Beetle tracks
Beetle tracks
Spotted Eagle-Owl (Bubo africanus)
Spotted Eagle-Owl (Bubo africanus)

Our award ticket from Brunei to Sri Lanka allowed us to make a free stopover in Singapore along the way. We have both visited Singapore in the past so we didn’t have any particular sightseeing in mind, however, we were eager to dig into Singapore’s diverse food scene. Much like Malaysia, Singapore’s food world is a mix of Chinese, Indian, and Malay cooking styles and for being a relatively expensive travel destination, the food is comparatively cheap.

It had been a couple of years since I last visited and I remembered hearing all sorts of hype about the new Marina Bay Sands development on reclaimed ground near downtown. The development is supposed to be Singapore’s up-and-coming 24/7 entertainment district with shopping, theaters, a casino, museums, and a luxury hotel. The hotel is housed in three 55-story buildings that are bridged at the top by a “SkyPark.”

Although most of the complex is finished, public transportation infrastructure is still a work in progress as we discovered. Getting there was a sweaty schlep through a construction site in Singapore’s hot afternoon sun. For an orderly country like Singapore, this is way off the norm! Wandering around Marina Bay Sands was interesting enough but neither of us were willing to cough up the exorbitant SG$20 (US$17) admission cost to visit the SkyPark.

The following day we paid the Asian Civilizations Museum a visit. There was an absolutely massive line stretching out the door that we later found out was due to a visiting exhibit of terracotta warriors from China and because admission was free for the day. The wait was something like 90 minutes for the special exhibit but we found out way into their permanent collection and soaked up the aircon for a few hours. It is a fascinating museum and I particularly liked the video consoles that showed how some of the arts and crafts were made.

Black carrot cake (don't ask me about the name), a Singaporean favorite
Black carrot cake (don’t ask me about the name), a Singaporean favorite

As always, Singapore treated our bellies quite well. We made plenty of stops for snacks and meals at the food courts and hawker centers that fill just about every nook and cranny of the city center. On our last day we made the pilgrimage to the Maxwell Road Food Centre and I got a plate of chicken and rice from one of the famous stalls. I also ordered up some black carrot cake which is a strange wok-cooked savory dish that is a local favorite.

Departure board at Changi International Airport
Departure board at Changi International Airport

By mid afternoon on the third day we were growing tired of the hot weather and decided to head to the airport early. For those of you who haven’t visiting Singapore’s Changi airport, it is a sight to be seen. The airport has won piles of awards for being one of the world’s best. The usual passenger facilities like check-in areas, security and immigration are all well-designed and adequately staffed but what really sets it apart is what lies behind immigration. Loads of shopping outlets, free movie theaters, hundreds of free internet terminals, koi ponds, butterfly gardens, etc. Literally enough to keep one entertained for days on end.

We crashed out in some free massage chairs for a while next to a koi pond before making our way to Singapore Airline’s Silver Kris Lounge. We started at the lounge in Terminal 2 but it was very crowded due to some renovations that are taking place. Terminal 3 was much quieter and we made good use of the shower facilities and their speedy internet connection. I also made good use of their sushi and open bar!

The flight to Colombo was a short 3-hour hop on one of Singapore Airline’s new A330-300 aircraft. Amy had special ordered a vegetarian meal and I availed myself to Singapore Air’s “Book The Cook” service. Good thing I did “Book the Cook” because the menu was strikingly similar to what we had on the flight from Brunei. We didn’t know it at the time but the flight was to be our last taste of luxury (or even somewhat comfortable) transportation for the next few weeks!

Lobster thermidor
Lobster thermidor
Singapore to Sri Lanka
ArtScience Museum (left) at Marina Bay Sands
ArtScience Museum (left) at Marina Bay Sands
Cooling off with an ABC at Marina Bay Sands
Cooling off with an ABC at Marina Bay Sands
Singapore's much-visited Merlion
Singapore’s much-visited Merlion
Hindu temple in Chinatown
Hindu temple in Chinatown
A few of the many interesting treasures at the Asian Civilizations Museum
A few of the many interesting treasures at the Asian Civilizations Museum
Chicken and rice and sweet barley drink at the Maxell Road Hawker Centre
Chicken and rice and sweet barley drink at the Maxell Road Hawker Centre
Black carrot cake (don't ask me about the name), a Singaporean favorite
Black carrot cake (don’t ask me about the name), a Singaporean favorite
Departure board at Changi International Airport
Departure board at Changi International Airport
Regional business class seats on SQ's new A330-300 aircraft
Regional business class seats on SQ’s new A330-300 aircraft
Prawn salad
Prawn salad
Lobster thermidor
Lobster thermidor
Kenyan AA coffee and creme brulee
Kenyan AA coffee and creme brulee
The rather obvious routing from Singapore to Sri Lanka :)
The rather obvious routing from Singapore to Sri Lanka :)

Aug 262011

Once we finished our diving and snorkeling at Sibuan, we headed back to Semporna and bought tickets for the overnight bus to Kota Kinabalu.  Completing three dives that same day left me exhausted and I was certain that I would sleep like a baby regardless of the conditions on the overnight bus ride.  Naturally, I was proven wrong.

Yay, we get to travel in First Class tonight!
Yay, we get to travel in First Class tonight!

The bus left at around 7:30PM and by 9PM the air conditioning had stopped functioning.  Air con buses are great but air con buses with a broken AC unit are ten times worse than a bus without AC because the windows can’t be opened!  We spent the next few hours tossing and turning along with the other 47 people on the bus.  Around midnight we came screeching to a halt at some nondescript roadside eatery out in the middle of Sabah’s palm plantations.  Half the passengers and the drivers jumped out to take a break.  Since neither of us was managing any sleep in the sauna-on-wheels, we stretched our legs.  What happened next was quite unexpected.

Just as we were about to leave, the ticket guy from our bus came over and said we should move to the other bus.  Nobody else was moving but he said we could go “same seats, same seats” he proclaimed.  I double, no, triple-checked to make sure the bus was also headed to KK.  Indeed it was and he was just moving us because there happened to be open seats on their other bus (from Lahad Datu, another east coast city, I presume) and the AC was working.  I was mighty impressed by this gesture!

We arrived in KK at some horrid hour…3:30AM or thereabouts.   The second bus was much more comfortable from a temperature standpoint but the legroom was painfully minimal.  Making matters worse was the fact that they guy behind me wouldn’t let me recline my seat at all.  No sleep for me that night but at least we were out of Semporna!  Our hotel in KK was completely locked down so we had our choice between a 24-hour KFC and a 24-hour McDonalds.  We mooched McD’s wifi and enjoyed a couple of beverages for the next three hours.

Ferry boat for Kota Kinabalu to Pulau Labuan
Ferry boat for Kota Kinabalu to Pulau Labuan

Brunei, one of SE Asia’s more obscure countries, was our next destination on the trip.  Brunei has two small slivers of land on the north coast of Borneo and is home to about 400,000 people.  Huge amounts of oil have been discovered in Brunei and this has developed the country and made it one of the richest in the region.  Apparently, it is possible to get to Brunei overland from Sabah but it is a huge pain.  The easier route, and the one we selected, was to take a boat from KK to Pulau Labuan and then switch to a second boat bound for Brunei.  We left KK a little late in the day which unfortunately forced us to overnight in Labuan.  We found some decent Indian food there but there was little else of note.

The next day we made the quick one-hour crossing to Brunei’s port of Muara and caught a bus from there to the country’s capital – Bandar Seri Begawan.  Our immediate impression of Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB, for short) was that it is strikingly similar to Singapore.  Not in the sense of there being huge glamorous high-rises and crazy shopping malls – there isn’t anything of the sort, but rather, in the sense that the place was impeccably clean and well organized.  We just barely beat a tropical rainstorm to the hotel.

Downpour on arrival in BSB
Downpour on arrival in BSB

After settling into our room we walked to the city center and hired a boatman for a quick spin through Kampong Ayer, the nearby stilt village which many call the “Venice of the East.”  Apparently, Kampong Ayer is one of the largest stilt villages in the world and the nickname makes sense to me.  It is a bewildering labyrinth of canals and wooden houses and shops all strung together by wooden walkways.  What makes it particularly interesting is how the government has officially embraced its existence.  Our boatman kept pointing out schools, police stations, and even fire departments that were built into the village.  Additionally, many of the houses have drinking water and city sewage service.  Very cool!

From the boat, we also got a brief glimpse of the Sultan’s enormous palace which has 1,788 rooms!  It’s too bad we weren’t visiting Brunei a little later in the month because at the end of Ramadan, the palace opens for everyone to visit and feast.  One of the locals we met later in our stay told us that he goes with his family each and every year and that it is a party not to be forgotten.  If you are on Borneo for Ramadan, make it a point to be there – that was the message.

The Sultan's palace
The Sultan’s palace

The main attractions in BSB include the strikingly beautiful Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque and the Royal Regalia Museum.  The pictures of the mosque speak for themselves, it is an incredible structure and it is unfortunate that we weren’t able to visit the interior (closed to visitors during Ramadan).  The Royal Regalia museum was also quite interesting.  Photos weren’t allowed inside but you can imagine what is inside: all sorts of fancy royal clothing, huge parade chariots pulled by a 30 men, and of course the many gifts the Sultan has received from other governments.

On our second day in BSB we rode on a speedboat to Brunei’s Temburong district which is isolated from the rest of the country by a small piece of Malaysia (Sarawak).  The Lonely Planet highly recommended the ride even if we didn’t have a specific reason to go to Temburong and they were right.  The boat held about 20 people but had two 150-hp outboards strapped to the back.  Jetting through the narrow channels through the mangroves was lots of fun!  Once in Temburong we wandered a bit and then grabbed some cold drinks at a restaurant before heading back to BSB.

On the ride back, and I’m sorry I wasn’t fast enough to get a photo, we saw a huge crocodile sunbathing along the bank.  Now as a Floridian I feel that I am relatively well-qualified to make statements about the size of water-borne reptiles.  When I say huge, I mean HUGE.  This thing was far larger than the largest American alligators that I’ve seen back home.  The Wikipedia article on the matter informs me that water crocs can reach 20ft in length and top the scales at 2,000lbs – it also provides some scary narrative about their feeding behavior.  I believe every bit of it and I am sure glad that we weren’t kayaking the mangroves!

Seafood noodles
Seafood noodles

We found some delicious food in Brunei.  Much like Singapore, the local cuisine is a mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian foods.  As we often do in our travels, we quickly found a convenient and favorite place to eat and we returned for a number of meals over the course of our three day visit.  The roti canai cooked up at this place for breakfast was mighty tasty and we also had some excellent noodle dishes for dinner.

Only in Brunei can one find a control tower with gold all over it!
Only in Brunei can one find a control tower with gold all over it!

BSB’s airport is one of only two on Borneo that is served by Star Alliance airline (on their own metal, at least) and available for award redemption.  Since flying out of Kota Kinabalu would have involved backtracking to Seoul, we booked two business class seats on Singapore Airline’s twice-weekly widebody service from Brunei.

Massage chairs at Royal Brunei's Sky Lounge
Massage chairs at Royal Brunei’s Sky Lounge

Brunei’s international airports departure lounge has vaulted ceilings and some small koi ponds scattered about that gave it a slightly Changi Airport (SIN) feel.  After thoroughly exploring the curbside section of the airport, including the very nice rooftop “waving gallery” that has tarmac views, we headed through passport control to get showers in Royal Brunei’s Sky Lounge and have a few snacks.  The flight to Singapore was a short 2-hour hop and we had a good view of the Sultan’s palace shortly after takeoff.

Brunei
Yay, we get to travel in First Class tonight!
Yay, we get to travel in First Class tonight!
Ferry boat for Kota Kinabalu to Pulau Labuan
Ferry boat for Kota Kinabalu to Pulau Labuan
Downpour on arrival in BSB
Downpour on arrival in BSB
Fancy hotel room in Brunei
Fancy hotel room in Brunei
The direction to Mecca.
The direction to Mecca.
This is what happens when you go from an aircon building into the humid outdoors in BSB.
This is what happens when you go from an aircon building into the humid outdoors in BSB.
The Sultan's palace
The Sultan’s palace
Central BSB
Central BSB
Our ride to the Temburong district of Brunei
Our ride to the Temburong district of Brunei
Ginger drink
Ginger drink
Seafood noodles
Seafood noodles
Tasty roti canai for breakfast
Tasty roti canai for breakfast
Pizza Hut, even in Brunei!
Pizza Hut, even in Brunei!
Downtown BSB
Downtown BSB
There is a great observation deck on top of BSB airport.
There is a great observation deck on top of BSB airport.
Only in Brunei can one find a control tower with gold all over it!
Only in Brunei can one find a control tower with gold all over it!
Coi at Brunei's Airport - it's like a minature Changi airport!
Coi at Brunei’s Airport – it’s like a minature Changi airport!
Our plane for Singapore
Our plane for Singapore
Massage chairs at Royal Brunei's Sky Lounge
Massage chairs at Royal Brunei’s Sky Lounge
The Sultan's Palace
The Sultan’s Palace

The Trip Home

Bolivia, Chile Comments Off
Jul 292011

As I had mentioned in earlier posts, we ran into some problems with entering Peru due to a mining protest that closed the Bolivia-Peruvian border for a number of weeks.  The detour we selected was to travel back to Chile by bus and then fly to Lima with a stopover in Santiago.  We would have preferred to stop in Lima instead but there was no award availability so we just had to make due with Santiago.

After our visit to Lake Titicaca and Isla del Sol, we returned to La Paz and spent one last day there.  The next day we were booked on a 10-hour international bus from La Paz to Arica, Chile so of course this had to be the time when I was to come down with some sort of stomach bug.  Fortunately the bus was mostly on time and we had saw some nice volcanoes along the way.  The only glitch was an extra hour at the border thanks to some older Bolivia lady who thought she could bring a huge load of merchandise (snacks, bottled drinks, etc) into Chile without paying import duty.  Removing her and all her merchandise from the bus took far longer than it should have!

The reason for our lengthy delay at the border.
The reason for our lengthy delay at the border.

Arica, the northernmost city in Chile and just a few miles from Peru was pretty nice as border towns go.  The city has a lively harbor with more than its share of sea lions and pelicans.  We found it entertaining to watch the fishermen feed fish scraps to the sea lions as well as the pelicans’ unrelenting efforts to steal some for themselves from the clumsy yet powerful beasts.

Me hungry!
Me hungry!

Flying from Arica to Santiago was uneventful.  It was a late-night flight with LAN Chile that departed around midnight and arrived around 2AM.  It was still much better than a bus ride, that is for sure!  In Santiago we had a day to kill so we visited one of the produce markets.  Lots of vendors were selling fresh fruit juices so we ordered up some lucuma – a new fruit for both of us.  This may sound strange but the juice tasted like cake batter with maybe a hint of maple syrup.  It wasn’t tangy at all nor was it overly sweet.  Lucuma is truly strange fruit and I have to say I rather liked it.

The tourists watch the sea lions while the pelicans watch the tourists.
The tourists watch the sea lions while the pelicans watch the tourists.

We took another flight with LAN Chile to get from Santiago to Lima.  This time around I discovered that I could request upgrades through the LAN website prior to check-in thanks to my recently-comped Comodoro status in the LANpass mileage program.  I was shocked when I checked in and was given a business class boarding pass because we were traveling on award tickets issued using British Airways miles.  Normally, when you redeem miles for free flights they are strictly non-upgradeable.  Maybe it was a glitch, but either way I wish I had known to try this before our flights out to Easter Island and back!

Plaza de Armas, Santiago, Chile
Plaza de Armas, Santiago, Chile

Our connection in Lima was an 8-hour overnight one so we opted to camp out in the airport.  We were able to use the airport’s shared lounge (Sumaq) but unfortunately some displaced passengers from a delayed Delta flight had already occupied all of the nice sleeper chairs in the lounge.  All in all, it was a pretty sleepless night but we did get to take some showers just prior to boarding our flight to Miami.

My very first flight on American Airlines! Lima to Miami
My very first flight on American Airlines! Lima to Miami

We arrived in Miami and within the first two hours of being “welcomed” home we experienced a lengthy immigration queue, enhanced pat-downs, and a full-on TSA meltdown whereby they yell for everyone on the concourse to freeze where they are until the alert is over.  I sure hadn’t missed this circus over the past few months!  What I had been missing, however, was some tasty American fast food.

...and an enormous hot dog with a couple piece of deep-fried macaroni and cheese as its wingmen.
…and an enormous hot dog with a couple piece of deep-fried macaroni and cheese as its wingmen.
The Trip Home
Food poisoned on the bus, again.  At least I had some Coca-Cola in a little bottle.
Food poisoned on the bus, again. At least I had some Coca-Cola in a little bottle.
The reason for our lengthy delay at the border.
The reason for our lengthy delay at the border.
The tourists watch the sea lions while the pelicans watch the tourists.
The tourists watch the sea lions while the pelicans watch the tourists.
Me hungry!
Me hungry!
Arica, Chile
Arica, Chile
The coastline around Arica
The coastline around Arica
Plaza de Armas, Santiago, Chile
Plaza de Armas, Santiago, Chile
My very first flight on American Airlines! Lima to Miami
My very first flight on American Airlines! Lima to Miami
At last, a burrito the size of my head.
At last, a burrito the size of my head.
...and an enormous hot dog with a couple piece of deep-fried macaroni and cheese as its wingmen.
…and an enormous hot dog with a couple piece of deep-fried macaroni and cheese as its wingmen.


Flying to RBQ

Bolivia Comments Off
Jun 082011

When I told a good friend of mine that I flew to RBQ, his first comment was “Isn’t that the name of a sandwich at Arby’s?”  Indeed, it is the name of a sandwich at Arby’s (the Arby-Q) but RBQ is also the airport code for Rurrenabque, Bolivia – Bolivia’s gateway to the Amazon Basin.

Rurre is about 150 miles from La Paz as the condor flies and there are two ways to get there.  Option 1 is a long bus ride that takes 18 hours in the best of cases and often as much as 30, and as a bonus, having a ticket doesn’t necessarily mean you will have a seat.  Option 2 is a short 40 minute flight.  Advice from other travelers was unanimous: take the plane!

For about $150 with picked up round-trip tickets with Amaszonas (Z8 to us airline nerds) in their Fairchild Metroliner 23 which makes the trip to RBQ seven times daily.  Check-in at La Paz’s El Alto International Airport was much like the process for any other airline at any other airport in the world.  ID check, a few questions about baggage and the selection of seats.  After paying the departure tax we headed through security for a efficient-and-respectful (read: outside-of-the-USA) security check.

Nice tow for the powercart!
Nice tow for the powercart!

Our aircraft arrived about 30 minutes late and the ground crew set to work on the turn.  Much of this was fairly normal, although, I was entertained when they pulled the power cart up with what appeared to be rust-colored late 80′s Fiat Uno.  Refueling, a walk-around by the new crew, and baggage loading took all of twenty minutes and soon after they called us for boarding.

We had seats in row 9, the very last row of the 19-seat aircraft.   The last row is actually three seats across but the middle was unoccupied so all together we had 18 passengers, a captain and a first officer.  After everyone was onboard the captain yelled something to the passengers in the first few rows.  It may have been about the huge backpack in Mr. Seat 2A’s lap or it could have been a safety announcement, I am not sure which.  Either way, it must not have been too important because a few seconds later the engines started up and we started to roll.

The takeoff roll down runway 28L seemed exceptionally long but I guess most of that was due to the thin hot air at El Alto’s ridiculous 13,400ft (I guess that means most jumbos have to de-pressurize before landing here!).  Once airborne, we climbed to the west for a good while and caught a glimpse of Lake Titicaca before turning back to the east to shoot the pass through the Cordillera Real.  The views through the desolate and glaciated mountains was spectacular though the ride was quite bumpy.  Mere minutes after passing the Cordillera, it was as if the Earth just fell away as the Altiplano gave way to the Amazon Basin.

Just before arrival in Rurre we passed over a couple smaller mountain ranges covered in jungle as well as the town of Rurre itself.  Touchdown on RBQ’s runway 32 was nice and smooth and I got to experience my first dirt taxiway a few moments later (complete with horses roaming about).

Turning on to the downwind leg.
Turning on to the downwind leg.
RBQ
RBQ

Our return trip, one week later, was much the same although the weather was rainy and dreary and we suffered a 3-hour delay.  I am happy to report that the open-air RBQ terminal has a proper complement of stray dogs, a detached eatery and the most outhouse-like bathrooms I have experienced at any commercial air terminal.  My biggest regret is that I didn’t ask the guy running the show if I could come up into the small control tower to get a picture!

RBQ toilet and eatery
RBQ toilet and eatery

When it was time for us to go, we found out that we had to load ourselves back in the bus that had brought us from downtown Rurre.  The dirt taxiway we had used the week before was impassable thanks to the soggy ground so the bus took us out on the runway to meet the plane.  Inboard passengers got to stand in the drizzle while their bags were unloaded then we traded places with them.  Amaszonas doesn’t refuel at RBQ (they carry enough fuel from La Paz) so the turn was nice and speedy, I bet the plane was on the ground less than 15 minutes!

Aircraft servicing on the runway (due to muddy taxiways)
Aircraft servicing on the runway (due to muddy taxiways)

The 40-minute flight back was surprisingly smooth considering the violent thunderstorms we had had the night before.  My window fogged over pretty badly thanks to the humidity so I did the best I could with the photos.  The view of the Cordillera was again spectacular and before we knew it we were touching down on 10R at El Alto.  All in all a great trip, although, I will admit I was a bit nervous flying a rural Bolivian airline!  Next up on the blog will be our tour through Madidi National Park.  More photos below, just click the thumbnails.

LPB-RBQ
Inbound aircraft arriving at El Alto Airport
Inbound aircraft arriving at El Alto Airport
Nice tow for the powercart!
Nice tow for the powercart!
All loaded up!
All loaded up!
Turning on to the downwind leg.
Turning on to the downwind leg.
Passing Rurrenabaque and the Beni River
Passing Rurrenabaque and the Beni River
On bumpy final into RBQ.
On bumpy final into RBQ.
RBQ
RBQ
Very happy to be on the ground.
Very happy to be on the ground.
The return trip started on a rainy day after a three-hour delay
The return trip started on a rainy day after a three-hour delay
Hand-written boarding passes!
Hand-written boarding passes!
One of the competing carriers.
One of the competing carriers.
RBQ toilet and eatery
RBQ toilet and eatery
Aircraft servicing on the runway (due to muddy taxiways)
Aircraft servicing on the runway (due to muddy taxiways)
Seat controls (luz, not working)
Seat controls (luz, not working)
Parking next to some classics
Parking next to some classics
Happy survivors!
Happy survivors!

May 082011
Just after takeoff from Santiago.  Sunrise over the Andes
Just after takeoff from Santiago. Sunrise over the Andes

On April 23 we finally squeezed the last segment out of our LAN award ticket that carried us all over Chile.  The final flight was from Santiago to Antofagasta in the north.  It was a pleasant early morning flight on a cute little Airbus A318 (first time on that aircraft for me).  Service was the usual drink and snackbox affair and arrival into Antofagasta was a little ahead of schedule.

Desolation
Desolation

We bought tickets for a shared taxivan to the center and were dropped off at Antofagasta’s bus terminal a short while later.  We had tickets to take us from Antofagasta to San Pedro de Atacama high in the Chilean Altiplano.  The drive took us across some spectacularly desolate landscape.

The last stretch of road into San Pedro de Atacama.
The last stretch of road into San Pedro de Atacama.

San Pedro de Atacama is a nice little desert town that thrives off tourism.  We stayed at Hostal Sonchek, run by a Slovenia/Chilean couple.  Like most of the buildings in San Pedro, our hostal was built of adobe and had a great open air courtyard in the middle.  We stayed a total of five nights and saw some amazing things out in the desert.  Stay tuned!

Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama
Just after takeoff from Santiago.  Sunrise over the Andes
Just after takeoff from Santiago. Sunrise over the Andes
Sandy cliffs on final into Antofagasta
Sandy cliffs on final into Antofagasta
The humorously short A320 variant...the A318
The humorously short A320 variant…the A318
Predeparture snack.  Pancho con ketchup, mustaza y palta (avocado)
Predeparture snack. Pancho con ketchup, mustaza y palta (avocado)
Quite a nice bus terminal in Antofagasta
Quite a nice bus terminal in Antofagasta
Those are some big tires!  Mining is big in this area.
Those are some big tires! Mining is big in this area.
Desolation
Desolation
The ruins of some town.
The ruins of some town.
The last stretch of road into San Pedro de Atacama.
The last stretch of road into San Pedro de Atacama.
Courtyard at Hostal Sonchek
Courtyard at Hostal Sonchek
Courtyard at Hostal Sonchek
Courtyard at Hostal Sonchek
Documenting San Pedro de Atacama
Documenting San Pedro de Atacama
Enjoying a delicious mote in San Pedro
Enjoying a delicious mote in San Pedro

My apologies for the delay in posting.  Getting access to the Internet while on Rapa Nui was a bit harder than expected…at least until I repaired our guesthouse’s connection towards the end of our stay.  Our flight from the mainland with LAN Chile was uneventful and we had a great view of the Juan Fernandez archipelago along the way.

Arrival at Rapa Nui’s Mataveri International Airport is a fun experience in and of itself.  Of course the airport doesn’t have a large terminal building with jetways and the like.  All passengers take the stairs and stroll across the tarmac into the open air terminal where a local band is playing and girls are handing out flowers.  Before we knew it we were packed into a late 90′s Nissan being whisked away to our guesthouse in Hanga Roa, the island’s only village.  I will post more about our accomodations, the village and our budget in later posts.  But first, some moai!

Ahu Tahai, just outside of Hanga Roa
Ahu Tahai, just outside of Hanga Roa

Before we flew to Rapa Nui we had read that while many tourists rent cars for their entire stay, it is possible to see many of the sights on foot.  On our first full day we decided to walk part of the northwestern coast check out the moais, lava tubes, and rolling green countryside.  The tourist office told us that the loop would take 4-5 hours and to bring lots of water as there is no safe drinking water outside of Hanga Roa.

Much  of the island's coastline is like this.
Much of the island’s coastline is like this.

Just outside of Hanga Roa is Tahai which is a restored ceremonial site where one can find three ahu (stone platforms) with six moais (stone heads).  Further up the coast, there are some nice lava tubes at Ana Kakenga which you can explore if you have a flashlight.  Two of them are frequently visited by tourists and lead out to the sea where there is a nice view of the ocean.  Heading into the caves was a nice repreive from sun.

Amy explores the cave with a headlamp
Amy explores the cave with a headlamp

After Ana Kakenga the road turns inland and climbs gradually to Ahu Akivi.  Ahu Akivi is a complex of seven moais that are unique in that they face the ocean.  All of the other ahu on Easter Island are located along the coast and their moais face inland.  Ahu Akivi was gorgeous and arriving on foot meant allowed us to wait until a tour group departed.  After that, we had the place to ourselves.

Ahu Akivi and its seven moais
Ahu Akivi and its seven moais

The walk back to Hanga Roa from Ahu Akivi was arduous.  When it was all said and done, our four-to-five hour walk had turned into a seven hour adventure.  Nevertheless, it was well worth it and best of all it was completely free.

Sunset at Hanga Roa
Sunset at Hanga Roa
Easter Island – Day 1 (Ahu Akivi)
Juan Fernández Islands
Juan Fernández Islands
On final into IPC.
On final into IPC.
Ahu Tahai, just outside of Hanga Roa
Ahu Tahai, just outside of Hanga Roa
Much  of the island's coastline is like this.
Much of the island’s coastline is like this.
Amy climbing into a lava tube
Amy climbing into a lava tube
Looking out to sea from the lava tube
Looking out to sea from the lava tube
Amy explores the cave with a headlamp
Amy explores the cave with a headlamp
Inside the lava tube
Inside the lava tube
The banana cave
The banana cave
Ahu Akivi and its seven moais
Ahu Akivi and its seven moais
The rolling green hills of Rapa Nui
The rolling green hills of Rapa Nui
Two important forms of transportation on Rapa Nui
Two important forms of transportation on Rapa Nui
Sunset at Hanga Roa
Sunset at Hanga Roa

Apr 162011

Chile is a big country.  It is certainly possible to travel by bus but distances are absolutely vast.  Before I left on my RTW trip I researched mileage redemption options within Chile in hopes of finding a cheaper and more comfortable way around.  As it turns out, British Airways has a very generous mileage award for travel within Chile.Chile award routing courtesy of gcmap.com

Easter Island has long been on my list of places to see and, being part of Chile, is accessible using this British Airways award on their partner, LAN Chile.  At the suggestion of some friends I decided to see just how far I could stretch one of these tickets.  Surprisingly, the agents at BA allowed me to piece together a very elongated routing (over 7,500 miles!) that would not only allow me to visit Easter Island but also the far south of Chile.  20,000 miles and $59 in taxes later it was ticketed.

The first flight on this ticket was from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas in Region XII of Chile.  It is a relatively short two-hour flight and, provided it is clear, you are treated to spectacular views of fjords, mountains and glaciers.  Upon arrival in Punta Arenas we immediately made our way to the bus terminal to catch a bus north to Puerto Natales which is the jumping off point for Torres del Paine National Park.

Chiloé to Puerto Natales

 

Apr 122011

It is 8:30am local time and we are sitting at gate 25 at Santiago’s airport.  At 9:30 we are scheduled to depart to Rapa Nui, one  of the world’s most remote islands.  We will be flying in a shiny LAN 767 complete with winglets modifications and have secured some nice exit row seats.

Amy has informed me that the distance from Santiago to Rapa Nui is equivalent to the distance between Punta Arenas and Arica which are Chile’s southernmost and northernmost cities – 3760 km or 2336 miles.  We departed Punta Arenas yesterday morning just after their first snow of the year and we are definitely looking forward to the warmer weather on Easter Island.

Stay tuned this week for posts and photos of our time down south which included a spectacular day at Torres del Paine National Park.

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