A Travellerspoint blog

Jungle greetings from Lima

31.03.2013 – 17.05.2013

sunny 28 °C

It’s been quite a while since my last update, but it have been busy times on all levels. Being half way in my volunteering project however, now is a good time to write.

Since April 1st, I have been working in Moyobamba. It’s a nice challenge and a lot of work, but I’m working with a young, fun and energetic team, giving me all the energy and motivation I need. The company itself is a new and growing stevia plantation. Their terrains are enormous, the infrastructure is impressive and in total it provides a job for some 350 local people. At the same time they face a lot of challenges, but everyone is enthusiastic to move forward.
As I don’t feel like a tourist in Moyobamba, I have hardly taken any pictures during my time there: nor from the plantation, nor from the city and the daily life. I’d love to share some with you, but I’m afraid I’ll have to do that a little later…

I’m staying in a house with 2 young guys, and more people from the Stevia One project are living close by. From the first moment they involved me in all of their activities, so I had the chance to explore some of the neighborhood and local (night)life. Everything is done and said in Spanish for the last month, so I do get the chance to practice it a lot too. It’s still a challenge and I miss a lot of vocabulary and grammar, but people are patient and understanding, so I manage to make myself understandable in any situation.

The 1st of May, I welcomed my parents to the Peruvian jungle. They were traveling with a group of friends in Peru and decided to extend their holidays for a week to bring a visit to their son. After 4 months without family, it was so great to see them again and talk about home. We spent a little over a week together, staying in Tarapoto, Moyobamba and Lima together.

Pictures Tarapoto...
Pictures Moyobamba...
Pictures Lima...

At this moment, I’m still in Lima. I have been working from the administrative office here, while having a great time at night and during the weekend. In a way I’m sad I already have to go back to Moyobamba: Lima is an exciting city with great people. I would love to stay here much longer, but the project in Moyobamba is calling…

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Posted by tombroekaert 09:53 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Ecuador

12.03.2013 - 31.03.2013

semi-overcast 24 °C

Time has been flying, hard! It’s time for my last 2,5 weeks of traveling already and for my last country, I have a local guide. My cousin Inti has lived in Ecuador for about 7 years and knows the places to go. As I have been here myself (over 10 years ago) I don’t have to do the typical tourist places either and we can focus on exploring national parks.

We meet in Loja, where I arrive one day before Inti does. It’s a small city, which I find very charming. There is not much to do and that’s what makes it so nice. It’s always fun to walk around the streets and have locals watching you again with weird eyes, not being used to too many tourists. When my cousin arrives we head straight to Podocarpus national park. We spend a lot of time in the clouds as we are above 3000m and it’s rainy season in many places in Ecuador. Luckily we stay almost dry the whole day and now and then the clouds disappear and we get an amazing view of the high jungle, the treeless highlands and the surrounding mountains.

The next day we get up early to catch a bus to Zamora, where we stay in a lodge owned by Belgians. We are accompanied by a ton of hummingbirds in all colors and sizes while we spend two days there hiking in the rain forest. It’s absolutely spectacular how many birds, insects, plants,… you can find here. Inti spends a lot of time taking pictures and I just look around, being amazed on the hundreds of different things to see without even moving one centimeter.

Pictures Loja & Zamora...

After Zamora, we head to Cuenca. It’s one of the nicer towns in Ecuador, with many churches and some charming streets. We wander around one day, being a little unlucky as all museums are closed on Sundays. Thank god there is a great ice/cake saloon where we get ourselves served. The other day we visit Parque National Cajas, yet again a completely different landscape. It reminds me a little of Norway, with wide views over highlands and many lakes all around.

We make one more stop before heading to Quito: Baños. It’s quite touristy, but still very charming. First on the agenda is rafting. As it is more or less rainy season in the Ecuadorian mountains, the rivers contain a lot of water: perfect for some good rafting. In the afternoon we have some energy left to make a hike to a viewpoint over Baños. The very next day already we already head to Quito, where were are staying with my uncle and aunt (Inti’s parents), who live there for 15 years now. In Quito we also meet up with Sylvia, a Colombian friend of Inti. She’ll travel with us for one week, also my last week of traveling.

Pictures Cuenca & Baños...

That first day we spend relaxing: sleeping longer, playing cards, having some of my uncle’s great home brewed beer,… The next day we take off early to spend the weekend camping at my uncle’s coffee farm. It’s a 4h drive, half on gravel, to the middle of nowhere: Junin is a town of some 20 houses… From there, it’s another hour by foot until we reach the coffee farm. There is nothing more than a hut on the top of a hill, having a magnificent view and no other sign of life kilometers around. We put up our tents, cook on fire and play some cards in the candlelight. The next day we harvest some coffee beans, which is a hard job especially because it’s no harvest season and ripe coffee beans are very hard to find.

Next stop is Mindo, where we stay in the cheapest hostel ever. The comfort is proportional to the price. The water is brown (rain water) and you hear any noise, both from the neighbor as from the bathroom. In Mindo, we do some canyoning down a series of waterfalls and visit a butterfly ‘farm’. It’s full of butterflies, obviously, in all colors and sizes. The biggest ones are my friends and stay on my finger when I catch them.

Pictures Junin & Mindo...

We have been extremely lucky so far with the weather, but because as it has been raining all night and morning this time, we decide to leave to Quito. I spend 2,5 more days there with the family, visiting a place with once again a looooot of hummingbirds, relaxing in the hot springs of Papallacta (forever changing between the ice cold river water and the hottest pool) and making a beautiful hike in the highlands. During a wonderful sushi dinner, I say goodbye to my family, to Ecuador and to the 3 months of traveling.

Pictures Quito...

It’s a hell of a trip from Quito to Moyobamba, the place where I’ll volunteer now for 3 months. Because my flight to the south of Ecuador is delayed by 2 hours, the rest of my trip there is a mess too. In total it takes me about 40 hours, 1 plane, 5 buses, 8 taxis and a way to short overnight stay to get me there. In the bus from Tumbes to Piura, we pass a crowd of people at the side of the road. They gather around a dead motorcyclist who’s lying on the street, his brain some 30cm away from the rest of his body. A sight I’ll unfortunately never forget…

But this is it… Time has been going só fast and it’s hard to realize this beautiful 3 months have already come to an end. It’s been such a great experience and I’m grateful for every place I got to visit, every person I got to know, every culture I could experience. I’m grateful for every joyful moment and for every difficult situation I managed to get through. And maybe most of all, I’m so glad I didn’t only have my guardian angel with me on my road trip, but I had two more back in Belgium, who got me out of trouble more than once. I can’t say it enough… Thank you!

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Posted by tombroekaert 18:01 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

North-Perú

28.02.2013 - 12.03.2013

sunny 33 °C

For the third time in one year I land in Lima airport. I’m back here for Felien and Omar’s wedding, to visit North-Perú and to continue to Ecuador. This is how my last month of traveling will look like, before I head back to the Peruvian jungle for my three month volunteering project.

Miraflores, the area in Lima where I’ll be staying again this time, is starting to become a familiar. I know (some of) the streets, the restaurants and the shops. WhenI’m installed in the hostel and I open my laptop, I find out my sister got a new baby boy! I’m super proud to be uncle for the third time of a healthy boy named Jef.
The second of March is the big day for Felien and Omar, as they celebrate their wedding. It’s a beautiful afternoon and evening at the beach, with a very intimate and personal ceremony in the sand and a Peruvian-Belgian party afterwards. It’s nice to meet some Belgian friends and family of Felien and the same goes for Omar’s Peruvian side. That same night, I go out in Lima, the city that has never let me down, at least party-wise. So I’m even more exhausted when I leave Lima.

Pictures Lima...

A first stop is Trujillo. The most interesting things are not found in the town itself, but around. Here, Moche and Chimú people lived long before Inca’s ruled this region and both civilizations have left their traces in the form of immense adobe piramids. I spend one day exploring the temples and graves they have here. The other day is for relaxing only: late breakfast, resting in the hammocks of the hostel, wandering around the time to grab a coffee and a quiet evening with cuba libre drinking games, once again in the hammocks.

Pictures Trujillo...

Afterwards I continue North to Chiclayo. This town contains more of Moche and Chimú ruins in the neighborhood of the city. It is different from Trujillo however: I visit some nice museums and from a mountaintop I get a sweet overview of what once was an immense complex of temples.

Pictures Chiclayo...

The last stop in Perú is Máncora. I was promised a beautiful beach and great party. I have to say it’s not much like all the people told me. Máncora consists of one street, which is the Pan-American highway. It’s filled with bars, restaurants, hostels and tourist shops only and the beach is not beautiful at all. Sure, this is the place to be if you are looking to party with other tourists or 18-year old locals, alcohol, drugs, sex or any combination of the above. I must admit however, I have a great time there… But 2 days there is more than enough…

Pictures Máncora...

Then it is time to travel to Ecuador, my last country before spending 3 more months in Perú. A short bus trip takes me to Piura, where I take a direct night bus to Loja, where I will meet my cousin to travel through Ecuador…

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Posted by tombroekaert 21:38 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Paraguay

24.02.2013 - 28.02.2013

sunny 35 °C

As there are not that many touristic highlights in Paraguay, my stay here only lasts a little over 4 days. Yet, I have to say I’m happy I came here. It’s a huge difference with Brasil in many ways. Coming from mostly busy places with many tourists, Paraguay seems deserted. Everything is so calm and people often look surprised when even seeing a tourist walking around in the city.

The country seems a little ‘less developed’ and that shows in many ways. It’s very cheap (on average, I spend about half of what I spent in Brasil per day), much less organized (eg. bus services), there is a lot of poverty (people living in houses made of wood and plastic), you see kids in the street selling stuff or cleaning shoes,… But the people are so friendly, maybe partly because they are not used to tourists.

During my short stay here, I only have 2 major touristic stops. First I visit the Jesuit missions of Trinidad and Jesús, about 1 hour driving from Encarnación in the South of Paraguay. It are the ruins of 2 cities, built in the 17th century, in order to convert indigenous people into Catholicism. The places are very beautiful and it is amazing we have this Unesco world heritage sites just for our own. If this place were for example in Brasil or Perú, it would be crowded with tourists and it would take away a lot of the charm.

Pictures Trinidad and Jesús...

The next big stop is the capital, Asunción. It’s a city full of contrasts and hard to imagine this is the capital of a country, because it feels like a mid-size, sleepy city. There is not a whole lot to do here, but it’s a fascinating atmosphere. You can have very modern buildings next to a beautiful colonial house. You can have a nice park at one side of the street and people living in wooden barracks at the other side. The local market is huge and must have kilometers of narrow corridors and thousands of small stores selling anything you can imagine: fresh fish, local specialties, jewelry, all kinds of clothes and shoes (mostly fake), ripped DVDs,…

The first night I there, celebrate my birthday by having some beers with the people from the hostel. It’s Tuesday, so there is not too much to do in town but still it’s a nice evening. On my birthday itself, I visit the town and go to bed in time. I have to get up the next morning at 5h to catch my flight to Lima and I’m very tired. No matter how exhausted I am, I do not manage to sleep longer then 7h30 every day, since my arrival here in South-America. So about 2 months with about 6h of sleep per night is starting to show: super tired, light headache all the time and my voice that disappearing… Hopefully I get some more sleep soon!!

Pictures Asunción...

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Posted by tombroekaert 05:54 Archived in Paraguay Comments (0)

Brasil

09.02.2013 - 24.02.2013

sunny 37 °C

Brasil was originally not on my planning, but convinced by other travellers and driven by the urge to see what all this carnival is about, I decided to go anyway. And what a good decision, Brasil has been extreme in any way: the carnival, the people, the weather the beaches,… I already know: I’ll be back!

It’s a 19h but very comfortable bus drive from Montevideo (Uruguay) to Florianópolis (Brasil). The bus company is Brazilian and I immediately understand it will be very difficult to understand anything of the Portuguese language. Written, it is similar to Spanish, but it sounds completely different, at least in the beginning. During my stay in Brasil, I also learn there are almost no Brazilians that speak English, or even Spanish.

When I arrive to Florianópolis (Floripa in short), it is evening and I feel very tired because I didn’t catch a lot of sleep on the bus. I do explore the town, which is nothing special, but I do get a first taste of Brazilian carnival. The next day I explore the south of Ilha Santa Catarina, the island on which Floripa is located. It’s extremely hot, about 38 °C and the humidity of the tropical forest doesn’t help. I take a hike to a beautiful beach and when I can finally swim in the cool water of the ocean, watching the white beach with the green mountains behind it, it feels like heaven. On the way back, I try an alternative route. The very small path through the jungle sometimes leads into a dead end and slowly I work my way back. I meet strange animals: huge lizards or leguanos, chicken-like running birds, colorful butterflies and too often I literally run into spider webs. A little later I see a big sign indicating ‘Área Militar’. I don’t speak Portuguese, but this I understand, I’ve been walking for over an hour in military domain…

A refreshing shower makes me ready for the carnival later at night. What a party… The crowd literally goes crazy, a lot of stories are no material for this blog… But it’s a great party, the shows and the people are amazing and we celebrate until the morning comes. Although the next day is cloudy, I wake up too early because of the heat. Around noon it even rains for an hour, but the rest of the afternoon I can spend on the beach relaxing and sleeping to get ready for another carnival night. It is as crazy as the first one, what an atmosphere!

Pictures Florianópolis...

The next day I head to Rio de Janeiro, but not without problems. First I have difficulties getting money from Western Union, but in the end I manage to get it anyway. When arriving at the bus station, the direct bus to Rio is full and I have to go via Sao Paulo. It turns out to take a little more time, but it’s a little cheaper so no problem.

I arrive in Rio early in the morning and spend the rest of the day exploring the north of the city. In the evening I take the lift to Pão do Açuúcar, a 400m high rock with magnificent views over Rio. It’s crowded there, but as the night falls over Rio, people start heading home. I enjoy valentine’s night there in this quiet place, the view of the city is just spectacular and so relaxing. I must have been sitting there for two hours, when a guard calls me the latest lift down is about to leave.

The next day I take the small train to Cristo Redentor, the Christ statue overlooking Rio and one of the new world wonders. It’s a fun train ride with live samba music, but not a very nice experience once at the top. There are way too many people, so no chance of taking some time to enjoy the views over Rio or of the statue. I take the obligatory pictures to prove I’ve been there but go back down quite soon. I do south of the city, including Ipanema and Copacabana beach. Although the official carnival is overstill a lot of people have the rest of the week off. so the beaches are very crowded and full of life: guys showing their football skills, girls parading up and down the beach, everyone taking a refreshing swim now and then,… In the night we go to a samba club in Lapa, where I try the dance moves and envy the locals that are samba masters. Incredible!

The next day in the afternoon, I take the bus to Parque National da Tijuca. It’s only a 30 min drive from Rio, but you’re in the middle of tropical rain forest. It’s a nice walk through the jungle, along some waterfalls. But still, it’s só hot and humid and everything I crave for after the walk is an ice cold beer. At night, I go to Sambódromo, thé carnival parade everyone must have seen images from on tv. It’s the champion’s night: the 6 best samba schools show their skills in a parade that lasts 8 hours in total. After every school, you think the parade cannot get any better, beautiful or more impressive and yet it builds up to an absolute climax around 4h in the morning. This parade was só impressive and this only would have been worth coming to Brasil for.

Rio… It’s a city you MUST love as a tourist. It has everything and more: history and economy, beaches and mountains, hide-aways and busy nightlife,… But in a way I’m glad this is my last night in the city as well. Having to be so careful in order not to be robbed is not the nicest feeling. And in the city itself: it’s busy, noisy, very often dirty and smelly, incredibly hot,…

Pictures Rio de Janeiro...

So after a very short night, I get up in time to travel to Ilha Grande. By bus and boat I get to the island. The two days there I spend walking, but mostly relaxing on the beach: finding and opening coconuts, swimming at the absolutely gorgeous Lopes Mendes beach, playing coconut jeu de boules, having caiperiñas,… It’s a nice and relaxing time, a nice break after the madness in Rio.

Getting from Ilha Grande to Foz do Iguaçu, my last stop in Brasil, turns out to be difficult. I have problems, once again, getting my money from Western Union and by the time my parents can make the necessary changes, banks are closed. I don’t have enough money for transportation so I lose a day by staying in this small town to get the money from the bank only the next day.

Pictures Ilha Grande...

In Foz do Iguaçu, close to the border with Argentina, I spend 2 full days to see the main attractions there. First of all there are the Iguaçu waterfalls, and absolute wonder of nature. An uncountable number of waterfalls form a spectacular scene. You can walk around all day, seeing the waterfalls from from below and above, from close and far,… It’s something you can just keep looking at.
The next day I go to the Itaipú dam. It was the biggest dam in the world, until they built that new one in China. Yet, it remains the biggest hydroelectrical plant in the world. From far away it doesn’t seem that impressive, until you realize that what you see is 140m high and 8km wide. And when you go close and inside, you realize how huge this is. As an engineer, of course I’m thrilled to do the visit. A technical world wonder you could say.

Pictures Foz do Iguaçu...

The next day I leave for Paraguay, where I can spend just a few days before flying back to Lima. It’s been a fantastic time in Brazil and I’m glad I changed my planning. Of course I don’t know what I’ve missed out on in Bolivia, so that remains on my to do list.

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Posted by tombroekaert 14:14 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

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