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Volcan Cotopaxi Climb 5,897m August 19, 2007

Posted by Jason in climbing, culture, Ecuador, Environment, mountaineering, Nature, South America, Travel, trekking, wilderness.
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Our plan all along was to fit in a couple of climbs in Ecuador before we left. With so little time we decided that maybe this time we would hire the help of a guide with transport and logistics worked out. Our first target would be Cotopaxi at 5,897m

Cotopaxi after the mists had cleared from just above the refugio, 4,800m

However, the weather has been appalling in Ecuador recently. Indeed from our climbing experience in the high Andes of Peru and Ecuador the weather has not been the predictable dry season usually encountered.

We therefore had to be lucky to summit. The additional complication being that as we have spent 2 weeks in the Galapagos we have lost some of the acclimatisation of our last few months at altitude.

Jason trying on Moggeleys glacier glasses                                            Our Hostel courtesy of Moggely

So we headed off on the 14th August 2007 to a Hostel owned by Moggely the climbing agent. We thought this might help as it is located at 3,500m. The Hostel is near the Cotopaxi National Park and is basically in the middle of no where! Unfortunately the weather was not good and the hostel was freezing! To top it they did not have enough wood for the wood burners! Oh hum.

The next day we left at about 11am with technical equipment up to the National Park and really for the first time in Ecuador (other than the Galapagos) we were truly impressed with the scenery here. A volcanic landscape quite beautiful and with a remoteness not felt elsewhere. With less human interference.

In the 4 X 4 we drove up to a high plateau where we could leave the vehicle leaving a 40 minute climb to the refugio at 4,800m.

The refugio is basic and large, fit for about 60 people and 2 self catering kitchens.

Chez, relaxing at 4,800m at the refugio on Cotopaxi      The view across from the refugio      Jason pointing the way!

After lunch we explored around the refugio and at last the clouds lifted revealing the hulk of Cotopaxi and its Glaciers. Truly beautiful. The sun was out and finally maybe our luck would be in. With bad weather over the last few days, we needed a clear cold night for a safe ascent.

After dinner and with the skies still clear we went to bed ready for a midnight dash for the summit.

. . . . . . . Midnight came and with it the snow. Snow had been falling for some time. A quick something to eat and we headed out in the snow for the glacier.

It was snowing and frankly not too cold, the exact conditions we did not want. We put on our crampons and roped up for the steep glacier ascent. 35 degrees or so as we climbed. The snow continued to fall and the wind began to pick up.

Jason, Cheryl and Marco our guide on the descent from Cotopaxi, in the snow

At 5,300m the snow was several inches thick and we had to dig a pit to test for avalanche. After much discussion between our guide and another we decided to continue. The slope now steepens to around 38 degrees, maybe 40 degrees in sections. Perfect avalanche country, and to top it we are on the lee side of the mountain allowing snow to build up.

We ploughed through the snow constantly slipping back as the snow beneath our feet collapsed.

At around 5,525m the snow was falling heavily and we were ploughing through up to 50cm of fresh snow. More testing of the snow conditions lead to only one conclusion. . . . .we had to go down.

Most disappointing after our failed attempts in the Cordillera Blanca but basically the weather Gods are not on our side at the moment.

Snow conditions could not be much worse and the avalanche danger was acute.

So as we were at the head of the pack so to speak we were advising other groups to turn back as we descended.

Not even a sun rise to behold as the cloud was too thick and on arrival at the refugio it was a Christmas card view.

The refugio following the fall of snow 6,30am, after descent, 4,800m

Oh well, after a rest and a drink it was down to the 4 X 4 and a long drive back to Quito.

It took us a day to recover from the exertions at altitude.

The weather is still bad and our plans for Chimborazo have evaporated with frustration. So with only a few days until we go home we will spend mainly in Quito.

It feels like a slight anti climax after all that we have done, but its not a bad place to “hang out”, and planning our return to good old blighty!

The Quilotoa Loop August 14, 2007

Posted by Jason in culture, Ecuador, Environment, Nature, South America, Travel, wilderness.
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From Cuenca we went to Latacunga, a small town which is the jumping off point for the “adventurous” journey around the Quilotoa Loop through indigenous villages and remote countryside.

Indigenous painting in a unique style to the area, the subject matter speaks for itself!     Masks from the village of Tigua     Jason sporting one of the masks, a much needed improvement!!

We headed out the next day to catch the early bus. We decided to take the local transport regardless of how unreliable it is to see the “real” Ecuador! As usual the bus left late than expected no doubt on South American time!

Our first stop was at Tigua. A small settlement on the highland road. Here there is an art gallery with local Indigenous art work and masks. It was quite beautiful.

The Laguna at Quilotoa, within the volcanic crater

We then thumbed down the next bus to Quilotoa 3,800m where the famous Laguna is situated. This is an old Volcanoe filled with water. We arrived at Quilotoa and walked to the view point which was quite spectacular. The weather, as usual in our time in Ecuador was poor. Windy, grey skies and very cold! Just like England hey! The local people were selling their wares here, much artesane products.

The impressive thing about this journey is that most of the people you encounter are of Indigenous origin. On the buses, in the villages and most impressively in the businesses you encounter. Whether arts and crafts, transport companies, or local eateries and hostels. We definitely got a feeling that the local population was benefiting from the tourism and wealth in the areas. It seems that the local population are not the poor Indigenous people of say Bolivia.

From the Laguna we caught the next bus to the remote settlement of Chugchilan at 3,200m. Only a population of a few hundred here and until a few years ago there were no places for people to stay. Now there are 3 places. 2 locally owned very cheap Hostels and very friendly. (8$ each for a private room including breakfast and dinner!).

Also there is a famous Eco Lodge called the Black Sheep Inn.

The Black sheep inn A Sunset view from the Black Sheep Inn So. . . which one is the Black Sheep!

The first night we stayed at the Hostal Cloud Forest which was very nice. We bumped into a Dutch family who spent our Galapagos cruise with here! I resurrected my footballing career (in goal) and playing the local Ecuadorians managed to win 4-0 keeping a clean sheet! No small feet at altitude!! I have since retired again.

The following day we stayed at the Black Sheep Inn. Not cheap here but very interesting. They are trying to become self sufficient and utilize many Eco friendly ways of building and irrigation methods. The buildings are all built of Adobe, with compost toilets. They fully integrate with the local community helping the village in various ways. Run by 2 Americans Michelle and Andres who moved here in 1995 following there own backpacking trip. It is an interesting story and a beautiful place to stay.

Playing football at 3,ooom The village of Chugchilan YES. . . this is a sheep on the roof of the bus! Our bus around the Quilotoa loop on our final day!

We chilled out here for a day before moving on the next bus to Sigchos and then onto Latacunga. For us this was the most beautiful part of the journey. And we didn t see another Gringo on this side of the Loop.

For us the Quilotoa Loop was nice and staying at the Black Sheep Inn was very interesting. However it is not the “Indigenous”, “remote”, or “challenging” journey many write about. But you have to see it and experience it to judge I guess.

Ingapirca : An Inca Settlement August 10, 2007

Posted by Jason in culture, Ecuador, Environment, South America, Travel.
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Ingapirca Inca Site

From Cuenca we caught the local bus to the settlement of Ingapirca where the best remains of Inca Architecture remain. It was an interesting site. A rushed 2 hour visit before the local bus returned to Cuenca!

As usual the settlement is built at a high elevation at 3,230 metres with a good view of the surrounding area.

Ingapirca means “Wall of the Inca” and consists of various buildings ans a site shaped to symbolise the moon and sun so important to the Inca.

Jason at Ingapirca     Inca Walls     Cheryl playing on the Inca walls

There are not many Inca sites in Ecuador as the Inca´s only conquered the area late in the their reign and just before the Spanish came and decimated the region.

Cuenca : And the True Panama Hat August 9, 2007

Posted by Jason in culture, Ecuador, South America, Travel.
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After our adventures in the Galapagos we were ready to head out traveling once more, this time south to the City of Cuenca, Ecuador´s 3rd largest City.

Trying on the Panama Hats!

It is known for its wonderful Colonial Architecture and a place where many of the “Panama Hats” are finished and sold. Yes Panama hats. They are not made in Panama but in Ecuador! They were made world famous by the people building the Panama Canal at the turn of the last Century when the hats were imported on mass and have been associated with Panama ever since. They should be known as the Ecuadorian Hat or maybe a Montecristo.

Ecuadorian hats     Panama Hats     Panama Hats

Anyway, an overnight 10 hour bus journey lead us to Cuenca where we stayed in a wonderful Hostel called Monarca. The city is quite laid back and pretty in parts, we quite liked it. And it was interesting to see the Panama Hats being finished.

The museum Pumapungo is interesting and has wonderful artifacts of different tribes of Ecuador and to the rear of the property has the ruins of the once amazing Inca City here.

The Cathedral in Cuenca     Plaza in Cuenca     Colonial architecture in Cuenca

We found the best pub/restaurant in Ecuador at El Eucalyptus. Great food and atmosphere where the locals dance the night away to their lovable Salsa. Needless to say me and Chez sat this one out!!

From here we took a day trip to Ingapirca the best Inca Site in Ecuador.

Galapagos and a beach side paradise August 5, 2007

Posted by Jason in Animals, Bird Watching, Cruise, culture, Darwin, Ecuador, Environment, Galapagos, Nature, South America, Travel, wilderness.
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28th of July to the 5th of August

After disembarking from the Galapagos Cruise we immediately caught the “ferry” to the eastern side of the island of Isabela. The largest of the Galapagos Islands with a small settlement and the fishing capital. The Island covers around 58% of the overall landmass of the Galapagos Islands and has several active volcanoes.

Cheryl walking along the neach with our beach side retreat in the distance

The “ferry” is in fact a small motor boat that carries around 14 people over the seas between Santa Cruise and Isabela over around 2 1/2 hours. Due to the season, the seas were extremely rough! The boat lurching out of the water at regular intervals before smashing down onto the water again! I was glad I had not eaten lunch yet! To make matter worse there was a woman on the boat who was copiously drunk singing and falling over at every opportunity, screaming with all her might for the whole journey! Eventually she asked to go to the toilet. The driver of the boat slowed and moved away our baggage from a small compartment at the front of the boat where a small (and I mean SMALL!) toilet was situated. Once inside the compartment they closed and locked the door and proceeded towards Isabella! This whole heartedly approved of by all passengers!Half an hour later she was let out looking a little worse for wear.

Eventually we came into port, well a small wooden pier. However, the “captain” of the boat came in too quickly and the boat hit the rocks! Immediately it started taking water on board and there was a scramble to get off the boat and to get our bags! To our disbelief this boat was still in operation 4 days later on our return!!

Our home for 4 days would be a beach house, on the beach itself with the view of the Pacific Ocean and a balcony from which to admire the view!

Jason surveying the enormous volcanic crater from horseback   The view towards the north of the Island from the crater rim      Flamingoes

We spent the next 4 days chilling out. We did horse riding to the Sierra Negra Volcanoe. Through the mists of the Island to the crater rim where the mists dissipated and the view of the second largest crater in the world came into view. We walked around across lava flows to smoking fumaroles and could see a wonderful view across the island to the north toward the other volcanoes and the bleak volcanic landscape.

Chez and Jason on horseback on Isabela Island

Cheryl loved the horse riding, this being one of the few occasions when our guides would allow the horses to trot or Gallop!! I on the other hand found it most painful!!

We took the board walk on the island to see Flamingos, Tortoises, Lava Lizards and of course the Darwin Finches. We also went to a small island off the coast of Isabela where we saw hundreds of Marine Iguanas, some sea Turtles and amazingly White Tipped Reef Sharks swimming within 2 meters of us in a shallow pool off the coast of the island. It was just wonderful.

The rest of the time was spent doing. . . . well. . . . not alot!!

The town(well small village!) of Puerto Villamil is quite nice but incredibly sleepy. Laid back in the most extreme way! Even most of the hostals or hotels do not have signs up saying they are, and siesta appears to happen at any time of the day, or in some cases all day!!

We spent a few hour wiling away our time in Beto´s Bar on the beach drinking cocktails. We were told this was the best bar on the island. We later found out it is basically the only bar on the island!

The second largest volcanic crater in the world An Iguana Crossing!!

After the 4 days we took another tortuous journey on the “ferry” back to Santa Cruise where we visited the darwin Centre again and generally relaxed in town and on the near by beach of Tortuga bay.

In some of the Hotel Bars on the water front you can drink on the decking sharing it with Herons, Sea Lions and Pelicans! The Sea lions can get a little upset if you steel their spot in the sun!!

The local fish market is a wonder to see. The boats come in bringing their catch and they are gutted and sold or prepared for clients there and then. Of course this is not only a place for tourists to have a look. Basically all the Sea Birds and Sea Lions in the area know about the easy pickings! Blue Herons, Lava herons, Sea Lions, Pelicans and Frigate Birds all arrive for a feeding from the scraps! Most amusing to see.

After 7 days more of the Galapagos we were ready to catch the flight back to Quito. Surely a journey and experience we will not have again. A beautiful place!

Galapagos Islands : 8 Day Cruise to Darwin´s Paradise July 28, 2007

Posted by Jason in Animals, Bird Watching, Cruise, culture, Darwin, Ecuador, Environment, Galapagos, Nature, South America, Travel, wilderness.
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Marine Iguanas keeping an eye on us!!

We arrived in Quito to book a cruise of a lifetime in the Galapagos to find that the pickings were rather thin on the ground with it being the high season. There were some good deals on a few tourist class yachts, but we wanted to go to a few places that most visitors don´t go, and to do this we discovered that we had to take a 1st class boat around the islands.

Our Catamaran the Cormorant II fit for the high seas Galapagos National Park Nazca Boobies!!

As you can guess this was not going to be cheap! After much soul searching we went for the Cormorant II Catamaran.

This is a much faster boat and being a catamaran should be more stable as this is the misty season with rough seas!

So on the 22nd of July 2007, we headed on a plane from Quito to Baltra Island and “The Galapagos Islands”!!

It was so weird to be on our way to the Iconic Galapagos Islands, another destination that I have wanted to see for 20 years or more.

After a delayed start (we were supposed to catch the 8:20am flight and ended up getting the 11am), we were picked up at the airport in Baltra by our eccentric guide Alex. An Ecuadorian born class III guide, a biologist who had been guiding for 15 years. Perversely, we soon found out that he had lived in Birmingham, England for 4 years while doing a masters degree!

We were worried by the first words Alex said to us as we hit the tarmac of the airport, “Where are your stickers”! As we looked around we saw several people with green stickers labelling them as passengers of the Cormorant II. Now we are not fans of tours and being herded around, and this was worrying in the extreme for us! However amusing it is to see grown adults herded around with bright green stickers on them!

It took an hour or so by bus, ferry, mini-bus and motorised dinghy zodiac to arrive at our boat. We had heard many stories of the boats not quite being “as advertised”, but the Cormorant II was everything they said it was. Spacious cabins, great food, friendly crew and for us extremely luxurious. A pleasant change!

Giant Tortoise

After a quick lunch we headed off to the island of Santa Cruz and into the highlands to see the Giant Tortoises. An amazing first sight in the Galapagos. Enormous creatures up to 250kg in weight and live up to 200 years. There are 14 species in the Galapagos although one species is likely to be wiped out shortly as there is only one of his kind left from the Island of Pinta. They call him Lonesome George. The Charles Darwin Research Centre have been trying to breed him with close relatives but he won´t breed. Each species has a different shaped shell and has developed independently on different Islands, sometimes a different sub-species within the same Island, like on Isabella Island where they have evolved differently depending on which volcanoe they live in and around on the Island.

Giant Tortoises on Santa Cruz island Giant Tortoise Giant Tortoise

After this it was back to the boat and a voyage started across the open sea to Espanola Island, an overnight crossing after our slap up evening meal.

Galapagos Cruise of a Lifetime

22nd July to the 29th July

After the first nights voyage at least half of the 16 passengers were, well. . . . shall we say. . . . a little green in the morning! The sea was not the calmest in the world and the voyage lasted a good 6 or 7 hours!

Marine Iguanas on Espanola Island Sea Lions Sea Lion sleeping, oblivious to the tourists around them!

The sun was shining as Espanola Island greeted us, and I have to say one of the highlights of the whole trip. A dry landing and a short walk around the head of the island . We were greeted to amazing sights of sea lions within a metre of us, Marine Iguanas, literally hundreds of them, mockingbirds, warblers, lava lizards, and beautiful Blue Footed Boobies!! And this was within the first 10 to 20 metres of the landing area! To get off the Zodiac onto dry land we had to negotiate sea lions who were lying on the pathway and clearly did not want to move! Not to mention the dozens of Sally lightfoot crabs, incredibly colourful with their red and yellow coats of armour scattered over the rocks.

At first we did not recognise the dozens of marine iguanas because there were so many so close that they looked like stones and rocks, not moving an inch! This was totally incredible.

Waved Albatross

A short walk further on and we encountered the Waved Albatross, the only place they nest in the world. We were so close we could have touched them, and we saw their amazing courtship dance with their beaks like a swashbuckling sword fight!

A few metres further on and we saw many sea birds and the “Albatross airport”! where the Albatross taxi across the cliffs and take a run before launching themselves into the sky, a wonderful sight. It was so nice to just sit here and watch them.

Blue Footed Boobie

Further around the island we were able to experience the Nazca Booby bird at close quarters and the Blue Footed Booby, mother and father looking after their chick within a metre or so of us as we sat and watched them, and saw their amazing courtship dance, lifting their bright blue feet into the air as if for the cameras!

Blue footed boobies feeding a young     Blue Footed Boobies!

So many species we saw on Espanola, Cactus Finch, Warbler Finch, American Oyster catcher, Galapagos hawk, and the Swallow Tailed Gull.

Chez observing the Blue Footed Boobies and their young

Absolutely amazing to be so close to the wildlife, to be able to just sit and observe their behaviour in a natural setting.

A great first encounter with the wildlife.

A Sea Lion Sea Lions in Gardner Bay Jason disscussing the value of a sun hat with a Sea Lion!

After snorkeling in the afternoon, we had a further wet landing on the beach in Gardner Bay where we were able to chill out as the sun descended and we were able to observe the Sea Lions again at close quarters. Simply beautiful.

Land Iguana

The following day, following another sea crossing we went to Santa Fe Island, completely different to the previous day. More barren this time and we managed to see Land Iguanas, Sea Lions and the Boobies. There are wonderful cacti here with a red bark that is just beautiful. We saw many finches here and the yellow warbler.

After snorkeling we headed to South Plaza a simply amazingly beautiful Island. It is amazing how each Island is so different and sustains such life in sometimes what appears to be quite a barren or hostile environment. Each creature that has evolved has increased its chances of survival by creating a unique niche for itself and in the main not competing with other species.

South Plaza Island

South Plaza is quite beautiful with its red succulent plants and wonderful cacti. Here we saw diving Pelicans and Land Iguanas, not to mention the amazing Boobies and Sea Lions. A walk along the cliffs revealed an array of sea birds including the Galapagos Shearwater, Red Billed Tropic Bird and Brown Noddy. Below the cliffs we could sea Sharks (the vegetarian kind!) feeding and swimming with the Sea Turtles.

This is also the place where the sea lion bachelor colony hang out, who are either too old or cannot get a mate. Needless to say they did not look the happiest of sea Lions!

Pelicans hitching a ride on our boat!

In the evening we were joined at the rear of the boat first by a couple of Sea Lions who clambered up to “chill out”!!, but later 2 Pelicans decided to use the boat as a good feeding post, staring fixedly on the sea waiting to dart into the water! We watched them for at least an hour, they did not blink an eye at us taking photos and watching them from within 2 to 3 metres!!

The following day we headed to North Seymour Island, it was a hot sunny day again and we spent a good 3 hours or so walking around this beautiful Island. Again completely different to every other Islands we had seen. The big attraction here is the Frigate Birds with their ostentatious red pouches displaying. This is a sight to behold. So amazing if rather ridiculous looking!

Frigate Bird Displaying

We also saw the Frigatebird behaviour, as if on queue for our Guide as he explained that they do not fish in the sea, indeed they cannot get their feathers wet with sea water, but that they steal food off other birds.

We saw a band of frigatebird robbers! Swooping down on a family of Blue Footed Boobies where they were trying to feed their chick and a frigate bird swooped down and stole a fish from within the young booby´s throat as it tried to swallow! Where else could you see behaviour like this??!

We saw many other species on the Island, many more Marine Iguanas and saw areas where they lay their eggs. In addition we sat and watched for a while a sea lion mother trying to teach her young pup to swim, he could only have been 2 weeks old!

After chilling out on the boat sunning ourselves we snorkeled at the Isle of Bartolome around the compressed ash rocks reaching into the sky on the coast. We swam with sea turtles and saw enormous rays – marble and manta rays. Wonderful colourful fish at every turn.

The View of the Galapagos Islands from Isla Bartolome

Then we landed on Bartolome itself and climbed to the top of the hill across a wonderful volcanic landscape to view the bay below. Truly beautiful.

Overnight was another rough crossing, a long night for those without their “sea legs”! At times the boat was lurching from side to side with things crashing off shelves to the floor! To go to the bathroom was becoming a major feat!

The boat was heading to the west of Isabella Island where few boats are allowed to go any longer, only the faster boats and those with permission with new park regulations are allowed to visit here.

We stopped to see Tagus Cove a place where Charles Darwin visited and observed what are now called Darwin´s Finches. A major piece in the puzzle of his evolutionary theory, even if he did not know it at the time. A beautiful area on the largest of the Galapagos Islands covering 58% of the whole landmass of the Islands.

We could see the hulks of the volcanoes on the Island reaching up into the mist.

Sea Turtle coming up to breathe Sea Turtle swimming Lava Heron

Each day we saw plenty of the mist covering many of the land masses, hence the “misty season”! However we were lucky on the whole that the mist often cleared to give us wonderful views.

We then visited Elizabeth Bay where we took a Zodiac into the breading grounds of the sea turtles, seeing many Pacific Green Sea Turtles and the Leather Back Sea Turtle.

Then a trip around the outlying rocks here to observe a feeding frenzy of Blue Footed Boobies diving into the sea for food, along with pelicans and penguins. We also observed the Flightless Cormorant.

This evening was beautiful as we watched the sun go down. The sunset was amazing turning the sky in 360 degrees into oranges and purples.

Fernandina Island

The following day we visited Fernandina Island which was stunning, seeing the nesting Flightless Cormorant, Marine Iguanas, Lava Cactus, Blue Heron, Lava Heron, rays off the coast with sea turtles and different species of mangrove.

The Island has a spectacular backdrop of the large volcano, Volcan La Cumbre.

Jason making friends with the Marine Iguanas!

After snorkeling we headed to Urbina Bay on Isabella where we saw more Land Iguanas and snorkeled in the bay, swimming with sea turtles within touching distance and we saw a blowfish.

In the evening we did not experience a sunset like the previous evening, instead we had 14 hours of rough seas and mists! Finally landing at Floreana the following morning. Here we saw marble rays, dozens of them within 5 metres of the beach just above the sand feeding and sea lions commanding the beach!

Flightless Cormorants with their chick and Marine Iguanas in the background

We also visited the “Post Office” which is a barrel where people leave post cards and if any travellers live near the address of the cards takes them away and posts them personally! Well saves a stamp hey.

Following these we snorkeled at Devil´s Rock, a sunken volcano in the sea where Chez swam with a White-Tipped Reef Shark! Rather her than me!

This was to be our final evening, a Saturday night of cocktails and barbeque on deck in the port of Puerto Ayora in Santa Cruz.

Our final day was a short visit to the Charles Darwin Research Centre and then to say our farewells to the rest of the group.

The Galapagos Islands, a trip of a lifetime?

There is no doubt that the Galapagos is an amazing place to visit, but is extremely expensive!! There are restrictions as well. You cannot go anywhere in the National Park without a guide, its all tour orientated which is inevitably restrictive and expensive. But for good reason – to protect this natural environment is paramount.

The Galapagos is certainly not as we expected. Over 30,000 people live on the Islands – far more than I had envisaged. And rather than being unspoilt, the human interference of the last 200 years has almost devastated many species.

However, the abundance of wildlife you can observe here in its natural environment so close is truly awe-inspiring and amazing.

The islands are beautiful and unique in many ways and it never gets too crowded. When you consider that visitors can only see a tiny percentage of the islands visited, yet you can see so much wildlife, it gives an indication of just how abundant the wildlife is.

We have asked ourselves whether it was worth the money to come to the Galapagos and our answer has been a resounding YES! It is truly a unique experience and a trip of a lifetime!!

Huayhuash : The most beautiful trek in the world? July 21, 2007

Posted by Jason in climbing, culture, mountaineering, Peru, South America, Travel.
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Cheryl and I have just completed an 11 day trek of the Huayhuash, a remote mountain range south of the more famous Cordillera Blanca in Peru.

A year a go I met a frenchman while climbing Illimani in Bolivia, we ended up sharing a tent at high camp before our attempted climb.  This guy, Pierre told me of his travels around the world, to Patagonia, the Himalaya, Alaska and the like.  He told me that the most beautiful mountains he had ever seen were in the Huayhuash in Peru.

Being the usual sceptic self, I took this with a rather large pinch of salt!  But intended checking out this range of mountains myself sometime in the future.

So, here we are and we made it to Huaraz and hired our Arreiro to help us with an 11 day trek of the Huayhuash.

Huayhuash map

I have to say that Pierre was pretty spot on with his assessment! We have had the most fantastic time, seen the most amazing mountains, valleys and breathtaking scenery.  Met locals who are living the same way they have done for centuries, in stone thatched houses, no electricity or water supplies, traditional dress and incredibly friendly.

The whole 11 days were an awesome experience we will never forget. Wowed again by the breathtaking scenery and experiences in South America.

To read more detail about the trip (from the bottom up!)… Click here

For more photos…. Click here

Huayhuash : A future in doubt July 10, 2007

Posted by Jason in climbing, culture, Environment, mountaineering, Peru, South America, Travel, trekking, wilderness.
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 The mountains of the Huayhuash at Laguna Yahuacocha as the sun goes down

We have just completed one of the most amazing treks we have done in South America (or indeed the world) in the Huayhuash in Peru. A superb trek for wilderness, culture and just the most amazing mountain scenery.

Yet, despite this beautiful area not having changed a lot in the last 20 years, the next 20 years could be make or break for the region. So many pressures on a fragile landscape could be the breaking point for a once untouched land.

The Huayhuash has suffered in the past from crisis but has always come through. With the rebels of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) fighting a Guerilla War and using the Huayhuash as a base for its activities. The war was waged between 1980 and 1992 when its leader Abimael Guzman was caught. Some 23,000 Peruvians died in the conflict making the area a no-go zone for foreigners for several years.

A cross commemorating the loss of 2 trekkers in the Cordillera Huayhuash

More recently, in 2002, 2 Americans were robbed and killed on a pass at Punta Tapuish and in the same year 2 people were again robbed and murdered in Catajambo.

In 2004, in a 20 day period several people were robbed and threatened and 4 Isrealis were killed when they refused to hand over their money on a pass.  These shocking events have lead to private conservation projects where the local communities charge trekkers money at different campsites in return for security and installing certain facilities to protect the landscape such as long drop toilets. Since this time there have been no incidents of theft or killings and gradually visitor numbers have increased.

Yet, now more strife is on the horizon. The Japanese, who have large mining interests in Peru, have been given rights to mine in the mountainous areas around Huaraz and the Huayhuash.

There is a mine near Matacancha, and there are several areas of the Huayhuash under threat of more development.

Much talk is of a new mine opening near Huayllapa and indeed a road being built over what is now a remote pass.

The inevitable problem here is that there is much mineral wealth, but the exploitation of such will bring devestation to a wilderness area and traditional ways of life.

2 children waiting to greet trekkers at the top of a pass

The communities would obviously like to earn more money in a very poor area, and the conflict is between exploiting mineral wealth or developing tourism, which itself brings environmental problems and the invasion of modern life and development. This can already be seen with some areas showing signs of litter and some people polluting rivers by using them as toilet facilities.

Efforts are being made to keep the area clean and long drop toilets are being used.  However, with some ignorance in this area, some of these are far too near the rivers to prevent the pollution.

Cheryl looking over to the mountains of the Huayhuash

Compounding these problems is the fact that politics interferes with certain apparent solutions – why not make it a National Park? The answer is that the Huayhuash is split between 3 different provinces making it politically difficult with so many differing interests.

Maybe, the only answer is making it a UNESCO site of special interest, giving it protection.  But this is a long way off (and would require government cooperation). Indeed the Huayhuash area is not even on the UNESCO speculative list of sites at the moment.

Some in Huaraz are very concerned with the situation and are trying to bring the plight of the region to the attention of UNESCO, Alfredo from MountClimb being such a person.

Perhaps the only way of protecting the area is to make it such a money making trekking destination that the money generated would make mineral exploitation not advantageous to the region? Maybe like a Torres Del Paine? This would obviously destroy the local communities as we know them and the wilderness experience. But would give the area some sort of future without destroying the landscape.

No easy answers to a growing problem. But maybe we worry too much in these fickle times.  A much bigger problem will be facing this area soon which could be far more devastating to the entire region. It is estimated that all the snow and glaciation could be gone within 20 years due to global warming! Yes 20 years. This in itself will devastate the area – glacial meltwater is the bloodline of the local people. With no water from glaciers, agriculture and life in the region will be impossible.

This area is truly one of the most beautiful in the world, I just hope one day I can return to explore this area further and experience the delights of the last 11 days of wonder.

Huaraz : Were finally leaving!! July 10, 2007

Posted by Jason in climbing, culture, mountaineering, Peru, South America, Travel, trekking.
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After what seems like an eternity here we are finally leaving the city of Huaraz!

We have been here since . . . . .wait for it. . . .the 18th of May!! And now we finally have to leave for pastures new.  Time is rapidly running out on our journey around South America. Only 6 weeks left and much to see and do.

We have done many things and it has been somewhat of an interesting experience here in and around Huaraz.

We have done ice climbing, the Santa Cruz trek, climbed Nevada Pisco, attempted to climb Chopicalqui and Tocllaraju (mas o menus!), and seen the ruins at Chavin(pretty amazing). And of course the amazing Huayhuash trek, see the pictures on Flickr, simply amazing!

Its been an exhausting nearly 2 months in and around the Cordillera Blanca.  We have seen some amazing sights and met some wonderful people.

Cafe Andino Huaraz    Chez after too many beers at Pachamama playing table tennis!    Jacal guest house

We have spent (as many gringos do!) much time hanging around Cafe Andino and Califormia Cafe with their wonderful book and magazine libraries, many an hour was spent here!

Not to mention beating Chez at table football in Pachamama, and of course Chez thrashing me at table tennis yet again!

We have found some superb places to eat with Chilli Heaven (great chilli, real curry and great English real ale!) run by Beatriz and Simon, El Horno (the best steak in Peru!) and La Luna.

I´m sure that our guest house we have been stopping at in between our trips will be glad to see the back of us at last! The very friendly Jacal guest house.

Alfredos Mountclimb agency

Much of what we have done here we could not have done without the excellent help of Alfredo from MountClimb. He is a wonderful guy who gives excellent advice and is extremely helpful.  He has provided us with mules, guides, porters and hire equipment for our mountaineering which has been excellent quality. We can fully recommend his services and friendship.

We must also mention our guide for Chopicalqui William Beltran who is an excellent international guide and speaks excellent English; and of course Alfonso our Arreiro for the Huayhuash trek who was excellent and very knowledgable about the area and its people. Both William and Alfonso can be hired through Mountclimb or you can ask for William at the Casa de Guias.

But now Ecuador beckons and we must move on to the last leg of our trip.

It seems that this will be another place we will have to come back to! We still have to climb Huascaran, Alpamayo, Quitaraju and Artesonraju which are now on the ¨must do¨list ever growing!    

Our affection for this area has grown since we have been here, I just wish we had more time.

Hasta luego Huaraz!!

Huayhuash : Day 11 Laguna Jahuacocha to Llamac July 7, 2007

Posted by Cheryl in Peru, South America, Travel, trekking.
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We had to get back to the village of Llamac to get the bus back to Huaraz by 11am, so it was an early start in the bitter cold.  We didn´t worry with breakfast, just swallowing a hot coffee to get us going and were on the trail at dawn.

It was easy to go quickly in the early morning cold and we made good progress on the same route as Day 1, only in reverse.  The journey back was the usual game of “how many can you squeeze into a single minibus?” (23 I think it was – and a box of ducklings).  We witnessed an unpleasant incident between a group of Israelis who were refusing to pay the community´s charge at Llamac.  It´s hardly a surprise when you see the way certain Israelis act, and the lack of respect they have for the local people, that they have such a bad reputation across South America.  Many of the agencies we have come across refuse to deal with them at all as a result.  I would hate to be this sort of embassador for my country.

Having covered many a mile on foot across South America now, I can truly say this is one of the nicest treks I´ve ever done.  The scenery is intensely beautiful from start to finish and the area is still wonderfully remote despite becoming increasingly popular.  The area is wide-open for exploration and there are so many different routes you could take.  I would love to think one day I might be back to explore it further.  Well, we can dream.

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