3-Month Trip

 

Hi everybody,

We hope you all are staying happy and doing well. Please let us hear from you. Many of you have e-mailed us and we have not been the best communicators so this e-mail is meant to update you all in hopes that we can share a little of our wonderful travel adventure with each of you.

We left Antigua, Guatemala on May 15. In our first three weeks in Ecuador we paddled canoes up blackwater creeks into the jungles of the Amazon and spent four days there. What an amazing experience – 4 hours by canoe into the jungle teeming with monkeys, birds of all kinds, caiman, snakes  and lizards. We saw wild macaw, parrots, and so many other beautiful birds we had never seen; we slept in a thatched hut on a jungle lagoon; visited the famous Otavalo market of the Inca Indians in the high Andes; stayed at a most historical 400 year old hacienda (Hacienda Cusin) with our room in the gardens surrounded by what I call “Walden’s pond” – full of koi and so tranquil; Rode on the top (outside) of the Chiva Express (a train) through the most magnificent mountains called the Devil’s Nose, looking down 2-3000 foot drops and braving the cold mountain air, making a stop at an Ecuadorian hacienda for a lunch of authentic food of the region, and a wonderful treat of bull roping by the Chagras (cowboys); drove a four wheel drive vehicle south of Quito through Ecuador’s “Avenue of the Volcanoes” and checked into yet another of Ecuador’s most famous haciendas for some horseback riding through woods, over rushing mountain creeks, up steep mountain trails with views of snow capped volcanoes – you simply would not believe the views and the excitement of a ride like this. We drove up to the snow line of the highest volcano in Ecuador – through rugged landscape with wild horses all around (and wild llamas) – so high we felt like we were on top of the world. Later, we drove to a crater lake high in the Andes trying to reach a hotel in the mountains. The drive up was fabulous and full of photo ops with Inca herding their llamas and sheep – their mountain thatched and mud houses and the most beautiful mountain views we have ever seen; we drove down what I am now calling “Ecuador’s Death Road” muddy, rainy, with sheer drop offs on the side of over 2000 feet – straight down. We were the only vehicle on this road. I had to walk ahead to check the road in many places as it was experiencing some wash-outs under the road itself at some of these drop-offs. We eventually turned around – I didn’t want to turn around because I was actually afraid to go back where we came from – but we were told by some Indian kids we ran into that the road ahead was impassable. Reluctantly, I turned back.

We ended our Ecuador adventure by flying 600 miles off the Ecuador Pacific coast to the famous Galapagos Islands. This has been the absolute highlight of our trip so far (among many wonderful experiences). We boarded a small cruise ship (80 passenger and 80 crew) – Anita and I had a stateroom with windows as big as a sliding glass door – to the sea – one of only four such rooms on the ship (we got this because of our connection with the travel company who owns the ship – aren’t we blessed?) For the next four days we sailed through the Galapagos – I hardly know where to begin to describe the islands and the wildlife that Charles Darwin saw when he arrived by ship on a five year voyage back in 1835. We sailed at night to arrive at a different island each day. We walked through flocks of bluefooted boobies, large albatross and many other birds that seemed so tame – they actually were not tame, just unafraid as they have not experienced humans and have no predator in us. All the birdlife was the same in that they came up right next to us, so close that you could reach out and touch them – it was the most wonderful experience. We snorkeled alongside volcanic cliffs and into volcanic produced caves, in very deep water (some drop-offs were over 3000 feet deep). We saw many colorful and wonderful fish who would swim right up to us and look at us with curiosity. I was at first frightened, then amazed, then overwhelmed with joy when two sea lions swam up to me. The small one looked me in the eye – only 12 inches from my face – for several seconds, then twirled around me and began swimming with me. We swam over several large sea turtles who just lazily swam underneath us as though we were not even there. The most exhilarating thing was when small Galapagos penguins swam all around us while feeding on krill. I could reach out and touch them. None of the wildlife in the Galapagos was afraid of us. It was the most amazing thing. We walked right next to “herds” of Galapagos Iguanas (some as long as 5 or 6 feet). They looked so pre-historic and again, we were within inches of them. Playful and lazy sea lions were everywhere we went – we could walk right up to them. And, the Giant Land Tortoises were unbelievable! We saw whales one day from the ship and the captain turned around so we could get a better look. If you ever have the chance – put the Galapagos on your travel itinerary – but do it soon because the Ecuadorian government and their park department are already limiting visitors to 100,000 per year so as not to disrupt the natural environment and wildlife here.

Our next stop… Cuzco, Peru and Machu Picchu (one of the 7 new wonders of the world). We flew to Cuzco via Lima, spent the night in Cuzco before hopping a train to take us through the mountains and up to Machu Picchu town where we boarded a bus to go switch-backing up higher into the mountains to this most amazing place. After entering the park, and a short walk, the view opened up to the picture most of us know of Machu Picchu – the most incredible ancient, man-made wonder of the world I think I have ever seen. Machu Picchu exceeded all my expectations. Built high in the mountains on a peak with sheer (thousands of feet) drop-offs, I wondered what the Inca were thinking when they started this magnificent project around the year 1460. It was buried in growth and rediscovered by Hiram Bingham in a Yale expedition in 1911. It has since become a wonder of the world. There is much more to Machu Picchu than the famed photo we have all seen.

If you are interested…..Machu Picchu, sacred city of the Incas, is accessible by train from Cuzco, or via a trek along the Inca Trail, in Peru.  The “city” was never discovered by the Spanish conquistadores and remained lost for centuries. Machu Picchu is an architectural jewel. The Beauty and Mystery of its walled ruins, once palaces of the finest Inca stone work, are augmented even more by the lush, almost virginal landscape of the surroundings. With its discovery in 1911, Machu Picchu made its debut as an authentic archeological enigma. Its purpose continues to intrigue, with mysteries that perhaps will never fully be unraveled. It was Hiram Bingham who, in charge of a Yale University expedition, discovered Machu Picchu on July 24, 1911.  Bingham’s goal had actually been to locate the legendary Vilcabamba which was the capital of the governing Inca’s descendants.  Even though skeptical- the expedition was familiar with the many myths about “lost cities”-Bingham insisted on being guided to the spot.  Once there, a child from one of the two families that lived there led him to imposing archeological structures covered by tropical vegetation and abandoned centuries ago.

As an astonished Bingham noted in his diary: “Would anyone believe what I have found?…”

How did this center of Inca culture hide itself in the mountain jungle?  From our knowledge of Greek, Egyptian and other early civilizations with written records, it is hard to understand how such a fantastic site could have been hidden from the Spanish.   Yet until its discovery in the 1911, Machu Picchu, “the lost city of the Incas”, remained forgotten for 400 years. Actually, Machu Picchu is not a city at all.  It was built by Pachacuti Inca as a royal estate and religious retreat in 1460-70.  Its location — on a remote secondary road in nearly impassable terrain high above the Urubamba River canyon cloud forest — ensured that it would have no administrative, commercial or military use.  Any movement in that direction to or from Cusco and the Sacred valley upriver would have been by other Inca roads, either the high road near Salcantay or by the Lucumayo valley road.  Travel was restricted on these roads except by Inca decree.

After Pachacuti Inca’s death, Machu Picchu remained the property of his kinship group, who were responsible for maintenance, administration and continued building. As an extraordinary sacred site (location as well as buildings), it was visited by Topa Inca and the last great ruler, Huayna Capac, although each in turn built their own estates and palaces.  Few outside the Inca’s retainers knew of its existence. Machu Picchu, like most Inca sites was undergoing constant construction and had a resident crew of builders as well as attendants, planters, and others, and the compound required a steady supply of outside goods.  So in order to really understand how Machu Picchu remained a secret, it’s necessary to understand how Inca culture constricted travel and information.

The Inca were a completely regimented society.  Although great numbers of people were moved around for corporate state projects (mit’a) and resettlement, once at a location, they did not move. The royal roads were reserved for official travel. The Inca also maintained a class or guild of verbal historians.  But with the catastrophic collapse of Inca state structure following the arrival of the Spanish, these historians were scattered and forgotten. But Machu Picchu was mostly forgotten even before the Spanish came. Small pox was the conquistadores’ advance guard. Huayna Capac and an estimated 50 percent of the population died of small pox sometime around 1527. Inca government suffered, and after a period of turmoil, the empire fell into civil war over Inca secession. Machu Picchu was probably abandoned at this time — both because it was expensive to maintain and with most of the population dead from war or epidemic, it was hard to find the labor to keep it up.

The Pizarros arrived in Cusco in 1532. The first wave of Spanish were mostly illiterate, uneducated adventurers who had little interest in anything besides wealth and power. By the time scholars and administrators arrived, knowledge of Machu Picchu had been lost. Manco Inca staged a country wide rebellion in 1536. After a failed siege of Cusco, Manco, along with remnants of the court, army and followers, abandoned his headquarters at Ollantaytambo. Fleeing back into the remote Vilcabamba beyond Machu Picchu, He burned and destroyed Inca settlements and sites accessible to the Spanish including Llatapata at the start of the trail to Machu Picchu from the Urubamba River. But by that point it hardly mattered. The Machu Picchu trail and the site itself would have been long overgrown and the approach blocked by seasonal landslides that so hinder backcountry travel in Peru.

We hiked about two kilometers around a cliffhanging trail to the Inca Bridge (now blocked off as a tourist fell to her death a few years ago). It was not a hike for those with a fear of heights as we actually hiked on a path, in many places, only 10-12 inches wide – carved into the side of stone cliffs – and with 3000 foot sheer drop offs.

After the incredible experience of Machu Picchu, we rented a car and drove 7 hours to the border of Peru and Bolivia to visit the famous Lake Titicaca and the floating islands of the Inca Indians. Another world class experience! Then we drove back to Cuzco. After a few more days in this beautiful Spanish Colonial influenced Inca town, we flew to Lima, and then on to Buenos Aires, Argentina where we experienced a South America “Paris, or New York”. Great 18th and 19th century architecture, shopping like in the Big Apple, wonderful side walk restaurants – oh, by the way, we are eating our way through South America.

We decided to go to Salta – north – about a 20 hour bus ride. We slept on the bus and it was not bad at all – sleeper seats and on top and in the front of the bus, with picture windows (Anita and I had the whole front row). Arrived in Salta to some colonial architecture and, again, wonderful restaurants and shops. We rented a car and took off on the Calchaqui Valley drive. It was an amazing day long drive through the most incredible and beautiful scenery. We saw landscape that looked like we were on the moon, snow capped mountains that would blow you away, many animals (sheep, llama, burros, birds (even the Condor). We drove on gravel and dirt roads for over 500 kilometers. We were at heights that would give most people dizziness (over 15000 feet). In the middle of all this landscape, we saw vineyards and red chili peppers drying in fields. We had a tire rupture and did not even realize it until it was completely in shreds. We were lucky to have a guy on a motorcycle (in the middle of nowhere) stop and help us change it.

It was almost dark when we finally arrived at Calafeyete, another wine producing town in the north of Argentina. We drove through the most magical mountains I have ever seen in my life as we returned another route to Salta the next day. Then we came to a hacienda – we are sitting here in an Estancia in Northern Argentina after a great, late lunch on the terraza overlooking the pool and pastures of grazing cattle and Peruvian horses. The place is El Manantail del Milagro. We are going out to ride the Peruvian Paso horses at 4 o’clock. This place is heaven. We are the only guests and being pampered. Tomorrow we leave the Salta area heading to the renowned Iguaza Falls, on the Argentina/Brazil/Paraguay border. Then it is back to Buenos Aires to figure out what to do with another week in Argentina before flying to Chile for a month of exploring.

We could not leave Northern Argentina without a trip to one of the most famous waterfalls in the world – the spectacular and beautiful Iguazu Falls on the border of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay (another long overnight bus ride but worth every minute (another 16 hours). The first night at Iguazu, we had a full moon and went to see the Devil’s Throat (the largest and most spectacular of the falls) in the moonlight. We took a train and ended up walking two kilometers on a bridge over the waters that flow into the myriad falls to a place hovering over the falls. We could feel the spray from the mighty falls – it was so thrilling and one of the most incredible feelings you could imagine.

The next day we returned to the falls but by a different route – by rubber raft with high powered motors driving us up to and underneath some of these magnificent falls. What an adventure and a rush. We then hiked the rest of the day over bridges, and walkways with unbelievable views (again, feeling the spray from these mighty falls) until we had our fill of the most amazing waterfalls we had ever seen.

On the bus again and back to Buenos Aires where we spent but two nights and got on another bus to Bariloche (all flights are cancelled because of the volcano erupting near here that has put dangerous ash in the air), in Patagonia. We slept the night on the bus and arrived to the most beautiful place we have yet to see on this trip. Bariloche and the seven lake country with high Andean mountains (covered with white snow) and lakes everywhere, is the most spectacular, beautiful and tranquil place Anita and I have ever seen in all the travels we have done. We are spending some extra time here looking at real estate as this may be the place we have been looking for to settle down. We will leave here in the next few days and head to the “end of the world” and Tierra del Fuego at the very tip of South America then we plan on taking a boat around the HORN and up through the islands of Chile – of course it is freezing here and will be even worse there but it is a “once in a lifetime chance. ”Stay tuned…..

Got to go for now but we will keep in touch more frequently – we have been “a little busy”.

A side note a few days later…..we have stayed here in Bariloche – fell in love with it. Tomorrow we go real estate hunting with a realtor. We have explored Bariloche and surrounding area for the past week and we are hooked. Stay tuned and we’ll keep you updated.

Here is some info on Bariloche:

This is the end of the world (almost) and it really is beautiful here. I have never seen so much water and all of it is crystal clear with beautiful mountains in the background and now full of snow. We are surrounded by park area everywhere. Heaven! We are looking for a piece of land and if we manage to find one, get your fly rod ready because fly fishing is really big here and the skiing is some of the best in the world. Apparently at the altitude we are looking for it snows about 3 months out of the year. The summer average temp is in the eighties. We have been told that if we like the area now (fall going into winter) we will love it the rest of the year. You should see it – all kinds of pines, red berries, Christmas in June.

We think we may have found our “paradise” and our new home. We have fallen in love with San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina. It is something of a mix between the mountains of Colorado, the west coast of Oregon, Washington and Vancouver (many compare it to Bavaria), and, well, there really is nothing quite like it that either of us have ever seen.  Here is a description of the area and of a drive that takes you on the road past the property we are buying.

Nestled in Argentina’s snow-capped Andes, overlooking a vast pristine lake, this picturesque ski town has long been a favorite of Latin American jet-setters. It is abundant with many gingerbread houses, chocolate and fondue shops, pine forests and jagged peaks, which have led many visitors to compare it to Bavaria.

Just mention Bariloche to an Argentine, and you’ll inspire a whimsical sigh. Officially known as San Carlos de Bariloche, this city represents the good life in the national consciousness. With stunning natural scenery and fine cuisine, it’s a winter and summer playground for vacationing Argentines, and it’s practically a rite of passage for Argentine youth to explore nature in the Nahuel Huapi National Park here, with Bariloche in the middle.

Bariloche is blessed with a strategic geographic position. With the rugged plains of the Patagonian Steppe to the east, the towering snowy peaks of the Andes to the west, and the glistening and grande Nahuel Huapi Lake in front, opportunities for adventure are abundant. Even if you’re not much of an adventurer, you’ll still find plenty of pleasant sightseeing tours, boat trips, boutiques, driving excursions, and fine dining to keep you busy. Or just park yourself wherever the view is good and soak it all in; some of the most beautiful views in the world.

Bits and pieces of the charming architecture influenced by German, Swiss, and English immigration are still in evidence. Drive 10 minutes outside town, and you’ll be surrounded by thick forests, rippling lakes, and snowcapped peaks that rival the Alps

The main ski station is the one at Cerro Catedral. During the summer, beautiful beaches such as Playa Bonita and Villa Tacul welcome sun-bathers and some brave lake swimmers (the waters, from melting snow, are always very cold. Lake Nahuel Huapi averages 14 °C in the summertime). The fishing season is another great attraction. Bariloche is the biggest city of a huge Lakes District, and serves as a base for many excursions in the region. Trekking in the mountains, almost completely wild and uninhabited with the exception of a few high-mountain huts, is also a popular activity. The city is also famous for its chocolates.

A famous drive in the area is Circuito Chico (where we are looking at property) which circles the south coast of Lago Nahuel Huapi towards the west, along the southern shore of the nahuel Huapi Lake .After 8 kms. you arrive at Playa Bonita where you have a wide view of the Huemul Island.

Cerro Campanario is 18 kms. away from town along this road, There you can take a chairlift to the summit to overlook lakes Nahuel Huapi and Moreno, Victoria Island, Llao Llao Hotel, Peninsula San Pedro, El Trebol Lagoon and mountains such as Millaqueo, Capilla, López, Goye, Catedral and Otto. The ride continues passing by Peninsula Llao Llao, where the famous Llao Llao Hotel and San Eduardo Chapel are situated, arriving then at Puerto Pañuelo on the Nahuel Huapi Lake.

The Circuito Chico drive goes on through a dense forest of Coihues trees into what is considered a municipal protected area and where you can hike on clearly marked trails.-

After going over the bridge that crosses the stream that joins the Moreno with the Nahuel Huapi lakes, the road follows the southern shore of Lake Moreno passing by Mount López and Punto Panorámico (a scenic view point overlooking lakes Moreno and Nahuel Huapi and Peninsula Llao Llao). You cross the bridge over the narrowest point on Lake Moreno, then you border El Trebol Lagoon and later the road takes back to Ezequiel Bustillo Ave from where you return to the city.

View from Punto Panoramico right next to our property (you cannot see them in this photo but in the far background are high, snow capped mountains).

Love, John and Anita

Explore Guatemala, L.L.C.

P.O. BOX 17217

San Antonio, TX 78217

U.S. Tel: 210-599-8468

Guatemala Cel: 011-502-5550-4386

www.exploreguatemala.com