Wednesday, March 10, 2010

South America 2010 - The End

Upon arrival to Guayaquil, Ecuador we went straight to the check-in counter to check on the status of our flight to Santiago, Chile. After a few short hours it was clear that Chile and Easter Island were off the table. LAN, the airline was willing to send us to another destination but because of the crisis pretty much the whole continent was sold out....we considered an option of going to Buenos Aires and or Rio but it was too complicated since we would have to take 3 flights to get there and would add significantly to the cost. So we booked tickets to go to New York the next day on Aerogal in first class, which was the cheapest option available on short notice.

In the meantime we decided to explore Guayaquil with the guidance of John, our classmate from Pace, who permanently lives there. We checked into a hotel and then we were off to see the city. The city is modern and much larger and more developed than Quito. We saw many western franchises and tall office buildings. Afterwards, we went to a very nice steak house and had lots of Sangria. Again, the city seemed safe but there were many warnings to be careful. Armed robbery seems to be a popular crime....John is sending his car out to get bulletproofed as many robberies happen at intersections while waiting for the light to turn green. Overall, we had an awesome time and even decided to try and change our flight home for a day later so we can see the beach.

The next morning after checking out we went to the airport and changed our flight without any issues or penalties and we were on our way to Montanita, a remote beach town. The ride was very peaceful since we went on a workday with only interruption coming from tens of street peddlers at the toll booth....I wish we had a camera to take a picture...just imagine pulling up to a toll booth on a bridge and as you are paying the toll three people run up to your car and try to sell you candy, water, or a puppy...yes puppy. Montanita is a true experience. Although, only about 120 miles from Guayaquil, it feels like you are on different planet. Single rooms start at about $4 per night and the small, three block town is full of hippies and surfers. In a strange way it reminds of Rio where I met travelers who liked it so much they simply didn't leave but unlike the students who I met in Rio, these nomads have dread-locks, make a living by making and selling crafts, and also openly smoke and sell pot. It was nice to be in a remote place that does not often receive visitors from the USA. After spending the night we were off to the airport to fly home into the cold weather.

Thank you for traveling with me!!!

Monday, February 22, 2010

South America 2010 - Day 9

I am off to a new trip...this promises to be a true adventure as I shift to more and more remote destinations in my travels. I am starting in Columbia, then off to Ecuador, where I will visit the Galapagos islands, followed by Chile and Easter Island, the most remote inhabited island in the world. Additionally, I will have a new type of a travel companion, my girlfriend Sara, which will probably help me to explore a more luxurious side of travel as she is not into hostels.

Our first stop was Bogota, Columbia where we only able to spend one night. We stayed in the city´s historic district and went to LaRosa at night. Although, we didn´t spend enough time in Bogota for a fair opinion to me it seems like many other cities with good parts and bad...there were many brand name stores as well as some very poor areas. What remained with me is that typically residential garbage is thrown on the street. Our italian hotelier Massimo explained that the homeless would steal garbage bins if the city had them.

Next morning we are off to Cartagena, the so called Miami of Columbia named after Cartagena, Spain. We stayed in the old city at the Charleston hotel, which is one of the best hotels in Columbia. The old city is an impressive reminder of european beauty that the Spanish have left behind. The best attraction is simply walking around and taking in the beauty of it. We took a day to visit the famous Playa Blanca beach on Isla Rosario. Due our basic knowledge of Spanish or lack thereof, we missed the boat´s first stop at the beach and ended up at the aquarium that we were warned would be boring so we quickly jumped or tresspassed on another boat that took us to the beach. Although, a must destination for anyone visiting Cartagena, since the city itself does not have a good beach, it is not as nice as some of the Carribean beaches. There are many locals who approach you every few seconds and try to sell you anything from ice cream to a massage. We did end up buying ice cream and a mysterious yellow fried snack, which was 2 for 50 cents. Although many a woman and man offered to wash our feet, we did not get that.

The next day we are off to Ecuador. We started with Quito, at 9000 ft above sea level it is one of the tallest capitals in the world, second to only LaPaz in Bolivia. Quito was very inexpensive but apparantely not very safe as even to go 3 blocks in the historic district we were recommended to take a taxi. The restaurants were on par with anything that you can find in NY and there were many real estate offices selling newly constructed homes at fire sale prices. Sara asked our hotel if there is anywhere we can walk in the evening and he said no, nothing is safe. Not following his advice we went to the historical center anyway and much to our surprise he was right.

After Quito we are off to the Galapagos Islands, a group of islands in Pacific Ocean, that lie on the equator and were made famous for their contribution to Darwin´s theory of evolution and natural selection. The only way to see the Galapagos Islands is on a cruise and we chose the M/S Santa Cruz, a 90 passenger, expedition ship to see them. Over the last 3 days we have seen a truly amazing group of animals ranging from Flamingos to Penguins. It was amazing to see many animals peacefully living with each other and many are only found on Galapagos and furthermore, many have adopted to the Galapagos and have little resemblance to their ancestors such as Swimming Iguanas. The peak of the expedition was snorkeling with the sharks. Another perk was that our room, which was supposed to be the worst room on the ship on the lowest deck, got upgraded to one of the best suites on the ship.

During our trip we found out that there was an earthquake in Chile, near the capital city of Santiago, our next destination. This will definitely affect our travel plans and we will keep you updated. Now we can let spontaneity take over.