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Friday, February 24, 2012

Happy to leave, but, missing it on arrival: India the land of the organized chaos

It all started with a "what are your plans for Christmas/New Year's?. Portugal with the family and then I want to get some sun and just relax! Want to go to Goa?"

And so it started the discussion, ending up with a decision. Two weeks in India, Goa and Kerala on the plan. I was in North Goa in 2009 so we decided to go to South Goa. And as for Kerala, everyone sayd amazing things about it, so that was an easy choice to do something more productive than only drinking kingfisher the whole day in front of a amazing blue ocean!

But as soon as the plan was announced, other friends got interested! And friends from friends. So, from the initial 2 we ended up being 5 in Palolem in Goa! Amazing croud, everyone totally different from one another, and that was the beauty of it! That and the shack (or the slumbs as we afectuatelly called our "resort": Green Park Palolém Beach Resort; and the beach; and the crazy partying; and the card games; and the fishing (I got a fish!!!)! Fantastic. This was a perfect relaxing and energizing week!

The Palolem Beach Resort

We arrived pretty late. There was fog in New Delhi when I was supposed to land, all flights were delayed and that delayed the flights in the whole country! Yeap, welcome to India, land where the unexpected always happens :). I met Vasco and Zão at Mumbai airport. They had a "More than Classy" 2 days jump start at the insane metropole of Mumbai. I was there in 2009 and don't keep many good memories of it, so I skipped it and decided to spend a couple more days with the family in Portugal.

But we arrived like at 3 am in the resort. It was closed. Some people were still at the bar and that meant.... That the bar actually only closed when everyone one went to bed! Yes, that's the good part of India, particularly Goa: you are treated like a King.! The huts (each one of us got one hut, spoilt backpackers :D) were, how should I put this... a bit shaky but quite stable. 20 meters from "our" private beach. What else could you ask for?

We missed the famous silent parties, that only happen on Thursdays (we arrived too late and left on Wednesday) and Saturdays (it was New Years's eve so there was license to make noise!). But we left with a lot of stories and expressions (and wounds, but that story is only funny in person :D), that only those who experienced it will understand :)

4 big kingfishers and a small one
Begoo begoo
I don't want this fish.....
(and the boat almost flips over!)
Fresh fish sir fresh fish sir (in the end, the there was steam coming off the fish that had just been taken from the freezer). This fresh, that one not fresh sir...
Come see my shop!


Kerala

Kerala was backwaters, was Varkala, was Kochim. Bathing after partying. Relaxing. Getting tanned, buying spices in Kochim. Well, it was the perfect ending for a great trip.

It's always great to leave India, but once you arrive, you miss it. It's such a contrasting country, but it's well worth visiting. I will probably go back, but first there are some more places to visit.


Thank you Vasco, Zão, Andy and Simon for the fantastic company!

And thanks all the others that shared some moments with us! :)
___________

I think the next trip will be to the Americas, but we will see :)

ps: no pictures... my lens broke on the first day and I didn't take the other lens with me... :( this was the biggest frustration of this trip!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The LANDMANNALAUGAR trek and the 2nd week with Sammy

Many months later, patience to write and upload the pictures never arrived! I'm very happy with the new lens I bought for the camera.

The trek was amazing. 4 days, 4 distinct landscapes. Day one, golden mountains covered here and there in snow, ending with a 1-2 hours hike in the snow. Met a really nice Scottish couple who were my hiking companions for the rest of the trip.

Day two, the green valley and the lake where the shelter was located. Simply amazing.

Day three, the ashes desert (and sharing the treks with the adventure marathon!)

Day four, the glaciers and returning to Reykjavik.

The second week I met a colleague from work and we went on a road trip north, to the fjords, bird watching and whale watching.

In the end, a fantastic party weekend in Reykjavik!

Conclusion, I love Iceland :)



Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Reykjavik

It feels so great to be back on the road! Leave the stress and worries of the daily work behind! :)

And travel alone again, always a challenge, but that is getting easier and easier.

I arrive in Reykjavik mid afternoon and walk up the hill from the BSI terminal. I easily find the hostel, the reviews in hostelworld and tripadvisor are amazing, so I am very curious! And I am not disappointed! Our House. Friendly, cosy and right at the centre. And very important for a guy who turns thirty today... away from big crowds and noisy groups like huge backpackers hostels.

Reykjavik is music, relaxation, bars, cafes. All I needed before the demanding 4 days hike from Landmannalaugur to Thorsmork.

I spent the first three days in Reykjavik and around. Next week I will be here again. One day I went to the blue lagoon with Robert, an Austrian I met at the hostel, who also lives in Stockholm and who goes to the same places I go in Stockholm. Damn coincidence! The 2nd day I did the golden circle, a short tour that goes through Geisir - the geiser after whom all geisers in the world are named -, Gulfoss - impressive waterfalls - , and þingvellir National Park - place of the first world parliament. It´s a nice circuit, that doesn´t take that much time and anyone who only has a few days in Iceland should do.

The evenings have been spent hanging out in bars with Robert and other guest from the Guesthouse. Laundromat cafe is my favourite. Cool place, right in the center, great service. Unfortunately during weekdays everything closes at 1 am, so I still haven´t experienced the famous Icelandic nightlife. That will come next week, when Samuel arrives.

Next stop, exhilarating landscapes in Southern Iceland :)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Preparing for a new adventure

In less than a month, back on the road :)

Iceland for two weeks, hiking, sightseeing, adventure, partying and meeting new people.

Looking forward to discover this lost paradise :)

Soon more details.

Monday, January 4, 2010

It´s been a while since my last post. I actually forgot to publish the previous post about La Isla del Sol. The return to Europe and the adaptation to the daily routine, was not easy and the inspiration to write was not so good. So instead of long posts about my last days traveling I'll shortly describe my route and the activities I had.

I stayed in La Paz only one night. Before going back to Portugal, I decided to meet Elodie in Antofagasta in Chile. The original plan was to spend a day in Antofagasta and then a few days in San Pedro, visiting what I had missed. Due to the change of plans, the new plan was two days in Antofagasta and then, flying from there to Santiago and from Santiago to Vigo, in Galicia, Spain, .

Antofagasta is very cosy city. It's the second biggest in Chile, bathed on one side by the Pacific and watched closely on the other side by the mountains. It was the peculiarity of the multicoloured houses growing up the mountains that made me want to come back. During our time there, we wandered around the city, met some locals in some bars, visited a natural monument north from the city and got a crazy bus ride with some construction workers. It was the perfect way to end the trip. Great company, good food, nice wine and some party.

I said goodbye to Élodie and went back to the hotel to pack my stuff and... say goodbye to a lot of things. Half my clothes stayed there in that hotel room... And my trip finished there, in that hotel of Antofagasta. From there it was a long trip back home and to normal life...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Isla del Sol

An early bus, La Paz staying behing and a couple of hours later, the amazing scenary of this sea of sweet water located at 4000m of altitude that is Lake Titicaca. Destination: Copacabana and La Isla del Sol.

It is definitely a nice journey, with an interesting boat crossing 1h away from Copacabana, where we leave the bus, enter a boat and the bus crosses the lake on its own boat. I had never seen that before, but it works. It just makes the journey last about 30min more!

After reaching Copacabana we decide to buy the boat tickets to Isla del Sol and have to have a nice lunch before we get to the Island. It takes another hour to reach our destination. Then it comes one of hardest things I've done on this trip. Moving 200m uphill carrying my backpack. I move step by step, following the kid whom Emma negociated a room with. He looks like a mountain goat moving from step to step as if it was easy. We are at 4000m... He's a nice kid and the room is really ok with a view over the lake and the sunrise, which is supposed to be really nice.

After a deserved rest, we decide to explore the island. It is a small Island, this island where the Incas believed their supreme god was born - the sun. There are a few ruins around the island. The biggest ones are on the northern part of the island, so we decide to walk the Inca trail tomorrow and visit those. For the rest of the afternoon we wander around some ruins located south from the setlement and just spend our time wandering between tea houses and restaurants. There's really nothing to do, specially after the sun sets!

Getting up early, around 6, to see the sun rising prooved to be a fantastic experience. The sun erupts from behind the beautifull snow picks of the Andes bringing life and movement to the Island. We start our hike around 7. It took us almost 3 hours to do the 6-8 Km trail from south to north, until the ruins of the old Inca setlement. It's not the type of ruins I'm used to, so I am a bit disappointed, but the hike was really nice, although it was extenuating and hard due to the altitude.

After finishing our hike we go to the northern harbour and immediately take a boat to the southern part of the island. Once there I rush uphill to pick up our stuff while Emma stays and tries to convince the boat drivers to wait for us. It works, I didn't faint which means that my body is getting used to the altitude. Back in Copacabana we only have time to buy the bus ticket to La Paz and buy something to eat.

I am very quiet the whole trip. I know that tomorrow I will start moving back to my normal life. I will still stop for a couple of days in Antofagasta in Chile and meet Aurelie whom I had met in Valdivia. The plan was to go back to San Pedro and do some climbing, but I had to cancel that part due to my sudden change of plans. Well, that's life. A quiet evening watching some Confederations match and a very good meal in a fancy restaurant was my way to say goodbye to La Paz, this huge city, surrounded by enormous snowie peacks where I decided to go back to Europe and to the real world...

Friday, September 25, 2009

La Paz

I'm not a fan of poluted, noisy, traffic-congested big cities, as many of you must have noticed by now. So what brings me to La Paz and makes me stay here 4 days?

Well, first the city itself is located at 3600m above sea level and I'm curious to see how is it possible to build such a big city at such a high altitude. There are a few monuments that are worth a visit, but I'm kind of tired of beautiful churches, by now... Another reason for the visit is doing the world famous Corrida de la Muerte, a downhill mountain bike circuit, via what used to be the main road between two important cities in the Andes. The name reflects the amount of people that have died over the years in this road. In our days it's mostly a touristic attraction for adrenaline adventurers that want to defye gravity and move almost 3000m in altitude in about 4 hours. There are also some 6000m mountains that can be climbed even by people with little experience and I was planning to climb Huyani Potosi, the smalest of them all. It's a 2-3 day adventure.

I asked Emma, whom i had met in Santa Cruz to book me a place at her hostel. We met in that evening for dinner. It's always nice to have someone to show us the city or at least to show us the nice places to eat! Emma is a studying to become a Medical Doctor in Oxford, but for the last few months she's been doing volunteer work both in Nicaragua and here in La Paz. She's really into it and I admire her for what she has been doing. And she is a great company.

On my first day in La Paz I woke up with some news that make me decide to end the trip earlier and go back to Portugal within a week time. On the time I have left I have time to do La corrida de la muerte, go to lake Titicaca and then go back to Chile, visit Antofagasta and finally fly to Santiago and from there back to Europe. So this first day is spent taking care of all the bureaucracies, changing ticket dates and so and so on. One thing, if you ever buy a round the world ticket from Oneworld, make sure your first flight is with British Airways. My first flight was with Finnair and that makes them responsible for any ticket changes you might need to do (at least everytime one calls British Airways that's what they tell us!) . Well, Finnair does not fly to south america so it was a crasy race against time, some telephone fights with Finland and in the end a visit to the nearest Lan office solved it all. Instead of flying to Portugal I had to fly to Vigo, which is quite close to the border, so that wasn't such a problem. And I'll arrive still in time for a friend's wedding! Which means meeting half of my friends while still jet lagged...Lets see how it goes!

La corrida de la muerte

I decided to do the death race with the agency from my hostel. I thought there wouldn't be many people doing it with them. Well, this was a mistake. A group of over 20 people with only 3 guides awaited me... At least the bike they gave me was good. The first part of the race was on a fantastic asfalt road, the perfect place to let ourselves go, but instead the stupid guides wanted to keep the group together and that made us stop every 3 or 4 minutes. I got tired of that and just passed the guide and enjoyed a nice downhill until the check point. Others that had been complayining about it followed me and in the end we were discussing with the guides that that was not what we paid for. Some people in the group actually wanted to move fast! They were three so they could split the group in 3 and everyone would still have fun. Specially on that asfalt road which was perfectly safe!
The dangerous part of the "race" comes when we reach the gravel road. This road goes around the mountains, there are no protective barriers, and stones and holes on the road make it a really adventure to combine speed with balance, always with one thing in our minds: one distraction and I end up at the end of the 1000m high cliff that's just at my left! Nevertheless it was really funny, adrenaline at its max and a terrible pain in the hands due to the strength I put in holding the bike to the road! 4h later we were done. The fastest guys all felt that we could have done it faster if they had allowed us, but, whatever, next time I'll follow the suggestions I was given by other people and pay a bit more to do it. I didn't fish around in different companies as I should have!



La Paz

The rest of my time in La Paz was spent walking around, climbing up and down (not easy at this altitude) taking some pictures of the amazing scenary in which this city was built. Remove all the cars and garbage from the city and I would love living here! I just love mountains!

Next stop in Lake Titicaca and La Isla del Sol. Emma decided to join me. This is great because I haven't been in the mood to talk to strangers lately. I guess I am getting the "almost over" mood...

The Missions Circuit

I didn't have enough time to visit all the missions. That's a 5 day thing, or shorter if you go with a travel agency, but i prefered to take the local transports and do it on my own.

My first stop was in Concepcion. Since this was the first mission that I visited I was really impressed with the wood-works. I wandered around it for 1 hour taking pictured until I decided it was time to figer out how to get out of there. I soon realised that the next bus to San Ignacio, my next stop is, whether within an hour or tomorrow at 5 pm. I forgot to mention, that the settlements around the missions are small and there's not much to do or see here. So I just decided to pick up (after a small discussion with the hostel guy which wanted to keep all my money when I stayed there only for an hour and didn't even use the bed) my stuff and hop on the bus the was heading to San Ignacio that day. This could have been a really bad decision...

I started feeling sick about half way between Concepcion and San Ignacio. Flu sypmtoms appeared quite fast and I couldn't wait to get off that bus and find a hotel to relax... It was after midnight when I arrived in San Ignacio. I asked a British couple whether I could follow them in the look for a hostel and just moved on with one thing in my mind: the nearest hospital is 12h away so lets hope this is a normal flu! I stayed in the first hotel we found. I bargained the price and ended up staying there for a couple of nights. The room was a bit noisy, but clean, confortable and breakfast was included which given the circunstances was perfect. A bit pricy for Bolivia, but whatever. I needed a place like that.

A few paracetamols later I adventured out of the hotel and tried to find a place to eat. It was Sunday and most places were closed, opening only in the evening. I also inquired about the buses to San Rafael. By now I had decided to skip one of the missions and try to get back to Santa Cruz as fast as possible... There were only buses at midday, the next day. So I had a full day to rest and try to recover a bit more. The mission in San Ignacio didn't impress me that much. There's a lake quite close and the square has some really nice statues.

In San Rafael, another adventure. Finding a place for the night. There are two, but...none is highly recommended! I end up staying in a room with a really dirty toilet, a bed where it's impossible to find a confortable place to lay down and with a very strange lady as my host! This is the simplest of all the missions I have visited. It's nice but a bit neglected, and it's possible to see that not many tourists stop here... Only a stupid, sick guy like me ends up here, I moan...

Finally I arrive in San José de Chiquititos, the place where the train stops and from where I'll go back to Santa Cruz. Instead of waiting 4 more hours for the train I decide to take the bus which departs at 20.30. I still have 6 hours to see one mission!!! It is actually really nice the one in San José, the only built from stone and that is still being rebuilt. I wandered around the square reading and writing. If I had known the kind of road that the bus was going to go on, I would have probably rented a room for resting during the afternoon. But I had seen some asfalt when my bus reached San José and concluded that the road to Santa Cruz was all paved... Once again wrong conclusions that resulted in a dusty sandy road and a bus having to stop twice with a broken engine...

Santa Cruz

Potosi stayed behind and the road to Sucre was taken once again. A connection to Santa Cruz, the wealthiest state in the country awaits me. After a small discussion with one of the tickets agencies I got a ticket in the last seat of the bus. I don't know if this was the worst bus ride of my life, but the asfalt ended like an hour after our departure. Then I lost count of the rivers we crossed (and by crossing I don't mean going over it using a bridge!). A tire exploded, fortunately when the bus was fighting to climb up a mountain. People around me kept coughing and sneezing and throwing garbage to the floor of the bus and through the windows. Well, this is the real Bolivia, that people kept talking about...

Why coming to Santa Cruz. The guide doesn't mention much about it, not many touristic atractions. Well, I'm going to meet Dario's brother (me and Dario used to live in the same corridor in Utrecht when we were exchange students) and hang out with his friends for a couple of days. Meeting locals and talking about their lives is one of the things I appreciate the most. I decided to stay in a cheap hotel very close to the city center. Not the cosiest place in the world, but I've stayed in worse places...

And Santa Cruz was only partying and meeting Diego's friends. It was really nice and funny, but after two days in the city I was ready to keep moving.

From Santa Cruz there are 3 or 4 options, tourist wise I mean. One is to go back to real Bolivia and head on to La Paz. Another is to take the "death train" to Brasil and visit the pantanal. Another is to move north and visit an National Park in the Amazonia. The last one and probably the one least people choose is to make the Missions circuit. The Jesuits once created a Theocratic state in this part of South America. They had the support of the local Indian (Guaranis) and since they were located in a very remote area, Portugal and Spain had no control over them for many years. Today the missions are no longer a missionary place. They were abandoned shortly after the Jesuits were expeled around the end of the 18th century, but the Indian settlements continued and today they are small cities that grew up around the missions. Left abandoned the missions almost disappeared, until UNESCU decided to make them a world heritage site. Today they have all been recovered. Appart from going to La Paz all the other options were quite expensive so, I decided to leave La Paz for when I returned to Santa Cruz after visiting the missions.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Potosi - Or, A return ticket to Hell....

Potosi was once the richest city in the world. It was from these mines than Spain built its empire, exploring the silver from Cerro Rico. But it was not only the mountain that the spanish explored. The Quetchua people, who inhabit the region,and many others were used and abused to explore the mines. The mountain, Cerro Rico, is today an intruiquite mixture of tunnels which are in risk of collapsing after over 500 years of exploration. But Potosi is not only mines. The money that came from the mines, was used to build a number of Churches around the city, that still shows a lot of colonial architecture. It is located at around 4600 m above sea level, making it impossible to walk fast... The setting around the city is amazing. But the mines was the main reason for my visit to Potosi...

I arrived in Potosi, mid afternoon and after wandering around the city trying to find a place to stay I arrived to a hostel at the same time as a german guy. We ended up sharing a room just to try and save some money. After dropping our backpacks we went to town, got a cup of coffee, and introduced each other :) The funny thing about backpacking is that names are not important. As long as people share the same objective, experiences can be shared and you'll just remember the person for what you shared with him or her and probably remember the nationality and not much more. After the coffee we decided to book our trip to the mines for the next day. We decided to do it with the most expensive agency, mostly because they had an extra guide in each group that helps anyone who feels bad to go back and get out of the mine. Knowing what I was about to face, I felt that it was good to invest two extra euros and feel that I was somewhat "safer"

The mines (short summary of the four pages I wrote in my diary after the visit...)

Small, hot, cold, unbreathable, dusty, tiny galleries, safety measures... a mirage... After hearing so much about the mines from Nicoles and other people I met on this trip I felt obliged to visit the mines in Potosi. I could have done as some people that, whether because they are claustrofobic, or because they just didn't feel they could stand watching this in loco just decided to watch the movie "The Devil's Miner", which tells the story of a 14-year old miner... Hearing about it or watching a movie about it is not enough for me... So I decided that I had to go there. And it was a terryfing experience... Many start working in the mines when they are only 12 years old. They work 10 hours per day, from dawn till dusk, crawling through small holes, breathing their own death. The particles in the air are responsible for lung silicosis, which gives these miners a life expectancy of 35! Watching those dark, wrinckled faces, carrying an empty look, that are capable of smiling only when we offer them some coca leaves, cigarrettes, drinks or dinamite, or sometimes, when we tell a joke, was depressing. I feel hopeless, there's nothing I can do appart from offering them those small things that keep them alive, and at the same time working and dying... We went down to the fourth level of the mine, over 50 m. On the way back I have to stop several times. I feel breathless, I'm sweatting a lot, I can hardly breath... I feel like running the hell out of there but, that's not possible. The climb is steap, too steap... I have to crawl for 15 min to reach the first level. I'm lucky I'm the first in the line, otherwise I would have to "eat" the others dust. I admire these men and women and I feel sad for them. They don't see any other opportunities in their lives and that's why they keep working in the mines, hoping the Tio will show them where to find the silver.

I did the tour with the spanish speaking group. After 1 month in South America I can understand most of what people say and I am starting to speak Spanish. My group is formed by some "older" people, that are as impressed as me. In the end we are given the opportunity to blast some dinamite. We prefer offering our dinamite to the miners. Some kids from the other groups are holding the litten dinamite bars while taking pictures... (later in the trip while speaking to other kids I realized that their main purpose in visiting the mines was having the chance to blast some dinamite...)

These men and women that I saw working should be offered the title of national heroes. No one should be allowed to work in such conditions in the 21st century. These working conditions are probably the same they had in 15th century when the Spanish arrived and enslaved the natives to work in the mines. Once they were slaves of the Spanish. Slavery was abolished, but now they are still slaves of the mountain. In a poor country like Bolivia is (stupidly poor, given the amount of natural resources they have) they make the economy work, extracting silver and other minerals from the mountains so that we can wear it around our necks or hang it from ears, belly buttons or just decorate our homes. And what do they gain from this? In most cases, a premature awful death, broken dreams... They organize themselves in groups of 10, most of the times they are brought together by family laces. So, if an accident happens... you know what i mean! They choose the place to dig based on their knowledge and on luck. They worship the devil - Tio - offering him everything, from cigarretes, coca leaves, alcool, condoms, to lama sacrifices. Many swear they have met the Tio in the mine before...

I only watched manual work in this visit. They use some machines to dig the mountain, but most of the work is made by hand, with their own sweat.

These are big men and woman. I feel small next to them. Sadly, this is one of the marking moments of my trip. I'll now come back to my pink world, eating in nice restaurants while they continue chewing coca leaves for breakfast, lunch and tea... Spending my afternoons in a terrace by the ocean while they have the darkness surrounding them. These are Quetchuas, exploited for centuries by different empires. These are heroes. What will be of them when the minerals are finished? I asked the guide. Emmigration, is his answer. I ask nothing else and just rush out of there.

I feel like I took a 2 hours return trip to hell. Potosi, once the richest city in the world, financed the rise of an empire, is still there, in the Andes, a mountain filled with holes that offer hope and death at the same time, a prison where many decide to encarcerate their lives.

The rest of Potosi

I spent the rest of my time in Potosi, wandering around the town, watching the beautiful façades from churches and enjoying my time with the Swiss and French that went to the mines with me. The dinner was really funny and wine just kept us talking and laughing until they asked us to leave the restaurant. A funny evening after an impressing experience. Back to my pink world, I guess...