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Patagonian Penguins

Our "Way Down South" Adventure in Punta Arenas, Chile

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We couldn´t possibly journey all the way to the southern edge of Chile (a mere stone´s throw from Antartica) without seeking out a real penguin experience! ¡No problema! The penguin colony of Seno Otway is a mere 65 kilometers from Punta Arenas and easily accessible by car.
We decided to go with the advice of our hostess at our B&B (Terrasur), and hired a driver to take us there and back. Organized tours cost around $90 per person which seemed a bit steep, so we decided to go with the self-guided option. We ended up paying $85 for the 4 of us (all inclusive) - 1/4 of the cost of the full tour, and much better for our budget!

The 90-minute bumpy ride over dirt roads brought us to the colony at 5:30pm which is the time that most penguins have finished fishing for the day and are returning to their nests. We set off on a well marked trail with the hopes of seeing some penguins!

It was WINDY!!
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Perfect Timing for a Penguin Parade!

Early November is the time when all 8,000 pairs of penguins are caring for their eggs. We learned that there are no swinging singles in the penguin colony (couples only) and that the males and females take turns - one sitting in the nest with the egg (fasting) and the other eating as much fish as he/she can.

Heading to the nest (burrow)
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Burrow in the background
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Chilling on the Beach
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It was super cool to watch penguins in their natural habitat. We are grateful for this unique opportunity and will certainly remember the experereice as one of the highlights of our time in southern Chile.

Posted by annevl 05:11 Archived in Chile Tagged birds adventure kids patagonia penguins Comments (0)

Top 5 things we learned from trekking Torres del Paine

(plus one bonus item)

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We just got back from 5 wonderful days trekking through the Torres del Paine national park in southern Chile, and we learned a couple of things along the way. Here they are - in no particular order:

  1. Your camera battery will probably not last for 5 days, with all of the photos that you will want to take. Since there are few plugs in the wilderness, invest in an extra battery (or two), or bring a solar charger with you. Also, make sure that you either bring your battery charger, or the right cable to charge (most newer cameras will allow for recharging via USB cable).
  2. Kids eat a LOT of food. Pack enough to make it through your trek - multiple smaller snack bags are preferable to larger ones. Remember that you will want to eat "one-handed" at lot of times - e.g. as you are walking. Buying food in the refugios is VERY expensive ($4 for a cup of soup, $16 for a lunch) - this adds up very quickly for a family of four.
  3. TDP is extremely windy. We saw gusts of over 60kph (over 35mph). These gusts were enough to get the kids airborne at times - especially with their packs. You need sunglasses to protect your eyes, good headgear to keep your hair out of your face (and keep your ears warm), and be prepared to sit down on the trail when it really blows.
  4. You will meet and make a lot of new friends on the trail (especially when you travel with kids). Have your contact info handy, especially since you will want to exchange photos later (most of our family shots were taken by other people, especially after our camera battery died...)
  5. Finally, this is ALL doable with your family. Sure, it got cold and rainy and windy at times, but Alex and Leah continued to amaze and impress us with their resilience. Your kids will do the same.

  • BONUS: warm heads, fingers, and toes make a BIG difference. But you already knew that...

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Posted by annevl 04:32 Comments (6)

Cusco to Puno

We are now officially "on the road", having left Cusco Saturday morning on the tourist bus for Puno and points south in Peru. We took the WonderPeru tourist bus to Puno, on the recommendation of a guide friend of ours from the South American Explorers Club in Cusco, who assured us that there were good sights to be seen on the way. We were just happy to be on time for our 7:15am departure, with all of our bags packed after 4 months in Cusco!
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The bus was very comfortable, excluding the Brazilian ladies in front of us who wanted to see exactly how far their seats would recline. Luckily, Noah's Spanish was good enough to alert them of impending leg trauma...

Our first stop was a fantastic church in Andahuaylillas which, unfortunately, did not allow pictures inside, so please imagine some amazing paintings and artwork from the 16th and 17th centuries. We thought it was marvelous - the kids were suitably unimpressed.

Next stop was the town of Raqchi, the site of the ancient Temple of Wiracocha. This was really interesting, since this was a location in a great book we've read called "Inca Moon" (highly recommended, but not really a kids book). We were amazed with the center wall of the temple, which gives some idea of how large this grand temple was originally.
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Back on the bus to La Raya, the highest point on the trip at 4225 meters above sea level (14,222 feet), where we were able to take some pictures of the landscape in-between saying "No Gracias" to all of the vendors who wait for the tour busses to come through.
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Our final stop before Puno was Pukara, an ancient site from around 300BC, and is one of the original settlements in the area. Interesting, but we only got to visit the local museum, so no good pictures of the ruins. By this time, we were all kind of wishing that we were in Puno already...

Finally made it to Puno, and got settled into our hostel, enjoyed some not-so-fast WiFi, and went to bed.

The next morning, we hooked up with a local driver and went to visit the ruins at Sillustani. This is a pretty neat site on the shores of a lake about 45 minutes northwest of Puno.
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Containing the ruins of ancient (pre-Inca) burial towers, we had a nice time walking around, taking pictures of (and exploring inside) the towers. We even saw some local rodents...not sure what this is ("tail-less squirrel gopher guinea pig").
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After we left Sillustani, our driver took us to Llachon, which is located on a peninsula in Lake Titicaca.
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After a very bumpy ride to get there, we found a very quiet (muy tranquilo) village on the shores of the lake. We stayed with a family (in "Habitacion Numero Dos"), and explored the island a bit.
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Alex and Leah made a lot of new friends with the animals on the family property...
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...and we all had a relaxing time (with the exception of one of the largest thunder & lightning storms we've been through in a long time - very exciting!)

This morning, we said goodbye to our host family
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and caught a ride on a local boat heading back to Puno. We had a lovely (and slow) ride across Lake Titicaca, enjoying our time on the water (and all getting quite a bit of sun).
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I guess we've been making a lot of memories, since it seems like weeks since we left Cusco, but it's only been a couple of days. Tomorrow, we catch a bus to Arequipa and continue our adventures to Colca Canyon. Chau!

Posted by noahv 19:07 Archived in Peru Comments (5)

"5 and a Half Days on the Ground"

Making the Most of My Friends' Visit - a Mini Vacation Peru Style

DSC_0368.jpgI still can't believe that Melissa and Lisa left their families and flew all this way to visit me in Peru! From the minute I received an email confirming their flight info, I saw the Cusco area in a different light. Putting back on my "North American glasses", I scoped out the really cool cafe's (with clean bathrooms), less crowded markets, and tourist sites.
I wanted them to love this place and to get a taste for our life here. I was giddy with the prospect of spending precious time with them. But how to make the most of their five and a half days??? In the end, I shouldn't have worried. These ladies know how to seize the day! I got to be part of a joyful three amigas celebrate Peru experience. Here is our story.

Day One -- Arrival and Visit to Pisac

Melissa and Lisa had a crazy long layover in Lima and arrived in Cusco at 6:30am. I met them at the airport and immediately whisked them off by taxi to Pisac (lower altitude). They were remarkably lucid, considering, and we managed to check into our hotel (the charming Pisac Inn) and seek out breakfast at "The Blue Llama". We even explored the market!
PISAC INN:
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PISAC MARKET:DSC_0119.jpgDSC00118.jpgDSC00108.jpgDSC00059.jpgP1010007.jpgDSC_0136.jpgDSC_0137.jpgDinner at the Inn was lovely and then we crashed out pretty early.

Day Two -- Pisac, Ollantaymbo, and the Train to Machu Picchu

After enjoying breakfast in the sunshine and watching the vendors set up their booths (they assemble and break down the market EVERY day), we set out to explore the town. Although this was my fourth time in Pisac, I got to experience it (especially shopping) in a whole new light. We talked to local artists, purchased beautiful hand-made textiles (Melissa), found Peru soccer jerseys (for Lisa's boys), saw alpacas and guinea pigs in the local jewelry store . . . all before noon.
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The Train!

In the early afternoon we headed to Ollantaytambo (train station for Machu Picchu) and boarded the Peru Rail Vistadome. We lucked out with the weather and got to enjoy the passing scenery and meet some of the other passengers. Melissa and Lisa took lots of photographs and we all enjoyed the ninety minute ride.IMG_1599.jpg9544BEAE2219AC6817B737AF6212249A.jpg
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Our arrival at Aguas Calientes was a little hectic as we navigated through the crowds to our hostel, the eclectic and interesting "Gringo Bills" but we soon settled in to our triple room and happily connected to the wi-fi. DSC_0332.jpgDSC00628.jpgFinding a cool place for dinner was challenging because none of the restaurants we walked by really appealed to us. Thanks to Lisa and her handy guidebook, we decided to check out a place called "The Tree House" which was off the beaten track but got excellent reviews. What a find!! We got a table right away and had a delicious meal in a peaceful, lodge-like atmosphere.

Day Three -- Machu Picchu and Return to Cusco

The next morning we were up really early, left our bags at the hostel, and headed off to catch one of the buses up to Machu Picchu. DSC_0340.jpgDSC_0356.jpgDSC_0357.jpgWe arrived just a couple of minutes before the doors opened and got to experience the place "wake up". Here are just a few of the photographs we took in the first part of the morning:
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After some exploring and more picture taking, Lisa headed off to "The Inka Bridge" while Melissa and I began our ascent of this "Big" mountain:DSC00438.jpgDSC_0421.jpg
Lisa had a great climb, ran into a pack of llamas, and took some amazing photos.
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Melissa and I were glad we started early because we didn't have to contend with anyone coming down while we were going up. They only allow 400 people a day to make the climb and we were in the first group. It was a great hike! There were many stone steps to climb and lots of exploring to do near the top. Here are some photos:
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IMG_1636.jpgJumping1.jpg Returning from our treks hot and hungry, we splurged on the buffet lunch at the Sanctuary Lodge Hotel - Pisco sours too! Afterward we hired a guide to give us a tour of the ruins - he was great, and we learned a lot about Peruvian History and Culture. DSC_0613.jpgDSC00568.jpg270_DSC_0634.jpgDSC00492.jpgDSC_0661.jpg

Return to Cusco

Our return train trip was considerably more subdued considering the time spent in the sun and hiking around the ruins. We were thrilled to arrive in Cusco and check Melissa and Lisa into their fancy hotel, the Palacio Nazarenas. I returned to our apartment for the night and arranged to meet up for lunch the next day.

Day Four -- Cusco Exploring

We met the ladies at their hotel and got a tour. What an amazing place!! There is a reason the Palacio is a five star establishment! The reconstruction took years and the authentic details mix perfectly with luxury. They even have the only heated pool in Cusco! It was like stepping into a whole different world. This was not the Cusco we were used to - but the escape was awesome.DSC_0745.jpgDSC00756.jpgIMG_1643.jpgIMG_1644.jpgDSC_0709.jpgWe decided to check out the Museo Inka and had a great time exploring the many rooms of artifacts and the historical building itself. DSC_0713.jpgDSC_0754.jpgOf course Alex and Leah speed walked their way through with their sights set on lunch. We decided to head to a cafe near the Plaza de San Blas so Melissa and Lisa could see our apartment afterward.DSC_0776.jpgDSC00661.jpgDSC_0772.jpgDSC_0792.jpg
From there I packed my bag for a two night sleepover!! Leaving Noah and the kids to volunteer without me, I embraced my girlfriends luxury time wholeheartedly!! We decided to visit the cathedral and then enjoyed happy hour and people watching on the balcony of Norton's Pub. 3569C6482219AC6817458976DA9DF58E.jpgDSC00684.jpgDSC_0821.jpgNext thing we knew it was time to get ready for dinner.
We had a nice meal at "Incanto" (recommended by our trusty butler at the Palacio) right near the Plaza de Armas. Lisa was brave enough to order and eat the cuy! Melissa and I stuck with pasta dishes. We went for a post dinner swim in the amazing pool at the hotel and took loooooong baths/hot showers afterwards!!! What a day!

Day Five -- Lisa's Birthday and Carpe Diem

We were served a multi-course poolside breakfast including fresh fruit and fruit juice, coffee, cheese, bread, meat tray, and eggs made to order. The whole staff sang to Lisa and presented her with a special Birthday treat. DSC_0715.jpgDSC_0842.jpg3563297D2219AC681722DFE40412DE84.jpg
As a special treat, we all visited the hotel spa. Lisa and Melissa both had massages and I had a manicure AND pedicure (much needed). The room for massages had authentic Inka waterways running through it. Here is a photo: DSC_0858.jpg
It felt great to be able to chat in Spanish for an hour with my manicurist. 90_DSC_0885.jpg90_DSC_0873.jpgFresh from our relaxing morning, we set off on a shopping mission. We got treated to a local lantern parade, my kids came over for an early evening swim, and we all went out for a Birthday Happy Hour at "Fallen Angel". The table that was a bathtub with real fish in it was awesome!DSC_0893.jpgDSC_0908.jpgP1010083.jpgDSC_0902.jpg. Dinner saw the three of us enjoying a gourmet meal at the hotel restaurant with a bit too much complimentary Birthday champagne. A great day all around!

Day Six -- Fond Farewells

Too soon I had to say goodbye as my friends headed back to their homes. Five and a half days wasn't nearly enough time - but I am grateful for every minute!

Posted by annevl 18:49 Archived in Peru Tagged mountains animals food accommodation peru hotel train shopping museum friends cusco pisac machu_pichhu Comments (1)

Roadtrip: Peru and Chile

Where are we off to next?


View Peru to Chile & World Trip 2012 on noahv's travel map.

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Here's where we're heading next, after three-and-a-half months in lovely Cusco, Perú. It's been wonderful here, and we'll post a full recap of things we loved, didn't like too much, etc., but now we're getting ready to pack up our bags again and hit the road.

Here's a quick overview:

We are heading by bus from Cusco to Puno for some kayaking on Lake Titicaca. From there, we head to Arequipa and a visit to Colca Canyon to see the majestic Peruvian condors. Then we make a break south for the border, crossing into Chile at Tacna/Arica. Once in Chile, we are going to be staying with some Couchsurfing contacts as we work our way down the coast, with a stop in San Pedro de Atacama to visit the Atacama Desert - the driest in the world and also one of the most scenic.. Then some more busses, and we get to Santiago on Halloween.

A quick day or two in Santiago to allow us to regroup and repack for our trip to Patagonia, and then we fly to Puerto Montt, and get on the Navimag ferry Evangalistas for 4 days heading down through the glaciers and fjords of Chile. When we arrive in Puerto Natales we will do some exploring of the Torres del Paine National Park for about a week (working on the exact specifics now).

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Patagonia offers us an impressive menu of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. The hard part is deciding how to make the most of our six short days! November is late Spring in Southern Chile, so we expect to feel right at home with Seattle-like weather (a.k.a. anything goes). Parque National Torres del Paine is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and home to one of the most impressive mountain and glacial areas on earth. We plan to stay in some refugios in the park, hike, and soak in the beautiful landscape. Our visit could also include hiking the "W Circuit" which includes Torres del Paine Base, Nordenskjold Lake, Cuernos del Paine, the French Glacier, Paine Grande, Grey Lake, Paine and Pudeto.

When we are done exploring Torres del Paine (at least in the time that we have - I'm sure we could spend longer), we will go down to Punta Arenas to catch a flight back to Puerto Montt.

We will spend just under a week on the mystical island of Chiloé, where we can experience an older way of life with traditional foods, local customs, and an amazing natural environment. Although we have yet to decide on our specific itinerary on the island, it is sure to involve a bit of kayaking, hiking, and general appreciation of this unique place.
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After a return ferry ride from Chiloé, we will do some more exploring of Valdivia and the surrounding areas, including historic Spanish Forts, German beer, and beautiful ocean views. We may rent bikes and explore or just enjoy a break from hiking.
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Finally, we fly back to Santiago for some time with Juanchi and his family. We will explore Santiago and Valparaiso and maybe even get some time at the beach, before we have to pack up again and leave South America for good as we head across the Pacific on 1-Dec.
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Lot's of adventures to come in the next two months, and we will do our best to take lots of pictures and post stories of our experiences! Let us know if you want more details of our itinerary - we will be covering more than 4200 miles in the next 2 months!

Posted by noahv 07:50 Archived in Peru Tagged itinerary rtw planning Comments (5)

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