ianskipworth.com > wanderlust > Skip en Sudamérica - Part 3

continued from Skip en Sudamérica - Part 2

Catedral de la Inmaculada, Cuenca, Ecuador
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I sleep as well as can be expected in the night buses but frequently experience an unpleasant early morning wake up when the bus arrives at the destination in the dark, an hour or two earlier than is convenient.

Typically, we arrived at Trujillo at about 5 am but by nine had found a place to stay, breakfasted and made our way to the Huacas del Sol y de la Luna ruins, a few kilometres out of town. These large temples constructed from mud bricks were quite different from the stone ruins I'd seen elsewhere and at about 1,400 years old were built well before the Inca Empire rose to prominence. That a mud brick construction survived so long gives some indication of the low rainfall but they are well eroded never the less. What made the temples interesting was the way in which the older layers of temple had been buried and thus preserved beneath the newer layers. Teams of archaeologists have done some elaborate work unearthing these older layers and have revealed some beautiful and amazingly well preserved painted walls from beneath the layers of mud bricks. Later that day we visited Chan Chan, an ancient city completely of mud brick construction. It's impressive in its extent but all of it has been badly eroded and there's little more to see than mud walls with some restored detail.

On yet another bus we headed further north to Piura, close to Perú's border with Ecuador. On our arrival there in the evening we found there was a night bus to the Ecuadorian border and further on to Loja in Ecuador. It seemed kind of weird that the border would be open in the middle of the night but both Steve and I were both keen to get to Ecuador and and bought our tickets for the 10 pm bus. While waiting for the bus we wandered into the city and had our last fix of Peruvian cerviche (raw seafood), lomo saltado (stir fried beef and vegetables with rice) and cerveza (you know what that is).

Baños, Ecuador
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Later on in the bus I was (again) rudely awoken when we reached the border at about 1 am and wandered in a daze through the immigration formalities before continuing in the bus to Loja. Entering a new country is always exciting but after the desolate landscape of Peru, the lush green hills of southern Ecuador were a particularly pleasant surprise. Loja turned out to be a cute little town set amongst these green hills and after wandering through the deserted streets of early Saturday morning we came upon the money machines.

To find a friendly money machine that relinquishes its cash after appropriate prodding is a never ending source of gratification. This we did and received a fat wad of US$5 notes for our troubles. The money in Ecuador is particularly goofy. The currency, the sucre, had been dramatically devalued in the recent past and seemed to be fixed at a rate of US$1 to 25,000 sucres. On September 13th 2000, sucres would be replaced by US dollars and cease to exist but at this time, everybody was using a combination of dollars and sucres. You would frequently receive change in a combination of notes in tens of thousands of sucres with US coinage. It's confusing but hey, you pay about 25,000 sucres for a meal and with US$50 you're a millionaire!

We didn't stop in Loja but continued on to Vilcabamba where we stayed at a cool place called Madre Tierra. Here they offered spas, jacuzis, saunas, massages and all sorts of other treatments but for some bizarre reason I chose to go horse riding. After my experience in the Pantanal where I decided horses definitely weren't for me I was a little anxious about it but for whatever reason, this was a much more pleasant experience. We plodded, trotted and galloped for about three hours along tracks around the hills surrounding Vilcabamba and at top speed it almost felt good. We approached the edge of the Parque Nacional Podocarpus named after its trees but saw only a few small Podocarpus specimens. New Zealand has relatives of these trees and it was interesting to compare them - one species looked a bit like our kauri, another looked a lot like miro. That evening we watched a Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid video and saw how horses are supposed to be ridden. The video was interesting because it includes the end of their careers in Bolivia where they were finally gunned down near the town of Tupiza in 1908.

After two nights in Vilcabamba we moved on to Cuenca, Ecuador's third largest and prettiest city. On our first day there Steve and I made enquiries about flights and tours to the Galápagos Islands. July and August are the peak season and everything is heavily booked. Partly in order to get a flight out there more quickly, we booked a four day boat tour leaving in about six days time with a return flight 3 days after completion of the boat tour to give us some additional time on the islands. Unlike mainland Ecuador, the Galápagos are very expensive to visit and our time there would cost US$1,000 or more. This is a major investment but everybody had told me it's very cool and I was looking forward to it very much.

Having made the decision to go to the Galápagos meant I had virtually no chance of having sufficient time to get to Caracas overland and would almost certainly have to fly the last bit. After a couple more days in Cuenca, Steve headed for Quito and I headed for Baños with an arrangement to meet several days later in Guayaquil for the flight to the Galápagos.

Baños is a touristy little town set in a lush green valley. It's main claim to fame was a nearby active volcano which threatened to have the town evacuated but it seemed reasonably quiet at the time of my visit and there were so many clouds around that I hardly saw it. On my first day in Baños the weather was reasonable but still cloudy for most of the day. I walked up tracks into the hills on both sides of the valley and although the nearby volcano was partially visible, clouds obscured the top of it. I don't think it was doing much but photos in shop windows around town showed it spurting lava in spectacular fashion. The next day I might have a hired a mountain bike but it rained constantly and I did little except dine on cuy (guinea pig), read, and got my diary up to date.

I had a day to spare before the flight to the Galápagos and although Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city, has a reputation as being ugly and dangerous, it beckoned me somehow and by the following afternoon I was there. The change in climate from Baños at 1,800 metres to Guayaquil at sea level was dramatic and gave me the warmest weather I'd yet experienced on the continent. The road approaching Guayaquil was lined with banana plantations, each tree heavily laden with one big bunch, most bunches shrouded in a plastic bag.

In the tropical heat and sunshine Guayaquil seemed not so bad. After finding a hotel near the city centre I wandered out on a Sunday afternoon looking for somewhere to eat and almost immediately bumped into three old friends from Bolivia and Perú - Gavin, Barry and Leah. We had to search hard to find an open restaurant with beer but ended up having a good afternoon stuffing ourselves and catching up. Wandering back through the dimly lit back streets of Guayaquil by myself at night didn't give me a warm, cozy feeling but did save me a dollar for a taxi.

The next day, Gavin and I spent some time wandering about town. Although I had quite some difficulty getting money and things I wanted to buy, the sun blazed down from a blue sky and made the place feel a lot like Rio. Down on the waterfront they must have spent millions creating a swanky promenade which any city would be proud of and which they could probably ill afford. Gavin and I went looking for a swimming pool but when we found it, decided we didn't really want a swim and then got a bit nervous about the quality of the neighbourhood we were in. Many of the locals seemed to be carrying steel bars and those without bars tended to be carrying shotguns. You see a lot of weapons in the street. Every shop has an armed guard outside and you get used to seeing all sorts of people with guns.

Late that night Steve arrived at the hotel and we arranged to wake each other early the following morning for our flight to the Galápagos. As could have been expected, the flight was delayed but by midday the next day we'd touched down in the Galápagos and were mighty pleased to be there. Located in the Pacific about 1,000 kilometres from the Ecuadorian mainland, right on the equator, the Galápagos Islands are famous for their wildlife. The history of the islands, particularly Charles Darwin's visit and associated theories on evolution and natural selection, the fearless and unique wildlife, the geographic isolation and cost of visiting the place make it seem pretty special.

On arrival we were soon transported to our boat and in the afternoon began our four day, three night cruise around the islands. There are at least a dozen major islands, some quite large, and our tour would take us to just a few sites on four of the islands. The Galápagos Islands comprise a large national park and visits by tourists to the islands are restricted to roughly 50 visitor sites. We were to visit just six of these sites.

Steve and I were a bit nervous about the quality of the tour we'd booked but were pleasantly surprised by the luxuriousness of the boat, the Galápagos Explorer II. She was a big steel vessel and we shared a cozy double cabin with ensuite bathroom. At our first visitor site, Las Bachas on Isla Santa Cruz, we were ferried ashore in a dinghy to a beautiful white sandy beach. There, pelicans flew low over our heads and numerous other sea birds filled the sky. Marine iguanas, the world's only sea going lizard, lay about on the sand and rocks and allowed us to poke our cameras within inches of them. Just back off the beach in a small lagoon we approached a group of greater flamingos and watched them feeding at close range for quite some time. Back on the beach, ghost crabs danced across the sand and bright red Sally Lightfoot crabs covered the rocks.

After viewing the wildlife we donned masks and snorkels and swam around the rocks off the beach. The underwater visibility was reasonable, not exceptional, but there plenty of fish around and it was all very new and interesting for me. The water temperature at the Galápagos varies widely but is at a minimum in August and conditions were a little too chilly to snorkel for more than 15 or 20 minutes without a wetsuit. Compared to other tropical locations, the Galápagos doesn't look very tropical underwater. Although there's no large sea weeds, there's no well developed coral reefs either and the rocks underwater tend to look a little barren.

Blue Footed Boobies, Isla Española, Islas Galápagos, Ecuador
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In the evening we dined while anchored in sheltered waters around Isla Santa Cruz and later upped anchor to motor through the night to Isla Española, the southernmost island in the group. At dawn the following day the island was still not within sight as we rolled on the lumpy ocean swells beneath a bleak, grey sky. Later that morning we landed at Punta Suárez on the western end of Isla Española. Galápagos sea lions slouched about on the rocks at the landing point and covered the nearby white, sandy beach. Marine iguanas, these ones tinged with red and green lay in heaps nearby and mocking birds flitted amongst the rocks. All animals allowed us to approach with inches of them. Moving away from the beach on a marked track we were straight into a colony of blue footed boobies, perhaps the most comical and endearing bird on the islands. With every footstep we had to tread carefully for fear of standing on birds or lizards. Several of these animals got a real close look at my camera. Further along the track the blue footed boobies were joined by masked boobies. Here the big swells crashed into the southern side of the island, sea lions frolicked in rock pools and marine iguanas lay about everywhere.

Moving inland a bit we came upon pairs of waved albatrosses performing a bizarre and very humorous courtship ritual. This was something I could have watched for hours, smiling and chuckling to myself the whole time. The only albatross occurring entirely within the tropics, almost the entire world population nests on Española with just a few pairs on Isla de la Plata off the Ecuadorian mainland. Heading back to the beach, I watched a small snake slither between the rocks and once back at the beach, spent a few more fun filled minutes wandering amongst the sea lion pups.

Bahía Gardner, Isla Española, Islas Galápagos, Ecuador
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Our afternoon visit was to Bahía Gardner on the eastern end of Española's north coast. The fine, white sandy beach was beautiful and made all the more pretty by groups of sea lions basking alongside us. I wasted no time in getting into the water with mask and snorkel and swam out to a group of rocks perhaps 100 metres off the beach. With underwater visibility at about 12 metres there were plenty of fish to watch including large-banded blennies, about ten times bigger than the tiny blennies we have in New Zealand, schools of yellow tailed surgeonfish, sergeant majors, king angelfish, several species of butterflyfish, and numerous others.

Late in the afternoon we departed Española and motored to Isla San Cristóbal where we paused to have dinner in sheltered waters before continuing on through the night to Isla Santa Fe. Like much of the weather we'd experienced in the Galápagos, the day dawned overcast and a bit gloomy at Santa Fe. Again, there were plenty of sea lions blobbed out on the beach where we landed but we wasted little time in heading off on the track in search of land iguanas. These lizards are quite distinct from the marine iguanas which seem to occur almost everywhere around the Galápagos and occur on only some of the islands. The land iguanas on Santa Fe are particularly special because they comprise a unique species which occurs on none of the other islands. When we found them, they, like so many of the other Galápagos animals seemed almost oblivious to our close attentions as they lazed on rocks amongst the forest of prickly pear cactus trees.

Marine Iguana, Isla Española, Islas Galápagos, Ecuador
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After being ferried back to our boat we jumped in for another snorkel during which I saw stingrays, a white tipped reef shark and watched a large bull sea lion swim acrobatically around me. Our visit that afternoon was to South Plaza (Isla Plaza Sur) just off the eastern coast of Isla Santa Cruz. Yet more sea lions crowded the landing spot alongside another species of land iguana different from the one we'd seen earlier in the day at Santa Fe. A picturesque track took us along the exposed southern coast of South Plaza where swallow-tailed gulls nested on the cliff edge and a colony of bachelor sea lions had somehow hauled themselves way out of the water. These males are those unable to gain a harem of their own and seem to congregate together in difficulty accessible places building their strength in preparation to challenge another male with a harem or perhaps just sulking about what losers they are.

Late that afternoon we arrived in Puerto Ayora, the largest settlement on the Galápagos where we were quickly ferried ashore and then to the Charles Darwin Research Station. At this centre for research and conservation activities on the islands we visited an interpretation centre and then went on to look at giant tortoises of various sizes and races. At the Darwin Station much work has gone into the breeding and rearing tortoises and repatriating them to their native islands when they are old enough to avoid predation by the rats, cats, dogs and pigs which still occur on many of the islands. The very young tortoises are about three inches long and at the age of four or five have reached perhaps eight inches at which time they are ready for release into the wild.

Land Iguana, Isla Santa Fe, Islas Galápagos, Ecuador
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Although all the Galápagos tortoises are grouped as a common species, the animals from the various islands are differentiated, particularly by shell shape and classified as separate races or subspecies. Of the 14 races which originally existed only ten viable races still exist due to hunting by man or predation by the introduced mammals. A good news story concerns the tortoises of Española, at one time reduced to a population of 14 individuals but now numbering many hundreds thanks to a captive breeding and rearing program at the Darwin Station. A sadder story is that of Lonesome George, the only known remaining individual from Isla Pinta. George now lives at the Darwin Station where I saw him in an enclosure with two closely related females from a nearby island. George apparently seems disinterested in these females and although the search for other Pinta tortoises continues on the island and in zoos around the world, the likely tragedy is that George is the last of his race. In one enclosure you are free to wander amongst the giants and get close and personal with them. Watching these big animals, some over 250 kg, creep about in semi-natural surroundings and munch on their food is pretty cool.

Land Iguana, South Plaza, Islas Galápagos, Ecuador
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We slept on the boat anchored in Puerto Ayora for the last night of our Galápagos tour and disembarked early the following morning. After finding some accommodation, Steve and I spent the day checking out scuba diving possibilities, revisiting the Darwin Station and walking to the nearby beach, Bahía Tortuga. There are several diving operations in Puerto Ayora - we elected to go with Galápagos Sub-Aqua and booked on a two dive trip the following day. Our second visit to the Darwin Station was well worthwhile as we'd been there late in the afternoon the previous day and the tortoises seem to be much more active during the heat of the day. We got a much better look at the baby tortoises and had more time to spend with the big ones, some of whom were busy feeding.

Sally Lightfoot Crabs, South Plaza, Islas Galápagos, Ecuador
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The beach, about a 50 minute walk from town was quite pretty and I spent a while there watching pelicans diving for fish close to shore. The following day's diving started early with a 50 minute drive from Puerto Ayora to the north side of the island (Santa Cruz). There we boarded a fairly decent boat with about seven other divers and motored for an hour or so to our dive site at Gordon Rocks. This is supposedly one of the better, more challenging readily accessible dive sites in the Galápagos. The rocks, an eroded rim of a volcanic cone are some distance off shore. Here, the sea was a little sloppy and there was predicted to be some current underwater.

At about 12 metres, the visibility wasn't wonderful but was quite sufficient to get a good look around. In the turbulent water where we started the dive we were immediately surrounded by a large school of jacks. Swimming along the reef of what was once the inside of the volcano's cone there were plenty of fish but as with the snorkeling I'd done, the rocks were a little barren. The Galápagos are primarily a place to see big animals; sharks, rays, turtles, sea lions, dolphins, large fish and are particularly well known for their hammerhead sharks. It was the hammerheads that I really wanted to see and after 20 minutes or so, we saw our first one, its distinctive shape silhouetted well above us. A few minutes later, I saw several more large individuals, perhaps 3 1/2 metres long swimming along side and below us. These were probably the largest sharks I'd seen underwater but they're not dangerous and fear isn't a thought that enters your head - it's just great to see such magnificent animals in their domain.

Baby Giant Tortoises, Charles Darwin Research Station, Puerto Ayora, Islas Galápagos, Ecuador
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Later in the dive when the other divers had run low on air and surfaced, I drifted in blue water for a while with the Kiwi divemaster, Aaron. At one point, a group of six or eight hammerheads swam past us. If only the visibility had been better, I'm sure a much larger school would have been visible. Our second dive that day was to have been at North Seymour but the visibility there had been poor the previous day and we decided to dive again at Gordon Rocks. This time, we started the dive drifting along the outside of the rocks where the walls plummet to 80 metres or more. After a while we reached a gap between the rocks and hauled ourselves against the current into the cone where huge schools of fish filled the water column. In this area, I saw three hammerheads materialise out of the greeny-blue and right at the end of the dive, Galápagos sharks cruised past us on four occasions.

The following day I decided to go diving again. This time, our boat ride to our first dive site, Cousin Rock near Isla Bartolomé, took about an hour and a half. This dive was a little more subdued than those of the previous day with almost no current. With the sun shining brightly, conditions underwater were very pleasant and the reef looked a little prettier than those of the day before. Early on in the dive we followed a large school of spotted eagle rays (I counted 32). As on every dive I did, we saw several green turtles, some swimming in mid-water and some lying at rest on the reef. At one point, we were surrounded by a school of barracuda and towards the end of the dive had many sea lions frolicking around us making our movements underwater seem incredibly cumbersome in comparison.

Downtown Puerto Ayora, Islas Galápagos, Ecuador
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Between dives we anchored beneath the picturesque and much photographed pinnacle at Bartolomé. The second dive that day around Bartolomé wasn't quite as good as the first but was still very enjoyable. On the trip back, we watched many bottle nosed dolphins swim with the boat and later saw large manta rays just beneath the surface, their wing tips seven or eight feet apart often appearing above the water.

So ended my brief taste of Galápagos diving. Although the diving was good, there is much better diving to be experienced. From December to March the visibility is considerably better and those with a ton of money (US$2,000 - 3,000) go on eight or ten day liveaboard charters to the small, distant islands of Darwin and Wolf. Here, the schools of hammerheads may number several hundred and apart from many other sharks, you have a good chance of seeing giant manta rays, schools of large tuna and whale sharks.

Steve hadn't been diving with me that day but we met up in the evening and went out to a restaurant for dinner. Half way through our meal Steve said he wasn't feeling well and was going back to the hotel. A minute later, others in the restaurant attracted my attention saying my friend had fallen outside. I found Steve lying unconscious on the footpath outside the restaurant with blood on his face and breathing irregularly. At times he seemed not to be breathing at all but slapping of his face seemed to make him breathe more normally. With a group of others, we hauled him into the back of a utility and headed off to the local hospital. There he started to regain consciousness but was still very groggy. I was given a shopping list of drugs, syringes, needles etc. and went off to the pharmacy to purchase these.

When I got back to the hospital they had Steve hooked up to a drip and were stuffing much wadding up his nose in an attempt to stop the constant trickle of blood from his nostrils. I stayed with Steve for about three hours during which time he was reasonably conscious but rather incoherent asking me the same questions many times. I went back to the hospital at 7.30 the following morning to find Steve awake but looking not too good with a black eye and swollen face splattered with dried blood. He remembered almost nothing from the night before and complained of a very sore head. Communication with hospital staff in Spanish only was very difficult but I gathered they wanted to x-ray Steve's head and advised us to come back later in the morning. This we did and after having the x-ray, spent a while gazing at the picture speculating as to whether anything looked irregular. Eventually, a woman who spoke a tiny bit of English showed up, pronounced there was nothing seriously wrong with Steve's head and sent us off with a prescription for Voltaren (pain killer) and some eye ointment.

For the next day and a half I nursed a fairly sick Steve who spent a lot of time sleeping. In between, I visited the Darwin Station again and shopped for a few souvenirs. We were to have visited the highlands of Santa Cruz on our last day in the Galápagos to see the lava tubes and giant tortoises in a more wild setting but Steve's illness prevented this. The following day, Steve was still feeling pretty bad but we got up early, caught the bus to the airport, and by midmorning were on our flight back to Guayaquil on the mainland. That evening in Guayaquil, Steve's lack of improvement and minimal consumption of food and drink (despite my best efforts) were becoming a bit of a concern. Having fallen badly on my face before, I remembered the period of my sickness and thought that by the following morning he must be starting to feel a little better. Fortunately, this he did and seemed well enough for us to catch a bus to Montañita on the coast about three hours from Guayaquil.

Steve's head continued to ache for many days but he was fairly obviously on the road to recovery.

Montañita is a very small, dusty seaside town with supposedly the best surf in Ecuador. The surf wasn't any good while we were there but with the tide out, the beach was a pleasant walk and there were some interesting rocks and rock pools at the northern end. We spent three nights in Montañita, half waiting to meet up with Gavin whose mask and snorkel I'd borrowed to take to the Galápagos. We then traveled for a day up the coast to Puerto Lopez where we booked a day tour out to the Isla de la Plata, some 40 km northwest out to sea from Puerto Lopez. Isla de la Plata, sometimes referred to a the poor man's Galápagos is part of a national park and has plenty of bird life to see.

Humpback Whale, Puerto Lopez, Ecuador
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Between June and October there's also a lot of humpback whales in the area which attract quite a few tourists. The day we went out wasn't wonderful, the sea a little sloppy and the boat a little wet but within 20 minutes of leaving Puerto Lopez, we saw a pair of humpbacks, just the top of their backs and funny little dorsal fins arching above the waves. Further on into the boat trip we saw many more humpbacks performing just about their full range of tricks. We watched their heads pop up, the raising of their huge pectoral fins above the water and then slapping down on the surface, and best of all, many breaches where the huge animals propelled themselves out of the water and landed with an enormous splash. I hope I got some reasonable photos of them but with not knowing where or when they're going to appear, it is rather difficult. In the best breach we saw, the whale was almost completely out of the water side on to us and rolled 90 degrees so the brilliant white of the underbelly and pectoral fins showed. This was perhaps 50 metres from our boat and you guessed it, dull boot missed the shot!

At Isla de la Plata we went on a three hour walk during which we saw plenty of birds nesting including blue footed boobies, masked boobies and those few waved albatrosses that nest elsewhere than on Isla Española in the Galápagos. It was pretty nice and would be a bird watchers' paradise by any standards but it just seemed a bit like a watered down Galápagos and I didn't bother taking any photos because I'd already seen and snapped it all.

The next day we headed north to Manta, a much larger city on the coast. I'd planned to stay there a couple of nights but the place just looked like an ugly city so the next day I farewelled Steve who had to head back to Guayaquil for a flight to Santiago and jumped on a bus to Quito. The nine hour ride wasn't pleasant but would hopefully be the last long bus journey of my South American experience.

The place I found to stay in Quito's new town that evening had a very nice feel to it and with plenty of internet places and restaurants nearby, I took an immediate liking to Quito. With the end of my South American travels drawing near, my top priority was to purchase a flight from Quito to Caracas from where my flight to London would leave. It was rather depressing to have to shell out US$330 for this but with the limited time I had left, I could see no other option. After relaxing in Quito for a few days I headed north on a bus for about 2 1/2 hours to Otavalo, a town famous for its markets. There, the variety of stuff for sale was bewildering but I didn't buy a whole lot. Some other Gringos, particularly Israelis, seem to buy sacks full of stuff but I just struggle with the usefulness of most of the classic souvenirs and crafts and can't see any point in buying stuff which will probably sit in a cupboard when I get home.

OK, a little bit about the Israelis: A South American travelogue would hardly be complete without mention of them. They are certainly the most well represented nationality amongst travelers and on a per capita basis would far exceed any other. To quote a Danish couple, "they're like a plague". You can't go anywhere without seeing them, you often see signs in Hebrew, get Hebrew keyboards in internet cafés, and occasionally get greeted by locals with a "shalom". From what I've learned, the Israeli traveler typically finishes school, does two or three years compulsory military service and often then works for a short period before heading off. South America seems to be a popular destination for them - many start in Brazil at carnival time and from there the plague spreads; southwest to Bolivia, then north to Perú and Ecuador. Israelis tend to travel in raucous packs and get many things cheaper than other travelers do. They haggle over a 20 cent nonnegotiable bus terminal tax the way I might have done ten years ago and probably live for half what I do. These days I could boast about how much I tip sometimes if only I could find someone to listen. The few older Israelis are quieter and more solitary. The youthful majority seem to have gone crazy on their release from the army. They're not the most wonderful ambassadors for their country but I'm sure they don't give a shit - they're too busy having a good time.

Back in Quito after a couple of nights in Otavalo, I had two nights to wait for my flight to Caracas. My departure from Quito was uneventful and by midday I was soaring through clear skies high above Colombia. The lush green valleys seemed to extend for vast distances in the very clear air and it looked like a very pretty part of the world. Part of me was quietly pleased to be hopping over Colombia, undoubtedly the least safe country in South America, and part of me was sad to be missing out on his infrequently visited area which always seems to be enjoyed greatly by those who venture there.

I spent couple of hours in transit at the airport in Bogotá before continuing on another Avianca flight to Caracas, Venezuela. By the time I arrived in Caracas it was dark but still very warm and humid. Outside the airport I could smell the warm blue Caribbean Sea but alas, wouldn't get any closer to it. After bus and taxi rides I arrived at my hotel, by far the most expensive of my South American travels.

Over the next three days I did a lot of wandering around the streets of Caracas and saw much of the central city areas. It's a modern city by South American standards with a good metro system and plenty of glass towers. There are a few remnants of the old colonial town but but they're meager compared to most other cities on the continent. Venezuela is a major oil and exporter and although much of the wealth has probably been squandered you can see where some of the money has been spent like in the cool Museo de Arte Conteporaneo which had a lot of Picasso stuff.

When the time finally came to leave Caracas and South America I wasn't heartbroken. I'd had a great time en Sudamérica but it was bit of a relief to be escaping the continent without misfortune and heading for the relative civilization of London.

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