Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Snuggle Bear ... In Pictures

Most of my friends on Facebook have already seen the Snuggle Bear pictures but there are still a few who haven't seen them all.  As you may remember, Snuggle Bear went with us on our South American Adventure.

You can see the pictures in my Snuggle Bear Flickr album.  Here are a few of my favorites:

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Iago giving Snuggle Bear a piggy back ride.

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Snuggle Bear ... the source of all rainbows.

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Snuggle Bear navigates the Rio Negro.

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Snuggle Bear chillin' with some ice cream.

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Snuggle Bear and fifteen of his friends on Rapa Nui.

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It's safety first for Snuggle Bear.

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Snuggle Bear on the lava flows of Santiago Island.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

South American Adventure - Part Seven - The Galapagos Islands

Day 18 - Another flight and another ship.

We didn't know it at the time but we were on our way to the most physically demanding part of our South American adventure.  I'm glad we did it while we were younger (ish).

We flew from Quito to Guayaquil and then on to Baltra Island.  Baltra island consists of mainly the airport and not much else.  We were greeted by our nature guides and we boarded our bus and headed out.  First stop was a ferry ride to Santa Cruz Island.

Santa Cruz island is the only island not fully in the national park and most of the Galapagos' inhabitants live on this island.  Our first stop was a restaurant out in the countryside which offered up a nice buffet spread.  After lunch we wandered the garden grounds surrounding the restaurant.
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Our first Giant Tortoise of the Galapagos Islands.
Our next (and last destination on Santa Cruz) was a farm that borders the national park land.  The farmer no longer farms and instead gets income from offering his farm for the observation of tortoises.   The tortoises wander in and out of the park/farm.  We walked the grounds with our guides and observed our first giant tortoises.  Along with the tortoises were birds and plants.
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A curious bird.
The life on the islands is very dependant on what animals and plants can make the ocean voyage to the islands.  For example, there is only one pollinator on the island, a type of carpenter bee.  The bee lays eggs in old wood so a larva probably floated across the ocean and populated the island.  Since the carpenter bee prefers yellow or white flowers, all the native island plants have yellow or white flowers.  The relative isolation of the islands resulted in a unique ecosystem.

After ogling the tortoises we took our bus to the largest town on Santa Cruz, Puerto Ayora.  There we got in inflatable dinghies and went out to our waiting ship, La Pinta.  La Pinta would be our home for the next four nights.
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Heading out to La Pinta.
The rest of the evening was taken up with a safety drill, dinner, and a naturalist talk about the islands and our itinerary for the next day.

Day 19 - Bobbing around Santa Cruz island.

Before I boarded La Pinta I was worried about getting motion sick.  This ship was fairly large but it was less than half the size of the ships I used to ride for work and we were in open ocean.  My worries turned out to be unwarranted as I soon got my sea legs and the motion of the ship did not bother me at all.
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A rather annoyed looking sea lion - we interrupted his nap.
After breakfast we got in the dinghies and went out for a dinghy tour around a small island off of Santa Cruz island.  As we approached an outcropping of rocks covered in red crabs and a sleeping sea lion the waves picked up and, before we knew it, our boat was stuck.  We all got off the boat in a rapid and orderly way onto another small outcropping of volcanic rock.  Once the people were out of the boat they were able to free it from the rocks and move to the protected side of the outcrop to pick us all back up.  Our first unplanned wet landing.

We had a choice for the next activity.  We could either snorkel off a dinghy or we could take a glass bottom boat ride.  Not having ever snorkeled in the ocean (or even a large lake) I decided to take it slow and do the glass bottom boat with the Wife.  It turned out that the views under the boat were pretty murky which affected both the boat ride and the off-dinghy snorkelers.
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A mess of iguanas (yes, that is what a group of iguanas is called ... a mess).
The glass bottom boat riders did get an awesome experience though.  We saw iguanas sunning themselves, herons, and pelicans.  As we were trying to find some clear water we passed some blue footed boobies.   As we watched, the boobies started fishing.  They fish by flying up in the air then diving full speed into the water.  Underwater they turn around and open their mouths as they come back up to the surface ... hopefully with a fish in its mouth.  Before you knew it we were surrounded by diving boobies.  They would jump out of the water just to dive back in over and over.  It was exhilarating.  Here is a video of the fishing boobies.
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My first time snorkeling in the ocean ... off of one of the Galapagos Islands!
After lunch we went out again, this time to snorkel off the beach.  We squeezed into our shorty wetsuits and snorkeled off the sand beach along the rocky coast.  The sun came out and the water wasn't as murky as the morning and I saw a lot of fish including pencil urchins and puffer fish.  The strong current - at one point I was kicking full speed and not making any progress - gave the Wife and I pause so we stayed close to the beach.  A heron and an oyster hunter bird showed up on the beach and showed no fear.  It was amazing.

Back on La Pinta we started heading to our next day's destination.  Along the way was passed by a collapsed volcano caldera.  Along the water inside the flooded caldera you could see flamingos.
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Flamingos at a distance.
Day 20 - Bartolomé and Santiago Islands.

The next morning we headed to Bartolomé island.  We had a dry landing and followed a board walk up to the top of the caldera.  Along the way we say native cacti and pioneer species trying their best to establish themselves on the barren volcanic soil.  The views along the way were amazing, naturally.  The number of amazing views this trip were uncountable.
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A bit overexposed but I love this picture.  We snorkeled around pinnacle rock
(the sharp spike-like rock middle-right).
The trip up was around three hundred steps which isn't that much but we were pretty sweaty and tired when we got back to La Pinta.  But we had no time to rest as we put our wetsuits on and headed back to a beach on Bartolomé island near pinnacle rock.


The sun came out and the waters were clear and there were a lot more fish here than the day before.  A large fish caught my eye.  I turned around to get a better look and saw that it was a white tipped shark.  I followed it for a while.  I turned back to head back for the beach and, on the way back, a sea lion buzzed me underwater.  I tried to follow it but it was too fast.  It finally came up on the beach and sunned itself not far from the sunning humans.
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One of many schools of fish near Bartolomé island.
We returned to the ship and had some time to recuperate as we ate lunch and rested during the early afternoon.  The afternoon excursion (The Wife stayed on La Pinta) was a walk on Santiago island's 'fresh' lava flows.  The flows were about three hundred years old.  The patterns in the lava were mesmerizing and varied in many ways.
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Folds in the lava flow on Santiago island.
At this point the screen of my small camera failed.  The camera would still take pictures and movies but I couldn't see what I was taking.  Fortunately I had my large camera too.

Day 21 - Genovesa Island and Darwin Bay.
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A baby nazca boobie.
Our last island was Genovesa island.  Part of the caldera wall had collapsed and the inside of the large caldera was filled with water deep enough for La Pinta and other large ships. Our morning excursion started on a beach where we did a short nature walk looking at the Frigate birds, the seagulls, and the Nazca and red footed boobies.  After the nature walk we snorkeled off the beach.  There was a lot of current here and the water was a bit murky but I did see a couple stingrays and another white tipped shark.  (I managed to take video of a stingray without the screen working.)
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A red footed boobie.
In the afternoon we boated over to a small landing, passing penguins and fur seals along the way, hiked up to the rim of the volcano and walked among the nesting birds.  It was amazing that there was so little fear from the birds.  As long as you stayed five or six feet away they really didn't care.  Even birds with eggs or very small chicks didn't seem to care about us.
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A Galapagos short-eared owl.
Our goal for this hike was the short-eared owl.  Near the end of our hike we found one.  It posed for us and looked at all the people while everyone, including myself, snapped pictures.  It jumped at a dove a few times seemingly annoyed by its presence.
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A male frigate bird, with red pouch inflated and wings spread,
doing his best to attract the ladies.
We walked back to the pick up site.  The sun was beginning to go down as we boated back to La Pinta for our last night aboard.

Day 22 - Goodbye Galapagos Islands and the return to the main land.

We got off La Pinta on Baltra Island and bussed to the airport.  We said our goodbyes as the people we'd met on board were scattering to the four corners of the planet ... or so it seemed.

Our flight took us to Guayaquil, Ecuador where we spent the night.  During the afternoon we took a car to the artisanal market and bought our last magnets, souvenirs, and last minute gifts.

Our South American adventure was almost over.  Tomorrow we would go to sleep in our own bed.

Pictures of the Galapagos islands' wildlife can be found in my South America 2016-06 Flickr album.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

South American Adventure - Part Six - Quito

Day 16 - A travel day and a day to feel crappy.

We got up early and left the hotel at 5:00AM and walked across the street to the terminal.  The pharmacy I visited the night before was not open yet and I didn't find any imodium so I spent the day not eating or drinking ... or at least keeping it to a minimum.

The flight from Santiago, Chile to Lima, Peru then on to Quito, Ecuador was uneventful.  My strategy of not eating kept things under some modicum of control.  The drugs I bought for the Wife kept her cold in check as well.

Our driver/guide picked us up at the airport and I told her of my predicament.  There was a pharmacy across from the airport in Quito so I bought what I needed before we headed to the hotel.

By the time we got to our awesome hotel in the heart of old Quito we both were feeling really crappy.  I think my issues was more dehydration and lack of food more than anything else.   The rest of the afternoon consisted of laying on the bed, a room service dinner of spaghetti, and an early lights out at 8:00PM.

Day 17 - A tour of Quito.

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The Madonna of Quito, Ecuador.
We joined the other eight members of our group this morning during breakfast.  I was the only guy in the group.  The ten hours of sleep did wonders and I felt better.

Out guide and driver picked us up and we started with a drive up to the Madonna de Quito, another statue of Mary.  This one was made of shiny aluminum and sported angel wings and a crown of stars.  From here you got a pretty good view of the city.

From there we went to the basilica.  The basilica is modeled after Notre Dame with galapagos' animals substituting for gargoyles.  From inside the basilica, in the right position, you could see the Madonna on the hill.

From there we went to the Plaza Mayor.  It was Sunday and the plaza was filled with people.  A group of dancers and musicians were performing to one side of the plaza.

Our next stop was the presidential palace.  You could not enter but you could look through the gates.

Our next location was not open yet so we went to a restaurant near a corner of the plaza.  We killed time eating some tasty sample plates of different local foods and deserts.  The goat was pretty good.

The church we were going to visit was now open so we visited the "Golden Church" or the church of the Compañía de Jesús.  Itis a beautiful church liberally covered in gold leaf.  I think I would have taken some of my best pictures here but, unfortunately, photography was not permitted.  I did get a picture of the door.
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The view from the top floor veranda - San Francisco Convent on the right,
a new subway stop will be on the left.
We returned to the hotel and had the rest of the afternoon free.  We spent it up on the hotel veranda looking at the old part of the city, shopping (naturally), and exploring the artisanal shops in the catacombs of the San Francisco convent next door to our hotel.  We also learned about Ecuadoran chocolate and the manufacture of Panama Hats.
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The Madonna de Quito from out hotel veranda.
We discovered the hard way that you needed reservations to eat at our hotel's restaurant so we ended up with another night of room service.  Turns out the reviews of the restaurant were quite mixed - some loved it and others truly hated it.

Tomorrow we will once again leave the urban and head back into nature.  Tomorrow we fly to the Galapagos Islands.

A few pictures of Quito can be found in my South America 2016-06 Flickr album.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

South American Adventure - Part Five - Rapa Nui Aka Easter Island

Day 13 - A half day on Easter Island.

Today started in a panic when I couldn't find my passport.  After unpacking my bag and checking the safe several times I finally found it ... in the safe.  It had stood up on end and hid behind the safe door frame.  Gave me a little scare and woke me up.

We were picked up by our driver and guide and taken to the airport.  The flight was about five hours to Easter Island.  I was expecting a smaller plane with few amenities.  What we got was a state of the art plane with in seat entertainment and electro-optic window shades (touch a button and the windows darken).  What makes this possible, strangely enough, is NASA.  NASA picked Easter Island as an emergency landing site for the space shuttle.  After negotiating with Chile (who controls Easter Island) NASA built a long runway for the airport that would accommodate the space shuttle (and larger modern airliners) as well as the main north-south highway on the island.
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Some of our first Moai at the quarry.
We were picked up at the airport (I missed the guide's sign because, frankly, it was too big and I was looking for a small hand held sign) and taken to our "eco lodge".  We checked in, got a tour of the facilities, settled into our very nice room, and were told to meet in the central guide area for our first outing.

Our first outing was to the Quarry.  The quarry is a volcano with a large amount of tuff which is what the Moai (the large statues of Easter Island) were made of.  We walked along a path that took us past many moai, all unfinished.  The rule was a moai had to survive the journey from the quarry to the platforms built along the sea shore.  If the moai was dropped along the way, it would stay there and the people would go back to the quarry to make another one.
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Moai everywhere along the quarry path.
The moai are fascinating.  Another set of expectations met I think.  Along the walk we got our first view of the fifteen - fifteen restored moai (we would visit the fifteen the next day).  When the first western explorers arrived to Easter Island all the moai had already been knocked over for a very long time (knocked over by rival tribes).  Only a few moai have been restored.  As a matter of fact, the native people have requested that no more restoration be performed because these statues are grave markers and are sacred to the Rapa Nui people.

We walked back to the start of the path and took a second path that took our small group into the crater of the volcano.  The inside is a flooded lake which is the venue of some Rapa Nui games.
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The flooded quarry volcano caldera.
Before I continue, is it Easter Island or Rapa Nui?  The first name the island ever had was given to it by the european explores i.e. Easter Island.  Rapa Nui is the tahitian name that came afterward.  The inhabitants who were there when the Europeans arrived had no name since, to them, the island was the entire universe and who names their entire universe?  The natives prefer Rapa Nui and from this point on I will use Rapa Nui.

We returned to the lodge before dinner.  We met with the lodge guides and planned out our outings for the next day.  There are four basic outing that cover most of what the island has to offer.  Being here only a day and a half means we would only have time for three (the quarry and two others).  We picked out two that covered the most history of the island and its inhabitants.

While I was waiting for dinner in the common area uploading Snuggle Bear pictures the Wife decided to go outside to see the stars.  While we were there the skies were mostly cloudy but, on occasion, you could see the milky way and stars.  While outside walking along the uneven lava rock path, the Wife made the mistake of looking up while walking.  This resulted in her tripping and landing pretty hard on the volcanic rock.  She ended up with a very sore shoulder, bruises on her chin and legs, a scrape on an arm, and a deep scratch on her glasses.  I think she also got a concussion since she was dizzy and nauseous later and skipped dinner.  Fortunately she felt better the next morning and recovered quickly after a night of soreness.

Day 14 - A full day exploring Rapa Nui.

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Walking along the cliffs of Rapa Nui.
The morning outing was a hike to the top of Rano Kau along the path known as the Birdman Trail.  The trail starts near a platform with fallen Moai and follows a trail along the coastal cliffs to the top rim of the Rano Kau volcano.  At the top of the volcano the Rapa Nui held the birdman competition to see which of the twelve (or so) tribes would lead the other for the coming year.  A champion would swim to a nearby island (sometimes referred to as the birdman islands) retrieve a bird egg and return to the top of the volcano.  The first to bring an intact egg to his chief won resulting in the chief ruling the other tribes for the next year.  This arrangement came about after years of warfare and hardship when all the moai were toppled.

The hike was about 4.3  miles (6.9 km) and climbed about 900 ft (274 m).  At the top you could see that the large crater was flooded and looked like a green swamp.  We stopped to take pictures before walking around the rim to a van.  The Wife did not hike with us but met us at the van.  The van took us to Orongo, the village where the chiefs waited during the birdman contests.

From there we drove to a rocky shore where we were pleasantly surprised to find chairs, umbrellas, and a picnic lunch waiting for us.  We sat on the rock watching the waves crashing on shore (a video of the waves can be seen here).  It was a bit chilly - it was winter here - but I enjoyed the lunch.

After lunch we drove up to see the fifteen, also known as Ahu Tongariki, to see the magnificent sight of fifteen restored moai.  The overcast sky provided a rather ominous backdrop for the moai.
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The fifteen moai.  The second from the right has a top knot made of a reddish volcanic stone.
Next we drove up the north coast stopping at several platforms, all with fallen moai, including Ahu Te Pito Kura, home of Paro, the largest moai that actually made it to the platform.  There is a larger one at the quarry but it was never finished.  Near the end of the moai period the tribes seemed to be playing a game of one upmanship.  At other stops we observed pictograms.

Our last stop of our day was Anakena, the only beach on the island.  There is only one beach on the island - a second beach recently suffered a rock slide and is rapidly disappearing into the sea - the rest being cliffs and volcanic rock.  A couple of us went swimming.  The Pacific Ocean was a bit chilly but since I swam in the Rio Negro, I also had to swim off of Rapa Nui.

We returned to our lodge and planned the next half day's activity.  We would be visiting the only town on the island, Hanga Roa.  We had dinner and went out to see the stars (this time the Wife and I went together) and were fortunate to have a brief glimpse of a clear star filled sky.  It didn't last long before clouds blew in.

Day 15 - Our last half day on Rapa Nui and the start of more bad luck on the mainland.

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The only known remaining moai eye.
We took a van into town and visited the small (tiny) local museum.  The only interesting thing there is one of the original moai eyes (or a copy of one).  All the eyes were long gone by the time the Europeans arrived.

Next we went to a artisan market for magnets and souvenirs followed by the local catholic church.  The church needed some work but the hand carved wooden statues inside were interesting.

We returned to our lodge, had a "box lunch" which meant a sandwich ... there was no box, picked up our bags and went to the airport.

We arrived back in Santiago, Chile in the late evening.  The Wife had developed a runny nose and was starting to feel bad by the time we got to the hotel - the hotel was literally across the street from the airport terminal.  After checking in I went back to the terminal and found a pharmacy still open and bought some medicine to dry up the Wife's nose.

After returning to the room I discovered that I had not gotten away scot free.  Soon after I got the medicine to the Wife and I had settled in the room I discovered I'd caught the Poopy Nui (or the Rapa Poopies ... not sure what to call it).  Needless to say I didn't sleep well that night as I spent the night walking between the bed and the bathroom.  I started taking antibiotics but, an oversight on my part, I didn't have any imodium.

Tomorrow was another early morning and onward to Ecuador ... and hopefully on the road to healing.

Pictures of Rapa Nui and the Moai can be found in my South America 2016-06 Flickr album.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

South American Adventure - Part Four - Santiago De Chile

Day 12 - A free day for the half way point.

It was the half way point of our travels and we were in Santiago, Chile.  It was time to do some laundry.  We were going to find a laundromat near the hotel and do it on the cheap but the nearest one was a distance away.  Turns out Chile is one of the cheapest places we've ever been to and the laundry rates at the hotel were reasonable (not cheap but not extravagant either).

We dropped our bag of laundry, ate breakfast on the top floor of the hotel, then headed out in search of interesting sights and an ATM machine.  I hadn't brought any chilean money on this trip.  I usually get all the different currencies before I leave on a trip but this time I really wasn't sure how much I would need so I only got some Brazilian Reals and US dollars.  With map in pocket we headed out to where the desk clerk said we would find an ATM.
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Crossing a river and seeing our landmark, the Telefónica Chile building shaped like a cell phone.
Our hotel was located in the Lastarria neighborhood, an up and coming place in Santiago.  It was centrally located from many interesting places to visit.  A short walk took us across a river where you could get a great view of the Andes mountains behind the building that looked like a cell phone (that is how everyone described it and it did look like a cell phone).  I expected to find a bank on the other side of the bridge but I didn't see anything remotely like an ATM so I stuck my head into a small gallery and ask the elderly man if there was a bank nearby.  There wasn't but he did give me directions to an ATM.  With chilean peso in pocket we were ready to start seeing the sights (and buying magnets).

Our first stop was one of the houses owned by nobel laureate Pablo Neruda.  Yes ... the Wife managed squeeze in literature and poetry on this trip.  We toured the house listening to the recorded tour.  It was interesting.   His life was entwined in the history of Chile.
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A view from Cerro San Cristobal.
On the left is the Gran Torre Santiago, the tallest building in south america.

Next we headed to Cerro San Cristobal.  We boarded a funicular and rode up the hill (cerro).  The car we rode in was the same one used by Pope John Paull II.  At the top we continued up the hill and admired the incredible sights of the snow capped andes mountains and the city of Santiago.  Along the path were seven crosses decorated by seven different artists.  At the top of the hill is a large statue of Mary.  At her base there is a small area where people have left cards, pictures, and mementos.  The Wife left on of her Dad's prayer cards.  We walked around the large statue and toured the painted interior.  We bought some magnets and souvenirs before heading down to some shops at the top of the funicular.  We bought more travel memories before having a lunch of chips and empanadas.
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The Virgin Mary on Cerro San Cristobal.

We went back down the funicular (watch the thrilling five minute video here) and started the long walk to the plaza de armas.  Along the way we passed more cool street art and through a bustling street market.  By the time we reached the plaza de armas we were both getting tired.  We visited the cathedral, observed the changing of the guard and the horse police.  The Wife noticed a statue of a pilgrim Santiago (he is the patron saint of the city).
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The Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral on the plaza de armas.

Being tired we started heading back to the hotel.  I was keeping my eyes open for ice cream as we walked..  Our guide had mentioned some great ice cream places but we never found those (never really tried to since they were out of our way).  I passed in front of what I thought was a cafe when a waiter came out with two bowls of ice cream with a waffle cone sticking out of each bowl.  ICE CREAM.  We sat down and the Wife ordered two scoops of white chocolate and I ordered a scoop of milk chocolate and a scoop of dark chocolate.  Yum.  I repeat ... yum.

By the time we got back to our hotel, we'd walked about 8.5 miles - a lot more than I expected.  I napped a little and we went to a corner store to buy water and some sandwiches - neither of us wanted a big sit down dinner.  We both went to bed in clean pajamas.   Yum again.

Tomorrow we would be getting up early ... again ... and going back to the airport.  Next stop, Easter Island.

Pictures of the Santiago de Chile can be found in my South America 2016-06 Flickr album.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

South American Adventure - Part Three - Rio de Janeiro

Day 9 - Seeing the highlights of the city.

Rio de Janeiro, and our next stop Santiago, Chile, would be a change of pace.  Iguazu and the Amazon were all about nature.  Now we were returning to the urban for a few days.

Our tour didn't start until the afternoon so we slept in this morning.  It was nice after all our early mornings on the Amazon.  We slept in so late we missed the hotel's free breakfast so we settled on room service instead.

Our guide and driver picked us up and we headed for Christ the Redeemer.  It was an overcast day ... it would actually be worse the next day ... and my hopes for clear views were dashed.  We took the train up to the base of the statue and walked up the final couple hundred steps.
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Christ the Redeemer in a brief clearing of the clouds.
The statue was engulfed in clouds and mist.  Despite this we still managed to get some good pictures when the haze cleared for a few seconds at a time.  The view of the city was never really clear and offered only a few tantalizing glimpses.  Some people have said that the statue is a disappointment and is smaller than they imagined.  For me it was exactly what I expected and I wasn't disappointed at all.

We got back in the car and drove around historic districts and different parts of the city that offered vistas.  We stopped at a convent but, unfortunately, it was being used for a wedding and we could not go in.
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Looking up in the Mayan pyramid inspired national cathedral.
From there we went to the national cathedral.  The cathedral was built based on the design of a Mayan temple.  A very unique design with some incredible stained glass windows.

Lastly we took the cable car up to the top of Sugar Loaf.  The views had cleared somewhat since earlier in the day and we watched Rio light up as day turned to night and the city turned on its lights.
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View from Sugar Loaf mountain, the city lights starting to come on.  The airport is on the right.
Our guide dropped us off at a all you can eat BBQ place not far from our hotel on Copacabana Beach.  Due to a misunderstanding Camila did not join us (She thought we were tired and wanted to be alone ... we were tired but her company would have been welcome).  You started by getting vegetables from a buffet.  Then the meat parade started.  One by one waiters would show up with some type of meat on skewers.  Every piece of meat looked better that the prior one.  Before I knew it my plate was full of a heap of meat.  The most exotic was wild boar which tasted awesome.  We ended up turning away waiters before we even got to the fowl course.  I think we just didn't have the stomach capacity to truly enjoy the meals we were offered on this trip.  I would have to fast for a day before going back to that place.
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My plate ... more meat was added until I said "No More!"
While we saw many of the famous Favelas from a distance, we chose not to visit one.  Neither of us feel comfortable participating in poverty tourism.
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A favela from a distance.
Day 10 - A "free" day in Rio.

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A statue of Antônio Carlos Jobim writer of
"The Girl from Ipanema".
It was Sunday and we were supposed to have a free day.  After talking it over we decided to take Camila up on her offer to go with us.  I think the Wife would have preferred going it on our own but Rio is just too big of a city to really navigate on your own and I think we ended up going to and seeing more with a guide and driver.

Camila picked us up at the hotel and we walked to a nearby church for Mass.  We were early so we walked through an open air market in a park across from the church.  We returned to the church and sat down.  Camila asked for the Wife's dad's name and she had the Mass said in Cecil's name.  It was very sweet and moving for the Wife.

Next we took a cab to Ipanema beach.  We walked along the beach heading toward an old fort, one of three that used to defend the bay from the French.  From there we walked along the beach a little longer until we got picked up by our driver.

We asked Camila to take us to two places.  The first was the Selerón Steps.  The tiled steps are a project of a Chilean artist and were dedicated to the Brazilian people.  The steps were a bit crowded but you could still appreciate the folk art aspects of the tiles.

Next was a drive through the nearby Santa Teresa district of Rio.  Normally you would take a tram that runs on top of an old aqueduct but, sadly, it doesn't run on Sundays.  The Santa Teresa district, one of the oldest in the city, was once a rich area but is now an artist hangout.  I found that everywhere we went in South America graffiti was everywhere - some very artistically done.  Combine artists and graffiti and the walls and streets of Santa Teresa were amazing.  I love street art.
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The Selerón Steps.
We ended in the ruins of an old socialites home at the top of a hill.  The views were very nice and there was a band playing.  We ended up nearby at a place to shop for more magnets and souvenirs.
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Cool graffiti in the Santa Teresa district.
Our next stop was going to be a place to see Christ the Redeemer lit up but, as our luck should have it, fog rolled in just as we arrived and you could barely see the statue.  We still got a few shots for other vantage points.
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One of our last views of Christ the Redeemer.
It was getting late and we drove around a bit trying to find a restaurant that was open.  It took three or four tries.  Since we felt bad for not having Camila and Cosme with us for dinner the night before we asked them to join us and we payed for their dinner.

Day 11 - Onward to our next country.

Our third morning in Rio was another late one.  It was nice to have these late mornings to rejuvenate.  We were picked up and taken to the airport.  After a brief delay we were on our way to Santiago, Chile.

In Santiago we were picked up by a guide and driver.  On the way to the hotel she gave us maps and went over where we would be staying and what was in the area.  The next day would be another free day and this one we would do on our own.

Pictures of the Rio de Janeiro can be found in my South America 2016-06 Flickr album.

Monday, July 11, 2016

South American Adventure - Part Two - The Amazon, Rio Negro, And Manaus

Day 4 - With a start like this it can only get better.

Our flight arrived in Manaus, Brazil at 11:20pm.  We collected out luggage and went in search of our ride.  We left the baggage claim and scanned all the signs for our name or our travel company's name.  After twenty minutes or so it was kind of obvious that no one was going to pick us up.  We caught a cab to our hotel.

Note:  The reason they didn't pick us up was due to an airline flight schedule change that had not been forwarded to the local tour company.

Our hotel was the Tropical Hotel.  Once it was a magnificent 600+ room hotel.  The glory of this hotel has obviously faded with the years.  Our room was about as far as you could get from the front lobby.  I would almost consider the walk to the room a hike.

In the room we found a kingsize bed with queen size sheets.  One (1) towel.  Two televisions with zero (0) remotes (they could not be turned on without the remote).  One phone that did not work.  You could make calls out if you unplugged then plugged in the phone.

I called the front desk and asked to make a collect call to our travel company's emergency number (it was called directly ... not collect).  I explained to the nice lady that we hadn't been picked up and we didn't know if/when we would be picked up later in the day (it was well after midnight).  We called the front desk and asked for towels and we went to bed.  We never got towels.

The next morning I checked my email and found out that a guide would be picking us up for a free tour not on our original itinerary - an addition made as an apology.  We would also get our airport  transit fee reimbursed.

Our tour guide showed up at our door (the phone didn't work ... he tried to call us three times).  We grabbed our stuff and got in the van with our guide and driver.  Our morning tour would take us to a museum and a few other places not on the city tour in our original itinerary.  The tour ended at a very nice barbecue restaurant payed for by the tour company.  Our guide was happy about this since he could not afford the restaurant himself.  It was all you could eat BBQ but, not knowing we were going to be doing this, the Wife and I had filled up during breakfast and we really didn't get our free money's worth.  Too bad as it was good BBQ.

We returned to our hotel and relaxed in the lobby.  Our river guides would return to take us to our boat later in the afternoon.  While we waited we started meeting other people who would be sharing our cruise aboard the M/Y Tucano.  In total we would be fourteen guests (a fifteenth guest would have been with us in Iguazu and the Amazon but had had a car accident and canceled her trip).

Our two river guides showed up and led us across the street and along a short path that took us to the bank of the Rio Negro.  The M/Y Tucano was anchored out a ways.  We boarded our 'canoes', long green canoe shaped launches that held eight to ten passengers, and headed out to the boat that would be our home the next four nights.
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The M/Y Tucano - our home on the Rio Negro.
On board the Tucano we all met on the top observation deck, introduced ourselves, and received a briefing about the boat and how our tours would go.  We were then assigned cabins on the second deck and participated in an emergency drill.  Alarms sounded, we put on life vests, and mustered on the observation deck.  In our cabin was a bottle of wine and another letter of apology for not picking us up.  I think we received something like three or four letters of apology.

Soon after the drill we had our first evening excursion.  We boarded our canoes and we cruised along the shore line listening for birds and frogs.  The sun was down and it was dark.  You could see some stars, including the Southern Cross, even though it was partly cloudy.  Our guide shined a strong light scanning back and forth for the telltale reflections from the eyes of critters.  It was difficult to get pictures but I did manage to get a few.  On this first night we saw frogs, moths, and the prize, a caiman.  The caiman stood still as we took pictures but eventually got spooked, did a flip, and sped away making all of us jump.
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The eyes and snout of a caiman.
We had dinner once we'd returned from our evening outing, showered, and went to bed early.  We would be getting up at 5:30am to go out for our first morning excursion.  As we slept the Tucano would move up river over 60 miles (100 Km), farther than most other tours.  We would not see another boat for three days.

Day 5 - A busy morning on the Rio Negro.

A knock on our door woke us up this morning.  We threw on clothes and got back in our canoes for our first morning excursion.  One thing about the Rio Negro that surprised me was how smooth the water was.  Early in the morning the river was like a mirror.  You couldn't tell where the water ended and the sky started.
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Passing a small village along the river.  Amazingly smooth water and crystal clear reflections.
The excursion took us between the islands of the Central Amazon Conservation Complex.  We watched for birds and other animals as we puttered along the swampy banks and past a small village.  We mostly saw birds and insects.  To see larger land animals you had to trek for days in the jungle.

We returned to the Tucano for breakfast before we headed out for our next activity of the morning - our first jungle walk.  We got in the canoes again and disembarked on one of the islands.  We split in two groups and walked a rough path through the jungle looking for animals and plants.  Again, we saw mostly birds, spiders, and ants.

The jungle walk was only an hour and a half or so long but by the time we got back to the canoes we all had sweat through to our underwear.  The one saving grace was, and this was a huge surprise, there were no bugs.  No mosquitos.  No gnats.  The only flying insects we saw were bees, wasps, and what I would call a sweat bee.  None of these were a nuisance,

We returned to the Tucano and headed straight for the showers and clean clothes before we had lunch.  The lunch was followed by a nap in our cabin.

During the afternoon most of the guests went fishing for piranha.  I didn't go.  I'm not fond of fish - both for eating or fishing.  I kind of regret it now though.  The Wife did catch three using a bamboo pole and beef cubes as bait.  The guide would take the fish off the hook and reach up and let the piranha cut a twig with its teeth.  The Wife had a camera with her but didn't get a picture of the piranha (or Snuggle Bear).  I wish I'd gone.  The piranha were cooked and served for dinner the next day.
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The sun going down before another night excursion in our canoes.
After dinner we had our second night excursion.  This excursion featured a tarantula, an amazon tree boa, and a three toed sloth high up in the trees.

Tomorrow would be another early morning.

Day 6 - More of the Rio Negro and then some.

Our early morning excursion took us along manioc farmers, parrots eating fruit, bats, and a pink dolphin or two.  I still can't get over how tranquil these morning canoe rides were.  During some of the excursions we went through the flooded jungle - areas that are impassable by boat during the dry season.  While we didn't see too many animals it was still fascinating.  Here is a video of one of our morning and one of our evening excursions.
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Flying parrots showing their colors against the morning clouds.
After breakfast on the Tucano we went back out for our second jungle walk.  This one was shorter and we all thanked the amazon for that.  We still got pretty sweaty.  We saw more ants (leaf cutter ants and bullet ants among others).  The highlight of this walk was a bird eating spider, a type of large tarantula.  Our guide spread some sweat on the end of a stick and poked it in a hole.  Soon afterward a ball of fur came out of the hole.  The Wife asked if it jumped and was told no but ... if they don't jump how do they catch birds?

Back at the Tucano we showered, ate lunch, and took an afternoon nap.  Unfortunately during our nap we were boarded by the Brazilian military looking for contraband and weapons.  We missed all the excitement.

In the late afternoon we visited a manioc farm.  Manioc, also known as cassava or yuca, is an amazonian staple.  It is processed into a flour like substance that is added to all food like a condiment.  Locals start eating it as very young children and would never go without it if they can help it.  I was not that impressed.  The process to make manioc flour is complex.  Manioc is high in cyanide and will kill you if not processed properly.

Day 7 - Our last full day on the Rio Negro.

We were allowed to sleep in this morning, the crew waking us up at 6:00am instead of 5:30am.  Our morning excursion was highlighted with spider monkeys and howler monkeys along with the usual birds.

After breakfast we all were dreading another jungle walk but we were surprised to find out that our next activity was a swim in the river.  We took canoes to a rare sand beach along the river.  The water was a strange mix of cold and warm.  The temperature dropped and then rose as you moved a few feet in any direction.  The water color was an amber-orangish color.  It didn't smell and it didn't stain anything but it was like swimming in tea.  The swim was exactly what I needed.  It was relaxing and, for me, a rather unique experience since I rarely swim while on vacation.
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The Manaus Bridge.
We came back onboard and had lunch.  The Tucano raised anchor and headed back down river.  Our afternoon was relaxing with no set activities.  We were boarded by the Brazilian military again.  This time I was awake to see it.  The soldiers were so serious until they were done.  Then they would smile and wave as we parted ways.
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The black of the Rio Negro struggles with the brown of the
Solimões River to form the Amazon River.
The Tucano passed by Manaus, under the bridge that crosses the Rio Negro, and ended up where the Rio Negro joins the Solimões River to form the Amazon River.  The waters of the Solimões River are brown and the Rio Negro's water is black.  The line where they merge stays well defined for many miles due to different water temperatures and densities.  It was strange seeing the wavy line going between the rivers.  We saw grey dolphin swimming nearby.

The Tucano then turned back around and returned to the Manaus portion of the river.  A guitar player came aboard and we enjoyed a happy hour with portuguese music and city lights.  Our last supper was bittersweet.  All fourteen of us had become very close during those four days on the Rio Negro.

I have to say that the four days we spent on board the M/Y Tucano were some of the most relaxing I had on this adventure and possibly all other adventures I've had.  The days were busy but the river was so calm and peaceful.  I love it.
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Our last night on the Rio Negro cruising by the lights of Manaus.
Day 8 - Manaus and a flight to Rio.

We got up early this morning and took the canoes back to the shore, ending up saying our goodbyes in the lobby of the Tropical hotel.  We joined two other guests for a three hour tour of Manaus.  We visited grand homes and building built during the rubber boom and a market near the river's edge.  The highlight of the tour was a visit to the Manaus Opera house.  Part of the streets around the opera house was paved with rubber bricks to soften the noise.  Most of the building we saw were imported from Europe.  The market building, foe example, was built in Liverpool.
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Inside the Amazon Opera House.
All in all, Manaus is a bit underwhelming.  It is a frontier city and it reminded me of Fairbanks, Alaska ... which also underwhelmed me.  A working class city.

The rest of the day was spent waiting in the lobby (and checking out the sad and depressing hotel zoo), eating at a surprisingly good hotel buffet, traveling to airports, waiting in airports, and flying in airplanes.  We arrived in Rio de Janeiro near midnight.  Out guide Camila and driver Cosme turned out to be a hoot.  Camila was such a chuckler.  She was always laughing at something.  It was hard not to smile around her.

On the way to the hotel Camila kept pulling things out of her bag for us.  Brazil nuts, coffee, samples of Brazilian soda (I kind of liked Guaraná Antarctica).  She would continue to pull things out of her bag for us the next few days.  It became another opportunity to smile.

Pictures of the Rio Negro and Manaus can be found in my South America 2016-06 Flickr album.