Sunday, June 27, 2010

The End

Our around the world adventure draws to a close, and it is hard to believe we are at the end – or is it the beginning?

Thanks for sharing it with us, hope you enjoyed it – we sure did!

Here's a brief look at some numbers regarding the journey:

292:      Days Travelling
13:        Countries
29:        Flights
103:      Places We Spent The Night
11:        World Heritage Sites Visited
6,000+  Kilometers Driven In Land Rover (Namibia, Botswana, S. Africa)
1:          Wrecked Land Rover
2:          Presidential Elections Experienced (Botswana, Costa Rica)
4:          Items Lost At Airport Security (2 Knives, 1 Pair Scissors, 1 Horseshoe)
800+:    Approximate number of bird species identified.

Till next time, happy travels!



     Tahiti – last stop on our world tour. We spent 4 days here doing pretty much nothing. Seems that travel fatigue has finally caught up with us and we basically ran out the clock until our return home. Not that this was such a bad thing – the weather was warm, the beach was right across the street, and the supermarket was filled with tasty French food and amazingly fresh hunks of tuna.
     We did manage one trip in to the “big city” of Papeete, where we wandered around downtown, listened to the locals playing their ukuleles on the street corner, and visited the local market (Fresh fruits, more great looking fish, trinkets and some good lunch spots). Also the Orange Festival was on so I walked over there and was treated to a nice display of local dancing.
     We previously thought our Spanish was bad, but we revised that opinion when we realized here in a French speaking country we could count all the French we knew on the fingers of both hands. Luckily the locals were very friendly and helpful to us and we got by.
     Hard to believe we are at the end of our journey and tomorrow we trade the warm tropical breezes for the cold southerlies of New Zealand!


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Photos of Rapa Nui (Easter Island)

The crater of extinct volcano Ranokau, one of the few water sources on the island.

Orongo, site of many stone shelters such as this.  By far the most substantial structures remaining on the island.
Ahu Vinapu.  This statue has been buried upright, probably to protect it from breakage.  The platform behind has some fine stonework.  Our guide said this prompted Captain Cook to blow it up, looking for gold. 
A pukao, or "topknot".  These were placed on the top of the moai (statues), and are believed to represent the typical hairstyle.  We were amazed at how shallow the bottoms are - it takes some good balance to keep them on top of the moai.
Fallen moai.  The moai contained the "mana", or prestige of the men they were modelled after.  Enemies would topple the moai in order to try and break the heads off, which would release the mana.

Restored moai near the town of Hanga Roa.

Restored ahu (platform) and moai at Anakena Beach.  These are particularly well-preserved - they were buried in the beach sand for many years.  Also one of the many free-range horses found on the island.
Moai at Anakena Beach.

Showing detail of carved tatoos and rope (to tie clothing) on the back of a moai.

Ana Te Pahu, a large cave system that was home to many natives.  Openings in the cavern were used as gardens.  Even today we saw taro, bananas, and grapes growing. 
A cave where residents hid from slaving expeditions.  The entrance had been filled in and hidden with rocks, leaving only a small passageway.
Ahu Tongariki, with 15 standing moai, is the largest shrine on the island.
Ahu Tongariki, an impressive row of moai.  Note the hawk seated on the moai 5th from the left.

Ahu Tongariki.

Although they look like they are lying in state, these moai were in the process of being born when work ceased at Rano Raraku, the quarry where the moai were created.

Work in progress at Rano Raraku.  Tana providing some scale.
Moai seeming to sprout from the ground at Rano Raraku.

Zane with a moai that fell during transport.  It is believed that the moai were transported standing upright.  If they fell over, that was the end of the journey.

Rapa Nui (Easter Island)

     Rapa Nui, or Easter Island – one of the world's most isolated islands yet world famous and home to the iconic mysterious statues, or moai. A place where a civilization flourished and essentially flared out before “discovery” by Europeans, leaving behind some very unique monuments, and many unanswered questions. Today it is a rather quiet place and does indeed seem far removed from the rest of the world.
     The general theory regarding the history of Rapa Nui is roughly this: settled by Polynesians around 400 to 800AD, the population rapidly expanded in isolation over the next several hundred years, peaking at over 20,000 (today the population is about 4000). Unfortunately, the island was not particularly well endowed with biodiversity, and was unable to support this increased population. This resource crisis led to internal strife and warfare. The stone monuments and statues, mostly erected between 1000 and 1400 AD, were destroyed during the upheaval. By the time of European arrival on Easter Sunday 1722, some of the statues were found to be lying on the ground. By the mid 1800's none were left standing. At this time the population was estimated to be 4,000. In subsequent years slave raids removed about 40 percent of these, and disease reduced the population to about 150, essentially erasing a great deal of the unique culture.
     We spent the better part of two days touring around the island, and were lucky to have as our guide and host a man who had first come here in 1964 as an archeology student.  He shared some great insights in to what they found at the time, and how in 45 short years many of the statues have eroded considerably. If some way cannot be found to protect these monuments, it will not be long before many are lost forever.
     Luckily for today's visitors some restoration projects have been undertaken over the years and a number of the statues are now standing (perhaps not exactly in their original location, but they are standing). Even in their various states of deterioration they are massive and impressive. Imagining the amount of work to produce and move them (without beasts of burden or anything beyond the crudest stone tools) is mind boggling.
     Perhaps the most interesting site is the quarry itself, where statues in all stages of completion can be seen. Many have been placed vertically in holes for finishing. The holes have filled in over time, giving the appearance that the massive heads are sprouting out of the ground, a literal statue garden.

Next, and final, stop: Tahiti!


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Photos of Valparaiso, Chile

Valparaiso skyline.

Valparaiso is still a working port.
Scenery in old town, corrugated metal clad buildings.

Ascensors help residents up and down the hills.  Half train, half elavator, most are well over 100 years old.

The World Cup was a big attraction wherever it was playing.
Fine looking Chilean chiles.
Many dogs in Valparaiso, few as well off as this one.
Artwork, authorized and not, covered many of the buildings we saw.

Valparaiso, Chile

     From the high desert of Chile, we flew to Santiago and caught a bus to the port city of Valparaiso. Santiago was surrounded by snow-capped mountains and very cold, so we were glad to escape to the slightly warmer environs of the coast.
     Valparaiso has been a port city for a long time – this was the first port that ships would encounter on the west coast as they made their way around the tip of South America. The glory days of the pace were abruptly ended with the opening of the Panama Canal.
     This bit of history seems apparent when looking around the old part of the city – many old buildings, but the majority in some state of disrepair. It is a quite interesting place to wander around, with many alley-like stairways making their way up and down the steep hills, but for me calling it beautiful would be a stretch. The amount of grafitti is amazing, and the large number or dogs roaming the streets leave their decorations on the sidewalks. Of all of the World Heritage Sites we have visited, this was the first one we seriously wondered aloud “Really?”
     That said, we did enjoy our time here wandering the streets detween downpours (had not seen rain since April in Ecuador), and eating way too much at the local cafes. We got up early one day and out to a local place to watch Chile play in the World Cup. We were the only people in the place who did not know everyone else there. It was a successful morning, as the Chileans won their first World Cup match in 48 years. Oh yeah and the food was great too!
     One feature of Valparaiso we really did enjoy were the ascensors. These are a cross between a railway and an elevator, and are sprinkled around the city to help transport residents up and down the steep hills. Most were built around 1900 or before, so in addition to a nice view you get the added excitement that the ancient equipment might fail and send you hurtling down to the bottom.

This is our last stop on mainland South America. On to Rapa Nui (Easter Island)!


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Photos of San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Heavy traffic, downtown San Pedro.

Zane showing some fine sandboarding form.
Tana heading down the dune.

Salt Mountains, Atacama Desert.

Sunset over the Atacama Desert.

View of Moon Valley area of the Atacama Desert.

Zane enjoys the Puritama thermal pools.

Puritama thermal pools, a desert oasis.

Rainbow Valley.

Tana and Nikki in Rainbow Valley.

Furry little burro.

Panel of petroglyphs, many cross-legged men with headdresses.

Life size Llama petroglyph, carved over existing figures.

Fox (pregnant?) petroglyph.

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

     After leaving our Bolivian tour, we headed for the small touristy village of San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, happily dropping 2,000 meters of elevation in about 40km. Aside from the lower and warmer climate, we knew immediately we were in a different country – the road was nicely paved and had road signs, the people spoke with a strange accent which we had trouble understanding (the first couple of people we thought simply had lisps), and the cost of living had increased dramatically. Welcome back to the modern world!
     San Pedro is located in the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on earth, and salty too – the nearby salt flats are the 3rd largest in the world (behind Uyuni in Bolivia and Bonneville in USA). The wide open and quite barren landscape was reminiscent of Death Valley, USA, only with less vegetation.
     Despite the harsh setting the area is rich in archeological history, as there were large organized civilizations here thousands of years ago. We did not make it out to visit any of the ruins, but did manage to see some nice prehistoric rock art.
     San Pedro is one of Chile's main tourist centers and we took advantage of some of the tours offered, going Sandboarding (snowboards + sand dunes), visiting desert hot springs and rock Aat sites, and downhill biking. There was plenty to explore for desert fans such as ourselves and we could have easily spent more time in the area. But sadly, our time is running short and we need to move on.

Next stop, the port city of Valparaiso, Chile!


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Photos of Desert Tour, Southwest Bolivia

Lunchtime fun with Llamas.
Uyuni Salt Flats, largest in the world and scenic too!

Salt harvest.  Simply scraped off the surface with hand tools.
Isla Incahuasi, center of Uyuni Salt Flats.  Supposely the tallest cactus in the world too.
Fun with perspective.
That's not plaster, but a hotel built of salt.  Yes, we did lick the walls.
Nice view from salt hotel.
Inca cemetary at village of San Juan.  Graves are at least 500 years old.
Desierto de Solili, view from hotel.
Arbol de Piedras, or Tree of Stone.

One of the many high saline lakes we passed.

Laguna Colorado, or Red Lake.  4300 meters high and steaming.
Fumaroles at nearly 5000 meters altitude.
Desierto de Dali.  As if painted by the master himself.

Desierto de Dali.
Laguna Verde.  Water green from naturally occurring toxic chemicals.  Supposedly does not freeze until -20C

Scenery near Laguna Blanca.

Vicuna (wild relative of the Llama) at Laguna Blanca.  Incredibly tough animals.
Laguna Blanca, ice and salt.

Fox at Bolivia - Chile border.  Our guide assured us he was Bolivian, and sure enough he never strayed onto the Chilean side.