BootsnAll Travel Network

This is my life

For three months I'll be a dirty wanderer with a backpack. Come here for the gory details. Or just if you're bored.

Lake Titicaca, Arequipa, Colca Canyon

June 5th, 2007

So with a week left to go in my journey this entry seems very tardy, but I finally got the pictures uploaded, so why not! I am currently in Argentina (Mendoza for the moment, wine capital) but have also made it to Iguazu Falls and Buenos Aires, both of which merit pictures and both of which I will try to squeeze into the blog before I get home. But for now (if I still remember), Lake Titicaca, Arequipa, and Colca Canyon.

First, a quick picture of me feeding an alpaca on my way from Cusco to Lake Titicaca, because they are just really cute:
titi 1

Lake Titicaca is amazing, although Puno, the jumping off point from the Peruvian side, is a bit of a dump. After a sleepless night in a sketchy hotel, I boarded a small boat with about 10 other passengers to first visit the floating reed islands of the lake. Yes, these people literally live on islands made of reed; they eat reed, their houses are reed, pretty much anything you could do with a reed they have figured out:

They are also very friendly:
titi 2

They live in reed houses on the reed island:
titi 4

Me eating reed “banana”
titi 3

After passing through the reed island we headed out to the further island of Amantaní where we were going to spend the night with a local family.

Here’s the view of sunset from my family’s house:
titi 7

My family was super friendly, and although the local language is Quechua, the father and daughter also spoke Spanish, enabling us to communicate. The mother cooked me and the other girl staying there dinner over the kitchen fireplace. It was pretty good, but unfortunately led to some gastrointestinal distress which combined with the outhouse-only circumstances was none too pretty. But before I knew any of this was going to happen, they dressed me in their lovely traditional garb and took us to the nightly gringo fiesta they have:

titi 6

It was a fun night, and the local women danced with us, which was nice. I became a wallflower after a few dances however, as my traditional belt was tied a wee bit tight and the altitude on the lake is high enough to make brushing your teeth feel like a workout (although who brushes their teeth when there’s no plumbing, lets be honest).

Although the morning after I felt the brunt of my food poisoning, I was still able to appreciate the amazing sunrise (well, slept through actual sunrise, but this gives the general idea):

titi 5

That night after returning to the lake, I summoned the courage to head on to Arequipa (really didn’t want to spend another night in the dump that is Puno). The night bus was slightly scary as we got a flat and flew off to the side of the road in the middle of the night, but after about an hour of repairs we were on our way again.

Arequipa was a lovely city where many of the buildings are made of this whitish stone called sillar. It gives off a pretty glow in the light:

titi 9

The city is also home to a huge monastery that was opened to the public about twenty years ago. It was so pretty inside that I almost entertained notions of joining the order, but not quite….

Pretty nunnery (lets pretend I didn’t forget to rotate this picture appropriately):
titi 8

Arequipa is also home to Juanita, a frozen Andean corpse of a 15 year old who lived about 500 years ago and was sacrificed on top of a mountain. Her frozen body is actually on display in the museum there for about half the year, and I got there in the right half! No pictures allowed, but it was very cool (if a little creepy).

My final stop in Peru was Colca Canyon, home to many condors, who the Incas considered messengers from the Gods.

Here’s me sitting at the edge of the canyon:
titi 12

A condor stretching its gynormous wing span:
titi 11

Pretty view in early morning Colca:
titi 10

I found Peru to be on the whole more touristy than Ecuador, but the sights were truly amazing. Stay tuned for Argentina, binges on amazingly cheap food, waterfalls, etc…, if I get it together…


Cusco, Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley

May 17th, 2007

Once again I find myself lagging in the blog department, but will again blame it on the fact that uploading pictures here can sometimes be a one to two hour affair. In any case, I arrived in Lima, Peru after a 27 hour bus ride from Ecuador, and flew to Cusco the next morning (thankfully only a 50 minute flight). I survived the drastic altitude change with the help of some coca tea from my hotel (yes, cocaine leaves, but they just help with headaches).

Cusco, former capital of the Inca empire, is a beautiful city. These days there’s a lot of colonial architecture from conquistador times, but almost everything seems to have a foundation of some Inca temple or important building. Here’s the main plaza by day:


And by night:

The Cusco environs are composed of all kinds of amazing ruins in an area known as the Sacred Valley. Pisac was one of the cooler among those that I saw:

But the crown jewel of the area is of course world famous Machu Picchu, which is about 4 hours away from Cusco. After a train ride from Cusco to the town of Aguas Calientes at Machu Picchu’s base, and a harrowing 5am bus ride the next morning (two way dirt road with only one lane), I arrived at the site:



No trip to Machu Picchu is complete without an exhausting hour’s hike up to the Wayna Picchu (wanna pic-cha?) peak for the aerial view of Machu Picchu. Supposedly it is in the shape of a condor, which was considered a God by the Incas:


The real question is, what happened to all the Inca gold and treasures that the Spanish never found (not to mention that they never found Machu Picchu, some American guy did in the 20th century). My guide suggested that they were being kept safe in the jungle, by a tribe that has never seen the white man. We may never know.

Soon to come…Lake Titicaca, food poisoning, and more….


Biking, Rafting, and the Jungle

April 29th, 2007

I arrived this afternoon in Lima, Peru, after a 27 hour bus ride from Guayaquil. But despite being filthy and cracked out, I thought it best to update the blog again, as I am still behind and want to be on track for my upcoming visit to Macchu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, and other famed Peruvian jewels.

After my Galapagan adventure, I decided I couldn’t leave Ecuador without a foray into the jungle. Anybody who knows me knows that living among anacondas, crocodiles, bugs, and things that go bump in the night is not really my style. So I reached a compromise with myself by heading for Puyo, which, although still certifiable “jungle” is close enough to civilization to make it slightly less threatening for the outdoors-impaired.

My “Extreme Jungle Tour” (the official title) began with a 17 km bike ride out of Baños, the town where I booked the adventure. We biked through gorgeous countryside and got to view the lovely cascades that surround the town:

Jungle 1

Jungle 2

After 17 km my ass was sore, but I decided to make things fair by making sure my arms got sore as well. Rafting was awesome! About five minutes into the trip a girl fell out (my partner actually, so I was the one responsible for pulling her back into the boat), but otherwise we were okay (there were still enough huge waves and close calls to make it fun, however):

Jungle 3
Wet suits are so flattering!

Jungle 4

After about another 17km in the water, we entered the car portion of the journey and drove another hour and a half to our jungle refuge, which was amazing and perched in the trees:

Jungle 12

My bug proof bed (and you can bet I conducted a thorough search every night before sleeping in it):
Jungle 11

The view from our hammock perch:
Jungle 7

The jungle was full of all kinds of interesting creatures, medicinal plants, and lovely views:

Jungle 5

The appropriately titled “pornographic palm”:
Jungle 6

The dragon’s blood tree, which makes this awesome paste that you put on cuts to cure them:
Jungle 9

We waded through this river as mosquitos feasted on my body:
Jungle 10

Jungle fashion:
Jungle 13

Canoe ride down the river with the Australian couple who were also on the tour:
Jungle 14

This view was worth the arduous, sweaty hike up to it:
Jungle 15

Jungle paint and my guide’s idea of a joke:
Jungle 20

As our jungle was relatively close to civilization, we also got to visit a sugar cane farm, and even perform the manual labor needed to bring forth the juice (although just chewing on cane also tastes amazing):
Jungle 18

The fruits of our labor:
Jungle 19

The trip ended with a visit to a wild animal reserve. Sort of Ecuador’s version of a zoo, only the animals are for the most part free to roam (including an anaconda that the keeper claimed she had seen snaking around the day before).

We caught up with this gorgeous maucau:
Jungle 21

This beastly tapir (the biggest mammal in the jungle):
Jungle 22

And upon leaving, this pesky little monkey who stole a pack of cigarettes and put on a show:
Jungle 23

After surviving my adventure unscathed (except for mosquito bites), I am almost sorry I didn’t go for the really scary jungle. Then again, there’s jungle and Peru and Bolivia as well…

More to come from Incan ruins….



April 23rd, 2007

At last, my long overdue post on the Galapagos (jungle to come soon). I’ve been out of civilization for a while (first on a boat, then in the rainforest), and that combined with bad Ecuadorian internet service has made me a bit lax.

My eight days in the Galapagos was amazing, beginning with the friendly crew and excellent cuisine of my boat, the Friendship:


The Friendship was labeled a “Tourist Superior” class boat (at least according to the travel agency I went to in Quito), but it still had its share of cockroach stowaways. Still, the excellent guide, crew, and cook made up for any shortcomings in the boat’s cleanliness.

The main draw of the Galapagos is of course the fabulous wildlife, of which the sea lions are probably the most prominent. I got to spend a lot of time with them on the various beaches where we landed:





We saw the lions playing, nursing, yelling (mostly the males), and sadly even a few dying (they abandon their young when there isn’t enough food). The little ones are adorable though, and come right up to you to smell your ankles. The only thing we didn’t really see with the sea lions was them mating, but there was plenty of funny business going on with other animal life:

Iguana lovin

They let you get real close

The albatros mates for life:


The blue footed booby creates a nest of doodoo. But first the men attract the women by strutting, whistling, and offering the gift of a branch.


Booby love

The frigate bird male inflates a huge red sack around his neck to seduce the ladies:

And then of course are the famous giant tortoises, who live to be about 200 years old like this guy:

I think one that actually knew Darwin died only recently.

Besides the diversity of animal life, the islands are cool for their gorgeous beaches:

At this beach I actually snorkeled with “vegetarian” sharks, but those pics will have to wait until I develop the underwater cam.

The volcanic scenery is also amazing. Basically the Galapagos came about via a series of volcanic eruptions (not unlike the Hawaiian islands) about 5 million years ago. Things continue to erupt however, leaving this dramatic, desolate landscape on many of the islands:

Thus, survival of the fittest creatures who can live without much water.

One of these was our guide, Cesar, who is about to turn 70 and has been guiding tours in the Galapagos for 30 years, longer than anybody else:

I could put up a million more pictures of wildlife but then I would run out of room! The Galapagos is definitely the most pricey thing I will have done on this whole trip, but it really is a once in a lifetime experience (or hopefully more than once). Apparently the only way to establish permanent residency in the Galapagos is to marry a Galapagan (?). I think the captain had his eye on me…

More to come shortly on the jungle, smoking monkeys, and anacondas….


Cuenca, Cañari, and the Parque Nacional Cajas

April 9th, 2007

This will be my last post for about a week as tomorrow I leave for the Galapagos islands! Giant tortoises here I come. Since my last entry, I spent much of the Ecuadorian Semana Santa (essentially the week leading up to Easter) in the lovely colonial city of Cuenca, where the tradition is to head to 7 churches the night before Good Friday. Here’s a far off view of the prettiest of them all:


And another:

Cuenca 2

And one more:

Cuenca 6

The city is a university town with a fun vibe, and on Thursday night a bunch of the guests/employees of my awesome hostel, El Caffecito, went out and partied to crazy regaton music (it’s all the rage down here).

On Friday, four other people from the hostel and I decided to head for a tour of the nearby indigneous community of the Cañari people, who were natives of Ecuador long before the Spanish arrived.

The day started out with some music and several shots of cane liquor:

Cuenca 7

Then we took a hike (yes, while buzzed on indigenous booze) through their forest to learn about various medicinal plants. I chose to partake in a purification ceremony, which basically consisted of our guide waving his incense around me:

Cuenca 3

The day continued with a walk on the old part of the Inca trail (notice the bright red clay surface of the path – my shoes have not yet recovered):

Cuenca 8

As a reward for our hike, we had a fabulous feast of rice, fish, eggs, cheese and various other things that they served to us on this awesome hugh sheet on the ground:

Cuenca 11PIC

I also got back on a horse for about two minutes, and found out that the Cañari people don’t actually name their horses. All I know is that their horse was a lot tamer than Indio from the mountains of Baños.

The next day, my new Dutch friend persuaded me to take a day tour with her of the Parque Nacional Cajas, which is about an hour’s drive from Cuenca.

The walk started with a march through this eerie forest of reddish trees that are thousands of years old:

Cuenca 4

At many many thousands of meters, the four hour hike was challenging, but well worth it for the beautiful, dramatic scenery:

Cuenca 5

Cuenca 10

Cuenca 9

This computer is barely working and I have to leave for the airport at 6am mañana, so I have to cut the entry short. Am still getting used to the multi-hour bus rides sans bathroom breaks, but they seem well worth it to experience this amazing country.


Otavalo – Baños – Nariz del Diablo

April 4th, 2007

I write from the town of Cuenca where I’ve just arrived after a 5 hour bus ride on flooded and slightly treacherous roads. But the last few days have been full of fun (and even the occasional treacherous journey in bus is fun when you get to see cool places as a result).

After my last entry, I went to spend Friday night in the town of Otavalo, which is a few hours north of Quito. Every Saturday morning the place is flooded with people (tourists and indigenous people selling their animals and wares). The market is overwhelming and awesome, and I got to practice my bargaining skills in Spanish (me puede rebajar un poquito?). The women of the town all come to the market dressed beautifully in gold beads and white lace shirts. Here’s one of them selling dream catchers:


On Saturday night I ended up at a random house party in Quito (the people from the hostel knew of a supposed “swingers” party, but I was relieved that it turned out to be much more of a run of the mill masquerade party than anything out of Eyes Wide Shut). Still, it was cool to party with actual Ecuadorians, and the party was on the roof of this awesome building in Quito (unfortunately drank a bit much to remember to take any pictures).

On Monday morning I headed out to the town of Baños a few hours to the south of Quito. On my bus ride there I met a nice Dutch girl named Lisette, who was also traveling alone. After arriving in town we headed straight to the outdoor thermal baths for some night bathing. The baths were amazing, nice and hot and surrounded by the mountains, and we got to soak in them while a refreshing light rain was falling. We walked back from the baths and got a great view of the church all lit up at night:

Banos Church

Feeling adventurous, Lisette and I decided to arrange a horseback tour of the local mountains/waterfalls for the next morning. Here’s me on my horse Indio, about to cry because he is at the edge of a cliff and I have no ability to control him:

Ariella Indio
Worst posture on a horse ever

Four hours on a horse was a bit much, and I’m still feeling it in my ass 2 days later. But it certainly was an adventure. And the horses took us to this lookout over all of Baños, which was pretty spectacular:

Banos view

Coming down the mountain wasn’t nearly as fun, as the paths were extremely narrow and the horses kept slipping over rocks/trying to eat rather than continue down the mountain. I think merry go round horses are more my speed…

On my way out of Baños I picked up some toffee, which is a local speciality there:


Making it is actually pretty labor intensive; people stand around all day pulling it from knobs in the doorways:

Toffee Maker

From Baños we headed to the town of Riobamba to catch the famous “Nariz del Diablo” train for Wednesday morning (basically an old train that goes through a series of crazy switchbacks on an old mountain track, a part of which looks like “The Devil’s Nose”). Unfortunately the train from Riobamba was already sold out, so this morning we had to head to the town of Alausi to catch up with the train further out.

Stranded in Alausi for a few hours waiting for the train, we got to take in some local sights:

Came upon two women in a bidding war over this pig’s head

These poor guys wait around for cock fights later in the week I believe

Finally we got on the “train” (basically the original train is out of commission and has been replaced by smaller touristy trains). Still, it’s really fun because you get to ride on top to take in the gorgeous scenery:

Ariella on Train

Feet on train
My ugly backpacker feet hanging off the train

The whole thing kind of feels like Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland, only it’s quasi real. There are some pretty freaky portions of the track:


The best part of the whole thing is just taking in the countryside, which is incredibly lush and lovely:


The trip has been really wonderful so far because I seem to meet new nice people wherever I go. It has been great to get out of Quito and into the more rural parts of country. Ecuador really is beautiful, and the people are incredibly friendly (and unlike in Quito, things feel pretty safe in the smaller towns). I still get nervous every now and then when I feel out of my element (riding in a horse down a mountain for example), but after about 10 days here I am starting to settle in to my journey on the Gringo Trail.


La mitad del mundo

March 29th, 2007

On Tuesday I took my first Spanish class with Diana, a native quitena. We walked for about fifteen minutes up the stairs at the end of the street where the hostel is (which is no easy feat at this altitude) to have our class in the Parque Ichimbia, which has an amazing view of all the city:


Although Quito apparently means “center of the world” in one of the indigenous languages spoken in Ecuador, the real center of the world is located about an hour by bus north of Quito, where there is a monument to the equator (and one that designates the fake equator, but more on that later). Yesterday I made my way there on Quito’s public transportation system, passing one of Ecuador’s more unfortunate imports along the way:

Lies lies and more lies.

Although I got on the bus at a marked stop, the further north of the city you get, the more the driver is willing to stop for random people in the street: mothers with babies strapped to their backs, snack vendors, and some guy trying to sell little cards for political gain.

When you arrive at the mitad del mundo site, you are deposited outside of the entrance to the fake equator–the one the French “found” a few hundred years ago, but which is really about a five minute walk into the southern hemisphere. I still found it necessary to take a picture there:


At the top of the monolith at the fake equator, I met a random French guy and a friendly Ecuadorian family who wanted to take a picture with us:


Next I made my way to the Inti Nan museum which is at the real equator, a fact the guides prove with all kinds of cool tricks, such as water going straight down the drain rather than swirling in either direction.

Here I am at the real equator:


And here I am balancing an egg on a nail right on the equator line, a feat for which I took home a signed certificate. Apparently this could theoretically be done somewhere that is not the equator, but it would be a lot more difficult.


Here’s me receiving my egg on nail diploma with the Frenchie:

In addition to cool equator tricks, the museum had great examples of indigenous lodgings. Apparently in addition to eating guinea pig or “cuy” (no, I have not worked up the courage), people lived with guinea pigs in their houses in olden times, thinking that the animals were very sensitive to the energy of human beings. You weren’t allowed in the house if the piggies started to make noise when you entered. I just think that they are way too cute to eat:


Here I am pretending to be an indigenous house wife working in the kitchen:


The guide at the museum also showed us a collection of other cool stuff like shrunken heads (too graphic to post), a practice that only ended about 50 years ago among some of the groups in the countryside. There were other fun collections of anaconda skins and boa constrictors, as well as a jar showing the infamous fish that swims inside of you if you pee in the river in the jungle, quickly destroying your insides if you don’t act fast. I am still contemplating if I can handle a few days in the jungle after seeing all the nasty beasts that live there.

Besides the lecherous cabbies constantly asking me why my boyfriend let me come to Ecuador alone and would I like to get to know Ecuadorian men better, there have been minimal complications with the trip so far. I continue to avoid ice and uncooked vegetables, and am learning to carry toilet paper with me, as some places don’t carry it all. But aside from these little tidbits of culture shock, I am really enjoying my time in Ecuador. Apparently it’s the place to be right now; the Discovery Channel travel team has now shown up twice in places in or around Quito that I’ve been.


Quito – Day 1

March 26th, 2007

I have to be careful to write this entire entry without using an apostrophe as I have yet to figure out how to get one out of the Ecuadorian keyboard. I arrived at the Secret Garden last night and was pleasantly surprised to see that it actually resembled the photos I had seen online. Beds were pretty comfy and the other 6 people in my dorm seem agreeable. The best part of the place is the roof terrace with a stocked bar and hammocks. Check out the view here:

View from Secret Garden

This morning over breakfast I met two girls speaking French and they invited me to go explore with them. My French at this point is better than my Spanish so it was fine, although I need to force myself to speak Espanol. We mostly walked around the colonial part of Quito near our hostel, which is gorgeous:

Colonial Quito

Colonial Quito 2

Now headed to dinner up on that terrace. There are little things I miss, like being able to write apostrophes or throw paper in the toilet, but otherwise I am pretty taken with this country so far. More to come…


Greetings all!

March 20th, 2007

Here I am saying goodbye to lovely Santa Monica. By the next time I post a picture I’ll probably look a bit more haggard, but who knows, maybe the malaria pills will agree with me…

Ariella Santa Monica

Here’s a link to the first place I’m staying in Quito: The Secret Garden. I fly out on March 25th. Slightly nervous but trying to remain calm. The trip should be pretty amazing.