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Another dramatic turn


View Central America 2021 on cblanc102's travel map.

I had another post that I was writing, I doubt I'll publish it now. Everything has changed.

I'll give you a quick catch up and I'll fill this post with a load of lovely photos hopefully.

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Like this

So i arrived in Cusco, which is very bloody cold and the two hostels I've stayed in have also been bloody cold. No one in South America seems to have either double glazing or heating. Not one place I've stayed in anyway. I was really just in Cusco for two trips. One to the Rainbow Mountains and one to Machu Picchu.

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And I took a walk up to see the Cristo Blanco statue

The Rainbow Mountains tour went well. It was very cold and i don't have the clothing for it, but i bought a woolly hat and gloves for £6 so was alright. It was a LOT of walking, about 12km uphill and back, but as you can see, the views were worth it.

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The next day i was due to go on a four day Machu Picchu trip and i was to have a briefing at 6, but no one turned up. There had been a mix up on their end and they went to the wrong hotel. This also meant that i didn't know where properly to meet the next day and they missed me again, even though i was ten meters across the street. They didn't think to ask who i was... Strike one

I was eventually picked up and driven to my first activity, a bike ride down the mountain, from 4500m to 1500m above sea level, i was really looking forward to it. But my driver couldn't find my guide. We drove for two hours going up and down the same windy mountain road until we eventually found him much further down than where he was supposed to be.. Strike two

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Once we found him, he decked me out in my gear, pads, helmet etc and I learned that not only wouldn't i be joining a group (I was the only person on the tour), but i would also be riding alone, they would follow me on the car. The two bikes were both for me, one as a back up. Ok

I rode down the hill, adrenaline pumping, thinking it a tad crazy and scary, but loving it anyway. About five or ten mins into the ride however, the front wheel started shaking violently and I just about managed to not fall off the cliff and stop the bike before I lost the wheel completely. My car caught up few seconds later and they had a look at the bike and decided they couldn't fix it. Back up bike it is then, right?

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Ummm... No. The back up bike had a flat tire and they didn't have any bike tools. I was pretty furious. My guide said we would drive five minutes to the next town and try to find a pump there, but when we arrived, of course there wasn't one. At this point, my guide asked what i wanted to do, as even if we fixed the bike now, it could be too late to do the ride and get to the white water rafting in time.

I asked him why he thought I would want to get in a boat with them when they couldn't even provide two working bikes for a ride? I said I wanted a full refund and then head back to Cusco. He said he would speak to his boss. After a while he returned, he couldn't get through to anyone, no phone signal. Of course there wasn't, we were in the middle of nowhere. By this time i had calmed down some and just decided to continue. I was still pretty annoyed though.

And then nothing mattered anymore.

My phone got a signal and I started getting emails etc, so I tried to call Mum again. Is tried before a few times, but she wasn't in. There was still no answer. It was about 7pm in the UK, she'd be home for sure normally. I called my sister to see if she knew anything and she told me Mum was in hospital and it was very bad, but she was stable and OK

Well that's the end of my trip. Nothing matters after that and then only thing i could think of was how i could get home. We arrived at the house in the middle of the jungle where I was staying that night and they opened the car door to find a 48 year old Englishman in tears. I was pretty broken. There's a point that you get where you're not really thinking properly and you can't work out what you need to do and what happens next. Especially when you're alone, when there's no one to calm you down, to help. My brain wasn't working. I was lost.

It's now a few days later and I've realised how stupid it was for me to be traveling around red countries. Not because if the risk of covid, but just how impossible it is for me to get home in any good time. It's irresponsible really and I don't think i will be traveling again until the stupid traffic light travel system is gone. Normally, there's pretty much nowhere in the world that you can't get back from in 48 hours. Now? I have no chance.

So i was in the middle of nowhere, trying to figure out what to do next. I went on the rafting trip, but didn't enjoy it, how could I? All I could think of was Mum. I decided then that i would get back as soon as possible. Nothing else mattered. But there was nothing I could do at night in the middle of the Andean forest.

The next day Ricardo (my guide) asked what i wanted to do. I knew i couldn't get a flight before Saturday, but that was the day that we were supposed to reach Machu Picchu, so I was going to cancel the tour. Instead though, Ricardo managed to move everything around so that i could reach Machu Picchu, get back to Cusco and be ready for my flight Saturday. He was a champ really. Everything before was forgiven from the day before lol.

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We then had to hike 20km to get to Machu Picchu, it was crazy, but it was worth it, it's an amazing feat and stunning to see. I'm glad I got to do it before I left. I think i would really regretted it.

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So It's now Friday evening, I have a flight tomorrow from Cusco to Cancun, but I then have to wait in Mexico for ten days as I'm not allowed to have been in a red country in that long without quarantining in that crazy expensive hotel when I get back. They'd rather If I've caught anything, I spread it around before coming home on August 10th.

And that's where I am. I have 11 days left of this trip and I don't regret it for a second. Nothing else matters. I haven't really talked about it on here, or to anyone, Mum included, but I had some pretty dark times in the past year stuck in quarantine. Mum got me through it. She gave me somewhere to live, sure, but without having her there with me I don't know what I would have done. She has spent all of my life giving my family everything. I owe her this and a thousand times more than this. It's the least I can do.

She doesn't want me coming home, but I don't care. She's got no internet access in hospital and no one will tell her I'm on my way. Hopefully it'll be a nice surprise. My sister Mandy is currently dealing with this on her own. She's a trooper and has been fantastic, but I should be there too. That's my job. All my friends have been fantastic too. Messages all the time, offers of help, daily love and encouragement. I'm really blessed.

Mum's soldiering on, she's by no means out of the woods and they tell me that the next 48 hours are critical, but I have faith in her, always.

But this isn't then end of the blog, not at all. For a start I still have 10 days to fill in Mexico, I plan to visit Chichen Itza and a load of other Mayan ruins. But also, I'll be back out again in the New Year hopefully. Finishing off the South East Asia trip that stupid covid ruined last year.

Posted by cblanc102 04:17 Archived in Peru Tagged mountains people temples flying hiking travel hostels machu_picchu aeroplane beauty friendship flights journey south_america latin_america quarantine problems solo_travel coronavirus Comments (0)

Doing the Galapagos Islands on the Cheap

Another Sisyphean task

sunny 26 °C
View Central America 2021 on cblanc102's travel map.

The main reason I had come to Guayaquil was as a stop on the way to the Galapagos Islands. To come all this way and not visit them seemed insane to me, but I have limited money and everyone was telling me how expensive the place is. But as ever, I persisted.

I had found a nice cheap flight for £170 and a room in someone's house for £7 a night. Great start! All this came crashing down around me at the airport.

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That way lies Asia

The process to visit the Galapagos is a bit convoluted. I first went to the counter, to be told I had to do the check in on one of the online machines. This was annoying, as it wouldn't let me do the online check in the night before, so why now? Once this was done, I then had to go get my back checked for banned items. You aren't allowed any non processed food stuffs as they're worried about damaging the eco system. Fair enough. Coffee was allowed though, so I was good. I then had to go pay for some travel card thing, which was another $20 and I was good to go.

But when I went to drop of my rucksack at the counter, I was told that I had bought an 'Ecuadorian flight ticket' and I would have to pay another $130!! I was pretty steamed at this point and if my plane ticket had been refundable I'd have likely cut off my nose to spite my face and told them to stick it up their arses. Fortunately after a couple of conversations with friends and family, saner heads prevailed and I paid up and got on the plane. I didn't buy a coffee in the airport. That will show them!

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They really love Paul Bettany here! - Only one person I know will get that joke

So 185 years, 9 months and 27 days after Charles Darwin arrived in The Beagle, I arrived on a jet plane that landed about a mile from where he did. Darwin thought the island a deserted and isolated place when he initially arrived and my first impressions were pretty similar, but I soon changed my mind (as did he) as I started to explore the island.

For starters, as has been the way in most places I've been this trip, everyone is really nice. The family who own the house where I'm staying are lovely and despite little English being spoken and my continually crap Spanish, we seem to be communicating fine. The room was great, pretty basic, like most of the island, and terrible wifi, but you know, it's a small island in the Pacific Ocean 500 miles away from anywhere, it's a bit of a miracle they have wifi and phone service at all really! The phone service isn't really that bad either, I'm using it right now to uploads the pics on here because the wifi isn't cutting it.

Anyway, after dumping my stuff, I soon took a walk down to the beach to see if I could see any wildlife around. I was in for a bit of a shock.

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Loads of animals everywhere!

The wildlife here is everywhere and I've only seen 5% of it. From the multitudes of birds, big and small, to the lizards everywhere, you can't walk 100 meters without spotting something, but when I got to the water and visited the closest beach to where I'm staying, I found it filled with sea lions, scores of them! Now you hear people talking about how the animals here don't view humans as predators so don't care about you, but their absolute ambivalence towards you is amazing really. They really could care less about you unless you go near their babies or they want to play with you.

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I'm like Attenborough

And there are very few rules as to being around them. You're told to keep 6 feet away and not to touch them, that's about it and not always possible as they'll come right up to you whenever they please. You're supposed to walk away, but no one does, the result is some lovely close up pics of hundreds of (mostly sleeping) sea lions as I went from beach to beach. I also saw loads of marine iguanas, another of the animals I really wanted to see. All I need do now is pay a taxi to take me to the top of the island to where the giant tortoises live and I'll have seen the three land animals on my tick list!

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Ahhh

The price of things isn't too bad for the most part either, considering everything that's being sold has been shipped over 500 miles to get here. I've found the food is pretty reasonable, especially if you go to one of the many little restaurants that are just really extensions of people's houses, but I had a huge burrito at a restaurant in town for just eight dollars, so that wasn't too bad. I did see a normal sized bottle of Jack Daniels in a supermarket for $80 though!!!

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It was a big old burrito!

I'm mostly just walking / hiking around. This morning I woke up and went swimming in the ocean with the sea lions. I'd call it a once in a lifetime experience if I didn't expect to wake up and do it again tomorrow! It really was amazing sharing the water with them as they checked me out, swimming around me and then showing off some leaping out the water. I've taken some video, so hopefully I can do something with that.

Over the next few days I want to do a couple of scuba dives and also take a tour up to the volcano and down to the tortoises, other than that I just want to discover as much of the island as I can and maybe try out the three for $10 mohitos I saw at the beach!

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Posted by cblanc102 14:23 Archived in Ecuador Tagged landscapes beaches animals birds planes boats islands water diving flying hiking beach travel volcano drink hostels island scuba plane beauty flights trails coffee journey south_america galapagos ecuador solo problems solo_travel Comments (1)

Breathless


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In most new towns when I'm travelling, I like to take a long walk around, try and get my bearings. Google maps is a massive liar and all too soon space and distance tend to blur away if you have no idea where you're going some of the time. I'd been on Lonely Planet and found lots of places of interest in Quito, which I added to Google Maps as places of interest and with that I set off in the general direction of Quito's Old Town district.

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There were two churches where the insides were almost completely gold!

It's pretty cold here compared to where I've been, even though the weather has been a lot better (no rain!), but that's to be expected as Quito stands at 2850m above seal level, that's almost 10,000 feet! My bed here has 4 blankets, it's pretty toasty. However, as I set out yesterday morning the weather was perfect, sunny, temperature in the high teens, ending up around 21 /22 in the afternoon.

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The first church I came to was stunning!

As I walked along though, I soon found myself in trouble. It was very hard to breathe! I have been higher than this before, I climbed to almost 4000m in Nepal, but I guess we did that over three days, rather than just landing there one day. I was definitely feeling it. Headaches and breathlessness, two symptoms of altitude sickness. On top of that I hadn't eaten much as I got in late the night before because of the airplane antics (see last blog) but I carried on regardless.

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The Main Square in Quito's Old District

Quito is a beautiful city, filled with some amazing churches, monuments, parks and surrounded by volcanoes. It's hard to take a crappy photo, but as you'll see I tried! It's very friendly too, pretty cheap and they serve fantastic coffee! It's also extraordinarily hilly! Some of the streets I had to climb were really difficult, it must have been quite the sight for the locals to see me huffing and puffing up the hills. I somehow managed to make it back in time to see England smash the Ukraine though, so all was good, come on you Lions!!! (and thank God for decent WiFi and a VPN)

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Stupidly hilly streets

In the evening I tried to plan my next few weeks. One of the things that I have found to be a lot harder this trip is the decision making process. Everything seemed more straightforward in Thailand, maybe because I had been planning that trip for a year, whereas this trip was very much a last minute thing, but deciding where to go next has really been an issue, as it was last night where my initial plans were scuppered after discovering that one place was miles away from where I actually wanted to visit and the other town was in fact a den of iniquity filled with loggers, oil drillers and apparently tons of crime.

I finally found the website of a married American couple who have taken a year off to honeymoon hiking the Americas. This website has become my new travel Bible and within an hour of reading it, I had booked my next three weeks where I will end up in the Galapagos Islands! A dream come true for me as I've wanted to go there for years. I'm very excited! I've also got a much better idea about how to get into Peru and do Machu Picchu in a great way (more on that another time)

Now if only the Government would sort their minds out about the stupid traffic light thing, I could actually plan all the rest of the trip down to when and how I can go home!

Today I hiked higher than I've ever been, to almost 4700m! I had help with a cable car in the middle, but still walked 4km. 300m uphill to get there, then another 4km up 750m from the top of the cable car. The views were incredible, but like all exercise, it wasn't worth it of course. At least the altitude sickness was less of a bother today.

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A view from the top

I then travelled North on the bus to the 'Middle of the World'. A monument celebrating the equator where you can stand either side of the North / South divide...... Apart from the fact that when GPS was invented, they discovered that the actual line was about 200m away. Good try though!

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North and South. Or Not

The buses here are crazy, just 30p for a 1hr, 30km ride, they fill up with people straight away and overfill way past the limit. Just when you think it's not possible to fit anyone else on the bus, they let a few more on. On top of this there's been a person on every ride asking for money. Usually, they tell a little story and sell something like a snack, I saw one busload of people applaud a guy's story on the bus to Panama City, but on one bus today there were three or four beggars ranging from children to agitated drunks. It wasn't great.

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Some old bloke up a volcano

I'll be braving the buses again tomorrow as I head for Banos where I hope to try my first ever white water rafting!

Again, come on you England! I hope the new place has decent WiFi!!

Posted by cblanc102 05:01 Archived in Ecuador Tagged landscapes mountains churches skylines people hiking travel volcano bus hostels holiday weather beauty coffee journey south_america ecuador quarantine problems Comments (0)

Water - fools


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Just so you know, I've been writing this (or not) for three days, so when I talk about yesterday, I'm actually talking about Saturday 26th June. I have been a mixture of tired, travelling and lazy. Apologies

So yesterday was the craziest of days yet.

I had decided to hike to a series of waterfalls with one of the women from my hostel, Anita and we were ready to set off at about 9:30. A couple also staying at the hostel offered us a lift to the start as it was a long way past the bus stop to the waterfalls. Unfortunately we accepted.

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Some cute little Panamanian girls we met that just live in these stone houses with no windows

The couple are born again Christians. I have no idea to which particular denomination they belong (I suspect none), but their beliefs also include:

The Earth is flat
The moon, sun, stars are all made up, put there by Christ as a test or something, I don't know why he's being an arse about it.
So no moon landing or any other space stuff.
The outline of a bird that can be seen from above in some mountain range is what's left over from an actual 150 mile long bird from the past
Basically, all conspiracies that you have heard of are real and anything that randomly resembles anything else is actually that.

This was ok I guess when you could walk away, but when we were stuck in a car with them, there was no escaping the idiocy. When we stopped to take a look at an interesting rock face, we were told that all rocks, apart from volcanic rocks, are the leftover muscles of giants - The Devils Tower in Wyoming is the ankle of a giant. The Giant's Causeway? More giants. It's interesting that the only rock that isn't giants is the one that you see formed in front of you... Although how they explain tectonic plate shifts I don't know, probably more giants.

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No rock, remains of a giant, or some other insane ramblings

We eventually escaped and started our walk, but this nonsense went on all week, with them trying to convert new arrivals and trying to convince me that lunar eclipses and horizons aren't real. They failed in all of it.

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The first waterfall, where we escaped

Anyway, back to the walk. After losing Mr and Mrs Munchhausen at the first waterfall we continued up through the rain forest climbing up and over rocks, up ropes and across rivers, there were three more waterfalls, all more impressive than the last, they were truly beautiful and well worth the effort, although as you could guess by now if you've been reading my blogs, it's usually around this point where it starts raining hard and this was no different.

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Waterfall no 2

The walk to the waterfalls had been mostly uphill, so getting back was a little easier, although it was a lot slippier and we both fell a few times. We were absolutely soaked though as we left with a good couple of hours walk along the road ahead of us. Anita suggested that we ask a guy who had walked in front of us if we could get a ride into town, she's Polish, apparently it's a thing. Before we had a chance though, he offered us a ride! We just had to wait for the other two people he'd offered a free ride to!

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Waterfall 3, the weather is getting worse!

What a gent! His name was Frank, a Cuban who had moved to Panama a decade ago and apparently just gave people rides? On the way to town, he surprised us again by pulling into a coffee house and buying us all coffee! It doesn't get much better than this!

Or so we thought until he invited us all to his house for dinner! It was incredible and crazy.. We'd met the guy an hour before and here we were contemplating going to his house for dinner. We were fairly sure this would be some kind of Murder House, but I was bored of cooking my own pasta every night, so I accepted. After a quick stop to buy a huge piece of meat, and another to let us change our wet clothes, we arrived at Franks house and just WOW. It was huge! After we were shown around the place and his two enormous gardens we chatted and drank, got to know each other and finally ate what tasted a lot like perfect beef and hopefully not the remains of the people invited there before.

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The final waterfall from the front and back! Aren't you lucky!!

It was a fantastic night. One that I can only imagine happening while travelling and even then very rarely. You'd rarely even hear of someone giving strangers a lift in the rain, let alone buying them coffee or inviting them into their home! But six people from five different countries with varying levels of English and Spanish spent the evening laughing and singing and dancing like we'd all known each other for years. I'll never forget it.

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First getting to know each other in the coffee house

Finally, today is day 40 of this trip. on day 40 of the last attempt, I arrived back in Gravesend beaten by the stupid virus, so every day from today is officially the longest I have travelled for. I very much doubt I'll be out here for a full 6 months, it just seems too long and the price of flights back to Costa Rica from Peru are about the same as a flight back to the UK, so I suspect I'll return to the UK from there, travel conditions permitting, so I think I'm around a third of the way through the trip, but who knows at this point!! If the last week has shown me anything, it's that anything can happen.

Posted by cblanc102 04:48 Archived in Panama Tagged landscapes waterfalls mountains bridges buildings people parties trees night food rain rainforest hiking travel drink hostels jungle holiday panama weather beauty friendship coffee central_america problems solo_travel Comments (0)

Lockdown Blues

This feels strangely familiar, just wetter

I have no photos! I have done nothing now for 2 days!!

I was expecting to be in Boquete tonight, a small town in the Panamanian highlands on the edge of another volcano, instead I'm spending another night in this windowless room in a mediocre hostel on the edge of a mediocre city. That may be a bit harsh, maybe.

This turn of events started last night when I was told at 5 pm that the city goes into lockdown today. For one day. Apparently they have a load of little rules about travel that affect different people, such as men and women being allowed to travel on different days and foreigners being allowed to travel at certain times depending on the last number of their passport. Stuff like that, all confusing! But most importantly, no one is allowed to travel on a Sunday.

Quite how this stops the spread of Covid is beyond me, I figure people just travel on other days, but they seem to be doing pretty well with numbers, so who am I to argue? I just wish someone had told me when I booked this hostel to leave on a Sunday, or when I booked the next place actually for a Sunday!

To be fair to both hostels, they dealt with it pretty well, were both very accommodating, letting me stay an extra day here and moving my time in Boquete back a day, so no harm there. As far as I know though, I'm here in this hostel completely on my own, the manager gave me a key to the kitchen and her number for emergencies yesterday. All pretty easy.

The unexpected consequences came today.

After spending all day just watching movies and reading, I decided to go out to eat. I'd been to the Supermarket yesterday, but only bought enough food for one day as I expected then to be off this morning. I had enough for a bowl of noodles, but that was about it. Looking on Tripadvisor, there seemed to be a good few restaurants up on the main highway about half a mile away, so I thought I'd try there. As I arrived where the restaurants were supposed to be, I noticed that no only were they nowhere to be found, but all the other businesses were closed, however I spotted a McDonald's along the road some, so headed there. Unfortunately I was told when I entered that they were only open for deliveries!

Determined to find anything at this point, I checked Google Maps for an open Supermarket and headed towards the same place I shopped yesterday. About a mile or so away from my hostel, it was at this point that it started raining. Of course it did.

It was a bloody great storm, that's still going on now two hours later. It had some crazy thunder and lightening to go with it as well. I headed for the supermarket, getting shelter from overhanging roofs where I could and made my way there slowly, getting pretty wet along the way. When I finally arrived, it was of course, shut. It was supposed to close at 9 pm, some two hours later, but I guess everything is closed today as I saw nothing open at all on my 5 km journey. I made my way back, now with no shelter at all, just pretty much getting soaked.

My dinner tonight was spaghetti. No meat, no veggies, but a sauce, which is better than nothing. I also emancipated two slices of bread from the kitchen, but today has been pretty pasta heavy, I've had just that and about 10 cups of coffee today. The cat here fared better than me, I saw him with a lizard in his mouth earlier, at least he had some meat.

Tomorrow, Panama returns to normal. I don't know if this was a one off thing or weekly, although I'll likely be in another part of the country next week so they may have their own rules. At least now I've learned that these rules exist and I can work around them. It's all part of the journey I guess!

Posted by cblanc102 12:52 Archived in Panama Tagged people food travel hostels panama journey south_america central_america latin_america quarantine problems solo_travel coronavirus Comments (0)

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