A Travellerspoint blog

Barbados - Part 2

Going for broke in our trusty moke

sunny 30 °C

Saturday 30 September - Monday 2 October

As we've already said, Barbados buses are a great experience but for that little extra freedom you can hire your very own set of wheels fairly cheaply.

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"Go Greased Lightning, burning up the quarter-mile..."

In our nippy Moke, we headed from the south coast to the north-east end of Barbados; the 'Scotland' district, so called because of its rugged (mountainous?) coastline.

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Two of our favourite Barbados attractions lie in this region, the first being Flower Forest. This is a lush botanical garden teeming with tropical plants and flowers, and criss-crossed by numerous paths and shortcuts.

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No matter when you visit, the displays of Flower Forest are never less than spectacular...

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...but for sheer variety, colour and beauty among flowers, nothing on the island can top Orchid World in the parish of St George.

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This six acre garden, surrounded by fields of sugar cane, is home to around 20,000 orchids, laid out along carefully tended paths and in dedicated greenhouses. Time for more pics.

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Engrossed in the beauty of these gardens, time passes quickly and although we could happily have spent all day perusing plants and flowers we wanted to fit in another favourite activity; a long afternoon walk along the rugged and unspoilt east coast of Barbados.

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Appetites duly aroused, we drove into Holetown back on the west coast where some terrific restaurants are located.

Sunday 1 October

Barbados caters for all of our favourite pursuits, including wildlife spotting. There is a Wildlife Reserve here, at which you can see native Green Monkeys in the wild, along with various other animals, many of which are free to roam the same paths as the visitors. This morning though we stayed closer to home, choosing to visit the Grahame Hall Nature Sanctuary; a mangrove swamp and the last naturally occurring wetland on the island.

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Now sympathetically landscaped, the sanctuary provides a resting place for many migratory birds and a home to local species. Rarer inhabitants can be viewed in two huge walk-through aviaries.

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For Sunday evening, we'd booked a sunset cruise. What could be more romantic than quaffing cocktails and scoffing canapes on board a luxury catamaran whilst observing a glorious Caribbean sunset and taking the opportunity to swim with turtles? A pity then, that as we arrived at the harbour the heavens opened.

Thankfully, the shower was short lived and the evening was every bit as excellent as we'd hoped.

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Monday 2 October

As anticipated, our week in Barbados had hurtled by - an unintended but necessary rest-stop squeezed in between our recent journey through South America and our forthcoming whirlwind tour of Central America.

We ended our week pretty much as we started it; the morning was spent on a return to Bridgetown, revisiting some of our favourite haunts. Then it was back to Dover Beach for lunch - a traditional dish of Souse - specially prepared for us by Gillian, a new-found friend who runs a bar by the beach. The remainder of our last afternoon was spent soaking up as much of that Bajan sunshine as possible...

...and then, once more, our beach clothes were packed away and our sandals consigned to the bottom of our rucksacks. Would we get to wear them again this year? Who could tell?

Posted by andymoore 13:09 Archived in Barbados Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Barbados - part 1

Paradise found. Again.

sunny 30 °C

Monday 25 September - Friday 29 September

Various planning anomalies in our round-the-world itinerary forced a slight detour from Quito to Miami upon us, prior to the start of the next major leg through Central America.
We'll return to Florida in a later entry, noting here only that the USA immigration process was a pain, and that airport taxis are phenomenally expensive after South America. Thus Monday night was spent in an airport hotel, before a return to the airport and a short flight to one of our most beloved destinations...

Tuesday 26 September

We're cheating a bit here - we've often visited Barbados before, but being so close to the USA, we just couldn't resist snatching a week's R & R on this tiny Caribbean jewel.

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Okay, so we´re biased, but what's not to like about near constant sunshine, flawless white sandy beaches, warm sea, welcoming inhabitants, great food etc.? Oh, and Barbados also produces the world's oldest and (in our humble opinion) best rum.

Landing on Tuesday afternoon at the newly modernised Grantley Adams Airport, we painlessly cleared Customs and Immigration and took a leisurely taxi ride to our hotel, the Croton Inn.

By the time we'd settled, unpacked and showered it was evening so we deferred further exploration and enjoyed a meal and a couple of Banks' ("the Beer of Barbados") at the Croton´s restaurant.

Wednesday 27 September

With posting and shopping to do today, we headed to Barbados' capital city - Bridgetown. The island is tiny; 14 miles wide and 21 miles long, so getting about is easy. Two types of bus exist - the respectable blue Government-run type, and the privately-run yellow or white-with-maroon-stripe taxi-buses. For an unforgettable ride, go for the taxi-buses. You can usually hear them long before they arrive as they blast out music and blare their horns, and they generally travel at around Mach 3.

Bridgetown is always bustling and largely friendly, but unlike a lot of capital cities it´s also well laid out and attractively landscaped.

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Broad Street is lined with every kind of shop the average tourist needs, so dodging through the crowds of browsing ´cruise-shippers´ we headed up to the Post Office to offload some weight from our backpacks by sending stuff home.
Posting taken care of, we returned to Bridgetown´s beautiful harbour and to perhaps our favourite watering-hole in the entire world (excuse the shameless plug), the Waterfront Cafe. There really is no better place to relax with a beer over lunch, looking at expensive yachts bobbing on the sun-dappled water and to watch the Bajan world go by. Aaaaahhh.

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Customer parking outside the Waterfront Cafe...

Thursday 28 September

Did we mention the rum? Mount Gay Rum, founded in 1703, is the oldest rum in the world and a visit to the distillery for a tour is a must.

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"Oh, and a can of Coke too, please"

The trip through Mount Gay's modern Visitor Centre takes in an educational film charting the history and process of rum manufacture in Barbados, a close-up look at some of the stills and other vessels historically used by the distillery and a visit to the bottling plant. Finally, (and best of all) a visit to the bar provides the opportunity to sample the product -in various guises- at first hand. Having opted for a lunch-inclusive tour, by 2:00pm we found ourselves awash with rum and stuffed with flying-fish (a Bajan delicacy, also unmissable) and therefore needing to get back to basics, i.e. lying on a beach.

The bus back from Mount Gay dropped us at the holiday-resort rich area of St. Lawrence Gap wherein lies the busy-but-wonderful Dover Beach. A couple of sun loungers and a beach umbrella easily arranged, the world just slowed down and drifted with the tide for a couple of hours...

We wouldn't normally advocate fast food as a good evening meal, but Chefette - a Barbados chain - is a bit different. Somehow, the delicious rotis (beef or chicken curry parcelled in a thin tortilla wrap) and broasted chicken they serve up definitely defy the term 'junk food'.

Friday 29 September

Let's face it; the theme of this week is relaxation - no more overnight buses, no exhausting treks, no cold showers; the coldest thing here is the beer. Barbados beach life is addictive, and with Dover Beach no more than twenty minutes' walk away nothing could be better than a lazy day tanning in the sun punctuated by the occasional thirty-second dash into a blood-warm sea.

One event dominates Friday nights on the south coast of Barbados - the fish fry at the fishing village of Oistins. Here, locals and tourists alike can party the night away in a lively atmosphere, taking their pick from the many stalls selling grilled and seasoned fresh fish, and numerous other caribbean delicacies such as macaroni pie, rice and peas, fried chicken and more all washed down with plenty of Banks' beer and/or rum.

For us, it's the perfect introduction to a Barbados weekend.

Posted by andymoore 15:19 Archived in Barbados Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Climbing on Cotopaxi

Sunshine, Snow and Everything Inbetween

all seasons in one day 23 °C

Friday 22 - Sunday 24 September

Back on dry land in Quito after four nights at sea in the Galapagos Islands, sleep - undisturbed by the 'motion of the ocean' - came easily. Through necessity, Friday was devoted to the mundanity of five days' laundry as well as postcard writing, blog updating and so on. Later, we found a pub called The Turtle's Head(!) run by an affable Scotsman who brews his own UK-style beers. Perfect.

Saturday 23 September

Chores completed and conscious that tomorrow would mark the end of our days in South America, we wanted to leave with another small adventure under our belts rather than spend the weekend wandering around shopping centres. How to follow Galapagos? Another quick search of the tour agencies turned up a one-day trek on Cotopaxi, an active volcano, and the second highest in Ecuador.

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Distant Cotopaxi

With instructions to turn up at the tour agency's office at 08:00 on Sunday morning, we paid up and began looking forward to another good walk.

Sunday 24 September

Warm sunshine greeted us on Sunday morning - perfect for a hike up a volcano. We arrived early at the tour office and waited. And waited. An hour passed and we were about to give up and make some irate phone calls when the owner of the tour agency appeared and apologised profusely; our intended guide had been involved in a car accident! Luckily he was unhurt, but we needed an alternative guide at short notice. Rescue arrived in the genial form of Carlos; a guide so in love with his job that he was happy to give up his day off to take two Gringos up Cotopaxi. With an hour already lost we jumped into Carlos' four-by-four and set off on the two-hour journey to the national park.

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Cotopaxi's beautiful setting

Climbing to the summit of Cotopaxi was well beyond the scope of our one-day hike; instead we would drive to the highest car-park then take an ascending path to a large wooden refuge roughly 16000 feet above sea level.

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Overconfident having conquered the likes of Ben Lomond and Choquequirao we set off at a pace, buoyed by the fact that families with small children appeared to be making the same climb. Big mistake; walking uphill on soft volcanic ash at high altitude soon takes it out on your lungs and legs! Slowly but surely though, the bright yellow refuge crept closer and closer

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and with a final push we made it.

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During the climb the sun had become less and less visible and the skies had begun to darken, the pleasantly warm temperature giving way to an autumnal chill.

Once inside the warm refuge, Carlos produced an impromptu but impressive packed lunch thrown together at short notice by his wife that morning, and we relaxed and chatted whilst observing 'proper' climbers prepare for their ascent to the volcano's summit.

Cotopaxi is home to one of the few existing equatorial glaciers, and after lunch we picked our way along a rocky path to take a look.

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As we admired the beauty of the contrasting blue and grey hues of this immense ice formation, the skies suddenly opened releasing a torrent of hail! Luckily we'd come prepared and quickly donned raincoats...

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Time to head back down again. Unsurprisingly, the return down to the car-park was significantly quicker than the upward climb. Before leaving Cotopaxi, we just had time to visit a peaceful lagoon to visit the local birdlife,

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and a tiny museum packed with information on the volcano as well as some rather sinister, and slightly threadbare, stuffed exhibits of native birds and animals.

We'd done it; after a shaky start, we'd managed to partially climb a volcano in the company of a fantastically knowledgeable and friendly guide, visit another glacier, and experience summer sun and winter chill in the space of a few highly enjoyable hours.

We'd reached the end of our journey across another great continent, our last day spent -literally- on a high.

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Posted by andymoore 08:42 Archived in Ecuador Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Ecuador

The Galapagos Islands (via Quito)

sunny 27 °C

Thursday 14 - Thursday 21 September

Flying over Ecuador's capital city Quito, you can't help noticing just how colourful the place is; the smallest house to the tallest high-rise is painted in bright pastel shades giving the place a happy, welcoming aspect.

We'd come to Ecuador with one aim in mind; to make a trip to the legendary Galapagos Islands

Our hostel was located in La Mariscal, a safe, tourist-friendly area of the city and once settled, we began a hasty trawl of the Galapagos tour agencies lining La Mariscal's streets. The website of one particular company -Galaeco- had appealed to us and soon after stepping inside their office, we'd struck a bargain deal for a five-day Galapagos cruise starting on Sunday. Yippee! A quick raid on the nearest cashpoint (Galapagos tours ain't cheap) and we were sorted. We celebrated in customary style (hic!)

Friday 15 and Saturday 16 September

Friday began with a trip to the office of TAME, the airline which would fly us to the Galapagos Islands. Tickets safely in hand, we spent the rest of Friday and Saturday just exploring La Mariscal, taking in such exciting places as the local shopping mall(!), and discovering a particularly good Argentinian Parillada restaurant (a hard habit to break for committed carnivores like us).
Then it was time to stuff our day-sacks with all the stuff we would need over the next five days; clothes, cameras, binoculars, sun-cream, toiletries etc. before grabbing an early Saturday night.

Sunday 17 September

A very early start at Quito's domestic airport soon saw us boarding the plane to Baltra, our starting point in the Galapagos, where we were met by a tiny, enthusiastic dynamo of a tour-guide called Nadine.

Bussed to the harbour, we got our first taste of the Galapagos way of life; a mass of sealions lounged and dozed on the harbour benches, oblivious to the hordes of tourists eagerly snapping away at them.

A small launch took us to our home for the next five days; the yacht Floreana.

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Though necessarily small, our cabin was comfy with a miniature en-suite bathroom and the yacht itself was fine, containing a compact dining room, a middle deck, and an upper sun-deck with canopy and loungers - perfect for enjoying sunsets with a cool drink...

Soon we were underway to our first destination, an afternoon on Bachas Beach, a long stretch of white sand punctuated by black, rocky pools which serve as home to hundreds of 'Sally Lightfoot' crabs

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After a couple of hours spent just relaxing in the sun or swimming in the crystal waters, Nadine led us off for our first nature walk. Following the dunes away from the beach, we soon spotted turtle tracks - in one case leading to a nest with prospective hatchlings, where a Great Blue Heron patiently awaited for his meal to emerge...

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Marvelling at the beauty of our surroundings as we walked further and further from the beach, we didn't notice the sun slipping down the sky

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and all too soon we were boarding the Floreana again to be briefed for the following day, enjoy a good evening meal and retire.

Monday 18 September

We had been moored overnight and so sleeping 'at sea' had been no problem. After an early breakfast we sailed north for North Seymour a typically arid islet, home to a wide variety of exotic birds such as the Blue-footed Booby:-

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I'm a big fan of Boobies. (Sorry, couldn't resist).

and the Magnificent Frigate Bird - often to be found hovering above our yacht:-

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As with most of the islands though, the first creature you encounter is the Sealion. They are everywhere!

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Galapagos wildlife is remarkable because none of the animals or birds have learned to fear humans; if you walk up to a Sealion it will just lie at your feet and look up at you questioningly. Unless it's feeling playful, in which case it may chase you... touching the animals is, however, strictly forbidden.

A leisurely two-kilometre walk took us inland and then around to the rocky coastline again giving an opportunity to see a good variety of exotic birdlife.

After lunch on board, we cruised to Santa Fe for the afternoon.
Sante Fe's endemic wildlife suffered at the hands of goats introduced by early farmers, but these intruders were eradicated in 1971 and the native wildlife has bounced back.

Besides the inevitable Sealions, colourful Land Iguanas and Darwin's Finch can be found here.

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Tuesday 19 September

Sailing during the night is a different matter... sleep wasn't too bad but the rolling motion of our below-stairs cabin might prove too much for some.

We'd cruised to the beautiful and remote island of Espanola where we would spend the whole day, taking time in the sparkling blue waters and Sealion infested beaches of Gardner Bay

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before heading inland to follow a spectacular clifftop path giving further sightings of Boobies (Red-footed, Blue-footed, Hooded and Nazcar), Brown Pelicans, basking Land Iguanas and -amazingly- a close-up audience with a pair of courting Waved Albatrosses.

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Here too, we witnesses a spectacular blow-hole formed by the crashing waves being forced upward through a narrow fissure in the rocks.

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Just another day in the Galapagos, but for us, awesome.

Wednesday 20 September

Our last full day in the Galapagos was spent visiting the aptly named Floreana. In the morning, those so inclined headed off for a diving expedition to an almost totally submerged volcano; the ring of crater rocks visible above the waterline has earned this site the name "Devil's Crown", and in good conditions it's possible to snorkel with White-tipped and Hammerhead sharks, Tiger-snake eels, Eagle Rays, Sea Turtles and more.

Other than the wildlife (sealions in abundance, naturally) the big attraction of Floreana is Post-Office Bay. Given the lack of human habitation on the majority of the other islands, could there really be a post-office here. Well, no.

In 1793 a whaling captain called James Colnett placed a barrel here into which sailors from the many visiting ships could leave letters to be collected and delivered by other ships sailing to the appropriate destination. The tradition - although not the original barrel - survives today.

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"So where do I cash my GIRO?"

Just beyond the post-office lie the remains of a fishing village originally established by a group of Norwegians in 1926. Underestimating the harsh reality of living in the Galapagos, the village was abandoned after only a few years - little evidence now survives.

With the sky darkening it was time to leave the island Floreana to return to the yacht Floreana; a long sail lay ahead of us to Santa Cruz, home to the Charles Darwin Research Station.

For our final night on board, cocktails with the captain and the crew were laid on and we spent the evening chatting with new-found friends.

Thursday 21 September

How quickly five days have passed! After breakfast this morning our bags were taken on deck and we said our fond farewells to the crew of the Floreana before landing on Santa Cruz and jumping in a fleet of Land Rovers to be taken to the Charles Darwin Research Station.

Here we learnt some of the history, both natural and human, of the islands before taking a walk to see some of the Galapagos' best known inhabitants; the Giant Tortoises , including the last surviving tortoise from the island of Pinta - "Lonesome George".

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Lonesome George - last of the Pinta tortoises

A Galapago, by the way, is a type of riding saddle, reminiscent in shape of the giant tortoise's shell.

A large part of the work at the station is the breeding and rearing of tortoises, and the stages of the process from incubation to release can be seen here.

Sadly, the visit here was brief - we still had a lengthy bus journey to the airport to meet our midday flight back to Quito. Our time in the Galapagos Islands had come to an end, but like so many of our adventures this year, the memories will last for ever.

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"Are you sure these are Dwarf Terrapins, love?"

Posted by andymoore 13:59 Archived in Ecuador Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Cusco again

Recovery Time

sunny 27 °C

Tuesday 12 and Wednesday 13 September

After the exertions of the Choquequirao trek, we were just happy to spend time relaxing around Cusco.

The city - at 3,350 meters above sea level, one of the highest in the world - is surrounded by mountains, and provided the perfect setting for the last couple of days of our brief visit to Peru.

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A maze of charming narrow backstreets, bustling with hotels, hostels and travel agencies emerges onto a large and pretty square centred with an ornate fountain,

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and bordered by buildings of beautiful architecture.

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Happily for us, the square is also home to a couple of decent watering holes...

Rested, recovered and recuperated the time had sadly arrived for us to bid farewell to Peru and move on again.

Posted by andymoore 13:04 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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