Thursday 8 April 2010

Maybe the last post?

To celebrate my birthday (?) Iain, Ivor and myself went on a short tour down the main silver mine in Potosi; as Iain had already given me some silver jewelery we bought earlier in Cusco we thought we should see how it gets mined. Our first stop was at the miners’ market where it is customary for tourists to buy the miners gifts. These include bottles of pop, coca leaves with and without catalyst, 96% alcohol, cigarettes, sticks of dynamite, ammonium nitrate and detonators! It is the first and probably the last time we will ever buy dynamite off the street! We then got changed into our miner’s gear including NiFe cell and light, helmet and boots. The passages on the first level (there are five) were not too low and only needed us to crouch on occasion as we followed the lines that transport the empty and then full trucks to the surface. Splintering beams holding up 12 tons of rock did not make us feel too secure but gave us a flavour of the conditions endured every day by the miners here. Unsurprisingly there are many accidents and the miners take no food into the mine but only chew coca leaves all the time. Every Friday they celebrate and make offerings to the god of the mine (originally a devil devised by the Spanish) and get drunk so at weekends there are even more accidents. There are veins of silver, copper and tin not to mention crystalline deposits of asbestos so many miners die of silicosis and asbestosis. Their average life expectancy is only around 55 years and many as young as thirteen help their fathers as they all work in groups of three (no women work down the mine as the mountain is regarded as a woman who would get jealous and not give the miners minerals if they did). Each group has to rent its space from a co-operative but gets no help from them if they cannot find minerals or get injured.
After this experience we visited the Mint in Potosi where they exhibit the machines they used for rolling, pressing and cutting coins. Originally this was done with enormous wooden machines with wheels and gears turned by donkeys and then by steam.
We then collected our luggage and boarded the coach taking us to Sucre, a three hour drive through stunning scenery. We checked into our hotel which was beautiful with terraces everywhere festooned with pot plants and had a very welcome beer and chicken sandwich at 4pm. At 5pm we had a city tour, by van, and caught the sunset from the viewpoint by San Francisco church and on the roof terrace of San Phillipe convent school that one is allowed to visit for a small fee. We also visited the main square and Simon Bolivar park with its small imitation Arcs de Triumph and Eiffel Tower. Apparently some rich Bolivian, a self-styled Prince had a wife who was enamoured of Paris and he indulged her whim as she hadn’t been able to have children. We then had a rush getting ready for dinner which was a double celebration of my birthday and Wolfgang’s departure and was followed by a couple of glasses of wine on the terrace, although it was getting a bit cold!
The next day we just wandered around Sucre, visited the park and the chocolate shop, before meeting up at 1pm for an excellent lunch. It was the restaurant’s 20th anniversary so on departure we were each given a half bottle of red wine which we consumed later that day. We then visited the cemetery where there are many huge mausoleums before returning to the hotel to do the diary and play boggle, (and drink the wine). In the evening we went back to the same restaurant and had a private room which was a bit special. We caught the lunchtime flight to La Paz and five of us are now waiting in the airport for our flight to Lima at 6pm. Tomorrow we have our trip over the Nazca lines and then on Saturday evening we fly back home after a very enjoyable and interesting trip. We probably won't be posting again this trip so thank you to everyone who sent us comments and we hope you all enjoyed our travelogue! We will be in touch with people after 11th....lots of love Ann and Iain

Monday 5 April 2010


Today we had another 6am wake-up call and left the hotel at 7am to catch the 7.30am tourist bus to Puno. A comfortable bus but with a guide whose English was difficult to understand and who had the irritating habit of saying ‘you know’ with every phrase! I have a sore throat but hopefully it will soon subside. Our first stop was at a colonial church in the small village of Andahuaylillas, built of course with a foundation of previous Inca stonework. It had beautiful painted ceilings and the usual golden and ornate altars but we weren’t allowed to take photos. Our second stop was at an impressive Inca site at Raqchi where there were the remains of a massive temple complex to the Inca creator God Wiracocha. It consisted of a very tall middle wall built in sections with stone at the bases topped with adobe brick – very unusual in Inca constructions – and two rows of pillars with the same construction with an outer wall. There were many other ruins to be seen of houses and round storehouses.
Unfortunately we didn’t have long enough here to really appreciate the whole site but it was good to see some of it. We then stopped shortly after for an excellent (and included) buffet lunch. Another forty minutes or so saw us at the highest point of the journey, La Raya, at 4313m. Another hour or two later we stopped at Pukara where we looked around a tiny museum (no photos allowed again) where there were some artefacts found at the local diggings of Pukara, another Inca site. We also looked around the church which had an interesting looking cupola from outside but was needing a lot of restoration work inside. We continued onwards and arrived in Puno about 5pm to find they had sent the wrong bus for us and Daniel, our tour guide had to help manhandle our luggage onto the roof! We got our first glimpse of Lake Titicaca and stayed at a hotel in the main square, which we face onto with a small balcony but we do have double glazing. Unfortunately that does not muffle the sound of the church bell!
Tuesday we drove to Sillustrani, an area on a peninsular on a large lagoon, where the Quollas and later the Incas built burial towers over tombs of their elite. In the afternoon we took cycle-rickshaws down to the lake and boarded a boat to visit the floating islands of the Uros. There are around 500 families living on these man-made islands of reeds and we were treated to a very good presentation of how they make and maintain the islands and were able to visit some of their houses. They also have a small pool in the centre of each island where the children learn to swim in the cold water at an early age.
We then had a short ride on their reed boat to a neighbouring island where we were picked up again by our boat for the return trip to Puno.
In the evening we had to brave a colossal downpour of rain and hail to get to the restaurant where we dried out and were treated to a great evening of music and dances from the Puno region. Wonderful coloured and elaborate costumes and very energetic dancing.
The next day we left Puno at 8am and after driving around part of the lake we crossed the border without incident into Bolivia. We then drove to Tiahuanaco and visited the museum before lunch. After lunch we visited the site but only actually saw a part of it. The monolithic statues reminded us of those on Easter Island and we could understand why Thor Heyadahl thought both peoples came from the Polynesian area initially.
We then drove to La Paz, a large city nestled within a crater of mountains and had dinner on the top floor of our hotel with a good view of the city. We also met up with Ivor (a Pole living in England) who seems very nice and who is joining the six of us for the extended trip into Bolivia.
The following day we had a leisurely start at 9am for the city tour and began by visiting the main square and the cathedral. The latter was less ornate and baroque than others we have seen recently and the simplicity of its towering columned roof was more to our taste.
Our local guide, Cynthia, had dressed in her cholla costume that had originally belonged to her grandmother and attracted a bit of attention from passers-by who had not seen the old, very fine style very often. We then visited a couple of museums including the Gold Museum which had a good collection of artefacts from Tiahuanaca and elsewhere.
We then visited the Moon Valley, an amazing landscape of towering galacial deposits which was how the valley of La Paz was before they built all over it. Within the next twenty years they are going to get increasing problems with houses collapsing and landslides because of the instability of the area not to mention problems with the water supply for the 2 million people who live here. I went over the road from the hotel and had a good haircut for 50 bolivanos.
There has been some trouble with changes to our itinerary as there are elections on Sunday and no-one is allowed to travel in or out of the cities. After discussion it was decided that we should spend 3 rather than
2 nights in Uyuni on the salt plains.
We left by the 10am bus to Oruro where we caught the train to Uyuni. Oruri is an old mining town and has nothing to recommend it aprt from the excellent roast lamb we had for lunch. We then boarded the 3.30pm train for the seven hours trip to Uyuni. Apart from being quite a rocky train which made pouring and drinking drinks difficult, the scenery was firstly crossing over a lagoon area with many birds near Oruro and then
miles and miles of altiplano which varied from cultivated areas to dry desert with mountain ranges in the distance.
We got into Uyuni around 10pm and went to our hotel, which was much better than we had been expecting. We had a large room with a ten foot wide bed and there is a pretty little courtyard. As we don’t have to drive to Potosi on Saturday we are intending to have a full day on the salt plains and then chill out on Sunday.
We had the best night’s sleep yet – a comfortable bed, a non-lumpy pillow and quiet! We met up at 10am to travel in 2 FWD vehicles to visit a graveyard for old trains dating from the early 1900s when this place was a booming mining town. We then drove onto the salt flats, the most extraordinary place I have ever visited! Mile after mile of white expanse, flat as a pancake with mountain peaks and islands in the distance. The salt looks rather like the rippled sand at low tide and in some places like hexagonal tiles. From 40,000 to 25,000 years ago this area was Lake Minchin which gradually evaporated. After 14,000 years Lake Tauca appeared which after a mere 1,000 years also dried up leaving two large puddles, Lagos Poopo and Ura Ura and the two salt plains or Salares of Uyuni and Coipas.
We stopped at a point where the salt layer is thinner (only 3-5m) and where gases and air from the volcano bubble up like springs.
We then visited Colchani, where they showed us how they dry and bag the salt. There are several family businesses doing this and the salt extracted and processed is around 20,000 tons a year. We also saw someone raking the salt on the plains into small conical heaps to dry a little before they transport it to the family shed to dry for 30-60 mins on a metal tray with fire below it before adding a little iodine and grinding the crystals to powder (these processes are done with the only machine they have) before being bagged by a younger member of the family and the bags being sealed with an open flame.
We then drove about 90K across the salt to the Tunupa Volcano and the village of Coquesa where after a drive up a rutted dirt track we abandoned our vehicles to walk up to a cave where there are some Chollpas mummies. Some had been found higher up the volcano but had been put in this cave for safe keeping. The cave was locked and on the way we had to stop and get the key for a small admission fee from a woman working with others to maintain the track.
We then drove onwards to Isla Incahuasi. This is a small rocky island covered with Trichoreus cactus and fossilised coral. We had an excellent lunch (at 3pm!) brought along by our drivers, of chicken and rice, eaten off tables made of salt blocks, before wandering up the track to the top of the island for some great views. We also saw a fossilised coral archway and a cactus that was 15,000 years old. Apparently this type of cactus grows at about 1cm a year.
We then drove for some distance and visited an abandoned salt hotel constructed of salt blocks as were the tables and chairs inside. There were also some sculptures such as a grandfather clock and various animals that we could catch a glimpse of as we peered through cracks in the curtained windows.
We then drove back towards Uyuni, stopping to take photos of the sunset. As we were doing this about 200 pink Chilean flamingos flew past which was a sight to see! Our vehicle disturbed an owl on the way as well.
After a quick shower to remove the dust and salt we met up for dinner at a nearby (and only decent) restaurant in Uyuni. I had llama steak and spaghetti which was great.
On Sunday the hotel very kindly made us all some lunch (spaghetti and tuna) as everything was closed until the afternoon. After lunch we all went for a walk to try and find a lagoon the hotel owner had told Gonzalo our tour guide about. We saw several Bolivian flamingos there. On the way back we spotted an owl and watched it for some while with our binoculars.
We didn’t sleep as well that night because there were celebrations going on after the elections which were a bit noisy outside. We left at 8am to drive to Potosi but one van had taken out the back seat to enable luggage to be stored in the van but this would have meant three on the middle seat which would have been squashed. So he returned to his depot to replace the seat and the luggage was piled on top of both vans covered with tarpaulins. This delayed us half an hour and an hour or so out of Uyuni the other van decided it could not continue as it was only firing on three cylinders. Another two hour wait for a replacement vehicle ensued before we recommenced our 6 hour journey to Potosi. This meant we didn’t get to Potosi until4pm so we didn’t have lunch and I hadn’t faced breakfast apart from a banana so I was very hungry come dinner time! We had a few biscuits and chocolate raisins that kept us going. The scenery was spectacular as we drove through the mountains to the old colonial mining town of Potosi and I took too many photos as usual! We had a walking city tour of various squares and churches before ending up at a restaurant early as we were all quite hungry.
Thank you everyone for your good birthday wishes - tomorrow we are going down a silver mine here at Potosi before driving 2 hours to Sucre which is reputedly a lovely town...look after yourselves and Alan, we are back on evening of 11th if you want to drop in...Love to everyone..Ann and Iain

Sunday 28 March 2010

Colca Canyon and Cusco

Following on from our last post, the Inca girl, Juanita, was found by archaeologists in 1995 on the frozen summit of a nearby volcano. Several other mummies of sacrificed children have been found on various volcanoes in Peru and Chile and as Juanita is being studied further at the moment a different mummy was on exhibition. It is thought that these young people were only sacrificed when disasters such as El Nino or volcanic eruptions occurred and that it was regarded as an honour to die in this way. They walked up the volcanos to the summit and were fasting and drinking chichi (an alcoholic drink) which with the altitude and exertion probably meant they were only semi conscious when they were killed by a blow to the head.
The following day we drove to the Colca Canyon with wonderful scenery as we travelled around the back of the Misti Volcano and through the Colca Valley seeing vicunha, alpaca and llamas along with arid desert dunes, towering outcrops of rock, swampland and ancient pre-Inca terraces – some of which (about 30%) are still cultivated. They grow beans, potatoes and quinoa mostly. We saw the snowy mountaintops of Ampata (where they found Juanita) and various other mountains and we eventually reached the pass through the Andes at about 6,000m. From there we followed a winding road down to Chivay, at 3,600m, (together with many yellow shirted marathon runners!) where we had lunch (grilled alpaca steak) and witnessed a superb thunderstorm, before a short drive to the lodge where we stayed the night. It was cold and we were glad of our extra sweaters. Five of us then visited the local hot springs and although the pool was pleasantly warm the recent rain and hail had cooled it somewhat. I developed a cracking headache from hyper-extending my neck in the pool – very silly - but by dinner time it was okay and after a complimentary glass of gluwein and some excellent food we felt much warmer and ready for bed.
We then had a 6am start to drive to watch the condors flying. My neck didn’t like the bumpy drive on the dirt road but we had several stops for views and a village or two before getting to the start of the canyon and the look-out point for the condors. Awe-inspiring scenery – sheer walls plunging down 2000m to the Colca river at the bottom – the whole canyon is 100Km long. It was great to spend a couple of hours watching the condors spiralling up on the thermals until they flew right over us. With a wing span of around 3m it was very impressive. We then drove back to Chivay and on back to Arequipa. I felt it was a shame that we didn’t go further along the canyon although we would only be able to see it from the road at the top.
We had a hideously early start the next day, leaving the hotel at 5am for our flight to Cusco. We aren't going to be able to get to Machu Pichu but there are many interesting sites around Cusco.
Cusco is at 3,600m so we felt the altitude and had a welcome couple of hours rest before walking around the city with Daniel, who pointed out museums and took us around the San Pedro market which was interesting. We all met up for dinner and had a relatively early night with a lie in until 9am!
The following day, fter a leisurely breakfast we wandered around and went to see the Museum of Regional History and the Monument to Pachakuteq which we climbed (slowly) to enjoy some great views of the city. Luckily it had several landings with displays where one could catch one’s breath before ascending further. We all met up with another seven people who had just flown in from Lima for a guided tour around Q’Enqo which was a sacred Inca site with a cave and various outcrops of rocks which may have been used as astronomical observatory. Apparently on the top of the caves are rocky protuberences which when the sun shines shows the shadow of a puma (the puma represents this plane of existence whilst the condor represents the heavens and the snake the inner world). We then visited Saqsaywaman, a colossal structure which may have been a temple to the lightning as its massive walls are built in a zig-zag pattern. The huge stones are precision carved to interlock seamlessly – an amazing feat when one considers they only had stone tools to work with. We then drove back into Cusco city to visit Qorikancha which was the Inca temple complex, built on by the Spanish but where there is still much of the original Inca stonework. The main temple was to the sun and had gold plate on the outer walls which must have looked magnificent – it is still impressive now despite the Spanish vandalism. We then visited the cathedral – very ornate and with two side churches. One of these contains the black Christ. The story is that in the 1560s Spain sent Cusco a statue of Christ and as it was being transported through Peru from the coast, they stopped overnight in one of the villages and in the morning the statue felt so heavy that they decided it was a sign that the Christ wanted to stay there. This meant that they had to make another statue for Cusco instead. The arms and legs were made of wood and the body of leather and they used a mixture of cornflour and something else that I have forgotten to paint it. In time this produced oxides which have darkened the colour of the skin.
On our third day in Cusco we had a full day guided tour around various Inca sites. We started by visiting Chinchero, a colonial town built upon Inca structures where we attended an excellent demonstration by local women of how they wash, dye, spin and weave alpaca and sheep wool. We then drove through some lovely countryside with the Andes towering in the background to Ollantaytambo, a wonderful Inca site with huge numbers of terraces, houses, temples and granaries. We then drove to Moray where there are four circular complexes of Inca (and pre-Inca) terraces where it is thought they experimented to find the optimum conditions for growing different crops. We eventually got back to the hotel shortly after 7pm and sampled a nearby restaurant (very tender alpaca and excellent chilli salsa) before turning in.
The next morning we visited the Peru challenge project started by a Peruvian and his Australian girl friend, now his wife. They have re-established community schools in 2 or 3 places and we visited the one at Pumamarca. They are in their final year here before the school becomes completely self sufficient with government help now that 170 children go there. They usually stay involved with the project for 5 years and the community then take over. They have also established a women’s project there where over 200 women spend 2-3 afternoons a week doing arts and crafts to sell; this is run by the local social worker and has proved very successful. We got back for lunch and then visited a silver and jewellery workshop on the outskirts of Cusco where everyone bought stuff – including me (for my birthday, of course!). In the evening we went to the cultural centre for an hour’s demonstration of local dances before having dinner.
The next day we visited Pikillaqta, a pre-Inca Huari city from 650AD with amazing 12m high walls and very extensive remains of streets and houses showing remnants of lime plaster on the walls and floors made with a mixture of plaster, lime and adobe that looked like cement. We passed an area in the valley where they had had heavy flooding which had destroyed fields and houses. The people are currently living in tents until either their homes are rebuilt or they are relocated. We then drove to Tipon where we had to drive high up the mountainside on narrow mud roads with hairpin bends – scary! Tipon is another well preserved Inca site with terraces, water channels and waterfalls – well worth the visit. On the way home there was further excitement as a power cable had come down on the road which necessitated a detour on a rutted and very muddy road normally only used by farm vehicles and suchlike, difficult terrain for a coach!
Today Iain and I decided to take a taxi to visit a couple of sites nearby, Tambomachay and Puka Pukara. The former was a smaller version of the waterfalls, terraces and aqueducts we saw at Tipon but Puka Pukara was great; a fort and watch tower with quite a lot of the walls still standing and great views. We then returned to find a fiesta and procession of many local dance teams in the main square for Palm Sunday. It was very colourful so we stayed to watch instead of going to an art museum. After lunch we climbed way up narrow streets of steps to San Cristobal where we were rewarded with magnificent views over Cusco. Having wandered through many picturesque streets we felt we deserved a pisco sour, the local drink which we both like, before returning to the hotel for a bit of a rest. Well, that’s all for now, so hope all is well with everyone and we’ll be in touch when we can. Lots of love to all Ann and Iain

Saturday 20 March 2010

Well we thoroughly enjoyed our traditional Island meal that is cooked in a fire pit, ceremonially opened and then eaten – delicious fish, chicken, pork and sweet potato with salads followed by banana cake also from the fire pit. Prior to this all the guests, about twenty of us, were given facial decoration in the form of clay paint by two local tribal men wearing body paint and a thong! Apparently the main guy used to be a tour guide and decided his mission in life was to help preserve his culture, so he and his wife opened this ethnic restaurant where all the food is prepared in the traditional manner and he and his friends perform the songs, stories and dances of the island. They run a couple of these evenings each week and the meal is followed by energetic dancing by men and then with women also. The instruments were not native to the island but he explained how the old and the new traditions were melding which was interesting.
The next day we had a leisurely start as our pickup for the airport was not until 11.30am. It’s a lovely little airport that reminded us of Skiathos (how it used to be), very relaxed and easy. Our flight to Santiago was uneventful except that we didn’t have sound on the in flight entertainment but we watched Pan’s Labyrinth which had English subtitles. We arrived at our hotel about 8.30pm with the time change and so it was pretty much straight to bed as our taxi was picking us up at 5.30am.
The Santiago airport check-in was in a marquee and we then joined another queue for nearly an hour only to discover it was only for domestic flights and we should have walked over to the terminal building for the international police checks etc. We still had plenty of time though as the plane had been rescheduled for an hour later than the original 8.40am. We were grateful that we had arranged an arrival transfer at Lima as we were both tired and ready for a bite of lunch which we had at the hotel. Iain then had forty winks whilst I caught up with e-mails and pottered. We met with the group at 5pm and with our guide Daniel. They are only seven of us but we will be joined in Cusco by another seven. We then found the local laundry, had an early dinner and bed (a main course with pisco sour for 25 soles (7 dollars) a head - good eh?).
The next day we had a drive to down town Lima, passing various buildings and stopping at the main square to visit the Cathedral, Franciscan monastery and church (with catacombs) and the library where they have 25,000 books dating as far back as the fourteenth century and with little apparent care being taken to preserve them. We then drove a short way to the Anthropological Museum which was interesting. By 2pm it was more then time for lunch and we went to an all you can eat buffet with free juice and pisco sour for 35 soles a head (12 dollars). The food was excellent.
Iain and I decided to take up the option of a private tour of Pachacamac, a nearby archaelogical site in the desert. As we were leaving the restaurant to hurry back to the hotel for a 3.30pm pickup we were met by the guide and the minivan so we even got a lift to the hotel to fetch our water and the other camera! The site closed at 5pm so we were a bit tight on time but our guide was good and we drove to see most of the important parts of the site. It was well worth seeing it and enjoying the views from the top platform of the Inca temple to the sun. The other pyramids and temples are partly reconstructed in places and some date back to 1500BC with small mud bricks whilst the Incas used adobe. The whole complex is vast and was a ceremonial sacred site and oracle for centuries dedicated to the Earthquake God before the Incas came along.
Early next morning we had a short hour or so flight to Arequipa and after a short rest we all had a tour of the city including a couple of viewpoints for the El Misti volcano, Chachani and Pichu Pichu volcanoes. The valley is irrigated from water from the highlands and the River Chili, and contains many fields and terraces where they grow alfalfa, potatoes, maize and beans. We visited the cathedral and an amazing convent complex, the Monastery of Santa Catalina dating from 1579. Many of the original houses have been restored from earthquake damage, where women from wealthy families, after paying a large dowry to the church, lived in separate houses of varying sizes served by several maids, in considerable comfort but segregated from outside. Communal living was only insisted upon much later in the latter part of the nineteenth century. There are also cloisters with painted walls and many pictures from the ‘Cusco school’ of painting representing fusion of Inca and Spanish culture. We then paid a short visit to the Jesuit monastery and church where they had (?have) a school. We were able to wander through a couple of courtyards and looked at the facade of the church but couldn’t go in, which was a shame.
Having walked back to the hotel we all met up again at7pm to go for dinner. I only fancied something light and had sopa criolla which was delicious. We were going to share a starter of Cebiche but Iain had a huge plateful of different regional foods including various potato dishes, stuffed chilli pepper and meat which meant I had to eat more than I really wanted to. I was feeling really tired and bloated so was glad to get back and have a good night’s sleep.
The following day (today) some of us did an optional tour around some of the outlying districts of Arequipa including a couple of good viewpoints. The old Inca terraces and irrigation channels are still used today as are old Inca trails between the villages. Unfortunately regulation on building houses on the field area has only recently (this year) been introduced and there are many new buildings dotted around. The slopes of the surrounding hills are covered in shanty towns where many have no water or electricity. In contrast to this we visited two very opulent colonial style houses, one of which was an old water mill with some beautiful old trees and the other the hacienda of the Spanish founder of Arequipa City, which has fairly recently been restored. As well as various articles of furniture there are a couple of interesting line drawing of Chilean foot soldiers that were drawn during the brief occupation by Chile during the war between Chile, and Peru and Bolivia, in 1879-1884. We are back now at the hotel having a rest before going to see the local museum which contains the mummified remains of an Inca girl (?princess) sacrificed by the Incas so we will say goodbye for now and I'm sorry, Alan, we didn't find any Easter eggs on Easter Island. Do drop us a line to let us know how everyone is going. Lots of love Ann and Iain.

Monday 15 March 2010

Easter Island

We didn’t sleep too well as it was hot but we managed to oversleep till 8.20am and had a rush getting ready for 9am but we made it. We were teamed up with four Italians for the trip today. Our first stop was Rano Raraku where they quarried and shaped the stone statues or moai. Of the 900 on the island, 400 are to be found here in various stages of completion with several toppled over down the slope. We then went to Tongariki where fifteen completed moai can be seen on a winged platform or Ahu. All the moai on the island were toppled over during warfare between the different tribes in the 17th century. There was further damage here during the tsunami in the 1960s but the Japanese borrowed a moai (now called the traveller) to exhibit in Osaka for twenty years and in return helped to reconstruct Tongariki. Only one has his pokau or topknot in place as it was not possible to match the others with the different heads. The pokau are made of different rock and reddish coloured. We then visited Akahanga where as well as another Ahu and toppled moai we saw many remains of dwellings, a cave and fire pits. Their houses were elliptical with stones defining the area; in these were placed wooden beams arching across and thatched with grass and palm leaves. In the front was a semicircular area of rounded stones rather like our modern patios. We returned to the base of the tour operator and had a tasty lunch of chicken, rice and fruit before driving to the other end of the island to see Te Pita Kura which had the largest moai, before it too was toppled. Here also is the belly button of the world! This is a smooth, apparently magnetic stone – no-one knows where it came from or why it is there. We then drove a short way to Anakena where as well as more moai there is a very pleasant white sandy beach where we spent a happy hour or two swimming before returning to the hotel. What amazes us is the very low key tourism – in the first couple of sites there was hardly anyone there apart from us and we wondered where the plane loads of people had gone! There were a few more at the beach but the island is very quiet and unspoilt, with all the houses being the traditional single storey type. Hopefully they will resist the lure of high rise hotels and the accompanying tourist trash. We had an early evening wander around the shoreline to Ahu Tahai (our local moai!) and then went for dinner to a first floor terrace restaurant Aubort which had very good Polynesian type food, including raw fish – delicious! The cubed fish was marinated in citrus and served in coconut milk with shredded carrot, cabbage, cubed cucumber or marrow and dill.
After breakfast we first drove up to see the volcanic crater of Ranu Kau which contains a freshwater lagoon. The crater has a diameter of 2 Km and was last active 3,000 years ago. The lake used to be the only source of fresh water on the island and still supplies most of it although it is now piped rather than people having to trek down the volcano sides to fetch it. We then visited Orongo which has the restored ruins of 52 dwellings. These are unique on the island as being constructed of stone and slate which was quarried from the cave we visited next, Aha Kai Tangata, which also has some remains of bird man paintings. After the period of conflict when the population had decreased as had the resources, Orongo became the centre ceremonial place of the Bird Man cult which arose to replace the ancestor cults. They worshiped one Maku-Maku God of all and had an annual contest for leadership of the clans or tribes – the Bird Man. From the cave after meditation the strongest from each clan/tribe would walk in procession to the top of Orongo, from where they had to climb down the cliffs, swim 2 Km across to the largest islet and collect the first bird’s egg to be laid. They then had to keep hold of this (in a nest tied around their forehead so that their hands were free) and swim back to scale the cliffs again. The winner who brought the egg (even if he hadn’t been the one to find it) was the Bird Man for the year and had control of all the resources. He was regarded as a sacred re-incarnation of the Maku-Maku God and lived apart at Orongo or Rano Raraku, only communicating with the people through his priest.
We returned to town and had a pleasant lunch before setting off again at 3pm to see Ahu Akivi where there are seven moai representing the seven explorers King Hotu Matu A sent to travel east from an island in French Polynesia following a dream he had of the island. Their own island home was sinking and they needed to find somewhere else to colonise. When the people settled here these seven were unhappy and returned to their doomed island according to legend and these moai were erected facing towards the sea (as well as the village) and the island home they had travelled from. This was followed by Ana Te Pahu where there are caves (formed by lava tubes) running in an extensive system down to the ocean. We then visited Puna Pau which is another volcanic crater at the southern most point of the island where they quarried the red stone for the pokau. We also visited Ahu Huri A Urenga where there is a single moai oriented to define the winter solstice and which, in aligment with other moai, showed the equinoxes as well. This is a fascinating place and it's a shame we can't stay longer. tonight we are going to a traditional dinner cooked in a fire pit and local dancing... that's all for now as my battery needs charging....lots of love Ann and Iain

Saturday 13 March 2010

Easter Island

Friday 12th March we had a 5am taxi to the airport and despite the increasing crowds we had timed it right and were sitting in the departure lounge after an hour or so. Unfortunately our plane was delayed for three hours from Panama City so with the three hour time shift we ended up at our hotel in Santiago at midnight and had to leave again at 6am! It seems a very good hotel so it is rather a shame we can't stay to enjoy it!
A 6am taxi took us to the airport in record time as there was no traffic. Evidence of earthquake damage was shown in road lanes being closed and the departures lounge was in a large white marquee. We think that considering they had an 8.8 quake ten days ago Chile has done amazingly well to get flights going again. We landed in Easter Island about 1pm – a wonderful place despite plane loads of tourists (we wondered where they had all gone!). Hanga Roa has a population of 3800 and is the only town on the island. They owe their runway, which is long enough for major jets to land, to the Americans thinking the moon shuttle would land here. It is five to ten minutes drive from the centre of town. It is lovely to be able to cross roads without fear of being run down! We had an explore and a beer and are now enjoying the hotel pool before having an early dinner and hopefully, a good night’s sleep! We have a full day exploring the island's sites tomorrow but may be able to connect with people on Monday before we leave at lunchtime. Love to all Ann and Iain

Thursday 11 March 2010

Our hotel is about half way between Quepos and Manuel Antonio. We ate in an overpriced tourist restaurant but around here there are only the sandy beaches, hotels and restaurants geared up to the tourist trade (international and Costa Rican). Unfortunately we missed the bus and arrived late so our table (for 16) had been released and so we were very late eating.
The next day we arrived at the gates of the National Park at 10am and the quota of visitors had already been filled and it was much too hot to wait in a queue for a couple of hours so we decided to go on the beach and get to the Park early tomorrow. Iain loved the beach but the breakers meant I had problems swimming. We had hired a couple of sun loungers and an umbrella for $10 but even in the shade it was very hot and humid and I got a bit burnt. An interesting and very large green locust/cicada flew onto my hand while I was at the side of the hotel pool enjoying a yogurt and fruit smoothie. Chad had booked a table for 7.45pm (which was rather late as we were all starving) in a restaurant built around a WW2 plane. When we got there they had misunderstood and let the table go to another group. Half an hour later we were sat down but the service was appallingly slow and we were still eating at 10pm. I was ready to drop and so were several others so it wasn’t a great evening and the food was pricey. While we were eating Adam was dive bombed by an even bigger cicada (?) which led to much screaming and diversion.
The next day we got up at 6am and caught the 7am bus to the park and got in without trouble ($5each). Manuel Antonio is a beautiful place and we had a couple of close encounters with three toed sloths, saw a large black and yellow spider and several large morpho butterflies with iridescent blue wings. We wandered up a trail to a nearly dry waterfall and then to a viewpoint with lovely views over the coastline. We then went to a lovely little cove called Gamelas where we had a welcome swim which I enjoyed because there were no large breakers.
We then walked alongside a beautiful shoreline where we saw many white faced capuchin monkeys and then to a bakery in Manuel Antonio, where we bought some pasties for lunch and had a beer before returning to the hotel on the 1.30pm bus. After a swim in the pool we left at 3.30pm on our bus. About 40 minutes out the fan belt went and we limped to the garage which after an hour decided they didn’t have the right size so our driver called for another
bus. As all this meant a delay of three hours Chad arranged for us to have our final dinner en route at the crocodile restaurant previously mentioned. The food was good and a lot cheaper than in Quepos and was followed by a slide show on Chad’s computer of photos various group members had taken. Iain was voted the most adventurous – not bad for an old one!
Our final day in Costa Rica was spent having a lie in and going to the Jade and Gold Museums - very interesting. Tomorrow we fly to Santiago and then the next day on to Easter Island, so farewell until we get internet access again...lots of love Ann and Iain