Tag: photos

When The Photos Are Better Than The Experience

Map of where I was

Map of where I was

In August, I took a trip to the area where Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia meet. Ever since then, I’ve been considering whether to write this post because it was not the greatest of trips. I started out sick with some kind of cold and flu, suffered stomach problems at the beginning and end, and was freezing cold during a significant part of the trip.

But that is a lot of complaining, so I did not write it.

I did, however, take beautiful photos. A lot of them. People liked the few I put on Facebook, so I have created some albums to share more of them with everyone, including readers who are not on FB. The links are at the bottom of this post or can be linked to from the photo albums main page. And here’s a video by one of the guys in my 4×4 in Bolivia. (I wasn’t with him for most of his trip, but the majority of the video is of Uyuni and I also visited the other places featured.)

This area is desert and its beauty is various shades of brown seen in the hills and mountains. The National Reserve in Bolivia had these and also lakes of different colors. The salt flats in Argentina and Bolivia were stark—their beauty lies in the textures of the salt and the mountains in the distance. But during these various outings, I was ready to move on after a short period of time. The vistas were similar and after a few minutes of appreciating them and snapping some photos, I was done.

The Brazilians taking a fun photo

The Brazilians taking a fun photo

Not so my traveling companions. According to two different tour guides, tourists from Brazil and Asia (especially China) have reputations as over-the-top photo takers—they take the longest amount of time at every stop, want to photograph every pose possible, and use the most selfie sticks. The two Brazilians in my 4×4 in Bolivia lived up to the first two stereotypes and kept us at some stops long after I was ready to depart. In hindsight, I appreciate the fun of some of these photos.

Parque Torres del Paine, Chile

A view that moved me more: Parque Torres del Paine, Chile

Now that I have visited different parts of Patagonia, I also have realized that I am just not as impacted by the desert as I am by snow-covered mountains. I look at my Patagonia photos and see how, to others, the vistas might all look the same. (I admit that my evaluation of the how great the Patagonia trip probably was positively impacted by being healthy and not as cold.) But I loved the winter landscape and did not want to get on the bus and drive away a few minutes after arriving. In fact, Patagonia is the first trip that I finished with thoughts about when and how I can return.

Photo albums:

Salta & Jujuy

San Pedro de Atacama

Eduardo Abaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve

Salar de Uyuni

I Climbed A Mountain

In my post about my trip to Peru, I briefly mentioned that the hardest day was when I climbed Machu Picchu Mountain, but that fortunately I made friends and we all got each other through it. Here’s a bit more about my two days at Machu Picchu and, of course, the photos.

First look at the Machu Picchu ruins

First look at Machu Picchu ruins

As I mentioned, I am good at following advice, especially when I receive the same advice more than once. In this case, I was told to spend two days at Machu Picchu. As I also mentioned, I did no research before the trip so I did not fully understand why I would want two days there.

It was only a few days before arriving that I started to understand the lay of the land. At “Machu Picchu” one can see the ruins of the town/estate of the ruler and agricultural terraces; hike to the Sun Gate; and climb either Machu Picchu Mountain or Huayna Picchu Mountain. Luckily, my tour company booked me a ticket to tour the ruins and climb Machu Picchu Mountain because there are a limited number of climbing tickets sold each day.

During my afternoon tour of the ruins, my guide explained to me—more than once—how to reach the entrance to the mountain climb. She also told me that I had to sign in and start climbing the mountain before 11.00 am. When she walked me to my hotel, she explained it all again.

Almost at my (incorrect) destination

Almost at my (incorrect) destination

The important point was that if I missed the mountain entrance, I would walk to the Sun Gate, which was nice enough, but not what I should do. I understood this point perfectly. However, I failed to execute the instructions properly. As you have figured out by now, I missed the entrance and found myself at the Sun Gate after about 45 minutes of easy walking.

A large group of Californians was walking at the same time and kindly took photos of me when I asked, but no one engaged me in conversation even as we kept passing each other at different points on the trail. It wasn’t a great feeling. Then I felt worse when I realized I was about to reach the Sun Gate and had missed the mountain entrance entirely. I did not even remember to take a photo at the Sun Gate. All I wanted to do was drink a few sips of water and make my way back to find the missed turn. After asking for directions from a few guides along the walk back, I found the turnoff.

I generally believe in karma (meaning some larger force sending you what you need when you need it) and felt it to be in full action on this day. I met J & J, a mother and daughter from Brooklyn who were starting the climb at the same time. They asked if I wanted to climb with them. Had I not screwed up and walked to the Sun Gate, I never would have encountered them and my whole mountain climbing experience would have been significantly less fun.

Something else I did not know until I was in the middle of it is how hard the climb was going to be. My guide told me it would take about an hour and a half, but didn’t mention that it is a very steep climb, mostly up uneven stairs. I started to feel my legs burn after a short time, which continued for the two hours it took us to reach the top.

Machu 03

At the top with J & J

The views were amazing. The feeling of accomplishment when I reached the top was amazing.

As they say, “Ignorance is bliss.” Had I known what I was in for, I might not have attempted it at all. Or, I would have gone in expecting the worst and then would have spent most of the climb confirming that expectation. Instead, I had no idea what lay ahead and passed the time in great conversations with J & J, who were on the trip to celebrate the daughter’s 20th birthday. She wanted to document the occasion,  so we stopped to take fun photos along the way and traded cameras for a while so I we could snap shots of each other.

We parted soon after descending but I am forever grateful that our paths crossed. A perfect example of being in the right place at the right time.

Peru (minus Machu Picchu)

I am very good at listening to suggestions of places to go, foods to try, etc. So after (seemingly) everyone said that I had to go to Machu Picchu, I got the message. Peru became number two on my list of  “Places Near Colombia You Must Travel To,” right after Galápagos. When I realized it is common to travel to the two together in one trip, my plan basically was set. The photos are here.

Inca ruins of Sacsayhuaman just outside the town of Cusco

Inca ruins at Sacsayhuaman

The best decision I made was to use a travel agency. To cover the standard itinerary* there are lot of logistics beyond the hotels—planes, trains, and automobiles—really! I’m good at figuring out all of those things, but I am starting to realize that I don’t enjoy it very much. Also, I’m good at recognizing when there are professionals who have mastered all of this already. Why should I reinvent the wheel?

I did not know much more than “Inca ruins” when I started booking my trip. By the end, I had gained a lot of respect for this (not so ancient) civilization. The way they cut rocks perfectly to fit together without needing mortar is crazy impressive. And we can still see the clear differences between the techniques used to construct everyday buildings and agricultural terraces versus the temples.

The water still flows through the terraces at Tipon

Tipton: water still flows in the terraces

Although I asked to join other groups, I ended up having a private tour every day. This was great for my language skills because for two days I had the guides conduct my tours in Spanish. Since it was just me, they could speak more slowly and use simpler words than they would have with a group of native speakers. But, I admit, it also was lonely at times. Luckily, just when I started climbing Machu Picchu Mountain—the hardest day of my trip—I made friends and we all got each other through it. (I wrote a separate post about this day and have an album of Machu Picchu photos.)

I loved learning about a history and culture that were completely unknown to me before the trip. I loved eating a lot of good food (overall, the food was much better in Peru than in Colombia). I loved the challenge of climbing a mountain. I loved making chocolates.

I have now joined (seemingly) everyone in recommending travel to Peru.


* By “standard itinerary” I mean Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu.

Trip details:

Dates: May 29-June 2, 2015

Places visited:

Cusco Day 1: Catedral Basilica de la Virgen de la Asuncion, Museo Histórico Regional, Sacsayhuaman ruins, Q’enqo ruins

Cusco Day 2: Pikillaqta Archaelogical Site of the Wari people, San Pedro Church in Andahuaylillas, Tipon ruins

Sacred Valley: Awana Kancha Alpaca Farm, Pisac market, Temple in Ollantaytambo (note: stay in Ollantaytambo if continuing on to Aguas Calientes; I was in Urubamba and there was no reason to be there)

Machu Picchu: ruins and Machu Picchu Mountain, town of Aguas Calientes

Tour company (HIGHLY recommended): Condor Travel


The Galápagos

I studied Spanish in Ecuador for a month in the summer of 1999, but did not have the time or the money to visit the Galápagos then. A Galápagos trip was high on my list of things to do when I decided to head to Colombia for Phase II. I was even more interested having listened to this episode of Radiolab a few months before my trip (the tortoise story is especially interesting).

Below are some highlights from the trip. Selected photos are on two pages: part 1 and part 2.

Giant tortoise

Giant tortoise

Seeing the giant tortoises: While snorkeling in Santa Fe Bay, we saw two giant tortoises swimming together and then many in the Cerro Colorado Breeding Station.

Appreciating the differences between the islands: The vegetation and topography differed between the islands (from sparse vegetation to densely green). There also were some differences in wild life, although sea lions were everywhere. The sun was strong, but we didn’t experience crushing humidity until the last morning, on San Cristóbal.

Enjoying the cruise: I was worried about seasickness and bad food. I started popping pills the moment we boarded, and mostly was fine with the motion of the ship. The food was delicious and varied.

See the chin strap by my ears & the bag’s two pouches

Proper equipment: I was so pleased that I made a wrong turn a few days before I left and ended up walking amongst street vendor tents. The $7 straw hat I purchased came with a chin strap, which I thought was silly at the time. You know where this is going. Even with the strap on, my hat was blown off a few times. As someone who is anti-sun, I also appreciated my long-sleeved, sun-blocking shirts.



Best swag: The tour company gave each person a small black bag with two zippered pouches—actual, separate compartments. Brilliant design (I later learned that they were created by women). They were just the right size for water, sunblock, the camera, and sun glasses. It only took me two days to realize that the stitching is the feet of a blue-footed booby.


Overall impression: I’m grateful I had the opportunity to visit the islands. I was disappointed we didn’t see more varieties of wildlife. Although the sea lions were adorable, they lost their appeal after a few days, especially when the wind blew their odor directly at us.

In some ways, I enjoyed the experience of an African safari more because the animals are more animated and interesting to watch. While some iguanas are beautiful, seeing them walk or climb on a rock just is not as compelling to me as watching giraffes or elephants. The sea lions were playing occasionally, but mostly they were lying in the sun. On the other hand, the Galápagos are a more interesting place to learn about geology and the evolution of plants and animals.


Trip details:

Dates: May 25-28, 2015

Islands visited: Mosquera Inlet, South Plaza, Santa Fe, and San Cristóbal. Detailed descriptions here (scroll down to “M/V Galapagos Legend Cruise “C” 4 days / 3 nights – (Mon-Thu)”)

Guide: Valerio Repetto, a passionate advocate for protecting the Galápagos

Ship: Galapagos Legend, booked through Klein Tours

The Most Stairs & The Prettiest Village

The Most Stairs I’ve Ever Climbed At One Time

The first day of my vacation in Medellín was not spent in Medellín. Another student from my Spanish school, who happened to be visiting the city as well, and I went to La Piedra Del Peñol (The Stone of Peñol—Peñol is a town; or the rock officially might be called El Peñon De Guatapé—a peñon is an offshore island fort and Guatapé is another town). During the two-hour bus ride, we picked up two fellow travelers for the day, one from Switzerland and the other from Germany, and the four of us made our way through the day in a mix of Spanish, German, and English.

La Piedra Del Peñol

La Piedra Del Peñol

When people learned that I was heading to Medellín for a few days, most told me that I had to check out the big rock. And a big rock it is. Some liken it to Uluru/Ayers Rock in Australia because both are sacred to indigenous people and loom large over relatively flatter landscapes around them.

A big difference is that you can climb La Piedra Del Peñol. And climb we did. All 740 steps. At its highest part, La Piedra has an elevation of 2,135 metres (7,005 ft) above sea level. Since we climbed to the top of the man-made lookout tower, we get extra credit.

Bet that hotel is a nice place

Bet that hotel is a nice place

This part of Colombia is very mountainous, so while La Piedra stands out within its immediate surroundings, it’s not in a completely flat area. It is surrounded by what look like small and large lagoons and islands. This amazing view is man made: in the 1970s, the government flooded 5,600 hilly acres to create a hydroelectric dam, which now generates about 36% of Colombia’s electricity. The spectacular landscape and waterfront properties are a nice byproduct. Here’s the photo album.

The Prettiest Village I’ve Ever Seen

Loved this village

Loved this village

We found transport from La Piedra in an old Renault convertible and arrived in Guatapé, the prettiest village I’ve ever seen. It also is known as the Pueblo de Zócalos, because the zócalos (baseboards) of the buildings are adorned with beautifully sculpted and painted 3-dimensional decorations. We saw a few zócalos by the same artist who decorated the wall around the lookout tower on top of La Piedra.

Some clearly relate to the purpose of the building (we actually heard music coming from inside one of the buildings with instruments on the outside) while others depict wildlife, nature, and village life.

We spent a lot of time wandering through the residential part of the village and then let ourselves into a field so we could rest while overlooking the mountains and water. Here’s the photo album.

Shenandoah Valley Beauty (But Skyline Drive Made Me Sick)

I love certain categories of photos, fall foliage and big skies among them. Here’s the first photo gallery of my blog from my trip to Shenandoah in October. (Click any photo to open the photos in a gallery and see captions.)

I started at Skyline Caverns, which has stalactites, stalagmites, and anthodites, cool and rare crystal growths. Very cool and less touristy than Luray Caverns, which was one of the first items on my places-to-go-when-I-stop-working list.

I got a last-minute reservation (as in, “Can I have a room in an hour?”) at The Woodward House on Manor Grade, which was as kitschy as a B&B should be. I wrote more about the B&B in the post about the food of this trip.

The next day was devoted to Skyline Drive, which I’m embarrassed to admit took me 12 years to visit. I drove all 105 miles of it, stopping for a few hikes and scenic views. The road is hilly and curvy, and goes in and out of bright sun and shadows. The result was a really queasy me. It took an hour in my B&B room to feel stable. Now I can say I’ve traversed the whole thing and don’t need to do so again.

The final day was in Staunton (pronounced Stanton).  Late-season sunflowers, a delicious lunch at George Bower’s Grocery, owned by Katie—who drank all of those beers—then beautiful sky along I-81 to Harrisonburg. The sunset in my rearview mirror as I drove home was gorgeous, but I was heavy traffic and chose to focus on driving instead of snapping a photo. So, please imagine your favorite bright orange and red sunset and insert that as the last photo below.

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