Tag Archives: trip

Brighton Beach, Little Odessa

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New York City Mega Post

9-11 Memorial

We visited the 9-11 memorial. We got our tickets online, joined the queue and got searched by security. The site was pretty impressive. The foundations of the two towers were transformed into massive waterfalls with the names of the victims etched into the side. It’s was good to see how international the names were showing it wasn’t just an attack on the US but the whole world.

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South Street Seaport

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Katz Delicatessen

It was filled to the brim with tourists but still maintained an authentic feeling of a an old classic deli. We had the beef brisket with gravy on rye bread.

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McSorely’s Old Ale House

After eating at NYC’s oldest deli, we grabbed some beers at NYC’s oldest bar. I liked that there are only 2 types of beers on tap ( light and dark) and with amazing prices for NYC ($5 for 2 beers). It really is old and so is allot of the decoration. You can feel the stories and history in the walls. Plus the beer is good.

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Times Square

Even though it can be annoyingly busy and touristy. I think it is my favorite people watching spot in the world. So many different types of people all gathering in this one place blasting your senses into an overload of lights and sounds.

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Prosperity Dumplings and Chinatown

I visited this place a couple of years back and remember they had some fantastic dumplings. You can see 3 ladies in the back making the dumplings by hand and you can really taste the freshness. I got a bit greedy and ordered 10 fried dumplings and 10 steamed ones ($1 for 5 dumplings, amazing deal) and somehow miraculously we managed to finish them all.

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St Patricks Day Parade

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All Over the City

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Diary of 27 hour bus trip from Ecuador to Peru

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11:40 AM

Not exactly the royal class I was expecting. I have a semi-functional IPod filled to the brim with podcasts, 3 bags of chips and an empty bottle of water. The good thing is unlike other Ecuadorian bus trips is that we won’t pick up other passengers on the side of the road. I’m curious to see what movie they will play. I think I’ve only seen action movies in Ecuador; the Jean-Claude Van Damme/Dennis Rodman classic “Doubleteam”, unstoppable, the Next Karate Kid and the straight-to-DVD Death Race 2. This line-up was better than Colombia though where the highlight was a Christian Divorce drama with Kirk Cameron and a pirated bad quality version of “the Rise of the Planet of the Apes”.

Currently Listening: ESPN First Take: Does Romo have the clutch gene?

Outside the window: Flat, dry, no trees. Almost what I envision Australia to be

Body: Okay, a bit tired from the Halloween party the previous night

Heejung: Eyes closed, sleeping?!?

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01:06 PM

Just had lunch consisting of okay chicken and rice.

Currently Listening: ESPN Football, I started to watch the A-Team which they decided to play at the usual deafening volume. But the movie has stopped playing twice now and I think the DVD player might be busted.

Outside the window: We just passed through a small town. There were some people swimming in the river. I wonder if they ever have tourists

Body: Semi-full but thirsty. Need to buy some water soon

Heejung: She is also writing, copying my running diary idea. Now she is struggling to open our Jello dessert.

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03:17 PM

Had a short nap. Realized that as Ecuador’s largest city it was surprisingly easy and traffic free to get out of compared to its sister Quito.

Currently listening: ESPN Football, but I’m going to join Heejung and watch some Korean talent show.

Outside the window: Flat and boring. I’ve been spoiled by the amazing mountain landscapes on previous bus rides.

Body: Better after the nap, still thirsty.

Heejung: See above

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04:10 PM

We just exited Ecuador. We are in no mans land waiting for the other passengers to come back from immigration.

Currently listening: Nothing

Outside the window: picture

Body: Good, able to stretch when we got of the bus

Heejung: Studying her passport for some reason

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05:31 PM

We just passed through immigration and we are now officially in Peru. I just exchanged ten dollars to get some local money and hope I didn’t get ripped off too badly since I have no clue about the exchange rate. They guy also stamped the local money gave to me. I have since read that if it turns out my money was fake then I can use the stamp to identify the money changer.

Currently Listening: ESPN The B.S. Podcast

Outside the window: picture

Body: Functional

Heejung: Waiting with her notebook on her lap for the bus to move so she can watch her tv show

07:56 PM

We got of out the bus for a customs inspections even though we’ve been in the country for almost 3 hours now. No clue why it’s so far away from the border. Nobody got caught smuggling anything though.

Outside the window: Pitch darkness

Currently listening: Inception, playing on the bus at a very loud level

Heejung: She was sleeping until we had to get out for the customs inspection. She is watching Inception now.

Body: functional but hungry.

01:00 AM

Asleep

Currently Listening: This one guy snoring quite loudly

Outside the window: Blackness

Body: Asleep

Heejung: Asleep

07:51 AM

Had a decent sleep. Seats are more comfortable than regular Ecuadorian busses but I still wouldn’t classify it as Royal Class. This urban town we are passing through doesn’t look much different than one in Ecuador.

Currently Listening: Lil Wayne

Outside the Window: Concrete, industrial town with grey skies ( HJ says its Chimbote)

Body: Okay, legs are tired, I don’t think I am designed to sleep on a chair

Heejung: Eating cookies, since they haven’t served breakfast yet.

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10:12 AM

We just had a rest stop in Peru. A group of stray dogs was patrolling the parking lot.

Currently listening: ESPN Football

Outside the window: Dusty rest stop with aforementioned dogs

Body: Feeling better after stretch

Heejung: Reading Spanish Cosmo

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02:30PM

Arrived in Lima Peru after 27 hours in the bus.

Currently listening: Comedy Bang Bang

Outside the window: Capital of Peru, Lima

Body: Alive and well

Heejung: She also made it in one piece.

Cucuya: Our own Personal Tropical Lodge

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“Turistas” yelled one of the children outside playing while we were in our room upstairs. I hoped it wasn’t true and that we would remain as the only guests of Cucuya Eco Lodge. We’ve had a wonderful time so far at this lodge in Puerto Quito. We had our lunches and dinners downstairs surrounded by 3 wonderful dogs (Bingo, Rocco and Zorro) and the manager’s kids coming and going always wishing us a “buenos dias” or “bon provecho”. Marcello the owner of the resort took us in his personal car to the Cascadas Azul (blue waterfalls) which was really special as I ended up being the only person swimming in the natural pool underneath the waterfall. This place was ours and ours alone.

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On our way back we stopped in the middle of downtown Puerto Quito as there was a parade going on. Isn’t it nice of the people of PQ to throw us a welcoming parade. It must have been for us as I couldn’t see any other tourists or visitors around. That night Gabriel (the manager of the lodge) showed us the process how you go from a cacao fruit to actual chocolate. We had fresh fruit with hot all natural chocolate and it was we didn’t have to share this experience with anybody else. When we went for a tour on a fruit farm we didn’t have to wait for any other people or be restricted by their dietary restrictments. We attempted to make some rings out of palm nut wood and when our ineptness at manual labour showed Gabriel took over and made us some shiny new wooden rings that we still wear.

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So when I looked out the window and realised there were no new turistas coming and we had the place to ourselves I smiled and laid back down in bed again.

Practical Information; Cucuya Eco Lodge.:  Their website

The Potosi Mines: Dynamite, 96% Alcohol & Coca leaves

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We went on a tour of a fully functioning silver mine in Potosi, Bolivia. This isn’t some leisurely sightseeing trip. We passed miners working in terrible conditions. We went from freezing cold to places so warm I wonder if we had walked into hell.  The few times you can walk upright your back thanks you but most of the time is spent crouching through the tunnels. We followed the train tracks of the rail carts the miners use to pull the raw material out of the mines. Sometimes you are knee deep in water which is better then when it is pure slippery mud or when it is completely dry and the dust flares up making it hard to breathe.

Our guide explained the mining conditions used to better with the state owning the mines. We saw unused water tanks formerly used to sprinkle the mines to keep the dangerous dust to a minimum. There was health-care for the families and it was mandatory for the children to go to school. These days children often follow their father into the mines to help out. They start out working in the mines around 13 and 14 years old. Some try to go to school at night. Most don’t and alcoholism is a big problem. The drink of preference is 96% sugar cane alcohol. It helps them with the cold. Deeper into the mines the men smoke hand rolled cigarettes as the smell of various minerals can be very intense.

The mines are currently run by coops. These are groups of miners that pay to use the mine. The infrastructure in the mine is minimal and safety has no real priority. In the tunnels there are water pipes held up by t-shirts,  electricity cables put together by tape and broken wooden support beams everywhere. There are no engineers in the mountain. There is no overall map. Everything rests with the experience and intuition of the miners.

The miners who work with transporting the raw materials can make 100 Bolivianos ( less than $13 per day). But they have to transport 5 tons of material per day or they don’t get paid and they often have to work very long days to hit this number. The average wage in Bolivia is 800 bolivanos per month and the money does make mining an attractive option.

There are two foreign companies (Canadian and Swiss) that operate in the mines and have much better conditions. Bolivia doesn’t have processes to refine the raw material to anything other than silver. Foreign companies buy the waste material to refine other minerals out of it.

Our guide explained that El Tio “The Devil” is the main deity in the mines. Most miners are catholic but down in the mines there is no religion, there is only El Tio. Our guide also explains that especially during February El Tio gets “hungry” and “eats” the miners that do not respect and bring him offerings. During Carnival El Tio is celebrated and even family members enter the mines to give alms to the Uncle.  His cave is decorated , music is played, there is dancing and much drinking.

Miners are superstitious and if the coca they are chewing doesn’t feel right as they enter the mine they will exit, spit out the coca and get some fresh one. There are 15,000 miners active in Potosi and 500 women but they aren’t allowed to work in the mine since miners believe they would bring bad luck.

There are no lunch breaks, there is only coca. Which relieves the feeling of hunger cold and gives the miners energy. But somehow I don’t believe coca is a very nutritious meal. We came across two miners on their lunch break and they didn’t even have anything to drink, they just had coca leaves.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is a real  problem and they carry a special lamp to detect this. Dynamite accidents are also common. Various pieces of dynamite are set but don’t always go off. So when the miners go back to check the results one piece of dynamite can go off killing the miners. The safest would be to let that area of the mine alone for 24 hours but miners pay rent to use the mines and can’t afford to wait. The most dangerous part is Sylicosis, dust Life expentency for the miners is around 40. No masks are used or provided. After this tour it is really difficult to complain about any aspect of your job.

At the end of tour there was a 4-year old boy selling a rock. I imagined what it would be like if in 9 year he would have to go and work into the mines. I felt bad and bought his rock.

Some of the miners would have a quick chat as we passed them but most were quiet and focussed on their work. One asked me how I was doing and I answered “muy calor” he joked back:, haha, si una suana”. Pretty amazing to keep your sense of humour in these depressing conditions.

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The most impressive museum we visited in South America was La Capilla del Hombre ( the Chapel of Men) by the Ecuadorian artist Guayasamin in Quito. His center ceiling piece was dedicated to the slaves who died in the mines of Potosi. It is estimated over 8 MILLION slaves died during the 450 years of existence of the mine. The unfinished piece represents the slaves seeking the light, the way out of the mines and slavery.

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Outside the mines. We were at about 4300 altitude. The mountain reaches 4800 altitude( it used to be over a 100 meters high, but lost height, due to mining). Our guide gave the lady walking down the road some of the coca leaves we bought for the miners. I wasn’t really sure what she was doing so high up the mountain.

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Part of the original entrance built by slaves. It is sad that this segment is one the best constructed parts of the mines.

A miner is repairing one of the containers they use to haul raw material up and down several levels of the mines.

Miners working on the rail carts they use to transport the raw material. There is little space in the tunnels and we often had to squeeze to get passed by the working miners. Safety isn’t s a high priority and such a tour would be unimaginable in most other countries. I asked our guide what the miners thought of tourists wandering around their area of work. She replied they didn’t mind much as part of our tour price goes to their coop fund.

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El Tio (aka the Devil) the ruler in these mines. There are over 600 of these statues spread over the various mines in these mountains. The 15,000 workers pay their respect to El Tio in order to be blessed with the riches of his mines. He is not there as a symbol of protection. His offerings include, coca leaves, alcohol, a lit cigarette in his mouth and once a year on a special feast he gets to enjoy fresh llama blood.

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Much of the crouching we had to do on this 2 hour visit of the mine.

Our guide talking to some miners. This particular section of the mine was incredibly hot. Just standing there and breathing the hot dusty air air was hard. I couldn’t imagine how doing hard physical labour would be. I asked the guy on the right how long he had been working in the mine and he said he had been there for six weeks now.

Note: Due to the extreme hot and cold conditions of the mine my camera had issues with condensation and most of these pictures were taken by Heejung.

Useful information: We booked our tour through our Hostel Compania de Jesus, we paid 60 bolivianos each. This does not include the offerings and gifts to the miners, that was an additional 20 bolivianos. The tour company was right across the street from the hostel.

San Gil & Barichara

Since I don’t know what to write about San Gil and our day trip to nearby Barichara I decided to ask Heejung about it so I don’t have to think about it.

What was the best part about San Gil?

Freshly cooked empanadas every morning. Corn and steak on a stick at night. Huge sleepy trees in the park and Nestor buying me tintos (Colombian Coffee) every day.

How was white water rafting?

It was a lifetime experience because it was my first time to experience white water rafting and because I also almost saw heaven until Nestor caught my foot and brought me back to life. I twas beautiful, I mean heaven. [Nestor: during one of the rapids, Heejung almost fell out of the boat until I grabbed her ankle and kept her inside the raft]

What was your favorite thing to eat in San Gil?

See the answer above Plus El Mana (restaurant recommended in Lonely Planet). Nine thousand five hundred pesos, Salad, appetizer, soup, garlic bread which I really liked, main dish, fresh fruit juice and dessert.

How would you describe San Gil to people and would you recommend it?

Yes, I would. San Gil is a small city which may at a first glance may look quite crowded and boring, but there are allot of activities to do, but even if you don’t do these (like water rafting) its a good place to just relax and enjoy some nice food. I would recommend to go up to the upper part of San Gil where you can enjoy the view and watch the people of San Gil living their every day life.

What do you remember about Barichara?

<Heejung frowns> I’m sorry to say this, but I remember so many old churches, some of which smelled quite bad. Over.

Please make up a story of where the name Barichara came from:

It was founded by a missionary from Sevilla, Spain, whose name was Barito Miguel Sanchez and his nickname was Barichad and he was really popular among local people and he was always fun and great storyteller and kids were always around him and somehow kids started calling him Senor Baricharia and from there on the town was called Barichara.

El Peñol or El Peñón de Guatapé

I didn’t really know what to type about this attraction since I didn’t actually go all the way up this huge rock (Heejung did though). I consulted wikipedia seeing what I could copy and paste and discovered there seems to be a dispute about which town the rock belongs to and which name it has. I remember being in Guatape and asking about El Peñol ( which is how the guidebooks refer it as) but the locals in Guatape corrected us in saying it was “El Peñón de Guatapé“.

In the end, I don’t know what the correct name is, but it remains a massive piece of rock.

A view of Guatape’s church.

A well in the nearby town of Guatape.

Unfinished versus finished result of the famous decorations on the houses of Guatape.

Whats in my Bag

Backpack Contents

Please click on the link to go to flickr and see the notes on what each item is. When I was preparing for this trip I was always interested what people would bring along on this trip and what is essential and what isn’t. And off course this varies from person to person. I have quite a bit of camera equipment and my laptop is pretty big and heavy. The only things missing from the picture is my DSLR camera and wide-angle lens, the clothing I was wearing and my iPod and passport.
Jalapeno Jones ( click on the photo to see what/who that is) has been given to some Ecuadorian Kids after we failed to use him in any way. The Spoon/Fork/Knife hybrid has been one of the most useful items we have brought along.

Our preparations so far

Thanks to Google documents we have a pretty clear understanding of our budget and creative travel plans.

I have visited many travelblogs, forums and websites for recommendations of interesting and off the beaten path places to visit. I have kept them in a word document reaching 20 pages now sorted by country. These are places where to watch the best cholita wrestling in Bolivia to the best graffiti neighborhoods in Buenos Aires.

After our wedding in August we will have some time in Aruba and there we can finalize our itinerary while keeping in mind we are probably going to improvise at one point. During a trip in Mexico for example we noticed we had some extra time that was didn’t plan for and noticed Guatemala wasn’t that far away and went for an extra 8 day journey into neighboring Guatemala.

Please continue reading here

A Honest Look into my Thoughts; Banos Jungle Tour

7:55am I am loving this desayuno continental. $2,25 for 2 fried eggs, bread with cheese, juice and a milk coffee? Yes please, just wish they would add some pieces of bacon or sausage links. Actually I wish they would add that to any meal. Who is this “they” I am talking about? All the restaurant/food people in the world?

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10:01am What an amazing view of the river, the mountains and cliffs. I just wish there was somebody risking their lives and hiking down alongside the river so I it would add scale to my photo. A photograph just doesn’t capture the grandness of it all and neither does my weak writing.

10:24am I like how the tunnels around Banos aren’t finished with cement walls. You can still see the exposed rock that has been cut through this mountain. Cold water drips from the ceiling onto the road and makes people aware that they are driving through a freaking hole dug into an insane mountain ! Why am I yelling in my thoughts !?!

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11:40am Just arrived at the monkey rescue center. Our guide Carlos just explained I need to take out all my belongings from my pockets, don’t bring the backpack, wrap the camera tightly along my hand and be careful of my glasses as the monkeys tend to steal anything thinking it might be food. Is this a monkey pickpocket/mugging academy? That would be kinda cool. Maybe pick up a small spider monkey specialised in stealing iPods or photo camera’s. Or go big and get a gorilla who just mugs the hell out of people. I mean how do you explain that to the cops? I think I just gave some savvy jungle business guy a great idea.

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12:34pm The indigenous village we are visiting just opened up their traditional hut/tourist shopping destination center. Lots of handmade earrings and bracelets, not much for the modern male. Just tried out a blowpipe and I hit the wooden bird straight up in its wooden heart. I am a natural at this. Carlos our guide almost hit the German tourist, would have been an interesting trophy to bring home

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2:41pm Lunch doesn’t look like much but it tastes pretty good. This yucca is crazy filling, I think it is actually expanding while in my stomach. The guide showed us a yucca bush, I don’t know people figured out this was edible. There must have been some dude, trying every single root. And must have failed so many times. He was like the Edison of Roots. Thank you amazon Edison for discovering the Yucca and Potato.

4:48pm There is allot happening in this jungle. I ate some sour lemon ants and their eggs, got a flammable plant like-petroleum smeared on my nostrils, chewed on anaesthesia-leaves that left my gums numb, tasted the leaves of a cinnamon brush( what’s the point, the wood itself is where the good stuff is), learned about a tree that can move about 20 centimetres per year, Carlos mentioned natives living isolated in parts of the jungle who killed some Colombian FARC members some years ago with basic weapons, learned about a death tree that uses vines to kill strangle nearby trees and touched a plant that closes it leaves as a form of defence against insects. Fascinating place.

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5:14 Trying to stay above the water in this pool underneath the waterfall. The amount and speed of the water is pretty crazy. Literally. Well, not really literally. But the sheer force is awing ( causing a state of awe) and to think this continues 24/7 without a lunch break.

 

9:12pm Gotta love a cold beer and papacarne (French fries with a hamburger patty) for $3 at Panchos. This place has a way too nice interior to be a regular fast food dive. On the other hand it’s nice to eat cheaply in a place without fluorescent lighting and a blaring TV in a corner.

Practical Information: We took the one day Jungle (Selva) tour by local operator Geotours. It was $50 for the whole day trip which was from 8:30am to 8:30pm and included lunch. They have their own website at http://www.geotoursbanios.com/ Everything was very professionally done with Rubber boots for the jungle walk provided.