Back in the Saddle in Northern Argentina – Red Rocks, Red Wine and 20,000 miles!

Greetings from South America again, finally!

Ned and I have only been reunited with Charlotte and back on the road for two weeks, but so much has happened (including hitting 20,000 miles since embarking a year ago) that it feels like a month.  Our adventures continue to inspire and humble us as we make more wonderful friends and stumble upon some of the earth’s most astonishing scenery.

We have taken almost 700 photos during these two weeks, and have had to cull them down to about 250 “keepers.”  Of those, we had to choose which ones to share on the blog and have had a tough time, since I typically set a 75 photo limit.  We ended up posting 110 of our favorites, so this is a longer than usual blog.  Please just enjoy the photos or follow along as we retell our stories.

Our (wonderful) friend Leonard took us to the Reno airport at 3:30am on November 4th..  After 23 hours of travel time, including an overnight red eye flight, we arrived in Santiago, Chile on the 5th with absolutely no problems.  Our local Chilean friend, Sebastian, picked us up and brought us to his home where his wife, Luz made us a much appreciated breakfast.   Charlotte had been kindly welcomed and safely housed at the home of Sebastian and Luz’s friends, Pete and Carolina, and we found her hale and hearty…just a little dirty!

Our (wonderful) friend Leonard took us to the Reno airport at 3:30am on November 4th.. After 23 hours of travel time, including an overnight red eye flight, we arrived in Santiago, Chile on the 5th with absolutely no problems. Our local Chilean friend, Sebastian, picked us up and brought us to his home where his wife, Luz made us a much appreciated breakfast.
Charlotte had been kindly welcomed and safely housed at the home of Sebastian and Luz’s friends, Pete and Carolina, and we found her hale and hearty…just a little dirty!

The warm and gracious Pete and Carolina.

The warm and gracious Pete and Carolina.

After a much needed nap at our hotel, we enjoyed a great dinner with Sebastian, Luz, Pete, Carolina and all their kids (3 of them off playing in the restaurant supplied playground!).   The strong local drinks, Pisco Sours (also famous in Peru), guaranteed a great night’s sleep.

After a much needed nap at our hotel, we enjoyed a great dinner with Sebastian, Luz, Pete, Carolina and all their kids (3 of them off playing in the restaurant supplied playground!). The strong local drinks, Pisco Sours (also famous in Peru), guaranteed a great night’s sleep.

It is now summer in Santiago, and the weather has improved since we were here in September.  It was hot and sunny when we woke, so I set off on foot to hunt down two improbable items.  First, I needed to replace my (almost) confiscated Swiss Army Knife that I carelessly left in my carry-on back pack.  Reno Airport security, of course, discovered it, so I left the security area and found a woman cleaning the slot machines.  She was a bit startled, but pleased to be the new owner of my trusty, 20 year old knife.   Secondly, I decided that this 54 year old body needed some dumbbells to help stay in shape on the road.  Now where in Santiago would I find those things?  The staff at the hotel tipped me off to a place called the Mallsport, which I assumed would be a big sporting goods store.  I took off and walked the nearly three miles in the heat, and was astounded to find, not a store, but an entire MALL of sporting good stores!  Was I a happy camper or what??   I had a blast, going from store to store, back in the groove of speaking Spanish, feeling healthy, and successfully acquiring my new knife and hand weights. I love Santiago! In the mean time, Charlotte needed another new alternator bracket (we brought three back with us!), new plugs, cap and rotor, and a new oil pressure switch installed.  She also needed her gear lube, coolant, and oil topped off.   So Ned, the ever trusty car whisperer got to do some wrenching in the summer heat.  He didn’t have as much fun as I did, but his efforts were greatly appreciated by both me and Charlotte.

It is now summer in Santiago, and the weather has improved since we were here in September. It was hot and sunny when we woke, so I set off on foot to hunt down two improbable items. First, I needed to replace my (almost) confiscated Swiss Army Knife that I carelessly left in my carry-on back pack. Reno Airport security, of course, discovered it, so I left the security area and found a woman cleaning the slot machines. She was a bit startled, but pleased to be the new owner of my trusty, 20 year old knife.
Secondly, I decided that this 54 year old body needed some dumbbells to help stay in shape on the road. Now where in Santiago would I find those things? The staff at the hotel tipped me off to a place called the Mallsport, which I assumed would be a big sporting goods store. I took off and walked the nearly three miles in the heat, and was astounded to find, not a store, but an entire MALL of sporting good stores! Was I a happy camper or what??
I had a blast, going from store to store, back in the groove of speaking Spanish, feeling healthy, and successfully acquiring my new knife and hand weights. I love Santiago!
In the mean time, Charlotte needed another new alternator bracket (we brought three back with us!), new plugs, cap and rotor, and a new oil pressure switch installed. She also needed her gear lube, coolant, and oil topped off. So Ned, the ever trusty car whisperer got to do some wrenching in the summer heat. He didn’t have as much fun as I did, but his efforts were greatly appreciated by both me and Charlotte.

Later that day, Sebastian, Luz, Emily and Seba (short for Sebastian) treated us to a tour of lovely, downtown Santiago.

Later that day, Sebastian, Luz, Emily and Seba (short for Sebastian) treated us to a tour of lovely, downtown Santiago.

Mixing the old with the new like most great Latin American cities.

Mixing the old with the new like most great Latin American cities.

Not sure what this sculpture was, but it looked cool.

Not sure what this sculpture was, but it looked cool.

We walked passed this guy and his princess-clad pup and I had to get a shot.  He happily accepted a 10 Peso note (about $1.20) for the favor of taking his photo.  Note the McDonald’s Happy Meal box.

We walked passed this guy and his princess-clad pup and I had to get a shot. He happily accepted a 10 Peso note (about $1.20) for the favor of taking his photo. Note the McDonald’s Happy Meal box.

Street graffiti.  Puppy love???  Not sure, but…

Street graffiti. Puppy love??? Not sure, but…

The tallest building in South America.  You can even almost see the snow capped Andes through the haze.

The tallest building in South America. You can even almost see the snow capped Andes through the haze.

Ned will share this one, of course:  Sebastian had been telling me about this friend of his that had some “amazing” cars.  As I was interested in seeing them, he arranged a visit. We only saw part of the collection which is scattered at various properties around town.  These beauties were housed in the basement of a beautiful home in the foothills of Santiago. Amazing does not begin to describe the caliber of these vehicles.  Seen here left to right are an Audi Quatro Works Rally Car converted to street use, a Porsche 959, a Porsche RSR and a brand new, just-arrived-that-week McLaren 650S Sprint, the first and only one in South America. Rarified stuff indeed in any country!  Behind me is a Porsche Carrera GT and another, one year old McLaren.  These cars’ owner also races in the Dakar in a Works Mini.  We plan to catch the Dakar race next month in northern Chile when we meet back up with Sebastian and family in Copiapó.

Ned will share this one, of course:
Sebastian had been telling me about this friend of his that had some “amazing” cars. As I was interested in seeing them, he arranged a visit. We only saw part of the collection which is scattered at various properties around town. These beauties were housed in the basement of a beautiful home in the foothills of Santiago. Amazing does not begin to describe the caliber of these vehicles. Seen here left to right are an Audi Quatro Works Rally Car converted to street use, a Porsche 959, a Porsche RSR and a brand new, just-arrived-that-week McLaren 650S Sprint, the first and only one in South America. Rarified stuff indeed in any country! Behind me is a Porsche Carrera GT and another, one year old McLaren. These cars’ owner also races in the Dakar in a Works Mini. We plan to catch the Dakar race next month in northern Chile when we meet back up with Sebastian and family in Copiapó.

On Sunday the 7th we left Santiago and found ourselves excited to be heading east, crossing the great Andes Mountains and into another new country…Argentina.   Our plan for the next month is to cover northern Argentina and work our way up to Bolivia. We skipped Bolivia earlier this year due to my illness and the fact that it was freezing cold.  Once in Bolivia we plan to check out the famous salt flats in the southwestern part of this landlocked country.  This should bring us into 2015 when we have a date during the first week of January with Sebastian and Pete to meet them and their families for camping on the beach at Basecamp (which we visited back in September).  The plan is to watch the world famous, three-week-long Dakar Rally Raid race as it passes through this area in the sand dunes of the Atacama Desert.  After this exciting reunion with our Chilean friends we will high-tail it south, through Patagonia, to the tip of this amazing continent, our final goal of the whole trip.

On Sunday the 7th we left Santiago and found ourselves excited to be heading east, crossing the great Andes Mountains and into another new country…Argentina.
Our plan for the next month is to cover northern Argentina and work our way up to Bolivia. We skipped Bolivia earlier this year due to my illness and the fact that it was freezing cold. Once in Bolivia we plan to check out the famous salt flats in the southwestern part of this landlocked country. This should bring us into 2015 when we have a date during the first week of January with Sebastian and Pete to meet them and their families for camping on the beach at Basecamp (which we visited back in September). The plan is to watch the world famous, three-week-long Dakar Rally Raid race as it passes through this area in the sand dunes of the Atacama Desert. After this exciting reunion with our Chilean friends we will high-tail it south, through Patagonia, to the tip of this amazing continent, our final goal of the whole trip.

We have a particular soft spot for great highway signs, and we just loved this one.

We have a particular soft spot for great highway signs, and we just loved this one.

There are several border crossings over the Andes between Chile and Argentina, but this one is famous for Los Caracoles Pass which boasts 30 steep switchbacks and is listed as one of the10 most dangerous roads in the world.  We found the 10,000ft pass to be fun and interesting, but much tamer than many other passes we have crossed over this past year.  I just wouldn’t want to attempt it downhill in the ice and snow of winter!   Note:  Charlotte is posing here for the photo; we actually drove UP the pass.

There are several border crossings over the Andes between Chile and Argentina, but this one is famous for Los Caracoles Pass which boasts 30 steep switchbacks and is listed as one of the10 most dangerous roads in the world. We found the 10,000ft pass to be fun and interesting, but much tamer than many other passes we have crossed over this past year. I just wouldn’t want to attempt it downhill in the ice and snow of winter!
Note: Charlotte is posing here for the photo; we actually drove UP the pass.

Once over the pass, we found dozens of little (and big) ski resorts.  We decided to stretch our legs and take a look around…

Once over the pass, we found dozens of little (and big) ski resorts. We decided to stretch our legs and take a look around…

…and found this little turquoise gem hidden behind that big yellow monstrosity!  If we hadn’t stopped, we never would have seen the gorgeous Lake Inca.

…and found this little turquoise gem hidden behind that big yellow monstrosity! If we hadn’t stopped, we never would have seen the gorgeous Lake Inca.

This was by far the best border crossing ever.  It was not only indoors, out of the heat of summer, (and snow of winter), but it was also an incredibly civilized cooperation between Chile and Argentina, whereby both the exit and entrance desks with their respective officers sat side by side in the same room! This made the whole border crossing process a breeze. What a concept!

This was by far the best border crossing ever. It was not only indoors, out of the heat of summer, (and snow of winter), but it was also an incredibly civilized cooperation between Chile and Argentina, whereby both the exit and entrance desks with their respective officers sat side by side in the same room! This made the whole border crossing process a breeze. What a concept!

We were efficiently directed down this “assembly line” of Immigration and Customs.  The officials were friendly and polite and the whole thing took about 10 minutes, as it should be.  By comparison, the histrionics and delays at other countries’ crossings sure seem like unnecessary displays of power and control.

We were efficiently directed down this “assembly line” of Immigration and Customs. The officials were friendly and polite and the whole thing took about 10 minutes, as it should be. By comparison, the histrionics and delays at other countries’ crossings sure seem like unnecessary displays of power and control.

Magnificent Argentina unfolds before us.

Magnificent Argentina unfolds before us.

A brief view of Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the western and southern hemispheres, at 22,837ft.  No immediate plans to climb it.

A brief view of Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the western and southern hemispheres, at 22,837ft. No immediate plans to climb it.

In the cute little town of Uspallata, at the bottom of the pass, we were treated to an Argentinean specialty, Chivito, which is roasted goat.  Apprehensive at first, we were hooked after the first bite.  The local dogs were hoping otherwise.  Absolutely delicious!

In the cute little town of Uspallata, at the bottom of the pass, we were treated to an Argentinean specialty, Chivito, which is roasted goat. Apprehensive at first, we were hooked after the first bite. The local dogs were hoping otherwise. Absolutely delicious!

Outside the restaurant, we were greeted by the adorable Lautaro who became a big fan of Charlotte.

Outside the restaurant, we were greeted by the adorable Lautaro who became a big fan of Charlotte.

Of course, as his T-shirt shows, he’s a big fan of all things Volkswagen!  He was pretty happy with the stickers. Lautaro’s dad, Roberto, the restaurant manger, also came out to say hello.

Of course, as his T-shirt shows, he’s a big fan of all things Volkswagen! He was pretty happy with the stickers.
Lautaro’s dad, Roberto, the restaurant manger, also came out to say hello.

Like many of these, predominantly Catholic, Latin American countries, Argentina has its share of roadside religious shrines.  The Argentineans have come up with an unusual way to recycle plastic bottles by leaving offerings of water to the saints.  On the way to Mendoza, we spotted this huge collection, by far the biggest one we’ve seen to date.

Like many of these, predominantly Catholic, Latin American countries, Argentina has its share of roadside religious shrines. The Argentineans have come up with an unusual way to recycle plastic bottles by leaving offerings of water to the saints. On the way to Mendoza, we spotted this huge collection, by far the biggest one we’ve seen to date.

100 plus degree heat found us sweating in the non air-conditioned Charlotte and also sharing a gas station bathroom with this hot dog.  Still no paper, soap or seats.

100 plus degree heat found us sweating in the non air-conditioned Charlotte and also sharing a gas station bathroom with this hot dog. Still no paper, soap or seats.

Our experience of Mendoza was of an ugly, grimy city.  Perhaps we were tired, hot and crabby and only saw the bad side.  We got some crummy food at a grimy grocery store, had a good navigation fight, and got out of there. We found this out-of-the-way wash on a dirt road off of Ruta 40, had some beer and cheese for dinner and camped for the night.   In the morning Ned decided to remove the skid plate which had been encrusted with fluid/oil leaks and road dirt to the point where it was going to rub a hole in the bottom of the transmission if something wasn’t done about it.

Our experience of Mendoza was of an ugly, grimy city. Perhaps we were tired, hot and crabby and only saw the bad side. We got some crummy food at a grimy grocery store, had a good navigation fight, and got out of there.
We found this out-of-the-way wash on a dirt road off of Ruta 40, had some beer and cheese for dinner and camped for the night.
In the morning Ned decided to remove the skid plate which had been incrusted with fluid/oil leaks and road dirt to the point where it was going to rub a hole in the bottom of the transmission if something wasn’t done about it.

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Not a job for the feint hearted!

Not a job for the feint hearted!

While we had enjoyed our last three nights of camping out in the desert, we were not enjoying our sweaty selves.  We felt about as encrusted as the skid plate. Then, miraculously, about 10 minutes out of camp we spotted a rare desert river with clear water.  We quickly took advantage of this hidey hole under the overpass for heavenly baths in the Rio Huaco. Ned and I have a long history of being “Trolls Under the Bridge,” so this was a particularly fun stop.

While we had enjoyed our last three nights of camping out in the desert, we were not enjoying our sweaty selves. We felt about as encrusted as the skid plate.
Then, miraculously, about 10 minutes out of camp we spotted a rare desert river with clear water. We quickly took advantage of this hidey hole under the overpass for heavenly baths in the Rio Huaco.
Ned and I have a long history of being “Trolls Under the Bridge,” so this was a particularly fun stop.

And what better time to roll across the 20,000 mile mark!!! This was the mileage Ned wrote on the headliner the day we left home last December 21, 2013.

And what better time to roll across the 20,000 mile mark!!!
This was the mileage Ned wrote on the headliner the day we left home last December 21, 2013.

This was our mileage about 15 minutes after our river baths.

This was our mileage about 15 minutes after our river baths.

Hitting 20,000 road-trip miles while driving down lonely highway 150 toward Parque National Talampaya in Argentina.  Pinch me!

Hitting 20,000 road-trip miles while driving down lonely highway 150 toward Parque National Talampaya in Argentina. Pinch me!

Beautiful local flora.

Beautiful local flora.

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Sebastian and Pete had been to Parque National Talampaya and, in spite of having to take a tour truck into the park, had highly recommended a visit.

Sebastian and Pete had been to Parque National Talampaya and, in spite of having to take a tour truck into the park, had highly recommended a visit.

The park entrance was a remote outpost in the desert, but boasted a cool dinosaur display.  We enjoyed it while waiting for our tour.

The park entrance was a remote outpost in the desert, but boasted a cool dinosaur display. We enjoyed it while waiting for our tour.

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Maybe not too unhappy they’re extinct?

Maybe not too unhappy they’re extinct?

In spite of being bused in with a handful of other tourists, we found the canyon spectacular, reminding us of Moab, Utah.  And yes, the air conditioned vehicle was a nice respite from the hundred degree heat.

In spite of being bused in with a handful of other tourists, we found the canyon spectacular, reminding us of Moab, Utah. And yes, the air conditioned vehicle was a nice respite from the hundred degree heat.

Our wonderful native guide, Oscar, showed us around, pointing out several places with ancient rock carvings.

Our wonderful native guide, Oscar, showed us around, pointing out several places with ancient rock carvings.

Okay, not going to see ostriches in Moab!

Okay, not going to see ostriches in Moab!

A giant rock condor perched below a colossal rock pillar.

A giant rock condor perched below a colossal rock pillar.

And a rock camel…if you squint.

And a rock camel…if you squint.

The friar…

The friar…

And the witch!

And the witch!

Definitely a treat, as was the wine break in the middle of the tour!

Definitely a treat, as was the wine break in the middle of the tour!

Another dry wash, another nice, quiet camping place.   The night skies have been spectacular, but odd.  I can’t really say that I’m an expert on constellations, but somehow, we just know our own sky.  Here in the southern hemisphere, it’s beautiful, but unfamiliar, feeling somehow alien.

Another dry wash, another nice, quiet camping place.
The night skies have been spectacular, but odd. I can’t really say that I’m an expert on constellations, but somehow, we just know our own sky. Here in the southern hemisphere, it’s beautiful, but unfamiliar, feeling somehow alien.

Another favorite road sign…this one hand painted!

Another favorite road sign…this one hand painted!

A two hour stop for road construction had us grumbling until Ned said something about “making lemonade” and took the opportunity to reinstall the now shiny clean skid plate.

A two hour stop for road construction had us grumbling until Ned said something about “making lemonade” and took the opportunity to reinstall the now shiny clean skid plate.

We also took the time to walk along this beautiful canyon and get some exercise.

We also took the time to walk along this beautiful canyon and get some exercise.

In the cute town of Cafayate, we got a little hotel room for showers and stocked up on food at the always fun local markets.

In the cute town of Cafayate, we got a little hotel room for showers and stocked up on food at the always fun local markets.

Ouside of Cafayate, we drove past this Christmas tree made up of… what??

Ouside of Cafayate, we drove past this Christmas tree made up of… what??

Yup, another wonderful use for soda bottles…first, water offerings to favorite saints, now Christmas trees.

Yup, another wonderful use for soda bottles…first, water offerings to favorite saints, now Christmas trees.

Remarkably, the Ruta 40, the historic North/South Route through Argentina, turned to dirt.  The mile marker is claiming 4,397 kilometers (2,732 miles) from the southern end of the country…our ultimate goal.  So why are we are heading north?   Having missed Bolivia because of illness, we are heading there now, and enjoying spectacular Northern Argentina in the process!

Remarkably, the Ruta 40, the historic North/South Route through Argentina, turned to dirt. The mile marker is claiming 4,397 kilometers (2,732 miles) from the southern end of the country…our ultimate goal. So why are we are heading north?
Having missed Bolivia because of illness, we are heading there now, and enjoying spectacular Northern Argentina in the process!

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The owner of the hotel in Cafayate had told us about these fantastic rock formations along the Ruta 40.  Come along as we drive through Las Flechas (The Feathers)…

The owner of the hotel in Cafayate had told us about these fantastic rock formations along the Ruta 40. Come along as we drive through Las Flechas (The Arrows)…

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As many of you know, Argentina is famous for wine, and we found ourselves on the spectacularly scenic Ruta de Vino.

As many of you know, Argentina is famous for wine, and we found ourselves on the spectacularly scenic Ruta de Vino.

Neither of us are big fans of wine tasting, but I pestered Ned into stopping at Bodega El Cese, where Ivan showed us around and gave us some yummy samples.  This particular winery was only opened in 2013, with the vines planted in 2009.

Neither of us are big fans of wine tasting, but I pestered Ned into stopping at Bodega El Cese, where Ivan showed us around and gave us some yummy samples. This particular winery was only opened in 2013, with the vines planted in 2009.

Nonetheless, we enjoyed the wine and bought two bottles for the road.

Nonetheless, we enjoyed the wine and bought two bottles for the road.

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In the tiny village of Molinos, we found yet another use for soda bottles.  Ned had been searching high and low for Charlotte’s gear oil, and finally found some here…but in big buckets.

In the tiny village of Molinos, we found yet another use for soda bottles. Ned had been searching high and low for Charlotte’s gear oil, and finally found some here…but in big buckets.

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While looking online at the Salta region (northern Argentina) we found an obscure reference (in Spanish) to a place called Las Cuevas (caves) de Acsibi.  It looked gorgeous and was only accessible by four wheel drive up a remote dry river bed outside the small village of Seclantás.  We were intrigued to find the caves, neither of us having bothered to get the GPS coordinates.  We asked many locals, but few had heard of them.  The Challenge was on! After considerable inquiry, including the Police at Seclantás, we were 75% sure we had found the correct wash (dry river).  It was getting dark, so we camped for the night, having driven about five miles off road, hoping the storm clouds on the horizon wouldn’t change the waterless status of the river.  The temperature was also blessedly cooler, and checking the GPS, we found we were at 8500 ft. elevation.  Nice. Dinner was a great one-pot meal full of fresh chicken and vegetables from Cafayate…

While looking online at the Salta region (northern Argentina) we found an obscure reference (in Spanish) to a place called Las Cuevas (caves) de Acsibi. It looked gorgeous and was only accessible by four wheel drive up a remote dry river bed outside the small village of Seclantás. We were intrigued to find the caves, neither of us having bothered to get the GPS coordinates. We asked many locals, but few had heard of them. The Challenge was on!
After considerable inquiry, including the Police at Seclantás, we were 75% sure we had found the correct wash (dry river). It was getting dark, so we camped for the night, having driven about five miles off road, hoping the storm clouds on the horizon wouldn’t change the waterless status of the river. The temperature was also blessedly cooler, and checking the GPS, we found we were at 8500 ft. elevation. Nice.
Dinner was a great one-pot meal full of fresh chicken and vegetables from Cafayate…

…accompanied by a great local beer… La Pecadora (The Sin!).  At 6% alcohol (strong for beer), it was still wimpy compared to the 11% one we still have in the fridge!

…accompanied by a great local beer… La Pecadora (The Sin!). At 6% alcohol (strong for beer), it was still wimpy compared to the 11% one we still have in the fridge!

Had to take this shot…these industrious little guys made off with a piece of cheese at the astonishing rate of 6 inches per minute (yes, we timed and measured).  We never even found them until they were all the way on the other side of Charlotte from where we ate!

Had to take this shot…these industrious little guys made off with a piece of cheese at the astonishing rate of 6 inches per minute (yes, we timed and measured). We never even found them until they were all the way on the other side of Charlotte from where we ate!

In the morning, we drove another six miles up the river bed, finding, at last, an opening to a red rock canyon.  We must be on the right track!  Unfortunately, our voltage was reading low at only 12.9, spelling a possible problem with the alternator - again!  And we were 11 miles up some desolate wash.  The anxiety of a potential rain storm and a subsequent flash flood was now added to the possibility of a dead battery.  But it sure was beautiful.  And…out on a limb is where all the fruit is, right?

In the morning, we drove another six miles up the river bed, finding, at last, an opening to a red rock canyon. We must be on the right track! Unfortunately, our voltage was reading low at only 12.9, spelling a possible problem with the alternator – again! And we were 11 miles up some desolate wash. The anxiety of a potential rain storm and a subsequent flash flood was now added to the possibility of a dead battery. But it sure was beautiful. And…out on a limb is where all the fruit is, right?

The fabulous rock walls closed in, blocking further passage for the intrepid Charlotte.

The fabulous rock walls closed in, blocking further passage for the intrepid Charlotte.

So we parked, and I made breakfast while Ned investigated the voltage issue.  Reattaching the main lead stopped the immediate problem, but the battery was still not fully charging.

So we parked, and I made breakfast while Ned investigated the voltage issue. Reattaching the main lead stopped the immediate problem, but the battery was still not fully charging.

Pretty nice spot for breakfast with a perfect temperature, now at 9,000ft. elevation.

Pretty nice spot for breakfast with a perfect temperature, now at 9,000ft. elevation.

Voltage problem at least temporarily solved, and rain clouds having broken up a bit, we relaxed and headed off on foot in search of the illusive Cuevas de Acsibi.

Voltage problem at least temporarily solved, and rain clouds having broken up a bit, we relaxed and headed off on foot in search of the illusive Cuevas de Acsibi.

We had no idea if we could find the caves, or what we were really even looking for, having only seen one photo.  But it was beginning to be irrelevant.  What we were seeing was stunning enough!

We had no idea if we could find the caves, or what we were really even looking for, having only seen one photo. But it was beginning to be irrelevant. What we were seeing was stunning enough!

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See what you will in this…I see a giant tongue lapping up milk chocolate.

See what you will in this…I see a giant tongue lapping up milk chocolate.

The canyon kept dividing, and we kept following our noses, trying to decide which fork would lead to a place where the walls would narrow considerably.  We had slogged up the sandy canyon floor for two hours when Ned finally climbed to a good lookout spot (can you see him?).  He called for me to go back to the previous fork, being pretty sure he had spotted a good “narrows.”

The canyon kept dividing, and we kept following our noses, trying to decide which fork would lead to a place where the walls would narrow considerably. We had slogged up the sandy canyon floor for two hours when Ned finally climbed to a good lookout spot (can you see him?). He called for me to go back to the previous fork, being pretty sure he had spotted a good “narrows.”

The walls not only narrowed, but the formations became even more bizarre and beautiful.  I still must have food on my mind; these look like potatoes.

The walls not only narrowed, but the formations became even more bizarre and beautiful. I still must have food on my mind; these look like potatoes.

And these are wafers, no?

And these are wafers, no?

But these??!!

But these??!!

We were so energized by our surroundings that we began to act like children!

We were so energized by our surroundings that we began to act like children!

The walls narrowed…

The walls narrowed…

…and narrowed…

…and narrowed…

…and, victory!  We found the caves!

…and, victory! We found the caves!

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This was the very cave from the internet photo, identifiably by this unique and spectacular formation.

This was the very cave from the internet photo, identifiably by this unique and spectacular formation.

We had to crawl through this one…

We had to crawl through this one…

…but once inside, we found this natural amphitheater, completely enclosed by 80 foot rock walls.

…but once inside, we found this natural amphitheater, completely enclosed by 80 foot rock walls.

I had, sadly, lost my cool little tripod at Lake Inca, so we had to prop the camera up on my backpack for this shot.

I had, sadly, lost my cool little tripod at Lake Inca, so we had to prop the camera up on my backpack for this shot.

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Can you spot me climbing this rock face?

Can you spot me climbing this rock face?

There!

There!

We happily hiked back down the canyon, triumphant, and still being rewarded with fantastic scenery.

We happily hiked back down the canyon, triumphant, and still being rewarded with fantastic scenery.

After another peaceful night camping in the canyon, we headed east from Seclantás on the RP 42S, finding another deserted dirt highway.  By the time we broke camp that morning, we had spent two blissful days without seeing a single road, car or person…certainly a record for this trip.

After another peaceful night camping in the canyon, we headed east from Seclantás on the RP 42S, finding another deserted dirt highway. By the time we broke camp that morning, we had spent two blissful days without seeing a single road, car or person…certainly a record for this trip.

We turned east again onto the RP 33 toward the little village of Chicoana, where were to stay at a horse ranch for a couple of days.  We crossed another steep pass, the Paso de Fauna, at 10,600ft., leaving the arid desert behind, suddenly entering into a world of lush foliage, dense fog and constant rain.  The road also turned to mud and was super windy, with sharp curves and hairpin turns.  The limited visibility, steep drop offs, wash outs and fallen rocks made this run similar to the “Trampoline of Death” pass we did in Colombia.

We turned east again onto the RP 33 toward the little village of Chicoana, where were to stay at a horse ranch for a couple of days. We crossed another steep pass, the Paso de Fauna, at 10,600ft., leaving the arid desert behind, suddenly entering into a world of lush foliage, dense fog and constant rain. The road also turned to mud and was super windy, with sharp curves and hairpin turns. The limited visibility, steep drop offs, wash outs and fallen rocks made this run similar to the “Trampoline of Death” pass we did in Colombia.

Oncoming traffic on the narrow road also added a little spice.

Oncoming traffic on the narrow road also added a little spice.

Enrique, the energetic and charismatic owner of Sayta Cabalgatas (Argentinean for horseback riding), greeted us with warmth, enthusiasm and never-empty glasses of delicious red wine.  Our hosts also included Enrique’s daughter, Laura and a French couple, Nicolas and Justine, travelers on a long term working stop-over at this delightful guest ranch.

Enrique, the energetic and charismatic owner of Sayta Cabalgatas (Argentinean for horseback riding), greeted us with warmth, enthusiasm and never-empty glasses of delicious red wine. Our hosts also included Enrique’s daughter, Laura and a French couple, Nicolas and Justine, travelers on a long term working stop-over at this delightful guest ranch.

Something smelled amazing on the grill…

Something smelled amazing on the grill…

…We had arrived just in time for what turned out to be a rather famous daily lunch. All these other people were one-day clients, there for a horseback ride and a meal before being bused back to the city.  It turned out we had the whole place, and the owner’s wonderful hospitality, all to ourselves for the rest of the day and evening.

…We had arrived just in time for what turned out to be a rather famous daily lunch. All these other people were one-day clients, there for a horseback ride and a meal before being bused back to the city. It turned out we had the whole place, and the owner’s wonderful hospitality, all to ourselves for the rest of the day and evening.

The table was laid with copious amounts of salads, vegetables, potatoes, and the most incredible grilled meats we’d ever tasted; filets, sausages, ribs, pork bellies; it all kept coming in mouth watering excess, as did the wine!  By the time we were finished, we were beyond stuffed and not just a little looped.  We staggered off to our cute little room for a nice siesta.

The table was laid with copious amounts of salads, vegetables, potatoes, and the most incredible grilled meats we’d ever tasted; filets, sausages, ribs, pork bellies; it all kept coming in mouth watering excess, as did the wine! By the time we were finished, we were beyond stuffed and not just a little looped. We staggered off to our cute little room for a nice siesta.

The eating customs in Argentina are really the most different we’ve encountered yet, probably due to the European influence.  Lunch is served around 2:00pm. Tea with bread and jam happens at 6:00pm, followed by a supper of tamales and empanadas (meat or cheese filled pastries) at 10:00pm.  I found the lunch to be perfect, but, not being a big bread eater, it was tea only for me at tea time.  And by 10pm, I was not only still full from lunch, but also totally ready for bed.  In addition, breakfast is served at 10:00am (shown above in the wonderful kitchen).  But breakfast is only bread and tea or coffee.  I kept waiting for the eggs, but when the cooks sat down to eat, I embarrassedly asked if there was more.  Laura seemed puzzled and said, “No, there is bread and butter and jam.”  I smiled and ran to grab a protein bar.  It turns out that this bread-only-for-breakfast is consistent throughout all of the hotels and restaurants we haunted. Argentineans also take siesta time seriously.  After lunch, all stores and restaurants are closed and the streets are deserted until 7:00 or 8:00 at night.  Then the towns and cities come alive. Another interesting and definitely different detail is that the bathrooms in all of the hotels we have stayed sport fine bidets (Webster definition:  “a bowl like a small toilet with faucets that is used for washing your bottom”).

The eating customs in Argentina are really the most different we’ve encountered yet, probably due to the European influence. Lunch is served around 2:00pm. Tea with bread and jam happens at 6:00pm, followed by a supper of tamales and empanadas (meat or cheese filled pastries) at 10:00pm. I found the lunch to be perfect, but, not being a big bread eater, it was tea only for me at tea time. And by 10pm, I was not only still full from lunch, but also totally ready for bed. In addition, breakfast is served at 10:00am (shown above in the wonderful kitchen). But breakfast is only bread and tea or coffee. I kept waiting for the eggs, but when the cooks sat down to eat, I embarrassedly asked if there was more. Laura seemed puzzled and said, “No, there is bread and butter and jam.” I smiled and ran to grab a protein bar. It turns out that this bread-only-for-breakfast is consistent throughout all of the hotels and restaurants we haunted.
Argentineans also take siesta time seriously. After lunch, all stores and restaurants are closed and the streets are deserted until 7:00 or 8:00 at night. Then the towns and cities come alive.
Another interesting and definitely different detail is that the bathrooms in all of the hotels we have stayed sport fine bidets (Webster definition: “a bowl like a small toilet with faucets that is used for washing your bottom”).

Now on to the horsey stuff…cool Argentinean tack room…

Now on to the horsey stuff…cool Argentinean tack room…

…and a fun ride.  Ned, as always, prefers cars, but tried riding again just to be a good sport.  I took another jaunt in the afternoon, while Ned politely declined.  (Don’t tell him I told you, but I’m going to want to do another ride in Patagonia!) We stayed at Sayta for two relaxing days, enjoying ourselves immensely.  There was no internet, just time for good food, good wine, and getting to know new friends, both hosts and guests. Coming up next…we are heading for Bolivia, the least developed, most remote, but possibly the most scenic country yet.  We probably won’t have any internet access there (heck, we’re worried about getting food, water and gasoline!) so if you don’t hear from us, we wish you all a wonderful holiday and fabulous New Year!

…and a fun ride. Ned, as always, prefers cars, but tried riding again just to be a good sport. I took another jaunt in the afternoon, while Ned politely declined. (Don’t tell him I told you, but I’m going to want to do another ride in Patagonia!)
We stayed at Sayta for two relaxing days, enjoying ourselves immensely. There was no internet, just time for good food, good wine, and getting to know new friends, both hosts and guests.
Coming up next…we are heading for Bolivia, the least developed, most remote, but possibly the most scenic country yet. We probably won’t have any internet access there (heck, we’re worried about getting food, water and gasoline!) so if you don’t hear from us, we wish you all a wonderful holiday and fabulous New Year!

Awesome Atacama, Obstinate Ailment – Chile Part 1

[For those of you who are either not signed up to receive email updates or who somehow missed the last two emails, I have posted copies of them below. The first email, from September, explained that we were coming home for good medical care and the second, from October, was an update on my health progress.  If you like, you can scroll down below this post to get caught up.]

Having been home for a month, it feels strange to look back on my travel journal and attempt to write this blog. It has taken me the entire month to accomplish what, at times, felt like a hopeless endeavor…getting well.  But I have learned a lot in the process and have gained some interesting insights about comfort zones.

The bug that had plagued me since Peru turned out to be pseudomonas pneumonia, a hard to kill bacteria. The doctors were puzzled because it is an infection that usually jumps on board patients who have been hospitalized for long periods of time.  Nonetheless, the culture came back positive for this bad actor and, after six courses of oral antibiotics, I finally had to have a PICC line put in.  A PICC line is a tiny plastic tube that is inserted into a major vein (mine was put into my upper/inner arm). The tube runs from the insertion point all the way to the heart.  This port gives intravenous access for what are called infusions of antibiotics.  And yes, it not only hurt going in (it was not supposed to), but it really gave me the creeps.  After all my poor body had been through, having this foreign object in me was hard to bear.

I gave myself the infusions twice a day for four days, but the PICC line never stopped hurting. An ultrasound eventually found dangerous blood clots, and the PICC line had to be removed.  I was relieved on one hand to be rid of the invasive contraption, but also terrified that the infection had not been fully eradicated.

Thankfully, the four days of IV antibiotics were enough, and the infection did not reemerge. But it was a physically and emotionally trying time.  Lingering symptoms made it feel that the pseudomonas was still lurking, and it took many more doctors’ visits, CT scans and lab tests to confirm that it was only residual inflammation in my lung lining and sinuses.

One of the benefits of having naturally large personal comfort zones is that Ned and I are not only able to embark on adventurous journeys, but we thrive on them. I never thought about it before, but reflecting now on our journey, I realize that when we are on the road, we are constantly on the hunt for the most basic human needs…food, water and shelter.  We do carry a few days worth of supplies, and Charlotte is, herself, our shelter, but finding good stores and camping spots is a constant challenge.  The experience is immensely different from being home where we take our simple comforts for granted.  While some people would be uncomfortable at best and terrified at worst to live like this, Ned and I consider it all part of the adventure and take it in stride.

As the weeks went on, however, and the illness progressed, my comfort zone began to shrink. It was neither fun nor exciting not knowing where we would camp at night, and far from being exhilarating, the extreme elevations and cold temperatures now meant severe chest pain and inability to breathe.  By the time we made it through the arduous flight home from Santiago, I had a comfort zone about the size of my bedroom.  I have never been more grateful to be home in the beautiful United States where our lives are easy and convenient (and the toilets have seats!).

Our home became my haven and except for doctors’ visits, I did not want to leave it. Unlike my normal state, I felt fragile and afraid, as if the tiniest cold draft would cause yet another relapse.  But here is where I have gained valuable perspective…comfort zones and the way we think about them, like most everything else in life, are a matter of perspective.  I am ashamed now to admit to being a bit judgmental towards others who are uncomfortable venturing beyond their safe zones.  Individual experiences and temperaments influence how we see the world and we each determine the size and shape of our comfort zones depending on our own circumstances.  There is no right or wrong.  That being said, I do believe that, in some cases, pushing ourselves beyond what we think we can endure can reap incredible gains in self confidence and worth, but it has to be a personal decision.  My own shrinking comfort zone has taught me just how inappropriate it is to judge another’s.  The decision to stretch or not to stretch is private and personal.

I know it’s been a long time since our last post, but I deliberately put off writing this blog until I felt hale and hearty again. Yesterday I celebrated wellness with a blissful three hour solo hike/run on the mountain, and it was heaven.  My muscles felt weak and slow, but my lungs were clear and painless, and it was a great victory over illness.  A month ago, having battled ill health for so long, the thought of setting out again in early December to continue our journey was frightening.  Today, my perspective is totally different, and I’m eager to get back on the road.

My experience with Lyme disease has taught me not only to be patient with myself, but also that we can always endure more than we think we can. There were countless times in the last two months when I thought, “I can’t take any more!”  But there I was, soldiering on. Of course, I was never alone.  The love of Ned, family and friends and the infinite kindness of doctors, nurses, and support staff saw me through each difficult day.  Many thanks to all of you!

And now, let’s get back to our story…

September 9, 2014 Peru/Chile Border The drop from Arequipa (Peru’s second largest city), at 7,500ft elevation, to sea level was mercifully rapid.  While 7,500ft was better than 15,000ft, with asthma and pneumonia, I was still struggling to breathe and was praying that sea level would be better.  I was on another course of antibiotics from the clinic in Arequipa, but they did not seem to be working. The scenery became more beautiful as the world’s driest desert unfolded before us, but, sleeping in the back of Charlotte, I once again missed most of it.  With Ned still not feeling well and my fever hovering around 101° we found ourselves merely surviving, unable to savor or even appreciate our surroundings.  The black cloud was still with us.

September 9, 2014
Peru/Chile Border
The drop from Arequipa (Peru’s second largest city), at 7,500ft elevation, to sea level was mercifully rapid. While 7,500ft was better than 15,000ft, with asthma and pneumonia, I was still struggling to breathe and was praying that sea level would be better. I was on another course of antibiotics from the clinic in Arequipa, but they did not seem to be working.
The scenery became more beautiful as the world’s driest desert unfolded before us, but, sleeping in the back of Charlotte, I once again missed most of it. With Ned still not feeling well and my fever hovering around 101° we found ourselves merely surviving, unable to savor or even appreciate our surroundings. The black cloud was still with us.

 

Sea level brought not only a bit of relief for my breathing, but sunshine too!  I was dreading an arduous border crossing into Chile and popped Tylenol to help endure it.  Thankfully, it turned out to be relatively painless, and the hour and a half passed in a fog of semi awareness.

Sea level brought not only a bit of relief for my breathing, but sunshine too!
I was dreading an arduous border crossing into Chile and popped Tylenol to help endure it. Thankfully, it turned out to be relatively painless, and the hour and a half passed in a fog of semi awareness.

 

Bordered by the Pacific Ocean on the west and the Andes Mountains on the east, Chile’s geography is quite unique.  While merely 217 miles at its widest point, Chile is 2,670 miles long, reaching down through Patagonia toward the Antarctic Circle. Our drive from Arequipa (shown on map) and through the Chilean border brought us to the northern coastal town of Arica where we got yet another hotel room.  It was incredibly frustrating to be surrounded by gorgeous desert and not only being cooped up in a hotel, but paying for it too!  However, still choking, coughing and feverish, I was happily accepting any comforts I could find.

Bordered by the Pacific Ocean on the west and the Andes Mountains on the east, Chile’s geography is quite unique. While merely 217 miles at its widest point, Chile is 2,670 miles long, reaching down through Patagonia toward the Antarctic Circle.
Our drive from Arequipa (shown on map) and through the Chilean border brought us to the northern coastal town of Arica where we got yet another hotel room. It was incredibly frustrating to be surrounded by gorgeous desert and not only being cooped up in a hotel, but paying for it too! However, still choking, coughing and feverish, I was happily accepting any comforts I could find.

 

 

After Charlotte’s alternator bracket repairs in Cusco, she was back to running well.  Her only ailment was that thousands of miles of rough dirt roads were causing the feet of the roof rack to break through her rain gutters.  It was a bit disconcerting, wondering if the whole roof rack would abandon its post and fly off somewhere along the way, but it would have to wait until Santiago.  It would be a big welding job, and in Santiago we had friends with shops where Ned could do the repair.

After Charlotte’s alternator bracket repairs in Cusco, she was back to running well. Her only ailment was that thousands of miles of rough dirt roads were causing the feet of the roof rack to break through her rain gutters. It was a bit disconcerting, wondering if the whole roof rack would abandon its post and fly off somewhere along the way, but it would have to wait until Santiago. It would be a big welding job, and in Santiago we had friends with shops where Ned could do the repair.

From Arica we set our sights on the town of Copiapó.  As we had thought, Chile was a lot more developed than any other country we had visited, so I had high expectations for good medical care in Copiapó.  Also, from there it would be a quick flight to Santiago where I knew there was an excellent private hospital if needed. This was the most incredible stretch of the Pan American Highway yet.  Ned made 400 of the 700 miles to Copiapó, and we never saw so much as a blade of grass or even a single town.  For desert rats like Ned and me it was sheer bliss.  We love the stark beauty and wide open vistas of arid climates and this was the ultimate.   Along the way we were delighted to see the Mano de Desierto (Hand of the Desert), an iconic concrete sculpture grandly poking out of the sand beside the Pan Am.

From Arica we set our sights on the town of Copiapó. As we had thought, Chile was a lot more developed than any other country we had visited, so I had high expectations for good medical care in Copiapó. Also, from there it would be a quick flight to Santiago where I knew there was an excellent private hospital if needed.
This was the most incredible stretch of the Pan American Highway yet. Ned made 400 of the 700 miles to Copiapó, and we never saw so much as a blade of grass or even a single town. For desert rats like Ned and me it was sheer bliss. We love the stark beauty and wide open vistas of arid climates and this was the ultimate.
Along the way we were delighted to see the Mano de Desierto (Hand of the Desert), an iconic concrete sculpture grandly poking out of the sand beside the Pan Am.

Most of the towns in Northern Chile are situated along the coast, so we dipped west off of the Pan Am to get some dinner in Antofagasta just after dark.  It turned out to be a mistake.  The seedy city was full of bars and casinos and was singularly devoid of decent looking restaurants.  I was still miserably choking and coughing, and we settled on the speed and convenience of McDonald’s in sheer desperation.  We left the city as quickly as possible, and, back on the Pan Am, Ned was able to find this funny hidey hole where could camp, unseen from the highway.  The night passed peacefully, and I woke feeling a little better.

Most of the towns in Northern Chile are situated along the coast, so we dipped west off of the Pan Am to get some dinner in Antofagasta just after dark. It turned out to be a mistake. The seedy city was full of bars and casinos and was singularly devoid of decent looking restaurants. I was still miserably choking and coughing, and we settled on the speed and convenience of McDonald’s in sheer desperation. We left the city as quickly as possible, and, back on the Pan Am, Ned was able to find this funny hidey hole where we could camp, unseen from the highway. The night passed peacefully, and I woke feeling a little better.

With my fever lower, I was able to sit up front with Ned, have a nice conversation and enjoy the wonderful scenery of the Atacama Desert.

With my fever lower, I was able to sit up front with Ned, have a nice conversation and enjoy the wonderful scenery of the Atacama Desert.

 

 

 

The great Atacama is the driest place in the world, with some weather stations having never received any rainfall.  It is also the oldest desert.  Most areas have experienced “extreme hyper aridity” for at least 3 million years and some as many as 200 million years. The terrain of the Atacama is reminiscent of Mars, not only visually, but scientifically too.  Research on the lifeless soil has assisted in space exploration, while filmmakers have enjoyed the unlimited Mars-like landscape as sets for their sci-fi movies. We finished our mad dash to Copiapó the next day and stayed for five days.  The medical clinic was clean and modern, and the doctor there gave me another course of antibiotics that she insisted would work.   Following is an excerpt from my travel journal: “Clinica Atacama way more civilized!   Modern, clean, efficient.  Unfortunately urgent care full of very sick miserable babies.  At one point, waiting to get chest X-ray and blood work, had two screaming, in pain babies in the room and I ended up crying too. This is just too much. How much more can I handle?  I've been very sick for a month.  Have not worked out or enjoyed myself, have lived in fear of being this sick far from home, and I'm so tired if it all.  This is where I could give it all up and go home. Somewhere I have to find the strength to keep fighting. I need my spirit back not just my health.”  Copiapó was a cute desert/mining town, but we didn’t get to see much of it.  The doctor had ordered bed rest for me, so I only ventured as far as the hotel restaurant.   Ned, on the other hand, spent his time doctoring Charlotte.  Not only did her brakes need changing, but also, as he predicted in the last blog, the monster reinforced alternator bracket caused one of the two puny 8mm mounting studs to sheer off in the engine case.  Ned had to drill the whole mess out, and then tap the hole for a 10mm bolt.  He was also elected to restock our food and water.   In general we found Chile to be relatively modern, but just as expensive as the United States. Crossing the border, there were two things that changed dramatically.  First of all, the time jumped two hours ahead, which meant that it didn’t get light until 8:00am and dinner was eaten around 8:00 or 9:00.  The second and most wonderful phenomenon was that the food became miraculously delicious!  After months of dreary Colombian and Ecuadorian food, we found our meals in Chile to be diverse and tasty.

The great Atacama is the driest place in the world, with some weather stations having never received any rainfall. It is also the oldest desert. Most areas have experienced “extreme hyper aridity” for at least 3 million years and some as many as 200 million years.
The terrain of the Atacama is reminiscent of Mars, not only visually, but scientifically too. Research on the lifeless soil has assisted in space exploration, while filmmakers have enjoyed the unlimited Mars-like landscape as sets for their sci-fi movies.
We finished our mad dash to Copiapó the next day and stayed for five days. The medical clinic was clean and modern, and the doctor there gave me another course of antibiotics that she insisted would work.
Following is an excerpt from my travel journal: “Clinica Atacama way more civilized! Modern, clean, efficient. Unfortunately urgent care full of very sick miserable babies. At one point, waiting to get chest X-ray and blood work, had two screaming, in pain babies in the room and I ended up crying too. This is just too much. How much more can I handle? I’ve been very sick for a month. Have not worked out or enjoyed myself, have lived in fear of being this sick far from home, and I’m so tired if it all. This is where I could give it all up and go home. Somewhere I have to find the strength to keep fighting. I need my spirit back not just my health.”
Copiapó was a cute desert/mining town, but we didn’t get to see much of it. The doctor had ordered bed rest for me, so I only ventured as far as the hotel restaurant. Ned, on the other hand, spent his time doctoring Charlotte. Not only did her brakes need changing, but also, as he predicted in the last blog, the monster reinforced alternator bracket caused one of the two puny 8mm mounting studs to sheer off in the engine case. Ned had to drill the whole mess out, and then tap the hole for a 10mm bolt. He was also elected to restock our food and water.
In general we found Chile to be relatively modern, but just as expensive as the United States.
Crossing the border, there were two things that changed dramatically. First of all, the time jumped two hours ahead, which meant that it didn’t get light until 8:00am and dinner was eaten around 8:00 or 9:00. The second and most wonderful phenomenon was that the food became miraculously delicious! After months of dreary Colombian and Ecuadorian food, we found our meals in Chile to be diverse and tasty.

We left Copiapó and drove into the desert where we wandered around and camped for four days.  The temperatures were perfect, and the air was dry and crystal clean.  The Atacama had been high on the “places most excited to visit” list, and we were thrilled to be there.  Surely this was where I could get finally well.

We left Copiapó and drove into the desert where we wandered around and camped for four days. The temperatures were perfect, and the air was dry and crystal clean. The Atacama had been high on the “places most excited to visit” list, and we were thrilled to be there. Surely this was where I could get finally well.

 

Mining is the greatest economic asset of a desert, and here in the Atacama, copper and nitrates are the most common minerals extracted.

Mining is the greatest economic asset of a desert, and here in the Atacama, copper and nitrates are the most common minerals extracted.

How to make a new mountain.

How to make a new mountain.

One of our goals was to visit the famous San Jose mine where, in 2010, 33 miners were trapped and dramatically rescued after 70 days.  We had no idea what to expect when we arrived, and were hoping for a mine tour.  We found, instead, that the mine had been turned into a giant museum commemorating the rescue, and no tours were available that day.  The place was deserted, and the lone caretaker said we were free to wander around on our own.  Oh goodie.  In my feeble condition, I had been hoping for the golf cart tour!

One of our goals was to visit the famous San Jose mine where, in 2010, 33 miners were trapped and dramatically rescued after 70 days. We had no idea what to expect when we arrived, and were hoping for a mine tour. We found, instead, that the mine had been turned into a giant museum commemorating the rescue, and no tours were available that day. The place was deserted, and the lone caretaker said we were free to wander around on our own. Oh goodie. In my feeble condition, I had been hoping for the golf cart tour!

We did explore a bit, but I was so weak and breathless that Ned had to continually stop for me to catch up.  Among the museum displays were these giant victory photos of some of the miners as they were brought out of the mine.

We did explore a bit, but I was so weak and breathless that Ned had to continually stop for me to catch up. Among the museum displays were these giant victory photos of some of the miners as they were brought out of the mine.

The rescue effort included not only locating the miners, but also boring a tube 2,300 feet deep through solid rock.  This was the capsule that was built to retrieve the miners one at a time.  That had to be an incredible feeling; to be lifted to freedom in that capsule after being trapped for 70 days.  Look closely…Ned’s in there!

The rescue effort included not only locating the miners, but also boring a tube 2,300 feet deep through solid rock. This was the capsule that was built to retrieve the miners one at a time. That had to be an incredible feeling; to be lifted to freedom in that capsule after being trapped for 70 days. Look closely…Ned’s in there!

This is the carved reproduction of the first note written on a scrap of paper by the miners once they had finally been located.  A small bore had been drilled first to pass food, water and communication.  The note says:  “We 33 are fine in our refuge.”

This is the carved reproduction of the first note written on a scrap of paper by the miners once they had finally been located. A small bore had been drilled first to pass food, water and communication. The note says: “We 33 are fine in our refuge.”

After visiting the San Jose mine, we drove several miles completely off of any roads, settling into this fantastic camping spot.

After visiting the San Jose mine, we drove several miles completely off of any roads, settling into this fantastic camping spot.

You can see here that Ned was definitely feeling better, and having been the one to stock up our food supplies, had giant burgers on the menu.

You can see here that Ned was definitely feeling better, and having been the one to stock up our food supplies, had giant burgers on the menu.

I got out of bed long enough to munch down a burger patty while Ned attacked his masterpiece.  He then took an exhilarating hike to work it off.  Climbing to the top of a giant dune, he got to run back down the sandy slope barefoot like a little kid.  I crawled back to bed in Charlotte, green with envy.  Ned returned just before dark, exclaiming, “I feel alive!”  Yes, definitely jealous.

I got out of bed long enough to munch down a burger patty while Ned attacked his masterpiece. He then took an exhilarating hike to work it off. Climbing to the top of a giant dune, he got to run back down the sandy slope barefoot like a little kid. I crawled back to bed in Charlotte, green with envy. Ned returned just before dark, exclaiming, “I feel alive!” Yes, definitely jealous.

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We meandered south for the next couple of days, and signs of life began appearing.  Huge swaths of purple splashed across the hillsides turned out, upon closer inspection, to be beautiful fields of flowers.

We meandered south for the next couple of days, and signs of life began appearing. Huge swaths of purple splashed across the hillsides turned out, upon closer inspection, to be beautiful fields of flowers.

One of our contacts in Santiago was a man named Sebastian, who was friend of a friend.  We had yet to meet him in person, but he had already been incredibly helpful to us.  Sebastian had told us via email to visit some friends of his who owned a beach resort in the north called Basecamp.  This remote sand track leading to Basecamp looked promising.

One of our contacts in Santiago was a man named Sebastian, who was friend of a friend. We had yet to meet him in person, but he had already been incredibly helpful to us. Sebastian had told us via email to visit some friends of his who owned a beach resort in the north called Basecamp. This remote sand track leading to Basecamp looked promising.

We were not disappointed.  José and Marcela were warm and gracious, laying out a gorgeous lunch of barbecued beef and lots of yummy fixings.  Their little resort is the perfect remote beach getaway place, sporting luxury dome tents, camping spots and a kitchen.  We enjoyed a leisurely afternoon chatting with our new friends, but opted to continue pushing south rather than stay the night.  My fever had subsided, but I was still having difficulty breathing.  The hospital in Santiago was looking like our next big hope.

We were not disappointed. José and Marcela were warm and gracious, laying out a gorgeous lunch of barbecued beef and lots of yummy fixings. Their little resort is the perfect remote beach getaway place, sporting luxury dome tents, camping spots and a kitchen. We enjoyed a leisurely afternoon chatting with our new friends, but opted to continue pushing south rather than stay the night. My fever had subsided, but I was still having difficulty breathing. The hospital in Santiago was looking like our next big hope.

The antibiotics, while not working 100%, were at least keeping the fever down, and I was able to continue putting one foot ahead of the other.  We passed the next couple of days in solitude, enjoying beautiful scenery and camping in gorgeous spots.

The antibiotics, while not working 100%, were at least keeping the fever down, and I was able to continue putting one foot ahead of the other. We passed the next couple of days in solitude, enjoying beautiful scenery and camping in gorgeous spots.

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Nice place to check on a few things.

Nice place to check on a few things.

Our meandering eventually brought us to the town of Huasco where we needed to get fuel.

Our meandering eventually brought us to the town of Huasco where we needed to get fuel.

Coincidentally, it was Chile’s Independence Day, and we watched as people and horses lined up for a big parade.  Oddly, when we looked back on our photos we noticed that there were not many big smiles.

Coincidentally, it was Chile’s Independence Day, and we watched as people and horses lined up for a big parade. Oddly, when we looked back on our photos we noticed that there were not many big smiles.

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We eventually stumbled upon this cool pageant being performed in the town square.

We eventually stumbled upon this cool pageant being performed in the town square.

It appeared as if the history of Chile was being played out, and it was fun to see in spite of not feeling well.

It appeared as if the history of Chile was being played out, and it was fun to see in spite of not feeling well.

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Leaving Huasco, we could see that garbage is a universal problem.

Leaving Huasco, we could see that garbage is a universal problem.

From Huasco, we decided to take another dirt road south.  Being sick makes the risk of remote roads a bit higher, but we had been enjoying the desert so much we were not quite ready for the Pan Am.  This whole area reminded us a lot of Baja.

From Huasco, we decided to take another dirt road south. Being sick makes the risk of remote roads a bit higher, but we had been enjoying the desert so much we were not quite ready for the Pan Am. This whole area reminded us a lot of Baja.

Small mining claims dotted the hillsides, and all of the dwellings looked liked this - ramshackle and poor.

Small mining claims dotted the hillsides, and all of the dwellings looked liked this – ramshackle and poor.

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Sebastian had suggested that we visit the Valle de Elqui, which is a lush, river valley known for growing the grapes used to make Pisco.  Pisco is a brandy-like liquor and is widely enjoyed in Peru and Chile in a drink called a Pisco Sour.

Sebastian had suggested that we visit the Valle de Elqui, which is a lush, river valley known for growing the grapes used to make Pisco. Pisco is a brandy-like liquor and is widely enjoyed in Peru and Chile in a drink called a Pisco Sour.

The Valle de Elqui runs east/west, inland from the city of La Serena

The Valle de Elqui runs east/west, inland from the city of La Serena

We stopped to explore the tiny but touristy (mostly Chileans and European backpackers) town of Pisco Elqui.

We stopped to explore the tiny but touristy (mostly Chileans and European backpackers) town of Pisco Elqui.

Dinner in Pisco Elqui was delicious and included a sampling of Pisco…straight…just to see how it tasted.  It was not delicious.  We had the bartender turn it into a Pisco Sour and it went down just fine floating in a tasty sweet and sour mix.

Dinner in Pisco Elqui was delicious and included a sampling of Pisco…straight…just to see how it tasted. It was not delicious. We had the bartender turn it into a Pisco Sour and it went down just fine floating in a tasty sweet and sour mix.

Continuing south, we found ourselves on yet another dirt road.  We kept saying that we needed to spare poor Charlotte for the arduous roads through Patagonia and Bolivia, but we just can’t seem to stop seeking the roads less traveled.

Continuing south, we found ourselves on yet another dirt road. We kept saying that we needed to spare poor Charlotte for the arduous roads through Patagonia and Bolivia, but we just can’t seem to stop seeking the roads less traveled.

The landscape became lusher, but the mining communities were just as rough.

The landscape became lusher, but the mining communities were just as rough.

On September 20, we cruised right in to Santiago. Surprisingly, there was no traffic and no navigation fights. The only bad thing was the horrendous smog.  Santiago is in a gorgeous setting surrounded by snow capped mountains but you can't see them!   We drove right to Hotel Acacias de Vitacura, and were instantly charmed.  Sebastian had made the reservation for us and it was perfect – a balcony overlooking a lush garden, a fridge, and HEAT again for the first time in the whole trip.  The room was done all in white with a white carpet and we cringed knowing we (dirt bags) would trash it!  I had finished my last course of antibiotics two days before and was already struggling with another relapse.  I pulled out a business card José (from Basecamp) had given me and began to experience the true kindness of Santiagans.  José’s brother was a doctor at the Clinica Las Condes, the very hospital I had found on Google, and José had given me his cell phone number.  I hesitated to call on a Saturday night, but I was beginning to feel desperate.   Dr. Bravo could not have been nicer.  Far from being annoyed by my call, he was expecting it.  José had filled him in previously, and he was ready to set me up with a specialist.  I was to call him back on Monday morning at 8:00am.  I was close to a melt down at this point, but had high hopes of the specialist being able to cure me.   By Monday I was feeling even worse, but Dr. Bravo came through.  In spite of it being the Monday after a long holiday week, he was able to get me in to an Infectious Disease doctor at 1:00pm.  Ned had arranged to work on Charlotte’s roof rack and replace the worn out upper A-arm bushings and upper ball joints at a friend of Sebastian’s, so I took a taxi to the clinic (which was serendipitously only a mile away).   I waited less than five minutes to see the doctor, who came to greet me personally.  Dr. Blamey then proceeded to listen, in detail, to all that had happened since the illness began in August.  He also asked pertinent questions, gave me an exam and patiently spent an entire hour with me.  In the end, he said I still had a raging sinus infection and prescribed another antibiotic, a steroid nasal spray and an expectorant.  As I departed, Dr. Blamey gave me a big, warm hug. Interestingly, when I arrived at the clinic, I had noticed a lot of hugging going on between doctors and staff and I experienced a moment of uneasiness at first.  After all, here in the United States, we are well tuned in to the potential pitfalls of sexual harassment.  But here in Santiago, Chile I found it heartwarming, and my hug from Dr. Blamey was a welcomed comfort. Dr. Blamey had also set me up to see an ear, nose throat doctor who was equally as patient and kind.  Unfortunately, he said I was battling allergies as well and prescribed four more drugs, on top of the three I was already on, one of which was oral steroids.   I have for years, chosen alternative, natural medicine over traditional pharmaceutical medicine, even for Lyme disease, and the thought of taking seven drugs was horrifying.  Ned and I had a long hard discussion, weighing the option of “drugging up” and continuing on or flying home.  It was a hard decision, but once made it, home sounded like paradise.  We booked our flights and flew home the next day.

On September 20, we cruised right in to Santiago. Surprisingly, there was no traffic and no navigation fights. The only bad thing was the horrendous smog. Santiago is in a gorgeous setting surrounded by snow capped mountains but you can’t see them! We drove right to Hotel Acacias de Vitacura, and were instantly charmed. Sebastian had made the reservation for us and it was perfect – a balcony overlooking a lush garden, a fridge, and HEAT again for the first time in the whole trip. The room was done all in white with a white carpet and we cringed knowing we (dirt bags) would trash it!
I had finished my last course of antibiotics two days before and was already struggling with another relapse. I pulled out a business card José (from Basecamp) had given me and began to experience the true kindness of Santiagans. José’s brother was a doctor at the Clinica Las Condes, the very hospital I had found on Google, and José had given me his cell phone number. I hesitated to call on a Saturday night, but I was beginning to feel desperate.
Dr. Bravo could not have been nicer. Far from being annoyed by my call, he was expecting it. José had filled him in previously, and he was ready to set me up with a specialist. I was to call him back on Monday morning at 8:00am. I was close to a melt down at this point, but had high hopes of the specialist being able to cure me.
By Monday I was feeling even worse, but Dr. Bravo came through. In spite of it being the Monday after a long holiday week, he was able to get me in to an Infectious Disease doctor at 1:00pm. Ned had arranged to work on Charlotte’s roof rack and replace the worn out upper A-arm bushings and upper ball joints at a friend of Sebastian’s, so I took a taxi to the clinic (which was serendipitously only a mile away).
I waited less than five minutes to see the doctor, who came to greet me personally. Dr. Blamey then proceeded to listen, in detail, to all that had happened since the illness began in August. He also asked pertinent questions, gave me an exam and patiently spent an entire hour with me. In the end, he said I still had a raging sinus infection and prescribed another antibiotic, a steroid nasal spray and an expectorant. As I departed, Dr. Blamey gave me a big, warm hug.
Interestingly, when I arrived at the clinic, I had noticed a lot of hugging going on between doctors and staff and I experienced a moment of uneasiness at first. After all, here in the United States, we are well tuned in to the potential pitfalls of sexual harassment. But here in Santiago, Chile I found it heartwarming, and my hug from Dr. Blamey was a welcomed comfort.
Dr. Blamey had also set me up to see an ear, nose throat doctor who was equally as patient and kind. Unfortunately, he said I was battling allergies as well and prescribed four more drugs, on top of the three I was already on, one of which was oral steroids. I have for years, chosen alternative, natural medicine over traditional pharmaceutical medicine, even for Lyme disease, and the thought of taking seven drugs was horrifying. Ned and I had a long hard discussion, weighing the option of “drugging up” and continuing on or flying home. It was a hard decision, but once made, home sounded like paradise.

We discovered a big indoor mall near our hotel and spent a couple of hours enjoying modern comforts and escaping Santiago’s damp, smoggy air.  We were even entertained by the parking garage (have we been in the sticks too long?).  The red lights indicate that the stall is occupied, while the green says it is available so you don’t have to drive up and down the aisles looking for a spot.  Wow, who thought of that?

We discovered a big indoor mall near our hotel and spent a couple of hours enjoying modern comforts and escaping Santiago’s damp, smoggy air. We were even entertained by the parking garage (have we been in the sticks too long?). The red lights indicate that the stall is occupied, while the green says it is available so you don’t have to drive up and down the aisles looking for a spot. Wow, who thought of that?

We finally got to meet our new friends, Sebastian and Luz, who were introduced to us through friends in the jeeping world.  We had a wonderful meal at their beautiful home, realizing instantly that we were kindred spirits.  We are looking forward to spending more time with them when we return in December.

We finally got to meet our new friends, Sebastian and Luz, who were introduced to us through friends in the jeeping world. We had a wonderful meal at their beautiful home, realizing instantly that we were kindred spirits. We are looking forward to spending more time with them when we return in December.

Sebastian, ever helpful, introduced us to a friend of his who provided this cozy, temporary home for Charlotte.  See you in December, Charlotte! Catch up with us again in December when we return to take on Bolivia, Patagonia, Argentina and the very tip of the continent…Ushuaia…this time brimming with health and energy!

Sebastian, ever helpful, introduced us to a friend of his who provided this cozy, temporary home for Charlotte. See you in December, Charlotte!
Catch up with us again in December when we return to take on Bolivia, Patagonia, Argentina and the very tip of the continent…Ushuaia…this time brimming with health and energy!

Special Update from Home – I’m Alive! October 15, 2014

 

Special Update
Minden, Nevada
October 15, 2014*

*(This post is a copy of an email alert that was sent in October)

Hi everyone, I’m alive!

Thank you all for your warm wishes, thoughts and prayers.  I know it’s been a long time since you’ve heard from us, but I really wanted to report when I was 100% well.  Unfortunately, it has been a rough road back to recovery.  My doctors and support staff have all been amazing, but we haven’t gotten me back to fighting condition. There are still lingering symptoms and complications (which will hopefully be sorted out in the next couple of weeks), but I am a lot better.  I have been able to get out for a few walks, a few errands, a few dinners out and, sadly, lots of doctor visits.    Although I love our adventure and am looking forward to getting back on the road in December, I am unbelievably happy to be home while going through all of this.  I have a lot of perspective to share on comfort zones in the blog I am currently working on (teaser photo of the incredible Atacama desert above).    Thanks again for your many thoughtful emails, and keep your eyes out for the new blog in the next few days!

Hugs and best wishes to all of you, Kat

 

 

Special Alert from Santiago, Chile! September 24, 2014

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STOP!

Ned & Kat Alert!
Santiago, Chile
September 24, 2014*

*(This post is a copy of an email alert that went out in September)

After one month of sickness, taking six different antibiotics, prescribed by seven different doctors, from five different hospitals in two separate countries, Kat is still not well and we have made the decision to get her home to her regular doctor. Besides whatever she is currently suffering from, Kat has Lyme Disease which seriously compromises her immune system. Throwing antibiotics into the mix is a recipe for long term disaster.

We want to enjoy and savor every minute of this once-in-a-lifetime trip, and for the last month we have not. We have rushed through Peru and now, northern Chile, in an attempt to get to better climates, better altitude, better weather and/or better medical facilities. While the hospitals here in Santiago, Chile have been wonderful, the doctors’ answers are typical; throw more and more drugs at the situation. We do not feel this is a smart solution for her overall health.

We had planned all along to return home for the month of November for business reasons. Now we will just add in October. Look for a blog update within a week or so to bring the site up to date with our current location in Santiago. Don’t give up on us. We will be back in action starting in December when we will get to Bolivia (which we’ve currently had to skip) and then head for Patagonia at the tip of this amazing continent, which has been our goal all along.

Fouled by Fever in Peru – Part 2

We spent three days and nights in the capital city of Lima hoping the urban, civilized environment, coupled with decent food would improve Kat’s health.  She had been suffering from bronchitis, asthma and lingering influenza for over two weeks at this point.  Finally we couldn’t stand our itchy feet anymore and hit the road south on the last day of August.  We really are not very good at staying in one place for more than a day or two.  We decided our route for the southern half of Peru would repeat the driving route we took back in 2008 from Lima to Cusco, just to see if our opinion was different now, considering the “Peruvian Funk” we were experiencing this time.  We really enjoyed this drive six years ago in our little rented Suzuki.  It had been one of the highlights of a two week trip whose main goal had been to hike the Inca Trail from Cusco to Machu Picchu. Heading south from Lima our first stop was the Reserva Nacional de Paracas west of the town of Ica.  We had blown right by this area in 2008 and WOW, we had really missed something.  After a night in the Paracas and an amazing drive through the dunes, we continued south to Nasca where we turned east and inland for the high Andes, arriving in Cusco at 12,000 feet, two days later.  At this point we were now BOTH sick…

We spent three days and nights in the capital city of Lima hoping the urban, civilized environment, coupled with decent food would improve Kat’s health. She had been suffering from bronchitis, asthma and lingering influenza for over two weeks at this point. Finally we couldn’t stand our itchy feet anymore and hit the road south on the last day of August. We really are not very good at staying in one place for more than a day or two.
We decided our route for the southern half of Peru would repeat the driving route we took back in 2008 from Lima to Cusco, just to see if our opinion was different now, considering the “Peruvian Funk” we were experiencing this time. We really enjoyed this drive six years ago in our little rented Suzuki. It had been one of the highlights of a two week trip whose main goal had been to hike the Inca Trail from Cusco to Machu Picchu.
Heading south from Lima our first stop was the Reserva Nacional de Paracas west of the town of Ica. We had blown right by this area in 2008 and WOW, we had really missed something. After a night in the Paracas and an amazing drive through the dunes, we continued south to Nasca where we turned east and inland for the high Andes, arriving in Cusco at 12,000 feet, two days later. At this point we were now BOTH sick…

The pavement stops shortly after entering the Reserva Nacional de Paracas.  At first we followed this well traveled track along the coast, marveling at the endless views.

The pavement stops shortly after entering the Reserva Nacional de Paracas. At first we followed this well traveled track along the coast, marveling at the endless views.

The track eventually just disappeared but we continued on, following the coastal cliffs south.  Of course I couldn’t resist the challenging parking opportunities.

The track eventually just disappeared but we continued on, following the coastal cliffs south. Of course I couldn’t resist the challenging parking opportunities.

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Can you spot Charlotte?  This is where we camped for the night.  It doesn’t get much more remote than this.  Poor Kat could hardly breathe that night and the dense fog that rolled in didn’t help.  I wished she were feeling better because, for me, this was one of the highlight spots of the entire trip thus far.

Can you spot Charlotte? This is where we camped for the night. It doesn’t get much more remote than this. Poor Kat could hardly breathe that night and the dense fog that rolled in didn’t help. I wished she were feeling better because, for me, this was one of the highlight spots of the entire trip thus far.

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The next morning, September 1st, we continued along the coast, following a faint track and our GPS.  At mid-morning we passed through this very rustic fishing village, precariously perched on a sand bar.

The next morning, September 1st, we continued along the coast, following a faint track and our GPS. At mid-morning we passed through this very rustic fishing village, precariously perched on a sand bar.

No fish today, but the locals still gave us a smile as we cruised through their little burg.

No fish today, but the locals still gave us a smile as we cruised through their little burg.

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The ever present church and the only permanent structure in town.

The ever present church and the only permanent structure in town.

The ever present satellite dish, on one of the not-so-permanent structures in town.

The ever present satellite dish, on one of the not-so-permanent structures in town.

Wondering what was behind those tumbled down driftwood walls, I climbed on top of Charlotte for a look… more tumbled down stuff secure inside!

Wondering what was behind those tumbled down driftwood walls, I climbed on top of Charlotte for a look… more tumbled down stuff secure inside!

Heading eastward away from the coast we followed faint tracks into the dunes.

Heading eastward away from the coast we followed faint tracks into the dunes.

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These km markers became our guides.  We would get to one, then scan the horizon for the next, spot it and then head for it.  All morning we found our way through endless sand dunes this way.   For me, it was the absolute highlight 50 miles of the 18,000+ miles we have covered so far.   Unfortunately, poor Kat continued to suffer and was not enjoying it half as much as I was.  A pity because it is her favorite landscape too.

These km markers became our guides. We would get to one, then scan the horizon for the next, spot it and then head for it. All morning we found our way through endless sand dunes this way. For me, it was the absolute highlight 50 miles of the 18,000+ miles we have covered so far. Unfortunately, poor Kat continued to suffer and was not enjoying it half as much as I was. A pity because it is her favorite landscape too.

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Eventually we drove far enough eastward and ran into the main highway again, just north if the small city of Ica.  We restocked the fridge and drove out to the oasis of Huacachina, a tourist trap nestled in the middle of giant sand dunes with a scummy pond as a focal point in the center of it.  We pretty much took the picture and left.

Eventually we drove far enough eastward and ran into the main highway again, just north if the small city of Ica. We restocked the fridge and drove out to the oasis of Huacachina, a tourist trap nestled in the middle of giant sand dunes with a scummy pond as a focal point in the center of it. We pretty much took the picture and left.

We continued south past the famous Nasca lines, through the town of Nasca and eastward into the Andean foothills where this photo was taken.  The Nasca Lines consist of hundreds of huge (500+ feet across) geoglyph drawings of spiders, monkeys, birds, fish, sharks and lizards among other things, made by ancient Nasca peoples around 400 to 600AD.  To really do them justice you need to go up in an airplane to see them.  We were too cheap the last time we were here to do that, settling for some crummy photos taken from a hill just off the highway.  This time the Peruvian Funk prevailed and we didn’t even stop for the crummy photo.

We continued south past the famous Nasca lines, through the town of Nasca and eastward into the Andean foothills where this photo was taken. The Nasca Lines consist of hundreds of huge (500+ feet across) geoglyph drawings of spiders, monkeys, birds, fish, sharks and lizards among other things, made by ancient Nasca peoples around 400 to 600AD. To really do them justice you need to go up in an airplane to see them. We were too cheap the last time we were here to do that, settling for some crummy photos taken from a hill just off the highway. This time the Peruvian Funk prevailed and we didn’t even stop for the crummy photo.

Our first spotting of a Pampa Galera or Vicuña, a critter that is smaller than a Llama and known for its soft wool coat.  We remembered seeing these guys everywhere along the roadside back in 2008 and this trip confirmed they are still there – everywhere.

Our first spotting of a Pampa Galera or Vicuña, a critter that is smaller than a Llama and known for its soft wool coat. We remembered seeing these guys everywhere along the roadside back in 2008 and this trip confirmed they are still there – everywhere.

2014 As expected, we just weren’t digging the drive as much as the last time.  Maybe it was all so new and different in 2008. We were fresh off the plane from home and on a two week vacation.  This time we have been immersed in the Latin American culture and scenery for months and have gotten a bit jaded.  Or maybe we just felt like crap.  Kat wasn’t getting any better and I was starting to feel the hint of a fever coming on… Anyway, in these next four shots we amused ourselves with “before and now” shots.  It took forever to find the perfect spot where we had taken the same shot in 2008.  Using a different camera with a different depth of field didn’t help either, but anyway, for fun here they are.  Note the difference in time of year, the 2008 shots being taken in March during the rainy season.

2014
As expected, we just weren’t digging the drive as much as the last time. Maybe it was all so new and different in 2008. We were fresh off the plane from home and on a two week vacation. This time we have been immersed in the Latin American culture and scenery for months and have gotten a bit jaded. Or maybe we just felt like crap. Kat wasn’t getting any better and I was starting to feel the hint of a fever coming on…
Anyway, in these next four shots we amused ourselves with “before and now” shots. It took forever to find the perfect spot where we had taken the same shot in 2008. Using a different camera with a different depth of field didn’t help either, but anyway, for fun here they are. Note the difference in time of year, the 2008 shots being taken in March during the rainy season.

2008

2008

2014

2014

2008

2008

Snow up at 18,000 plus feet.  We took this shot at 15,000 feet alongside the highway.  It doesn’t even snow at this “low” elevation.  It should be mentioned that the trash problem that bugged us so much in the north was much less prevalent in the south.  They still trash their country worse than most everywhere else we’ve been, but it’s just not as obvious in the south.

Snow up at 18,000 plus feet. We took this shot at 15,000 feet alongside the highway. It doesn’t even snow at this “low” elevation. It should be mentioned that the trash problem that bugged us so much in the north was much less prevalent in the south. They still trash their country worse than most everywhere else we’ve been, but it’s just not as obvious in the south.

Use what you’ve got.  This rather large spread shows how the local herdsman utilize the available rocks for all their fence building –and barn building –and house building.

Use what you’ve got. This rather large spread shows how the local herdsman utilize the available rocks for all their fence building –and barn building –and house building.

What a life.

What a life.

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We camped two nights en route to Cusco.  The first night was on a dirt track that led to a mine.   Of course we had visitors.  It continues to amaze us that just when we think we are in the middle of nowhere, people appear like vapor, wondering what the hell we are doing.  Of course the miners were no exception, appearing with flashlights as soon as it was too dark to see anything.   They were friendly and just curious and bored, eventually leaving us alone and walking back to the mine where they were presumably guards.  Around three AM, more mine workers began to pass our camp, first on motorcycles and then by the truckload, piled into smelly diesel flatbeds which ground them up the hill to another long work day.  What a life.

We camped two nights en route to Cusco. The first night was on a dirt track that led to a mine. Of course we had visitors. It continues to amaze us that just when we think we are in the middle of nowhere, people appear like vapor, wondering what the hell we are doing. Of course the miners were no exception, appearing with flashlights as soon as it was too dark to see anything. They were friendly and just curious and bored, eventually leaving us alone and walking back to the mine where they were presumably guards. Around three AM, more mine workers began to pass our camp, first on motorcycles and then by the truckload, piled into smelly diesel flatbeds which ground them up the hill to another long work day. What a life.

Back in 2008 one of our favorite stops on the way to Cusco was the open air market in the town of Abancay.  Despite our poorly condition, this stop could not be missed. As before, it was a magical place with the most friendly vendors and crazy sights imaginable.  All you vegetarians beware of the photos below!

Back in 2008 one of our favorite stops on the way to Cusco was the open air market in the town of Abancay. Despite our poorly condition, this stop could not be missed. As before, it was a magical place with the most friendly vendors and crazy sights imaginable. All you vegetarians beware of the photos below!

These gals were selling feed for guinea pigs.

These gals were selling feed for guinea pigs.

Competing with the dogs for the choicest cuts in the Abancay meat market.

Competing with the dogs for the choicest cuts in the Abancay meat market.

Yummm!  Cow parts anyone?

Yummm! Cow parts anyone?

Or maybe you’d prefer a sheep today?

Or maybe you’d prefer a sheep today?

Buying veggies.

Buying veggies.

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Kat told all the ladies I loved taking pictures of pretty girls.  That accounted for some easy shots.

Kat told all the ladies I loved taking pictures of pretty girls. That accounted for some easy shots.

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Don’t take my picture!

Don’t take my picture!

Oh, ok you think I’m pretty!  I’ll give you a big smile.

Oh, ok you think I’m pretty! I’ll give you a big smile.

Chicken dinner special today!

Chicken dinner special today!

Ho hum.  Another day at the market on Mom’s back.

Ho hum. Another day at the market on Mom’s back.

Parts is Parts.

Parts is Parts.

And then there is that thing about eating guinea pigs…

And then there is that thing about eating guinea pigs…

We remembered these crazy curbs from 2008, too.  Puts a whole new perspective on getting parallel parking just right. After Abancay it was just a few more hours to Cusco but everything went to hell. My fever went on a tear, making driving these windy roads a chore.  Kat was passed out on the bed in back, practically comatose when Charlotte decided to get into the act and shredded all her belts on a particularly nasty cliffhanging stretch of roadway.  To get to the engine the bed needs to be pulled up so there went Kat’s rest.  Upon tearing into it I found the alternator mount cracked – again.  Fu**ing Volkswagen design.  The alternator and its mounting brackets have been the mechanical bane of the whole trip.  All the mounts and the alternator were new in La Paz, Baja after our debacle with the welder alternator.  Since then Charlotte in general has been a mechanical rock.   The charging system has worked flawlessly except for the main power wire breaking off the alt. stud in Palenque, Mexico.  Then we had belt destruction occurring around Baños, Ecuador when I first found the alternator mount cracked.  I had a guy weld the cracks there but now they were back, worse than ever.  In a feverish haze I installed more belts and we limped into Cusco.

We remembered these crazy curbs from 2008, too. Puts a whole new perspective on getting parallel parking just right.
After Abancay it was just a few more hours to Cusco but everything went to hell. My fever went on a tear, making driving these windy roads a chore. Kat was passed out on the bed in back, practically comatose when Charlotte decided to get into the act and shredded all her belts on a particularly nasty cliffhanging stretch of roadway. To get to the engine the bed needs to be pulled up so there went Kat’s rest. Upon tearing into it I found the alternator mount cracked – again. Fu**ing Volkswagen design. The alternator and its mounting brackets have been the mechanical bane of the whole trip. All the mounts and the alternator were new in La Paz, Baja after our debacle with the welder alternator. Since then Charlotte in general has been a mechanical rock. The charging system has worked flawlessly except for the main power wire breaking off the alt. stud in Palenque, Mexico. Then we had belt destruction occurring around Baños, Ecuador when I first found the alternator mount cracked. I had a guy weld the cracks there but now they were back, worse than ever. In a feverish haze I installed more belts and we limped into Cusco.

The beautiful Plaza de Armas in downtown Cusco.

The beautiful Plaza de Armas in downtown Cusco.

Cusco.

Cusco.

The Quinta LaLa Overland campground just outside Cusco where we stayed two nights.  I’m still not sure I like staying in these Overlander “coagulation” points.  It seems most of the people we run into at these places are going from one guidebook recommended campground to the next, mostly hanging with others from their same country and even traveling together from one recommended safe haven to the next.  Then there are all the mixed horror stories they share of places to come and what to expect/not expect.  I think I prefer what Kat and I have been doing, driving blind with no guide books at all, staying wherever the end of the day finds us and mostly just conversing with locals.

The Quinta LaLa Overland campground just outside Cusco where we stayed two nights. I’m still not sure I like staying in these Overlander “coagulation” points. It seems most of the people we run into at these places are going from one guidebook recommended campground to the next, mostly hanging with others from their same country and even traveling together from one recommended safe haven to the next. Then there are all the mixed horror stories they share of places to come and what to expect/not expect. I think I prefer what Kat and I have been doing, driving blind with no guide books at all, staying wherever the end of the day finds us and mostly just conversing with locals.

Curious chickens check out an unripe banana at the Quinta LaLa campground.  A good thing about these places is the wealth of info shared, such as where to find a good welder who could fix my busted bracket.  It turned out Cusco featured a mobile mechanic (via taxi) who had the market cornered on Overlanders and their problems.  I jockeyed for the work time of “Juan” with several Germans who seemed in need of his services at the same time.  Juan spoke pretty good English and quickly grasped my ideas on how to modify the stupid VW designed bracket and add some more strength to the wretched part, already work hardened and metal fatigued from it’s last welding session.

Curious chickens check out an unripe banana at the Quinta LaLa campground. A good thing about these places is the wealth of info shared, such as where to find a good welder who could fix my busted bracket. It turned out Cusco featured a mobile mechanic (via taxi) who had the market cornered on Overlanders and their problems. I jockeyed for the work time of “Juan” with several Germans who seemed in need of his services at the same time. Juan spoke pretty good English and quickly grasped my ideas on how to modify the stupid VW designed bracket and add some more strength to the wretched part, already work hardened and metal fatigued from it’s last welding session.

Juan needed a day and a night to perform his magic.  We were both so sick now that we just lay low at the campground.  The weather was freezing cold and it rained off and on the whole time.   All we wanted to do was get out of there and keep going south.  Any magic about being in Cusco, Peru was lost on us.  The fact that we’d been here before probably added to our lack of curiosity.  We had no desire to repeat a visit to the tourist trap that is Machu Picchu.  Seeing it six years ago was a climatic let down compared to the four day hike on the Inca Trail we undertook to get there.  We were in no shape to do the hike again and the über expensive train ride to get to MP proper wasn’t even on our radar.  So we waited between these huge RVs, one from Germany and one from France, wondering how either of them could have experienced half of the places we’ve been to, just due to their sheer size.

Juan needed a day and a night to perform his magic. We were both so sick now that we just lay low at the campground. The weather was freezing cold and it rained off and on the whole time. All we wanted to do was get out of there and keep going south. Any magic about being in Cusco, Peru was lost on us. The fact that we’d been here before probably added to our lack of curiosity. We had no desire to repeat a visit to the tourist trap that is Machu Picchu. Seeing it six years ago was a climatic let down compared to the four day hike on the Inca Trail we undertook to get there. We were in no shape to do the hike again and the über expensive train ride to get to MP proper wasn’t even on our radar. So we waited between these huge RVs, one from Germany and one from France, wondering how either of them could have experienced half of the places we’ve been to, just due to their sheer size.

Finally the bracket was returned.  Ol’ Juan added so much material to it I could barely recognize the original part.  Of course all that strength added weight which had me concerned that now the weakness would just move down the line – to the two wimpy 8mm bolts that hold the thing to the engine…  Still feverish, I put everything back together in a freezing rain, loaded a shaking Kat into the back and got the hell otta there, hoping that by going south, back towards the coast, it would get lower in elevation and warmer. Ha!

Finally the bracket was returned. Ol’ Juan added so much material to it I could barely recognize the original part. Of course all that strength added weight which had me concerned that now the weakness would just move down the line – to the two wimpy 8mm bolts that hold the thing to the engine… Still feverish, I put everything back together in a freezing rain, loaded a shaking Kat into the back and got the hell otta there, hoping that by going south, back towards the coast, it would get lower in elevation and warmer. Ha!

Instead it snowed…

Instead it snowed…

We could have really enjoyed this incredible scenery had we not been so incredibly sick.

We could have really enjoyed this incredible scenery had we not been so incredibly sick.

…and the altimeter went up!  To the highest we’ve driven during the entire trip, 15,841 feet to be exact.  It took us two days to drive to the city of Arequipa where we hoped to find a decent hospital if needed.  Kat had been sick for almost a month now, even after being on two different sets of antibiotics.  I lost the fever after three days, but was left with the same nasty cough and congestion as Kat and had a somewhat small elephant sitting on my chest 24/7.  I think we had the worst driving day of the trip the second day out of Cusco.  We’d spent a freezing night hidden behind a small knoll alongside the road.  The icy fog was our best camouflage.  The next day the road deteriorated into muddy slop, coating Charlotte top to bottom in a milkshake-like goo.  Kat was out cold on the bed and I drove in a fever induced, delirious haze, pretty much akin to the mud covering all of Charlotte’s windows.  Then the road ahead appeared blocked by several semis all stuck in the mud attempting to climb a small hill with their huge loads.  As I stepped out into the ankle deep goo to access the situation, I discovered our left rear tire completely disintegrated, it was nothing but a muddy blob attached to the rim.  In my weakened, high feverish state it took me over two hours to change that stupid tire.  I guess it didn’t help that we were at 15,500ft and I already couldn’t breathe thanks to my goop filled chest.  I was so covered in mud and so disgusted I never even took a picture.  We rolled into Arequipa late in the day and found a nice hotel in the old colonial part of town.  How they let us in and allowed Charlotte into their garage is beyond me.  We left a trail of mud all the way to our room.  I had to ask them for a hose to wash the mud off of Charlotte’s shift linkage.  I couldn’t get her into reverse to pull into the garage!

…and the altimeter went up! To the highest we’ve driven during the entire trip, 15,841 feet to be exact. It took us two days to drive to the city of Arequipa where we hoped to find a decent hospital if needed. Kat had been sick for almost a month now, even after being on two different sets of antibiotics. I lost the fever after three days, but was left with the same nasty cough and congestion as Kat and had a somewhat small elephant sitting on my chest 24/7. I think we had the worst driving day of the trip the second day out of Cusco. We’d spent a freezing night hidden behind a small knoll alongside the road. The icy fog was our best camouflage. The next day the road deteriorated into muddy slop, coating Charlotte top to bottom in a milkshake-like goo. Kat was out cold on the bed and I drove in a fever induced, delirious haze, pretty much akin to the mud covering all of Charlotte’s windows. Then the road ahead appeared blocked by several semis all stuck in the mud attempting to climb a small hill with their huge loads. As I stepped out into the ankle deep goo to access the situation, I discovered our left rear tire completely disintegrated, it was nothing but a muddy blob attached to the rim. In my weakened, high feverish state it took me over two hours to change that stupid tire. I guess it didn’t help that we were at 15,500ft and I already couldn’t breathe thanks to my goop filled chest. I was so covered in mud and so disgusted I never even took a picture. We rolled into Arequipa late in the day and found a nice hotel in the old colonial part of town. How they let us in and allowed Charlotte into their garage is beyond me. We left a trail of mud all the way to our room. I had to ask them for a hose to wash the mud off of Charlotte’s shift linkage. I couldn’t get her into reverse to pull into the garage!

And so here we are in Arequipa, Peru, less than 100 miles from Chile and once again hanging in a city we don’t want to be in while we attempt to get well.  After spending the day getting a new tire and caving in to having Charlotte professionally washed for the first time since leaving home (the rains had been doing a pretty good job up until the mud bath) I found Kat in the emergency room of a third world clinic looking like this.  She had spiked another high fever and had dragged herself into a taxi and gone in search of answers.  Instead, she found a complete lack of English spoken, substandard, shabby facilities, dirty bathrooms with no soap or towels and total confusion.  When I arrived she was dazedly looking back and forth between two different doctors, neither of whom could agree (in Spanish) on what was wrong with her.  One kept asking if her stomach still hurt, conjecturing that it could be E. coli from Peruvian cheese (!), and the other insisted it was a bladder infection!  Since she had already given detailed information about her RESPIRATORY symptoms, we couldn’t figure out where the gut diagnoses came from!  I could read her face at that point, silently screaming, “Get me the _____ out of here!”   Finally, they listened to her re-explain her condition and, despite telling her that her chest X-Ray and blood tests were fine, sent her off with yet a third round of antibiotics.  We went back to the hotel disgusted and frustrated with Peru overall. At this point we just wanted to get to Chile.  Maybe things would change in Chile…

And so here we are in Arequipa, Peru, less than 100 miles from Chile and once again hanging in a city we don’t want to be in while we attempt to get well. After spending the day getting a new tire and caving in to having Charlotte professionally washed for the first time since leaving home (the rains had been doing a pretty good job up until the mud bath) I found Kat in the emergency room of a third world clinic looking like this. She had spiked another high fever and had dragged herself into a taxi and gone in search of answers. Instead, she found a complete lack of English spoken, substandard, shabby facilities, dirty bathrooms with no soap or towels and total confusion. When I arrived she was dazedly looking back and forth between two different doctors, neither of whom could agree (in Spanish) on what was wrong with her. One kept asking if her stomach still hurt, conjecturing that it could be E. coli from Peruvian cheese (!), and the other insisted it was a bladder infection! Since she had already given detailed information about her RESPIRATORY symptoms, we couldn’t figure out where the gut diagnoses came from! I could read her face at that point, silently screaming, “Get me the _____ out of here!” Finally, they listened to her re-explain her condition and, despite telling her that her chest X-Ray and blood tests were fine, sent her off with yet a third round of antibiotics. We went back to the hotel disgusted and frustrated with Peru overall. At this point we just wanted to get to Chile. Maybe things would change in Chile…

Fouled by Fever in Peru – Part 1

Once back on the mainland of Ecuador after our amazing week in the Galapagos, we headed to the small city of Cuenca to visit our new friends, the Schneewinds.  From Cuenca we traveled windy, mountainous roads to the quirky, gringo-ized town of Vilcabamba where we stayed four days in a cute, walled compound with our own private cabin complete with porch and parking for Charlotte.  It was very relaxing and we hated to leave for the Peruvian border.  Maybe we should have stayed… Since Cuenca, Kat had started feeling weak, had a mild fever and was showing signs of bronchitis.  We crossed the border (yellow with black dotted line on map) on August 22nd and entered Peru, our 13th country.  Kat and I traveled in southern Peru in 2008 and loved it, but we knew nothing about the northern part of the country.  With Kat’s condition worsening, I drove down out of the mountains towards the coast, hoping the lower elevation would help her breathing.  Along the way we passed through one dingy town after another, all full of garbage riddled streets, uninviting smells and unhappy looking people.  We stayed one night in a hotel in the unexciting city of Chiclayo, hoping Kat would get better, (no luck) and one night camped in the most disgusting “horse resort” where the animals were mistreated and everything we touched, including the ground the place sat on, felt like it was giving us a disease.  The only humor to that night was being awakened to a dreadful racket on Charlotte’s roof and the whole vehicle shaking.  Looking out I found a goat on her roof!  We did have one outstanding cultural experience while in this area when we visited the Lord of Sipán museum in the town of Lambyeque.  Unfortunately we were not allowed to take any pictures of this museum, which is said to be one of the top ten in the world.  We found it to be a spectacular presentation of the burial rituals of the Moche peoples who inhabited this region 1700 years ago.  Google it for more info and to see illicit pictures.  We continued south along the coast, hoping for nicer conditions and better health for Kat, but the filth continued and a kind of third world funk was settling over us.

Once back on the mainland of Ecuador after our amazing week in the Galapagos, we headed to the small city of Cuenca to visit our new friends, the Schneewinds. From Cuenca we traveled windy, mountainous roads to the quirky, gringo-ized town of Vilcabamba where we stayed four days in a cute, walled compound with our own private cabin complete with porch and parking for Charlotte. It was very relaxing and we hated to leave for the Peruvian border. Maybe we should have stayed…
Since Cuenca, Kat had started feeling weak, had a mild fever and was showing signs of bronchitis. We crossed the border (yellow with black dotted line on map) on August 22nd and entered Peru, our 13th country. Kat and I traveled in southern Peru in 2008 and loved it, but we knew nothing about the northern part of the country. With Kat’s condition worsening, I drove down out of the mountains towards the coast, hoping the lower elevation would help her breathing. Along the way we passed through one dingy town after another, all full of garbage riddled streets, uninviting smells and unhappy looking people. We stayed one night in a hotel in the unexciting city of Chiclayo, hoping Kat would get better, (no luck) and one night camped in the most disgusting “horse resort” where the animals were mistreated and everything we touched, including the ground the place sat on, felt like it was giving us a disease. The only humor to that night was being awakened to a dreadful racket on Charlotte’s roof and the whole vehicle shaking. Looking out I found a goat on her roof! We did have one outstanding cultural experience while in this area when we visited the Lord of Sipán museum in the town of Lambyeque. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take any pictures of this museum, which is said to be one of the top ten in the world. We found it to be a spectacular presentation of the burial rituals of the Moche peoples who inhabited this region 1700 years ago. Google it for more info and to see illicit pictures. We continued south along the coast, hoping for nicer conditions and better health for Kat, but the filth continued and a kind of third world funk was settling over us.

Hans Schneewind is a second generation Ecuadorian. His grandfather emigrated from Germany to Cuenca and started a clothing manufacturing business.  The Scheewinds you’ll remember from our earlier Ecuador blog, (you ARE reading every one, correct?) we met on the beach, when Hans admired Charlotte as we drove by the family’s rented beach house looking for a camping spot.  We promised to visit them when we passed through their home town of Cuenca.   Hans took time out of his busy day to give us a tour of his clothing factory.

Hans Schneewind is a second generation Ecuadorian. His grandfather emigrated from Germany to Cuenca and started a clothing manufacturing business. The Scheewinds you’ll remember from our earlier Ecuador blog, (you ARE reading every one, correct?) we met on the beach, when Hans admired Charlotte as we drove by the family’s rented beach house looking for a camping spot. We promised to visit them when we passed through their home town of Cuenca.
Hans took time out of his busy day to give us a tour of his clothing factory.

The factory specializes in children’s school uniforms and doing embroidering of garments for other, larger factories in the area.  There seemed to be a lot of manual, tedious work going on. Hans explained that the gals who work here make US$342 per month and that’s a high wage!

The factory specializes in children’s school uniforms and doing embroidering of garments for other, larger factories in the area. There seemed to be a lot of manual, tedious work going on. Hans explained that the gals who work here make US$342 per month and that’s a high wage!

Modern, digitized sewing machines crank out embroidery like this four at a time.

Modern, digitized sewing machines crank out embroidery like this four at a time.

But less than fifteen years ago, embroidery was created by a mechanical machine that read a ticker-tape like strip.  The code on this strip produced this little Honda patch.  Hans showed us shelves full of hundreds of these now obsolete tapes.  It their day, each tape cost the company US$6,000 each and was only good for one style of patch.

But less than fifteen years ago, embroidery was created by a mechanical machine that read a ticker-tape like strip. The code on this strip produced this little Honda patch. Hans showed us shelves full of hundreds of these now obsolete tapes. It their day, each tape cost the company US$6,000 each and was only good for one style of patch.

The hand work going on was amazing.  After the pink star-like thingy was sewn onto the garment by a machine, a lady hand cut away the excess material with manicure succors, one after the other, all day.

The hand work going on was amazing. After the pink star-like thingy was sewn onto the garment by a machine, a lady hand cut away the excess material with manicure succors, one after the other, all day.

We camped one night in Hans and Elizabeth’s driveway, playing our favorite new game “Rummikub” with them late into the night.  Hans’ pride and joy is his immaculate bay window Westfalia which his father originally purchased in the ‘70s.  Charlotte’s road weary body and paint looked pretty sad by comparison.

We camped one night in Hans and Elizabeth’s driveway, playing our favorite new game “Rummikub” with them late into the night. Hans’ pride and joy is his immaculate bay window Westfalia which his father originally purchased in the ‘70s. Charlotte’s road weary body and paint looked pretty sad by comparison.

Our next stop after leaving Cuenca was the Parque Nacional Podocarpus where we camped one night.  We actually snuck in after hours, spent the night and went for a hike the next morning. This shot was taken when we tried to leave, got busted and had to pay the entrance fee.

Our next stop after leaving Cuenca was the Parque Nacional Podocarpus where we camped one night. We actually snuck in after hours, spent the night and went for a hike the next morning. This shot was taken when we tried to leave, got busted and had to pay the entrance fee.

The hike was only 5km, just over 3 miles, and should have been a piece of cake.  Yeah right.  After hiking straight up for two hours only to reach freezing cold winds and socked in clouds, we ashamedly turned tail and beat it back down the way we had come.  This bus livin’ has destroyed whatever fit condition we used to be in.  In fairness to Kat, this was the first day she was starting to feel bad, so we’ll blame “our” poor performance on that!

The hike was only 5km, just over 3 miles, and should have been a piece of cake. Yeah right. After hiking straight up for two hours only to reach freezing cold winds and socked in clouds, we ashamedly turned tail and beat it back down the way we had come. This bus livin’ has destroyed whatever fit condition we used to be in. In fairness to Kat, this was the first day she was starting to feel bad, so we’ll blame “our” poor performance on that!

The view during the hike, before we climbed into those clouds.

The view during the hike, before we climbed into those clouds.

These were our digs in Vilcabampa at the Rendez-Vous.  We had our own little cabin, a porch with a handy hammock and Charlotte within reach.  Best of all it was $28 a night including breakfast!  We should have stayed longer.

These were our digs in Vilcabampa at the Rendez-Vous. We had our own little cabin, a porch with a handy hammock and Charlotte within reach. Best of all it was $28 a night including breakfast! We should have stayed longer.

Although we diss on towns that seem too touristy or “gringo-ized,” lately we seem to be gravitating towards them for good food if nothing else.  Vilcabampa featured several awesome eateries.  This seafood paella with homemade Sangria cost 21 bucks and was to die for at a Basque restaurant owned by an ex-pat Spanish lady.

Although we diss on towns that seem too touristy or “gringo-ized,” lately we seem to be gravitating towards them for good food if nothing else. Vilcabampa featured several awesome eateries. This seafood paella with homemade Sangria cost 21 bucks and was to die for at a Basque restaurant owned by an ex-pat Spanish lady.

Another favorite was this bacon stuffed gnocchi with scampi (foreground) and homemade vegetarian ravioli (on my fork) all made with local, organic ingredients.  These delectable yummies were found at an earthy little corner outfit owned by a Swiss chef and his Spanish wife.  This meal, complete with local beer and a big salad set us back 25 bucks. Like I said, towns full of foreigners are generally cleaner and have great food, but in spite of enjoying Vilcabampa, we kinda had to laugh quietly at the town’s adopted inhabitants.  They mostly appeared to be old hippies who burned themselves out long ago and were now looking to re-find their youth by hanging out in a backwater Ecuadorian village, waiting to discover who they really are.  Vilcabampa is reputably known for its magical “qualities” which have produced longevity among the local tribes, some reported to be 120 plus years old.  So the burnt out ex-pats sit around the square, drinking organic beer and smoking healthy grown-in-Vilcabampa cigarettes, eating at the health food juice bar (which appeared to be making a killing) and paying to bathe in the healing waters from the creek up the canyon.  All the while they wait for their youth to return.

Another favorite was this bacon stuffed gnocchi with scampi (foreground) and homemade vegetarian ravioli (on my fork) all made with local, organic ingredients. These delectable yummies were found at an earthy little corner outfit owned by a Swiss chef and his Spanish wife. This meal, complete with local beer and a big salad set us back 25 bucks.
Like I said, towns full of foreigners are generally cleaner and have great food, but in spite of enjoying Vilcabampa, we kinda had to laugh quietly at the town’s adopted inhabitants. They mostly appeared to be old hippies who burned themselves out long ago and were now looking to re-find their youth by hanging out in a backwater Ecuadorian village, waiting to discover who they really are. Vilcabampa is reputably known for its magical “qualities” which have produced longevity among the local tribes, some reported to be 120 plus years old. So the burnt out ex-pats sit around the square, drinking organic beer and smoking healthy grown-in-Vilcabampa cigarettes, eating at the health food juice bar (which appeared to be making a killing) and paying to bathe in the healing waters from the creek up the canyon. All the while they wait for their youth to return.

The road from Vilcabampa to the remote Peruvian border crossing at La Balsa.  Charlotte got her muddiest yet on this road, which was full of construction. It took seven hours to cover about 80 miles.

The road from Vilcabampa to the remote Peruvian border crossing at La Balsa. Charlotte got her muddiest yet on this road, which was full of construction. It took seven hours to cover about 80 miles.

La Balsa was the sleepiest, quietest border crossing ever.  We were the only vehicle crossing into Peru and it appeared there hadn’t been another in quite a while. The Peruvian guard was so slow on his computer that we jumped in and filled out some of the forms for him!  He also appeared colorblind as he never did figure out Charlotte’s color but asked us what it was repeatedly.  By the time he was finished it was dark, so we asked him if we could camp on the “lawn” in front of the border hut.  No problem!  The whole experience was such a switch from our usual border experiences where we have crossed fingers for no trip halting red tape, and can’t wait to get as far away from the area as quickly as possible. We spent a peaceful night, except for around 4am when we were awakened by the sound of horrible, native singing accompanied by top volume, Peruvian rap music. (For lack of a better description) We both peaked out, expecting to see some kid in a car parked with his stereo blaring.  Instead, in the single yellow street light, we viewed two guys and a donkey ambling down the street. The donkey had a boom box strapped to its back.  Welcome to Peru.

La Balsa was the sleepiest, quietest border crossing ever. We were the only vehicle crossing into Peru and it appeared there hadn’t been another in quite a while. The Peruvian guard was so slow on his computer that we jumped in and filled out some of the forms for him! He also appeared colorblind as he never did figure out Charlotte’s color but asked us what it was repeatedly. By the time he was finished it was dark, so we asked him if we could camp on the “lawn” in front of the border hut. No problem! The whole experience was such a switch from our usual border experiences where we have crossed fingers for no trip halting red tape, and can’t wait to get as far away from the area as quickly as possible.
We spent a peaceful night, except for around 4am when we were awakened by the sound of horrible, native singing accompanied by top volume, Peruvian rap music. (For lack of a better description) We both peaked out, expecting to see some kid in a car parked with his stereo blaring. Instead, in the single yellow street light, we viewed two guys and a donkey ambling down the street. The donkey had a boom box strapped to its back. Welcome to Peru.

This was a typical front yard of many of the homes we passed, heading for the coast.

This was a typical front yard of many of the homes we passed, heading for the coast.

Northern Peruvian roads are littered with these Moto-Taxis which are darting everywhere, making driving among them hellish.

Northern Peruvian roads are littered with these Moto-Taxis which are darting everywhere, making driving among them hellish.

Gotta wonder how the laundry is ever really clean in conditions like this.

Gotta wonder how the laundry is ever really clean in conditions like this.

At one point we were starving so we stopped for a local meal at this open-air restaurant.  Whatever they were cooking was bubbling away in huge pots, heated by a wood fire below.

At one point we were starving so we stopped for a local meal at this open-air restaurant. Whatever they were cooking was bubbling away in huge pots, heated by a wood fire below.

I’m still not sure what she served us.

I’m still not sure what she served us.

At least the fries and rice were edible.

At least the fries and rice were edible.

This one is for Colin at Mac’s Tie Downs.  Always keep a firm hand on your load, least it fall off on the next pothole!

This one is for Colin at Mac’s Tie Downs. Always keep a firm hand on your load, least it fall off on the next pothole!

Working our way down the coast we stopped in the beach resort town of Huanchaco, just above Trujillo on the map.  Further south we headed inland through the beautiful Cañon del Pato (Duck Canyon) and along the snow capped mountains of the Cordillera Blanca.

Working our way down the coast we stopped in the beach resort town of Huanchaco, just above Trujillo on the map. Further south we headed inland through the beautiful Cañon del Pato (Duck Canyon) and along the snow capped mountains of the Cordillera Blanca.

Several Overlanders’ blog sites we’ve been following all highly recommended visiting Huanchaco for its amazing surf and unique reed rafts used by the local fishermen for centuries. I don’t know what we’re missing here, but we found the place filthy, with flat surf and no fisherman fishing, just the famous boats propped up for tourist photos.  From the color and texture of the ocean I wouldn’t be quick to eat any of the fish that came from these waters.  Note the dead pelican on the beach next to beachgoers who seemed to think nothing of it.

Several Overlanders’ blog sites we’ve been following all highly recommended visiting Huanchaco for its amazing surf and unique reed rafts used by the local fishermen for centuries. I don’t know what we’re missing here, but we found the place filthy, with flat surf and no fisherman fishing, just the famous boats propped up for tourist photos. From the color and texture of the ocean I wouldn’t be quick to eat any of the fish that came from these waters. Note the dead pelican on the beach next to beachgoers who seemed to think nothing of it.

We put on our best smiles and strolled the Malicon, looking for the allure.  All we found was a dirty beach, cheap trinkets and bad smelling food.  The next day, Kat’s fever and coughing, complicated by asthma, prompted her to see a local doctor who prescribed antibiotics.

We put on our best smiles and strolled the Malicon, looking for the allure. All we found was a dirty beach, cheap trinkets and bad smelling food. The next day, Kat’s fever and coughing, complicated by asthma, prompted her to see a local doctor who prescribed antibiotics.

Never did get the name of these things but they started out in the bucket on the left.  A finger was stuck into the sticky paste, whipped in a circular motion and flicked out, producing a round blob of the stuff which was then flung into the bubbling grease and fried into a kind of lumpy donut.   They were served with syrup and people were eating them like mad.  I guess we’re missing the Peruvian experience ‘cause neither one of us wanted anything to do with them.

Never did get the name of these things but they started out in the bucket on the left. A finger was stuck into the sticky paste, whipped in a circular motion and flicked out, producing a round blob of the stuff which was then flung into the bubbling grease and fried into a kind of lumpy donut. They were served with syrup and people were eating them like mad. I guess we’re missing the Peruvian experience ‘cause neither one of us wanted anything to do with them.

This was cool.  We spotted this very well worn Free Wheelchair Mission wheelchair and its owner parked along the street in Huanchaco.  Kat and I have been big supporters of this organization, even traveling to El Salvador a few years ago to deliver the chairs.  You can find more info on this charity elsewhere on our web site.  I couldn’t get a face shot of this woman as she hid in shame when I tried, and mentioning FWM resulted in blank stares.  No matter, the point is she was out in the world, experiencing life, instead of shut away and forgotten in a dark corner somewhere, all because of a $78 wheelchair given to her thanks to some anonymous donor.

This was cool. We spotted this very well worn Free Wheelchair Mission wheelchair and its owner parked along the street in Huanchaco. Kat and I have been big supporters of this organization, even traveling to El Salvador a few years ago to deliver the chairs. You can find more info on this charity elsewhere on our web site. I couldn’t get a face shot of this woman as she hid in shame when I tried, and mentioning FWM resulted in blank stares. No matter, the point is she was out in the world, experiencing life, instead of shut away and forgotten in a dark corner somewhere, all because of a $78 wheelchair given to her thanks to some anonymous donor.

It’s not every day you have a camp spot with turtles coming by to visit.  This guy seems to be looking at Vaca Muerta in the same way many humans do… huh??

It’s not every day you have a camp spot with turtles coming by to visit. This guy seems to be looking at Vaca Muerta in the same way many humans do… huh??

This has to be the best starter castle we’ve come across.  Yes, the guy in the brown coat actually lives here, squatting on this cliff side.

This has to be the best starter castle we’ve come across. Yes, the guy in the brown coat actually lives here, squatting on this cliff side.

A study in wall construction, complete with a security cap on top.

A study in wall construction, complete with a security cap on top.

It continues to amaze us how one soul can work so hard to have a nice looking place, complete with a little “yard” in front, while the next door neighbor’s place is a complete dump.  But I guess it’s like that all over the world.

It continues to amaze us how one soul can work so hard to have a nice looking place, complete with a little “yard” in front, while the next door neighbor’s place is a complete dump. But I guess it’s like that all over the world.

More laundry drying in immaculate surroundings.

More laundry drying in immaculate surroundings.

I hate to keep harping on the filth, but really?  This was a common scene everywhere near urban centers in northern Peru.

I hate to keep harping on the filth, but really? This was a common scene everywhere near urban centers in northern Peru.

Another common scene was these huge political campaign “posters” hand painted everywhere. Wonder if Acuña, if he gets elected, will do something about all the trash in front of his sign.

Another common scene was these huge political campaign “posters” hand painted everywhere. Wonder if Acuña, if he gets elected, will do something about all the trash in front of his sign.

We left the coast north of Chimbote and headed into the vast barren desert that makes up much of the Peruvian coastline.  This terrain is our favorite, reminding us of our beloved Nevada deserts and the wilds of Baja.  We were overjoyed to be driving along endless straight roads through empty nothingness.  No more windy mountain passes.  No more jungle and rain forests.  No more rain.  Well, at least not for a few days.

We left the coast north of Chimbote and headed into the vast barren desert that makes up much of the Peruvian coastline. This terrain is our favorite, reminding us of our beloved Nevada deserts and the wilds of Baja. We were overjoyed to be driving along endless straight roads through empty nothingness. No more windy mountain passes. No more jungle and rain forests. No more rain. Well, at least not for a few days.

The drive through the desert let us into Cañon del Pato which features over 40 hand dug tunnels, allowing the single lane road to pass through the unbelievable landscape.

The drive through the desert let us into Cañon del Pato which features over 40 hand dug tunnels, allowing the single lane road to pass through the unbelievable landscape.

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We’ve never seen these cute little guys before - or since.  They were only about six inches tall and almost as round.  These were the only ones we saw.

We’ve never seen these cute little guys before – or since. They were only about six inches tall and almost as round. These were the only ones we saw.

You’ve gotta wonder how bright you are to be driving around on roads where all the locals have wire mesh guards on the tops of their vehicles to protect them from falling rocks.

You’ve gotta wonder how bright you are to be driving around on roads where all the locals have wire mesh guards on the tops of their vehicles to protect them from falling rocks.

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This was about the only shot we took of the snows of the Cordillera Blanca. There were numerous remote roads that led up into these mountains and stories of great hiking and rock climbing in the area.  However, our funk was worsening along with Kat’s breathing, so we just kept on moving. The drive through Duck Canyon made this run inland well worthwhile, but we hardly did the area justice, missing plenty of cool stuff I’m sure.

This was about the only shot we took of the snows of the Cordillera Blanca. There were numerous remote roads that led up into these mountains and stories of great hiking and rock climbing in the area. However, our funk was worsening along with Kat’s breathing, so we just kept on moving. The drive through Duck Canyon made this run inland well worthwhile, but we hardly did the area justice, missing plenty of cool stuff I’m sure.

From the Cordillera Blanca we drove west again, back to the coast and back into our favorite desert terrain.  Then we headed south along the barren coast to the capital city of Lima where we hoped a stay in a nice hotel in an urban environment would shake Kat’s illness and our increasing Peruvian funk.

From the Cordillera Blanca we drove west again, back to the coast and back into our favorite desert terrain. Then we headed south along the barren coast to the capital city of Lima where we hoped a stay in a nice hotel in an urban environment would shake Kat’s illness and our increasing Peruvian funk.

An interesting “sandwich” I had one day.  The yellow was cold mashed potato with chicken, avocado and tomato sandwiched inside, different and pretty good.  Inka Cola, a Peruvian standard since 1939, made with real coca leaves.

An interesting “sandwich” I had one day. The yellow was cold mashed potato with chicken, avocado and tomato sandwiched inside, different and pretty good. Inka Cola, a Peruvian standard since 1939, made with real coca leaves.

Camped back in the desert, I made us breakfast while Kat was banished from my kitchen.  Still feeling like crap, she amused herself by taking timed photos of the scene.

Camped back in the desert, I made us breakfast while Kat was banished from my kitchen. Still feeling like crap, she amused herself by taking timed photos of the scene.

Along the Pan Am heading toward Lima we passed dozens of religious pilgrims walking north. Some were hauling huge crosses with a wheel affixed to their end to ease in dragging them along.

Along the Pan Am heading toward Lima we passed dozens of religious pilgrims walking north. Some were hauling huge crosses with a wheel affixed to their end to ease in dragging them along.

Close to Lima the roads improved to probably the best we’ve seen in 18,000 miles.  Four lanes, no traffic and beautiful views of the Pacific lifted our spirits somewhat.

Close to Lima the roads improved to probably the best we’ve seen in 18,000 miles. Four lanes, no traffic and beautiful views of the Pacific lifted our spirits somewhat.

The shantytowns on the outskirts of Lima.

The shantytowns on the outskirts of Lima.

The view from our hotel room in the Miraflores area of Lima, where we stayed three nights, hoping a dose of the modern world would shake off the funk.  It helped, but Kat continued to cough, despite the antibiotics, and I continued to wonder when I was going to catch this thing, living in such close quarters…  At this point she’d been suffering for 11 days with what we’d decided was a respiratory flu.

The view from our hotel room in the Miraflores area of Lima, where we stayed three nights, hoping a dose of the modern world would shake off the funk. It helped, but Kat continued to cough, despite the antibiotics, and I continued to wonder when I was going to catch this thing, living in such close quarters… At this point she’d been suffering for 11 days with what we’d decided was a respiratory flu.

We wandered around the high end Miraflores area a bit, taking in the urban sites. We even went to a movie and a department store –whoohoo!  Kat rested in the hotel while I changed Charlotte’s oil and rotated her tires in a deserted parking lot down by the beach.  At 18,000 miles and counting, this was the fourth time I’ve performed this ritual.

We wandered around the high end Miraflores area a bit, taking in the urban sites. We even went to a movie and a department store –whoohoo! Kat rested in the hotel while I changed Charlotte’s oil and rotated her tires in a deserted parking lot down by the beach. At 18,000 miles and counting, this was the fourth time I’ve performed this ritual.

For a country so covered in its own trash, we found it particularly interesting to see a city worker hand scraping chewing gum off the sidewalk!

For a country so covered in its own trash, we found it particularly interesting to see a city worker hand scraping chewing gum off the sidewalk!

This Swiss (!) place around the corner from our hotel quickly became our favorite restaurant. It was so good we stayed another day in Lima just to have dinner there again.

This Swiss (!) place around the corner from our hotel quickly became our favorite restaurant. It was so good we stayed another day in Lima just to have dinner there again.

For once we don’t have pictures of the food because we ate it too quickly.  These were our favorite waitresses at the Swiss place who couldn’t have been cuter.  Shirley, in the middle was Peruvian and named thus because her parents liked Shirley Temple.  Antonia was from Romania and had come to Lima with a boyfriend who had subsequently dumped her.  She had been in Peru for two years but said she was sad and lonely and was thinking of going the join her mother in Germany, but didn’t look forward to it because she thought Germans were so cold. We wanted to adopt her!  Here was this cute young girl with no country, no home, no family and looking at a dim future in a country she didn’t want to live in.  We are so lucky to be Americans. Stay tune for Peru Part II to find out if the southern half of the country lifts the funk.  Does Kat get better?   Do I get sick?  Stay tuned!

For once we don’t have pictures of the food because we ate it too quickly. These were our favorite waitresses at the Swiss place who couldn’t have been cuter. Shirley, in the middle was Peruvian and named thus because her parents liked Shirley Temple. Antonia was from Romania and had come to Lima with a boyfriend who had subsequently dumped her. She had been in Peru for two years but said she was sad and lonely and was thinking of going the join her mother in Germany, but didn’t look forward to it because she thought Germans were so cold. We wanted to adopt her! Here was this cute young girl with no country, no home, no family and looking at a dim future in a country she didn’t want to live in. We are so lucky to be Americans.
Watch for Peru Part II to find out if the southern half of the country lifts the funk. Does Kat get better? Do I get sick? Stay tuned!

Galapagos – A Darwin Moment

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The turquoise water sparkled with the last rays of the setting sun while tiny waves lapped gently on the warm, black lava. I released a breath that I hadn’t realized I had been holding for…eight months? This was Galapagos, and it was magic.

Our trip south has been amazing and wonderful, but it hasn’t necessarily been relaxing. There is an element of survival in our daily search for routes, food and safe places to sleep that keeps us on our toes at all times. Stepping onto the shores of these desolate and well protected islands brought a sense of peace that was like a balm to my spirit, and I knew instantly that this would be a very special week.

The Galapagos Islands had never been on our agenda (not that we have one), and for me, meant only vague memories of National Geographic episodes on TV and reel to reel films shown to us fidgety Jr. High Schoolers. Wasn’t there some connection to Darwin, natural selection and blue footed boobies?

Besides the tranquility, what Ned and I loved were the close encounters with the animals. Although the Islands have a brutal past of being ravished by explorers and pirates, they have been protected since 1970. The strict protection, coupled with a lack of natural predators has left the animals unafraid of humans. This offers a unique opportunity to interact with vast quantities of amazing critters.

While being on the quiet islands, surrounded by muted desert colors and rare species was remarkable, snorkeling brought us into an underwater wonderland of such magical beauty that it brought tears to my eyes. With no waterproof camera to distract, we were left to simply enjoy. The water itself was brilliant shades of crystal clear blues and although cold, was marvelous. The sea life was abundant, and we saw many types of fish and plants that we had never seen because they only exist here. To my delight, the tranquil desert colors that I love so much, were reflected in this watery landscape. Everywhere I looked, gorgeous pastels danced and shimmered. Every shade of the rainbow was paraded before me in muted, iridescent splendor. A sea anemone in lemon sherbet, a giant parrot fish in glistening melon green and pink topaz, microscopic amoeba, like mystical fairies, visible only through intermittent flashes of sapphire blue. Incredible. But the parade did not end there.

Imagine jumping into the water with your snorkel gear, putting your face down and seeing a huge dark blur approach quickly. Oh! A sea lion! No, three sea lions! It was a bit startling at first, as they, one at a time, swam straight for our faces, veering off only at the last minute. These were truly wild animals that wanted to play with us. The giant sea turtles, while singularly un-playful, were equally as unafraid. At one point I enjoyed drifting quietly next to my own private, meter and a half long turtle for over 15 minutes.

While we can’t share our underwater experiences, we are glad to be able to offer a few glimpses into the enchanting world of Galapagos. Enjoy…

Our last minute decision to book an eight day cruise in the Galapagos Islands included a flight from Guayaquil, Ecuador to the primitive airport on Santa Cruz Island.  Being part of Ecuador meant that there was no complicated immigration to arrive on the islands.  We had already imported ourselves!

Our last minute decision to book an eight day cruise in the Galapagos Islands included a flight from Guayaquil, Ecuador to the primitive airport on Santa Cruz Island. Being part of Ecuador meant that there was no complicated immigration to arrive on the islands. We had already imported ourselves!

The first animal we saw was this food sniffing dog, padding eagerly all over our bags looking for illegally imported snacks.  Part of the way the Islands are protected is by strict controls of any biological materials.

The first animal we saw was this food sniffing dog, padding eagerly all over our bags looking for illegally imported snacks. Part of the way the Islands are protected is by strict controls of any biological materials.

Our boat, the Estrella del Mar, carried only 16 passengers (all wonderful), and we enjoyed a private (but tiny) berth and bathroom.

Our boat, the Estrella del Mar, carried only 16 passengers (all wonderful), and we enjoyed a private (but tiny) berth and bathroom.

The official welcome to The Galapagos Islands was given by these stoic marine iguanas…

The official welcome to The Galapagos Islands was given by these stoic marine iguanas…

…and this giant, 150 year old, 400lb land tortoise…

…and this giant, 150 year old, 400lb land tortoise…

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…and this huge, meter long land iguana…

…and this huge, meter long land iguana…

…not such a big welcome from this lazy fellow.

…not such a big welcome from this lazy fellow.

The sea lions were completely un-alarmed by our presence.  This cute little guy just kept on nursing.

The sea lions were completely un-alarmed by our presence. This cute little guy just kept on nursing.

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Charles Darwin really was inspired to come up with his theory of natural selection after a visit to the Galapagos.  The marine iguanas, being the only iguanas that actually dive for food and can stay underwater for up to an hour, stimulated ‘ol Charles’ brain into wondering how and why these former land critters adapted to the sea.

Charles Darwin really was inspired to come up with his theory of natural selection after a visit to the Galapagos. The marine iguanas, being the only iguanas that actually dive for food and can stay underwater for up to an hour, stimulated ‘ol Charles’ brain into wondering how and why these former land critters adapted to the sea.

We were stimulated to merely have fun taking their pictures.

We were stimulated to merely have fun taking their pictures.

A flock of frigates flew with our ship for an hour, sometimes soaring within two meters of us.  A lazy close encounter enjoyed from the top deck of the boat.

A flock of frigates flew with our ship for an hour, sometimes soaring within two meters of us. A lazy close encounter enjoyed from the top deck of the boat.

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The male frigates have red throats that balloon out to manly proportions while attempting to attract a mate.  This one is obviously not on the prowl.

The male frigates have red throats that balloon out to manly proportions while attempting to attract a mate. This one is obviously not on the prowl.

Another way the Galapagos National Park protects the islands is by limiting traffic to popular viewing areas.  We 16 plus our guide were, at all times, the only people around, and it added greatly to the magic of the experience.

Another way the Galapagos National Park protects the islands is by limiting traffic to popular viewing areas. We 16 plus our guide were, at all times, the only people around, and it added greatly to the magic of the experience.

Our guide told us that he hadn’t seen this rare little beauty in five years. Finches (I’m pretty sure this is a finch?) provided further insight for Darwin’s work.  Apparently the size and shape of their beaks vary greatly between isolated islands and dramatically demonstrate adaptation to vastly different food sources.

Our guide told us that he hadn’t seen this rare little beauty in five years.
Finches (I’m pretty sure this is a finch?) provided further insight for Darwin’s work. Apparently the size and shape of their beaks vary greatly between isolated islands and dramatically demonstrate adaptation to vastly different food sources.

What I learned on my Galapagos vacation:  1) Tails aren’t the problem I always wondered about; 2) You’ve got to be pretty thick skinned to be a female lizard.

What I learned on my Galapagos vacation: 1) Tails aren’t the problem I always wondered about; 2) You’ve got to be pretty thick skinned to be a female lizard.

Up close with a stunning hawk.  This guy was a mere ten feet away and unconcerned.

Up close with a stunning hawk. This guy was a mere ten feet away and unconcerned.

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He may look like Godzilla about to eat New York, but he’s really just trying to get warm.  The marine iguanas may have adapted to diving for long periods of time, but they are still cold blooded.  The black coloring is not for camouflage, but to absorb warmth from the sun.  After diving, the marine iguanas are so cold they can barely move.  Seeing thousands of them (literally) frozen on the rocks is quite a spectacle as they raise their little reptilian temperatures to where they can move again.

He may look like Godzilla about to eat New York, but he’s really just trying to get warm. The marine iguanas may have adapted to diving for long periods of time, but they are still cold blooded. The black coloring is not for camouflage, but to absorb warmth from the sun. After diving, the marine iguanas are so cold they can barely move. Seeing thousands of them (literally) frozen on the rocks is quite a spectacle as they raise their little reptilian temperatures to where they can move again.

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Crown of horns.

Crown of horns.

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These were the only fur seals we saw. They are rare because they were hunted to near extinction before the inception of the National Park.

These were the only fur seals we saw. They are rare because they were hunted to near extinction before the inception of the National Park.

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Loving these close encounters of the wild kind.

Loving these close encounters of the wild kind.

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Look closely…those aren’t rocks, they are heaps of marine iguanas warming in the bright equatorial sun.

Look closely…those aren’t rocks, they are heaps of marine iguanas warming in the bright equatorial sun.

Great heron.

Great heron.

Join us as Ned and I watch this little domestic drama unfold between a flightless cormorant and her mate…

Join us as Ned and I watch this little domestic drama unfold between a flightless cormorant and her mate…

“Herbert!!!!”

“Herbert!!!!”

“Quit flapping those useless wings and bring me more nesting materials!”

“Quit flapping those useless wings and bring me more nesting materials!”

“Is this what you wanted, Francine?”

“Is this what you wanted, Francine?”

“Oh, Herbert, I love you so much.  You are the best bird on this rock!” On a serious note, the abundance of food here has rendered flight unnecessary for Galapagos’ flightless cormorants, and their wings really have shrunk to useless stubs.  Another stunning example of adaptation and natural selection.

“Oh, Herbert, I love you so much. You are the best bird on this rock!”
On a serious note, the abundance of food here has rendered flight unnecessary for Galapagos’ flightless cormorants, and their wings really have shrunk to useless stubs. Another stunning example of adaptation and natural selection.

Each day we went out in the ship’s two Zodiacs.  On this early morning foray, we did all of our viewing from the boats and were encouraged to be very quiet.  This was an extremely protected island where only 20 of the 150 operating tour boats are allowed to visit. It was fantastic and felt as if time stood still.

Each day we went out in the ship’s two Zodiacs. On this early morning foray, we did all of our viewing from the boats and were encouraged to be very quiet. This was an extremely protected island where only 20 of the 150 operating tour boats are allowed to visit. It was fantastic and felt as if time stood still.

This was our first view of the tiny penguins that are unique to the Galapagos.

This was our first view of the tiny penguins that are unique to the Galapagos.

The march of the mini penguins got a laugh out of this sea lion.

The march of the mini penguins got a laugh out of this sea lion.

An actual booby!  They really do exist outside of those old, scratchy reel to reels films, and they really do have pretty blue feet.

An actual booby! They really do exist outside of those old, scratchy reel to reels films, and they really do have pretty blue feet.

Two boobies.

Two boobies.

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Diving boobies.

Diving boobies.

This was a show we could have watched all day.  These guys are the most incredible divers, hitting the water at 60mph to reach deep into the ocean for those yummy fish.

This was a show we could have watched all day. These guys are the most incredible divers, hitting the water at 60mph to reach deep into the ocean for those yummy fish.

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Streamlining those wings and blue feet for maximum speed.

Streamlining those wings and blue feet for maximum speed.

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The penguins dive for food too, but go about it more sedately than the boobies.

The penguins dive for food too, but go about it more sedately than the boobies.

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It appeared as if they like to have a little fun, though…ready…

It appeared as if they like to have a little fun, though…ready…

…set…

…set…

…jump!

…jump!

A huge, majestic pelican.

A huge, majestic pelican.

After the boobies and penguins, we slowly and quietly motored into these mangrove covered lava channels where we were treated to the sight of hundreds of sea turtles.  After entering, we cut the motors and paddled in silence.

After the boobies and penguins, we slowly and quietly motored into these mangrove covered lava channels where we were treated to the sight of hundreds of sea turtles. After entering, we cut the motors and paddled in silence.

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Upon exiting our secret, sacred realm, our guide fired up the motor and we whooped and hollered our way back to the ship.

Upon exiting our secret, sacred realm, our guide fired up the motor and we whooped and hollered our way back to the ship.

On yet another island, we walked these lava fields in search of funny pink birds.

On yet another island, we walked these lava fields in search of funny pink birds.

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Flamingos!  But not pink, rather an orange sherbet.  Evidently they get their dramatic color from eating shrimp.

Flamingos! But not pink, rather an orange sherbet. Evidently they get their dramatic color from eating shrimp.

This flamingo feeding ground was a tidal marsh tucked away deep in the lava fields.

This flamingo feeding ground was a tidal marsh tucked away deep in the lava fields.

Whatever color, they sure were fun to photograph.

Whatever color, they sure were fun to photograph.

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As cute and comic as these guys are, I learned that reptiles have absolutely no individual personality.  Neither the iguanas nor the turtles form friendships or family ties.  All hatch from eggs without the presence of a parent and struggle their way into adulthood completely on their own.

As cute and comic as these guys are, I learned that reptiles have absolutely no individual personality. Neither the iguanas nor the turtles form friendships or family ties. All hatch from eggs without the presence of a parent and struggle their way into adulthood completely on their own.

Mammals definitely get all the points for personality.

Mammals definitely get all the points for personality.

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I don’t know, any personality here?

I don’t know, any personality here?

Giant tortoise front.

Giant tortoise front.

Giant tortoise rear.

Giant tortoise rear.

What comes out of a giant tortoise’s rear.  Those plops were about eight inches long!

What comes out of a giant tortoise’s rear. Those plops were about eight inches long!

This young twenty year old took a liking to my running shoe.

This young twenty year old took a liking to my running shoe.

Still not sure.  Any personality now?  She just appears to be hiding from the whole thing.

Still not sure. Any personality now? She just appears to be hiding from the whole thing.

Overall, we found our Galapagos adventure relaxing, enlightening, and richly satisfying.  Delighted to have made the hasty decision to book the cruise, we highly recommend visiting this unique and enchanting archipelago.    Next up:  Wrapping up Ecuador and driving on to our twelfth country, Peru!

Overall, we found our Galapagos adventure relaxing, enlightening, and richly satisfying. Delighted to have made the hasty decision to book the cruise, we highly recommend visiting this unique and enchanting archipelago.
Next up: Wrapping up Ecuador and driving on to our twelfth country, Peru!

Ecuador – Straddling the Globe on the Avenue of the Volcanoes

When Ned and I first embarked on our adventure south, we hadn’t given Ecuador a moment’s thought. We had enjoyed a wonderful visit to Peru in 2008, so Mexico, Chile and Argentina were the highlights on our list. But Ecuador? Wasn’t that just a small, third world country to pass through on our way to the exciting ones? Ironically, today is August 18, exactly one month since we crossed the border into this captivating little nation. And we are still here. We do plan to head into Peru in the next few days, but our visit to Ecuador, the “middle of the world,” has been amazing.

From ancient cities and glacier topped volcanoes, to old haciendas and historic train routes, Ecuador has been a country of surprises for us. Add in a very special “Darwin Moment” (see next blog post) and more new global friendships, and I would have to say that this month has seen its share of journey highlights. Read on to share in the adventure…

Our first delightful surprise was the price of gas!  Please note that Ecuador uses, as its national currency, the US dollar.  Yippeee!  Haven’t seen these prices since we were youngsters.

Our first delightful surprise was the price of gas! Please note that Ecuador uses, as its national currency, the US dollar. Yippeee! Haven’t seen these prices since we were youngsters.

We had absolutely no plans in Ecuador, so simply headed south on the Pan American Highway to see what we might.  But, as in Colombia, we gravitated toward, and spent most of our time in mountainous, high elevations.  We began to feel as though 9,000ft. (pictured here) were the lowlands!

We had absolutely no plans in Ecuador, so simply headed south on the Pan American Highway to see what we might. But, as in Colombia, we gravitated toward, and spent most of our time in mountainous, high elevations. We began to feel as though 9,000ft. (pictured here) were the lowlands!

Unlike in Colombia, we began to see some native attire mixed in with the modern.

Unlike in Colombia, we began to see some native attire mixed in with the modern.

This big piggy went to market – in this little truck.  We bet he wished he’d stayed home.

This big piggy went to market – in this little truck. We bet he wished he’d stayed home.

This popular brand of condiments seems rather proud of itself.

This popular brand of condiments seems rather proud of itself.


Several hours south of the border, it suddenly occurred to us that we were about to cross the Equator.  Oh yeah, this is Ecuador!  We screeched to a halt at this monument to memorialize the moment.  We had driven all the way to the southern hemisphere, over 13,000 miles!

Several hours south of the border, it suddenly occurred to us that we were about to cross the Equator. Oh yeah, this is Ecuador! We screeched to a halt at this monument to memorialize the moment. We had driven all the way to the southern hemisphere, over 13,000 miles!

We even broadened our knowledge base with a little presentation from an earnest young scholar named Josué.  Josué explained how this sun dial and tower align at sunrise and sunset on March 21 and September 23.  He also explained many other fascinating astrological snippets, including why the global map should really be oriented vertically, but our knowledge base seems to have been only temporarily broadened, so we can’t share much more than that.  What I do remember, is that Josué told us that it was ok to spend the night in the monument parking lot.  We enjoyed the flattest, driest, most perfect temperature camp since Mexico, and didn’t get out of there until noon the next day.

We even broadened our knowledge base with a little presentation from an earnest young scholar named Josué. Josué explained how this sun dial and tower align at sunrise and sunset on March 21 and September 23. He also explained many other fascinating astrological snippets, including why the global map should really be oriented vertically, but our knowledge base seems to have been only temporarily broadened, so we can’t share much more than that.
What I do remember, is that Josué told us that it was ok to spend the night in the monument parking lot. We enjoyed the flattest, driest, most perfect temperature camp since Mexico, and didn’t get out of there until noon the next day.

Straddling the globe…literally!   Okay, I know that some of you are wondering about that toilet bowl thing.  Does the water swirl clockwise in the Northern hemisphere and counter clockwise in the Southern when you flush?  Well, Ned and I wondered too, and actually had a moment of delight, peering anxiously over the nearest toilet, to see that it did flush counter clockwise!  Then we got to wondering…had we really noticed what direction it goes at home?  No, not really…time for Google.  What a disappointment.  While something as critical as the earth’s rotation will affect the direction a huge tornado will spin, the puny twirling of a drain or toilet bowl is influenced only by the size and shape of mundane forces like…plumbing.

Straddling the globe…literally!
Okay, I know that some of you are wondering about that toilet bowl thing. Does the water swirl clockwise in the Northern hemisphere and counter clockwise in the Southern when you flush? Well, Ned and I wondered too, and actually had a moment of delight, peering anxiously over the nearest toilet, to see that it did flush counter clockwise! Then we got to wondering…had we really noticed what direction it goes at home? No, not really…time for Google. What a disappointment. While something as critical as the earth’s rotation will affect the direction a huge tornado will spin, the puny twirling of a drain or toilet bowl is influenced only by the size and shape of mundane forces like…plumbing.

After the equator, we were ready to get off the Pan Am.  We found a tiny road on our cool (and accurate) new navigation App, maps.me (farewell Mr. Garmin!), and headed southeast through Cangahua; our goal, the hot springs at Papallacta.  We had no idea what we would find on this road, but it turned out to be yet another amazing “blind corner.” Incredibly, the first eight miles were cobblestone!  Built over 100 years ago, we wondered who the poor souls were who carried and laid all those stones.  As lovely and novel as it was, Charlotte was happy to get to merely rough dirt after miles of metal jarring rocks.

After the equator, we were ready to get off the Pan Am. We found a tiny road on our cool (and accurate) new navigation App, maps.me (farewell Mr. Garmin!), and headed southeast through Cangahua; our goal, the hot springs at Papallacta. We had no idea what we would find on this road, but it turned out to be yet another amazing “blind corner.”
Incredibly, the first eight miles were cobblestone! Built over 100 years ago, we wondered who the poor souls were who carried and laid all those stones. As lovely and novel as it was, Charlotte was happy to get to merely rough dirt after miles of metal jarring rocks.

The reality of daily life for most people in the world always shines a light of gratitude on my own relatively plush existence.

The reality of daily life for most people in the world always shines a light of gratitude on my own relatively plush existence.

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The road became remote and the scenery stunning.  We went about 50 miles at 8-10 mph, climbing to 13,000ft., and we never saw another soul.  I began to feel that we were in a land before time.  The landscape looked prehistoric, lacking only dinosaurs roaming the misty hills.

The road became remote and the scenery stunning. We went about 50 miles at 8-10 mph, climbing to 13,000ft., and we never saw another soul. I began to feel that we were in a land before time. The landscape looked prehistoric, lacking only dinosaurs roaming the misty hills.

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The pools at Papallacta were more jarring than the cobblestones.  We were back on the beaten path.  It was Saturday, and the pools were literally swamped with Ecuadorian weekenders out for a soak.  We were in need of a wash anyway, so we took the plunge, enjoying the hot water and unique surroundings.  We also partook of another quiet camping night, stealthily lurking in the back parking lot.

The pools at Papallacta were more jarring than the cobblestones. We were back on the beaten path. It was Saturday, and the pools were literally swamped with Ecuadorian weekenders out for a soak. We were in need of a wash anyway, so we took the plunge, enjoying the hot water and unique surroundings. We also partook of another quiet camping night, stealthily lurking in the back parking lot.

Unable to avoid it, we found ourselves back on the Pan American Highway, in order to visit the Capital city of Quito.  We found the large colonial town to be beautiful, ancient and lovingly preserved.

Unable to avoid it, we found ourselves back on the Pan American Highway, in order to visit the Capital city of Quito. We found the large colonial town to be beautiful, ancient and lovingly preserved.

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Quito has more than its share of gorgeous churches, cathedrals and basilicas.  This one, the  Basilica de San Francisco was built in the 1500’s.

Quito has more than its share of gorgeous churches, cathedrals and basilicas. This one, the
Basilica de San Francisco was built in the 1500’s.

A palpable hush of centuries of worshipers hung in the air as we gazed in wonder at the ornate interior.

A palpable hush of centuries of worshipers hung in the air as we gazed in wonder at the ornate interior.

An interesting depiction of the influenza brought by the Spanish which decimated local populations.  Literal translation:  “1890 The influenza finally ends because we look upon your eyes with love.”

An interesting depiction of the influenza brought by the Spanish which decimated local populations. Literal translation: “1890 The influenza finally ends because we look upon your eyes with love.”

This Basilica is a mere 100 years old, and is made of concrete rather than the more ancient stone construction.  As beautiful as it was, we jokingly called it “skin deep” by comparison.

This Basilica is a mere 100 years old, and is made of concrete rather than the more ancient stone construction. As beautiful as it was, we jokingly called it “skin deep” by comparison.

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We were allowed to climb several of these steep ladders that would be deemed too treacherous by United States standards.

We were allowed to climb several of these steep ladders that would be deemed too treacherous by United States standards.

The view from the top was gorgeous.

The view from the top was gorgeous.

Just another little mountain town at 8,500ft elevation.

Just another little mountain town at 8,500ft elevation.

Having done a bit of research for once, we found this little haven south of Quito where we stayed and relaxed for a few days.

Having done a bit of research for once, we found this little haven south of Quito where we stayed and relaxed for a few days.

Hacienda de Alegria (Joy) is a 100 year old, family owned working ranch with beautiful grounds, a dairy…

Hacienda de Alegria (Joy) is a 100 year old, family owned working ranch with beautiful grounds, a dairy…

Ancient rose gardens…

Ancient rose gardens…

And cool old trees.  This is an Araucaria araucana (commonly called the monkey puzzle tree, monkey tail tree, Chilean pine, or pehuén), and it is the national tree of Chile.  The plants growing out of the trunk are Bromeliads, commonly found in the Amazon…yes, we are nearing the outskirts of the Amazon Jungle!

And cool old trees. This is an Araucaria araucana (commonly called the monkey puzzle tree, monkey tail tree, Chilean pine, or pehuén), and it is the national tree of Chile. The plants growing out of the trunk are Bromeliads, commonly found in the Amazon…yes, we are nearing the outskirts of the Amazon Jungle!

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Our room was incredibly comfortable and offered us the first good shower (real hot water AND pressure) of the whole trip.

Our room was incredibly comfortable and offered us the first good shower (real hot water AND pressure) of the whole trip.
[caption id="attachment_1392" align="alignleft" width="800"]But the real attraction was the horses.  The price of “full board” at Hacienda de Alegria included room, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and horseback riding.  Not having ridden much in the last 10 years, I can still account for having spent more time riding and working with horses than any other activity in my life.  I have ridden and owned some amazing, trail and dressage horses, and I can truly say that these simple little “Caballos Criollos” have become especially dear to me.  They are kind, hearty, surefooted, responsive and eager to move.  We first experienced them on our ride in Colombia.  This one, Caramelo, was only half Criollo, but, at 18 years old, still exhibited all of those wonderful traits.  I had a blast, galloping a lot, and feeling like I was riding a cloud.  The young man in the background, Jean Carlos, was the 11 year old nephew of the owners.  He accompanied us on our three hour ride, and, in true Latino style, shyly presented me with a lovely white flower along the trail. But the real attraction was the horses. The price of “full board” at Hacienda de Alegria included room, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and horseback riding. Not having ridden much in the last 10 years, I can still account for having spent more time riding and working with horses than any other activity in my life. I have ridden and owned some amazing, trail and dressage horses, and I can truly say that these simple little “Caballos Criollos” have become especially dear to me. They are kind, hearty, surefooted, responsive and eager to move. We first experienced them on our ride in Colombia. This one, Caramelo, was only half Criollo, but, at 18 years old, still exhibited all of those wonderful traits. I had a blast, galloping a lot, and feeling like I was riding a cloud.
The young man in the background, Jean Carlos, was the 11 year old nephew of the owners. He accompanied us on our three hour ride, and, in true Latino style, shyly presented me with a lovely white flower along the trail.

Ned, ever the car guy, grudgingly agreed to another horseback ride.  He was a trooper and a good rider despite it being more torture than pleasure for him.  Dante, a half Percheron was his trusty mount.

Ned, ever the car guy, grudgingly agreed to another horseback ride. He was a trooper and a good rider despite it being more torture than pleasure for him. Dante, a half Percheron was his trusty mount.

I’m pretty sure the Border Collie enjoyed riding Dante more than Ned did.

I’m pretty sure the Border Collie enjoyed riding Dante more than Ned did.

The Hacienda sat in the heart of the Avenue of the Volcanoes, a 325 km. long valley in the Ecuadorian Andes, boasting 28 massive, snow-covered volcanoes.  After horsing around a few days, we set out to explore some of these high altitude beauties.

The Hacienda sat in the heart of the Avenue of the Volcanoes, a 325 km. long valley in the Ecuadorian Andes, boasting 28 massive, snow-covered volcanoes. After horsing around a few days, we set out to explore some of these high altitude beauties.

Our first visit was to Volcán Cayambe.  At 18,996 ft., it is the highest point in the world crossed by the Equator and the only point on the Equator with snow cover.

Our first visit was to Volcán Cayambe. At 18,996 ft., it is the highest point in the world crossed by the Equator and the only point on the Equator with snow cover.

The road to Volcán Cayambe.

The road to Volcán Cayambe.

As we gained elevation, the road got rougher and was one of only a few times on the trip we needed to use 4 wheel drive.

As we gained elevation, the road got rougher and was one of only a few times on the trip we needed to use 4 wheel drive.

Our highest point yet, at15, 240ft. and 0.00 degrees latitude!

Our highest point yet, at15, 240ft. and 0.00 degrees latitude!

Rough terrain on foot too.  Couldn’t quite make it to the rock before the 10 second timer went off on the camera.

Rough terrain on foot too. Couldn’t quite make it to the rock before the 10 second timer went off on the camera.

At sundown, we tucked into this bit of shelter from the bitter cold wind to camp.

At sundown, we tucked into this bit of shelter from the bitter cold wind to camp.

It was too cold to cook outside, so I sat on the bed and prepared a tasty salad of red cabbage, tomatoes, avocado, hearts of palm, olive oil and vinegar, while Ned heated up some beans on our tiny “countertop.”

It was too cold to cook outside, so I sat on the bed and prepared a tasty salad of red cabbage, tomatoes, avocado, hearts of palm, olive oil and vinegar, while Ned heated up some beans on our tiny “countertop.”

The drive down the mountain in the morning was spectacular

The drive down the mountain in the morning was spectacular

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Our next stop along the Avenue of the Volcanoes was the famous Cotopaxi, the second highest active volcano in the world at19,342 ft.

Our next stop along the Avenue of the Volcanoes was the famous Cotopaxi, the second highest active volcano in the world at 19,342 ft.

The road up was gorgeous but not nearly as remote.  Cotopaxi is a much more popular tourist attraction, with cars and busloads of people arriving daily.

The road up was gorgeous but not nearly as remote. Cotopaxi is a much more popular tourist attraction, with cars and busloads of people arriving daily.

The glacier’s edge.

The glacier’s edge.

We parked (along with the throngs of tourists) at 15,300ft, then slogged up steep, loose gravel to 15,995.

We parked (along with the throngs of tourists) at 15,300ft, then slogged up steep, loose gravel to 15,995.

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Ned and I then continued up to the base of the glacier at 16,500.  We were a bit breathless and had to stop a few times to slow our speedy heart rates, but we both recovered quickly and felt perfect. In fact, we were so pumped up that we fantasized (for two and a half minutes) about actually doing the climb to the peak.  We went so far as to inquire into guides and equipment rental, but fell short of actually strapping on those crampons and wielding the ice axes.

Ned and I then continued up to the base of the glacier at 16,500. We were a bit breathless and had to stop a few times to slow our speedy heart rates, but we both recovered quickly and felt perfect. In fact, we were so pumped up that we fantasized (for two and a half minutes) about actually doing the climb to the peak. We went so far as to inquire into guides and equipment rental, but fell short of actually strapping on those crampons and wielding the ice axes.

A drive out into the tundra and off the main road led us to another beautiful night of solitude, this time in the shadow of Cotopaxi.  Cooking here, away from bad weather, bugs and prying eyes was a pleasure.  Here is what I had ingredients to whip up (in case you want to try it!): Brown diced onion in olive oil Add and brown ground beef Add liquid: 1 beer 3/4 cup balsamic vinegar Add spices: Basil Tandoori spice Salt  Pepper Cumin Hot curry powder Add chopped veggies: Red bell pepper Carrot Celery Mushrooms Zucchini Tomato Red cabbage Broccoli Simmer till veggies done Yumm!!

A drive out into the tundra and off the main road led us to another beautiful night of solitude, this time in the shadow of Cotopaxi. Cooking here, away from bad weather, bugs and prying eyes was a pleasure. Here is what I had ingredients to whip up (in case you want to try it!):
Brown diced onion in olive oil
Add and brown ground beef
Add liquid:
1 beer
3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Add spices:
Basil
Tandoori spice
Salt
Pepper
Cumin
Hot curry powder
Add chopped veggies:
Red bell pepper
Carrot
Celery
Mushrooms
Zucchini
Tomato
Red cabbage
Broccoli
Simmer till veggies done
Yumm!!

In the morning, the high, open tundra provided a beautiful, lonely setting for a long run and some much needed quiet time.

In the morning, the high, open tundra provided a beautiful, lonely setting for a long run and some much needed quiet time.

From all accounts, Quilotoa, a crater Lake at around 12,000ft elevation was supposed to be fantastic and worth the out of the way drive.  We had even met a Swiss woman who said it was the most beautiful lake she had ever seen.  So off we went, continuing on our Volcanoes tour.  First south to the town of Latacunga to stock up on groceries for all of that camping and hiking we were looking forward to. Unfortunately, it was dark before we reached the lake, so we had to find a hiding place to camp off of the main road.  It was difficult, and we were both crabby by the time we wheeled our way up a steep farm track and onto a presumably deserted soccer field.  Sleep was just about upon us when we were visited by a pack of broomstick and hoe wielding villagers.  We couldn’t understand a word of their local dialect, and it felt like we were in a bad medieval movie.  I chickened out, staying in the back, while Ned addressed them, playing the “No comprendo” role yet again.  They eventually trundled away harmlessly.  An hour later, having just fallen asleep, we were visited by the police, sirens blaring and lights flashing.  Evidently the medieval villagers have cell phones.  The cops were actually very polite and apologetic.  The village was worried that we were the robbers!  We were left in peace the rest of the night, but pent up adrenaline kept us awake.  Ditching our camp spot at 7am, we had visions of a nice breakfast and coffee at the lake.  What we found instead was that the town was a dump.  No eggs, no coffee, no restaurants at all.   We went to the lookout to see this wondrous crater lake, but the freezing wind was so strong I had to hold on to the railing to keep from being blown away.  The lake was pretty cool, but the whole vibe of the place was down-trodden and inhospitable.  We shot this poor photo taken directly into the rising sun and abandoned the plot.

From all accounts, Quilotoa, a crater Lake at around 12,000ft elevation was supposed to be fantastic and worth the out of the way drive. We had even met a Swiss woman who said it was the most beautiful lake she had ever seen. So off we went, continuing on our Volcanoes tour. First south to the town of Latacunga to stock up on groceries for all of that camping and hiking we were looking forward to.
Unfortunately, it was dark before we reached the lake, so we had to find a hiding place to camp off of the main road. It was difficult, and we were both crabby by the time we wheeled our way up a steep farm track and onto a presumably deserted soccer field. Sleep was just about upon us when we were visited by a pack of broomstick and hoe wielding villagers. We couldn’t understand a word of their local dialect, and it felt like we were in a bad medieval movie. I chickened out, staying in the back, while Ned addressed them, playing the “No comprendo” role yet again. They eventually trundled away harmlessly. An hour later, having just fallen asleep, we were visited by the police, sirens blaring and lights flashing. Evidently the medieval villagers have cell phones. The cops were actually very polite and apologetic. The village was worried that we were the robbers! We were left in peace the rest of the night, but pent up adrenaline kept us awake.
Ditching our camp spot at 7am, we had visions of a nice breakfast and coffee at the lake. What we found instead was that the town was a dump. No eggs, no coffee, no restaurants at all. We went to the lookout to see this wondrous crater lake, but the freezing wind was so strong I had to hold on to the railing to keep from being blown away. The lake was pretty cool, but the whole vibe of the place was down-trodden and inhospitable. We shot this poor photo taken directly into the rising sun and abandoned the plot.

The beautiful way we took back to the PanAm was dirt and offered more spectacular views of huge river canyons and patchwork crops.  Our next stop was Baños, a resort town where we could clean up and get some blogging done.

The beautiful way we took back to the PanAm was dirt and offered more spectacular views of huge river canyons and patchwork crops. Our next stop was Baños, a resort town where we could clean up and get some blogging done.

Baños, being a touristy town, was where we finally succumbed to zip-line fever (having forsaken the opportunity in normal places like Costa Rica).

Baños, being a touristy town, was where we finally succumbed to zip-line fever (having forsaken the opportunity in normal places like Costa Rica).

Flying like a bird over converging waterfalls was an unusual treat.   We stayed in Baños for a couple of days, regrouping, but the Crater Lake doldrums followed us here, too.  Underwhelmed by the town and tired of the rain forest, we moved on to dryer climes.

Flying like a bird over converging waterfalls was an unusual treat.
We stayed in Baños for a couple of days, regrouping, but the Crater Lake doldrums followed us here, too. Underwhelmed by the town and tired of the rain forest, we moved on to dryer climes.

Volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and landslides keep Ecuadorians on their toes.  This highly unstable dirt road led us to the town of Alausi where we planned our next touristy activity.

Volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and landslides keep Ecuadorians on their toes. This highly unstable dirt road led us to the town of Alausi where we planned our next touristy activity.

Alausi was a cute little mountain town where we found a nice hostel that let us camp on their property.  The shortcut into town was an adventure all on its own!

Alausi was a cute little mountain town where we found a nice hostel that let us camp on their property. The shortcut into town was an adventure all on its own!

Looks like Little Bow Peep and her siblings just couldn’t leave the sheep alone.

Looks like Little Bow Peep and her siblings just couldn’t leave the sheep alone.

Alausi is the starting point for the train ride called Nariz de Diablo.  Now a major tourist destination, the route is famous for being one of the most difficult engineering feats to build and was originally constructed to unite Ecuador and facilitate trade in the late 1800’s.  The challenge was to drop the railway down a rocky promontory (Devil’s Nose), losing about 800 feet in elevation, onto the valley floor.  The treacherous deed was accomplished by constructing two dramatic switchbacks, costing the lives of numerous Jamaican slaves.

Alausi is the starting point for the train ride called Nariz de Diablo. Now a major tourist destination, the route is famous for being one of the most difficult engineering feats to build and was originally constructed to unite Ecuador and facilitate trade in the late 1800’s. The challenge was to drop the railway down a rocky promontory (Devil’s Nose), losing about 800 feet in elevation, onto the valley floor. The treacherous deed was accomplished by constructing two dramatic switchbacks, costing the lives of numerous Jamaican slaves.

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The steep drop offs were spooky fun as the first impressive switchback appeared below us.

The steep drop offs were spooky fun as the first impressive switchback appeared below us.

Nariz de Diablo, Devils Nose behind us.  Note the cuts in the rock where the tracks are laid.

Nariz de Diablo, Devils Nose behind us. Note the cuts in the rock where the tracks are laid.

Disembarking at the bottom of the Nose, we were greeted by cheerful, local villagers who do a wonderful job promoting tourism.  An excellent museum tour, a native snack and colorful dance show awaited us.

Disembarking at the bottom of the Nose, we were greeted by cheerful, local villagers who do a wonderful job promoting tourism. An excellent museum tour, a native snack and colorful dance show awaited us.

It occurred to us that we hadn’t been to the coast since arriving in South America in Cartagena, Colombia, so we took off west and landed in the little beach town of Montañita.   Watching these boys reminded us that the down-to-earth pleasures of simply playing have become overshadowed at home by video games, cell phones and iPads.  The challenge here is to wind a string around a top, fling it forward to start it spinning…

It occurred to us that we hadn’t been to the coast since arriving in South America in Cartagena, Colombia, so we took off west and landed in the little beach town of Montañita.
Watching these boys reminded us that the down-to-earth pleasures of simply playing have become overshadowed at home by video games, cell phones and iPads. The challenge here is to wind a string around a top, fling it forward to start it spinning…

…and then dexterously scoop it into your hand and allow it to victoriously spin itself out in the palm of your hand.

…and then dexterously scoop it into your hand and allow it to victoriously spin itself out in the palm of your hand.

Snooping around, checking out the town, we met this delightful Ecuadorian family who were vacationing from their home city of Cuenca.  We quickly became friends with Hans, Elizabeth and their twin boys, Stefan and Eric after Hans admired Charlotte as we drove by their place.  VW karma prevailed as it turned out Hans was the proud owner of a ’75 bay window Westy, family owned since new.  We ended up camping in the driveway of their vacation home, sharing meals and playing Rummikub late into the night.

Snooping around, checking out the town, we met this delightful Ecuadorian family who were vacationing from their home city of Cuenca. We quickly became friends with Hans, Elizabeth and their twin boys, Stefan and Eric after Hans admired Charlotte as we drove by their place. VW karma prevailed as it turned out Hans was the proud owner of a ’75 bay window Westy, family owned since new. We ended up camping in the driveway of their vacation home, sharing meals and playing Rummikub late into the night.

We even joined them for a day on the beach.  It is not our normal style to haunt popular, crowded beaches, but we had a wonderful day with our new friends.  The weather could not have been more perfect.  We swam, chatted with Hans and Elizabeth, watched the twins play and took in the sights.

We even joined them for a day on the beach. It is not our normal style to haunt popular, crowded beaches, but we had a wonderful day with our new friends. The weather could not have been more perfect. We swam, chatted with Hans and Elizabeth, watched the twins play and took in the sights.

Surfside napping, Ecuadorian style…aka, another great use for your wife.

Surfside napping, Ecuadorian style…aka, another great use for your wife.

Surfside napping, Ecuadorian style…sans wife.

Surfside napping, Ecuadorian style…sans wife.

Surfside napping, Ecuadorian style…angry wife.

Surfside napping, Ecuadorian style…angry wife.

Tempting surfside cuisine.

Tempting surfside cuisine.

The adorable Stefan and Eric happily sipping out of a coco.

The adorable Stefan and Eric happily sipping out of a coco.

But we held out for surfside Ceviche!

But we held out for surfside Ceviche!

Über fresh shellfish in lime and cilantro…absolutely delicious!

Über fresh shellfish in lime and cilantro…absolutely delicious!

Promising to visit our new friends when we passed through Cuenca, we drove off into the Ecuadorian sunset…and on to our next adventure, “A Darwin Moment.”  Can you guess where that was?  Stay tuned!

Promising to visit our new friends when we passed through Cuenca, we drove off into the Ecuadorian sunset…and on to our next adventure, “A Darwin Moment.” Can you guess where that was? Stay tuned!

Colombia: Bogota to Ecuador – New Friends, Old Stones and Discovering a Special Purpose

In this final blog on Colombia we spend some quality time with new-found friends in the capital of Bogota. (just off the map where the finger is pointing)  After Bogota we continued south along the eastern side of the Cordillera Central, the mountain range that forms a spine north to south down the middle of the southern half of the country.  The Pan-American Highway runs down the western side of these mountains.  We’ve learned that we want to avoid the Pan-Am any time we can because of the hoards of slow trucks and subsequent backed up traffic.   Interestingly, the only time we seem to see other Overlanders is in the vicinity of the Pan-Am.  Hummm?  Just sayin’.  The drive down highway 45 through Neiva and Pitalito to Mocoa was pretty uneventful with heavy traffic and unexciting towns.  The exception was the side trip to San Agustín and the Parque Arqueologico with its mysterious “stone dudes” and, nearby, the second highest waterfall in South America.  After Mocoa we headed west to reach the border crossing into Ecuador at Ipiales.  This involved crossing the Cordillera Central via a pass with the catchy name of “The Trampoline of Death.”  With a name like that we just had to drive it!

In this final blog on Colombia we spend some quality time with new-found friends in the capital of Bogota. (just off the map where the finger is pointing) After Bogota we continued south along the eastern side of the Cordillera Central, the mountain range that forms a spine north to south down the middle of the southern half of the country. The Pan-American Highway runs down the western side of these mountains. We’ve learned that we want to avoid the Pan-Am any time we can because of the hoards of slow trucks and subsequent backed up traffic. Interestingly, the only time we seem to see other Overlanders is in the vicinity of the Pan-Am. Hummm? Just sayin’. The drive down highway 45 through Neiva and Pitalito to Mocoa was pretty uneventful with heavy traffic and unexciting towns. The exception was the side trip to San Agustín and the Parque Arqueologico with its mysterious “stone dudes” and, nearby, the second highest waterfall in South America. After Mocoa we headed west to reach the border crossing into Ecuador at Ipiales. This involved crossing the Cordillera Central via a pass with the catchy name of “The Trampoline of Death.” With a name like that we just had to drive it!

Rolling into Bogota after eight hours of crazy, mountain driving, we encountered Bogota gridlock.  We knew from our previous brief visit (see Cartagena blog) that traffic in this city barely moves any time of day.  But we hit downtown right at 5pm and were treated to the best of it.  There are no such things as traffic lanes.  It is just a free-for-all with the most aggressive drivers getting ahead.

Rolling into Bogota after eight hours of crazy, mountain driving, we encountered Bogota gridlock. We knew from our previous brief visit (see Cartagena blog) that traffic in this city barely moves any time of day. But we hit downtown right at 5pm and were treated to the best of it. There are no such things as traffic lanes. It is just a free-for-all with the most aggressive drivers getting ahead.

Kat’s priority one in the big city was getting her hair done.  I’ll let her tell it… “Back in the small pueblo of Villa de Leyva, it seemed like a simple thing to get a little color touch up.  Asking around, I found that “Celia’s” was touted as the finest salon in the village.  Unfortunately, Celia’s was crowded with curious, gossiping locals and was a tiny, run-down house.  Celia herself was busy, so her daughter, Diane, did my color…kind of… First I had to wait 45 minutes past my appointment time. Then I had to wait while Diane ran to another store to buy the color that would supposedly match mine.  When we finally got going, I had to hold the bowl of goop while Diane applied it, the water in the (bathroom) sink was ice headache cold as she rinsed it out, and to top it off, the color did not take.  In fact, my hair was in danger of being slightly on the orange side of gray-brown.  I was on the verge of tears, when Celia told me to come back in the morning to have it re-done.  I politely declined, offering a few bucks to cover the cost of the color.  This job would have to wait for the more cosmopolitan city of Bogota!

Kat’s priority one in the big city was getting her hair done. I’ll let her tell it…
“Back in the small pueblo of Villa de Leyva, it seemed like a simple thing to get a little color touch up. Asking around, I found that “Celia’s” was touted as the finest salon in the village. Unfortunately, Celia’s was crowded with curious, gossiping locals and was a tiny, run-down house. Celia herself was busy, so her daughter, Diane, did my color…kind of…
First I had to wait 45 minutes past my appointment time. Then I had to wait while Diane ran to another store to buy the color that would supposedly match mine. When we finally got going, I had to hold the bowl of goop while Diane applied it, the water in the (bathroom) sink was ice headache cold as she rinsed it out, and to top it off, the color did not take. In fact, my hair was in danger of being slightly on the orange side of gray-brown. I was on the verge of tears, when Celia told me to come back in the morning to have it re-done. I politely declined, offering a few bucks to cover the cost of the color. This job would have to wait for the more cosmopolitan city of Bogota!

The contrast was stunning.  Once in Bogota, I did a little research and found this “little” salon near our hotel.  Walking into Norberto’s was a once in a lifetime experience.  It was an immense four stories of sheer elegance with over 200 employees, all bustling around, waiting on pampered patrons hand and foot.  I was whisked away to have a facial, was offered lemon ices, coffee and croissants, and then had my disastrous hair “repaired” by, not one, but two attentive men.  I almost had a heart attack when I received my final bill, but it was so worth it as there are few luxuries to be found living on the road.  I found out later that, ironically, while Celia’s was the finest salon in Villa de Leyva, Norberto’s was the finest (and most expensive) salon in Bogota!”

The contrast was stunning. Once in Bogota, I did a little research and found this “little” salon near our hotel. Walking into Norberto’s was a once in a lifetime experience. It was an immense four stories of sheer elegance with over 200 employees, all bustling around, waiting on pampered patrons hand and foot. I was whisked away to have a facial, was offered lemon ices, coffee and croissants, and then had my disastrous hair “repaired” by, not one, but two attentive men. I almost had a heart attack when I received my final bill, but it was so worth it as there are few luxuries to be found living on the road. I found out later that, ironically, while Celia’s was the finest salon in Villa de Leyva, Norberto’s was the finest (and most expensive) salon in Bogota!”

My priority one was getting some fuel line and spark plugs for Charlotte.  Spoiled at home by the ease of one-stop-shopping for auto parts at NAPA or AutoZone, I was amazed in Colombia to find every little item is offered in its own little shop.  There was a whole district devoted to car parts with shops for rubber things, shops for electric things, some for gauges, some for taillights, even some for used hubcaps.  Cooling systems, suspensions, brakes, etc. they all had their own stores, and there were plenty of each, all selling the same thing right next to each other.  The trick was finding the ones you wanted in the maze.  It took the better part of an hour and a hell of a lot of walking to get two items.

My priority one was getting some fuel line and spark plugs for Charlotte. Spoiled at home by the ease of one-stop-shopping for auto parts at NAPA or AutoZone, I was amazed in Colombia to find every little item is offered in its own little shop. There was a whole district devoted to car parts with shops for rubber things, shops for electric things, some for gauges, some for taillights, even some for used hubcaps. Cooling systems, suspensions, brakes, etc. they all had their own stores, and there were plenty of each, all selling the same thing right next to each other. The trick was finding the ones you wanted in the maze. It took the better part of an hour and a hell of a lot of walking to get two items.

The FIFA World Cup raged on.  Even though Colombia was out of the running, it didn’t keep everyone from stopping everything when a game was on.  We were riding in a taxi, listening to the match between Germany and Brazil on the car’s radio when the Germans scored three goals in five minutes.  Unheard of!  Everyone was going nuts in the streets since all of Colombia was for Germany after Brazil had beaten them out of the finals.  We passed this huge portable TV mounted on the back of a truck parked in a neighborhood park.  Being the temporary fútbol junkies we’d become, we yelled at our driver to stop.  We jumped out and joined the mob in the park, eager for the visual fix.

The FIFA World Cup raged on. Even though Colombia was out of the running, it didn’t keep everyone from stopping everything when a game was on. We were riding in a taxi, listening to the match between Germany and Brazil on the car’s radio when the Germans scored three goals in five minutes. Unheard of! Everyone was going nuts in the streets since all of Colombia was for Germany after Brazil had beaten them out of the finals. We passed this huge portable TV mounted on the back of a truck parked in a neighborhood park. Being the temporary fútbol junkies we’d become, we yelled at our driver to stop. We jumped out and joined the mob in the park, eager for the visual fix.

Our new best Colombian friends Honorato and Jeannette Espinosa in their beautiful home.  Honorato made quite a name for himself in his home country and in the States as a professional race car driver with a career that spanned three decades.  According to him, some of his best and favorite racing that he did in the States was in a car that I now own, a 1975 Porsche RSR.  We spent a wonderful afternoon at their home where Jeannette, the best of hostesses, made us an amazing dinner, and we all reminisced through Honorato’s awesome scrapbooks of his racing days.

Our new best Colombian friends Honorato and Jeannette Espinosa in their beautiful home. Honorato made quite a name for himself in his home country and in the States as a professional race car driver with a career that spanned three decades. According to him, some of his best and favorite racing that he did in the States was in a car that I now own, a 1975 Porsche RSR. We spent a wonderful afternoon at their home where Jeannette, the best of hostesses, made us an amazing dinner, and we all reminisced through Honorato’s awesome scrapbooks of his racing days.

We also were treated to a viewing of their car collection which included several very original examples of Porsches and Nissans.  But the highlight was this all original 1947 Lincoln Continental that Honorato’s father bought new.  It was an export model to Colombia when new and has been in the family ever since.  It just oozed wonderful patina and the love of ownership that’s been bestowed upon it over the years.

We also were treated to a viewing of their car collection which included several very original examples of Porsches and Nissans. But the highlight was this all original 1947 Lincoln Continental that Honorato’s father bought new. It was an export model to Colombia when new and has been in the family ever since. It just oozed wonderful patina and the love of ownership that’s been bestowed upon it over the years.

Our other new best friends in Bogota are Alvaro and Lilianna Pachon and their adorable daughter Marianna.  I actually met Alvaro at the SEMA show (Specialty Equipment Market Association) in Las Vegas last November. When I told him of our impending trip south, he promised me when we got the Bogota he’d take us 4 wheeling with his friends and offered any help we needed in the city.  We’ve kept in touch throughout our journey south and when we got to town, Alvaro found us a great hotel just down the street from his home.  On a Saturday, true to his word, we piled into his Land Cruiser and met up with six other rigs and a bunch of enthusiastic 4x4 friends, all eager to get out of the city and into the dirt for a day – just like my 4x4 friends at home.  Besides ‘wheeling, one evening Lilianna had us to their home for a wonderful dinner and we joined the family another night for dinner at their favorite burger joint.  The hospitality we received in Bogota has been the best of the entire trip.

Our other new best friends in Bogota are Alvaro and Lilianna Pachon and their adorable daughter Marianna. I actually met Alvaro at the SEMA show (Specialty Equipment Market Association) in Las Vegas last November. When I told him of our impending trip south, he promised me when we got the Bogota he’d take us 4 wheeling with his friends and offered any help we needed in the city. We’ve kept in touch throughout our journey south and when we got to town, Alvaro found us a great hotel just down the street from his home. On a Saturday, true to his word, we piled into his Land Cruiser and met up with six other rigs and a bunch of enthusiastic 4×4 friends, all eager to get out of the city and into the dirt for a day – just like my 4×4 friends at home. Besides ‘wheeling, one evening Lilianna had us to their home for a wonderful dinner and we joined the family another night for dinner at their favorite burger joint. The hospitality we received in Bogota has been the best of the entire trip.

We drove about an hour west out of the city to the Tablazo Trail outside the little town of Subachoque. The trail was short, maybe two kilometers long, but offered plenty of excitement with steep climbs and deep ruts.  It definitely wasn’t Charlotte country!  The views at the top, the table, (Tablazo) were amazing in every direction.  The clouds parted long enough to see a particular village below.  One guy told us it was the first time he’d seen that town in ten years of driving the trail, due to it always being cloudy at this altitude (about 11,000 feet).

We drove about an hour west out of the city to the Tablazo Trail outside the little town of Subachoque. The trail was short, maybe two kilometers long, but offered plenty of excitement with steep climbs and deep ruts. It definitely wasn’t Charlotte country! The views at the top, the table, (Tablazo) were amazing in every direction. The clouds parted long enough to see a particular village below. One guy told us it was the first time he’d seen that town in ten years of driving the trail, due to it always being cloudy at this altitude (about 11,000 feet).

Alvaro’s LC80, rolling on 40s, made short work of the trail, but the deep ruts still challenged his suspension and required pushing the ARB button more than once.

Alvaro’s LC80, rolling on 40s, made short work of the trail, but the deep ruts still challenged his suspension and required pushing the ARB button more than once.

Animal rights activism is alive and well in Colombia.  We saw this large, hand painted message on a wall in Subachoque.  “Torture is neither art nor Culture,” referring to bull fighting and cock fighting.

Animal rights activism is alive and well in Colombia. We saw this large, hand painted message on a wall in Subachoque. “Torture is neither art nor Culture,” referring to bull fighting and cock fighting.

Leaving Bogota after a week, we spotted this guy begging at a traffic light.  Despite his miserable situation in life, he wore a happy smile and chatted with the passers bye.

Leaving Bogota after a week, we spotted this guy begging at a traffic light. Despite his miserable situation in life, he wore a happy smile and chatted with the passers bye.

I gave him my Colombian Futból jersey I had proudly worn for every game we watched.  He seemed a bit overwhelmed, but grateful.  As we drove away I was glad to see a street hawker help him put the shirt into his bag of belongings lying on the sidewalk.  We were a bit concerned someone would take it from him.

I gave him my Colombian Futból jersey I had proudly worn for every game we watched. He seemed a bit overwhelmed, but grateful. As we drove away I was glad to see a street hawker help him put the shirt into his bag of belongings lying on the sidewalk. We were a bit concerned someone would take it from him.

Down the road a couple of hours from Bogota, we pulled over at this chicken joint to watch the final game of the World Cup.  When Germany beat Argentina and won the overall honors, the staff and patrons all went nuts.  We found it odd that the Colombians were rooting for a European team rather than fellow South Americans???

Down the road a couple of hours from Bogota, we pulled over at this chicken joint to watch the final game of the World Cup. When Germany beat Argentina and won the overall honors, the staff and patrons all went nuts. We found it odd that the Colombians were rooting for a European team rather than fellow South Americans???

Look Ma, no silverware!  My mother would cringe at these plastic gloves provided at every chicken joint, allowing the diner to tear the bird apart with his bare hands yet remain grease free!

Look Ma, no silverware! My mother would cringe at these plastic gloves provided at every chicken joint, allowing the diner to tear the bird apart with his bare hands yet remain grease free!

Post game revelers gave us a Colombian flag for Charlotte which I attached to her CB antenna.

Post game revelers gave us a Colombian flag for Charlotte which I attached to her CB antenna.

In turn, we gave out Charlottamiles stickers to everyone.

In turn, we gave out Charlottamiles stickers to everyone.

Things just keep improving since Central America.  We now have half -toilet seats instead of no-toilet seats!

Things just keep improving since Central America. We now have half -toilet seats instead of no-toilet seats!

This bizarre statue by Colombian sculptor Rodrigo Arenas Betancourt is found along the highway in the town of Neiva.  It is a bronze menagerie of tumbling horses and slain conquistadores saluting the 1539 rebellion of the indigenous Yalcon people which briefly slowed the Spanish invasion.

This bizarre statue by Colombian sculptor Rodrigo Arenas Betancourt is found along the highway in the town of Neiva. It is a bronze menagerie of tumbling horses and slain conquistadores saluting the 1539 rebellion of the indigenous Yalcon people which briefly slowed the Spanish invasion.

This huge Ceiba tree fills the entire town square in Gigante, Colombia.

This huge Ceiba tree fills the entire town square in Gigante, Colombia.

Sharing the farm with the cows.  We camped in this farmer’s front yard in San Agustín.

Sharing the farm with the cows. We camped in this farmer’s front yard in San Agustín.

We were pretty much over Colombian breakfasts long before we were over Colombia.  Don’t think one can kill an egg any more than this.  And the cold bread and rice ball didn’t add anything to the mix.

We were pretty much over Colombian breakfasts long before we were over Colombia. Don’t think one can kill an egg any more than this. And the cold bread and rice ball didn’t add anything to the mix.

The “Stone Dudes.”  Outside of the town of San Agustín is the Parque Arqueológico which is the site of dozens of these mysterious stone carvings.  They date pre-Inca ranging from 3000BC to around 900AD.  No known history of these people exists, not even a name, as they did not have a written language.  The only thing they left behind were these spooky tomb guardians, carved in stone and buried with their dead.

The “Stone Dudes.” Outside of the town of San Agustín is the Parque Arqueológico which is the site of dozens of these mysterious stone carvings. They date pre-Inca ranging from 3000BC to around 900AD. No known history of these people exists, not even a name, as they did not have a written language. The only thing they left behind were these spooky tomb guardians, carved in stone and buried with their dead.

We got Charlotte a key chain depicting this happy guy.

We got Charlotte a key chain depicting this happy guy.

Cool bamboo bridge built over a creek that features ancient carvings in the creek bed, made by the same mystery people that left the tomb guardians.

Cool bamboo bridge built over a creek that features ancient carvings in the creek bed, made by the same mystery people that left the tomb guardians.

Carvings in the creek.

Carvings in the creek.

This is how many of the figures were found buried, with a huge flat stone above them.

This is how many of the figures were found buried, with a huge flat stone above them.

Not just people but birds too.

Not just people but birds too.

Upside down babies.

Upside down babies.

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Sarcophagus

Sarcophagus

Tomb raider.

Tomb raider.

Charlotte finds a friend, and a GoWesty built one to boot!  Leaving San Agustín we passed this Syncro headed the other way.  We both waved and screeched to a halt to compare notes.  The owners, an Israeli couple, had come up from the south, having bought their VW from our friends at GoWesty in Los Osos, CA (see our first blog about Baja).  They then shipped the van from California to Argentina.  They were essentially doing our trip in reverse so we had much to share.  We ended up having lunch together comparing notes of what is to come for each of us.

Charlotte finds a friend, and a GoWesty built one to boot! Leaving San Agustín we passed this Syncro headed the other way. We both waved and screeched to a halt to compare notes. The owners, an Israeli couple, had come up from the south, having bought their VW from our friends at GoWesty in Los Osos, CA (see our first blog about Baja). They then shipped the van from California to Argentina. They were essentially doing our trip in reverse so we had much to share. We ended up having lunch together comparing notes of what is to come for each of us.

Onward…

Onward…

Biggest spider web ever.  Couldn’t find the owner.

Biggest spider web ever. Couldn’t find the owner.

Our next stop was to see the second highest waterfall in South America, Salto de Bordones.  We followed a muddy dirt road at 6 mph for about three hours until it ended at this really nice new hotel, Hotel Salto de Bordones, situated on a cliff side overlooking the falls.  After asking permission, we stayed in their parking lot for the night and went in for breakfast the next morning.  That’s when we found out they had only been open two weeks and had only had family for customers so far.  We felt pretty guilty.  It got worse when we were told the hotel had been a multi-year labor of love by the family patriarch, who died just four months before it was finished.  The son, Juan, an anthropologist, had temporarily quit studying for his PHD in order to help finish the place and get it open.  We sure hope they make it considering the road it takes to get there.

Our next stop was to see the second highest waterfall in South America, Salto de Bordones. We followed a muddy dirt road at 6 mph for about three hours until it ended at this really nice new hotel, Hotel Salto de Bordones, situated on a cliff side overlooking the falls. After asking permission, we stayed in their parking lot for the night and went in for breakfast the next morning. That’s when we found out they had only been open two weeks and had only had family for customers so far. We felt pretty guilty. It got worse when we were told the hotel had been a multi-year labor of love by the family patriarch, who died just four months before it was finished. The son, Juan, an anthropologist, had temporarily quit studying for his PHD in order to help finish the place and get it open. We sure hope they make it considering the road it takes to get there.

The inside of the hotel was beautiful and all made from recycled materials.

The inside of the hotel was beautiful and all made from recycled materials.

Co-owner Juan points out the waterfall from the best room in the house.

Co-owner Juan points out the waterfall from the best room in the house.

Salto de Bordones drops roughly 400 meters and is pretty spectacular, but pales in comparison to Angel Falls in Venezuela which is the highest uninterrupted waterfall in the world at 979 meters (3,212 feet).

Salto de Bordones drops roughly 400 meters and is pretty spectacular, but pales in comparison to Angel Falls in Venezuela which is the highest uninterrupted waterfall in the world at 979 meters (3,212 feet).

These two little gals couldn’t have been cuter.  Tatiana and Darli ran after us from the village of Bordones to where we stopped at the hotel.  They each wore shirts emblazed with official tourist assist logos and, looking at each other for reassurance, shyly explained in struggling English, the details about the waterfall they had obviously rehearsed for hours.  I think we were the first tourists they had had the courage to approach.

These two little gals couldn’t have been cuter. Tatiana and Darli ran after us from the village of Bordones to where we stopped at the hotel. They each wore shirts emblazed with official tourist assist logos and, looking at each other for reassurance, shyly explained in struggling English, the details about the waterfall they had obviously rehearsed for hours. I think we were the first tourists they had had the courage to approach.

We explained with maps on our ipads where we were from and how we were traveling and living in our car.  They seemed to think that was pretty cool.  Their brave interaction with us inspired us to interact ourselves the next morning.  Thanks to these two little girls, Kat and I have found a new way to give back a bit during this trip…

We explained with maps on our ipads where we were from and how we were traveling and living in our car. They seemed to think that was pretty cool. Their brave interaction with us inspired us to interact ourselves the next morning. Thanks to these two little girls, Kat and I have found a new way to give back a bit during this trip…

We decided to visit the girls’ school and tell their teacher how impressed we were with the girls’ English and their bravery in approaching us.  Here Kat meets their teacher and explains our feelings.

We decided to visit the girls’ school and tell their teacher how impressed we were with the girls’ English and their bravery in approaching us. Here Kat meets their teacher and explains our feelings.

The school’s reception to us was overwhelming.  All the teachers, the principal, and most of the student body, crowded around and begged us to enter their classrooms and explain the importance of learning English.  Here Kat poses with Tatiana and Darli and the teacher responsible for their English.

The school’s reception to us was overwhelming. All the teachers, the principal, and most of the student body, crowded around and begged us to enter their classrooms and explain the importance of learning English. Here Kat poses with Tatiana and Darli and the teacher responsible for their English.

Kat was amazing.  She took over the first classroom, captivating most of the students in Spanish by describing our trip and answering questions.   Andreas, the director of the school, explained to us how he was frustrated that he could only give the kids two hours a week towards English classes.  Kat offered alternatives to them like listening to songs and TV shows in English.  She also encouraged them to spend an hour a day only speaking English with their friends.  I wandered around taking photos and relating to the wisecrackers in the back who never pay attention.  I should have been explaining to them (if I could have) that, had I paid more attention in Spanish class, I might be standing in front of the class teaching!

Kat was amazing. She took over the first classroom, captivating most of the students in Spanish by describing our trip and answering questions. Andreas, the director of the school, explained to us how he was frustrated that he could only give the kids two hours a week towards English classes. Kat offered alternatives to them like listening to songs and TV shows in English. She also encouraged them to spend an hour a day only speaking English with their friends. I wandered around taking photos and relating to the wisecrackers in the back who never pay attention. I should have been explaining to them (if I could have) that, had I paid more attention in Spanish class, I might be standing in front of the class teaching!

Watching the kids in the classes, (we visited three) I was reminded how school atmosphere doesn’t change.  It was just like school was for me, forty something years ago.  There were the girls in the front who hung on every word and the guys in the back screwing around.

Watching the kids in the classes, (we visited three) I was reminded how school atmosphere doesn’t change. It was just like school was for me, forty something years ago. There were the girls in the front who hung on every word and the guys in the back screwing around.

The older kids were all riveted on teacher Kat and asked great questions, while lots of curious onlookers peered through the windows.

The older kids were all riveted on teacher Kat and asked great questions, while lots of curious onlookers peered through the windows.

Well, some things change… I don’t remember times tables like this in the 60’s.  The whole class laughed when I took this picture and when I praised the teacher for his clever way of getting those back row boys’ attention in math class.

Well, some things change… I don’t remember times tables like this in the 60’s. The whole class laughed when I took this picture and when I praised the teacher for his clever way of getting those back row boys’ attention in math class.

To cool for school.  Boys are the same everywhere.

To cool for school. Boys are the same everywhere.

Vaca made lots of new friends with the little ones.

Vaca made lots of new friends with the little ones.

It was tough to leave, and groups of kids ran after us.  Back on the road we talked about the experience and how good we felt.  We vowed to do this again as often as the opportunity presents itself.  We also decided it would be great to give giant world maps to the schools to show the kids where we come from.  We bought some great maps in Quito, Ecuador and hope to repeat our schooling experience soon.

It was tough to leave, and groups of kids ran after us. Back on the road we talked about the experience and how good we felt. We vowed to do this again as often as the opportunity presents itself. We also decided it would be great to give giant world maps to the schools to show the kids where we come from. We bought some great maps in Quito, Ecuador and hope to repeat our schooling experience soon.

After teaching school we headed south to Mocoa and then turned west to cross the Cordillera Central on the “Trampoline of Death.”  After some of the cliff-hanging remote roads we’ve been over, the Trampoline didn’t quite live up to its name.  We even drove the steepest first part at night for greater effect but… maybe it was the safety guardrail?

After teaching school we headed south to Mocoa and then turned west to cross the Cordillera Central on the “Trampoline of Death.” After some of the cliff-hanging remote roads we’ve been over, the Trampoline didn’t quite live up to its name. We even drove the steepest first part at night for greater effect but… maybe it was the safety guardrail?

It was kinda narrow in spots.

It was kinda narrow in spots.

After climbing for over three hours in first gear we called it a night at this illustrious spot – the only level one we’d come across during the entire climb.  The family that lived in the shack next to these radio towers was more afraid of us than we them when I knocked on their door at 10pm and asked if we could sleep in their yard.  “Sleep” was rare as their chickens woke us up around 4am, pecking and crowing under Charlotte.

After climbing for over three hours in first gear we called it a night at this illustrious spot – the only level one we’d come across during the entire climb. The family that lived in the shack next to these radio towers was more afraid of us than we them when I knocked on their door at 10pm and asked if we could sleep in their yard. “Sleep” was rare as their chickens woke us up around 4am, pecking and crowing under Charlotte.

Ah, but we had Tyler’s coffee.  I think he’d cringe if he saw the desecrating way we make it.  No precise measuring or perfect water temps around here!

Ah, but we had Tyler’s coffee. I think he’d cringe if he saw the desecrating way we make it. No precise measuring or perfect water temps around here!

Traffic was a little tight along the downhill side of the Trampoline the next morning.  Of course the pouring rain didn’t help.

Traffic was a little tight along the downhill side of the Trampoline the next morning. Of course the pouring rain didn’t help.

Amazing mud slides could be seen everywhere.  As the rain continued to fall in buckets, we wondered how any of this road stayed up on the mountain.

Amazing mud slides could be seen everywhere. As the rain continued to fall in buckets, we wondered how any of this road stayed up on the mountain.

Some of it didn’t!

Some of it didn’t!

After about ten hours, the Trampoline ride was over and we approached the border with Ecuador.   We had one last thing to see before leaving Colombia.  Way back in January my daughter Emily emailed us with a picture of this church and a plea to us to check it out.

After about ten hours, the Trampoline ride was over and we approached the border with Ecuador. We had one last thing to see before leaving Colombia. Way back in January my daughter Emily emailed us with a picture of this church and a plea to us to check it out.

Cathedral Las Lajas is just outside the seedy border town of Ipiales.  It affords an impressive sight, spanning a river gorge and looking like a medieval castle.  In reality, it was only built in 1949 so it’s got a ways to go to antiquity.

Cathedral Las Lajas is just outside the seedy border town of Ipiales. It affords an impressive sight, spanning a river gorge and looking like a medieval castle. In reality, it was only built in 1949 so it’s got a ways to go to antiquity.

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Still, Las Lajas left us with one more impressive site from a country that has delivered plenty in the month we’ve spent in it.  Colombia has been wonderful and a welcome change from Central America.  We look forward to the adventures that lie further south… Stay tuned.

Still, Las Lajas left us with one more impressive site from a country that has delivered plenty in the month we’ve spent in it. Colombia has been wonderful and a welcome change from Central America. We look forward to the adventures that lie further south… Stay tuned.

Colombian Coffee Break

In this blog, Kat and I start in Villa de Leyva where my finger is and, for two days, work our way northwest along multiple dirt and sort-of paved back roads.  Then we went west on highway 62 toward the city of Medellin.  We skirted around Medellin proper through the Lake District near Gutapé and the beautiful flower growing region to the southwest.  Finally we turned south all the way to Armenia in the heart of the coffee growing region were we spent several days learning more than we ever thought possible about coffee.  From Armenia we went east over a crazy pass (steep switchbacks and endless slow trucks) along the Pan-Am to the capital city of Colombia, Bogota.

In this blog, Kat and I start in Villa de Leyva where my finger is and, for two days, work our way northwest along multiple dirt and sort-of paved back roads. Then we went west on highway 62 toward the city of Medellin. We skirted around Medellin proper through the Lake District near Gutapé and the beautiful flower growing region to the southwest. Finally we turned south all the way to Armenia in the heart of the coffee growing region were we spent several days learning more than we ever thought possible about coffee. From Armenia we went east over a crazy pass (steep switchbacks and endless slow trucks) along the Pan-Am to the capital city of Colombia, Bogota.

As usual, we found the least used route out of Villa de Leyva.  This rough track led us past numerous little coffee and banana fincas (farms) with shy kids in doorways and scowling looks from landowners.

As usual, we found the least used route out of Villa de Leyva. This rough track led us past numerous little coffee and banana fincas (farms) with shy kids in doorways and scowling looks from landowners.

Other traffic along the road looked like these long distance haulers, stopped here at a filling station.

Other traffic along the road looked like these long distance haulers, stopped here at a filling station.

Our own filling station provided these huge carts to insure we bought lots of yummy packaged junk off their shelves.

Our own filling station provided these huge carts to insure we bought lots of yummy packaged junk off their shelves.

Most of the towns we passed through were dirty, mean and seedy.  All the food tasted the same (bad) and no one was very friendly.  Then we arrived in Guatepé and our mood instantly changed. This clean, happy town on the shores of a huge, man-made lake featured buildings with the most color we’d seen since Mexico.  We watched a bicycle race through the streets as we ate another so-so meal at a sidewalk café.

Most of the towns we passed through were dirty, mean and seedy. All the food tasted the same (bad) and no one was very friendly. Then we arrived in Guatepé and our mood instantly changed. This clean, happy town on the shores of a huge, man-made lake featured buildings with the most color we’d seen since Mexico. We watched a bicycle race through the streets as we ate another so-so meal at a sidewalk café.

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A few kilometers out of Guatepé we spotted this rock sticking up out of nowhere.  “Wow, are those stairs up the side of it?”

A few kilometers out of Guatepé we spotted this rock sticking up out of nowhere. “Wow, are those stairs up the side of it?”

Sure enough, 675 of ‘em to the top.  We challenged ourselves to see how many we could run up.  It is tough getting exercise living in a van, so when the opportunity presents itself… El Peñon (The Rock) offered some amazing views from its top of the surrounding countryside.

Sure enough, 675 of ‘em to the top. We challenged ourselves to see how many we could run up. It is tough getting exercise living in a van, so when the opportunity presents itself… El Peñon (The Rock) offered some amazing views from its top of the surrounding countryside.

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Fresh fish anyone?  Not sure I’d want to risk my bowels to this gourmet roadside attraction.  Wonder how long he’d been trying to sell them?

Fresh fish anyone? Not sure I’d want to risk my bowels to this gourmet roadside attraction. Wonder how long he’d been trying to sell them?

After El Peñon the scenery improved immensely with cute, clean houses, tidy farms and happy cows.

After El Peñon the scenery improved immensely with cute, clean houses, tidy farms and happy cows.

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After almost a week of wandering westward and southward we arrived in the small city of Armenia in the heart of Colombia’s coffee growing region.  Tyler Youngblood is an American who, five years ago traveled via Subaru around South America until he landed in the Armenia area.  He never left.  Being an astute coffee aficionado and sharp business man, he literally smelled opportunity brewing and started a gourmet coffee company named Azahar (coffee bean flower).  We didn’t know coffee production could be so high tech (actually we didn’t know anything about coffee production!), but after a tour of Tyler’s factory and seeing his use of all the latest technology, both scientific and social media, we were blown away by what this young entrepreneur is accomplishing.  There is a LOT that goes into the production of that ground up brownish-black stuff that comes in that bag/can/whatever at the store.

After almost a week of wandering westward and southward we arrived in the small city of Armenia in the heart of Colombia’s coffee growing region. Tyler Youngblood is an American who, five years ago traveled via Subaru around South America until he landed in the Armenia area. He never left. Being an astute coffee aficionado and sharp business man, he literally smelled opportunity brewing and started a gourmet coffee company named Azahar (coffee bean flower). We didn’t know coffee production could be so high tech (actually we didn’t know anything about coffee production!), but after a tour of Tyler’s factory and seeing his use of all the latest technology, both scientific and social media, we were blown away by what this young entrepreneur is accomplishing. There is a LOT that goes into the production of that ground up brownish-black stuff that comes in that bag/can/whatever at the store.

Raw coffee beans as they arrive from the select farms that Azahar deals with.

Raw coffee beans as they arrive from the select farms that Azahar deals with.

Raw coffee beans that have been shelled and washed and are now ready for roasting.

Raw coffee beans that have been shelled and washed and are now ready for roasting.

This gal sorts beans all day, picking out the bad ones by hand.

This gal sorts beans all day, picking out the bad ones by hand.

Tyler took us through a very thorough process of preparing the perfect cup of gourmet coffee, right down to weighing the amount of coffee grounds and making sure the water was the exact temperature.  Note the pre-wetted filters in the special cone-drip thingies.  No Mr. Coffee machine around here!

Tyler took us through a very thorough process of preparing the perfect cup of gourmet coffee, right down to weighing the amount of coffee grounds and making sure the water was the exact temperature. Note the pre-wetted filters in the special cone-drip thingies. No Mr. Coffee machine around here!

Even pouring the water required a special touch.

Even pouring the water required a special touch.

As you may have guessed, I’m not much of a coffee drinker.  In fact, until this day, I’d never touched the stuff without and (un)healthy dose of cream and at least three heaps of sugar!  How else is one to tolerate that vile taste?  Well, after watching Tyler’s masterful crafting of this cup, I wasn’t about to ask for the insulting milkshake stuff.  Not like there was any anywhere near his factory.  Yes, this was my first cup of black coffee ever.  And I liked it!  A lot!  I drank more black coffee in the few days we hung around Tyler than all the milkshake stuff I’ve consumed in my entire lifetime!  However, Tyler’s gourmet blends are VERY special, as I’ve since tried regular restaurant Joe black, and yuck, still gotta doctor that stuff!

As you may have guessed, I’m not much of a coffee drinker. In fact, until this day, I’d never touched the stuff without and (un)healthy dose of cream and at least three heaps of sugar! How else is one to tolerate that vile taste? Well, after watching Tyler’s masterful crafting of this cup, I wasn’t about to ask for the insulting milkshake stuff. Not like there was any anywhere near his factory. Yes, this was my first cup of black coffee ever. And I liked it! A lot! I drank more black coffee in the few days we hung around Tyler than all the milkshake stuff I’ve consumed in my entire lifetime! However, Tyler’s gourmet blends are VERY special, as I’ve since tried regular restaurant Joe black, and yuck, still gotta doctor that stuff!

Watching the company’s brand new, state-of-the-art CNC roaster at work.  Note all the scales and vials sitting around.  Looks more like a drug lab.  Well this IS Colombia after all.

Watching the company’s brand new, state-of-the-art CNC roaster at work. Note all the scales and vials sitting around. Looks more like a drug lab. Well this IS Colombia after all.

Every package of Azahar has a QR code on it.  Scan it with your smart phone and you can watch a video interview of the various Colombian farmers who grew the beans in the bag!

Every package of Azahar has a QR code on it. Scan it with your smart phone and you can watch a video interview of the various Colombian farmers who grew the beans in the bag!

We toured a coffee plantation belonging to a good friend of Tyler’s and learned more about the complex process that goes into making your morning wakeup juice.

We toured a coffee plantation belonging to a good friend of Tyler’s and learned more about the complex process that goes into making your morning wakeup juice.

Coffee beans on the vine.  The red ones are ready for picking while the green ones have a way to go.  Each bean is picked by hand as it ripens.

Coffee beans on the vine. The red ones are ready for picking while the green ones have a way to go. Each bean is picked by hand as it ripens.

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Cheap foreign labor.

Cheap foreign labor.

Ok.  We know what you’re thinking.  Snorting Colombia’s favorite export again, right?  Yes we were instructed to huff this stuff by our guide to experience the different blends.  But we were sniffing the country’s legit export, one Colombia is striving hard to make the new export image of this rehabilated country.  It’s a tough sell to the rural farmers as coffee is worth about $10 a pound on the docks while cocaine brings about $25,000/pound when it leaves the county.  Colombia has had a rough, civil war tainted past, and the FARC rebels still flex their muscles against the government in remote parts of the country, but it has come a long way from the days when Pablo Escobar called the shots.  We never felt unsafe anywhere, despite following our usual off-the-beaten-track routes.  Colombia is a beautiful, safe country well worth visiting.

Ok. We know what you’re thinking. Snorting Colombia’s favorite export again, right? Yes we were instructed to huff this stuff by our guide to experience the different blends. But we were sniffing the country’s legit export, one Colombia is striving hard to make the new export image of this rehabilated country. It’s a tough sell to the rural farmers as coffee is worth about $10 a pound on the docks while cocaine brings about $25,000/pound when it leaves the county. Colombia has had a rough, civil war tainted past, and the FARC rebels still flex their muscles against the government in remote parts of the country, but it has come a long way from the days when Pablo Escobar called the shots. We never felt unsafe anywhere, despite following our usual off-the-beaten-track routes. Colombia is a beautiful, safe country well worth visiting.

The battles for the FIFA World Cup Fútbol championship continued to rage with another match pitting Colombia against Brazil.  This was to be the final chapter for Colombia as Brazil trounced them in what, we were told, was a very unsportsmanlike game on the Brazilians and referees’ part.  Despite their now being out on the race for the finals, the Colombians still partied in the streets until the wee hours of the morning, celebrating that they got as far as they did.

The battles for the FIFA World Cup Fútbol championship continued to rage with another match pitting Colombia against Brazil. This was to be the final chapter for Colombia as Brazil trounced them in what, we were told, was a very unsportsmanlike game on the Brazilians and referees’ part. Despite their now being out on the race for the finals, the Colombians still partied in the streets until the wee hours of the morning, celebrating that they got as far as they did.

Watching the game in a bar in Salento, everyone’s enthusiasm was contagious.

Watching the game in a bar in Salento, everyone’s enthusiasm was contagious.

For all my Jeep buddies: “Real” Jeeps (i.e. Willys) are alive and well in Colombia, especially in the coffee growing region where some serve as taxis like these, while others are still beasts of burden on the farms.  Here is a little info we dug up: Willys in Armenia: The first Jeeps (M38 or CJ-2A models) arrived to Colombia in 1946 for military purposes.  They were imported by the Colombian Ministry of Defense and soon became very popular among Colombian coffee farmers who saw in this vehicle the needed qualities for the difficult roads in the mountainous region of the country.  Besides the transportation of coffee, Jeeps are used for transport of many other agricultural products, as well as to transport country workers to places previously accessible only to pack animals.  Due to this quality, the Jeeps are also known locally in Spanish: "mulitas mecánicas" (or mechanical mules).

For all my Jeep buddies: “Real” Jeeps (i.e. Willys) are alive and well in Colombia, especially in the coffee growing region where some serve as taxis like these, while others are still beasts of burden on the farms. Here is a little info we dug up:
Willys in Armenia:
The first Jeeps (M38 or CJ-2A models) arrived to Colombia in 1946 for military purposes. They were imported by the Colombian Ministry of Defense and soon became very popular among Colombian coffee farmers who saw in this vehicle the needed qualities for the difficult roads in the mountainous region of the country. Besides the transportation of coffee, Jeeps are used for transport of many other agricultural products, as well as to transport country workers to places previously accessible only to pack animals. Due to this quality, the Jeeps are also known locally in Spanish: “mulitas mecánicas” (or mechanical mules).

Kat managed to coerce me onto a horse for the first time in probably20 years.  After a two hour ride I remembered why I like Jeeps.  These South American mountain horses are called Caballos Criollos and are tough, surefooted little critters.  They hauled us over some horrible trails with the calmness of monks.  But, for me, their steering, brakes and rough ride still left something to be desired.

Kat managed to coerce me onto a horse for the first time in probably20 years. After a two hour ride I remembered why I like Jeeps. These South American mountain horses are called Caballos Criollos and are tough, surefooted little critters. They hauled us over some horrible trails with the calmness of monks. But, for me, their steering, brakes and rough ride still left something to be desired.

We had (black!) coffee at a sidewalk café in Filandia while we watched locals enjoy their weekend.

We had (black!) coffee at a sidewalk café in Filandia while we watched locals enjoy their weekend.

This ol’ boy charmed us with his toothless smile.  He couldn’t speak a word but his eyes said all when we bought him a cup of coffee to share with us.

This ol’ boy charmed us with his toothless smile. He couldn’t speak a word but his eyes said all when we bought him a cup of coffee to share with us.

Colombian cake shop.

Colombian cake shop.

More Jeeps.  This time in ½ scale and human powered.  Kids seemed to have a blast “driving” these beauties around the square, pushed by their owners for a few pesos.

More Jeeps. This time in ½ scale and human powered. Kids seemed to have a blast “driving” these beauties around the square, pushed by their owners for a few pesos.

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These Jeep builders spell as badly as I do!

These Jeep builders spell as badly as I do!

We met our friend Tyler at Helens’, his favorite restaurant in Filandia.  His epicurean tastes are as good as his coffee pallet.

We met our friend Tyler at Helens’, his favorite restaurant in Filandia. His epicurean tastes are as good as his coffee pallet.

Margaritas weren’t bad either.

Margaritas weren’t bad either.

Unbelievable meal.

Unbelievable meal.

Yep.  Can’t kill a good old Willys.  They just keep haulin’ the bananas.

Yep. Can’t kill a good old Willys. They just keep haulin’ the bananas.

Leaving the coffee country behind, we hit the highway east for the capital, Bogota.  Time for some city life and visiting with some special friends there.  We felt bad not giving these guys a lift.  I was waiting for a lightning bolt or something to zap Charlotte and stop us in our tracks but she kept on rolling.  Knock on wood.  13,000 miles and counting...

Leaving the coffee country behind, we hit the highway east for the capital, Bogota. Time for some city life and visiting with some special friends there. We felt bad not giving these guys a lift. I was waiting for a lightning bolt or something to zap Charlotte and stop us in our tracks but she kept on rolling. Knock on wood. 13,000 miles and counting…