Hunderburton Adventures


A record of wanderings through Latin America

Archive for February, 2012

Iguazu Falls

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Iguazu falls is an enormous set of cataracts on the river trisecting Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. Argentina holds the falls themselves, and from the Argentine side of the river one can walk under and above them. Brazil, then, we are told gives a spectacular panoramic view of the falls and surrounding region (unfortunately the Visa required for us to see them from Brazil would have been absurdly expensive, so we missed out), and Paraguay finishes a few kilometers short the falls and there is no direct line of vision from Paraguayan soil – yeah, poor old Paraguay really missed out on all the best bits of the continent.

The falls themselves don´t break any record for size; Niagra has a higher water flow, and Angel falls in Venezuela and the African Victoria falls are taller. While Iguazu falls slightly shy of these others, it’s famously beautiful. At one point the first lady of the US visited Iguazu and famously exclaimed ¨poor Niagra!¨ And I must say, admittedly without having seen any of its competitors, Iguazu must be one of the most amazing places on the planet. Its a truly breathtaking paradise. Think of the world James Cameron created for Avatar, make that more spectacular and you´ll get a good idea of what its like (he should have saved $300 million on CGI and filmed it here)


Unfortunately pictures wont do it justice, and I would do an even worse job trying to recreate it through words so I wont even try. I think its something which has to be experienced personally, because its not just the falls that are amazing, but the sounds and atmosphere, and the surrounding jungle which is teeming with life; in a few hours there we saw monkeys, armadillos, some weird giant rat thing with horse legs, toucans, and about a million of these Amazonian racoons called coates, as well as all manner of colourful birds.


  some bird  

Anyway it was a profoundly uplifting to visit, and I recommend anyone who has the time and money go and see it.



Monday, February 20th, 2012

Paraguay. The great South American nation known for soccer and… no, actually just soccer. The very few tourists who choose to visit Paraguay will understand why Paraguay has this virtually non-existent reputation: there’s not a lot there… it has none of the token attractions of South America; no beaches, mountains or jungle, no big crazy cities, and is not particularly cheap despite being the poorest south American country according to some measures. What it does have, however, is an enormous grassy area called the ‘Chaco’ covering more than half of the nations land, densely populated by jaguars, cougars, and many other animals tourists usually flock to see. Unlike its more enterprising neighbors, however, Paraguay has built no infrastructure to accommodate tourists in this region, and apparently the only places tourists can stay in the area, are extremely basic, and there is not a single place to buy food. The flip side of Paraguay’s being so unappealing to tourists is that no one goes, so if you choose to visit, you will probably not meet another tourist. This may sound like an exaggeration, but we decided to visit The Lonely Planet’s #1 recommended tourist attraction in Paraguay, and for the first half hour we were there we didn´t see a single other person.


This No 1 tourist attraction of Paraguay, if you were wondering, is the ruined Jesuit town of Trinidad. The Jesuits were a brand of Catholic missionaries who moved to South America during the 17th and 18th centuries in an attempt to instill good Catholic values on barbarous locals. Apparently this failed and they were driven from the region, but, fortunately for Paraguay’s struggling tourist industry, they left behind very intact ruins.

Alot of intricate stone carvings were intact

Considering we were only in Paraguay to save on transport costs, the ruins made for a pretty interesting little side trip. There were underground crypt areas which we could walk around in, and medieval style turrets which we climbed to the top of. The most appealing aspect of visiting the ruins, though, was the ghostly silent atmosphere of the place – a refreshing change from other ruins like Machu Pichu which are swarming with tourists and buzzing with camera clicks. Its pretty ironic really that the main appeal of the ruins as a tourist attraction is the absence of other tourists.

One other great quality of Paraguay for those thinking of visiting, is an unusually low level of violent crime considering its proximity to Bolivia and Brazil, and relative poverty. According to one article I read, a past dictator of the country had absolutely no tolerance for crime, such that petty criminals would disappear, and their corpses would be found floating in rivers weeks later. The strange consequence of this is that the locals are so terrified of committing crimes that its no longer a problem, but also that these severe punishments for tourists relied on a public perception that crime was a serious problem. So now, years on, this fear is still alive in the local population, and high walls are common and there are several private security guards on every block.

Next stop Iguazu Falls! More on that soon.

Last Week in Peru

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

Dearest Readers,

Sorry that this post is a little overdue, we’ve been moving around a lot lately and have been short of time.

Our plans changed a lot in Mark’s last week. Originally we intended to work our way up from Cusco to Quito, the capital of Ecuador and Mark’s departure point. We were behind on schedule already, and the trip up would already have been rushed, when we discovered the outrageous prices of flights from Quito to Northern Argentina, our next destination. Mark’s flight was from Quito to LA, with a stop over for a night in Lima. We all agreed that it would make a lot more sense for him to cancel the first leg from Quito, and hop on his second plane at Lima. Sounds easy enough, right? The airlines didn’t agree. This might be old news to those of you who’ve been round the airline-policies block, but it is impossible under any circumstances to cancel one leg of a flight without forfeiting the entire ticket. The cheapest option was to buy a return ticket with another airline Lima to Quito (via Bogota), so that Mark could catch a flight he did not want to be on from Quito back to Lima to stay a whole night where he started, and then travel onwards. Obviously he didn’t use the return end of this new ticket, but (again bizarrely) the price for a return ticket was half that of an identical one way fare. It was an expensive and mystifying encounter with airline logic.

As for us, we found some good flights from Cusco to Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay, a mere few hours in a bus from Iguazu falls, our next stop. The only downside was that, as Australians, we need a visa for Paraguay from the embassy in Lima.

On the way to Lima we stopped at a little resort town called Huacachina. The town is built around an oasis, complete with palm trees, in the middle of the highest sand dunes in the world (they reach up to 2200m!). Apart from lying around a hostel pool – definitely not all bad – there is only one thing to do in Huacachina: sand boarding. So that is what we did!

At five o’clock a smiling, jolly man picked us up and loaded us into this contraption.

Dune Buggy Huacachina

Dune Buggy

He took us on this crazy ride up, over and around the dunes. It felt just a like a cross between a roller coaster ride, and a hot wheels playstation game I used to play as a kid. He’d make figure of eights in the side of a dune, or ride up, up, up towards a crest until the Swedish girls behind us would scream “no! No! Stop!”, and chuckling he would send us plummeting down the other side, apparently towards a crop of rocks which he would swerve to avoid at the last possible second. It was exhilarating!

The ride lasted for about half an hour before the sand boarding began. I volunteered to be first up. The guide laid me down on the board, demonstrated to everybody where to put the hands, and with no warning at all pushed me off and sent me flying down the dune. Great fun! We tried a few more dunes where we had the option of either lying down, or standing up and zigzagging down.

Nick Sandboarding

Nick Sandboarding

Though for the final dune the guide was very clear that we should only stand up if we wanted to go to the “cementario”, that thing was huge!

After Huacachina we headed to Lima for our visas. We didn’t have very high hopes for Lima, we’d heard from a few people that it was boring, and though its by no means the most interesting tourist city in South America, we really enjoyed it. We stayed in this very wealthy area called Miraflores which reminded me of New Farm in Brisbane. It was safe and lovely, with lots of beautiful cafes and wide streets lined with poincianas and expensive cars. Lima is also renowned for its Japanese food, which we treated ourselves to several times, including one memorable trip to an all you can eat sushi bar. It was nice to take a few days out for eating fabulous food and going to the cinema before we all parted ways. We sent Mark off on his lima-bogota-quito-lima circuit, and we headed for Paraguay, but that’s a story for another blog.


Jungle trek to Machu Picchu

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

So we have left Bolivia for Cusco (or Cuzco) in Peru. Cusco is the second largest city in Peru (after Lima) and was the center of the Incan empire until the Spanish conquest. Now it appears to be the center of tourist activity for Peru with the concept of walking the streets without being offered cheap massages, shoe shines, tours and other services an impossible prospect. While this large amount of tourism is the first thing I noticed, the second was the beauty of the place. Like La Paz it is in the mountains and the city is framed by them; well, probably at a lower altitude they would be called rolling hills but either way they lend Cusco a beautiful backdrop. The beauty of the place is extended to the city itself with many a plaza and a generous proportioning of Spanish colonial buildings which would not feel out of place in a European city if it weren’t for the Machu picchu pictures everywhere. Also, even though it is only 300 odd metres lower than La Paz the air feels worlds better and we can enjoy going up stairs without horrendously loosing breathe. It also has Inca ruins within walking distance but before you get too jealous it is important to note the Spanish destroyed a lot of the ruins and also the charge for getting in is steep enough to encourage a fair number of travelers, I would imagine, to try and enjoy the ruins from a distance.


So I guess the majority of tourists in this area have one thing in mind: Machu picchu. Local tour operators have generously appeared (in great numbers) to aid tourists in this endevour. They have concocted a multitude of options for travelers wishing to see the iconic city ruins. There exists: the single day trip, the classic inca trail, mountain treks, jungle treks etc. all leading to Machu picchu. The poor man’s version is the jungle trek and this is the option we decided on as this continent (especially Patagonia) has made us poor men (and Anna). The “Jungle trek” is advertised as being a way of getting to Machu picchu by means of “trekking, white-water rafting, mountain biking and zip lining!!”. While all these activities were offered to us (some at additional charge) only trekking and mountain biking actually contributed in getting us closer to Machu picchu; by which I mean the white-water rafting and zip lining activities don’t aid in the getting to Machu Picchu and it makes not real difference to your progress if you do them or not. One can’t help but feel a little like a victim of false advertising as you are not actually zip lining to Machu Picchu but rather zip lining and then going to Machu Picchu. I assure you, however, that when you are doing the jungle trek none of this particularly matters. I mean, after all, the feeling that a certain activity is getting you closer to Machu picchu is purely a mental perspective.

The first day of the “jungle trek” was down-hill mountain biking, similar to the death road cycle. We started at 4,300 metres altitude and rode our bikes for 3 hours downhill to just over 1,000 metres altitude. The main difference was that the road was mostly sealed and much safer. I think we all enjoyed this section of the “trek”, but got soaked head to toe courtesy of Peru’s wet season. The white-water rafting section of the trip was that afternoon and was both immensely enjoyable and instructive as it showed us all that we could, in fact, become more wet.

The next two days were spent trekking through mountains towards the town at the base of Machu picchu called Aguas Calientes (literally “hot waters” – apparently there are hot springs nearby). The two days trekking of course brought beautiful scenery but nothing too much in the way of interesting stories so there is not much to write about unless you are interested in the emotions felt by everyone and/or the number (and location) of blisters which felt it necessary to appear on our feet. I assume you are about as interested in these things as I am in writing about them so let’s move ahead to Aguas Calientes.

jungle trek machu picchu

Well there maybe is one thing worth mentioning – one of the places we stopped for a drink had a monkey with which, as you can imagine, we couldn’t resist playing.

When walking towards Aguas Calientes the biggest thought I had in my mind was where in the world would the Peruvians find the space to build a town in this area. The environment was basically extremely steep mountains on either side of a raging river that really would not hesitate in killing any swimmer, with space for a train line and rarely more for a walking path (don’t worry, trains were infrequent and slow).

Though they did manage to find space because after a few more corners we found Aguas Calientes. I think we all agreed that its situation is the best of any town we have seen so far. Personally I think the more impressive aspect of the town is how it manages to not over-charge horrendously. Everything is a little more expensive than in Cusco, but not by so much that you resent anyone. After stuffing ourselves full of well earned pizza and beer we fell asleep both from exhaustion and also to prepare for the 4am rise the following day. The next day was the 4th day, otherwise known as “the day you see Machu picchu”.

Aguas Calientes Peru Machu Picchu

Aguas Calientes

The raging river I mentioned before is quite loud and kinda makes it sound like it is constantly raining outside which is why I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary the next morning as we were preparing for the day. But as luck would have it, rain had set in and wasn’t planning on leaving until late afternoon. After a wet hour and a half of walking of walking up steps we arrived at Machu picchu. The weather was merciful and allowed us line of sight of around 100 metres so we could see most of Machu picchu through the misty haze.

The ruins themselves are very impressive but I think the mountainous location of the Incan town is meant to be the more impressive part of the whole experience and this is precisely the part of it we could not experience. Most of the time you couldn’t make out the neighbouring mountains and when you could it was only small sections. The mist admittedly did add some atmosphere, but when you are wet and cold it is not much consolation. We had a tour of the place and after extremely overpriced coffee and food we decided to head back to Aguas Calientes to sit and wait for the weather to become better. It did, but just as we had to leave.