Thursday, 31 December 2009

CRUISE - AMAZING, AWESOME, ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT ANTARCTICA

AMAZING ANTARCTICA









Neither words nor my pictures can do this place justice; you really have to be here to fully appreciate the beauty. This is such a magical experience almost surreal.










All I can say is if you think my photos look good then you would be blown away by the real thing.





Friday, 25 December 2009

CRUISING and a handy update

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE, GREETINGS FROM THE MAGELLAN STRAIGHTS OFF THE COAST OF CHILE

Here are a few photos of our time on board


Steve is not the only one to have been ill, HAL have announced an outbreak of GI (Gastro Intestinal) infection on board and have taken steps by making the self service restaurant full serve, closing the spa and thermal room.  I had a bit of an upset stomach and sickness yesterday but feeling good today.



BACKPACKING Bolivia by public transport

Having travelled down from Ecuador through Peru we arrived in Bolivia at Copacabana on the shores of Lake Titicaca.

Recommended bus companies in Bolivia are Copacabana, Trans Copacabana and Bolivia

COPACABANA TO LA PAZ We were very lucky to meet someone who offered us a ride in his car.  The alternatives would have been a basic local bus or one of the tourist coaches which are advertised all over Copacabana.

LA PAZ Public transport in the city is good and cheap.  Trufi is the Bolivian name for a collectivo and all have their routes clearly marked on a window sign.  You should not have to pay more than Bs4 (35p) for any journey within the city.  Mini buses also run similar routes and are a little cheaper.  We never needed to use the local buses. 

LA PAZ TO SUCRE Only possible on a night bus.  Buying tickets are the tour offices is more expensive, friends paid Bs140 for a Bs90 ticket.  If you arrive at the bus station earliy enough you can buy your ticket there.  It is a very nice modern bus station with Internet cafes, shops, cafes and lots of seating.  In addition to buying a bus ticket you have to buy a departure ticket from a seperate booth.  Copacabana is the only company doing our route on the day we want to leave.  We take the 7.30pm with a cama (reclining seat) at Bs90 (£8).  The cama cama seats recline to 180 degrees and are wider but as we never sleep on the bus anyway the extra money would be wasted.  Unfortunately the only seats left are at the back of the bus and boy do we know it.  They make for a very bumpy ride, are directly above the engine so it is noisy and as part of the journey is on dirt roads we often end up choking on the dust.  Arrive in Sucre at 8am. In the bus station there is a warning sign to say they recommend taking the official taxis to town and to beware of “fuked” policemen – luckily we know it was meant to say fake! The taxi fare is now Bs4 per person.



SUCRE TO POTOSI Getting information on bus times is difficult as each travel agent sells tickets for just one company and will only give you their times. They are selling tourist buses and do not recommend the local bus which is what we take.  At the bus station we are mobbed by people trying to sell us tickets. The next one leaving is the 10.30am “Trans Villa Imperial” at Bs15 (£1.35). I ask to see the bus and it is a basic coach but the tyres look OK!  Definately a chicken bus but a very jolly one at that.  Our seats have been sold 3 times over but we hold our ground.  No air con but open windows and lots of loud music.  It leaves at 11am and arrives in Potosi at 3.15pm.  We even travelled with a coffin (empty) on the roof.



POTOSI TO UYUNI Opposite the main bus station are the offices for the Uyuni buses.  We catch the 10am basic bus Bs 30 (£2.70).   It is mainly a dirt road with excellent scenery.  The bus stops for lunch at a place with a rustic toilet and simple meals available.  Arrived in Uyuni at 4pm in the main street from which you can walk to the hostels etc.




UYUNI TO VILLAZON (FOR ARGENTINA) There are two train companies operating this route, each runs twice a week.  On Friday it is the Expreso Del Sur train leaving at 10.40pm, Bs63 (£5.70).  You can pay extra (more than doube) for VIP seats and this includes a meal but the seats are not that much better.  The train is much like a coach with seats that recline.  Ours was pretty warm but we hear the other train is cold and leaves around 3am so not as convenient.   Arrive in Villazon around 7am. Turning right out of the station it is about a 20 minute walk to the border and over the bridge to ARGENTINA.  However if you take a taxi you will get to the border ahead off all the walkers and beat the queues.  Change money on the Bolivian side as there is nothing on the Argenitinian side however there is an ATM near the bus station and the taxi drivers that will take you to the station will take US$. 

TIPS

Try to get seats near the centre of the bus
Take ear plugs to block out the loud music
Don't be afraid to take the occasional "chicken" bus especially in the day time as the journey is entertainment in itself

I HAVE FOUND SOME GREAT WEB SITES BY CLICKING ON THE GOOGLE LINKS BELOW EACH ENTRY. IF THERE ARE ARROWS AT THE BOTTOM YOU CAN USE THEM TO SEE MORE ADVERTS

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

CRUISE - All aboard

We are now on the 3rd day of our Antarctic cruise, haven't been sick yet but suspect we will be soon.

Been kept busy checking out all the facilities on board.    Went up to the gym and did a cruise start weigh in.






Steve had a go on the jogging machine to get fit for his next chase!

We like to participate in the fun games, boules and mini golf and with Steve's handicap I did rather better than him but lost out on the prize by coming second.







At formal night I managed to look the part by putting together

seperates from my minimal collection of clothing.  The flimsy red

scarf spread wide made a reasonable shawl. 





 
 
 
 
 
 
Today arriving in Puerto Montt the sea was rough and it was windy and raining so tendering ashore was long winded. 

We don't like to do the organised ship tours.  They are expensive and everywhere you go you are in a group of tourists.  On previous cruises we have had great success by arranging to meet up with someone from one the hospitality clubs.  Unfortunately today when we called our Hospitality Club friend in Puerto Varas he couldn't help due to a last minute meeting. 

Normally we would just hop on local buses but it was raining "perro y gatos" so we waded back to the port to check out other options.  Whilst comparing prices for chartering a taxi we figured it would be good to find another couple to share with us.

An American couple had just turned down a rental car at $80.  We suggested the possibility of getting together to rent one and asked if he was going to put the car on his credit card.  A friend told us that many cards include rental car insurance and this was the case and the rental price without insurance was $60.

Mike was a very confident driver and soon had us out of the city heading towards the lake.  Frutiller is a pretty German style town on the lake with fine views towards Volcano Osorno.  Well we did see the houses but had to imagine the view!  Puerto Varas was much the same so not the greatest trip but a pleasant ride out.

Our extras were a couple of road tolls $2 and petrol $1.40 so at just over $30 per couple a far cheaper option than the similar trip offered by the cruise at $74 per person and we saw just as little as they did!

TIPS

Check whether your credit card includes car rental insurance

When renting a car take lots of digital photos of it before you set out especially close ups of an damage and make sure the rental company see you doing this.

I HAVE FOUND SOME GREAT WEB SITES BY CLICKING ON THE GOOGLE LINKS BELOW EACH ENTRY. IF THERE ARE ARROWS AT THE BOTTOM YOU CAN USE THEM TO SEE MORE ADVERTS

BACKPACKING - Peru using public transport

Having made our way down through Ecuador our first stop in Peru was on the coast at Mancura. Full travel log has all the information of this journey including accommodation.

In Peru each bus company has its own office and place of departure so gathering information is difficult, this should change in the future once they have built the new bus terminals.

MANCORA TO CHICLAYO We took the 9.30am bus El Dorado bus for PS25 (£5) arriving at 4pm
The coaches in Peru seem more comfortable and have retarders to keep the speed below 80kph which makes for a very smooth journey.  We went to Chiclayo so that we could look at the Lambayeque museums but would have been better off getting off the bus in Lambayeque before it went on to Chiclayo.

In Mancora you will find lots of "cyclos" motorcylcles with twin seated carriages on the back and space for luggage behind. Local rides about town should cost PS2 (40p).





CHICLAYO TO LAMBAYEQUE Local taxi, PS10 (£2.20) there and collectivo back PS2.20 (49p) per person.  Collectivo's follow roughly the same route as the buses but are small mini buses.  They are very entertaining as the conductor hangs out of the door or window touting for business whilst they try to maintain their schedule.  They have to clock in at certain places in order to keep them flowing.





CHICLAYO TO HUANCHACO 11am Linea coach to Trujillo, PS14 (£3.10) pp arriving at 2.45pm then a taxi PS10 (£2.20) to take us out to Huanchaco beach.  We should have just walked across the road from the bus station and waited for the Huanchaco bus (H) to come along as it would have been much cheaper.


DAY TRIP TO THE RUINS AROUND TRUJILLO A colectivo (micro bus) from Huanchaco to Trujilo PS1.5 (33p) and drops you on the edge of the city centre.  At Hostal Colonial we book the 11am start combined morning and afternoon tours of the ruins PS25 (£5.50) per person.  The last stop on the tour is Huanchaco so we hopped off there. 







HUANCHACO TO LA PAZ (MIRAFLORES)  From Huanchaco the "H" bus takes you right to the Linea bus station, PS1.20 (27p), in Trujillo.  The 8.30am direct bus cost PS35 (£7.70). They have buses leaving almost every ½ hour in various categories from the economy right up to VIP cama cama which has beds. We have opted for the cheapest comfortable one and the one the salesperson recommends for tourists.  It is a fancy bus station with free Wi-Fi, and as you board the bus there is a security camera check and finger printing. You have to put your right “peter pointer” finger into the ink then print it on a plan of the bus seats to show which seat you are in. The “directo” is a very comfortable bus, fewer seats than normal so more legroom. Set off at 8.45am. There is a 40 minute stop for lunch at a restaurant with reasonably priced meals.  Arrive at the bus depot in La Paz at 6.45pm.  A total journey time of 10 hours instead of the 8 ½ quoted. A taxi to Miraflores suburb cost PS10 (£2.20)

LIMA TO NAZCA Cruz Del Sur is known to have one of the best bus companies, and the most expensive, but their depot is easy to get to. We take their 7am coach to Nazca, PS66 (£15).   This time we get a hand baggage security check boarding the bus then someone comes round with a video camera! We can see what we are paying extra for, leg rests, blankets, pillow, meals and internet. Well the Internet doesn’t work and the leg rests are not so comfortable in the long term and the breakfast of an olive sandwich, a cheese roll and a tart was no great shakes so maybe the cheaper buses are good enough for us. Arrive in Nazca at 2pm.  The bus station is full of touts trying to sell their rooms and you get lots of hassle.  It is a short, flat easy walk to the centre of town.  Many travellers break this journey in Paracas and Ica and all who did said they enjoyed it.

NAZCA TO CUSCO For this journey there is no choice but a night bus.  We book the 8pmCial bus PS100 (£22) rather than the Cruz del Sur at PS140 (£32).   Our 8pm coach leaves at 9.15pm but at least it is a nice coach much the same as the ones used by Cruz del Sur.  The evening meal is cold rice and chicken and coke, we are dubious of the chicken so get an alternative jam sandwich.  Breakfast is a jam roll and coke.  It has been foggy in the night which has made the journey even longer so we don't arrive in Cusco until 1.15pm so a 15-hour journey.


CUSCO TO MACHU PICCHU You can take a "Sacred Valley" tour from Cusco for PS30 (£6.60) and the leave the tour at Ollantaytambo.  The cheapest trains to Machu Picchu are the backpackers ones which need to be booked ahead of time with Peru Rail or at the station in Cusco (take care the booking station for this train is not the station which is leaves from).  Taking the journey from Ollantaytambo is much quicker and cheaper than from Cusco, $31 (£20) pp each way for the 1-1/2hour journey from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes.  The left hand side going in and right side coming out will give you the best views.  If you are doing the journey for the scenery then consider the hours of daylight.  In Agas Calientes you need to buy your ticket for Machu Picchu entry and a bus ticket if you opt not to hike up.  If you want to climb Huayna Picchu then get to the bus station by 4.30am for the first, 5.30am, bus as only 400 people a day are allowed to do the climb.





MACHU PICCHU TO CUSCO At the time of our visit Ollyantaytambo was having major roadwork so the train back from Aguas Calientes stops about 15km beyond the town in the middle of nowhere.  Taxi and mini buses are there to take you back to Cusco but are expensive.  We flagged down a bus on the main road at got back to Cusco for PS5 (£1.10) pp.




CUSCO TO PUNO  There is an 8am “San Luis” bus to Puno, PS20 (£4.40).  Other tourist buses are more expensive but stop to do sightseeing things en route.  We arrive at 4pm.  In Puno the bus station is down by the waterfront a good distance from the city centre.  We had a tout board our bus and his hotel deal was good and included a bus ride there.

PUNO TO COPACABANA IN BOLIVIA 7.30am Pan American bus to Copacabana, PS15 (£3.30). You follow the shore of Lake Titicaca and after about 2-hours reach the last Peruvian town where the bus stops for 10 minutes for people to change money. At the border you complete exit formalities then walk a short distance to gain entry into BOLIVIA, where the coach picks us up. It is then just a short drive to Copacabana and we arrived around noon.

TIPS

Take care with your Spanish if booking a bus for tomorrow.  Mañana alone is tomorrow whilst mañana por la mañana is tomorrow morning.  We found out the hard way when we turned up for a 9am bus to find we were booked on the 9pm one and worse still there wasn't a morning one.

In Trujillo shop around for tours, they all seem to follow the same schedule but there is a lot of competition on price.  If you do the tour on a Monday you will miss the Chan Chan museum as it is closed but you could return to it the next day as your tickets are valid for 2 days.

I HAVE FOUND SOME GREAT RELATED WEB SITES BY CLICKING ON THE GOOGLE LINKS BELOW EACH ENTRY. IF THERE ARE ARROWS AT THE BOTTOM YOU CAN USE THEM TO SEE MORE ADVERTS

Sunday, 20 December 2009

BACKPACKING CHILE - observations and tips

Panoramic view over Santiago


We are nearing the end of our time in Chile, full details of the trip can be viewed on my diary blog so this is just a synopsis.

We opted not to motorhome in South America as we are not mechanically minded people and knew any journey there would involve a lot of remote roads where breakdowns could be a bit problem

To motorhome in Ecuador and Peru the big cities like Quito (Ecuador) and Lima (Peru) would have been

BACKPACKING - Ecuador using public transport

On 11th September 2009 we arrived in Ecuador to begin our 7 months trip of South America.  We have travelled by public transport all the way and this is a log with some information about the buses and trains used, times taken, prices paid, observations and comments in order to help fellow travellers.

Full travel log includes accommodation and other information.



At the moment QUITO airport is in the valley surrounded by the city, they are building a new one and when this opens it will be 45 minute north of the city (much to the delight of the taxi drivers!)  At the moment to get

Friday, 18 December 2009

TRAVEL SAFETY - Mugging and knife attack -

Last night we went to stay with a Couchsurfing host in Valpariaso.  We'd been with him just a couple of hours when we decided to go out to get some food.  Two blocks away were small stores at Plaza Waddington.  Having made our purchases we took the usual precautions, in the shop I put my purse away and my bag diagonally across my shoulders clutched under my armpit.  I had the groceries in my other hand.

The moment we stepped out onto the pavement I felt something bump me and the bag being dragged away.  I tried to hang on but couldn't and turned round to see a youth running off with it. Steve, just ahead of me, turned and saw what had happened.  Now I know you are not supposed to do this but gut instinct takes over and we both gave chase.   

I noticed the youth had a knife and alerted Steve who was ahead of me.  A person in the park tried to cut off the escapee but was threatened with the knife and backed off.  We continued the pursuit up the hill losing ground.  The lad took a left turning and we thought that was it.  Steve followed and found himself in a dead end street where he found the thief hiding behind a car.  With no further thought he dragged him out and tried to wrestle him to the ground whilst avoiding the knife.  When I turned the corner Steve was just gaining control holding the youth down with another man stepping in to help.  I raced up and stamped on the youths hand and we managed to get the knife away but not before Steve had been cut a number of times.  Another man came up the street shouting and went up to the youth and kicked him in the face.



My handbag was retrieved from under the car with contents intact and just the strap broken.  Local people were very kind to us until the police arrived.  Luckily policeman Miguel spoke reasonable English.

We were taken to the hospital where Steve sat down as he felt light headed.  Whilst Miguel was checking him in Steve sat up, started to mumble and then his eyes rolled back in his head and he fell backwards unconcious.  I screamed for help and people came and dragged Steve on his knees into the emergency room.  Once on a trolley he came too.  He needed stitches to a mid level deep wound in his hand and a minor gash in front of his ear whilst the rest of the wounds were surface.



The attacker was with us in the hospital and an x-ray showed his broken nose.  I hastened to assure the officer that we had not done this.  We were all taken to the Police station to sign statements and returned to our host quite shaken.  This morning we had to go to court to make a video recorded statement of what happened.  We had an interpreter with us at all times.  The boy and his family were all there and it was not a nice experience.  After we had been questioned and left the room the boys sister came to us to apologise for what had happened.  It turns out the boy comes from a very good family and his father even works for the judge. 

Apart from the attacker everyone was very kind and helpful, we did not have to pay anything for the hospital treatment and the police picked us up and took us everywhere. 
Things could have ended very differently and whilst Steve is being seen as a bit of a hero and very valiant we think we were rather foolish in our actions. 

TIP

If visiting Valparaiso try to leave anything of value somewhere safe and use a bum bag (fanny pack) or money belt.
.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

CHILE Santiago and an ANTARCTIC CRUISE - MONEY SAVING AND GENERAL TRAVEL INFO

An update on our current position.  At the moment we are in the middle of a 7-month backpacking trip around South America.  We began in Ecuador, did a side trip to the Galapagos Islands then made our way through Peru, Bolivia, Northern Argentina and into Chile.

On 21st December we pick up a 20-day Holland and America cruise to Antarctica. Here is some information about how we can afford to take cruises.

Vacations to go is a great site for finding deals but only Americans and Canadians can book through it.  A good alternative is Smart Cruiser UK and the American Smart Cruiser and it is possible to book through either so depending on the exchange rate the American one may be cheaper.  Another good web site for cruises is Best price cruises and for checking out the shipping lines Cruise critic

The optimum time to book the kind of cruise these companies sell seems to be between 2 and 3 months before departure.  Taking the options of a guaranteed cabin versus selecting a specific one has always resulted in us having a nice upgrade.

In Europe it may be different, we got a late deal on a cruise to Egypt through African Safari Club a week before sailing then found the price dropped even further in the last 3 days.

If you monitor the type of cruise you want to do as a matter of course you will know the format and when it is best to strike a deal.

By doing this I had found out that a 1 week cruise from Usuaia rarely drops below $3000 and most people pay $4000 or more.  Many of these are expedition style ice breaker boats with around 100 passengers and they do take you ashore using zodiac boats.

An alternative is a regular cruise that does not land in Antarctica but spends 3 days cruising the area.  When  the lead in price dropped to only $1600 for the 20 nights I felt this was the best deal.  As a bonus the cruise also includes visits to the Chilean fjords, glaciers, Puerto Montt, Punta Arenas, Usuaia, Falkland Islands, Buenos Aires, Montevideo and ends in Rio.  Another consideration is that a larger ship will probably be more stable and offers many more entertainment amenities on board and more choices for dining.

TIP
Here is a classic example of how we made our money stretch that bit further by modifying the way we visit Antarctica.  When the things you want to do seem too expensive it is often worth considering other options and sometimes lower the standard of the way you will do it.  Funnily enough in this case we have raised the standard of ship and duration of cruise, halved the price but sacrificed the chance to go ashore.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

TRAVEL DIARY Link to my other trip blog back to 1997-

Initially I did a diary of our trip for family and friends.  As our circle of travelling friends grew more people expressed interest in it so I started posting it on a blog along with a few photos.

It is a bit of a mixture of our observations, prices and info on places we have stayed, transport, meals etc and experiences along the way.  When we are in a motorhome we include information relevant to that such as dump stations and free camping places.

This blog goes right back to Jan 1997 when we started out.  The older entries are sorted by the date they were uploaded to the blog so to find them you will first have to go into the ealiest date archive.

If you want info on a specific country please E-mail me and I will give you the dates.

TIP

Consider starting a travel blog that you can use for personal reference, to help others and possibly to make money.
Possible sites for this are
Blogspot
Off Exploring
My Trip Journal

I HAVE FOUND SOME VERY INTERESTING WEBSITES BY CLICKING ON THE "ADS BY GOOGLE" LINKS BELOW EACH ENTRY. IF THERE ARE ARROWS AT THE BOTTOM YOU CAN USE THEM TO SEE MORE ADVERTS.