Jan 022012

When we returned to civilization after our 13-day Mongolia tour, I was happy to hear that my friend Charles would be making a short-notice trip over to SE Asia and that his plans overlapped with ours in the Philippines. Charles is a fellow frequent flyer mile junkie and has completed two impressive round-the-world trips on his own. Neither of us had been to the Philippines before but we had all heard good things about Palawan.

For the most part, getting around the Philippines is cheap and easy thanks to a very competitive mix of low-cost carriers. We used one of the biggies, Cebu Pacific, to travel from Manila to the island of Palawan. Palawan is in the far southwestern corner of the Philippines and is one of the country’s least developed areas. The tickets rang up at an affordable $56 per person.

After a brief overnight in the town of Puerto Princesa, we boarded a bus for Sabang, a tiny village on the west coast of Palawan. The ride took us across mountains, rice patties and small farms – every once in a while we’d catch a glimpse of the beautiful coastline.

The main attraction in Sabang is the “Underground River.” The Underground River is a long water-filled cave which is navigable in small canoes and kayaks. The tourism board recently completely a successful campaign to have it listed as one of the “New 7 Wonders of Nature” against competition such as Iguazu Falls and the Galapagos Islands. I can’t say that I would rank it as such but it was an interesting and impressive sight.  As a tip to other travels, make sure that you are up early to catch one of the first boats into the caves as it can get very crowded and noisy with all the other tour groups.

To me, the real beauty of Sabang is how sleepy it is. The wide crescent-shaped beach isn’t bad either! Most tourists visit the Underground River by way of a day tour from Puerto Princesa and while the beach is bustling by day, it is almost deserted in the late afternoons and evenings.

Sabang offered up the whole range of accommodation options. At the low end were small bamboo huts and at the high end were two out-of-place and nearly empty high-end resorts. While Amy stayed with the backpacks, Charles and I scrutinized the options. At the far end of the beach we found a humble little place called Mary’s Beach Resort. Mary’s only had about 5 bamboo huts and two of them had prime location facing the beach.

We stayed in the hut on the right for three nights.  600PHP ($13.82) per night!
We stayed in the hut on the right for three nights. 600PHP ($13.82) per night!

We haggled a bit on the price but I think we were both of the mindset that we would take the huts at just about any reasonable price. In the end, Amy and I paid under US$14 (600PHP) per night for ours and Charles got a slight single-occupancy discount on his. The huts each had showers, a front porch, mosquito nets and electricity (6PM to 10PM only!) but really the best part was the view:

The view from our hut
The view from our hut
Sabang
Cebu Pacific flight 639: Manila to Puerto Princesa, Palawan
Cebu Pacific flight 639: Manila to Puerto Princesa, Palawan
Our bus from Puerto Princesa to Sabang
Our bus from Puerto Princesa to Sabang
Great scenery along the way from Puerto Princesa to Sabang
Great scenery along the way from Puerto Princesa to Sabang
Sabang's lovely beach
Sabang’s lovely beach
We stayed in the hut on the right for three nights.  600PHP ($13.82) per night!
We stayed in the hut on the right for three nights. 600PHP ($13.82) per night!
Another satisfied customer at Mary's
Another satisfied customer at Mary’s
Important traveling tools: laptop, mobile phone, mosquito coils
Important traveling tools: laptop, mobile phone, mosquito coils
The view from our hut
The view from our hut
The view of the beach from Mary's Resort
The view of the beach from Mary’s Resort
"Downtown" Sabang
"Downtown" Sabang

Thai Airways took us from Bangkok to Beijing on their daily red-eye. The flight was way too short to have a meaningful amount of sleep but that didn’t matter, I was very excited to be on the way to Mongolia! We landed in Beijing just before dawn on a beautiful autumn morning.

After a brief visit to the Air China lounge we boarded our connecting flight on an Air China operated Boeing 737. It was my first time on Air China and I have to say that I wasn’t impressed. The meal service included some terribly bland rice porridge and the entertainment consisted of a lively argument between two of the flight attendants midway through the meal service. In the end, I concluded that the best thing about Air China is that they are in the Star Alliance (my miles work for booking their flights) and that they go to Mongolia. Other than that, I wasn’t too impressed.

Nice mix of livery in the early light at PEK
Nice mix of livery in the early light at PEK

We had booked a room with the Khongor Guest with the intent of also booking one of their tours. This got us a free transfer from Chenggis Khaan International Airport into the center of Ulaanbaatar (UB), a drive which took nearly an hour to cover the 10 or so miles. Traffic, even at 10:30AM on a weekday, is horrendous in UB. I was glad that we had the ride because the location, or at least the entrance, of our hostel was hard to find.

The non-descript entrance to our guesthouse
The non-descript entrance to our guesthouse

We spent the majority of our first day in UB recovering from the redeye and working on a tour plan with the owner at Khongor. They offer a wide range of itineraries spanning from simple day trips to 30-day tours of the whole country. We wanted to visit both the Gobi Desert (in the south) and some of the lakes in the west/north of the country. We eventually converged on a 14-day itinerary that would allow us to visit these areas.

Our room at the Khongor guesthouse was a bit on the small side.
Our room at the Khongor guesthouse was a bit on the small side.

Another aspect to planning to the tour was finding companions to lower the per person cost. Luckily two other travelers had arrived the day prior and had similar destinations in mind for their tour of the steppe. The four of us were to travel together for the first 8 days of the tour and then Amy and I would continue on our own for the remaining days. We opted for an all-inclusive tour which included the minivan, fuel, driver, tour assistant, accommodation, all food, and admission fees along the way. This type of tour priced out to $48 per person per day when we were splitting it four ways, and then $82 per person when it was just Amy and I. Pretty expensive, but it is not an easy place to travel independently.

Sükhbaatar Square
Sükhbaatar Square

With the tour scheduled for departure the next day, we set out and explored a little of UB. Near the guesthouse was the State Department Store whose slogan reads ‘all needs fulfilled.’ It dates back to ‘Red Russia’ times but nowadays serves as an outlet for all sorts of high-end brands. Just a little further down the main drag is Sükhbaatar Square, the center of UB which was a reasonably impressive sight.

UB's State Department Store: "All needs fulfilled"
UB’s State Department Store: "All needs fulfilled"

Foodwise, UB treated us much better than expected. We found a vegetarian restaurant (Gerel Ayalguu, directions here) just a couple blocks from where we were staying. On our first visit we sat down and had a good long stare at the Mongolian menu. I could positively identify one word “кофе” (coffee) but nothing else. Eventually one of the waitresses brought over an English menu – phew, what a relief. Ordering still took some guesswork (the translations were iffy) but Amy ended up with a nice soup and I got a big hearty serving of noodles.

One of our first challenges in Mongolia: ordering food
One of our first challenges in Mongolia: ordering food

The next morning we were met by our driver and tour assistant, Ultzi, who would be taking care of us for the next 13 days. We loaded our bags into a tough-as-nails looking Russian minivan and set out for the grocery store. Ultzi shopped for the food that we would need for the next few days and we found some supplemental snacks before setting out on the steppe.

Who's hungry?
Who’s hungry?
Off to Mongolia
Nice mix of livery in the early light at PEK
Nice mix of livery in the early light at PEK
This flight brought to you by Boeing and Air China
This flight brought to you by Boeing and Air China
The non-descript entrance to our guesthouse
The non-descript entrance to our guesthouse
Our room at the Khongor guesthouse was a bit on the small side.
Our room at the Khongor guesthouse was a bit on the small side.
Sükhbaatar Square
Sükhbaatar Square
UB's State Department Store: "All needs fulfilled"
UB’s State Department Store: "All needs fulfilled"
One of our first challenges in Mongolia: ordering food
One of our first challenges in Mongolia: ordering food
Amy enjoying her 'kimchi soup' and (soy) milk tea
Amy enjoying her ‘kimchi soup’ and (soy) milk tea
Noodles, the first of many I think I'll be having in Mongolia
Noodles, the first of many I think I’ll be having in Mongolia
Noodles.  The first of many I will consume in Mongolia
Noodles. The first of many I will consume in Mongolia
Who's hungry?
Who’s hungry?

Map showing our routing across the Pacific.

After I returned to the States in early June, I had no specific plans as to where to go next.  The volunteer opportunity I had pursued in Africa all but fell apart so I really didn’t have a specific reason to head in that direction – at least not yet.  I spent hours combing through airline award charts and award seat availabilities.

The Republic of Palau, a small group of islands in Pacific, looked to be an awesome destination.  It’s an island paradise with all sorts of natural wonders to explore.  Continental operates its “island hopper” flight which makes stops at cool places like Truk, Kosrae and Kwajalein as it plies the Pacific from Honolulu to Guam.  I’ve heard that the flight is quite interesting but award availability was extremely scarce for the dates we wanted to travel.

Eventually, I came upon some nice availability for travel to the Cook Islands.  The Cooks are a popular destination for Kiwis and Aussies but are relatively unknown to North Americans.  Surprisingly enough it is possible to fly nonstop from Los Angeles to Rarotonga (the priciple island in the Cooks) once a week with Air New Zealand.  But why fly nonstop when you can go by way of Auckland (a 2000+ mile detour) on one of Air New Zealand’s brand new planes for the same price?!

Air New Zealand recently took delivery of Boeing’s latest addition to its 777 series, the 777-300ER, and made headlines in aviation circles with their innovative seat designs.  They have a “Sky Couch” product in economy, some very comfy looking “Spaceseats” in premium economy and a revamped lie-flat seat design in Business Premier.  As luck would have it, award space was available on NZ1, the flight operated by the new plane, so I snapped those up as fast as I could.  Using my United miles, business class tickets to the Cooks came to 60,000 miles and $2.50 in taxes.

Some bubbly and nuts prior to pushback
Some bubbly and nuts prior to pushback

After a bit more searching around I was able to piece together an exit plan for getting off the Cooks.  We would fly to Malaysia Borneo (Kota Kinabalu) by way of Sydney and Seoul with a stopover in the latter.  I know it sounds a bit roundabout but it is the most direct routing available using Star Alliance carriers.  Even so, it took a supervisor at British Midland to authorize the long routing.  The total worked out to 18,750 miles and $401 in taxes and fees for the business class booking.  Oh, and if anyone is wondering the total flown mileage on these two tickets is about 19,025 miles.  The Pacific is one huge ocean!

Dinner and a movie well underway
Dinner and a movie well underway

So…on to the flights.  Air New Zealand Flight 1 from LAX to AKL was incredible.  The new seats were easily the best business class seats I have flown and I would say they compete nicely with many carriers first class products.  In particular, the quality of the cushioning when the seat is in “bed mode” is superb.  The back of the seat actually folds forward to reveal a separate matress for the bed.  In most lay-flat seat designs the seat itself just goes flat and isn’t a true matress.  Another nice feature of the plane is the fact that the galleys are equipped differently so that the crew can actually cook (as opposed to reheat) food on the aircraft.  I had some great waffles for breakfast just prior to landing in AKL!

Waffles with strawberries and banana whipped cream for breakfast
Waffles with strawberries and banana whipped cream for breakfast

After some showers in the Koru Club we boarded one of Air NZ’s older 767 aircraft.  Nothing too exciting in terms of the seats or in-flight entertainment but the service was exceptional as it always seems to be on Air New Zealand.  The load was light that day (5 of 24 seats occupied in business) so it did feel a little like a private jet.

Our first glimpse of Rarotonga
Our first glimpse of Rarotonga

Arrival into Rarotonga was a nice firm landing runway 8.  I guess pilots don’t like to waste precious runway…especially then it comes to landing a widebody on a 7,500ft runway!  Much like Easter Island there are no jetways so everyone takes the stairs and immediately gets to soak in some of the great island weather.  A local band was playing in the baggage claim area and before we knew it we were through customs to meet the representative from our guesthouse.

Across the Pacific
Us and our shiny Air New Zealand 777-300ER
Us and our shiny Air New Zealand 777-300ER
My seat number, just in case I forgot.
My seat number, just in case I forgot.
Air NZ's new generation of herringbone suites.
Air NZ’s new generation of herringbone suites.
Some bubbly and nuts prior to pushback
Some bubbly and nuts prior to pushback
A tasty seared tuna appetizer
A tasty seared tuna appetizer
The chef's selection plate as a light main.
The chef’s selection plate as a light main.
Dinner and a movie well underway
Dinner and a movie well underway
Time for bed.
Time for bed.
Waffles with strawberries and banana whipped cream for breakfast
Waffles with strawberries and banana whipped cream for breakfast
There is nothing quite like I nice hot shower just after a long flight.
There is nothing quite like I nice hot shower just after a long flight.
Nicely appointed showers at Air NZ's Koru Club
Nicely appointed showers at Air NZ’s Koru Club
Some vegemite at the lounge.
Some vegemite at the lounge.
Climb out from AKL
Climb out from AKL
Our first glimpse of Rarotonga
Our first glimpse of Rarotonga
I love it when there is no jetway!
I love it when there is no jetway!

Somewhere in Wyoming (obviously)
Somewhere in Wyoming (obviously)

There you have it.  Photographic evidence that I was in Wyoming.  We passed through the land of jackelopes after we had spent some time visiting Amy’s family in Denver.  We joined my dad as he drove through Denver on his way to my brother’s wedding.

Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park

Along the way we visited both Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park.  Given that it was Father’s Day weekend, the parks were surprisingly deserted.  Normally you hear about multi-hour traffic delays in the parks due to the massive crowds but not this time around.  They had a long, late and difficult winter in that part of the country so maybe that is what was keeping people away.  Either way, the weather was mostly agreeable for our one-day visit and we were able to see most of the highlights on our way through the two parks.

After attending my brother’s wedding in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana we went to Helena to visit with my family.  Helena’s valley and the surrounding mountains were incredibly green this year thanks to the wet winter.  We took a number of drives up into the surrounding forrest and the wildflowers were absolutely stunning.  I spent almost all of my summers as a kid in Helena and I don’t ever remember it being that green.

The winds of cheap airfare carried us from Helena, Montana to New York, New York (via Los Angeles, of course) and from there we bussed it up to Boston just in time to catch the Fourth of July fireworks on the Charles.  Our three days in Boston were spent visiting with friends, eating at some local favorites and preparing for the next leg of the trip.  We even took advantage of the last few days that remained on my Community Boating membership.

A beautiful red-flag day for a sail on the Charles
A beautiful red-flag day for a sail on the Charles

From Boston we continued on to Los Angeles to visit with Charles, one of my travel junkie friends.  Charles was kind enough to let us crash at his place in West Hollywood and we made good use of the time by picking his brain on potential travel destinations.  He has completed two round-the-world trips and dozens of shorter trips abroad so he is basically a walking Lonely Planet.  Aside from the normal travel brainstorming and talk of recent changes to airline award programs, he was also able to give us some practical first-hand advice for the Cook Islands – our next destination!

Downtown LA from Griffith Observatory
Downtown LA from Griffith Observatory
The Good Old U. S. of A.
Somewhere in Wyoming (obviously)
Somewhere in Wyoming (obviously)
Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park
A sage grouse showing his stuff.
A sage grouse showing his stuff.
Old Faithful
Old Faithful
Traffic jam in Yellowstone
Traffic jam in Yellowstone
Snow banks in Yellowstone, in late June!
Snow banks in Yellowstone, in late June!
Warning statements in many languages but honestly I think the picture covers things pretty well.
Warning statements in many languages but honestly I think the picture covers things pretty well.
Yellowstone's Grand Prismatic Spring...pity it was raining
Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring…pity it was raining
Yellowstone Lodge
Yellowstone Lodge
Hiking through refridgerator canyon
Hiking through refridgerator canyon
Canyon Ferry Dam at the headwaters of the Missouri with all its spillways open.
Canyon Ferry Dam at the headwaters of the Missouri with all its spillways open.
Helena's Sleeping Giant
Helena’s Sleeping Giant
Loaded up and ready for the streets of New York City!
Loaded up and ready for the streets of New York City!
A beautiful red-flag day for a sail on the Charles
A beautiful red-flag day for a sail on the Charles
Downtown LA from Griffith Observatory
Downtown LA from Griffith Observatory
Some heavy metal from Heathrow on short final
Some heavy metal from Heathrow on short final
Charles and I watching a Delta 777
Charles and I watching a Delta 777
An all-too-short visit with Charles, one of my travel junkie friends
An all-too-short visit with Charles, one of my travel junkie friends

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.


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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