night... and he even accompanied me all the way to Guayaquil and made sure, I got on the right bus to Piura, which meant he had to stay over night at the bus staion and wait 5 hours for his bus to go back. I guess a friend like that is the best christmas gift one can get :-) And when he told me the same thing just before I was leaving I decided that I will be back to Puerto Lopez in 2009 - not only for the whales :-)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Piratas and Patacones

If you want to visit the beaches and islands around Puerto Lopez and do outdoor sports you can book a tour at one of the many agencies at the "Malecon". Or you can have a drink at one of the beach huts, hope you´ll meet a former tourist guide and spend the money on food and drinks ;-). I, of course, did the last one and it worked out perfectly. While I was enjoying my papaya and mango juice I got to know Roberto, who used to work for one of the agencies a couple of years ago but now owns a bar and is free untill 8pm to play sports and relax on the beach. We went to play beach volley and were lucky enought to have a French guy in the opposite team who played worse than me and made it easy for us to win - and for me to get accepted in the team. Later on Roberto offered to take me kayaking, snorkeling and surfing and of course, my new passion, fishing on the following days! In the evening we went dancing at the beach and I got another salsa lesson - barefeet in the sand next to a camp fire - que vida boa (oups, buena!)! ;-)

(And I got to see some extraordinary wildlife when I went to the outhouse of Roberto`s bar last night - there was a huge spider sitting right in the toilet bowl! Thank God I am not one of those persons who flips out when they see a spider - I was just a bit concerned about its choice of habitat ;-))

Today we met at 10am for an "expedition" - a surprise, Roberto didn´t want to tell me more. Just that I had to take some drinking water, bikini and a towel. We went off by bus and then hiked down to a little hidden beach which has beautifull rock formations and caves (where according to Roberto pirates used to hide and now dwarfs live) . From there we climbed over the rocks to some larger beach and walked maybe half an hour, an hour to the end of the beach. Roberto kind of reminds me of Forrest Gump - he is really cute and doesn´t say much. But if he says something is pretty cool and you keep wondering if he is joking or not. Like when we saw some snails I told him that the French eat them. He didn´t say much and I was not sure if he got it. But then when we spoke about the French guy and how bad he played volley, Roberto just said its because he eats snails. I am still not sure if it was a joke or not, but I´m liking it. He can also go hours without talking which is kind of relaxing. From the end of the beach the original plan was to take a kayak to the island of Salango where you can go snorkeling and watch sea birds. As the kayaks where a bit expensive we asked some of the local boys to take us to the islands by boat. On the way to the island Roberto spotted the diving boat of one of his friends who takes tourist to dive and snorkel. We entered the boat like pirates and went snorkeling, too. It was just amazing - we saw many beautifull fishes, yellow and blue striped ones and one that reminded me of the Alzheimer-fish in "Finding Nemo". Actually I had to think of the movie all the time and guess I´ll watch it again when I get to Rio ;-)

We went back with the boat to Puerto Lopez and headed for the market where we bough fresh tuna and vegetables and platanos. Roberto asked me to cook something and actually it turned out to be quite yummy. He also showed me how to prepare "patacones", one of my favourite food here in Ecuador. As we used the kitchen in his bar we had the soundsystem on full volume all the time - listening to Jack Johnson, Bob Marley, Orishas... how much better can life be :-)

After dinner we went to play and watch volley, swim and run on the beach. I see a chance of losing my traveling-belly, caused by yummy south American food ;-) Tomorrow we will go fishing in the morning and later mountain biking... guess I will get stuck here for some more days ;-)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

La vida loca in Puerto Lopez

Actually I came to Puerto Lopez to relax a little bit before starting the long way "back home" to Rio via Peru and to visit the Machalilla National Park. The Isla de la Plata is considered "Galapagos for the poor" as it has some of the species found on Galapagos but is way more "economico". Puerto Lopez itself is a little beach town (village!) north of the surfer´s paradise of Montañita and looks pretty laid back (which translates into "dead" ;-)) - on the first view!

I arrived on saturday morning at 6am with the night bus from Quito, took a Ecuadorian version of a tuktuk to my Hosteria Itapoa (which I chose because its Brazilian owned and therefore possible to speak Portuguese ;-)) and slept until noon.

So yes, my primary reasons for coming to Puerto Lopez where to relax and visit the national park - but, as one wise man said (was it John Lennon?) Life is what happens whilst your making plans ;-) So far I have neither relaxed nor visited the national park ;-)

On saturday evening I went out to have dinner and check my mails and on the back happened what my parents feared most on this trip - I got kidnapped by the Colombians! I resisted their attemps to fill me up with Vodka but couldn`t free myself from having to dance salsa and reggaeton until 3am in the morning. Thank God the randsom only consisted of a minor donation for more vodka and at 5am I finally arrived at my cabaña. So much for relaxing...

Monday, December 8, 2008

Quito - I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship

So many people tried to scare me off from going to Quito - so I was already sure that I´d love it ;-) The so called dangerous and ugly places are usually the best ones ;-) And I was right - I have only arrived about 5 hours ago but I have already fallen for Quito and the Quiteños!

Described as "cheap and non-touristic" in the Lonely Planet I chose the Grand Hotel in the old city center for my 3-4 nights in Quito - and it is perfect! The hotel looks pretty gloomy from the outside but once you´re in you will be welcomed by the sweet staff and old-time charme. The reception is kind of 50ish, there is a cafeteria, a tv room and even one with a ping pong table! The room is clean, has a creaking wooden floor, a white metal bed and a beautiful view, especially at sunset. Oh yes, and there is even a cat that shows up from nowhere and races around the long corridors. A wonderful old fashioned athmosphere without being dusty or smelly - just love it! The street it is in is also perfect - a bit off the old city center it is full of cheap restaurants, internet cafes and little grocery shops.

After congratulating myself on chosing this pefect place to stay I took off to explore the city - and once again have been rewarded for my choice :-) I sat down in a simple juice bar to have a pineapple juice and consult my Lonely Planet - and this cute guy asks me if he can sit down with me and treat me on a cake. So why not? Turns out his father owns the place and he treats me for another coffee and an ice cream and then offers to show me the city tomorrow. This is not the first time someone just invites me on a coffee or icecream and offers to show me around. I guess Ecuadorians have just pushed the Dutch from my personal number one of sweet people ;-) I already know that it will be hard to say goodbye next week... lets hope, Peruvians can keep up with their neighbours ;-) So far my CS contacts seem wonderful, so I am not too worried...

More on Quito soon! :-)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Devil´s Nose Train - Riobamba to Alausi

On Wednesday morning I finally took the famous Devil´s Nose train from Riobamba to Alausi. It was freezing and I arrived about one hour before arrival but still - the "good" places on the roof where already occupied by my dear countrymen ;-) Guess they must have been camping at the train station in order to get the best seats. Well, Germans have been infamous for occupying deck chairs at 5:00 am with their beach towels and the like, so I was not too surprised and used the time until departure to get coffee, croissants and bananas for the trip. Actually it turned out to be much better inside the train at for the first two hours even in there it was freezing cold.

The train ride definately is scenic and the Devil´s Nose part of the track really impressive - but then again the train is purely touristic and quite overpriced (11USD). Most bus connections in the highlands are equally impressive and scenic and less pricey.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

My route 2008

Time flies! We are already in December and I had to decide on how to get back to Brazil to spend the holidays with my one and only carioca, Bill :-) So tomorrow I will leave Riobamba and continue North to Banos and Quito. From there I will travel down the coast to check out the Ecuadorian beaches and pick up my bag in Guayaquil before heading to Peru. I hope I will have the time to stop in Trujillo to visit the Chan Chan ruins and then continue to Lima and Cusco. Around December 20 I will try to get back to Rio on a stand-by ticket with Lan Peru.
For 2009 I am planning to travel to Minas Gerais, the South of Brazil, Uruguay, Buenos Aires, Paraguay, Iguassu falls, and maybe via Bolivia, Peru and Brazil to Venezuela. I haven´t decided on a fix route yet and am open to suggestions if anybody is traveling in these parts of the world :-)

Monday, December 1, 2008

On the road to Riobamba

On the bus to Riobamba I met Robert from California who has been traveling for 5 years! We spoke about the joy of being on the road, the wonderful encounters and the great feeling of never knowing what the next day will bring... He told me that traveling now comes natural to him and he can`t imagine to settle down in the future. Somehow I fear I might end up like him - an eternal traveler ;-) We shared some travel stories and most of all we had a good laugh about all the warnings you receive - especially from people who have never left their home towns or countries. Those in particular will tell you how dangerous the country is you are currently traveling in and how high chances are to get robbed, raped, killed, what ever! Sure, you have to be careful wherever you go but we both agreed that until now - thank God - the positive encounters outweigh the negative experiences by far. Still, we also shared some tips on traveling save and I was happy to hear that so far I have done exactly as he - as a far more experienced backpacker - does too. Robert also recommended me some interesting books on South America, especially about the history of the continent and we ended up trading travel guides - my Footprints South America Handbook against his Lonely Planet South America on a Shoestring :-)

Riobamba is smaller then Cuenca but it is also far less touristic and therefore has its own charm. Once again I have been blessed with a great Couchsurfing host, Fausto. He showed me around, we cooked, watched a movie... once again it feels like being with an old friend - the joy of Couchsurfing :-)

Mama Negra - Latacunga

I actually came to Riobamba to take the famous Devil`s Nose train on Sunday.
But then my host Fausto told me about the Mama Negra celebrations in Latacunga (about 2hrs North of Riobamba) and as this fiesta takes place only once a year and the train goes 3 times a week of course we went to see the Mama Negra. By chance, Geovanny from Guayaquil also happened to be in Latacunga for a mountain bike race so we all met up there and had a great time.

"The Fiesta of the Mama Negra, which takes place in the city of Latacunga is one of the most fascinating cultural events in Ecuador. This public celebration of civic pride rivals Brazil’s festivals as an emblematic “melting pot” of wildly divergent cultural traditions: Spanish, Incan, Aymaran, Mayan, African, and most recently, gay.

The fiesta has its origins with the colonization of Latacunga by the Spanish for its rich mineral resources. The native inhabitants were forced to convert to Catholicism, but the conversion was not entirely pure, with the result that indigenous elements, such as a polytheistic belief in “spirits” became part of the new religion. The Spanish conquerors brought in additional populations from Bolivia, Guatemala, and ultimately, Africa as slaves, and they too, brought their own beliefs and traditions to Latacunga.

What set the holiday in motion was the eruption of the Cotopaxi volcano in 1742. The citizens of the region petitioned the “Virgin of Mercy,” who had been designated the patron of the volcano, and when Latacunga was spared, an annual celebration was set in place to honor her.
The festival was traditionally held during the last weekend in September, but was on the verge of dying out in the early 1960's when Cotopaxi Governor Virgilio Guerrero proposed saving it and making it coincide with Latacunga's official celebration of its founding on November 11th. The now-official holiday had the ironic effect of reviving interest in the traditional religious celebration of the "Virgin of Mercy," which also features the Mama Negra, but the larger and more colorful celebration is in November. Dates vary from year to year- sometimes coinciding with Latacunga's founding and sometimes with the days surrounding Day of the Dead- so be sure to ask around.

The event constitutes a parade of characters, such as the Angel of the Stars, the Moorish King, as well as Los Huacos, who represent Latacunga’s pre-Colombian heritage, and the Camisonas, colorful transvestites, in a parade that attracts many, as well as dancers, musicians, and marching bands, all culminating in the arrival, on horseback, of the Mama Negra, the Black Mother, a combination of the Virgin with African deities. The Mama Negra, bearing dolls representing her “children,” is elaborately costumed and from a container sprays milk and water on the parade goers.

Candy and wine containers are also tossed to the crowds, and restaurateurs all feature Latacunga’s most famous contribution to Ecuadorian cuisine, Chugchucaras; deep fried pork, pork rinds, popcorn potatoes, maize, and plantain."

(Borrowed from Ricardo Segreda;

Friday, November 28, 2008


Cuenca really took me by surprise! I had heard many positive things about it but I definately was not prepared for a city of this beauty! And the trip from Guayaquil to Cuenca in itself is worth the trip - the mountain scenery is just amazing. After driving through pure and unspoilt nature for about 2-3 hours suddenly you arrive in a city that can compete with any Italian or Spanish historic city - if not in size then defiantely in beauty. At every corner you will find another church or colonial building, the plazas are full of flowers and trees... and as a contrast to the colonial and typical European architecture you´ll see the indigenas in her colourful skirts with long braids and cute little children with red cheeks on her backs. Many carry their babies and toddlers in a kind of scarf on their back and you´ll only see the little feet dangling out of it - it is very cute! :-)

I am staying with Couchsurfer Patricio in his house really close to the city center. He is from Cuenca originally and knows a lot about the city and the region which is really helpfull as my Footprints South America handbook is a bit disappointing. Unfortunately he had to work today and I am exploring the city alone. But then again Ecuadorians are really friendly and open and I have already some nice people and been invited for a coffee and a chat. People stop you on the street and ask you where you come from, if you enjoy Ecuador, which places you have seen and will visit in the future and they welcome you to their country. Ecuadorians smile a lot and until now I have had the pleasure to meet only pleasant, helpful people - even in the post office, a place usually reserved for unfriendly, bureaucratic staff ;-)

Tomorrow I will continue North to Riobamba to take the Devil´s Nose Train on Sunday morning.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


I arrived from Panam to Guayaquil standby on COPA - this time unfortunately not on an Embraer aircraft but a B737 ,-) My original plan was to stay with Geovanny and his lovely sister but I arrived at 2pm and he had to work until 6pm, at least. Being really, really tired and exhausted from the Murphy trip I therefore decided to go to a hostel to get some rest. In the evening Geovanny picked me up and showed me some typical Ecuadorian food (corviche) and took me to the beautifully restored Las Penas and Malecon 2000.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Murphy`s trip

Murphy's law broadly states that anything that can possibly go wrong, does. Our short trip to Costa Rica turned out to be a prime example for this phenomenon and therefore will make history as the Murphy trip. (Fortunately, Murphy´s law doesn´t say that you can´t have fun while everything goes wrong ;-)!)

We hit the road very early on Friday morning because we had to reach David (the city!) before 2:30pm, as Jose had to get a permission to leave the country (which he had found out only by chance the night before!). Even though it rained heavily we made it to David on time and Jose got his paper. So far everything seemed to be alright and we reached the bordertown of Paso Cano quite relieved and anxious to go to Costa Rica - but here Murphy made his first and maybe best point: we needed a permission to take the car over the border to Costa Rica! This took us about 6 hours! It turned out that David had bought his car before the current data system had been introduced and the data for his car were still in the old system and had not been transferred. The papers had therefore to be filled out manually and the immigration police had to check with Interpol if there were any reports about the car. And everytime we thought it was alright they needed another document, another copy, another set of data... Finally we got the permission and drove over the border to the Costa Rican side and... Funny enough, the Costa Rican immigration officer didn´t want to accent the manual paper and David and Jose had to go back to the Panamanian side, with no success, back to the Costa Rican officer... finally, finally we were allowed to enter the promised land! But - enter Murphy, once again - by now it was already dark and the pass to San Jose was closed. We had to spend the night, not as David suggested in the "Cucaracha Dorada" but the "Hongkong Hotel" in Palmar de Norte.

The next morning we continued out trip over the Cerro de la Muerte which absolutely lived up to its name: still heavy rains, mud slides, fallen trees on the road...

We made it over the Cerro but got lost in San Jose and it took us quite some time to reach our destination, Alajuela. Our host, who had expected us the day before had left to the US and we had to find the house- and dog- and catsitter, David from Georgia, to let us in. Thank God a neighbour helped us to locate David II in an internet cafe. As a little treat to Murphy Nicky got lost on her way back from the internet cafe. The grand finale was definately when Daisy, our hosts little dog, made her business under the living room table when we where out on Sunday.
Anyway, despite Murphy's little treats we had a wonderful time in Costa Rica. It was a pleasure meeting David II and we had lots of laughs, especially on Sunday night when we went to the karakoke night at the local pub.

The way back to Panama was rainy and foggy but we made it over the border without further problems. Nicky left us in Penonome to take the bus to Panama and we went home to El Valle where I spend my last night in David´s beautiful house. Despite the rain and Murphy I had a fantastic time with David and his friends. Thanks for everything, David!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Oh wie schoen ist Panama :-)

After a great breakfast on the Sunday market in Manaus Eric and Silvio took me to the airport. Even though we had only met a couple of days before it was really sad to say goodbye - we've had so much fun mixing languages, singing a Portuguese version of Jingle bells and many Edith Piaf songs in the car. Thank you so much, merci beaucoup! :-)

I had a stand-by ticket on COPA and thank God the flight was only half full and I got a seat right away. Contacting my couchsurfing host, Daniel, was not that easy. I had no coins and the machine selling phone cards was broken. I finally decided to call him via a credit card phone but I only got his voice message. It was already past 9pm and I had neither a guide book on Panama nor the number or address of a hostel. Just when I was starting to worry a bit some ladies gave me some coins, I tried to call him again ' and this time I was lucky. He gave me the directions to his appartment and I made it there without further problems. Daniels girlfriend from Germany came over and we watched 'The Devil wears Prada' together.

On Monday morning Daniel had to work but he managed to take some time off and take me to the Canal museum at Miraflores Locks. On Monday afternoon I met with David, my couchsurfing for the next 4 days and we drove to the beautiful green little city of El Valle de Anton.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Museu do Seringueiro

Me, Igor, Silvio and Eric in a 'seringueiro' hut.

On Sunday Eric suggested to visit the Museu do Seringal Vila Paraíso, a 25 min. boat ride from Ponta Negra and Silvio and Igor joined us. The museum is a re-creation of a rubber plantation from the early 1900s. The reconstructed buildings - the luxurious mansion of the rubber baron, a little store, a church, a rubber tappers shack and a tent like smoke house where the latex where processed - were based on detailed descriptions and maps that were written and drawn by a Portugese author who lived on the plantation while it was operating.

We were the only visitors and our guide Judith who was very enthusiastic as well about the process of rubber production as about the social conditions of this industry gave us a very good insight on what life had been like for the seringueiros (the rubber tappers) and the seringalista (the rubber baron).

At first we visited the luxurious house of the rubber baron - decorated with finest European furniture and materials . Judith pointed out the crystal beer bottles imported from Germany and the crates of French champagne. She also explained to us that the clothes, of European origin, of course, were sent back to Europe for cleaning. A costly and timely procedure - but affordable for the rubber barons who lit their Cuban cigars with dollar bills, as she told us. Even though they lived deep in the Amazon forest, the rubber barons enjoyed a luxurious and decadent lifestyle, letting them forget the hot and humid climate.

The life of the seringueiros, the rubber tappers, on the contrary was very cruel. Even though they were free in theory, they lived as slaves. They had to exchange the rubber they produced for food and tools in the little shop owned by the seringalista. They scarcely would accumulate enough money to travel back to their families and if they did so they were likely to be assaulted and killed on the way.

The work day of the seringueiros began at 2:00am when, wearing a kind of hat with a oil lantern, they started cutting the tree
s and hanging a little tin under each cut. They would tap up to 150 trees each day. After cutting all the trees they would collect the liquid rubber milk from the little tins and fill it in one big bucket. They had to collect the rubber milk before sun came up as the heat would make the milk go solid. After collecting the rubber milk the seringueiro would light a smoking fire in the so called smoke house and pour the liquid rubber milk over the smoke on a wooden stick. The smoke would make the rubber solid and also cause the typical dark grey colour.

Judith showed us the whole process and pointed out the many difficulties and dangers involved. She was so passionate about it, especially about the living conditions of the seringueiros and answered all our questions.

We really enjoyed the visit, especially as the museum is not a typical dusty place full of boring artefacts but a place where you can touch, feel and smell the history of rubber, which actually was the base of the founding of the city of Manaus!

After visiting the rubber museum we stopped for a swim at Playa da Lua, the Moon beach, and later visited the Hotel Tropicana, where the guys had a swim in the pool and I watched the beautiful sundown over the Amazon river.

We rounded up the day with some Acai and Guarana and a German Apfelstrudel in the posh Fran's Cafe. A perfect day!

Manaus - Adventures in the Amazon

The last days in Brazil were really adventurous... On Wednesday morning Matthias and I tried to get a ride back to Manaus. But after about 1-2 hours at the gas station where most truckers stop for breakfast and about half an hour on the street we gave up and decided to take the bus on the same evening. At the bus station we met - by chance - Robert and Christian, two German guys that Matthias had met some weeks before in Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela. As we arrived in Manaus very early the next morning and I didn`t want to wake up my Couchsurfing host, Igor but neither wanted to wait much longer at the bus station, I decided to share a hostel room with the two of them. A tourist guide at the bus station tried to talk us into going to a certain hostel and to get rid of him, we said that if the hostel we wanted to stay at was full we would go to his place. He organized a taxi for us and we went to the first hostel. Whe we arrived there, there was a guy standing in front of the building saying that the hostel was full but that they usually worked together with the hostel the guy from the bus station had named and we should go there. He also told us that he was a tour guide and could sell us boat tickets, jungle tours whatever. We were all pretty tired and didn`t pay too much attention. But after breakfast it dawned on us that the guy from the bus station probably had called the other guy to tell him that we were going to the other hostel and that he should tell us that us was full and take us to his hostel. Many people later confirmed us that the tourism industry in Manaus really is some kind of mafia. We then took our stuff and moved to another hotel wich was not much better but we wanted to get rid of this mafiosi tour guide. But... the real trouble had not even started!

First we took off with a tourist guide to check out the boats going to Porto Velho. Robert and Christian where trying to go to Bolivia from there and I was thinking that maybe I could take the boat trip with them and then fly back to catch my flight to Panama. Unfortunately the boat leaving Manaus to Porto Velho on Friday was a wreck. The huge cockroaches were playing hide and seek on the deck while we were checking out the cabins. None of us felt like spending 3 days on a boat like this. As they were not sure what to do now we went to the city center and Christian and the guide took off to change some US$ into Brazilian Reals. They didn`t come back for a long time and when they did they told us that all the dollars that Christian and Robert had - about 500 - where forfeited. They had tried to change them into Bolivar in Venezuela and in the process some criminals had changed their real dollars into forfeited ones. Robert seemed pretty pissed off but Christian didn`t care much and agreed to give half of the money to some guy, an acquaintance of our guide, if he managed to change the forfeited bills. We sat down in a kind of restaurant and the guy wne off to try his luck. He was successful with one 100$ bill and Christian decided to stay as long as necessary to change all bills. Robert and I left and decided to check out the film festival in the Theatro Amazonia. We actually thought that we had no chance to get in but then we got in for free, found a free balcony in the amazing theater and enjoyed a wonderful documentary about the pink flamengos on Lake Natron, Namibia. And we met Eric, from Switzerland, and his Brazilian boyfriend, Silvio who invited us for dinner the other day. Eric who knows Manaus quite well also invited us to show us around the next day and we agreed to meet at 10am.
Unfortunately this plan didn`t work out... While we were enjoying the Film Festival at the amazing Theatro Amazonia Chris had gone with the guide and the guy who changed his forfeited 100$ bill to some dodgy part of the town and had gotten into a fight or discussion with the guide. So in the morning Robert got kind of scared because of the forfeited money and the guide knowing all about it and knowing where we stayed so we had to check-out of the hotel. The athmosphere got really tense and I decided to leave. I wanted to meet up with my Couchsurfing friend Igor anyway and - the perfect host he is - of course he took me in. In the afternoon I met up with Eric and Silvio and enjoyed a wonderful Swiss dinner with view from their appartment all over the city, the cathedral and the Rio Negro!
Me and my Couchsurfing host in Manaus, Igor:

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Serra do Tepequem

On Monday Arlisson and Lice's friend Cleo (she is on Couchsurfing, too) took us to the beautifull Serra do Tepequem, an area of mountains, rivers and waterfalls, that has been famous for its diamonds. Many streams and waterfalls have been altered by dynamite explosions during the hightide of diamond digging. Nowadays it is prohibited to dig for diamonds but there are still some 'garimpeiros', diggers, in the area - digging in secret and with less machinery.
Cleo knows the area really well and she organized a local guide, a garimpeiro, of course, and a wonderfull lunch for us.
We visited two waterfalls (its not that easy to climb down there with thongs!), went swimming and tried to find some diamonds. Especially Arlisson was quite motivated to start digging. Unfortunately we didn't find anything. Our guide spottet a very rare yellow frog, but when he tried to take a picture the battery gave up ;-)
On the way back Arlisson let Matthias drive and we had a lot of fun teaching him and Cleo "Achtung Bruecke, Matthias, bremsen!" ('Attention, bridge ahead, slow down') in German. Be it a natural talent for the German language or pure fear but soon they where doing really well ;-)
In the evening we had pizza with Lice's friends and family and it was really sad to think about leaving the next day. I had stayed one night with this wonderfull family when going to Guyana and had enjoyed their company so much that I left Guyana earlier then planned to spend the weekend with them. And then I stayed on untill Wednesday ;-) So many people back home where shoecked when I told them about my plans to Couchsurf in South America (I would be robbed, raped, murdered etc.) - I wish they could stay one night with these great people and see what Brazilian hospitality is like! Our hosts trusted us with their house, their car, their belongings... they prepared breakfast, lunch and dinner for us... they invited us to meet their friends... they did everything to make us feel at home and get to know their country. I can't thank them enough and look forward to 'paying it forward' the next time I host back home!

Boa Vista, Roraima

Its really a pity that the state of Roraima is not very well known as a touristic destination. There is so much to do and compared to other Brazilian cities Boa Vista is very safe, clean and easy to get around.
The Rio Branco is nice for swimming, kayaking or fishing and only a couple of km out of town you can already see amazing wildlife, such as river dolphins or araras.
I can't thank my Couchsurfing hosts, Lice and Arlisson and their friends, enough for showing me the beauty of their state! I will definately be back soon - with more time!

Caracarai - gone fishing!

On the weekend Lice took Matthias and me to Caracarai, where her friends, Tia Maria and Tio Leo have a small weekend house right on the Rio Branco. They picked us as well as a lot of food and drinking water up at a little port and off we went to spend the weekend fishing, swimming and relaxing. They called their place "Sitio Terapia" and it definately is a therapy to stay there. We went fishing in the morning (even I caught some!), had fresh fish for lunch and dinner and slept in hammocks right next to the river.
An indio couple from Guyana are living on the site and are looking after the place when Tia Maria and Tio Leo are not there. Their little daughter Alessandra kept us all entertained - she already knows how to fish, she eats fried fish with head and spines and beats the dog up if he doesn't behave. She was a bit shy at first but then fell in love with Luciano - and the cameras. She always tried to steal them from us to look at the pictures we took from her ;-)

Back in Boa Vista

After a very long and rough bus ride from Georgetown to Lethem at the Brazilian border ( 1 flat tyre at 4am in the middle of the jungle, 2 blocked bridges...) I took a cab back to Boa Vista. I shared it with three garimpeiros (gold or diamant diggers) and they had a lot of fun when at immigration the officer not only gave me a visa but also his private email address :-)

In the afternoon I finally arrived back in Boa Vista - tired, sweaty and very dusty, but my CouchSurfing hosts, Lice, her brother Arlisson and her son Luciano made everything to made me feel welcome and regain my energy. Later in the afternoon another German Couchsurfer, Matthias, arrived from Venezuela and it was time to share travel stories and experiences.
Lice and her family live in a pretty big house and it seems it is the main meeting point for friends and family. There are always many people around, food on the table... its definately the best place for a Couchsurfer! They are also very proud of their beautifull state, Roraima - unfortunately untill now pretty neglected by travellers - and are very enthusiastic about showing their guests around.

Kaieteur National Park

Actually I don't know what to write about Kaieteur - it is so stunningly beautifull, it took my breath away when we first flew over it and it still does when I think of it. It's not the sheer heigh of the waterfall (226m!) but the whole atmosphere of the place.
Our guide, a nice and handsome Amerindian from the local tribe, the Patamona, (in Guyana they call the indigenous people Amerindians to differenciate them from the East Indians, as there are a lot of Guyanese with East Indian background) told us the legend of the Kaieteur falls, or Kaieteur acually, as Kaieteur in the local language means 'Kai falls'. According to the Patamona legend, Kaieteur was named for Kai, a chief, or 'toshao' who acted to save his people by paddling over the falls in an act of self-sacrifice to Makonaima , the great spirit. And, according to the guide, since then peace has reigned in the Patamona region.
Somehow the legend fits in really well with the place as it has a kind of enchanted athmosphere where you wouldn't be surprised to see Kai paddling down the river or seeing his ghost haunt the woods around the falls.
Our plane was a 9-seater islander aircraft (as far as I know?). At first it was a bit scary as compared to all the other aircraft I have flown in before it looked a bit old and rusty and was also quite loud and shaky. But once you got used to it it was really great as it climbed slowly and flew on a lower cruising altitude so you could see the landscape really well. Guyana means 'Land of many waters' and from the plane you could see why - we crossed rivers, lakes, waterfalls... and of course the beautifull virgin rain forest.
Our group consisted of Guyanese people, Trinidadians and also some Guyanese living abroad. I met Janet from Washington and her friend from Georgetown and they where as excited about the beauty of the place as me! I am looking forward to your pictures, Janet and will upload more on facebook, too! :-)
The trip was worth every single dollar and looking back it would have been worth even the initial price of 220USD. I am planning to come back here for sure and next time I will not fly but hike and stay more time in the guest house next to the falls :-) Kaieteur is a place that doesn't let you go easily - maybe its the spirit of Kai, maybe the sound of the waterfall, maybe the cute Amerindian kids that somehow always appeared and disappeared from nowhere... So, I will definately be back!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Georgetown, Guyana

My main reason for going all the way to Guyana were the Kaieteur falls, a huge waterfall in central Guyana on the Potaro river, falling 226m horizontally over a sandstone cliff and than cascading some 30m more down. I either wanted to hike there overland or take a day trip in one of those tiny aircrafts.
So my first places to go where the various tour agencies, some of which I had contacted earlier by mail. Unfortunately none of them offered the overland trip and all of them asked at least 220USD for the day trip by air... I decided to push my luck a bit and try to get the price down. The next trip would be on Thursday and most agencies closed at 4-5pm, so I decided to wait some more and see what would happen...
The weather was really lovely, sunny and hot, and I took my guidebook and started to explore the town. Georgetown seems kind of a colonial museum gone favela on first look. Most buildings are 1-2 storeys only, made of wood and painted in white or light blue, light green... but unfortunately most are in a really bad state and the once tidy gardens laid out by the British are full of litter.
One of the most stunning buildings in Georgetown is the St George`s Angican Cathedral, reportedly the biggest wooden building in the world. Because of the heat I was dressed in shorts and tank top and wasn`t sure if I was allowed to enter when a sweet Guyanese lady waved me to come in. She told me it was fine and even confessed that she was eating her breakfast there in secret because it was nice and cool in there. Somehow we started talking and A let to B... we started out with Obama`s victory (she was the first person I met who was not happy about it, even though she was black, because - as she said, all black men are bullies ;-)), then she told me about her sons, her life, life in Guyana, where to get cheap food in Georgetown... And when I told her I wanted to visit the Catholic Church and the Botanical Garden she offered to take me there. I was really lucky to meet her as she knew everything about the country, historically, politically - everything! And as there are nearly no white people on the street, let alone girls, I was lucky to have her as a kind of protector, it stopped the hassle for a bit. She also took me to the local market to meet some friends of her. She used to work in the Ministry for Foreign affairs when she was younger and seemed to be really well educated. Now she is suffering from some kind of cancer, she looks as if she is pregnant and suffers from severe pains. But she never ever complained about it, neither asked me for money! She even offered me the cellphone her son had given her for emergencies when I told her I wanted to contact a friend. When I suggested to go for lunch she said she was sorry but she couldn`t go as she had no money so I invited her for lunch at `Church`s`, a kind of local KFC that she really seemed to like. She told me she went there every sunday night as a special treat whenever she could afford it.
By 3pm I wanted to meet fellow Couchsurfer and PeaceCorps Volunteer Rhiannon and decided to give the Agencies another chance to go down with their price - but untill now, negative. I started to worry a bit but sticked to the plan to try my luck some more...
At one of the Agencies I met a group of Bavarians on their way to the Kaieteur falls. They had come to Guyana on a luxury yacht and where somewhat shocked to see me there and asked me `how on earth did you get here`? I told them about the bus and they where even more shocked. One of the man said, `but the city is so dangerous at night`. Well, not only at night. It is dangerous at all times because our funny friends from the island have taught the Guyanese people to drive on the wrong side! I really had to take care not to get hit over. For the rest you will hear a lot of funny comments on your legs, behind, whatever (when you are a girl, at least) but also meet many nice people. As there are nearly no tourists around people are just curious and want to know where you`re coming from, what you`re doing there - and what do you think about Obama ;-)
At 5pm I got back to the hostel pretty sad... thinking I had to give up on my plan to see the great falls of Guyana. But then Mrs Nellie from the Guesthouse told me that someone from Wonderland Tours had called for me and was willing to negotiate - finally. We called them back... and guess what, she had one place left in the aircraft and was willing to take me on on a price that would cover the costs. The original price being USD 220 she offered USD 200... and I got her down to USD 160!!! :-)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Going Borderline

After a relaxed and nice day with CouchSurfer Lice, her friends and family (thanks so much for everything!) I took the bus from Boa Vista to Georgetown on Monday afternoon 2pm. They lady from the ticket office in Boa Vista said it was a direct connection, I just had to change the bus in Bomfim, the last Brazilian village before the Guyanese border... so far it seemed all easy and the bus left Boa Vista on time.

In Bomfim we all had to leave the bus and go to the Federal Police station to `check-out` of Brazil. Nobody actually knew what to do then and a little guy with a kind of cowboy outfit and a row of gold teeth loaded our baggage on his pickup. He told us that he had a restaurant on the other side of the river, which is also the frontier, where we could change money, have lunch and wait for the other bus which would leave around 9pm. The guys had to walk but the ladies, 5 of us, where allowed to squeeze into his pick up. At the river we had to unload our baggage from the pick up, get into a small boat and cross the river. On the other side a rasta with a rusty and dusty car offered to take us to the restaurant for 5 Reals each. As nobody knew what to do we accepted. The restaurant turned out to be the central waiting area for everybody going to Georgetown as nothing else was opened at that time. We got hot and sweet coffee, refreshed and then somebody with a van took us to the Guyanese police station to do the check in. By then, a little group had formed: a golddigger from Mato Grosso who made fun of the `alema` all the time, a girl with big boobs (which she showed to me in the bathroom, explaining that she was still breast feeding) and a woman wearing a `Jesus Christ` shirt and carrying a `Mademoiselle - visit our sex shop` shopping bag. As none of us was really sure what to do and where to go we just followed the crowd. The immigration officer seemed to be really strict and was causing a problem because I didn`t have an address to stay in Georgetown. I then just copied one from my guidebook and he was happy. After dinner another van took us to the bus station - airport - main square... you name it. It is a place with a shack (the waiting room for air or bus passengers) and a place selling food and drinks. Here we had to wait another 3-4 hours.. thank God from somewhere there was some reggae music playing and the golddigger entertained us with stories from his complicated love live. At around 9:30pm the check-in process started... everybody had to present his passport and got weighed - the bags and the passengers. (I really gained some weight - but thats a different story!). At 10:30pm we finally took off in an old bus without air condition and without toilet - a huge difference to the comfortable long distance busses in Brazil! And, after a couple of minutes I had to realize that not only in Lethem but all the way to Georgetown the roads would be not paved and full of pot holes! A bumpy night awaited us... Funny enough, our little group got seats next to each other and the golddigger not only provided us with funny stories but also with fried bananas, sweets and mangoes. A couple of times the bus stopped at night but I was too tired to got out. At 6:00 in the morning we got to a river which we had to cross by ferry. Everybody profited from this opportunity to brush the teeth and refresh a bit in the river. There was quite a traffic going on and it took some time untill all vehicles where on the ferry and we could cross over. A couple of miles further on we stopped to have breakfast at a shack in the middle of the jungle. There was even a monkey jumping around trying to steal bread. When later the Jesus Christ Sex Shop Lady got a bit sick the golddigger started joking that the milk in her coffee was monkey milk or that the monkey had.. well, made his business in the coffee ;-) By that time he had also found out about my boyfriend in Rio and started to call me `Carioca Alema`. And Carioca Alema had eaten monkey tapioca, of course... even though we where on the road for more than 12 hrs now I didn`t get borning. The road was stil a dirth track full of pot wholes through the jungle and one time we had to get pulled out of the sand by a truck. Thank God there was one near - otherwise we might still be there!
Around 3pm we finally arrived into Georgetown and I was very lucky, the address I had picked for my immigration form by chance - Rimas Guesthouse - was just one corner from the bus stop and had free rooms :-) So here I am now, exploring cute little Georgetown and aranging some trips for the coming days!
Even though the trip by bus was really long and exhausting and left me and my baggage full of red dust- I would do it again any time. The night sky over Guyana (I have never seen so many stars before), the road through the jungle (saw huge blue butteflies) and the funny company made the trip unforgettable!

Amazon addict

On saturday morning Geovanny and me wanted to take the 6:00 bus from Manaus to Presidente Figueredo, a place further North that is famous for its rivers and waterfalls. I arrived to the bus station on time... but Geovanny who was stil on a more, lets say, Ecuadorian time ;-) didn`t make it. So I took the bus to Figueiredo alone - definately one of the savest busses of all times, as 99% of the passengers where military police on their way to work.
From the bus station in Figueiredo I had to take a motor taxi to the Pousada das Pedras - not quite easy with a 15kg backpag and a quad trauma ;-) Anyway, I survived and was welcomed like a lost family member by Tyrza, the charming owner of the pousada. She urged me to have breakfast first before checking in and introduced me to the other guests, a group of university professors. Soon they invited me to visit some waterfalls with them and as I had no idea if Geovanny would make it to Figueiredo that day I went. It turned out that the lady driving was the wife of one of the tourist guides, Johnny, and we went to the tourist information to say hello.. This turned out to be really usefull because when we got back from the waterfalls and met him again he told me that Geovanny as already waiting for me at the pousada ;-) What a small place ;-)

We took right off to the jungle and had definately one of the best days in Brazil so far. Johnny is from Sao Paulo originally but spend a lot of time with indian guides and knows everything about the jungle. He knows which plants can be used for medical purposes (we tried the `lacre` tree juice on the cuts on my legs - it helped!) and where to find which animal... He showed us how the indians used to make themselves `invisible` on the hunt by covering their body with crushed ants, which cover the human smell and - last but not least - we had a shower in a beautifull waterfull. Besides being a really good guide Johnny is a great and spiritual person and we had a really good time. He is very passionate about establishing eco and adventure tourism in the area and also told us about the problems he had to face - really good insight!
Tyrza and her family from the Pousada das Pedras also made us feel really at home. On the last day it was raining and storming and we spend the day at the pousada together. They invited us for dinner and we watched `Big Mamas house` together. It felt like home :-) They are both so proud to be listed in the Lonely Planet and collect the postcards they get from people who stayed with them from all over the world - they are so sweet! Even though Figueiredo is not very big and well known I would recommend anybody to go there - its a bit off the beaten tracks and you can experience nature as well as Brazilian hospitality unspoilt from the big tourist rush!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Manaus: In the heart of the (concrete?) jungle :-)

Manaus just takes your breath away. It is a urban concrete jungle like any other city, with shopping malls, luxury hotels and global brands but just take a river taxi across the Rio Negro and the sounds of nature become louder than the sounds of the city. Of course you won´t see any wild anacondas or panthers here, but still you get an impression of what the 'selva', the amazon rainforest can be like.

Today we took a bus to the CISG zoo, a kind of zoo operated by the Brazilian army. It consists mainly of animals rescued (or supposedly rescued) by soldiers during their training in the jungle. We where not sure what to expect so decided to sacrifice a morning for it. Actually, it´s kind of sad. The cages are pretty small and don´t seem very animals friendly. Also the animals themselves look pretty sad. As one friend put it, the crocodiles don't even have a tail and the anaconda sits in a wheelchair. Well, we saw a 5m long anaconda but to be honest the species most worth seeing in the CISG are of the human kind, specias militar brasileiro ;-)

Later on we went to the market Mercado Municipal Adolfo Lisboa, a copy of Les Halles in Parism, where I bought fresh `barbosa` (aloe vera) for my various cuts and bruises. The market area is very lively, you can buy about everything here, dead or alive and even have your hair cut right on the street. One of my favourites, as usual, was the market toilet. It is very cosy and well equipped and it is stated that the 50 centavos entrance includes use of soap and towel. Its definately worth a visit.

After visiting the market we got kind of kidnapped by a guide who took us by boat over the Rio Negro to the Janaury reserve. There he showed us the huge sapahuma tree, which the indians used as a kind of `phone` by beating a branch to it and making a kind of signal that travelled for miles. He also wanted to show us the crocodile `Bau`, which lives in an enclosure in the wood, but `Bau` seemed to be asleep, lazy or dead - he didn`t come out. Before going back to Manaus we had to pay another 5 Reals to see an ageing anaconda... Even though this was kind of a typical tourist thing it was quite nice, especially the ride in the small boat over the huge Rio Negro.