Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Updated: The map (& some more numbers) + a thank you / El mapa (y algunas cifras mas)

So... finally got around to adding the map of our route. 

 Legend: see below

Also (as of 2016 Mar 16) we have finally got around to starting another blog, to capture further travels: 


We will add further posts to this, to catch up with recent travels. 


In solid blue: driving ourselves.

In light blue: driving ourselves in a hire car (Brasilia to Goias and back).

In green: ourselves and the car on the Amazon Star, from Belém to Manaus.

In blue square hatched line: flights (from Juliaca to Cuzco and back, with the car parked in Juliaca; because the highway was closed owing to blockades; and from Rio to Brasilia and back, because it made more sense to fly than spend six days driving to Brasilia and back).

In blue round hatched line: rail from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes and back to Ollantaytambo.

In red: from Paraitepuy to Monte Roraima and back (6 days hiking).

Some more statistics/observations:

We made it to the furthest south on the mainland you can go by private car, also the furthest south on the continent, the furthest east on the mainland, and within 50 Km of the northernmost point on the mainland of South America, and 80 Km of the westernmost point on the mainland.

Highest elevation driven in Peru was 4872m (15,986 ft) heading north from Arequipa to Chivay; in Bolivia it was on the way south through the Parque Eduardo Avaroa, at 5029m (16,501 ft). In Chile, heading to Argentina via the Jama Pass we reached 4800m (15,750 ft). Nothing came close to these elevations in any other countries.

Total elevation climbed in the car during the trip was 292,022m (958,125 feet), which is 33 Mount Everests (actually more than this since the GPS didn't capture all of the trajectories).

If anyone is interested in more specifics please comment.

We have updated this post to add a note of thanks and recognition (we sent out a note to all, however it seems appropriate to add this to the blog as well):

After 326 days and 48,911 Km we are now back in Bogotá, having spent every moment of the trip enjoying, learning, and meeting many people. In particular we would like to offer thanks to all those who have helped, advised, or welcomed us:


In Colombia: Juan Carlos at Nissan

For Perú: Stan

For Bolivia: Jorge, Carlos & Mariana

For Argentina: Wilfredo, George

For Brazil: Shafe, Alan,

For Venezuela: Jose Ignacio, Erik, Keith, Johnny & Mac

On the journey:

Perú: Stan in Lima, Delia in Huancayo, Olivier & Rulo in Chachapoyas,

Bolivia: Luis, Sonia y Anahi in Uyuni, Jorge in Las Palomas, Cecilia, Roxana, Omar and the Chaco team in Santa Cruz de la Sierra ,

Argentina: Adriana & Marcelo in Mendoza, Alejandro & Julito at Sierra Andía, Jorge, Bernabé & Wilfredo in Comodoro Rivadavia, Wilfredo, George, Carlos & Estrella, Fernando, & Dave in Buenos Aires, Gary at the Polo match, Marisol & Nicolas at Puerto Valle?, The Coll family in Tandíl, Erik in El Bolsón

Brazil: Pilar in Rio, Patricia, Marcio & Scott in Jericoacoara, Jorge & Maríia Claudia in Salvador, Gordinho & Raimundo en route to Barreirinhas, Victoria on the Amazon Star

Venezuela: Erik, Romel in Santa Elena de Uairén, Roger, Leo and the team in Roraima, Victor and his team in the Orinoco Delta, Basilio in Maturín, Jose Ignacio & Keith in Puerto la Cruz, Alberto, Alberto & Andrés in Colonia Tovar, Lucho, Janeth and the circus in San Cristóbal,

Colombia: Elena, Álvaro & Leonor in Pamplona, Pedro & Leonor in Bucaramanga

Honourable mention also to the Australian X-Trail Forum.


Alan and Marce

Photos may be  used for non-commercial purposes with credit to alanymarce@gmail.com

If interested in further travels, look at http://alanymarcemoreexploration.blogspot.com.co

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Statistics and the Toys (In English)

This post is intended to capture some statistics, for those who appreciate them, and also to note some details of the stuff we took along for the trip.
The statistics:

325 nights / 326 days
173 hotels/posadas/campsites/cabins
48,911 Km driven in our car, using 5781 L of gasoline
600 Km (approx) driven in a hire car (Brasilia to Goias and back)
Lots of Km being driven locally (taxis/tour trucks/buses/etc.)
Lots of ferries (didn’t count them)
1500 Km by river boat (Amazon from Belém to Manaus)
Train journeys from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes and back to Ollantaytambo
17 border crossings
196 blog posts (and counting…)
56,488 photos
The toys:

Car: Nissan X-Trail i, with addition of mesh stone guards to protect radiators, otherwise standard.
Additional tools: key spares for car, tow strap 8T + shackles, traction mats, jump leads, small shovel, high capacity jack + base pad, wheel chocks, 10m climbing rope, sling, and carabiner, air compressor, extra tool kit. Extra fire extinguisher
Service stops in Lima, Sucre, Santiago, Punta Arenas, Buenos Aires, Porto Alegre, Feira de Santana, Salvador de Bahia (balancing and alignment), Olinda (tyres only), Sao Luis (repairs to reverse lights and underbody protectors), Belem,.
Mechanical problems: none (!), the car was perfect throughout, apart from the results of bad alignment in Punta Arenas (see below). The alignment was finally done properly in Salvador. Note: thank you to the Australian X-Trail Forum (http://www.australianxtrail.com.au/) for helping out with the alignment specs, which Nissan Brasil could not provide(!).
Punctures - 5: 1 leaving Riobamba? (nail), 2 in 13 Km en route La Higuera to Villa Serrano (unknown however believe road surfaced with sharp stones basically), 1 east of the Jama Pass entering Argentina (cause unknown), 1 in Brumadinho (sharp steel sliver).
Tyres: left home with 4 new Yokohama Geolander 594 (allegedly 50/50 HT/AT), these proved inadequate and were replaced by 4 x Dunlop Grand Trek AT3, which were good, however incorrect tyre alignment in Punta Arenas (used T30 specs instead of T31!) resulted in excessive wear and these were replaced by 4 x Pirelli Scorpion ATR in Olinda, which have been fine.
Navigation: Garmin Colorado 300 GPS, Silva compass

Cameras: 2 x EOS Rebel T1i , 1 x Casio Exilim EX-Z60
Lenses: Canon EF 18-55mm Ultrasonic, Canon EF 70-300mm Ultrasonic, Canon EF 70-300mm, Sigma DG 150-500mm APO HSM
Tripod: Slik 35D,
Monopod: Vanguard MP-4

Binoculars: Nikon Sporter I 10 x 36, Leica Trinovid 8 x 20 RCA
Music: iPod 80 Gb, iPod 120 Gb, Griffin FM transmitter
Leatherman: 1 x Wave , 2 x Squirt Ps4, 1 x Skeletool CX
Knives: Swiss Army (various)
Merrell Waterpro Gauley Black x 2 pairs,
Sperry Top-Sider x 1 pair,
Havaianas x 1 pair
Merrell Chameleon Wrap Slam Army hiking boots
Salomon hiking boots
Outdoor clothing:
Mountain Equipment Coop: Hydrofoil Jacket x 2
Lippi: Jacarandá x 2, Chacaya x 1
North Face: TNF APEX x 2
Eddie Bauer: Whittaker First Ascent x 2
Backpacks (Mountain Equipment Coop):
Deuter Race EXP,
Deuter Race EXP Air
Mad Rock climbing rope bags (for the back seats – food and drink),
Cardon Leather roller kit bags (emergency kit and cold weather clothes),
Samsonite and Eddie Bauer roller kit bags (clothes and day-to-day necessities)
Other stuff: Mountain Equipment Coop thermos cups x 2, large thermos for hot water.
Medical kit: designed for the trip.
Maps: International Travel Maps, Vancouver, plus multiple other sources.
Guide Books: Lonely Planet, Footprint, Bradt, Oceano, and others
Some luxuries/emergency supplies: Pringles, Ting Ting Jahe ginger candies, Cadbury and Lindt chocolate, sardines, “Be” water in 2 x 5L bottles, Coca Cola zero and light. 

Photos may be  used for non-commercial purposes with credit to alanymarce@gmail.com

If interested in further travels, look at http://alanymarcemoreexploration.blogspot.com.co

Friday, 1 July 2011

Goiás: the Lost Post (English only, some photos not all)

In planning for Brazil we had identified the old city of Velho Goiás as a place to visit, along with Pirenópolis. Founded in 1727, and now a UNESCO World Heritage site, we wanted to see the colonial centre of Goiás. Pirenópolis was also founded in 1727 and while not a UNESCO site is an important and attractive colonial city. This post records two aspects of our visit to these two places

1) Finding the way, there and back again:

We had found that Brazilian mapping is a probabilistic science: roads found on maps are not always present in reality, or at least are found to be in a condition different from that indicated on the map. In general Brazilians have limited knowledge of the geography of their country, let alone of the wider world. Knowledge is often restricted to personal knowledge of the immediate area, and routes are known only by personal experience, often out of date.

We knew that Goiás lies to the west of Brasilia, and according to Google Maps could be reached by a federal highway, BR070, heading west from Brasilia more or less directly west, a distance of 264 Km with an estimated time for the journey of 3 hours 23 minutes.

Experience led us to be aware that it was a good idea to check this against an independent source of information, so we looked at the Guia Quatro Rodas, online, which gave us the identical route, showing a distance of 273 Km. No time estimate is given by this site, however the road is shown as a federal highway in good condition. Experience with other federal highways led us to conclude that the journey would take around 4-1/2 hours each way.

To make the trip, since we had chosen to save six days of travel time to and from Brasilia by leaving the car in Rio and flying to and from Brasilia, we rented a car for the day, and left early in the morning with the plan of reaching Goiás around midday, giving us a couple of hours there before returning via Pirenópolis, where we have time for a brief stop before heading back to Brasilia to arrive before dark. This plan proved to be optimistic…

The first part of the route west was fine, a four-lane highway to a crossroads where the road heads southwards towards Cocalzinho de Goiás. This road continues southward towards Anápolis, as shown on both sources of reference. Once in the vicinity of the area where the highway allegedly turns towards the west again, continuing as BR 070, we expected to find a junction where the Anápolis road turned off the highway to the south. We found no such junction. The road continued southwards with no turnoffs visible. BR 070 simply did not exist… We reached a turnoff marked Pirenópolis, and took this, continuing beyond the city to a junction which proved to be the BR 153. We took this northwards, hoping to encounter the missing BR 070 further north, however passed the alleged location with no sign of it. When we reached a junction to Jaraguá we took this, since this would lead us west again. The road proved to be in terrible shape, and it took an hour or so to cover about 30 Km to Itaguaru, where we headed south again, back towards the missing BR 070. When we reached the area where BR 070 ought to be, we found that there was indeed a road labelled BR 070, heading west, and that there was indeed a track of sorts in the opposite direction, however the staff at the gas station on the junction said that this was only a minor local road, and did not lead anywhere…

We then continued to Goiás via Itaberai, with no further mystery.

By the time we had arrived we had covered 345 Km (81 and 90 Km more than the distance claimed on Google Maps and Quatro Rodas (respectively); it was clear that returning to Brasilia that day was out of the question and we sought a place to stay, finding a pleasant pousada near the centre.

Our return to Brasilia was another adventure. The appalling state of the road from Itaguaru to Jaraguá, experienced on the way to Goiás, led us to seek an alternative route. Advice obtained locally gave us no further clarity on the missing BR 070, and suggested that the best option was simply to head southeast to Goiânia, then northeast to Brasilia, a route which was clearly a lengthy one, given that the two main roads are two sides of the triangle, on which the BR 0780 is the base (albeit that the base was known to be non-existent). This became our base case, despite the fact that we had no desire to transit Goiânia, assuming that the traffic would be heavy and the time required would hence be considerable. In addition, this route would not allow us to visit Pirenópolis, at least not without a further detour, on a route in which we had limited confidence. However we set off by this route, with the intention of seeking a route to avoid Goiânia, once on the way, and using local knowledge.

We identified a possible route via Santa Rosa de Goiás, however when we asked about this route on arriving at the junction, found that the route beyond Santa Rosa was apparently closed, since the bridge across the main river was down(!). We continued to Itauçu, where we found a truck stop outside a factory gate, and decided that the truckers might be able to offer good information on our options. The ensuing conference was an amusing insight into Brazilian trucking, since it turned out that opinion was divided on the topic. Initially no-one was interested in our solicitude for advice, however one of the truckers took interest, and when the map was brought out, each of the others began to connect with the discussion. It was clear that there was essentially no knowledge other than that gained personally, although hearsay was also employed. The weighty opinion of the weightiest trucker prevailed, and although the route via Goiânia was the most favoured, his personal experience of an alternative route led the conference to conclude that turning off this route at Inhumas and taking the road to Petrolina would be the best option, by-passing Goiânia and taking us back to BR 153 near San Francisco de Goiás. This proved to be a good road, and allowed us to return via BR 153 and then to Brasilia via Pirenópolis.

An observation on road signs: we noted that junctions were frequently marked (in terms of the destinations associated with each leg of the junction), only in certain directions. In other words we found that it was a good plan, at a junction suspected to require a turn off the main road, to leave the junction in all directions, returning again to see what signs were available approaching the junction from each direction again.

So, our round trip to Goiás proved to be an adventure in route-finding, and an excellent example of the failings in Brazilian road maps, take a look at the map to see the alleged and actual routes.

The total distance there and back was over 700Km, versus Google's 526Km!

2) Goiás and Pirenópolis

Both of these are attractive colonial towns, with much of the original architecture well-conserved.

Goiás focuses around the river, and has a small plaza with a few stores and cafés, a restaurant or two. It was relatively quiet when we visited, and proved to be a pleasant stop for a night. The attractive streets are surfaced with large flagstones, and the multi-coloured buildings line these streets in all of the central area. Unfortunately the Museu das Bandeiras was closing as we arrived, and was closed the following day, however the exterior, and its setting in a triangular plaza, were attractive, as was the ambience, with horseriders passing by in the late afternoon, and children returning home at the end of the school day. We stayed in a pousada close to the centre, and ate an unremarkable dinner across the street. The café we found on the plaza was friendly and had good things to eat, as well as giving for us a local guide book which we admired; although the one in the café was their only one, the proprietor had another at home and brought it into the café the following morning for us to collect.

It seems that Pirenópolis, much closer to Brasilia, is a destination for day trips on weekends from the latter, and has more in the way of souvenir and artesania stores, along with more cafés and restaurants than Goiás. Another attractive town, it too is built in a river valley, with streets ascending the valley slopes, however these are cobbled with various different cobbles: flags, smaller stones set vertically, and concrete setts (unfortunately).

We walked around the town centre, enjoyed a light lunch and then headed back to Brasilia, where we discovered that the main highway into town was closed to inbound traffic until shortly before the deadline for returning our hire car (without having to pay for another day). This measure, to faclilitate traffic flowing out of the city in the evening rush hour, led to concern that we would not make the deadline, however once the road was open, the broad multi-lane streets, coupled with a good guess on how to reach the rental agency in the confusing city layout, allowed to us to return the car with no problem, albeit after two days versus our original plan of one. Anyone thinking of a day trip from Brasilia to Goiás should take into account the uncertainties of the route, as noted above.


Alan & Marce

Footnote: we later found a map on www.cidadeshistoricas.art.br which finally explained the missing BR070. It seems that this federal highway is in fact a dirt track...

if it exists at all…

Sunday, 5 June 2011

So where is the lad? / ¿Y donde está el chico?

Y llegó el día en que entramos nuevamente a Colombia, la vía de salida era conocida así que manos al volante y a la carretera. La ruta, como es frecuente en Venezuela, tiene un paisaje atractivo, lleno de curvas y pendientes, que acompañado de un día soleado produce placer.

So arrived the day when we entered Colombia again, we knew the way onto the road, so hands to the wheel and off we went. The route, as frequently in this part of Venezuela, is attractive in terms of scenery, tortuous horizontally and vertically, which on a sunny day is pleasant to drive.

Pasamos los puestos de control de la policía sin ningún inconveniente, hasta el puesto de control de migración. El primer reto encontrar parqueadero para el carro, resultó muy simple de resolver, el policía del lugar nos autorizó a parquear en un esquina al frente de la estación de policía para hacer el trámite requerido.

We passed the police checkpoints with no inconvenience, and continued to the Immigration Office. The first challenge was finding a parking spot, however this proved easy to solve, the policeman outside the main police station happily suggesting that we park on the corner in front of the station while handling the exit procedure.

En la oficina de migración, llenamos todos los requisitos y pasamos nuestra solicitud de salida: pasaporte, formularios e impuestos correspondientes y en ese preciso instante comenzó una historia de vergüenza.

In the Immigration Office we filled out the relevant forms and handed over our request for departure: passports, forms, and the corresponding taxes, at which point started a tale of embarrassment.

El agente de migración revisó el pasaporte de Alan, hizo algunas preguntas, verificó la fecha de entrada y constantó que todo estaba en orden, con lo que Alan se hizo acreedor al sello de salida correspondiente. Posteriormente, tomó mi pasaporte, lo miró con detenimiento, nos miró con detenimiento, miró detrás de nosotros y luego interrumpiendo nuestra conversación nos pregunta: ¿Y donde está el chico? Tomados por sorpresa le respondimos: ¿cuál chico? A lo que el dice: el del pasaporte. Fue inevitable soltar la carcajada, al tiempo en que Alan me señalaba y yo tomando mi pelo hacia atrás le decía “Soy Yo” el hombre me mira estupefacto y cuando ve mi dramatización de mi misma comienza a pedir excusas, pone el sello de salida y se para de su silla con total ceremonia a pedirme disculpas por su equivocación. Nosotros seguíamos riéndonos y él cada vez más avergonzado, así que para superar el incidente y conteniendo mi hilaridad le dije, no se preocupe, no tengo problema con un cambio de género, pero tengo una pregunta, ¿Cuántos años tenía el Chico? Y su respuesta inmediata fue 12, después de esa respuesta, reírnos seguía siendo mi única opción y lo sigue siendo cada vez que Alan evoca el evento.

The Immigration Officer checked Alan's passport, asked a few questions, looked at the entry stamp, and having made sure that all was in order, stamped his passport and handed it back to us. He then looked at Marce's passport, looked at us, looked it it again, looked around behind us, and then interrupted our conversation with the question "So where is the lad?". Taking us by surprise, we said "What lad?", to which he replied "The one in the passport". It was impossible to avoid bursting into laughter. Alan looked at Marce, who, pulling back her hair, said "It's me!". The Officer, in consternation, looked at Marce's dramatisation of her appearance when the photo had been taken (and when her hair had been cut very short for the trip), and then started begging forgiveness for his error, stamping her passport and continuing in embarrassment. We continued laughing at every further evidence of his discomfiture, and then to overcome the situation, and to lighten the air, Marce said "don't worry about it, I have no problem with the gender change, however I have a question: how old is the lad?", upon which his immediate reply was "12". After this, all was fine, the only option was to laugh at the situation, which we continue to do every time the story is told.

Después de un trancón con venezoladas a granel, llegamos al control de la aduana, todos los carros estaban siendo revisados, así que esperábamos lo peor. Cuando el policía se acerca y nos dicen, para donde van -pregunta obvia si se tiene en cuenta que estamos en un cruce fronterizo- respondimos que a la Aduana a legalizar la salida del carro. Eso fue suficiente para olvidar cualquier intensión de revisión del vehículo y conseguir un buen lugar para estacionar.

After a traffic jam of Venezuelans in bulk, we arrived at the Customs Control, where every car was being searched; we expected the worst. When the police arrived and asked "where are you going?" (the answer somewhat obvious when you think that we were at the Venezuela-Colombia frontier, in the line pointing towards Colombia), we said "to the Customs Office where we need to do the paperwork for the car." This was sufficient for them to forget about any intention to search the car, and they directed us to park the car conveniently in front of the Customs Office.

Con la documentación correspondiente, me dirigí hacia la oficina para formalizar la salida. Al momento de llegar 5 minutos antes de las 12:00, me informaron pasar a la ventanilla 3, allí todo estaba cerrado. Fue nuevamente al puesto de información y el hombre me dijo toque en la ventana y caminó detrás de mi. Como no lograba respuesta, el se acercó, subió la persiana y me dijo: ya se fueron a Almorzar, espere hasta la 13:30 o 14:00 que regresan. Muy tranquila me senté frente a la ventanilla 2 y le dijo bueno yo espero. Cuando miré al frente, fue evidente que la persiana estaba mal cerrada y era posible ver lo que pasaba adentro. La atención estaba cerrada porque estaban celebrando un cumpleaños, así que ví la prendida de la vela, el canto y posteriormente la repartición de las porciones.

With the required documents, Marce headed to the office to clear the vehicle. Arriving at five minutes to midday, she was told to go to window #3, which turned out to be closed. Returning to the information desk, the officer told her to tap at the window and followed her. When no response was obtained, he lifted the blind, looked through, and then said "They have gond for lunch, they will come back around 1330-1400h." Marce, calmly, sat down in front of the window and said "O.K. I will wait". She then noticed that the blind was not fully closed and peeped through; the customs service was shut down because they were celebrating a birthday, lighting the candles, singing the birthday song, and giving out birthday cake...

Ante este hecho volví al carro a informarle a Alan sobre la espera y le dije al hombre de recepción que estaría al frente esperando en el carro y volvería a las 13:30 para hacer el trámite, su respuesta fue: sin tranquila no hay problema. A los cinco minutos el hombre fue a buscarme y el trámite se logró sin problemas (gracias por la sensibilidad), después de las sonrisas de agradecimiento salimos hacia Colombia.

Having seen this she returned to the car to tell Alan of the situation, telling the officer that she would wait outside in the car and come back at 1330h. His response: "O.K. no problem." After five minutes a man from the customs office came out to look for her, signed off the clearance of the vehicle (thank you for your kindness), and after smiles of thanks we were off to Colombia. on the other side of the bridge.

Allí entramos oficialmente al país, después de una corta espera y una atención amable. Y comenzamos nuestra ruta hacia Pamplona. Los taxistas en la vía nos explicaron con precisión como tomar la ruta: siga 12 cuadras, voltee a la a la izquierda, avance dos cuadras y luego a la derecha y está en la ruta y fácilmente, encontramos lo que queríamos.

There we entered the country after a short wait and courteous attention. We set off on the road to Pamplona. The taxi drivers we met gave us clear instructions on how to find the way out of town: go 12 blocks, turn left, 2 more blocks, then right and you are on the road, which we found easily.

Paramos en la carretera a comer algo. En la Cuchara de Palo, todo estaba limpio. Una mujer amable salió a atendernos y nos explicó con precisión y sin pereza los componentes del almuerzo casero, la comida estaba en perfecto estado, llevó ají fresco y jugo recién hecho. Al final un tinto imperdible. Solo sonreíamos y disfrutábamos esta delicia.

We stopped on the way to eat something. At the Cuchara de Palo everything was clean, a friendly lady came out to serve us and explained unhurriedly and precisely the elements of the "home lunch". The food was perfect, she brought fresh "aji" (spicy sauce), and freshly prepared juice. Finally an unmissable coffee. We could only smile and enjoy this delicious meal.

En la ruta, como resultado del invierno, varios puntos presentaban bloqueos, así que fue inevitable esperar en algunos casos. Allí los vendedores ofrecen agua, gaseosas, y otras chucherías, una de las mujeres del lugar ofrecía bocadillo con queso una oferta tentadora para Alan. Ella se aproximó, nos saludamos como corresponde e iniciamos esta conversación:

On the way to Pamplona, because of the dreadful winter rains, various places are reduced to one lane, with resulting waits for traffic in the opposite direction. Here vendors offer water, cold drinks, and other items; one of the ladies in one spot was selling bocadillo (cheese and guava jelly), which was tempting for Alan. She approached, we greeted her in courteous fashion, and the following conversation ensued:

Ella: ¿ustedes son franceses?

She: "You are French?

Nosotros: No.

Us: "No".

Ella: - entre risas- “Colombianos!!”.

She: laughing, and clearly sceptical, "Colombians?"

Nosotros: Marce si pero yo no, adivinas

Us: "Marce - yes, me - no".

Ella: - feliz con el juego- ¿italiano?

She: happy with the game, "Italian?"

Nosotros: No

Us: "No."

Ella: Americano

She: "American?"

Nosotros: todos somos americanos.

Us: "We are all American."

Ella: Norte Americano

She: "North American?"

Nosotros: De un país de Norte América.

Us: "From a country in North America."

Ella: -Con el jubilo de quien ya lo sabe- CANADA!!

She: with glee, as of one who knows the answer, "CANADA!"

Nosotros: Sí!!! – aplausos-

Us: "Yes!" followed by applause...

Alan toma un bocadillo y le preguntamos cuando le debemos su respuesta fue:

“Señor, gracias por visitar Colombia. Esta vez yo lo invito” le dio dos palmadas complices en el brazo y se fue a seguir vendiendo.

Alan took a bocadillo and we asked how much we owed. The reply was:

Sir, thank you for visiting Colombia. This time it is a present", with arms crossed to avoid a payment, after which she went off to seek clients.

En ese momento, además de la alegría y de sentirnos profundamente honrados con su generosidad, volvimos a sentir con intensidad qué significa vivir en Colombia…

At this point, in addition to the happiness and sense of being honoured by her generosity, we sensed once again what it means to live in Colombia...

Besos a todos,

Alan y Marce

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Lucho and his circus…. In the best sense / Lucho y su circo...pero de los buenos.

Después de saber que las oficinas de la aduana se encuentran cerradas los domingos y que en consecuencias tendríamos que esperar al lunes para hacer los trámites requeridos, decidimos ir a San Cristobal y conocer este punto del mapa, sin embargo lo más importante era por fin conocer a los primos que conocíamos por historias de tías.

After finding out that the customs office closes on Sundays and that we would therefore have to wait until Monday to cross the border we decided to go to San Cristobal and get to know this area, in addition taking the opportunity to get to know the cousins whom we knew only through aunts’ stories.

Ellas nos recomendaron llegar a donde Lucho, acto que personalmente nos parecía imposible, teniendo en cuenta que nunca nos habíamos visto, así que llegaríamos a la ciudad, buscaríamos un hotel y haríamos contacto para saludar. Pero gracias a las limitaciones en el abastecimiento de combustible y a la necesidad de confirmar la información imprecisa, hicimos contacto con Lucho y todo cambió: nos esperaba en su casa, tendría almuerzo para nosotros y dormiríamos allí, así que lo único que pude decir fue: "sí señor", seguido por "amor nos quedaremos donde Lucho", la respuesta de Alan: "¿Ah Sí? Entonces perfecto!"

The aunts recommended that we stay at Lucho’s, an idea which we found impossible, given that we had never seen him or his family, and so thought that it would be best to find a hotel in the city and then make contact. However, thanks to the limitations of the gasoline distribution system and the need to confirm vague information on the availability of gasoline, we called Lucho and everything changed: we were awaited at his home, lunch was prepared for us and we would sleep there, so that the only thing we could say was “yes, sir!”, followed by “my love, we will be staying at Lucho’s”, Alan’s reply “Oh, OK, perfect!”.

Continuamos la ruta, y confirmamos los dicho por varios, las carreteras están terribles, no solo por el daño del pavimento que parece algo frecuente, sino porque con las lluvias, se han perdido parte de las bancadas y la señalización de los segmentos afectados es pésima. En varios lugares los sorpresivos rotos erizaron nuestra piel y fue necesario se cautelosos en exceso.

We continued on our way, confirming what we head heard from various sources; the roads were terrible, not only in terms of the damage to the surface which was frequent, but also since the rains had washed out the road in many places, and the indication of the loss of the roadway was abysmal in every case. In various places the loss of the roadway was hair-raising, and it was necessary to be very cautious.

Llegamos a San Cristobal y Lucho nos recogió en un punto de la vía hacia su casa. Un abrazo de amor fraterno se hizo presente y la sensación de conocerlo desde siempre se instauró entre nosotros, lo seguimos hasta la casa y allí en medio de las celebraciones del día de la madre conocimos a los miembros del entable, tan entusiastas como él, otras medio locas pero todos y todas encantadores. Ver a Amalia y disfrutar su conversación alegre y centrada fue delicioso.

We arrived in San Cristobal and Lucho met us to lead us to his house. After a fraternal embrace we had the sensation of having know him forever, followed him home, getting to know all of the members of the family amid the Mother’s Day celebrations, some enthusiastic like Lucho, others more dotty, however all enchanting. We saw Amalia and enjoyed her happy and cogent conversation.

Como el parche continuaba, terminamos infiltrados en la casa de Elide y Humberto, disfrutando del encanto de ambos y presenciando un canto poco convencional y absolutamente divertido del "Cumpleaños Feliz", una competencias de canto en simultanea. Luego visitamos la casa de Amalia y entre presentes y recuerdos conocimos los testimonios de su vida.

As the shindig continued, we moved on the the home of Elide and Humberto, enjoying the company of both and also the highly amusing singing of “Happy Birthday” in an unconventional multivocal manner. Later we spent some time at Amalia’s home, and between the present and her memories of the past got to know her life.

En casa continuamos las conversaciones con Lucho, los Luchitos, Janeth y Andrea, historias van y vienen, algunas fotos y luego el cansancio tomo nuestros cuerpos, debíamos madrugar habíamos concertado ir al Jardín Botánico temprano en la mañana.

Back at Lucho’s we continued talking with Lucho, the “Luchitos” (Luis’s), Janeth, and Andrea, telling stories back and forth, looking at photos, and then tiredness overtook us, we had agreed to get up early to visit the Botanic Garden early in the morning to see birds.

Durante el desayuno, Janeth nos planeaba con cautela sus dudas sobre la existencia de pájaros en este lugar, nosotros sin problema sosteníamos el plan, lo peor que podría era conocer el Jardín, si habían pájaros bien, sino también. Cuando llegamos al lugar todo cantaba, todo sonaba, el sitio estaba lleno de pájaros y allí nos deleitamos hasta la saciedad y nos divertimos con la sorpresa de Janeth con cada paso. Gracias por llevarnos, por utilizar tu tiempo con nosotros.

During breakfast Janeth passed on her worry that we might not find any birds at the Garden; undaunted we continued with the plan, the worst that could happen was that we would enjoy the garden itself; if there were birds, fine; if not, equally fine. When we arrived the air was full of birdsong, the place was full of birds, and we enjoyed ourselves to satiety, with the birds and with Janeth’s surprise at every turn. Thank you for taking us, and spending your time with us.

Luego de pajariar y de lograr poner gasolina en el carro, después de exitosos 25 minutos de espera en la fila, nos fuimos a visitar dos pueblos recomendados por sus calles y construcciones coloniales: San Pedro del Rio y Peribeca. Ambos lugares tranquilos, que se activan en el fin de semana y que pudimos fotografía porque era lunes. Sus calles empedradas, casas cuidadas y lindas plazas hacen de la visita un placer. De regreso a San Cristobal la ruta estaba cerrada así que un "paisano Venezolano" nos guió amablemente hasta la ciudad. Nuevamente a la fila, otros 25 minutos, y llenamos con combustible.

After watching the birds, and successfully filling the car with gas (after a 25 minute wait in line), we set off to visit two colonial villages: San Pedro del Rio and Peribeca. Both places were tranquil, they fill at weekends, however we were able to take good photographs since it was Monday. Their cobbled streets, colonial buildings, and pretty plazas made the visits a pleasure. Returning to San Cristobal the main highway was closed, however a friendly “Venezuelan compatriot” guided us via an alternative route to the city. Once again in the gas line, after a 25 minute wait, we filled up again.

Nuevamente las conversaciones familiares protagonizaron la noche y las conversaciones sobre el futuro próximo se empezaron a insinuar. Después de este encuentro será placentero conservar el vínculo vivo, a todos los esperamos por nuestra casa y deseamos regresar a su ciudad para verlos.

Once again family conversations filled the evening, moving on the discussion of our plans for the immediate future. After this time together, keeping our relationship alive will be a pleasure, all are welcome at our home, and we will seek to return to San Cristobal soon.


Alan y Marce

P.D. Queremos saber el resultado de circuitos, estamos pendientes de Luís Daniel y su viaje a Vancouver. Chicos y Chicas les debemos la foto, olvidé tomar una de los tres.

P.S. We would like to know the results of the exams, and of Luis Daniel’s visit to Vancouver. Girls and boys send us photos, we missed taking one of the three.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Mérida: The spell of the mountains / El encanto de la Montaña

Después de varios días de escuchar comentarios amables en relación con Mérida nuestro corazón estaba bien dispuesto al encuentro. La ruta que tomamos, aunque más conservadora, fue perfecta para asegurar el acceso, tomamos la Ruta 1 (panamericana) hasta el Vigía (a través de la cuál comimos las delicias locales bien publicitadas) y luego subimos por la ruta de túneles hasta La ciudad. Desde la llegadas fue evidente la cordialidad de la ciudad y su gente.

After various days hearing positive comments about Mérida we were well-disposed towards our encounter. The route we took, while conservative, proved to be the best option for approaching the city: we took the Pan-American (Route 1) to Vigía (on the way to which we enjoyed well-publicised local delicacies) and then ascended via the "Tunnels" to the city. From the moment of arrival the cordiality of the city's people was clear.

La Posada Casa Sol, cerca del centro histórico de la ciudad, y fue una muy buena elección: una mezcla de posada, galería de arte y centro cultural. Conocimos a Jorge, con quien "pajariamos" deliciosamente en varias ocasiones y que además de su compañía nos permitió disfrutar su conocimiento y comprender otra perspectiva de Venezuela a través de sus ojos. Con él visitamos el Jardín Botánico de la Ciudad y nos dimos una rica vuelta por las montañas al oeste de la misma en la ruta a la Azulita. Hermoso el paisaje y diversas las aves que pudimos apreciar.

The Posada Casa Sol, near the historic centre of the city, proved to be a good choice: a mix of posada, art gallery, and cultural centre. We met Jorge, with whom we went birdwatching on various occasions, and whose knowledge and perspective on Venezuela proved to be most valuable. We went to the Botanic Garden with him and also went out on an excellent trip through the mountains to the west on the road to Azulita. The scenery was wonderful and we enjoyed encountering diverse birds on the trip.

En este día visitamos la Bravera, una posada rural y absolutamente hermosa, allí con Jorge Bravo, disfrutamos el bosque de niebla, el páramo y los Colobríes, también un rico almuerzo. Un sitio para visitar, estar allí es un elogio a la belleza que se produce entre el hombre y la naturaleza, cuando reina el respeto.

On this day we visited La Bravera, a country posada which is absolutely beautiful, meeting Jorge Bravo, we explored a walk up the mountain above the posada through the cloud forest to the páramo above, and also enjoyed the many species of hummingbirds at the posada, as well as a tasty lunch. A place to visit again, an elegy to nature and beauty, showing the link possible between man and nature when respect is present.

Curiosos por la belleza de la cordillera, nos fuimos hacia el norte para alcanzar el pico del aguila, el lugar más alto disponible. El reto del viaje fueron las vías: porque cuando al estilo de conducción Venezolano se le suman los derrumbes y las curvas de una ruta más estrecha, el espectáculo es fuera de lugar. Pasamos mucho tiempo esperando paso (por la restricción de las vías) y por los enredos que arman quienes pretendiendo más viveza dejan en evidencias las limitaciones de su mente para el razonamiento espacial. Más allá de esto, disfrutamos la belleza del páramo y si vegetación y la dulzura de los duraznos en almibar que conseguimos para almorzar. La vista desde el pico estaba restringida por la densa niebla.

Curious about the attractions of the cordillera, we went northeast to reach the Pass of Pico del Aguila, the highest point reachable on the road to Trujillo. The main challenge of the trip was the state of the roads; when the Venezuelan driving style is applied to steep narrow tortuous roads with multiple landslides and associated missing road , the spectacle is impressive. We spent a lot of time waiting to pass landslides, where the traffic jams, in limited spaces, demonstrated clearly the limitations of the drivers' minds in terms of spatial reasoning. APart form this, we enjoyed the beauty of the páramo and its vegetation, and the peaches in syrup which we were able to find for lunch. The view from the pass itself was limited by the cloud.

Ahora la ciudad, el casco histórico aunque pequeño cuenta con varias casas ricas de visitar y apreciar. Se han realizado esfuerzos de restauración conservando las características arquitectónicas de la época y las casas restauradas están de alguna forma al servicio del arte y la gente.

Now for the city: the historic centre, while small, includes several houses well worth the visit. They have been restored with appreciation of the original architectural characteristics, and now form part of the cultural life of the city.

La oferta cultura el Mérida es muy superior a la encontrada en otras ciudades del país. Disfrutamos los museos de la ciudad y la capacidad de las personas encargadas de cautivar al visitante con su amabilidad y conocimiento. Pudimos disfrutar un concierto de la Orquesta Sinfónica, que además de un alto desempeño, nos permitió conocer la obra de 6 compositores contemporáneos de la ciudad... resulta sorprendente estar en un concierto en donde 5 de los compositores están en la sala. Adicionalmente, pudimos comprender más la historia de la ciudad a través de sus personajes, gracias a las explicaciones del Director de la Academia de Mérida.

The cultural offer in Mérida is superior to that encountered in other cities in the country. We enjoyed the museums, and the capacity of those involved in them to captivate the visitor with their amiability and knowledge. We were able to attend a concert by the Symphonic Orchestra, which in addition to being of a high standard, allowed us to hear the works of six contemporary composers of the city... it was surprising to us to find that five of the six were present at the concert. We also learned a lot about the history of the city, through the enthusiastic explanations of the Director of the Academy of Mérida.

Esta entonces fue un muy buena visita, todo se hizo disfrutable y faltó tiempo para apreciar la exposición de fotografía local y revisar el archivo fotográfico de la ciudad, la ventaja en relación con otras ciudades es que queda cerca de Colombia y es posible visitarla de nuevo en otro momento.

This was thus an excellent visit, in which we enjoyed so much, however were left with insufficient time to appreciate the local photographic exhibition, or to explore the photographic archive. However, the advantage of Mérida is that it is sufficiently close to Colombia to allow another visit without much difficulty.

Besos para todos y todas

Alan y Marce

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Residual colonial tourism in Carora / Turismo de restos Coloniales en Carora

Luego de confirmar el estado patético de la ruta entre Coro y Barquisimeto y de escuchar nuevas historias sobre los retos existentes, decidimos ir a Carora, nuestro siguiente, destino por las rutas principales, con la opción de apreciar nuevamente la hermosa vista de la Península desde la sierra.

Having confirmed the pathetic state of the road between Coro and Barquisimeto and hearing various stories on the challenges of this route, we decided to travel to Carora, our next destination, via the main highways, which would also allow us to enjoy the vistas of the Falcon peninsula from the sierra while descending to Coro.

Así que tomamos la ruta hacia Maracaibo y antes de cruzar el puente, luego de apreciar por 3 horas un paisaje seco y desolado, regresamos hacia el centro del país por la Ruta 17, con un paisaje más rico, más camiones y más huecos, para finalmente llegar al destino.

Hence we took the main highway to Maracaibo, through 3 hours of dry scenery, where before crossing the bridge we turned south on route 17, returning towards the centre of the country through greener scenery, more traffic, more trucks, and more potholes, before arriving at our destination.

Nos dirigimos al centro histórico, que nos dio un sentido positivo, dedicar algo de nuestro tiempo en buscar donde dormir, cuando el Rincón del Bogavante se hizo presente, supimos que el asunto estaba resuelto y que podríamos dedicarnos a conocer el lugar. Caminamos por el centro, todo estaba cerrado, fue posible apreciar algunas construcciones conservadas y en general un conjunto de fachadas que dan un ambiente "colonial" al lugar, sin embargo imposible de observar porque una vez las 17 horas se apoderan del lugar, todos a dormir y nada absolutamente nada que hacer...comer...o conocer.

We headed for the historic district, which gave us a positive feeling, and we then looked for a place to stay in the area. When we came across the "Rincón del Bogavante" we supposed that this challenge had been resolved and we could dedicate ourselves to getting to know this area. We walked back into the centre, found everything closed, discovered that there remain a few conserved structures, with facades which give a "colonial" feel to the centre, however there was no way to learn much about them since it seems that after 1700h everyone has gone to bed, and there is nothing to do, eat, or learn.

Dado que no es posible encontrar un restaurante en el lugar tomamos un "resto de taxi" para ir a Pollos el Morocho y comernos el pollito correspondiente, luego otro "resto de taxi", esta vez sin vidrios en todas las ventanas, para experimentar las delicias de la habitación que habíamos conseguido.

Given that there was nowhere to eat in the district we took the remains of a taxi to "Pollos el Morocho" to eat the appropriate chicken, after which another ruin, this time lacking windows in all of its doors, took us back to the hotel to enjoy the delights of the room we had taken.

El Rincón del Bogavante, es un lugar singular, con accesorios pegados de las mesas de noche, los restos de un sofá, una ducha con dos salidas de agua sin agua caliente, con luces verdes en el piso que no funcionan y un cuarto sanitario que se inunda cuando se usa. La cama con su mosquitero que pretende simular cortinas sedosas y dosel, resultó francamente excepcional, mas si se tiene en cuenta que todos los accesorio de "casi época" hacen que los pies queden fuera de la cama.

The "Rincón del Bogavante" is a curious place, with accessories glued to the bedside tables, the remains of a sofa, a showere with two separate shower heads but no hot water, green lights on the floor which did not work, and a bathroom which floods when used. The bed with its mosquito net to simulate silk curtains and canopy was frankly exceptional, when you take into account that all of the various "quasi-antique" fittings mean that your feet stick out of the bed when asleep.

Al siguiente día no nos fuimos, realmente huimos hacia Mérida, con la esperanza de algo mejor y sin mucho problema aceptamos no visitar los viñedos de la zona.

The following day we went, or more accurately fled, towards Mérida, with the hope of finding something better, and with little persuasion elected not to visit the local vineyards before leaving the area.

Besos a todos,

Alan y Marce