A Travellerspoint blog

Huacachina

Days 2, 3 of the Peru on a Shoestring tour

sunny 30 °C

Hola! So in the last post I left off with the bus ride to Huacachina. This was a very interesting trip, and we all got to see some of the more "real" parts of Lima, that being mostly shanty towns and desert. Interestingly I had found out off the city tour of Lima that the area surrounding the city only receives a small number of days of rain per year, something like 5-10% of the year, and so all water was transported from rivers closeby. This fact really showed on the busride out of Lima, where you could see that anywhere not within close range of a house or building was plantless, sandy soil. This eventually grew into sanddunes as we got further from the city, and seemed unbelievable because we were hugging the coast (surely something would have to grow so close to the water right?) The terrain was like this most of the way until we reached Ica, a small city near Huacachina, to get a taxi through the dunes. When we came closer to Huacachina we could see a mass of palm trees and other plants surrounding a large pool of water- a true oasis! The town itself was located along the banks of this lake, and was quite surreal, being also surrounded by towering sanddunes.

We all settled into the hostel in Huacachina referred to us by our tourguide, and were very satisfied with there being both a pool and bar present- widely welcome in the heat of this place! I was amazed at the sight of dunes behind the hostel- they seemed like huge walls surrounding the place, and soon started blocking out the setting sun. In the evening we all visited one of the local bars for some food and a few drinks, and were surprised that a girl from New Zealand was working there. Quite a bit of drinking and partying went on for the rest of the night, with the guys who had just arrived that morning having to make up for the time partying lost in Lima the night before. I also got to meet quite a few other backpackers and tourists from France, USA, the UK and Australia, and we all had some interesting discussions about how we had come to this place. The night was fun overall, and I headed back quite late for some well-needed sleep.

PB212056.jpgThe hostel at night with sand dunes towering abovePB222058.jpgSame dunes by dayPB222060.jpgThe Oasis in Huacachina

The next morning I awoke to people jumping into the pool- what a hangover cure! (for all). Within an hour or two some guys arrived at the hotel to pick us up for dune buggying, and only when I got outside did I see the buggies themselves- pretty noisy and scary! This was going to be an awesome day :)
So we all got into the buggies and the driver started the engine, gave it a few revs to demonstrate its power and started off down the streets of Huacachina. The ride through the streets in a powerful buggy, dodging people, cars and animals was probably one of the more freaky experiences of the day- our driver was great, and went a little bit more crazy just for our group. After getting out of the streets the buggy started straight for some tall sand dunes, getting screams of excitement from everyone. We then headed over a few more dunes, getting quite a few steep inclines, ups and downs and awesome speeds. After a little while, and once a nice view was found, the driver stopped the buggy and we all got out to try some "sandboarding" (a little bit like snowboarding but on sand instead of snow). So we all waxed up our boards, strapped in our feet and got to the ledge of the dune, excited about the upcoming slide down. I ended up going down on my stomach, which turned out to be a lot faster than those standing up on the board, and I was lucky enough to get quite a bit of speed down the slope- so much fun! After trying this a few times I also realised that you need to constantly wax the board or else it will go much slower over the dunes. We all went over a few more slopes then headed back into the buggy for some even better dunes- some of the best of the trip! Eventually we reached a massive slope and all got ready to sandboard down this as well. The slope looked deceiving and watching the first person go down on their board, taking a minute or two to reach the bottom, really demonstrated how far down we would be going! So I got on the board and headed down the slope, which seemed fine for the first few seconds and then quickly sped up, accelerating more as I got towards the bottom. This was an awesome experience, and we all cheered at the bottom once everyone had made it down.

DSC03774.jpgOur dune buggyDSC03783.jpgOur group at a stopover in the dunes

After this sandboarding we all headed back into the buggy to end the trip over the dunes, heading over some awesome sand ripples, huge slopes and steep inclines at great speed. The driver also made a stopover at an oasis, as well as a viewing point to see the whole of the town of Huacachina, which both looked awesome and can be seen in the pictures below. The trip ended a few minutes later and it was good to see both how happy and thrilled everyone was afterwards- it was a truly epic day well spent, and I'd highly recommend it to any other thrill-seekers out there (better than a lot of rollercoasters I've been on).

So with the end of the dune buggying and sandboarding, we all had some lunch at a nearby restaurant and packed up our gear at the hostel, ready to head off to Nazca to see some of the famous "Nazca Lines". An awesome part about this leg of the trip was that we would all be travelling in American muscle cars from the 1970s (think Cadillacs and Dodges with huge tailfins, heaps of chrome, etc.) This was an awesome novelty, though we did have a bit of drama getting all of the luggage loaded, resulting in some argument between the drivers, the hostel staff and some of our tour members. After what seemed like an hour of deliberation, we finally all agreed on getting another car to carry the excess baggage and so we all headed for the highway in our massive petrol-guzzlers. The scenery on the way changed quite a bit, from the sand dunes of Huacachina and Ica to the mountainous regions just before Nazca, to finally the huge flat plains of Nazca. Once we arrived at the lines, we all ascended up a tall viewing tower in order to see the patterns made in the ground from above. Out of the all the patterns making up the Nazca lines, we got to see the "hands" and an "ant"- so amazing to think that the Nazca people, thousands of years ago were able to make such huge patterns in the ground that could be viewed as pictures from the sky. It was also mysterious as to why these patterns were made- were they to attempt to communicate with gods in the sky? Did it have anything to do with aliens who could use these patterns as landing strips? Nobody yet knows 100% for sure, but then that is also part of the fun of visiting the lines- coming up with your own explanations and experience. Myself, I think that they were ways of communicating with the gods, but may have also served other practical purposes such as for carrying water for irrigation. You can see some pictures of the Nazca lines I saw in the photos below.

PB222068.jpgThe American muscle cars we took to NazcaPB222093.jpgViewing platform at Nazca linesPB222095.jpgSome of the Nazca linesPB222100.jpgMore of the Nazca lines

After viewing the lines we all headed back into the muscle cars and on to the city of Nazca to meet back up with our tour leader. We met her at a hotel and were all ready for some traditional Peruvian food for dinner. The cool part about this dinner was the way in which it was cooked- our tour leader took us to the restaurant, a place which specialised in natural, organic foods, environmentally friendly ways of cooking, use of recycled materials and other eco-friendly practices, and we watched as the food we were to eat that night was cooked underground, wrapped up in leaves and left to cook under some hot coals. Cooking the food this way kept it really hot, and also made use of ancient cooking techniques practiced by the Inca people. When the food was ready, the chefs started unburying it and performed some sacred rituals to "Pachamama" or "Mother Earth", sacred in Inca culture, and prepared it onto some dishes. The food was delicious, and we all really enjoyed dinner that night, taking large portions of meat, corn, sweet potato and "chicha", an alcoholic corn drink first prepared by the Incas (have to say, though, that one must have an acquired taste for chicha, as it first tastes quite unpleasant and sour).

PB222109.jpgTraditional underground cooking techniquesPB222115.jpgDinner with the tour group in NazcaPB222116.jpgDinner with the tour group in Nazca

And with dinner finished, we all headed for a bus to Arequipa, the next stop on our tour, on what was a packed and fun-filled day. This would be the first night-bus trip on the tour, and we all wondered whether we’d be able to sleep on a coach which made frequent stops, travelled windy and bumpy roads and had air-conditioning as cold as a fridge! Regardless, I still ended up getting some sleep, due to the quality of the chairs in the coach, with footrests and reclining seats, and also some help from my travelling earplugs.

So bye for now, more in the next post about what we all got up to in Arequipa! :)

Posted by cbell88 13:43 Archived in Peru Tagged oasis sand boarding cooking dune dunes lines underground nazca huacachina buggying Comments (0)

Lima

On to South America..

sunny 20 °C

Sorry I haven't blogged in a while, been having such a blast in South America! Such a fun place with so much to do.

My first destination in South America was Lima, the capital of Peru. This was where I was to begin the "Peru on a Shoestring" tour, as well as meet up with some more friends from uni, Laura and Tash. The flight to Lima was eye-opening in the fact that it nailed down that there'd be little English spoken for the next month or so- most of the signs, as well as the language that people spoke was Spanish.

After what seemed like a long flight, due in part to the lack of in-flight entertainment (iPod time!), I arrived at Lima around midnight, and was happy to see Shaun there at the terminal also. It turned out that he had also bumped into Laura and Tash who were coincidentally on the same flight as him, but they had already gone back to the hotel by that stage. So Shaun and I practiced some of the Spanish we learnt from phrasebooks in talking a bit to our connecting taxi driver, who luckily knew exactly where to take us. The drive to the hotel took us past a vast mix of sights, run-down housing vs highly secured large houses, nice beachside suburbs, luxurious apartments and touristic plazas and bars. The area of the hostel though looked quite dodgy, as most of the small shops surrounding it looked closed and there was only a small opening to get in to our accommodation. Fortunately the concierge at the hotel spoke English, so we had little trouble getting the rooms sorted. Getting quite late now, we both headed to bed.

The next morning I was woken up by two familiar faces I had not seen for a little while- Laura and Tash! Was good to see them again and find out how the end-of-uni celebrations went. We all decided to go explore around our hotel a bit, and wandered down to find some essentials- cash and groceries. After this we went a little further to a place called Miraflores, which roughly means "looking at flowers" in Spanish, and had a walk through some of the parks there, admiring both the flowers and the view of the Pacific Ocean. Lima is not a city famous for beaches though, with quite muddy/dark coloured sand, and water roughly of the same colour. Besides this, though, the view was still quite nice, and we even spotted the odd hangglider going over us. Another interesting observation was that the song "We Speak no Americano" was playing in a nearby park- a song coming from my hometown Sydney! I guess I'd be getting used to Latin music in the coming weeks, but I did not expect such music from my own city heh. After exploring for a bit we all went and had some lunch back at the hotel. We also decided to organise a bus tour for later that afternoon, which would go around the city of Lima. Ordering lunch was a bit of a cultural experience, getting to try out some more Spanish, and this resulted in us each obtaining an unknown dish- each of which was quite good.

PB191884.jpgTash, Shaun and I in Miraflores, LimaPB191885.jpgViews of the coast from Miraflores, Lima

The tour in the afternoon took us firstly through the Barranco district, close to the hotel, which was famous for its bars and nightlife. We would definitely be visiting here later tonight. The next stop was a trip to Miraflores again, though this time we got to see a statue of two lovers, some more hanggliding places and some ancient ruins, which were built by early civilisations but built on top by the Incas, and eventually the Spanish settlers. It was sad to see that only parts of the ruins remained and that clearly, houses and other buildings were built on top closeby, though what remained of the ruins was spectacular in itself- a large pyramid like structure which was thought to be a temple of some sort. The tour then took us all to central Lima, a Spanish-styled and very colonial plaza full of beautiful architecture, cathedrals, palaces and other government buildings. We had a look around this main plaza for a bit then headed into one of the cathedrals of the San Franciscan order of Catholics (the two main types of Catholic Christianity religions in Peru are the San Franciscan and the Dominican churches). This cathedral was amazing, with 500 year old scrolls in a decently sized library, numerous frescoes, and a cool thing for us to explore- catacombs! Under this cathedral in the catacombs we found various pits of human remains, which were in quite a large complex overall. As this was the last stop on our bus tour of the city we got dropped off at the hotel afterwards and prepared for dinner later in the evening at Barranco (as we had promised ourselves :P).

180_PB191912.jpgMozaics at the "lover's park"PB191919.jpgAncient ruins in Lima90_PB191939.jpgUs in the plaza in central Lima

Dinner was at a traditional Peruvian restaurant, with really friendly staff- we even got to meet the family who had owned the place for the last 80 years, which was nice. We all also tried our first Pisco Sour, a cocktail famous in Lima and Peru in general made from Lemon, Pisco liqueur and egg whites. The drink was delicious but very strong in alcohol! You could possibly be drunk after just a few, and this was an easy task when they were serving the stuff in jugs! After dinner we wandered around Barranco for a bit more until we came to a nice looking bar, and went inside. We all had a few more drinks and eventually headed out to try out some of the local nightclubs. This was a mostly disappointing experience (at least on this night), as most clubs were near-empty and had more people outside trying to harrass you than on the inside. Eventually we were coaxed into one of these clubs by the allure of free drinks, only to find that they were small glasses of what seemed like a "shandy" (beer with lemonade), and there was noone really dancing. A little disheartened, we went back to the hotel early for the night.

PB191900.jpgStreets in Barranco, LimaPB191903.jpgLibrary in the plaza in Barranco

The next day we all decided to spend at a museum recommended by the concierge at the hotel, little did we know when we arrived that it contained an "erotic gallery"! Interested immediately, we went in to have a look. It turned out that the gallery had exhibits all on the ancient culture and sculptures concerning erotic practices of the Inca and other early Peruvian civilisations, interesting and at the same time amusing. We ended up being the only ones laughing in the gallery, resulting in strange stares from others! After viewing the gallery we all had some lunch in the museum at a restaurant abundant in ferns and other luxurious surroundings, a really relaxing place. The empanadas and other food from this place were awesome, and we were also lucky enough to have a waiter who spoke English :) After lunch we decided to also visit the other galleries in the museum (yes, there were others :P), which ended up being really interesting, and we all learnt quite a bit about the history of the Incas and other civilisations in ancient Peru (the Inca were just the latest civilisation, there were much more before them, and there was a lot of information about these in the museum).

PB201970.jpgTash with one of the statues in the museum

Getting quite late in the afternoon we then headed back to the hotel to get ready to meet the rest of our tour group for our "Peru on a Shoestring" tour. We ended up meeting in the evening with the tour guide and the rest of the group, all of whom seemed very friendly and around our age- lucky for us! As well as this, most of the group was from either Australia or New Zealand, so this was pretty cool. To start the night and get to know each other a bit better, we all caught taxis to a park in central Lima to see a fountain light show, showing every night in this city. The fountain lights were awesome, with many young people in the park giving the place a social atmosphere. You can see some of the photos of the lightshow below.

PB201989.jpgFountain light showPB202006.jpgMore fountain lights

Afterwards we all shared a taxi back to the main plaza in Barranco to visit some night markets and get some street food. Sharing a taxi which was crazily manuoevring through traffic was a great way for a few of us to get to know each other better, and we all happily talked about our trips, where we were from, what our plans were, what we had already seen of Lima, etc. Dinner at the street markets was also quite fun, getting to try some of the local specialties including some great bbq meat and passionfruit cheesecake (yum!). Having had our fill of nice, cheap food, as well as a few desserts and exotic cocktails, we all headed over to some of the nearby clubs, and at least for Laura, Shaun, Tash and I, try our luck a second time. Luckily this time we were recommended a club by the tour leader, and this turned out to be a great recommendation- the place was packed and had some really nice, cheap drinks. The night was really fun, with a few of us getting to dance, enjoy some beers, some very cheap cocktails/shots (never ordering "Something Special" again though!), and getting to know each other a bit better. I ended up stumbling back to the hotel around 2am, though the others partied hard until around 4 or 5 or so- there were some funny stories to tell the next day!! (I won't divulge too much, but it included getting close to strangers and being led into other clubs :P)

We also met up with some more group members the next morning, them having only just arrived. Our group was now complete, and within a few hours we were all headed on a bus to Arequipa for the start of our tour. After all getting familiar with each other and the newly arrived group members, we had some discussion about whether we should make a detour on the trip to Arequipa to a place called "Huachachina", famous for its sand dunes, dune buggying and sandboarding. This sounded like an awesome idea, and so we all pretty much decided to break off from the tour itinerary for a day and a bit to go visit this place (and lucky we did because this place was awesome!! More in the next blog post to come :) )

So adios for now, and see you again soon in Huachachina! :)

Posted by cbell88 14:09 Archived in Peru Tagged lima Comments (1)

San Francisco

Last destination for the US

sunny 25 °C

After spending a few days in Canada it was time to return back to the US with a trip to San Francisco. I was quite excited by this point as I had heard so much about this awesome city. The flight there went through Minneapolis in Minnesota, and interestingly it was snowing there when it wasn't even snowing in Ontario yet. I got to meet some interesting people on the flight as well, who lived just south of San Fran and gave me some great tips on what to do in the following days- they recommended seeing the famed red woods, either a bit north or south from the city, as well as checking out some other areas around the San Francisco bay.

Shaun and I arrived that night, and there were some awesome views of the bay and San Francisco as we travelled by shuttle to our hotel. The hotel we stayed at was amazing- Hotel Tomo in the Japantown area of SF, so everything was Japanese themed (think anime, strange vending machines, video games, etc.) We decided to try our luck with some of the local Japanese food for dinner (even though it was already around 11pm), and found a small restaurant for some sushi and teriyaki chicken. Wasn't the best japanese food I've ever had, but was authentic enough inside and we were kindof at a last resort as most of the restaurants were closed already (strange for such a large city to have such early closing times- much different to New York).

PB151391.jpgInside Hotel Tomo with cool Japanese themed rooms

We spent the next morning exploring a little of the SF downtown area (a little since the city is unexpectedly huge for being within a supposed 7 by 7 mile area). The walk down from the hotel to downtown was amazing- such beautiful houses which were all quite similar, 2-3 stories and seemingly Edwardian or Victorian in style (though this is actually a trick since most of the city's houses burned down in the early 1900s and were rebuilt in an imitative style). After a short time we arrived at Union Square, in the centre of downtown SF, and noticed some of the city's famed trams. We decided to catch the tram to Pier 39 on the harbour, and the ride was cool, going up some of the steep streets in an old rickety lever-operated tram. By this time, David and Dad had just arrived at SF, and we decided to meet them at the pier. Views from the pier were amazing- straight away seeing glimpses of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate bridge. The area had a really cool vibe too, with various street performers breakdancing and playing jazz music. After spending a little time around the pier, visiting another Hard Rock café and taking some of the great views, we met up with David and Dad and had some lunch down at the pier- mm, fresh fish and chips and a Corona (in a can too! Never seen this before). Sitting down to eat on the pier seemed like a mistake, though, as we were immediately swarmed by a group of seagulls (and these were massive, dwarfing those gulls we find in Sydney). The sight of a SF gull landing nearby to snatch your chips was quite intimidating, and we even saw people being attacked for their food.

PB151412.jpgCatching the tram in Union Square

PB151458.jpgViews of Pier 39

After lunch we all decided to rent a bike and go cycle over the Golden Gate. I highly recommend this, as we had an awesome time doing so. Our cycle route took us from the pier up to Fort Mason, on a hill with more amazing views, through parklands, beaches, more wharves, expensive houses, dunes and up to the Golden Gate. Riding on the Golden Gate was amazing, and really gave perspective on how huge this bridge is. As well as this, the riding lanes and infrastructure available for cycling in this city was amazing, and we had no trouble negotiating our way across to Sausalito, a small town on San Francisco Bay. From Sausalito we took the ferry bay to downtown SF and were lucky enough in our timing to see the Golden Gate in front of a stunning sunset, as well as passing closeby to Alcatraz Island. From the pier we arrived at we rode to Pier 39 to return the cycles, and this was a really cool experience, working our way through a bustling scene of harbourside restaurants, souvenir shops, industrial wharves and waterfront parks. Having had our fill, we all caught a bus back to downtown SF and decided to work our way to Haight-Ashbury for dinner. The Haight Ashbury area in SF was renowned for its "hippy" culture, influence and presence in the 1960s, and still keeps some of its charm in the form of record stores selling cool 60s and 70s albums. The place we chose for dinner was an Italian wine bar, and the food and drinks were amazing- pizza with some Italian red wine. Dad and I even managed to convince Shaun to try some of the wine- he had now become a fan.

PB151501.jpgDad, David and I in front of the Golden Gate bridge

PB151571.jpgShaun on the Ferry back from Sausalito

PB151583.jpgSunset under the Golden Gate viewed from the Ferry

PB151619.jpgArriving back at port in San Francisco

PB151621.jpgPier 39 at night

PB151632.jpgCatching the bus to Haight-Ashbury

The next day we decided to pay a visit to Silicon Valley, an area south of San Francisco famous for being the heart of the IT world, situated with many IT-related companies such as Google, Facebook, HP and eBay. We thought that the best way to do this was to print off a tour route from the internet and hire a car to drive around the valley, with tours being either nonexistent or very expensive. I was a little nervous about renting a car, since I had not driven on the right-hand side before, though my Dad assured me that I'd quickly get used to it, since I had been driving for quite a few years now. My nervousness blossomed into panic as I drove the rental car onto the streets of downtown SF- "you're too far to the left!", "get into the right lane!", etc etc. This was further complicated by immediate GPS troubles, as Shaun could not get the provided GPS working. Thus, it was now our mission to work through the series of one-way streets in downtown SF back to the rental station and get a working GPS. Luckily this was not too bad (traffic was quite light, fortunately), and the rental company provided a new GPS. With this problem settled we set the destination to our first stop in Silicon Valley- the garage where the Hewlett Packard (HP) company was formed. Fortunately for us the trip from SF to the Silicon Valley was mostly a straight expressway, and I had little trouble working my way to the first stop. Upon entering the suburbs of the valley, we were all impressed by the houses- in the words of Shaun, it looked like something out of "Desperate Housewives", with each house being immaculately kept, with nice lawns, etc. It was interesting getting to know some more of the history of the Silicon Valley, which had apparently been an initiative of a Stanford college professor to build up the local Californian technology industry, as talent in this area was usually going to the East Coast, such as Boston (MIT) and New York. After visiting the "HP garage", where founders of HP pioneered the Silicon Valley, we decided to cruise past a few company headquarters, including Skype, HP and VMWare. Navigating through left hand turns onto main roads without traffic lights was also a scary experience, and I was lucky I only had to do this a few times!

After driving by a few famous IT company headquarters, we arrived at the Computer History Museum, only to find that it was closed for maintenance and upgrades! So unlucky, but we were able to get directions to the Google headquarters from the receptionist who insisted that there was a "public tour" available for Google. It turned out that Google HQ was within walking distance, so we strolled on over to Mountain View and got excited by the increasing sights of Google signage. Pretty soon we were at the HQ, and unwillingly we walked straight into Google campus! This was a little strange, as we knew we were most likely not allowed in, but then everyone was pretty relaxed about it. We went further around the HQ to try and find a visitors centre, as we were still under the impression that a public tour was available. It was funny to see that Google had their own trademark bicycles hanging around in most places, and I could definitely see the use of them in getting around the massive complex. Soon we arrived at what we thought was a visitors centre, with glimpses of a Google merchandise store. My brother and dad, thinking this was also a public area, walked straight into the shop, while Shaun and I stayed back and asked the receptionist if any tours were available. We were surprised (well, really not that surprised) to find out that there were no actual public tours, and that only corporate visitors were allowed within the complex, including the giftshop. Shaun made mention that my dad and brother were in the shop and funnily, the receptionist replied "oh, that probably isn't a good thing" and messaged security to escort them out- they were so close to buying some Google shirts too! Oh well, at least we had looked around some of the Googleplex, but in doing so we wasted quite a bit of time in the hope that we'd have some sort of tour. Disheartened, we walked back to the car and drove on to the Intel Museum, which we knew for sure was open for the public :)

PB161647.jpgThe car we hired, a Chevy Malibu- not very tropical!

PB161654.jpgThe HP Garage in the Silicon Valley

PB161690.jpgOutside Google HQ

PB161711.jpgOutside the Intel Museum

The Intel Museum was interesting in that it showed much of the history of the company and its use of silicon in its processor manufacturing. I also got to pick up some souvenirs in the process :) Finally, we had decided to pay a visit to the Tech Museum in San Jose, which was meant to be quite good. It was getting quite late in the afternoon so we hurriedly made our way back to the expressway and drove into the small city of San Jose, casually driving past the Adobe headquarters and parking near the museum. Unfortunately, on a day of some disappointment, the museum had just closed! After looking around some of the souvenirs in the giftshop, we all made our way back to SF for dinner. On this drive I also experienced my first traffic jam in the US whilst driving :P, though amazingly, we were one of the only cars with more than one person inside, and so we ended up speeding down the transit lane in record time. Dinner that night was at "Mel's Drive-In", a classic, all-American 50s styled diner where we could park the car and have some deliciously greasy food - on the agenda for the evening were hamburgers, milkshakes and fries :)

PB161732.jpgSunset in San Jose

The next day I organised for us to visit Alcatraz, which was quite simple when done over the Internet and, despite being told we'd most likely not be able to get tickets due to over-booking, I easily got tickets for all 4 of us. Visiting Alcatraz was amazing! First of all, when arriving via ferry, there was a foreboding fog on the harbour, and we eventually saw the island arise from the mist. This only made the trip more eerie and heightened the experience. For looking around the island, we each got some funky audio tour equipment which directed us on where to go and what to see. It was interesting getting to learn about some of the former prisoners of Alcatraz, and how life was like on the rock. One of the worst things for the prisoners, I thought, was how beckoningly close SF looked from the island. There were beautiful cityscape views directly from the island, though the visibly strong currents in the water, combined with the threat of sharks and freezing water temperatures, ensured that prisoners were unable to escape. Another interesting fact was that regular civilians and children also lived on the island, separated from the prisoners in their own little village. These children would have to catch ferries to and from SF for schooling, and there was such security that whenever the prisoners were let out of their cells, the children would not be allowed out of their houses. I thought it was amazing that children could live on an enclosed island full of prisoners!

PB171750.jpgWelcome to Alcatraz..

PB171765.jpgAlcatraz prison

PB171812.jpgLet me out!!

After having our fill of touring Alcatraz, we all went back to have dinner in SF downtown, near Union Square- all you can eat Indian buffet! :) The day ended with an early night, as Shaun and I would be flying off to Peru the next day on a 7:30 am flight from SFO. The shuttle bus was to collect us at around 3:30, which was painful but necessary for an international flight. And so our trip in the US was at an end, and the time we spent in SF was wonderful but too short, in my opinion. SF is a city I'd really consider living in or at least visiting again sometime soon, as it was so laid-back, had beautiful sights, many things to do and really reminded me a little bit of Sydney (especially with the harbour lifestyle).

Posted by cbell88 11:41 Archived in USA Tagged san francisco Comments (0)

Ontario

Small trip to Canada

sunny 12 °C

And so my group's travels had now moved on to Canada, and we would be exploring mostly a small part of Ontario, having 3 days to spend. The flight into Toronto was quite good, and I particularly enjoyed the spectacular sunset when leaving Boston airport. Our first hurdle when we arrived into Toronto was to collect a rental car- and this indeed did end up being a hurdle! After much trouble with credit/debit cards, we finally got the car (an upgrade from what we originally had) and my Dad was to drive a Dodge Caravan (think massive American cars). Sure we had more space now, but we did lament not getting the sportier Dodge Challenger or Cruiser :P (awesome looking cars).

Now, my Dad had driven left-hand drive before in Europe, but that had been a little while ago now, and so there was a little challenge getting us out of Toronto airport. One of the biggest challenges was that the airport literally went out straight onto a series of highways, in which a driver used to right-hand drive would have to get used to driving very quickly! Another added challenge was working out our GPS, and luckily Shaun had some experience with these so was able to direct us to a location roughly where we wanted to go (we would find out later exactly where we needed to go :P). We were to drive to Aunty Jan's tonight, but we did not have the exact address and our USA phones were not working either… luckily I had my international sim card so we tried ringing Jan as soon as we reached somewhere to eat along the highway. The place we chose to eat was also a novelty- Wendy's (more American than Canadian but oh well). Everything here was supersize, as we were used to in the US, and it was an epic struggle to finish that bucket of softdrink and the towering burger that stood before us. After much tribulations and successfully calling Jan, we locked the GPS onto the correct location (Hillier) and followed a pretty much direct highway route for the rest of the trip. We had all arrived at Jan and Mariane's cottage quite late, and were relieved to have somewhere cosy and welcoming to sleep for the night (thanks Jan and Mariane!).

The next morning, after enjoying a rare sleep in ( :D ), Dad, David, Shaun and I headed off with Jan for a drive around some of the local towns and sights. I was expecting Canada to be freezing, but found, surprisingly, the weather very pleasant and warm, around 10-15 degrees. Indeed, in the sunlight it was very warm, and Shaun and I had found it funny to prove one of our lecturers wrong in saying that we'd be very underprepared for the "cold and harsh weather in Ontario" :P. Our first stop included going to a beautiful spot called "Lake on the Mountain", which contained a mysterious lake that seemed to have formed on a mountain. The scenery around here was stunning- deep blue sky, red, yellow and orange leaves, wonderful old houses, and a boatshed on the lake. Canada was looking pretty awesome :)

PB121286.jpgThe Inn at "Lake on the Mountain"PB121289.jpgStunning lake scenesPB121299.jpgShaun and I basking in some of that warm, Canadian sunshine :P

The rest of the day consisted of us firstly having some really good food (decently priced too) at an inn closeby. Our next stop was to visit a cabin on Lake Ontario belonging to Jan and Mariane, which had stunning views of the lake, if only you could mind the smell of the rotting algae :P This smell aside, the cabin was really cool, made almost entirely of wood, and had a tranquil location which would be great for a summer getaway (no swimming in the lake today though). Before we knew it, time had escaped us and the short winter day had started to end, so we headed back to the cottage in Hillier. Luckily we had got back in time for me to take some shots of the awesome sunset, very happy not to have missed that :) We had a great night chatting with Jan and Mariane about all sorts of things, and enjoyed some Canadian beer, as well a small sample of the famed "ice wine" (loved this!).

PB121311.jpgViews of Lake Ontario from the cabinPB121316.jpgThe cabin on Lake OntarioPB121324.jpgInside the cabin enjoying the views of the lake..PB121337.jpgStunning sunset at the cottage in HillierPB121339.jpgSome more of those cool looking barnsPB121342.jpgI like the way that the sunset is reflected on these windows..PB121343.jpgThe shape of these trees is strange and full of characterPB121350.jpgLast shots of the sun..PB121352.jpgA small glimpse of the moon

The next day was spent visiting a place called "Silent Lake", which was also beautifully scenic. The drive there took us a few hours, in which Jan was able to show us quite a bit of what the Canadian countryside looks like (very rocky with variations of grasses, pines, junipers and maples). This part of Ontario was also referred to as "Granite Country", due to the high concentration of granite in the rocks. Especially nice was the pink granite present in some of these rocks. Once we had arrived at the lake, it was funny to see, out of all places, a vending machine! Who would've though, a soft drink vending machine in a national park picnic area… See below for some of the shots of the picturesque Silent Lake- especially liked the lone pine tree on one of the lake's islands.

PB131356.jpgVending machine in the Silent Lake national park- unlikely spot!PB131357.jpgPicnic area at Silent LakePB131360.jpgStunning lake views..PB131369.jpgChilling by the lake..PB131372.jpgThere it is!PB131374.jpgThat awesome lone pine island :PPB131376.jpgJan and Dad admiring the LakePB131379.jpgGreat day for some canoeing!

And so unfortunately our time in Ontario, Canada was coming to an end- and so quickly! I will definitely need to come back and explore some more of this beautiful and vast country, which seemed to take forever to get to somewhere that looked so deceivingly close on the map (or so I thought :P). The next day we left quite early to Toronto for our flight to San Francisco, and made our preparations to get back into the US once again.

Au revoir Canada and hello again USA :)

Posted by cbell88 19:46 Archived in Canada Tagged mountain the on lake ontario ice wine hillier silent Comments (2)

Boston

Days 5 and 6 of the East Coast USA tour

sunny 10 °C

After appreciating the falls the next stop was Boston- a long bus trip to the east coast of the US. This trip took pretty much all day to complete, and we arrived in Boston just in time for some of its famous steamed lobster for dinner. This lobster dish certainly lived up to its fame- was absolutely delicious, though a little small (ones I've had before have been a bit bigger). After swinging on some of the famed Boston lampposts and taking some snaps of the city at night, our tour group headed back to the Crown Plaza for some sleep.

PB101126.jpgDowntown Boston at nightPB101131.jpgMmmm...Boston Lobster270_PB101136.jpgSwinging off those Boston lampposts

The next day begun at a very sleepy 5am (yes, it was painful waking up this early on a holiday D:, though necessary due to the heavy Boston traffic) and included us firstly heading over to Harvard University for some breakfast. I was amazed at how big Harvard University was when we entered- it had its own town and everything, the historic Cambridge, and included a lot of beautiful colonial architecture. We were guided around the old campus of Harvard and informed a bit about its history. I took the chance to get a photo with the founder of the school since it was said that it could bring good luck :P

PB111144.jpgCharles River outside Harvard- makes me think back to the movie '21'PB111151.jpgInside Harvard University- beautiful buildingsPB111155.jpgStanding inside Harvard UniversityPB111159.jpgGetting good luck from the founder of Harvard :PPB111168.jpgMore of that beautiful architecturePB111173.jpgA description of the old town of Cambridge, just next to Harvard University

After walking a bit through Harvard our next stop was the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a university famous for its technological courses and success of its students. The institute itself was very Roman/gothic looking, and definitely gave the impression that it favoured science over religion (as opposed to Harvard perhaps). It was cool being able to go through this school and see the various halls and classrooms, and I was glad to see that they also had an Information Systems faculty, the area I had just completed studying in. Shaun, Dad, David and I finished the tour of the school with a few photos in the graduation yard, as well as in front of the main hall.

PB111176.jpgOut the front of MITPB111179.jpgInside the front hall of MITPB111186.jpgShaun and I outside in the graduation lawn of MIT

The next stop on the tour of Boston was a visit to downtown, and here we stopped at a plaza to take some photos of some of the awesome churches and skyscrapers surrounding us. After this brief visit we made our way over to the water for a cruise of Boston harbour. The sights here were awesome and made me a little homesick for my own harbour in Sydney :(
Nonetheless, the cruise showed us some of the interesting wharf areas in Boston and the stories associated with them, some of which included drug trade, as the harbour was quite a bustling marketplace in its time. Today, though, much of the wharves have been converted into nice restaurants and luxury apartments, much like what has also happened in Sydney.

PB111219.jpgLooking out over Boston HarbourPB111234.jpgThe USS Constitution on Boston HarbourPB111238.jpgWharves on Boston Harbour

To finish the day, our tour group next visited the Faneuil and Quincy markets, famous for the Boston clam chowder. I had some of this for lunch and can say that, even though I'm not the biggest fan of seafood, this was delicious.

PB111255.jpgQuincy Markets, BostonPB111260.jpgInside Quincy Markets

And so the East Coast tour was now at an end, and our guide dropped my brother, dad, Shaun and I at Boston Logan airport. Overall I was very satisfied with the tour and especially with the value we got out of it. Boston would also be somewhere I'd like to come back to one day to explore a little more, especially to get into some of those little harbourside suburbs and observe more of the architecture of the place (loved the style of housing used). With the end of the tour was also the end of my time in the US for a little while, with the next place on the itinerary being a trip to see Aunty Jan in Canada.

So goodbye USA! Will see you again soon in San Francisco :)

PB111270.jpgFlying out over Boston during the sunset- amazing colours

Posted by cbell88 18:37 Archived in USA Tagged harbour lobster boston harvard clam mit wharves chowder Comments (0)

Hershey, Corning, Niagara Falls

USA East Coast Tour days 3 & 4

sunny 13 °C

So having finished at DC, the next stop on the tour was Hershey. For this we had to head back north out of Washington and into the countryside of Pennsylvania. This time we could all truly appreciate the sights since last time we were travelling through to Philadelphia it was at night. Some of the interesting sights seen included many rivers (some with rapids), brightly coloured autumn trees and cute little barn houses scattered here and there. We were even lucky enough to spot a horse-drawn cart on the side of the road with Amish people!

The first stop in Pennsylvania was Hershey, famous for its chocolate and candy products, and so the place we visited was the Hershey Chocolate Factory- very much like what you would see in a Willy Wonka movie. Being able to visit a chocolate factory for us meant one thing- tasting some free samples! The tour of the factory included seeing how the chocolate products were made, contributed to mostly by the apparently awesome dairy cows in Hershey. Next on the agenda was the Corning Museum of Glass- a stop described as equally exciting as the last one by our tour guide (hey, pretty hard act to follow). Can say, though, that the museum was also pretty awesome- there were quite a few applications of glass and discoveries made at Corning, such as fiber optics (these were actually first produced here) that I didn't know about before.

PB091015.jpgIn front of Hershey's Chocolate FactoryPB091019.jpgThe start of the chocolate manufacturing tourPB091026.jpg2kg or 5lb of Hershey's chocolate :OPB091027.jpgMy breakfast- a Hershey's "Reese Pie" - needless to say it was filling :PPB091046.jpgDemonstration of glassblowing at Corning Museum of GlassPB091061.jpgVarious applications of Corning glassPB091053.jpgVarious glass beakers produced at Corning

After finishing in the museum it was getting quite late, and by dinner time we had reached Niagara Falls. Upon first entering the area I was amazed by the amount of fog and clouds about- I was later informed that this was actually the mist produced by the falls (the falls have their own microclimate!). Unfortunately not a lot could be seen at night, though there were a few lasers about lighting up some of the mist so that was kind of cool. Dinner was spent at the Hard Rock café- my first time at one of these famous restaurants. Can say that I was very impressed with the burgers (so good!) and the rock memorabilia was great.

PB091068.jpgSign welcoming us to Niagara FallsPB091067.jpgThe Hard Rock cafePB091071.jpgVarious rock memorabilia in the HRCPB091074.jpgHorseshoe Falls (Niagara Falls) at night

Seeing the falls the next morning was a much better experience- I could truly appreciate the scale and grandeur of both of the falls we visited. We also got to see a quick film about some of the history of the falls- interestingly it was first thought that there was a passage from Europe to China through them! I also learned about the "maid of the mist" legend associated with the falls, though unfortunately the Maid of the Mist boat tour of the falls was closed! Oh well, no getting wet this time :P

PB101097.jpgHorseshoe falls by dayPB101105.jpgIn front of the Horseshoe fallsPB101106.jpgThe America Falls (Niagara Falls)PB101125.jpgRapids in river approaching the falls

Posted by cbell88 10:14 Archived in USA Tagged glass falls niagara hershey corning Comments (0)

Philadelphia and Washington DC

East Coast USA Day 2

sunny 15 °C

Was a little sad after leaving New York so soon, though also excited to be going to see Washington DC and the other places on the tour. The next stop was Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania, the "Independence State" in the US, since it was where the declaration of independence was signed, as well as where a lot of the organisation behind it went on. Our hotel was pretty nice- another 4 star stay at the Hyatt this time, right on the Delaware River. Not much could be seen on the night we arrived so I headed off pretty much straight to bed. In the morning I woke up to views of the river, as well as a few old navy ships and some small views of downtown Philadelphia. Our tour stops in this city included the Independence Hall, which was the first house of government within the United States, and also the Liberty Bell, which was said to have been rung to tell the townspeople that the US was to revolt to become a republic. After seeing these we all had a little time for breakfast, and so what better way to immerse ourselves in American food culture than go to a breakfast buffet? :P - I think I overloaded a bit on this one, going for a donut, french toast, pancakes, etc etc, but hey, when in Rome..

PB080796.jpgThe view from the hotel of the Delaware RiverPB080799.jpgThe USS OlympiaPB080820.jpgIndependence Hall

After this the tour's next stop was in Washington DC. The drive down was beautiful!- seeing all these green, red, and gold leaves with Autumn/Fall in full display. Washington DC itself was also great, though reminded me somewhat of Canberra- small and seemingly empty of people (or maybe this was because it was on the weekend). Unexpectedly, our first stop was the Smithsonian Aerospace Museum, which was a welcome surprise!- we all ended up being able to see remarkable things like Apollo 11, the Wright Brothers' plane, the Spirit of St Louis and other unique sights. I'd definitely recommend making a stop to this museum if you're ever in DC (the museum also had its own McDonalds which I thought was pretty funny, and again something you’d only ever see in America :P). After this we all made our way over to Capitol Hill, which has the famous dome and is where Congress is now held. We were all told that this place was mistakenly referred to as the White House (myself included), though the White House was actually a much smaller house where the President lives, not where congress is held. One of the scary parts of this was just seeing the guns that the guards here had- they were massive! You wouldn't dream of getting too close heh. Though we were able to stand in front and take some photos, just below the steps- you can see some photos of Shaun, David, Dad and I being all American and doing the salute :P

PB080843.jpgIn front of Apollo 11 at the SmithsonianPB080863.jpgThe Wright Brother's "Flying Machine" at the SmithsonianPB080886.jpgGiving the salute in front of the US CapitolPB080898.jpgUlysses S Grant Memorial at the foot of Capitol Hill

Capitol Hill also had amazing views down to the Washington monument, the Jefferson memorial and other buildings closeby, again kind of reminding me of our Parliament House in Canberra, with being able to see down to the Anzac memorial, etc. The tourbus then continued through DC downtown, passing by various departmental buildings (and making snide remarks about the IRS :P). We eventually came to stop at a Madame Tassauds, which was pretty cool and my first time in this famous wax museum chain. Here we all got to have photos with Obama, various former presidents (including good ol' George W hehe) as well as movie stars, sporting legends, etc.

PB080918.jpgBeing interrogated by J Edgar HooverPB080922.jpgDad with George W Bush :PPB080923.jpgMeeting with the Obama familyPB080926.jpgBusiness as usual..PB080943.jpgDavid wearing Abe Lincoln's hatPB080945.jpgShaun in the 100 dollar bill

Next stop was the Jefferson Memorial, which was huge! This building was dedicated to the memory of Thomas Jefferson, a collaborator who was part of the formation of the declaration of independence, and was very highly respected by President Roosevelt who organised the building of the memorial. Everything in DC seemed huge, white and Roman/gothic looking, but very beautiful nonetheless. It was interesting reading the various extracts of the declaration of independence in the memorial, and how ideal and pure the first intentions of setting up the US was- something they can surely look back at now and use to cross-examine some of their current situations. After this was another memorial- the Lincoln Memorial, and this had the famous statue of a seated Abraham Lincoln. Around here we also visited the various war memorials dedicated to those who served during the Vietnam and Korean wars, as well as World Wars I and II. Last on the list of places to visit in DC was the White House, which was very well guarded and protected let me assure you. We were able to stand behind a road, which was behind fences and a field in front of the place, though fortunately we could still see glimpses of the house (though no Obama :( ).

PB080967.jpgThe Jefferson MemorialPB080975.jpgPB080992.jpgHolding the Washington Monument :PPB081003.jpgThe Lincoln MemorialPB081006.jpgThe Vietnam War Memorial

So all up, DC was an interesting city to visit, very much like our own capital, and it was cool being able to see those monuments always shown on TV which now seemed so much more real.

Posted by cbell88 15:21 Archived in USA Tagged washington philadelphia dc Comments (0)

New York

Start spreading the news...

sunny 15 °C

First things first, what an amazing city. The first night in New York was spent staying at the Americana Inn, a few blocks away from Times Square. It was exciting to wake up to the sounds of a policewoman blowing a whistle to direct traffic at an intersection, and window views of Delicatessens and bagel houses.

It was quite an adventure to get to NY, with having to fly for a total of around 26 hours. On top of this, Shaun, my travelling buddy, missed the plane in Sydney due to not having the visa waiver form filled out! - this would not have been a problem usually, though for some reason this time, the system crashed, forcing Shaun to wait for the next available flight. This was certainly a surprise to me when I was waiting in the departure lounge at Sydney airport! My flight route took me from Sydney to Los Angeles, then a connecting flight to Memphis, Tennessee and finally New York city. Flying with Delta was an interesting experience, from LA to NY, as there were mostly locals and business people travelling home for the weekend. I had the chance to talk to a girl who was going to visit her mum in Tampa, Florida, who was going to compete in an Iron Man competition - quite a feat. Some of the funny questions she asked, though, were "oh, where is Sydney?" and "how big is Australia? I've heard it's the size of Colorado"…

After landing in NY at La Guardia airport I felt relief and happiness at having made it this far, and quickly looked around for a shuttle to take me to Manhattan Island (as the airport was in Queens, the area east of Manhattan). This was quite an experience- the shuttle driver took us around some of the key sights in NY, such as the Trump Hotel, Central Park, Times Square, etc. though the highlight of the trip was when we were in Times Square and a taxi (cab in NY) cut ahead of us and tore off his bumper bar! Much to our misfortune this was right in front of a flock of police cars and we were told to go ahead without the driver, as he'd be stuck in talks with the police for an hour or two. So I had just arrived in a foreign city with slight jetlag and I had to find the hotel myself! This was definitely a challenge, but one I enjoyed. After getting to the hotel and meeting up with my Dad and brother, I quickly unpacked and got some well needed rest.

The next day was a chance to explore some of the city with my Dad and brother. We ended up starting the day with breakfast at a bakery - bagels! And wow, I have to admit that bagels are a lot more filling than I had imagined, especially with the amount of cream cheese that they managed to spread on them! (lets just say that the cream cheese was kept in an icecream container, and that the amount they spread on was a few centimetres thick!) This, as well as a "small" coffee (about the size of a large soft drink cup from McDonalds in Australia) managed to keep me full until dinner. Some of the highlights of the day were visiting Times Square, seeing a squirrel (so cute!!), visiting Macy's (huge department store in NYC), seeing the Flat Iron building and visiting Soho and Chelsea, really nice artistic districts of NYC. Walking around the city gives a sense of how huge it is- I also managed to take the subway down from around Times Square to around 8th street station. These subway trains are much faster and more efficient than the ones we have in Sydney, though they seemed to have quite a bit of trackwork going on during the weekends (which became annoying later on when we tried to return to the hotel!- more on that later).

PB060543.jpgDavid and I at Times SquarePB060580.jpgA squirrel! :DPB060598.jpgChelsea, NYCPB060569.jpgThe Flat Iron Building

After visiting Soho, dinner was at "Little Italy" in downtown NYC, where I had some of the best pasta and cannoli I've ever eaten. The food there was amazing! I’d definitely recommend the Italian food in NYC, and I will be comparing this to the food in Italy later on in this trip. With night time already approaching, we had to then make plans to meet up with our tour company in Newark, New Jersey. This would be quite a challenge as we were still in downtown NYC, with the subways going back to midtown (our hotel's location) being closed for trackwork! This had resulting in all of us walking about 30 blocks or so until we finally found an open subway station, taking us back to Grand Central station- an epic building with a lot of history. My second day in America ended with a cab ride from our hotel to Newark, which was around an hour away, to the hotel to meet the tour company, Tours4Fun. At this hotel we also met up with Shaun, who had arrived at NY earlier that evening.

The next day was the first official day of our tour, which was to take us around NYC and see some more of its main attractions. The highlights of the day were visiting Wall St, the Statue of Liberty, the Intrepid Sea, Space and Air museum, Ground Zero, the UN building, and finally the Empire State Building- such awesome views from the top! I swear<br/, you could see to the next state or something, the view was so good. This was the last attraction to see in the city, and with much regret we left New York that night to head for Philadelphia with the tour. I could have happily spent weeks in NY exploring it inside out, and will definitely consider coming back in the future.

PB070612.jpgWall StreetPB070693.jpgMe with the Statue of LibertyPB070775.jpgUnited Nations CenterPB070776.jpgLooking up at the Empire State Buildingny_skyline.jpgNew York City Skyline from the Empire State Building

Posted by cbell88 13:40 Archived in USA Tagged new york Comments (2)

Excitement!

Welcome, preparations and heading off from Sydney..

overcast 18 °C

Woo! Getting excited now!

All is finished - uni exams and thesis and packing is pretty much complete (plus, I'll be able to fit my backpacking bag on the plane carry-on luggage), so all is good :)

At the top of this page you can see a map with all of the destinations I will be visiting, and I'll be continually updating this blog as I begin to visit each one. Look forward to seeing many photos (hopefully this time of people as well as landscape shots :P), hearing some interesting stories and finding out a bit more about the world.

Goodbye to all my friends and family in Australia- will be a long and hard 3 months without you guys, but I'll make sure to keep in touch both via this blog, or feel free to skype me whenever I'm online (cameron.bell88), give me an email (cbell88@gmail.com), or msn me (if I ever get on msn heh). Facebook is fine too.

So farewell, adios, ciao, au revoir, auf wiedersehen and see you all soon!

bag.jpg

Posted by cbell88 13:04 Archived in Australia Tagged sydney welcome farewell Comments (1)

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