Crete

Found time for a cheeky chill out week in Crete recently, unfortunately didn’t have a lot of time to travel around the island though (which would have taken ages anyway, it’s huuuuuuge).

Rethymno is a nice place for a stroll around, nice harbour and narrow cobbled streets:

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We stayed in one of the hillside villages overlooking Souda Bay in the west. Very pretty views and not many “of your usual tourist crowd” in these parts.

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Oh….I do like the ubiquitous Mediterranean sunset photo. Yiamas!

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On an unrelated note, I really need to find the time to put up the pictures of the rest of my Central American tour from last year. It’s also now August 2014 and I haven’t set foot in any “new” countries so far this year. Very itchy feet. It’s time to start trip planning….

Central American Tour – Part 1 Guatemala

Central America. Y’know, that little bit between North and South America (Geography for Dummies, 2013). Not the safest part of the world for tourists, but hey, significantly better than the assorted war zones of a few years ago. Robberies and other bad stuff are commonplace, although to be fair we didn’t see anything much more intimidating than a couple of pickpocketing attempts at the famous Chichicastenango market.

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The market was set around the local church, and a very traditional service was taking place (hey, it was a Sunday after all)

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I deliberately placed a couple of red bananas (yum) in my back pockets to help the pickpockets with their 5-a-day. If you do get offered the opportunity to be relieved of your valuables by gunpoint/knifepoint (delete as applicable), you should simply smile, hand over the goods and thank your assailant for giving you the opportunity.

That said, the people in general were very welcoming. They’ve got lots of their own problems without having to worry about tourists, particularly among the poorer indigenous Mayan communities. This is a beautiful and lush (hey it was the end of rainy season anyway) country, with numerous active volcanos dotted around the landscape. The most tourist friendly place was Antigua, a UNESCO World Heritage town. Lots of people come here to learn Spanish on residential courses. Very good value for money by all accounts if you’re in the market for that.

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We took a boat trip out on Lake Atitlan to one of the towns on the other side of the lake. Felt a bit like Switzerland or Austria for a while.

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This is where we heard about the “Church of Maximon”. More a cult than a Church, but the heady mix of Catholicism and indigenous Mayan religions operating effectively “side by side” was curious and beguiling at the same time. Where else can you go into a church and see both a traditional Catholic mass and the local shaman performing rituals at the same time? Maximon is a God of the people. He drinks, smokes, behaves badly and rules within a culture of fear. The locals don’t want to upset him. I warmed to this dude and was quite happy to worship in his church that day #keepingitreal Look Maximon up on Wikipedia if you’d like to find out more, it’s all pretty interesting stuff.

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Here’s a couple of the locals. Some of the ladies are even prettier than this.

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It wouldn’t be a blog of mine without some reference to food or beer – here’s a traditional Guatemalan breakfast for your perusal. Eggs, salsa, guacamole, black beans and corn tortillas.

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Oooh…and did I mention the coffee?? Guatemalan coffee is delish.

Travel begins at home….Portsmouth, England

Well, why not? I don’t live in a beautiful city, but it is at least a very historic one. It’s the school summer holidays here, and we had the opportunity to go and visit the sights.

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We do at least have a landmark now, the Spinnaker Tower. Worth a visit on a clear day as the views are pretty good. First up was HMS Warrior in the Dockyard. A couple of years ago I went to Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua, which was a beautiful setting. Admiral Lord Nelson of course had a few gigs over here too.

 

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Next up was HMS Victory

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And finally the Mary Rose, which as we all know was Henry VIII’s warship built in 1512. It’s seen better days though…(sorry, couldn’t resist)

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This concludes the short tourist information segment on my home town. Come and visit!

Zakynthos

A cheeky and last second week in the sun. I’ve never visited Greece before. Tourism is down a fair bit, and the locals are appreciative of your visit given the precarious state of the Greek economy. The shopkeepers are anticipating working in drachmas again before too long. We stayed in Argassi, which was a nice family friendly resort.

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After 5 days of chilling by the pool I began to get itchy feet so made my way over to Zakynthos Town.

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As with many countries in this part of the world, churches are everywhere. This one is in the main square in Zakynthos Town.

The temperature was 32C so the hike up the hill to the castle overlooking the town was good exercise. The views made it worthwhile though.

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Back down by the harbour, I strolled around and saw the local fisherman peddling their wares. I doubt it gets any fresher than this…

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I sat and ate lunch opposite this boat, and chose fresh grilled sardines. Copious amounts of local food and drink were sampled during the week, the traditional lamb kleftico being one of the highlights. The wine is pretty good too, interestingly in restaurants you are asked if you want your red wine chilled or at room temperature. Of course I had to try it both ways….

Final thoughts – Adios Peru

No doubt about it, “The Gringo Trail” in Peru was fantastic. Lots of highlights, all previously documented. Whoever you are, you should consider visiting this beautiful country.

To finish, a few random observations about the trip:

– Every time you get into a taxi you are literally taking your life in your hands – driving here is not for the feint hearted, and I’m staggered how some of them still function on 4 wheels.

– Avoid overnight buses unless you can literally sleep through anything.  If you can’t, it feels like you’re watching the Horror Channel in the dark for 3 days straight without food or water or taking your eyes off the screen.

– Near raw fish (Ceviche) is often better then cooked fish.

– If you’re a fussy/unadventurous/nervous eater, chips will be a good friend.

– If you get fed up drinking Pisco Sours ( the national drink), then if you must move onto Pisco shots try to avoid the green ones.

– Some hotels have badly maintained electric showers known to electrocute. Sometimes it’s better to be a bit whiffy.

– Piscopiscopisco isn’t really a town, as some bus drivers would have you believe, it’s actually just called Pisco.

– Maca is the (ahem) “food supplement” of choice, particularly when mixed with Quinoa powder (apparantly)

– 100% Baby Alpaca  garments quite often aren’t. The  clue is in the softness (or not as the case may be), Baby Alpaca is ‘uncommonly’ soft.

– “The View” at Machu Picchu is every bit as good as you think it’s going to be

– Inca Kola is lovely, but how the hell am I going to get some back in the UK?

Nazca Lines, Huacachina Oasis & The Ballestas Islands

The famous Nazca Lines (400-650AD). Visible from the air only, but the scenic 30 minute flight to see them isn’t an automatic “gimme”. I didn’t actually do the flight myself , as a 6 seater Cessna is a tad smaller than my normal minimum size of a 737. However, my new bessie mate (and top panoramic landscape photographer) agreed to take my camera up to take some shots for me.

The biggest issue people seemed to have with this flight on the day is that the Lines are actually incredibly difficult to see. Judge for yourself:

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See what I mean? Needle in a haystack and all that. Not even sure if any of the patterns are in either of these. The other problem is of course the plane itself, which  left some quite nauseous. They were warned not to have a big brekkie….

We moved on to the Huacachina Oasis, which was a nice way to spend the aftie.

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It’s a natural spring in the middle of the Peruvian desert. We went dune buggy riding, which was great fun although my back was to regret it badly for 24 hours afterwards. (UPDATE) Make that almost a week.

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I don’t think the pics can do justice to how enormous these dunes are.  The Dakar Rally was here in Peru recently , I remember some of the TV footage being pretty spectacular.

The next day we moved onto the Ballestas Islands, a.k.a “The Poor Man’s Galapagos”. Certainly I doubt the two compare, although it was a worthwhile trip, particularly as I got to briefly see the same Humboldt Penguins that were the subject of a recent BBC documentary. Alas, we saw very few of them, and my only pic that actually captured one was this:

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But hey, I did see a Humboldt Penguin in the wild, I really did.

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In short, way too many birds and not enough penguins (apparantly they were all off fishing). The stench was pretty acute, I have to say too. The Ballestas highlight for me was the sea lion colony, with literally dozens of newborns making a huge cacophony of noise:

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The mums teaching the pups to swim was particularly cute:

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It certainly whetted my appetite further for a Galapagos visit before I’m too much older.