After a successful month in Brazil in
2001 I decided to return to South America and initially planned to explore
Chile. Then I thought, what the hell, if I've gone that far I might as
well go to the Galapagos Islands As I would be away for a month I
decided to see a bit of the Peruvian Andes as well. Being a National Park,
and access strictly controlled, the Galapagos part had to be done on a
package deal, but the Peruvian part could be done independently. With a
for cost, I did some research on the web, chose a Quito-based tour
operator, and ended up with an 8 day cruise on the "Sagitta", a rather
plush 115 foot, three-masted sailing ship, my own cabin and my own
I flew out from Glasgow to Quito, via Miami
on the first of September. Despite what I had heard I was not met at Quito
Airport by a gang of Ecuadorian Gringo-Bashers waiting to machete me to
death, in fact the place seemed very civilised. I booked into a three star
hotel room for three days, and was even taken there in a courtesy taxi.
Not bad for US$20 a night.
The next morning I checked out that my tour
agency actually existed, and collected my tickets. This left me with three
days in Quito.
my first day I visited "La Mitad del Munda" (the middle of the world), a
rather squat and austere monument located directly on The Equator. This is
one of those compulsory visits on the tourist circuit, if for no other
reason but to get a photo of yourself straddling the equator, which was
painted on the pavement. Inside was a fairly touristy exhibition of
indigenous native life but a good view of Quito from the top.
So which way does water drain down a plug
hole on the Equator? I was told it goes clockwise in the North and
anti-clockwise in the South. Having promised my brother-in-law to conduct
a field experiment I spent half an hour skulking about public toilets,
emptying wash-hand basins in both hemispheres, to discover that the
water had no particular inclination; it would go in either direction and
could be change with a quick swirl of the water with your hand. Having
spent hundreds of pounds, and travelled a third of the way round the
globe, to answer this world-shaking question I suppose I could have
returned home; mission accomplished. However I still had the Galapagos
I spent my net couple of days exploring the
City using the modern, cheap and effective over-ground tram system
(US$0.20) and became quite familiar with the Spanish Colonial Old Town,
including the National Library where I persuaded a curator to show me
their collection of antique books on the history of the Galapagos Islands.
I flew out to the Islands on a Boeing 727 at
dawn on day three. I was met at the airport and our party was bussed to
the docks at Baltra from were we took a
out to the "Sagitta", anchored in the bay. There were eleven passengers, a
crew of eight and Fabio, our Ecuadorian Naturalist.
Our first port of call was to the Charles
Darwin Research Station on Isla Santa Cruz at Academy Bay where we saw the
giant tortoise breeding-pens, and afterwards walked to the only proper
town on the Islands, Puerto Ayora, where I was able to send a final e-mail
I was pleased to find that as promised I had
my own small cabin, even with my own small en-suite bathroom. That night
we sailed for Isla Espanola and after an excellent breakfast at around
06.00hrs we set out by dinghy for our first landing.
There are no landing stages on the Galapagos
outside Baltra and Puerto Ayora, so landings come in to varieties; "wet"
and "dry". Wet landings involved jumping
or waist deep into the sea, and wading onto the beach. Dry landings
involved jumping onto the black basalt rocks which are extremely
young by geological standards (only a few million years) and very
sharp. Most of the trails we had to negotiate were over these basalt lava
trails which was precarious and a bit of a pain.
We went snorkelling and diving amongst
shoals of sea lions; on one occasion I could see a couple of
Galapagos sharks swimming in the background. Back on shore I was surprised
by a bull sea-lion which broke out of the water, flopped across the beach
and kissed me on the lips! Yuk! And we're warned not to interfere with the
Over the next week we landed on most of the
main islands and saw, hundred of marine iguanas, seals, sea-lions, turtles
and lots more. The iguanas (some over
feet long, were fearless, sometimes piled up on top of each other on the
paths, so you had to step over them. The birdlife was also phenomenal;
diving boobies, soaring frigate birds, pelicans, Galapagos Penguins and a
lot more. The food on the ship was excellent and apart from a slightly
twisted ankle, courtesy of an over-zealous dry landing, which
grounded me for a day, everything went smoothly. Every day we were out
walking, cruising in dinghies, kayaks, swimming and snorkelling On day
five we were all invited up to the bridge for champagne as we "crossed the
This place was a wildlife photographer's
paradise, even the birds stayed still. I spent hours photographing
everything I could, ocean panoramas, close ups of sea lion pups, burrowing
crabs mug-shots of iguanas from six inches etc, etc.
On day eight we returned and berthed back at
Baltra and were bussed back to the airport. While I was sad to leave the
islands it had been worth every penny and I'll probably go back in a few
years. Back in Quito I booked back into my previous hotel, and
made my plans for Peru.
Next morning I went down to a travel agents
and bought tickets to Cusco in the Peruvian Andes via Lima. With usual
airline logic, it was cheaper buying a return ticket going, Quito-Lima-Cusco-Lima-Quito
than just a single to Cusco..
With a day left in Quito I made the
trip up to the statue of "La Virgen de Quito" on top of the hill above the
Old Town. I'd been warned that the walk up could be dangerous for tourists
some who had recently been robbed by armed gangs. Anyway it was roasting
hot, so I took a taxi up with a French couple I'd bumped into. The statue
was fairly impressive with good views over the city.
Next morning I had to be up early (04.00hrs)
for the flight to Lima. I had an overnight stop, so booked into a hotel in
the city centre for the night. Unfortunately the window looked over the
main street, and all night long I was kept awake, by dozens of road-raged
morons at the traffic lights, revving their engines, shouting out their
car windows, and banging their fists on their car roofs, until the lights
changed. Then, with
more revving, bawling and banging they would roar on for a
metres or so to the next red light, before starting their infantile antics
Next day I was up early again for the dawn
flight to Cusco and was installed in a reasonable hotel in Cusco city
centre by noon. Having past experience of the joys of High Altitude
Sickness I went to bed to rest for a few hours. The manager brought me a
cup of tea; the leaves floating on the surface were clearly not of the
Typhoo or PG Tips variety, and it was a very refreshing brew. After a
couple of hours sleep I hadn't developed any altitude symptoms so decided
to venture outside.
Cusco was all right I suppose, perhaps my
expectations had been too high, or the altitude affected me in some subtle
way, but I couldn't really get excited about the city. It could even have
been a case of a surfeit of old South American colonial cities. I did a
bit of sightseeing then returned to my hotel to arrange the next week.
Given my limited time I had no option but to arrange a customised
itinerary to the more accessible part of the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu
and Lake Titicaca. Next day, once again at some un-Godly hour and off by
coach to the Sacred Valley.
Today I have read extensively about Inca
Civilisation, both the history and culture, and the not so black and white
history of its conquest and downfall by the Spanish. Then my knowledge,
although fairly extensive, was perhaps not detailed enough for the one
day, whistle stop tour that was all I had time for. However it was still
very enjoyable and I saw a good few locations that I knew about and it was
fairly informative. However I had only a week left so I had decided that
the only realistic way to see Lake Titicaca and get back in time was to
take a three day tour, so I booked this from my hotel for the day after
The next day I had set aside for Machu Picchu.
The train left at dawn, and as it was a good four hour journey each way I
decided to take the expensive carriage with the panoramic viewing dome.
This was a good choice if you could afford it as it gave an excellent view
of some spectacular scenery on the way there, and the comfort to crash-out
exhausted on the way back. The train went along the Urubamba River for
part of the way, eventually stopping at Aguas Calientes, a rather
depressing town which seemed to have railway tracks instead of streets. I
knew quite a lot about Machu Picchu and had no intention of taking any
guided tour, instead I walked up the side of the mountain to the ruins.
This took about an hour or so, but it
was worth it for the
of achievement when I finally emerged above the city. I made sure I got a
passing local to take some photos of me (one of which, suitably enlarged
and framed, now has pride of place above my mantle-piece!) before
descending into the city itself. Fortunately I was early enough to avoid
most of the tourist throngs and had a brilliant few hours before
descending again to the station and the train back to Cusco.
I got back from Machu Picchu late and after a
few hours sleep I had to get up again at about five in the morning for the
coach to Puna and Lake Titicaca. While I remember vividly the coach trip,
on a modern, air-conditioned coach, the frequent stop-offs at spectacular
locations in the Andes, for some reason I have no recollection, or for
that matter photographs of Puno itself. Perhaps this is just as well, or
perhaps it was some kind of altitude induced memory loss but as I have yet
to see any visitor's account of Puno that doesn't lambaste it as a
hell-hole it probably doesn't matter much. Anyway it wasn't Puno I had
come to see but Lake Titicaca which more than lived up to expectation.
Once again it was an early start the next
morning for a day out on the Lake. First stop was to the floating reed
islands of Uros. These are rather amazing constructions, being made from
woven mats of
anchored to the bottom of the Lake. Walking
on them was a bit like walking
on a bouncy castle. Actually
you really felt this was taking tourism to excesses, you really felt you
were intruding on people whose lives had been transformed into a side-show
for Western Tourists, although on the plus side (I suppose) without the
tourist money these islands would have been abandoned years ago. After
this it was back on board the boat again for a long trip to Tequile
Island. A lot quieter, although it was a steep hike up to the top of the
island with no turning back; the boat dropped us off then sailed round to
the other side to pick us up later. I would have liked to have stayed the
night; there are no hotels, you stay in an allocated local house but the
tour and my ever-shortening time didn't allow this. By the time we got
down to the boat everyone was knackered anyway - I don't think there was
anyone left awake by the time we got back to Puno.
Next day we went back to Cusco on the coach.
The following day I flew back to Lima.
I had only one full day left but decided to
make a final effort and go and see the Nasca Lines or regret it forever.
Presumably the change in altitude or just insanity
overcome me but it had to be done. It was a six hour sleep on a luxury
coach, leaving at
a ridiculously early hour (I was getting used to this by now) to get
there, and when I did, as expected, there was precious little see except
scrubby desert from ground level. However it wasn't difficult to get a
flight over the lines on a Cessna 130, single-prop airplane. This was
fabulous, it was the first time I'd ever been up in a light aircraft and I
took lots of photographs although for some reason managed to miss getting
any of the actual geoglyphs in them. Actually there was so much glare from
the desert floor that day, seeing them was difficult and the photography
difficult in the cramped cockpit. However it was well worth the trip and
the six hour coach journey back from Lima.
Next day I flew back to the UK. Not the best
series of flights I had ever done as it involved a nine hour, all night
stop over in Miami where I was too worried to sleep in case I failed to
wake-up and missed my connection. By the time I got back to Glasgow I was
shattered and felt in need of a holiday. However instead it was back to
work the next day...