Wednesday, December 10, 2008


After months of saying ¨No, Gracias¨ and having enough time to form the firm belief that any South American town without a stray dog is suspect, it is time for my 3 month journey of South America to come to an end and for me to return to the States. During the course of this trip, I have visited 5 countries, swam with fish 10m below sea level, hiked over a mountain pass at 4750m, made some new friends, been bit by a turkey and had a lot of laughs. On my return to the States, I will carry back with me some awesome memories and a good bit of knowledge gained through the experience of travel.

The past week has been spent leaving Peru for Chile and making my way South through a couple of Chilean beach towns back to Santiago...which consisted of the final and longest bus ride of the my travels at 24 hours.

Thanks to all my friends and family for reading this blog and helping me still feel connected to home after all this time. I can´t wait to see you again.

Now, it´s time to find a job, hunt for an apartment and get a cell phone.

Below are some final pictures from Chile.

Arica, Chile: The Northernmost Chilean town on the border with Peru

A tranquil beach in Arica

My favorite type of bus ride...with seats that go all the way flat

Chilean sand dunes and desert towns

Iquique, Chile

Another picture of Iquique

Standing among wine barrels at Concha y Toro outside Santiago

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Lake Titicaca: Adventures on the Islands

Lake Titicaca, on the border between Peru and Bolivia, is the highest navigable lake in the world, standing at 3812m. I arrived in Puno, a Peruvian port town on the lake, from Cusco by bus (my typical mode of transportation). After spending one night in Puno and talking to some people on the docks, I was off the next morning on an island tour with an overnight home stay on Isla Amantani.

The 1st islands we visited were the Uros, a group of man-made islands constructed of floating reeds. As they decay on bottom, they are replenished with new reeds on top, and when you walk, your feet sink in a little to the soft surface.

Out of over 40 floating islands, this was the one we visited

Reeds and the lake

The next and final stop for the day, was Isla Amantani. There are no hotels on the island so travelers have the option to stay with local families and share traditional meals. The family I stayed with (a mother, father, grandmother and 6 children of varying ages) lived way up on the hill with no electricity or running water. Though a little rustic, the experience of staying with this family has given me an interesting perspective to ponder.

My home for the night

The children

From the top of Patchatata (Father Earth), one of the two island peaks

The family and I in traditional dress


The family sheep

After waking the next morning, having breakfast and trying on some traditional clothes, it was time to meet the boat to go to the final island of the trip, Isla Taquile (where everyone, including men, spin and weave) before returning home to Puno.

A local TaquileƱo boy playing in the main square, while wearing the tradition cap with some white on the end showing he is single

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Machu Picchu

For years, I have wanted to visit Machu Picchu. A forgotten city that was never found and therefore, never destoyed by the Spanish. A lost city of the Incas that was re-discovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham. Today, a city that is a major archeological site that stands at 2400m and has stood since the early 1400´s.

For me personally, my day at Machu Picchu was amazing and very memorable. To beat the crowds, I got there early so I could get inside when the gates opened at 6:00 a.m. Surreal is the word that came to mind as I stood in the ancient city in the early morning mist, surrounded by Peruvian mountains with few signs of civilization. Throughout the day, as the sun rose and the people came, I spent a lot of time wandering the ruins, then a little time climbing to the top of Waynu Picchu (limited to 400 people per day) and finally, a nice, relaxing time sharing a good bottle of wine in the shade of a nearby rock.

The train ride from Cusco to Aguas Calientes

A view of Machu Picchu from the top of the very steep, Waynu Picchu

A local Incan Alpaca

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Trekking in Peru

For the past 4 days, I have had the awesome opportunity to walk through the Cordillera Blanca region of Peru and camp near mountains and in a spectacular valley. I was joined on this adventure by a guide/cook, a donkey tender, an Italian couple, a Frenchman, a man from Brasil and Adam. The trek took us over a pass at 4750 meters (the highest I think I´ve been) and past some beautiful scenery and many grazing animals. The pictures below will say more than any words I could write. Thanks again to Gil for recommending this wonderful Peruvian destination.

Huascaran, the highest peak in Peru at 6,768 meters

Trekking past a mountainside home

Our donkeys and their tender

Day 2: A super tough climb up over a pass and a very rainy day

One of our many scenic campsites

My new, curious friend

The valley that we descended to after the pass for our final night and 2 days of trekking

Friday, November 14, 2008

Exit the Island, Re-Enter the City

Most travelers only go to Ilha Grande for a few days at most. I feel lucky to have visited there for two weeks. Of course, I could have visited other towns and seen other sights during that time, but my wandering soul craved a rest. Plus, I am always a big fan of the chance to get to know a place intimately versus just on the surface.

Now, though, it is to time to move on. I recently returned to Sao Paulo and am again staying with my amazing host, Andrea. Upon arrival, it was nice to be in a familiar city...none of my usual floundering. I knew exactly where to go from the bus station and which way to ride the metro to her apartment. My past two days in Sao Paulo have been spent going to the markets (when did eople start hanging Christmas decorations?), mailing things at the post office, making phone calls and enjoying free internet.

Tomorrow, I leave Brasil (luckily before my visa expires) and go to Peru!

Walking the crowded streets to the market

My last night in Sao Paulo after a yummy sushi dinner. Thanks Andrea, I'll miss you!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Island Life

It took a little bit of time for me to settle into my new quiet life after so much time in the big city. It didn't help either that when I arrived here, I was recovering from a small bout of food poisoning and then soon after, I got 10+ mosquito bites on my feet (which, believe me, can make for some uncomfortable walking). Through it all, though, I've managed to recover and stay quite active...hiking in the jungle, swimming in the ocean, kayaking and getting my PADI scuba diving certification.

The charming seaside pousada I'm staying in has also enhanced my overall sense of well-being in this idyllic setting. Owned by an older French couple who don't speak English, our conversations are generally "Good Morning", "Thank you" and recently, "Obama" followed by a thumbs-up sign. My room has a balcony with a hammock that I've developed a small addiction for, hummingbirds flitt in and out looking for nectar in the nearby flowers and breakfast always comes with a fresh blended fruit drink.

On an island with no cars, this is the main method used to transport vegetables from the boat to the mercado.

A funny monkey

Kayaking around

The old aqueduct built in the late 1800's

Friday, October 31, 2008

Ilha Grande

For months during the cold Antarctic winter at Palmer Station, I dreamt about an island off the coast of Brasil. An island that was an ecological reserve with no cars, one village, a myriad of hiking trails and 102 beaches. I did my research online so I was worried that this place would prove to be less cool than the pictures I saw and the reviews I read. However, on day 3, I feel I'm ready to make this place my home for the next week or two or three.

The waters here are calm, clean and a good temperature. The village is small and mostly caters to tourists with a few mercados, many restaurants and souvenir shops and a few dive centers. There's a whole culture here among the locals which I have yet to figure out. There is probably one dog for every two people here. I don't believe they are strays. Most have collars. I've seen puppies being hand carried or sitting in bicycle baskets. The older dogs walk around town seemingly with purpose, swim with their owners and will occasionally accompany you on the trails or lay with you on the beach. I've only seen one cat.

My personal escort hiking through the forest back to town from a nearby beach

Monday, October 27, 2008

Entry Into Brasil

Getting into Brasil wasn´t easy. It took $150, two visits to the Brazilian Consulate, many questions by a severe employee, and a couple of emails and phone calls. However, the visa was finally approved, and ironically, though I paid for a 90 day visa, I was only given 40 days at the border. If I want to extend my stay, I have to visit a local Policia for an extension. I hear all of this hullabaloo is an act of reciprocity for all the trouble the Brazilians have when getting a US visa.

However, once legally and happily inside the country, my nighttime bus ambled along the highway to Sao Paulo. Sao Paulo is typically not a tourist town, but Andrea, a previous foreign exchange student who lived with Adam´s family for while, invited us to visit. She was an awesome host and made sure we had places to visit (with handdrawn maps and all) while she was at school and work. Memorable Sao Paulo times included a trip to a great art museum, getting caught in a loud thunderstorm and being swept away in a sea of pushing people into a packed subway train.

After visiting Andrea for a couple of days, Adam and I made our way to an obscure, small town called Cambara to visit Andrea´s family. All I can say about my time there is that the Honda´s are very kind and giving. They made sure we didn´t want for anything and were excited to have us try new things.

Now after a couple more bus rides and a few sad goodbyes, I find myself in Rio de Janeiro. This city is another place I visited in 2003. There have been a few improvements since then, including nice bathroom facilities along Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. Also, I think this time I may very well be the palest person here. I naturally am fair complected and don´t tan easily (was even nicknamed Casper in middle school), but after almost a year in Antarctica, I am the whitest I´ve ever been. In a town where the majority of people have dark skin, I definitely stand out.

A typical street in Cambara

Dinner with Andrea´s family. I ate a lot of food this past week.

Hanging out on some rocks by Ipanema Beach

The Sambadrome in Rio. I am always fascinated by the annual competition during Carnivale featuring 14 samba schools.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Iguassu Falls

My time in Buenos Aires has sadly come to an end. It will be remembered as one of the great times in my life...peaceful, happy and filled with laughter, love, new friends and good food.

Since then, I have been making my way to Brasil. On my way there and to help break up two very long bus rides, I stopped at Iguassu Falls for two nights. Iguassu Falls has over 200 falls, spans two countries and is taller than Niagra while wider than Victoria.

In life, it's always interesting to return to a place you thought you'd never be again. It's happened a few times in my life and now I never assume I won't return to even the most oscure places. I was at Iguassu Falls in 2003 and loved it. However, time passes and things change, and you arrive at the same place but a different person.

This time, I was still entranced by the rush and the majesticness of the waterfalls and when standing close, loved the feel of the cold mist hitting my skin. I also got to see some new wildlife, including some funny monkeys, and venture over to see the falls from the Brazilian side for the first time.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Colonia, Uruguay

On Thursday, I left Buenos Aires for an overnight trip to Uruguay. Colonia is a beautiful and quaint city from old, built in 1680. Travel time was quick, only taking an hour on a ferry that crosses the Rio de la Plata. With barely time for a nap, I was ready to explore this quiet getaway from the big city.

While there, I explored the old historical center, scooted around with windblown hair, chatted it up with an Irish couple and spent some time luxuriating on the beach.

Now, I´m back in Buenos Aires for my last 5 days here. I leave on Thursday for Brazil with a stopover at Iguassu Falls.

The old gate to the city.

A typical street in Colonia.


Ants carrying leaves. There were trails of them all over.