that’s the amount of minutes (+/- 20min) it took us to travel one time around the world. Or – to say it in a better way: 278 days, 14 hours and 15 minutes.
And for this time I use Munich airport as reference since we closed the loop exactly where we are standing on the picture above.
Let’s compare the route we planned…
…with the one we’ve actually done:
The most obvious thing is that we managed only half the island destinations we wanted to do. Instead we travelled through Australia more thoroughly and added Uruguay. We skipped the east coast of the USA (special thanks again to the US homeland security and border control) and focussed on the western parts of the US and Canada with much more driving distance and much less flying compared to the original plan. South America was at the time of the rough plan really in a far future, so there were a lot of changes – the most noteworthy one is that we couldn’t take a rental car due to the high costs with not very much insurance.
Overall everything worked out great and it was an amazing trip. When we arrived at home I didn’t feel like I had been away for so long. I think the internet changed the way of travelling completely. Mostly it really doesn’t matter where you are on the globe – if the internet connection is good you can keep in touch with everyone.
Good to be home again!!! There is no place like home. 😀
From Torres del Paine we traveled back to Puerto Natales and after one night we took the bus back to El Calafate. There we mainly relaxed and prepared ourselves for further travelling. In fact we had more days in El Calafate than originally planned since the weather was mostly in our favour in Patagonia and so we didn’t need our spare days to sit out bad weather.
We left El Calafate on a rainy day to fly further south to Ushuaia on Tierra del Fuego (aka Feuerland). Ushuaia is the southermost town in the world (“la ciudad más austral del mundo”). Further south there only are a few small chilean villages and beyond that, the next human settlements are research stations in Antarctica. Ushuaia’s location and infrastructure made it the number one place to start a cruise to Antarctica. We would have loved to do that, but 6000 USD per person for a 10 day trip is nothing that I would call a bargain. Instead we enjoyed the long days just looking at the marvellous landscape with the high snow-capped mountains, the deep blue sea and the fast changing weather. The first two nights we stayed in town, then we moved to another place a bit outside of Ushuaia on top of a hill by the sea. There we had a great view, a beautiful room, a good breakfast and the possibility to hike a bit in the mountainside. What a nice end to our world-trip! 🙂
Overall we stayed three times in Puerto Natales – first time we were coming from El Calafate and checked out when we should go to the national park Torres del Paine. Weather forecast was not that great, so we decided to do the trip to Punta Arenas first. When we came back, the weather forecast was promising, so we used our time in Puerto Natales to arrange everything for a long hike in the national park. And the last time was, when we returned from the park for a short stop before returning to El Calafate.
Every stay in this town was great and we will go back to this place for sure. Perhaps we once will do the 4-day ferry-ride starting in Puerto Montt down through the sounds of the flooded Andes.
Sorry to say, but Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, isn’t really charming. We expected something like a smaller and more quiet version of Buenos Aires, but it appeared like a crash between Colonia del Sacramento and “Ostblock”. There would have been quite a potential considering all the nice historical buildings, but plenty of the newer buildings simply suck and the older ones with nice architecture are often not well maintained. At least I had the chance to eat one of those famous uruguayan steak sandwiches (that make your cholesterol-level skyrocket), together with a typical uruguayan beer (even if “Zillertal” doesn’t seem like a typical uruguayan name). Overall, it was ok that we didn’t plan too much time in this town…
Before we arrived in Santiago we thought already about a way to travel to Argentina. I looked for information about buses and so I found several reports that the crossing of the Andes from Santiago to Mendoza is a must-do. It was also recommended to book a seat on the upper level in the first row to enjoy the ride in the best possible way.
Latest after I checked the prices for a flight to Buenos Aires I was absolutely convinced that we have to take the bus. We booked a passage with Andesmar and were able to get first row seats. Besides that, we were lucky to have great weather. It was really absolutely amazing – the best bus ride ever. The only drawback was the 2 hour waiting time at the border station.
At last a note on the history of this route through the Andes: the pass we took is called Los Libertadores. This name originated from the fact that the Argentinian General San Martin led his army from Mendoza along this way to Chile to bring freedom and independence from Spain. Later on he also liberated Peru.
From Arica we took the plane to Santiago – doing this distance by bus wouldn´t have been very funny. We would have taken the bus if we would have done a stop in St. Pedro de Atacama, but since the european observatories of the southern hemisphere aren´t ready yet we decided to skip it and keep it as a travel destination for later on.
Santiago is one of the most modern towns we visited so far in South America. On the other hand there aren’t any really impressive old buildings. After a rainy day, when the clouds are gone it is possible to have a clear view of the Andes behind the city skyline.
Nach Machupicchu haben wir uns entschieden, nicht die ganze Strecke zurück nach Cusco mit dem Zug zu fahren, sondern im kleinen Ort Ollantaytambo auszusteigen um die dortigen Inkaruinen zu besuchen. Diese sind ebenfalls wirklich sehenswert, der Aufstieg auf die obersten Ebenen der Anlage war aber sehr anstrengend. Die Inka waren zwar relativ klein, ihre Stufen haben sie aber dennoch sehr hoch gebaut!!
Von Ollantaytambo ging’s dann mit dem Colectivo weiter ins benachbarte Urubamba. Colectivos sind ein typisches öffentliches Verkehrsmittel in Peru und außerdem sehr günstig: ein Minibus, der erst losfährt, wenn sich genügend Passagiere eingefunden haben. Bevor man einsteigt, muss man erstmal klären, wo der Bus überhaupt hinfährt und was der Transport kostet. So ganz ohne Spanisch wäre das schwierig. Mit einem Colectivo am Land unterwegs zu sein, ist auf jeden Fall ein Abenteuer, funktioniert aber erstaunlich gut. In der Großstadt hingegen ist dieses System sehr chaotisch und kompliziert – zumindest für Ausländer – und meist sind die dortigen Colectivos extrem überfüllt.
On the day we arrived in Aguas Calientes, which is the village at the foot of the Machupicchu mountain, there was heavy rain in the late afternoon for several hours. We were concerned that we would have rain too during our visit of the famous Machupicchu ruins the next day. But what else could we do than buy the bus tickets for the next day, arrange a breakfast-to-go with our accommodation, have dinner and go to bed early?
Next morning we started into the day at 4 o’clock. At the bus station there was already a 30m long queue and it was quite cold due to clear sky. The buses started with their service an hour later, just at daybreak, and by this time the queue was already really long. We managed to get seats in the second bus of this day. Half an hour later we queued at the entrance of Machupicchu. After we were in the area we did as advised in the Lonely Planet – we took the first path on the left up the hill to the “caretaker hut”. From there you have a great overview over the whole place and it is supposed to be really quiet for a while until the area is filling up with tourists. And indeed it was quiet there for a long time and so we stayed there and watched as the sun rose above the mountains and brought light onto Machupicchu. Even as the main area filled up with people it was still nice up there. Sitting in the grass after the sun had dried it and just watching the stunning scenery from above. When more and more people found their way up the hill around 10pm we decided to do our walk through the area, because it wouldn’t get any better soon and the sun was shining mercyless on us. You have to know that there are only two weather conditions at Machupicchu – hot sun or raining cats and dogs. Of course we preferred the hot sun, but since there is not much shelter at the site, we had enough after 6 hours and returned to Aguas Calientes.
Our resumeé: The train ticket to get to MP is ridiculously expensive and Aguas Calientes is a rather deterrent and over-touristy place – but Oh my God: The ruins are so beautiful and it’s magical being there for real, even if you’ve already seen them on pictures for a thousand times!!!
…or better recognizable as “Machupicchu Pueblo”. To reach this village, there are only two ways – by train or by foot. We chose the train with a departure near Cusco. The train runs on small gauge tracks with an amazing speed of approx. 30 km/h. So we spent about three hours in the train to cover a not very far distance. Yeah, and the price was ridiculous.
A nice daytrip with base Cusco is to Pisaq. Pisaq is the name of the village at the bottom of the valley as well as the name of the Inka ruins above in the mountains. All we knew was that the Inka ruins are worth a visit, but we didn´t expect such a huge area covered by this ruins. A taxi brought us to the top parking lot of this site and it took us 3 hours to get back to the village – and in all this time we were within the ruins. It is absolutely amazing how much effort was spent to erect this. And also to live and work there must have been hard. At the end of the day Eva´s and my knee hurt because of the steep stairs. Some people say this place is more impressive than Machupicchu – we will see….
During the flight from Arequipa to Cusco we could see a bit more of the Andes. Cusco airport means no fun for the pilot: the airport is located in the middle of the town and in a quite narrow valley. During landing, the slopes of the surrounding mountains are really close. So no wonder that they plan to build a new airport an hour away from Cusco.
It was a good thing that we spent some time in Arequipa before we came to Cusco, because Cusco is located on 3.600 m above sealevel. Many tourists make the mistake to fly directly from Lima to Cusco and so quite often they suffer from altitude sickness. Some of the better hotels even provide oxygen masks to help their customers through the worst moments. One way or the other: Cusco is breathtaking, at least in the first few days.
After the arrival of the Spanish, the former capital city of the Inkas was completely transformed. Only around the city several ruins survived.
The change in weather between Galapagos and Lima was really extreme: Galapagos has nice temperatures and high chances for sun. Lima welcomed us with low temperatures, a constant thick fog and such a high humidity that nothing stays dry. Even the bed linen had a moist touch.
But we didn’t go there for sightseeing anyway. It was really hell of a time for a break. For about 6 months we have been travelling now and we’ve stayed nowhere longer than for 5 nights. In fact only in Auckland we spent 5 nights in a row, everywhere else less than that. So we booked a flat in Lima’s nice district of Miraflores for two weeks and except for one trip into the historic town center we did no sightseeing at all. But we did a one-week spanish course. And we did some planning for our further travelling. But the main focus was to relax. Lima was really something totally different to everything we did in the last half year.
After being back in Puerto Ayora we tried to figure out what to do with our last full day on Galapagos. Originally we planned to do a day trip to Isla Isabella, but we weren’t keen on spending at least 6h on another nutshell. Finally we decided to to a snorkling trip to Isla Santa Fé, with a visit of a nice beach on Santa Cruz on the way back.
The boat we had for this trip was again the “nutshell”-type, but only with half the amount of people. Weather was very good.
On the way to Isla Santa Fé we were able to do some whalewatching, which was unplanned and therefore a really good surprise. We saw a humpback-whale in full action and close-up. The view was better than on any other whalewatching tour before! I was lucky to get at least some good pictures – not so easy since the whale was fast.
With this amazing start of the trip we were looking forward to the first snorkeling spot. We saw a lot of fish, but only one sealion showed up for a short time.
Next spot – more luck with sealions. There were a lot of them – also some really big ones. The big ones are a bit scary when they dive towards you with high speed. I made a lot of pictures, but then I decided to record more videos. I filled up the SD Card of my waterthight camera quite well.
Last stop on the way back was a very nice sandy beach which was only accessible by boat.
This day was one of the best on Galapagos – even with the bad end: Eva and I both got a horrible sunburn on our back. First time on out trip that our Australian suncream factor 30 wasn’t enough. At that point we understood why they sell suncream factor 100 in some shops on Puerto Ayora…
After a quite rough ride with the nutshell (aka. “ferry”) we arrived well-soaked in salt water at the island San Christóbal. On this day the weather stayed bad, so except for dinner we didn’t leave our accommodation anymore – specially because we had to get dry and heat ourselves up. Not so easy when there is no heating and nothing that can be called a hot shower. During our walk for dinner we figuered out that Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is totally different to Puerto Ayora. Tourists are rare and most of the places that are made for tourists do not seem to want them. This starts already at the tourist information – they had no map of the town available and were not really in the mood to be interrupted during their private chit-chat for longer than absolutely necessary.
With some info from an Austrian woman, who spent some weeks on San Cristóbal to do voluntary work, we decided to do a half day trip with a taxi to some places along the island’s only main road. And we visited a snorkling spot in walking distance from the harbour, which would have been quite nice, had there been better weather… a highlight were some sea-lions joining us in the water.
After 2 nights we were happy to enter another nutshell that brought us back to Puerto Ayora.
After we settled in in our accomodation and after a “virtual tour” through town by the owner of this place (a guy from Seattle) we had a walk to see what’s going on in this village. The road along the coast was very nice and there were a lot of nice restaurants and shops. The farther you walked away from the coast the shabbier the buildings got. Nevertheless, our host ensured us that we are absolutely safe here on Galapagos – the people here figured out that it is bad for business if there is crime. And there are enough legal ways to get to the money of the tourists…
After our excursion though Puerto Ayora and enjoying dinner we took a taxi home. No matter what our host said, we were not keen to walk the 15 min at night to one of the roads farther away from the coast where our Hostal was located. And since the taxi rides in town always only cost one Dollar, it isn’t worth thinking long if you should save the money or not.
First thing to see next day was the Charles Darwin Research Station. If you go there in the morning the chances are higher to see a lot of the huge tortoises because they are fed. It is really amazing how big they are and how they move their bodies over the bumpy and rough surface. Especially when you take into account that all the rocks are from volcanic origin and so the edges are quite sharp. Also some land iguanas can be seen at the research station. They are rarer and larger than the water iguanas.
After this pleasant start into the day we passed the so called fisherman’s harbour. Was quite interesting to see how they prepare the fresh fish and how eager the Pelicans and Sea Lions were to get a piece. After I saw this I decided that I’ll skip eating fish for a while – just as a precaution…
Next thing on our bucket list was a short hike to a gorge. The place there is one of the rare spots that you can explore on your own without a long taxi ride or a booked trip. I did a short snorkelling session there, but after we arrived it got crowded there pretty fast. The gorge reminded me a bit of the gorges in the Karijini National Park in Western Australia – but only a bit. Karijini was much more spectacular and nicer.
One way to get to the tourist’s money is to offer tours. Often it is hard to say upfront if the tour is worth the money. Like the half day trip that we booked for the following day with snorkeling next to an island for 30 US$. The price would have been ok, if we had been able to do some snorkeling – but the waves were very high and the currents strong. Nevertheless the tour was held for the full price even when it was clear to the locals that there will be no snorkeling where it was supposed to be. At least we could see some blue footed boobies (yeah, that’s their name) and some sea-iguanas. The black iguanas have algae and sea grass as a food source, so they are swimming and diving. The rest of the time they are lying around on the rocky beach and heat their bodies up again. And they are not scared of the tourists at all, actually they’re pretty stoic…
Before we took the “ferry” to the island San Cristobal we made a hike to the Tortoise Bay. Instead of Tortoises we saw some iguanas again lying on a nice beach with very fine sand. That’s at least something. We weren’t looking forward to our boat ride since the weather wasn’t very pleasing. It is possible to visit three islands with public transportation. The hub for that is Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz. The other two islands are San Cristobal and Isabella. To both islands it is an approx. 3h ride with a speed-boat that I wouldn’t call a “ferry”. Funny thing is that there usually are 2 or 3 ships operating at the same time to the same island. So I really wonder why they use these nutshells for 26 peoples or less, instead of having one proper ferry with less environmental impact and a higher level of safety. After the ride to San Cristobal we were absolutely sure that we are not going to visit Isabella on a day trip – 5 to 6 hours on a boat on one day, especially on such a small one and in rough conditions are simply too much.
Galapagos is something special – let’s list some of the reasons why:
First of all, this archipelago was the reason why Darwin started to think about evolution. Before that, everything was believed to be made by god in the way it is.
Next thing: until modern days, the islands were never inhabitated by man, there are no aborigines of Galapagos. Even after the first discovery of their existence in 1535, the main visitors to the islands were pirates and whalers for a long long time. The islands remained a myth or a forgotten place to the world, because they were described in a not very inviting way by their first visitors. But after Darwin published his book “The origin of Species” more and more scientists came to the islands. These so called scientists, nowadays we would rather call them hunters and gatherers, eliminated some species and brought others to the edge of extinction by “collecting” samples. Some sciencific voyages took several thousand specimens back to their home port.
Another special thing is that Galapagos is a nationalpark and a UNESCO World Heritage site – only a few inhabited sites are excluded. There have already been some attempts to reduce the impacts of humans to the islands – such as the elimination of plants that don’t belong to the islands originally.
Flights to Galapagos depart solely from Guayaquil or from Quito (mostly via Guayaquil).
To enter the nationalpark you have to pay a fee – 100 US$ for adults that are not from South America. This money has to be paid in cash upon arrival at the airport in Galapagos. Now the best: there are no cash machines at the airport, so you have to cash the money before you arrive there. I don’t know what they do if you don’t have the money – sending you back where you came from is a real possible option?!
The main airport of Galapagos is Baltra – a former US military outpost during WW2. But no worries, the airport buildings and the landing strip are not from this time. Actually they are brand new. First thing that is a bit strange is that you have to take a ferry from the island Baltra to the main island of Santa Cruz. And the ferries there look totally self made. The buses that await you on the other side are not selfmade, but still you instantly start to hope that they are able to make it to the town Puerto Ayora, which is a 1 hour ride away.
We took a bus from Seattle to Vancouver, so we had to carry all of our belongings around. There we figured out that we had too much weight in our bags and that we definitly have to reduce stuff. Reducing stuff, relaxing and planning for South America were our main objectives for our 5 night stay in Vancouver. Sightseeing was not really a high priority, but based on what we saw we know that we will come back again one day.
On our way back we made a stop in Dawson Creek where the Alaska Highway (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alaska_Highway#mediaviewer/File:Alaska_Highway1.png) offically starts. All in all we drove about 1100 Miles of this road (some sections we drove twice) – only the last 120 Miles in Alaska we didn´t explore.
…that’s what the Alaska Highway offered to us after Watson Lake. Of course not to forget the stunning landscape. The first animal was a single huge bison, followed a little bit later by a single bear. Then we encountered a big herd of bisons on both sides of the road and on the road. After several hours of driving through nowhere, we arrived in the middle of nowhere, the campsite at the Liard river hot springs. (In Canada, there are a lot of “nowheres”, and in between these nowheres, there sometimes is something with a name, and this is then “the middle of nowhere” – also quite common here around…) The hot spring is located in the forest and can be reached by a 400 m wooden pathway through a wetland. This wetland is a tempting place for moose, because the grass there is very nutritious, due to the water of the hot spring. So we were lucky to see some moose twice. The next day we scored again, when we saw a cariboo – so the big three (bison, bear, cariboo) were complete.
And by the way, for all non-native English speakers: in North America the “Elch” is called “moose” (Alces alces) and an “elk” is a Wapiti deer (Cervus canadensis)… how confusing is that??
…in den USA und Kanada. Hier gibt’s fast nur Campingwägen Marke “Zweitheim”, oft werden hinten sogar noch kleine Autos oder Quad-Bikes angehängt. Als ob das Modell auf dem Foto nicht schon groß genug wäre, kann man den Anhänger auch noch seitlich ausfahren! Und der Platz wird gebraucht, denn das Allernötigste von daheim muss schließlich mit in den Urlaub, sprich: das halbe Haus. Dieses Modell ist übrigens bei weitem nicht das größte das wir hier gesehen haben, man stelle sich Campingwägen in Reisebus-Größe vor. Und weil solche Monster hier die Regel und nicht die Ausnahme sind, sind die Campingplätze auch darauf ausgerichtet, und bieten große geschotterte “pull-through” Stellplätze an. Auf ein schönes Stückchen Gras darf man da als einfacher Zelt-Besitzer kaum hoffen.
Übrigens: Es ist hier tatsächlich so, dass viele reiselustige Rentner mit Pensionsantritt ihr Haus verkaufen, komplett in einen dieser Monster-Campingwägen umziehen und fortan in Nordamerika der Sonne hinterher fahren. Wir haben ein Paar getroffen, das schon seit 10 Jahren auf diese Art und Weise unterwegs ist.