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We were on a break!


View Central America 2021 on cblanc102's travel map.

So it's been just under a week since I last posted a blog, a long time for me, but, it's not just laziness...

Since I last posted, I've travelled from The Galapagos to Guayaquil, from there to Cuenca, then back to Guayaquil on an amazingly beautiful bus ride through the clouds until I eventually caught a flight to Lima, Peru and finally now to Cusco Peru. That's a lot of travelling! In fact I've now travelled over 10,000 miles this trip!!

I've also been planning. I pretty much have the entire rest of the trip planned out to a degree now, ending on September 7th when I land at Gatwick. That will be about 4 months, which is enough. As I said before, 6 months was too long for me.

I've also had problems with my bloody laptop, which has taken to turning itself off (sort of) indiscriminately. At any point, sometimes before I've even had a chance to log in on the computer, the screen will go blank. It could go black, or white or now, sometimes blue. I have no idea, but it's a massive pain in the arse .I have found though that the power needs to be in all the time, or else it goes straight to the blank screen, and if I have a video running in the background, even YouTube, it tends not to do it. Although I have to reboot many times tonight just while writing this (and watching Ted Lasso)

An update for this, it looks like I need a replacement battery. They're not expensive, but I doubt I'll be able to sort it until I get home, I'll have to soldier on..

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Amazing views as you enter into the clouds

My week was pretty much this:

Flew back to Guayaquil, stayed there for one day, left my water bottle in a cab (that's twice now I've lost the same bottle at £20 a pop)
Got a four hour bus to Cuenca, which was very nice and the hotel was great, so I stayed for four days instead of two.
Got a Covid test. Passed
Took the bus back to Guayaquil where I took a flight to Cusco Peru, via Lima and an 8 hour layover.

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They had a working fountain in Cuenca! Most others I've seen have been turned off during the pandemic

Cusco (or Cuzco, it seems interchangeable) Is a lovely town in the Peruvian Andes, it's the Gateway to Machu Picchu, which is where I'm heading Wednesday, or at least starting my four day tour. Its surrounded by mountains, filled with lovely colonial buildings and some Aztec ruins, is pretty cheap and has great food. Although I did see this sign today outside a restaurant!

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I always enjoy humanizing my food before I eat it

Of course, I din't eat guinea pig! Of course not! No, I ate alpaca! and it was lovely, and the alpaca burger, amazing chips, strange barley drink and an incredible passion fruit cheesecake came to less than £6, including tip! Although it was a bit off after seeing the people parading their alpacas for photos on the square. Sorry buddy, but you taste great!

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Bloody lovely dinner!

I had given myself two days space to acclimatize to the altitude, but I needn't have bothered, I feel fine, so maybe tomorrow or Weds I'll take a tour somewhere, maybe the rainbow mountains.

Until then I've not much to add, although I have some thoughts..

It's cold now! It's 20 odd degrees here during the day, but down to as much as minus two at night. I don't have the clothes for this.

I haven't seen any pubs, in fact, I didn't see any in Cuenca Ecuador either. Perhaps it's not much of a thing in South America? I saw a couple in Quito

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What is the point of cash machines issuing expensive notes if no one wants to take them? This has been a thing across my entire trip! Ive spent the last couple of months trying to use $20 notes and now the machines in Peru give out 200 Sol notes, about the equivalent of £40. No one wants them!! I could take out smaller amounts each time, but I get charged for using the bloody machine.

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I am constantly pounced upon by people after money here. You can't walk 15 steps without someone offering you something. It's mostly fine and they're only trying to make a living, but some won't take no for an answer. There are many people here selling identical art from identical folders that they claim is original (it's not). I explained to one guy that I can't buy anything because then I'd have to drag it across two continents, but he wouldn't have it, then saw me again later and followed me around for ages again. There are people selling tours, selfie sticks, fruit, sweets, photos with alpacas all in one square. It's relentless. I'm very lucky to have my life, lucky to be here, I shouldn't moan, but it's a pain...

They REALLY like to dress their dogs up here. All the dogs look like Dodger from Oliver & Co, some even have little toys tied around their necks. It pretty funny

Right, I'll try to update this more this week and ahead, I have lots of plans to see lots of things in Peru, so I should have stuff to talk about!

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Posted by cblanc102 12:29 Archived in Peru Tagged mountains art animals sky night food flying hiking travel bus drink panama weather aeroplane beauty flights alcohol south_america galapagos central_america latin_america ecuador solo_travel Comments (0)

This is more like it


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So I'm 48 days into this trip and finally it's starting to feel like it's working right.

Ecuador has been consistently great, I know I'm only 5 days in, but usually that's long enough for me to mess things up in some way! I've got the next 3 weeks planned and starting to get an idea about the next couple after that, but things are a lot easier to plan when you're not having to rush them. Importantly as well, things are a lot cheaper here which has opened up the whole trip for me.

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Volcanoes everywhere you look here

For instance. In Costa Rica, on average I paid around £8 per night for a room in a hostel, and around £12 for my own room. In Quito it was £3.50 for my own room and I'm currently paying £4 for a whole apartment in Banos!

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£4 a night, free coffee too!

In La Fortuna, Costa Rica, white water rafting cost over £70, today I paid just £20. I'm going on a tour on Friday that's around the same price but lasts 13 hours!

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The food here is cheap too, there's loads of street food at $1 all over the place, but last night I splashed out and had a massive burger and chips for £3. There's also a really cheap enormous supermarket next door for anything I need.

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It was huge!

I was never short of money here, but I put things off in Costa Rica and Panama because of how expensive they were, hoping they'd be cheaper here or knowing they are cheaper in Asia when I get back there. I had wondered before when I was feeling a bit down here what was different during the last trip and it's finally hit me, I did what I liked.

I didn't worry about money or anything really. Bangkok was super cheap, I did my PADI on Koh Tao, slept in a floating village and trekked through jungle at Kao Sok. And I stayed in hotels all the time because they cost next to nothing. Ecuador actually feels like that and it's made it far easier to pay out on the big things like the Galapagos when the smaller things don't cost an arm and a leg.

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Is this a thing in the UK?? A KFC 'pizza' with chicken breasts as a base? There's your heart attack right there!

Which brings me to Banos (pronounced ban-yos), a small town in Central Ecuador in the shadow of a volcano (like everywhere here) that seems far more touristy than it would be just because of it's adventure sports and proximity to the Amazon Rainforest. At first sight, the place looks a bit of a dump, with nearly all buildings either hostels, restaurants, souvenir shops or places selling adventure tours. I should also give a special shout out to barber shops and online gaming places of which there seems to be far too many of. But it has a charm to it, the people are great, there's a waterfall about every 100 meters and if you're looking up rather than down or ahead the place is stunningly beautiful.

It's also surrounded by thermal baths, which use the hot water from the volcano nearby. The one I went to tonight had three pools at increasing temperatures, going from 'warm' to 'bastard hot!' I lasted about 2 mins in the latter. I may try a different one tomorrow morning as I'm sure to be achy after the white water rafting I did today!

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They light the waterfall at night next to the baths. Very nice

To say I had an amazing day is an understatement. A six hour trip, including about 90 mins of actual rafting time and a really nice lunch after all for £20 was fantastic. I can't believe I've never done it before and am looking forward to doing it again in Peru next month. It's just pure fun! For anyone who's been to Orlando, it's like being on the Popeye ride, but it lasts over an hour and you're working constantly to not fall out the boat.

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AND IT HASN'T RAINED IN 5 DAYS!!!

I ended my day after the rafting and baths by taking a walk around the town to make my 30 miles walked this week as I almost didn't make it after barricading myself in my hotel room for two days in Colon, Panama and then spending a day travelling to Ecuador to escape. I made it though, and after 7 weeks, I've now walked 217 miles! pretty good I think!

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And on that note, I'm going to bed. I have an easy day tomorrow doing little and waiting for the England match at 2pm (here). As always Come on England!

I shall be back in a few days with hopefully some amazing pics!

Posted by cblanc102 04:58 Archived in Ecuador Tagged waterfalls mountains night boats food rainforest hiking travel volcano thailand drink hostels jungle weather costa_rica beauty coffee journey south_america central_america latin_america ecuador solo solo_travel Comments (0)

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)

Travel Madness!!

It's about to get a LOT quieter around here

Since arriving in Costa Rica I have met a lot of young Brits. The country has been letting in anyone without need of a vaccination or even PCR test since about October last year, so it seems to be the gap year place of choice for many 18 / 19 year olds.

That's all about to change as it looks likely that by the time I post this, Costa Rica will be on the UK's Red list which will come into effect Tuesday. These kids, who have mostly been here three or four months, now need to get back to the UK before then or face a £1750 quarantine in a Holiday Inn for 10 nights. Some of these kids were on the ball and got a PCR test yesterday and flights back to the UK. Others, including two young girls in my room, have been less lucky (or less smart) and are worried that they will have to fly via another country (they're looking at Italy as one of them has family there). No one will go to a quarantine hotel, they'll fly somewhere on the amber list and spend the money there, why would they do anything else?

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more photos of nothing to do with the narrative, this is my room though, very nice. My bed is the bottom left.

The cheapest reasonable flight back to the UK (one that doesn't take 37 hours) is currently £350, about £100 more than you'd expect. I have no idea what this will end up as this evening after the official announcement. Another reason not to fly directly back to the UK. This can't help curb the spread of any virus surely? Still, about 30% of the people I've met here are young Brits, so there could be a sharp decline in the number of filled up hostel and hotel beds.

None of this affect me though, as I'm not leaving for ages and I don't think I'll be leaving from Costa Rica, although at the moment, Ecuador, Panama and Peru are all red list countries so If needs be I'll fly home via 10 days in Orlando or Morocco for a cheaper option.

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Cute lizard sitting next to me as I type

Yesterday ended up being a literal washout for me. I had decided to walk to a local beach, about 4 km away, for a bit of exercise rather than getting a bus for 30p. It should have taken about an hour. The walk was ok, but very hilly, some of the steepest roads I've ever walked up. it it was bloody hot at 8am, around 28 degrees.

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All like this. Insane. I don't know how some of the old bangers they drive round here made it.

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Some beautiful views though

Eventually, I came to a gate with a pathway heading down through the forest to the beach. It was about here when it started raining. Only a bit, not too bad. By the time I got to the beach I was in the middle of a downpour, with very little cover. I got drenched. The sky looked ok a ways away, so I hung around for a bit and it did start to clear, for all of 5 minutes until it got even worse. By this point I figured I couldn't get any much wetter, but was worried about the stuff in my bag, my camera, tablet etc and didn't think it would improve, so I made my way back, up the pathway through the woods that had now become a stream, before finally hitting the road.

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I must have looked more pathetic than usual as at one point an American woman stopped and gave me a lift a kilometer or so, which was nice of her, but I finally got back to the hostel around an hour after the beach. The weather was of course beautiful at this point. I had left so early in the day because the weather 'experts' said it would be lovely until about midday and then horrible for the rest of the day. It was pretty much the exact opposite.

At this point I remembered my passport was in my pocket! It was soaked, like it had been through a washing machine. I carefully dried each page before leaving it out in the sun to dry off, which it did pretty well. Phew. The camera and tablet were both fine in my bag, which was good.

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Damp but usable, this is also the name of your sex tape

New tip - Always have a plastic bag with you to protect your stuff in Costa Rica!

Posted by cblanc102 18:02 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged rain beach hostels weather costa_rica south_america central_america latin_america quarantine solo_travel Comments (0)

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