Friday, March 21, 2008

New Zealand- 3000 km in 9 Days

Off the plane and into a Ford Fiesta, the party on wheels... And the best Ford I've ever driven.

Picked up our music listening selection," some snacks and supplies"
Within hours we arrive in Waitomo and sign up for a swimming / caving tour 60m under the surface of the Earth... Blackwater Rafting. Glow worms are really maggots.

We spend the night in Rotorua, passing out abruptly once checked into a hostel.

The next morning we purchase our sleeping accommodations for the rest of the trip, a cozy 3 person tent, the Promo 3!

We tour more of the North Island, getting a true taste of Middle Earth.

We arrive in Wellington, a beautiful city on the water, but unfortunately with no time to spare. We board the ferry, and enjoy the 3 hour ride to Picton in the South Island.

The South Island is literally made up of several National Parks. Each with their own ecological environment, coastline, jungle, desert, and mountainous glaciers; all within only hours of each other.

Enjoyed camping on a deserted beach, falling asleep to crashing waves.

From the western shore line to the East, up and over Haast Pass. Pushing the limits of the Fiesta's offroading capabilities (4 in. Clearance) to find the perfect camp site on a dried up river bed, reminiscent of all those Alaska trips.

Eating a delicious meal of Chef Boyardee-like spaghetti, tuna, and some crackers... Washing it all down with a delicious Ranfurly beer.

March 18
12:30. Arrive in Queenstown, bungy capitol of the world.
12:35 Inquire about cost and times for bungy jumping
12:50 Signing the waiver form to jump from the Nevis Highwire, 134m high.
5:10 Falling to the Earth with a smile on my face the whole way.
7:30 Having a celebratory beer back in Queenstown.

Drive to Mt. Cook National Park. Hike 13k alongside the Tasman glacier. Spend the night at the Ball Hut Shelter admiring the amazing views; and getting to know the Kea's (New Zealand's 2nd most popular bird).

Drive into Christ Church, enjoy the night out.

Return the car, good as new... Fly back to Auckland... For 11 hours.

Get back on the plane, destination Sydney, Australia!

(1:07 till we land)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


...You really take advantage of it, until you're falling to the earth at 9.8 m/s^2 on the 2nd highest (134m) bungy jump in the world...

Saturday, March 15, 2008


A Testament to the Advances of Modern Technology...

Right now I am sitting on an abondoned beach somewhere in New Zealand, enjoying a beautiful sunset.. and, of course, posting a blog...

... Because I can...


A Testament to the Advances of Modern Technology...

Right now I am sitting on an abondoned beach somewhere in New Zealand, enjoying a beautiful sunset.. and, of course, posting a blog...

... Because I can...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Ferry crossing

Sorry that last post should've gone out a couple days ago. This phone I've been using doesn't work more often than it does work...

So here we are at the ferry crossing going from the north island of NZ to the south.

We have our newly purchased tent, some maps, and some fresh fruit we bought at a farm stand... We're ready for anything!

PS Wellington is beautiful!

Glow worms and sulpher smells...

Blogging from the road, lierally...

Here we are, our first day of New Zealand already over. We're driving cross country, with our newly purchased music selection (tears for fears, Moby, Gregorian chants to the Beatles, and Irish Drinking Songs), to today's destination, Napier, to sample some of the country's most exquisite wines.

Yesterday, after arriving into Auckland and meeting our friend Dan, we picked up our finely tuned automobile, a Ford Fiesta! ..." Its pretty much a party... On wheels..."

A little note about driving on the other side of the road: its strange... Like learning to drive all over again. What makes it even more interesting is shifting with your left hand driving with your rightn but still pushing down the clutch with your left foot.

Anyways... It was recomended to us, by many people, to see the glow worms and do the blackwater rafting in Waitomo Caves. We arrived mid day and scheduled a tour for 3pm. They suited us up in an interesting assortment of wetsuit, boots, shorts, and helmet and headlamp. After being introduced to the temperature of the water and being shown how to properly jump in with a tire innertube we started our journey. We climbed through a small hole in the rocks amidst the trees. Once below we started floating, hiking, swimming our way through the caves. (We were greeted by a nice size eel about 2 ft. Long as we first got into the water). By the time we had descended 50 meters below the surface of the earth we saw our first sightings of glow worms. Which actually are really maggots and not worms at all. And its actually their feces that glow as a means to attract an unsuspecting food source thinking its daulight. After making our way through for another half hour we finally resurfaced to the world above. (Pictures soon to follow)

After Blackwater Rafting it was back in the car. This time to Rotorua where we spent the night. Roto is known for its numerous thermal pools and geysers, hence the smell of rotten eggs. Even as we're driving you can see the steam rising above various spots across the landscape.

We made it to Roto, celebrated NZ day 1 with some beers and got some sleep.

This morning we are proud to say we purchased a cheap tent. For the rest of the time here we'll be camping every night! The scenery is amazing and its beautiful.

We have 1 more full day here on the North Island then we take the ferry over to the South Island which everyone tells us is even better! Hard to believe!...

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Inca Trail and the big MP (Machu Pichu)

Is it possible to fully explain how awesome the Inca Trail and Machu Pichu were!?

...Probably not, but I'll try...

Will and I had signed up to hike the Inca Trail, a 4 day/ 3 night 50 K (35 mi.) trek, months ago. We were told its so popular that you need to book in advance. The Peruvian government requires all hikers go with an official tour group, so we decided to choose a group called SAS, by the recommendation of Lonely Planet.

Last Saturday night we had our briefing with the our two tour guides, Ruben and Julio, as well as a "meet and greet" with the rest of our group. All together there were 14 of us, 5 Americans, 2 Canadians, 6 Brits, and 1 Dutchie. Everyone was really cool and we all got along immediately.

Just to give you an idea of the kind of trip this would be, we were all served hot tea during the briefing!

Ruben explained to us the itinerary, passed out the sleeping bags and pads, and told us to get some sleep.

Sunday morning Will and I got picked up by the van, with the rest of the group, and we were off to Kilometer 82, the official start of the Inca Trail. After registering with control and showed our passports we started hiking. The plan was to do 14 K the first day, hiking through the Peruvian Jungle, seeing Incan Ruins on the way and gaining elevation to put us several K below Dead Woman's Pass, the highest elevation (4200 m, 13,600 ft) for the trek. Keep in mind that we were hiking on the actual Inca Trail, the same trail the Incans used over 600 years agao to travel in and out of Machu Pichu... Absolutely amazing! At camp that night we had a crazy dinner prepared for us!! No joke- a four course meal! One thing we did not do on this trip- was go hungry!

Day 2 was the hardest, by far. we were woken up at 6, and planned to be on the trail by 7. We had to climb up and over Dead Woman's Pass, then down, then back up through another pass. This is the rainy season too, so each day we had alot of rain, luckily, though just sporadic showers. Each day we stopped and explored some of the Inca Ruins and had storytime courtesy of Ruben! He would explain to us some stuff and we would get to ask questions.

Question: "Ruben, how old did the Incans live until?"

Rubens: "Ahh, The Incan people would live till 130 to 140 years old!! they live very long becuase they drink corn beer and chew coka leaves!"

...yeah, Rubens had a lot of information about Incan culture, problem was, slightly skewed information!...

Anyway... with day 2 down we were over halfway to Machu Pichu. Because we did over 16 K on day 2 we took it easy on day 3 and hiked only 7 K. We camped at Winawayna, a large camp for all the tour groups, about 2 hours outside of Machu Pichu.

We woke up the morning of day 4 at 4 am ate, broke camp, and headed out for Machu Pichu. This was the most exciting day by far. With headlamps we hiked in the dark through the jungle, on the mossy cut Incan stones, everyone was completely silent (maybe because we woke up at 4am!?), the only sound to be heard was the constant chatter of secadas, birds, and frogs. It literally felt like i was in an Indiana Jones movie!

We arrived at Machu Pichu!...

...only we couldn't tell!... it was completely covered by clouds!

But that's ok, Rubens insisted the weather would get better... "right, Rubens, just like the Incans lived until 140.."

We walked down into the ruins, and Ruben explained to us about the temples, the houses, and the fountains that were supplied with a built underground plumbing system! The craftsmanship that the Incas had is unbelievable, they could precisely carve extremely hard granite with only hand tools, nothing that could ever be duplicated today. All while our Incan education, the weather did clear up! the views were amazing!! (as you can see)

After Machu Pichu, we had lunch down at Aguas Calientes, a town below Machu Pichu. We said our good-byes to Rubens and Julio and got on the train back to Cusco... a very long and painfully slow train... 4 hours!

I still can't believe I got to visit Machu Pichu, it really is a once in a lifetime opportunity!

I highly recommend it! check out all the other pictures!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Inca Ruins, Togas, a Cooking Class, and Chicken Foot Soup


Upon our arrival in Cusco we learned that the city was in the midst of a transportation strike! Lucky for us, we scheduled that 5:30 am flight out of Cusco, since travelers arriving later that day had no way of getting to there hotels. Even as I write this there are rumors of another strike that will start up again on Monday, apparently they're pretty typical in South America, especially in Peru and Bolivia....

We got to our Hostel, no problem, even though we had to pay some extra Soles (Peruvian Dinero) And so started our week long adventures in Cusco. Several people we've met along the way said Cusco was a great city to stay for a while... we listened, unfortunately.

Now, don't get me wrong, Cusco is beautiful and fun, albeit the constant street vendors trying to sell you stuff (we like to think of this as training for India), more US tourists than we've seen in the other countries combined, and having to buy a tourist ticket for just about everything to see in the city. Tourism is Cusco's main business these days, so I guess you have to expect those things.

Cusco's claim to fame... the oldest continously inhabited city in the Americas! It is old! Many of the current buildings were built upon Incan and Pre-Incan foundations, all surviving hundreds of years of earthquakes and typical natural weathering. You can clearly see the difference in the fine masonry construction of the Incas and the typical stone brick construction of the Spanish explorers in a single wall, very interesting.

For the first day or two, William and I walked around the city, got lost, found our way, and just checked things out... this has become our customary way of doing things once we arrive in a new place. Our first mission was to check out some of the Incan Ruins above Cusco, an easy 20 minute walk, for any place, except for the fact that Cusco is at over 10,000 ft and extremely "hilly". The Ruins are called Saqsaywaman, pronounced sexy woman. We started up, only to find that we needed a Tourist Ticket to enter the ruins, after failing to see if we could get in for cheaper we turned around only to find a boy telling us to follow him... It sounds a little sketchy, but why not!? On our hike with our new assumed tour guide, we found out he knew a way to get into the ruins without paying, his name was Dieter (German, I know...weird), and he was our new best friend! We hiked up a road for some time then followed Dieter to a barbed wire fence which he easily climbed through. Truthfully, at this point we weren't sure what to do, should we follow him, get to see the ruins, and possibly get thrown in a Peruvian Jail....or turn around, tail betwen our legs, and have Dieter make fun of us at dinner with his family, about the two candy-ass Americans he met today... You know what option we chose.

Through the barbed wire fence, across a Hacienda, and down into the ruins... We were in!

... for 10 minutes!...

We walked around saw some cool stuff and then were approached by Incan Park Police...Busted!

Luckily Will played the old, "My ticket was right here in my bag (pointing to an unzippered pocket)" and I did the whole, "What, what the hell did you do with the tickets!?"

The guy had to have known that we were bullshiting him, but he was cool about it and told us we had to leave through one of the main gates... "Ok, no problem, we've worn out our welcome" Except for the fact that Dieter said it was fine, and we should continue walking around...

Derek/ William: "No, Dieter we vamos ahora"
Dieter: "No, no, no problemo"

Derek/ William: "Es problemo Dieter! We Vamos"

In the midst of our Spanish/ Spenglish dispute another park police employee comes over and tells us to "Please leave now!"

Ok... we leave now! We casually walked through the gate, hopped in a cab, agreed to the over-inflated price back to the hostel, and got the hell out of there!

And so it goes our Cusco trespassing adventure!

But that wasn't the last time we saw Dieter, we actually made plans with him to guide William and I and a couple of Aussies we met around town and into some museums...legally.
Dieter turned out be very knowledgable in Cusco history. He spoke both, Spanish and Quechua, and a little bit of English... and of course we spoke very little Spanish.... and even our English wasn't even that good (so says, some of the Brits we've met)

And throughout the next couple of days I finally got back to Saqsaywaman (totally worth the money, should've done it in the beginning), attended a nice Toga had been 10 years since the last time Will and I went to one together... Ate some delicious soup, only to find a whole chicken foot in it!...We even were invited to a Peruvian cooking class where we made Arroz Chaufa con pero caliente... Fried rice with hot dog... (yes, pero caliente is the literal translation and is written on the packaging), met tons of cool people, walked around the markets (seeing how much it would cost to buy a whole pig head), and got the hang of staying in a place longer than 3 days!
The days went by faster than we thought they would, and Cusco treated us well. Pretty soon we found ourselves packing up for the Inca Trail, and having to wake up at 5am...

Lima... In 2 Days!

Ok, I know I've been seriously slacking on the blog... so I'm going to try to redeem myself with these next couple of posts. Will and I just got back from hiking the Inca Trail up to Machu Pichu. Needless to say, it was absolutely amazing!

Before I get into that, first let me tell you about Lima. Its your typical South American city, beautiful old buildings, people and dogs (extreme) running around everywhere, and the ever present smell of automobile exhaust. There's nothing really striking that makes Lima stand out from the other cities we visted. We had 2 nights before we left for Cusco. We stayed in the part of Lima known as Barranco, right next to Miraflores (the nicest part of Lima). Our room in the hostel even had ocean views...not too bad for paying 9$ US a night!
The first day, we just walked around, explored a little, and of course had our first experience with Ceviche... see below... However, I should add, that in our defense their was a communication mix up. When the waitress came over it sounded like she asked us if we wanted cervezas...not ceviche! ..."what?...beers, oh yeah that sounds great right now, si' si'" Yeah, we were a little surprised when the beers didn't show up, and instead in their place was a big plate of raw fermented fish and octopus.... ok, enough with the Ceviche...onward. Later that day we met some friends hung out at the mall!! (Just like Jersey!) ...No, actually the outdoor mall in Miraflores is a big thing. People go there to eat at fancy restaurants, shop (of course), and at night go to the discoteques. We decided to see a movie instead, Gone Baby Gone (actually a really good movie), spanish title- Desperacion en la Noche,... not sure why the change in title. The next day, we decided to do a city tour... very interesting since everyone else on the tour was older than 50. but we made the best of it, saw some Inca ruins, went to some old Spanish Cathedrals, even down into the crypts. Just try to picture the number of bones lining the walls from over 20,000 people!
The city tour took up most of the day. That night we decided to go out, see some live local Peruvian bands, and check out some of the bars. Our plan was to stay up until 3am (not hard to do...usually) since we had to leave then for the airport to catch our plane to Cusco. We lasted until 1... slept for 2 hours and got our taxi to the airport. You can only imagine how fun it is to travel on 2 hours of sleep and with the taste of Pisco Sours still in your mouth...

Cusco, here we come!