Saturday, December 27, 2008


On Sunday, December 14, I arrived in Lima, Peru. For a city of 8 million people, there doesn't seem to be a lot going on. A lot of people skip Lima altogether on their way to Peru's better sights. There is a about one day's worth of stuff to see in Lima. I had two full days.

The central plaza is definitely worth a look.

Slums on a hillside painted bright colors so they look pretty from a distance.

I took a tour of the Cathedral San Francisco, including the library and catacombs. The cathedral was completed in 1674. For about 300 years, it was standard procedure to bury people underneath the church. They would throw the bodies in the catacombs along with some lime to control the smell. A lot of bodies accumulated over this time and they had arranged the bones into bins by type. It was really interesting. Unfortunately, photography was prohibited in the catacombs.

On Wednesday, December 17, I took a 5:40 am flight to Cuzco. I had intended to take a bus to cuzco, but heard horror stories about the 25 hour ride. I instead opted to take a one hour flight for a little over $100. Cuzco is kind of the starting point for Machu Picchu and the Peruvian Andes. It is a handsome Spanish-Colonial town that has many hotels, restaurants, and bars catering to foreigners, while still holding it's own as an actual Peruvian town.
Central Market in Cuzco.

Machu Picchu is an Inka site built in 1460 and abandoned about 100 years later. It was discovered by Hiram Bingham, an American historian in 1911. On Saturday, December 20, I took the Peru Rail train to Aguas Calientes. Aguas Clientes is a small, tourist town at the base of Machu Picchu Mountain. It is about four hours by train. The train and the town exist solely because of Machu Picchu. I sat next to an old British lady on the train who talked my ear off the whole time. The seats on the train faced each other, so half the train rode forward and half rode backward. The seat across from me was empty and I so wanted to put my feet in the seat. But I had flashbacks to a British lady scolding me at Heathrow airport for putting my feet on a seat. So I resisted.

Many people see Machu Picchu as a day trip from Cuzco. Doing this only leaves about three, possibly four hours to se Machu Picchu. For a sight like this, something I have wanted to see for a really long time, I wanted to spend more time than that. So I spent two nights in Aguas Calientes. I wanted to have enough time to see it and give a buffer in case of inclement weater. It rained quite a bit the day before and the day after I went. Also, Machu Picchu is an expensive trip by Peru standards. The train ride was $80 round trip, the admission was $40, and the bus ride was $14 round trip.

I got up at 5:00 am on Sunday, Decemebr 21 to catch the forst bus going to Machu Picchu. The first 400 people who sign up get to go up Waynupicchu (that forbidding looking mountain in the background). I climbed that bad boy. When you see how hig up Machu Picchu is and how steep the terrain is, it makes it even harder to imagine how it was ever built. On top of all that, the structures were mostly built without mortar. This building style has helped the site withstand eathquakes and is a major reason it is so well preserved.

Top of Waynupicchu.

Top of Waynupicchu with road from Aguas Calientes on the left.

Tina, come get some ham. The Llamas keep the grass trimmed.

Agricultural terraces.

On Tuesday, December 23, I took a bus to Puno, where I would stay thorugh Christmas. Puno is on Lake Titicaca and is a jumping off point for the Floating Islands. The owners of the hostel in Puno cooked a traditional Peruviuan dinner for all the guests on December 24. The 24th is more a celebratino day than the 25th. It started kind of late - about 9:30. They had a turkey, with a ground beef and bean stuffing, pig knuckles, a type of cabbage slaw with slivers of ham, a green bean and date casserole, and buttered potatoes. It was really good and I had a good time with the family and the other travelers. The neighborhood kids shot fireworks at midnight.

On Saturday, December 27, I took a boat tour to the Uros Islands. The Uros are an indigenous people who live on floating islands in Lake Titicaca. The islands are made of reed. As the reeds on the bottom rot away, more are added to the top. It was a strange feeling walking on the islands, as the reeds would give a few inches as I walked. It was an interesting tour, but the whole thing felt like a tourist trap. I'm sure the islands and the people would not exist if not for the tourism revenue. So, I was a little conflicted.

On Sunday, December 28, I'm taking a bus to Copacabana, Bolivia.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


On Thursday, December 11, I took a bus from Manizales to Bogota. I traveled with a group of five Irish guys I met at the hostel in Manizales. They were all on their last week of a 14 month around the world trip. So there was some drinking in Bogota.

The thing that struck me first about Bogota was the climate. The temperatures range from the 40's to low 60's year round. It was damp and rainy. The weather reminded me of winters back in Tennessee. I didn't get my camera out much at Bogota, and I generally don't take it with me at night. But I got it out one night to take some pictures of the Christmas lights.

I went to a club with with the Irish guys. It was on the 40th floor of a downtown building. It cost 35,000 pesos just to get in (about $15 US), which is an extraordinary amount of money in Colombia. I can't remember the last time I spent that much money to get into a bar or club in the States. It was the kind of place I usually hate, but I thought, "what the hell". The DJ played house and techno music. People were really geting into the music, which was basically just one continuous beat with no words and not much change in music. The crowd would start clapping at certain times. I wondered why everyone was clapping because it sounded like the same damn song they'd been playing for four hours. I had a pretty decent time, except when it started getting really crowded at about 2:00am and the music started getting on my nerves, (not to mention the crowd was about 70% guys). Most European guys genuinely enjoy going to clubs that play house and techno music. Most American guys don't really enjoy clubs, but will tolerate them because there are girls there. But European buys really seem to enjoy them.

On Sunday, December 14, I took a flight from Bogota to Lima Peru. This will be country number four. Geez, I'm goin to need to pick up the pace if I want to get everything in.

Monday, December 15, 2008


On Sunday, December 7, I flew to Manizales, Colombia. Manizales is a town high in the mountains with streets on steep hills. It is somewhat reminiscent of San Francisco. The city has an interesting bull ring. I really want to go to a bull fight, but I'm missing the season in Colombia by about a month. Every country has a different bull fighting season. As much as I would like to stay here for another month, there's too many other places to see.

I went on a guided trek to Parque Nacional Los Nevados. Colombia is one of those countries where one day you can be roasting on the beach and two days later, be freezing on a snow-capped mountain. The scenery on ther ride up to the park was as spectacular as the road was curvy and bumpy. We hiked up the mountain to an altitude of 16,076 feet (the summit of Pike's Peak is 14,110 feet) . The air was pretty thin. Ascending the mountain was slow going. People could only walk about 30 seconds or so without stopping for a breather.

Not much else going on in Manizales. It was kind of quite. On Thursday, December 11, I took a bus to Bogota. It was a 10 hour bus that left at 9:00am. I took the day bus because I wanted to see the scenery on the way.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


On Monday, December 1, I took a night bus from Medellin to Cartagena. It was approximately a 12 hour trip on an obnoxiously cold bus. The guidebooks said the buses would be cold, but wow, this bus was freezing. I wore jeans and a t-shirt and a light jacket. It was a miserable trip, but it was warm at 8:00 in the morning when I arrived in Cartagena.

I was going to skip Cartagena altogether, but I heard really good things in Medellin, so I went. It was a good choice. Cartagena is located on the Carribean Sea. It has a walled old town and a modern town with high rise condos stretching along the beaches. I stayed in the old town. The old town is completely encircled by a fortified wall that is very well maintained. The architecture is very well maintained and very colorful. The city has a cool "party vibe.

Several people I had met in Panama I saw again in Cartagena. It makes sense, since most people I met in Panama were heading to Colombia next. On Wednesday, December 3, I took a day trip to a mud volcano. It was an unusual feeling being suspended in mud. You could lay flat on your back or stomach and not sink. Standing straight up, I was suspended to about my navel. After the mud suspension, we went to a nearby lagoon that was a little bit cleaner than the mud volcano. Local women, using bowls and their hands, rinsed the mud off my body and my swimming trunks for $2,000 pesos (a little less than $1 US). After getting somewhat clean, we went to a nearby beach for lunch. When you get fish in a restaurant, it usually comes whole with the head attached.

After getting back from the volcano, I started feeling sick. I had a weak stomach, fever, and slight dizziness. I guess I drank the water or ate ceviche bought from a guy selling it from a cooler one too many times. I was out for about two days and a little below average for one more.

On Friday night, feeling better, I went on a party bus with some other travelers. The party bus drove through the old town and provided drinks and music. It had a band that played a type of music that sounded like cajun/zydeco. It made a stop on the waterfront and a stop at a disco. Most of the people on the bus were tourists from other Latin American countries. Cartagena is a popular tourist destination for other Latin Americans. Most of the hawkers use Spanish to try to sell stuff ranging from crappy jewelry to oysters or crabs (in a bucket without ice).

I went to a beach on Saturday. It was a great beach and I had a good time, but I found myself growing a little tired of beaches and hot weather. I decided it was time to head for the mountains. On Sunday, December 7, I flew from Cartagena to Manizales.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Colombia has really exceeded my expectations. And that was after I read in the guidebook that Colombia would exceed expectations. Tourists are just starting to discover Colombia. You don't see many Tourists here. There is not much English spoken nor is there much signage in English. Colombia is becoming a new destination for tourists as it has been shedding it's violent image over the last 10 years. The government has made big strides to improve safety and beat back (or at least push into the background) the drug cartels and guerrilla groups. Kelvin, a New Zealander who opened a hostel in Medellin three years ago said that he's had over 10,000 guests and only two robberies.

Medellin is a long, narrow city sandwiched between two steep mountain ranges. Because of the altitude (about 4,900 feet), the weather is very spring-like. It gets down to about 60 degrees at night, which, being at sea level for several months, is really cold for me. The airport is about 30 kilometers from town. The scenery on the way in from the airport was gorgeous as well.

Medellin is the home of artist Fernando Botero. He is an internationally famous artist who does paintings and sculptures of obese people and objects. I saw several of his sculptures a few years ago in Venice. His work adorns the Plaza Botero in downtown Medellin. One of his sculptures in the Parque San Antonio was destroyed by a guerilla bomb in 1995. The damaged sculpture remains in the park as a reminder. A new sculpture was placed beside it. It'
s hard to imagine the level of violence that existed here just a decade ago.

I went to a party on the outskirts of Medellin with three Finns, an Aussie, a Brit, a German, and two Colombians. That's how my life is now. 48 hours ago I didn't know any them. In two days we we were crashing a local party. Yesterday, two of them left Medellin and on Tuesday, I left for Cartagena.

The metro has two cable lifts to take commuters to and from the houses that climb the mountain ranges. This is actually how people get back and forth to work.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Bocas del Toro

From Panama City my intent had been to take a sail boat to Cartagena, Colombia, with a stop at the San Blas Islands. After my dental appointment on November 19, the next two boats setting sail with spots were on November 21 and November 25. I decided to take the November 25 boat so I could spend a few days in Bocas del Torro. I've heard good things about Bocas from many people. My host family in Costa Rica recommended as well as everyone else I've spoken to who has traveled there.

Bocas del Toro is an island off the coast of Panama. It's actually a series of islands. There are two ways to get there from Panama City. You can take a bus (11 hours) and a water Taxi, or you can fly. I chose to fly. It was more expensive than riding a bus, but I decided to indulge myself. I flew in on Thursday, November 20 on a 50 seat prop plane. It is a tiny airport on the island and you can walk into town. It was weird seeing people standing in the grass on the runway. It was raining, but I kind of expected it. All the information I'd read stated that Bocas has unpredictable rainy and dry seasons.

The town had a good vibe. It is not overly developed and still has a small-town feel to it. Friday was 80's power hour at a local bar. They had a tape of 100 music videos from the 80's, edited down to one minute each. Every time the video changed, everyone took a shot of beer. Kind of a shorted version of the century club. Everyone was loving the 80's songs and singing them word for word, even though only about 25% of the crowd looked like they were old enough to have gone to see Bon Jovi on the Slippery When Wet tour.

It rained, and rained, and rained. It did not stop raining for any noticeable length of time since I got there. By Saturday, phone lines and internet service to the mainland were down. The ATM was also not working. The locals were saying that this is the worst storm since at 1991. It's funny how when it rains really bad the locals always say it is really unusual and they haven't seen storms that bad in many years.

On Sunday I was supposed to fly back to Panama City. From Panama City, I was going to catch a bus to Colon and then another bus to Puerto Lindo, where I would meet my sailboat. I got to the airport, and found out that no flights had landed or left since Friday. At around 2:30 that afternoon, the announced that no flights were coming in. Be back tomorrow. I checked into a hostel that was closer to the airport. I found out later that night that the road connecting Bocas del Toro to the main road had been destroyed by flooding and landslides. A couple of German girls had taken the bus out and after about two hours, the bus stopped and the driver said they would either have to wade through chest high water or go back to Bocas. They went back to Bocas. The Costa Rican border to the north was closed as well due to the floods. So the only option for getting out of Bocas at that point was by airplane.

On Monday, I got to the airport at 7:00am and was informed that they would board passengers in the order of their original tickets. So the Saturday passengers would board first, then the Sunday passengers. One plane landed, gathered passengers, and took off. They checked the next group in and I got a boarding pass. At 3:30 they announced that no other planes would be coming in and to come back tomorrow at 6:00. I walked back to the hostel and checked back in. By now it was evident I would miss my sailboat. This was probably a good thing since I didn't pay a deposit and with the bad storms moving south, I would probably not want to be on a sailboat anyway.

I've been passing the time playing cards (and drinking games) with people at the hostel – mostly Canadians, Europeans, and Australians. People are taking it in stride. The grocery stores still seemed well stocked. However, people are starting to run out of cash. I was getting a little tired of drinking anyway. Also, I needed to conserve cash. I was down to about $50 and wasn't sure when I was getting off the island or when or if the ATM would come back on. Spending $3.25 on a 6 pack was getting hard to justify since I might have ended up needing that money for food. Word on the street was that the town was powered by a generator and they were expected to run out of fuel on Friday or Saturday.

On Tuesday, I got to the airport at 6:00. The crowd at the airport, a mixture of Europeans, Americans, Canadians, and Panamanians, was extraordinarily calm. No one got visibly upset. That is, except one time, a dog wandered into the airport and some old man proceeded to beat it with an umbrella trying to get it to leave. Other then that, people were very calm and understanding, but tired.

I checked in and got a boarding pass. At 12:30, the plane came in, we went through security and boarded the plane. I was finally going to get off the island. Although I kept thinking about Gilligan's Island and how every time they got off the island or thought they were getting off the island, something happened that brought them back. I finally landed in Panama City on Tuesday afternoon. I will travel from Panama City to Medellin, Colombia by plane on Thursday – Thanksgiving day. I'm really looking forward to leaving Panama.

Happy Thanksgiving. I'm thankful that it was not worse and hope for the best for the recovery effort and for the people who had it a whole lot worse than I did.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Panama City Continued

anI have learned a few more interesting facts about Panama City while I've been here.

Panama City was established by the Spanish in 1519. In 1671, pirate Henry Morgan plundered the city and burned it to the ground. The city was rebuilt in 1673 about 5 miles away what is now the Casco Viejo Neighborhood. Pictures below are of the ruins of the old city (Panama Viejo).

Scenes from the latest James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, were filmed in Casco Viejo (doubling for Bolivia). Pictures below are from Casco Viejo. I don't know if any are recognizable in the movie.

Panama is a narrow "S" shaped country. Due to its location, Panama City faces the Pacific Ocean to the Southeast. So you have the unusual phenomena of being able to watch the sunrise over the Pacific Ocean. Below is a view of the Pacific harbor with ships off in the distance waiting to cross the canal.

I got a new camera and, as you can tell, I've been using it with vengeance. I'll put up more pictures on Picasa when I get to a faster internet connection.

Public transportation within the city consists of old, retired American school buses. They are individually painted and tricked out by the drivers. Many of them have loud sound systems blaring reggaeton music. They cost 25¢ to ride. The routes are a little confusing, as are the streets in general, but I managed to get around on them.

I went to see the Miraflores locks of the Panama Canal. Miraflores is one of three sets of locks that raise and lower ships so they can cross the canal. I saw a cargo ship and a cruise ship pass through the locks. Two old ladies on the cruise ship flashed the crowd.

I'm glad I got to see the canal. I wanted to take some video, but the ships were raised and lowered so slowly that it was hard to tell they were even moving.

I went to the dentist this morning. I found the Clinica Arango Orillac on the internet ( It seemed pretty nice and most of the dentists on staff were trained in the U.S. Today was the earliest appointment I could get. The office was nice - nicer than my dentist's office in Nashville. It was in a really nice neighborhood near a Trump building. The dentist spoke English but the hygienist did not. I had a cleaning and had a dentist check out my teeth. The cleaning was just as dreary and painful as a cleaning back home. Even though I still didn't totally have the feeling that the floss was reaching all the way to the gum, she said it was fine. I'm glad I went. It was a good experience on par with any dental visit I've had in the states. It even cost like a dental visit in the states - $80 for a cleaning and an examination.

For those of you wondering if you would be able to get good food abroad, this picture should set you mind at ease.......or scare you to death.