Andean Condors

It’s amazing, since I self-declared myself a travel blogger, blogging is no longer something done just for fun.  It’s something I’m looking to grow a living from.  It’s odd or maybe it’s just normal, but now that I’ve claimed it as a career my sense of desire to do it has disappeared.  Is that because now it’s “work”?  I hope to figure out a way to abate that feeling as I’ve done this purely for fun and enjoyed it.

I made my way from Haucachina the desert Oasis to the mountain town of Arequipa, Peru where I set out for a couple days hiking. On the way we stop for the wondrous site of Andean Condors in flight.

I’m on the rim of a large canyon, somewhere in the 12,000 ft above sea level range, where I start to feel my first signs of altitude sickness.  Looking at the craggy terraced mountain beauty I can slightly feel difficulty breathing as the brisk cool air wisp my cheeks.  A mild floating headache forms at the peak of my nose and brow.

At first sight I’m underwhelmed, a vulture, ie a big one at that, flying in the distance.  Oh wow, I think, are all these tourist really here just to see this?  I initially struggle with interest as I ponder there must be more and work on shifting my focus, after all this will be the first and maybe only time I’ll ever see the endangered Andean Condor in the wild.

Andean Condor

The Andean Condor has an enormous wingspan surpassing 10 ft. There are only a few birds with larger wingspans throughout the world.  This creature while it feeds on the dead carcasses of other animals has one of the longest living lifespans of birds at 70+ years.

I round a rocky outcropping along the canyon wall as I’m stopped a few times by the local mountain ladies hawking their wares, most claiming to be made of Llama skins/hair.  There on a cliff ledge are 3 large birds perched.  They’re fairly ugly.  Gray and black with a face I’d imagine in a Harry Potter flick.  Then one of the magnificent creatures comes soaring from lower in the canyon and races by the 3 perched birds’ and floats overhead.  For the next 30 minutes I stand and appreciate this creature as it and dozens of others ride the wind currents high and low like they are surfing the air.  Sometimes I think they know we’re here and are here to give us a show and then I think they could care less as they dip low in the canyon then sore back to great heights with barely flapping a wing, their huge wingspans allowing them to gracefully catch the breeze and soar without extending much energy.

I overhear a strange guide explaining to his group that condors mate for life and become so attached that when one bird dies the other commits suicide by flying vertically down into the rocks.  Hmmm, sounds potentially like folklore or urban legend to me.  I mention it to my hiking guide and they explain they think it’s the altitude we’re at and that sometimes some of the birds soar so high, they blackout due to lack of oxygen and come crashing back creating this lore of lifelong love.  I’m not sure which or if neither is true and need to do some research when I’m not on the road to sort out what could be crazy made up guide stories.

I leave the site slightly more enthused and grateful for the chance to see these magnificent creatures in flight a mere few feet away.

 

Posted in Peru, Travel | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Huacachina – A Desert Oasis

Have you ever wondered if the storybook desert oasis truly existed?  You know, rolling sand dunes for miles and there in the middle of the dunes is a palm tree-lined watering hole.  Well, I’ve found/been to it.  Huacachina, Peru is the quintessential desert oasis nestled between huge rolling sand dunes a few hours south of Lima.

20150827_175330_Pano

There’s not a lot to do in Huacachina as this waterhole is surrounded by palm trees with one road around it with boutique hotels and small family type restaurants.  I can walk around the concrete board-walked couple football field size pond in 10 minutes.  The options here.  Eat, Drink, Relax, rent a paddle boat on the watering hole, hike a sand dune, sand board like I did in Namibia, or dune buggy ride the sand dunes.  With limited activities , it’s still worth the picturesque stop for anyone traveling Peru.

I go straight for the adventure.  Considering my African Quad-biking Accident, I opt for letting someone else drive this time.  The dune buggy I end up in reminds me of something seen in a Mad Max movie.  It’s a home souped up engine in a frame with 9 passenger seats to tote tourist at hi-speed around the dunes.

20150827_174750 20150827_174739 20150827_162418

Our driver,  I’ll call him Max, revs the growling engine, in a show of power.  He spins the wheels in the sand as we launch toward a steep uphill dune climb.  The engine bogs down climbing the dune.  We top the peak to a flat expanse between dunes.  Max shifts up the wind blowing through my hair as a sand pebble or two ricochet off my sun glasses.  In spite of being in the flats I’m grateful for the 3 point safety harness as we bounce up and down my butt jumping an inch off the seat as the harness grabs my shoulders and securely slams me back down.  We approach another dune and  slowing as we climb and then tip over the peak like a roller coaster going over the first hill its climbed to suddenly accelerate down the dune into a another valley of sand.

 

I get to experience this teeth chattering bouncy ride for a good hour or two before peaking one of the larger dunes where we disembark and get to sand-board down the dune.  I’m reminded of doing this in Swakopmund, Namibia and sooooo grateful, this time I’ve gotten a ride to the top.  Hiking a sand dune is a serious workout.

We end the ride with watching the sunset from atop a dune as I make new friends with my fellow adventurous passengers.

 

Posted in Adventure Activities, Peru, Travel | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Blogging Challenges While On The Road

I started this trip 3 weeks ago and blogging has been a challenge for several reasons.  1.  For the first part of this trip I barely had any internet access and when I did it was so incredibly spotty or insanely slow that blogging was useless.  2.  The bigger problem has been time to actually write.  After all I’m traveling to come up with the experiences to write about.  Note a typical post takes me several hours to write, edit, sort photos, cut video clips etc.  That’s time I could be using to connect with people, see sites, explore, and build more stories to share.  It’s a tough balance to find time to actually write while on the road.

To give you an idea of my schedule the past few weeks, here is a brief outline of my itinerary which developed.  Remember I travel unscripted in that when I showed up in Peru, I didn’t even have a hotel room yet, and had no idea where the journey would lead.

Day 1.  Arrived in Lima found hostel late at night.  Had my Taxi Snafu

Day 2.  Walked around Lima visited Larco Museum then stumbled upon a tour bus  company that sounded interesting.

Day 3.  Boarded bus early AM.  Visited Paracas, Peru for the day and ended the day in the desert oasis of Haucachina, Peru where I rode dune buggies for sunset and partied the night away with new-made friends

Day 4.  Took a 18 hour bus ride stopping to see the Nazca Lines on the way to Arequipa, Peru.

Day 5.  Arrived early AM from an overnight bus ride with little sleep.  Checked out the town and scheduled a 2 day 1 night trek/hike in the Colca Canyon which departed at 3AM

Day 6.  3AM departure and spend all day hiking downhill until 6PM

Day 7.  Spend all day hiking out of the Canyon and returning to Arequipa

Day 8.  Crash.  Absolutely burned out.  Hadn’t slept more than a few hours in 4 days.

Day 9.  6 hr bus to Puno, Peru.  Deal with Altitude sickness-which had already started days before

Day 10.  Visit Lake Titicaca and the reed islands.  Whimsically decide since I’m on the border with Bolivia, that I should make a short jaunt over the border to add it as a country to my list.

Day 11. Depart to Bolivia.  Border crossing.  Visit Isla del Sol for few hours on the Bolivia side of lake Titicaca. Arrive La, Paz late at night.

Day 12.  Walk and check out La Paz.  Sign up for the mountain bike ride of my life.

Day 13.  Mountain Bike Death Road.  (just wait the pics and story will be worth what this is)

Day 14.  I’d scheduled a flight and day excursion to the Salt Flats.  At the last-minute the excursion is canceled. So, I change plans and visit other parts of La Paz I hadn’t seen

Day 15. Board a 6AM bus for a 22 hour bus ride to Cusco, Peru

Day 16.  Arrive Cusco with little sleep, check out the main city center and an Inca ruin overlooking the city.

Day 17.  Take a bus to visit the Sacred Valley and 2 different Inca ruins.  Catch a train to Aquas Caliente the launching ground to Machu Picchu.

Day 18.  Depart early AM to visit Machu Picchu.  Spend all day exploring these wonderous ruins to return and catch a train back to Cusco, arriving late at night.   Meet up with some friends that I’d made earlier on the trip and spend the entire night out.  Not going to bed until 9 AM

Day 19.  Sleep all morning.  Pack for departure.  Go out for last nights dinner in Peru with new friends.

Day 20.  Catch an early AM flight and all day journey to Brazil.

If this sounds exhausting.  It is.  And I know many will say, slow down and take more time to experience a location.  And to those who think like that.  Good for you, do that on your travels.  I do this cause I love it.  AND I MEAN LOVE IT.  yeah it’s exhausting, but it’s absolutely amazing and it’s the way I want to see the world.

Note, none of this itinerary was planned. It all came together on the fly.  That means last-minute decisions.  Plans change, things get screwed up, and I end up on a different path.  I’m having to figure out transportation options, visa issues, doing laundry, finding places to sleep, eat, and what to see and do in a location, all going on at the same time.  Oh and then I have to find several hours a day to blog too?  To many it would be nerve-wracking but it’s what drives me on these trips.  The unknown, what’s around the corner, the constant newness and figuring things out, along with meeting people and connecting with them if even for a short bit along the way.  You wouldn’t believe the amount of new-found friends I’ve made along the way.  It’s amazing how one can connect in such a short time while vagabonding around a foreign land.

This isn’t a gripe post or me bitching at all.  I’m having a ball.  It’s for those begging for stories and pictures etc of my trip.  They will come.  I’ve made it to Brazil and I’ve holed up in a hotel for 2 days and done nothing but work.  Yesterday was all day, catching up on trying to close out my recruiting practice which still isn’t complete.  Today I’m working on a few blog post and tomorrow I’ll be back hitting the road in Brazil, building more stories to share.

So, hold on folks.  The stories will come when I can fit in the time.  When I set the goal of seeing all 324 countries of the world and traveling 4-8 weeks at a time.  That’s so I can hit the road hard and when I return to my life in Tampa, my time off will be used to write about the trip and plan the next adventure.

Posted in Travel | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Larco Museum – Lima Peru

I’m not into many museums.  While I see their worth and value, I typically have a very hard time getting into them.  In spite of my general lack of enthusiasm and excitement for them, I still occasionally visit ones that sound different or are world-renowned.

I decided to visit Larco Museum in Lima, Peru.  This museum is a collection of Inka artifacts from around Peru. Basically it’s a museum of ancient Inka pottery.  The museum itself is small and only takes me an hour to breeze through.  I feel like I’m looking at a bunch of clay pots, oh wow.  It’s not doing much for me.  I get they are 500 years old as I struggle to get engaged with their significance.

20150826_150922 20150826_151004 Then I come into a section labeled erotic pottery.  My interest is piqued as I roam through halls of graphic clay pots.  A women with her legs spread wide and her umm privates stretched wide.  Another a little boy jerking himself off, a guy receiving a blow job, a women getting fingered, and others in all sorts of graphic sexual positions.  It’s graphic enough to make those a bit bashful feel ashamed.  I’m wondering was this the Inka form of porn or is there some other significance to the creation of these exotic clay pots?

20150826_153803 20150826_153629 20150826_153603 20150826_153525 20150826_153437 20150826_153414 20150826_153222 20150826_153138

Outside the porn I find the pieces on Quipus the most interesting.  Quipus were the main system employed by the Incas to record information.  Knotted cords were used to record countable information.  The colors, knots, and the distances between the knots enabled those who used the quipus to identify the type of object or the characteristics of the population being counted.

The quipus record systems was very important for the Inca Empire as it was sustained by labor of the people.  While voluntary it wasn’t always so voluntary.  Short of slavery, many worked the taxes they owed through their labor.  The Inca used specialist officials to handle this information, and they were known as quipucamayocs.

20150826_151640

A Quipus was formed by a primary cord and hanging cords from it.  It was based on the decimal system. They were usually made from cotton, although some were made from Alpaca or Llama fibers.  Some quipus also had set distances between groups of cords which enabled the user to distinguish between different categories of data.  The knots which were positioned along the length of cords could represent single units or tens of thousands of units depending on the colors of the cords, the structures of the threads, and the knots used.  Thus it was possible to distinguish between information dealing with population, men, and women, type of work, and production.  I wonder how they recorded the legend of what each color, knot, etc represented?  Or was this something simply passed down to an apprentice and known by memory?

For a population which had no written language, the quipus seems quite advanced to me.  And actually it makes the abacus look like an easier counting method.

I leave the Larco museum a little more enthused than when I first arrived, but I think that’s due to the unexpected pottery porn.  If you’re ever in Lima, it’s up to you if this is your thing or not.  If you do go, it’s small and you’ll be there no more than a couple of hours.  Even me who tends to hate museums could read everything they had in that time.

Posted in Peru, South America, Travel | Tagged , | 4 Comments

How I got a $243 Ticket to Peru, Brazil, & Back

Many have asked, why I choose Peru and Brazil for this trip.  Simply put, I couldn’t pass up the price deal I’m about to explain, and they were both on the list of countries to yet visit.

The total deal is far better than the title eludes.  For $243 I received

  • A flight from Orlando International to Lima, Peru, where I’ll spend 3 weeks.
  • A connecting flight from Lima to Iguazu, Brazil, for 4 weeks
  • A flight returning home from Iguazu to Orlando.
  • 3 first class ticket upgrade vouchers
  • A bit over 100,000 airline points good for future flights. (worth 2 more round trip tickets to South America)

Before I get into the details, I didn’t do anything special that anyone else couldn’t do.  I merely paid attention to detail and acted when the time was right.  If you’re not familiar with the concept of “travel hacking” “miles or points” accumulation, tack ticks and games.  Simply google them. There are a plethora of budget travel blogs explaining how to do what I’m about to explain I just did, to receive this incredible deal.  I’ve been reading a half-dozen budget travel hacking bloggers for years, and this isn’t the first time I’ve went somewhere on a dirt cheap deal.  In 2013 I flew 1st class both ways from Tampa to South Africa for nothing but taxes and airport fees.  There’s nothing special and no pixie dust to what happened with me, but a few things to note, if you want to successfully take advantage of the type deal (there are other types) I explain in this post…….

  1. You must have extremely flexible travel dates
  2. Your destination must be open to where the deal is headed
  3. You must be wiling to act ie buy a ticket within 12 hours or less of finding out the deal or you’ll loose out (most deals are gone within a few hours)
  4. You must pay attention to detail and read ALL and I mean ALL the fine print
  5. Have an inquisitive, curious mind of what else you can do to cheapen the price

Note there are deals like this almost every month going from somewhere in the USA to somewhere else in the world.  And trust me, I’m going to be taking advantage of them when I can to extend my funds while I building a blog following.

Earlier this year, while working towards the goal of paying off my house and closing down my recruiting practice so I could transform into a travel blogger, I read through a daily stream of email I receive from many travel deal sites.   This particular notice was sent from The Flight Deal.  The notice was for a flight from Orlando To Brazil for something in the low $300 on select dates throughout the last few months of 2015.  It immediately caught my eye, as the departure point is close to home.  Most of the time when I see these deals the aren’t anywhere near Tampa, which is home for me.  Also it was 6 month out and based on my last few client commitments the timing seemed about right.  And of course, I hadn’t been to Brazil yet.  So I jumped into the details.   The Flight Deal, linked to the specifics of the flight.  In the small print, this was a deal through LAN airways, an American Airlines partner, and the largest South American Airline.  In particular it was only good on LAN PERU, the flight had to be one from Orlando to Iguazu connecting through LIMA and it was only good on “select” dates, and the ticket terms allowed one stopover.

What’s a stopover, you may ask.  Many airline tickets offer this availability with few customers knowing it.  A stopover, is a stop/layover over 24 hours at a connecting airport to your destination point.  So in this case, since the terms of the ticket were Orlando to Iguazu with a mandatory connection in Lima which allows one stopover, it means I could stop in Lima either on the way to Iguazu or on the way home but not both.  Due to scheduling, I took the former and am presently on a 3 week stopover/connecting flight towards my destination of Iguazu at no extra cost.

With the knowledge of the stopover, my excitement grew even more.  Not only was it dirt cheap to Brazil, but now I could include Peru too…Hell, yeah, I was in, and within a few more hours of researching possible dates, I’d booked a non-refundable, non-transferable, non-changeable ticket.  Note, if I didn’t do the research right that instant, I’d have missed on this particular opportunity.  The deal was gone in less than a day.

The meat.  Being informed of the details from reading the fine print, I used the Google Matrix flight search engine to find days this particular fair was available.  I used their flexible date search feature and entered a max 7 day variable date range and performed dozens of searches for 30-90 day windows. Matirx Search

This tool is merely to search for dates on flights and prices. One can’t buy through this site. I was hunting for the days this deal was good as the airlines won’t simply tell you.  It would have been easy if all I wanted to do was book a ticket with a typical connecting pattern to Brazil and back.  However, I wanted my free stopover in Peru on this deal.  So therefore I had to find the deal not only good for days to Iguazu but the connection flight days as well.  Ie my stopover days had to have the same deal available on the days I’m to fly as well.   Let’s just say, a couple hundred search quires and about 3 hours I’d finally pieced together what flights on what days would allow me to do this deal for just a bit over $300.

That’s when I went to buy.  But you can’t do that on the Google Matrix flight engine.  I armed myself with detailed flight specifics for the days, dates, flight purchase codes etc that the deal was available and headed to other travel sites.  In this instance I used Priceline.  But before I hit the buy button, I recalled, having seen an ad for a LAN airways credit card, by US bank which had some sort of deal.  Hmm, let me check that out first before hitting buy.  Sign up for the credit card and you’ll receive 20% off flights purchased with it, 60,000 miles, and 3 free first class upgrade vouchers.  Done…and 30 seconds later my incredible $300 deal ended up costing me 243 bucks due to the 20% discount.

But wait there’s more…The LAN credit card just gave me 60,000 miles, hmm I wonder what that’s good for.  Oh, that’s odd, their award chart is in Kilometers, and they convert miles to Kilometers at 1.66 kilos per mile. So by signing up for free, I scored a bit over a 100,000 kilometers to use on future flights.  And what will that get me.  At least 2 future coach class tickets to the northern part of South America or anywhere in Central America or Caribbean which they fly, as it only takes 48,000 kilos for a round trip ticket to those areas.  Not a bad mornings investment putting other things aside to research the deal and act on it immediately.

Peru’s already awesome, and there are stories to come.  But owe it seems so much sweeter when I know it hardly cost me a dime to get here.  I wish I could do this every time.  Trust me it doesn’t happen all the time.  If you can accept the rules I laid out, you too could be occasionally traveling the world on a dime.

What about you?  Have any of you scored similar deals?  Who else has a travel hacking experience they’d like to share?

Posted in Travel | Tagged , | 2 Comments