Haiyan Behind the Scenes

Here in Siargao, a small island just north of Mindanao, we keep close track of all the tropical storms and typhoons that are developing in the Pacific ocean. Not so much because we’d be scared of super typhoons like Haiyan, but because these weather phenomena are what give birth to the swells we strive to surf whenever possible.

We were well aware of Haiyan, or Yolanda as it’s dubbed here in the Philies, at least a week before its arrival to the Philippine coast. Normally we’re excited when we spot a powerful typhoon in the satellite images. We would start waxing our boards and spread the word about good surf sessions in a few days. This one was different. The typical path of a low pressure area is such that it turns north well before posing any threat to the central Philippines, just sending us the waves to enjoy. Haiyan was at a crash course with Siargao from the very beginning. And our island is facing straight to the ocean and among the first islands to take the hit.

Our group of three Finns was probably better informed of the incoming threat than anyone on the whole island. As the landfall was foreseen to Friday morning, we started to be a bit worried already on Monday. For most of the locals it was just another internet rumor that would probably be hoax anyway. The general indifference continued on Tuesday. We were at a birthday party of a local friend and I tried to reflect my concerns while enjoying the traditional birthday treat, a pig roast, with some (OK, a lot of) local punch, but still everybody seemed to expect Haiyan to eventually turn north. The impression of indifference is totally understandable when one remembers that Filipinos get several typhoon warnings every year, and more often than not it’s just bad weather for a day.

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By Wednesday morning the atmosphere had changed drastically. A lot of tourists had already jumped to a boat towards Surigao by the time I could get out of bed after the party. Now also locals suggested us to leave the island if anyhow possible, and the resorts had hired tens of men to cover all the windows with plywood, cut down branches and coconuts from palm trees, drag boats far away from the shore etc. The situation had turned 360 degrees to the other direction, as some sports people would put it.

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Our decision was to try and catch the first ferry to Surigao departing 5.45 in the morning. After this was agreed upon, we spent the rest of Wednesday packing our bags, stocking up with food and trying our best to protect the house and any stuff left behind. There was a lot of confusion whether the ferries would be going at all the next morning, but we rationalized that the storm would not hit the island until Friday morning and on Thursday morning there should be no problems.

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The alarm had set to go off at 3.30 as we had to take the three of us with all the luggage to a nearby resort by one moped before jumping to a car for the drive to the harbor. I slept about two hours before wake-up. The leading part of the 600 km diameter super typhoon had already reached Siargao, as we could feel from the torrential showers every now and then. Two of us made the drive to the harbor of Dapa comfortably inside a truck, but the third of us had to sit at the rear bed of the pickup with all our bags covered with garbage bags. The rain was pouring down almost the entire half-an-hour drive to Dapa, and as we got there the dock area seemed alarmingly empty. All the scheduled boats were canceled due to the storm warning given by the government, as we later learned.

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Being stuck at the island we had to go for the plan b. Acknowledging the fair chance for the ferries to be canceled, we had managed to reserve ourselves a room in a concrete house in the evacuation village of Consuelo. Consuelo is supposed to be the safest village in Siargao, but ‘safest’ does not necessarily imply ‘safe’.

We went back to our house and packed only the essentials to small daypacks, as our evacuation hosts could have a full house with not much space for our rucksacks. All the rest we put to plastic barrels and sealed the covers with duct tape. After helping out to protect bar furniture etc at the nearby resort we drove to Consuelo and got warmly welcomed by a hearty local family whose daughter we already knew.

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This is when my picture of life in an evacuation village changed at once. People were smiling and laughing and took us in as if we were family. What does it help to be gloomy and melancholy if we’re already at the safest place we can get to, right? Mother of the family started to prepare lunch while we drank a few coldies and picked up raw mangos from a tree to eat with salt.

Picking up mangoes.

Picking up mangoes.

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Sour mangoes with salt, a local treat.

Sour mangoes with salt, a local treat.

The lunch was delicious. Not any canned spam or emergency food like that but typical Filipino cuisine with a variety of dishes to choose from and mix together. Our compliments were met with modesty. After lunch the daughter and her friend, also an acquaintance of us, told us “let’s go!” “Where are we going?” we mumbled. “No questions, just come!”

Goggles and a raincoat is the way to go.

Goggles and a raincoat is the way to go.

Considering the prevailing circumstances where we actually went might sound slightly irresponsible to say the least, but on the other hand it confirmed the rumors about how people usually amuse themselves during an evacuation. Off we went to a local bar and there we watched wide-eyed when our friends carried beer, drinks and food to the table. The predicted landfall of Haiyan was early Friday morning and now it was Thursday afternoon, so there was no problem in spending three to four hours in a bar having fun. My fun factor was somewhat damped by the tiredness, though.

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Yolanda nail polish.

Yolanda nail polish.

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Sun had already set when we walked back to the house in moderately heavy rain. At the porch father of the family drank local rum with his friends and it would have been rude to refuse when they offered a drink. What waited for us inside was more food; a dinner even fancier than the lunch. After dining at around 8 pm we were all exhausted from the rough and long day and fell asleep in our beds fully clothed.

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I woke up around midnight and the whole house was sleeping. I tried to get the latest info on the typhoon’s movements with my 3G capable Kindle at the porch while watched the rain and wind gain more strength. By 1 am the sky was pouring down and gusts were so strong that sitting at the porch did not feel safe anymore as debris was already flying in the air. When I got back inside half of the family had already woken up from the noise, and shortly after that the power went out. As we were placing candles and flashlights around the house the mother opened the door and water started flooding in to the living room. The porch where I’d been sitting just a while ago was now an ankle deep swimming pool. There was nothing we could do but wait so I went back to sleep around 2 am.

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My Finnish friend woke me up at around eight and said that the typhoon was mostly gone. Having time believing that I was reluctant to leave the house before I confirmed it from a satellite image. Our local friend brought the news from another evacuation house telling that the typhoon had turned south and our house had lost its roof. Satellite imaged showed me that the first rumor was false. The eye of Haiyan had passed around 100 kilometers to the north of us.

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Breakfast was served shortly after we got up from our beds. After eating we packed our backpacks, left most of our food and some money to the family, which they reluctantly accepted after some persuasion. We drove back to our house with strong winds still blowing and a lot of fallen branches on the streets.

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Our house was fine and the palm leaf roof was still there with only a few leaking holes more than before. The biggest damage to our place was the banana tree that had given up, so we had to harvest the crop a little bit early.

An improvised helmet is still necessary for falling coconuts.

An improvised helmet is still necessary for falling coconuts.

Life in the island got back to normal fast. After undoing all the precautionary measures all that reminded us from the storm were the streets filled with coconuts and branches and still weak overseas connections. A friend of ours was already kite surfing in the remnants of Haiyan. Power got back shortly after sunset.

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Our ease during the threat of a serious catastrophe is yet another demonstration of what is so special about the Philippines. It is the people. The unlimited hospitality despite poverty, the optimism and happiness despite constant shortage and high spirits despite total uncertainty about the future.

My story at the mercy of perhaps the most powerful cyclone ever to hit the land has a rather dull and anticlimactic ending. I just wish the story was just as dull and anticlimactic for the millions of Filipinos whose homes Haiyan hit head-on.

Lima & Chicama

Oh no, I have not overcome my writer’s block and there’s no guarantee that this blog will see another post after this, long ago written run-through. Despite my strong optimism while leaving Finland, writing a blog has not become a pleasure to me and it still is more of a burden. Let us still keep the optimism up though. As I just happened to see on the wordpress.com sidebar, “I don’t like writing, but I like to have written.”

From Cuzco we continued to Lima, the capital of Peru. We spent there only three days, as our main motivation for this visit was to buy surf boards and head to the coast as fast as possible.

Surfing would have been possible also in Lima though, but the water is cold and so polluted that officials do not recommend dipping into it at all.

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We booked a room from Hostal España that our friend John had recommended. He had mentioned something about having lots of animals at the roof of the place, but the abundance of (captivated) wildlife was quite surprising. Two huge turtles chasing the lady turtle, a peacock couple that was familiar enough to try and eat from our plates, some other weird big birds that liked to wake us up around 4am and also a bad behaving dog.

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Our hostel was in the center of Lima but all the surf shops are in the expensive Miraflores area, so we ended up taking taxi every day there for finding the boards. Miraflores was a bit like Miami with it’s modern architecture, coastal views and snobbish people in their fancy vehicles. I’ve been to Fort Lauderdale once so I know what I’m talking about.

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Well, we found suitable boards from a Klimax shop after a few days of chasing. The same evening we jumped to a night bus to Tumbes, which is the nearest city to the surfing village of Chicama at the Pacific coast of Peru.

The luxorious Tepsa coach had a WiFi, a warm dinner and almost fully reclining seats. The boarding process was the kind of an airplane with security checks and stuff.

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We arrived to Chicama in the next afternoon after spending some three hours in a local chicken bus driving a seriously bumpy road.

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Always nice to have company in the line-up...

Always nice to have company in the line-up…

Local taxi.

Local taxi.

Chicama is renowned for having the longest surfable wave in the world, in optimal conditions rides of up to 2 km are possible. Having surfed last time more than a year ago, we just played around in the water dodging jellyfish a few days and continued towards Mancora for some easier surf and less freezing water.

View from our ~10€ room.

View from our ~10€ room.

2€ lunch menus.

2€ lunch menus.

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Machu Picchu on a Shoestring

From La Paz we took a bus to Cuzco to take a glance at this celebrated old Inca capital and to go and make the almost compulsory visit to the ruins of Machu Picchu. This was coarsely on our way to Lima anyway.

Otimme La Pazista dösän Cuscoon suorittaaksemme pakollisen visiitin Machu Picchun raunioille. Ellei Cuzco olisi suunnilleen matkan varrella Limaan, olisi tämä turistiekskursio varmaankin jäänyt tekemättä.

Cuzco's "main square" seen from a nice 2nd floor café.

Cuzco’s “main square” seen from a nice 2nd floor café.

Sari posing with our mochilero-friend since Rurrenabaque, John from Alaska.

Sari posing with our mochilero-friend since Rurrenabaque, John from Alaska.

About one sixth of all the things in Peru are called San Pedro something. This is a nice market in the center of Cuzco.

About one sixth of all the things in Peru are called San Pedro something. This is a nice market in the center of Cuzco.

Some fuc*ed-up stuff, such as llama mummies, can be found also from San Pedro market.

Some fuc*ed-up stuff, such as llama mummies, can be found also from San Pedro market.

Megatouristic places like Maccu Picchu are not very high on our list, so we decided to see the ruins as fast and cheap as possible. Also, I personally see a much greater proof of human achievement in the cellphone in my pocket than in a city people were stupid enough to build on top of a mountain for worshiping another human being they called their emperor.

Päätimme vieraille Inka-kaupungissa niin nopeasti ja edullisesti kuin mahdollista, sillä tämänkaltaiset turresumput eivät ole ykköskohteitemme. Taskussani (harvakseltaan) pirisevä Nokialainen on mielestäni huomattavasti edustavampi näyte ihmiskunnan saavutuksista kuin Inkojen tyhmyyksissään vuoren huipulle rakentamassa kaupungissa.

Random puppy pic.

Random puppy pic.

The budged version of the Inca ruins means taking a minibus from Cuzco to Santa Maria and another taxi/collectivo to Hidroelectrica (construction site of a hydroelectric plant), from where rich tourists can take the almost US$30 one-way train to Aguas Calientes. We continued on foot along the tracks and reached Calientes in about three hours.

Machu Picchun halpaversio edellyttää ensiksi minibussia Cuzcosta Santa Marian kylään ja sieltä kimppapirssiä vesivoimalalle, josta varakkaammat ottavat noin 30 taalan stogen Aguas Calientesiin. Me turvauduimme patikkakyytiin junarataa pitkin.

Some dodgy old bridges had to be crossed.

Some dodgy old bridges had to be crossed.

Of course it rained the entire three hours we hiked.

Of course it rained the entire three hours we hiked.

Almost there.

Almost there.

In Aquas Calientes we went to a cheap hostel (which was surprisingly easy to find) and bought the tickets to enter Machu Picchu. Here an ISIC student card saved us some US$30 as it was half price for students. As the buses up to the Inca site are very expensive as well, we woke up around 4am the next morning and hiked up to the ruins. The climb is steep and exhausting, but we made it there easily before the sunrise.

Kun sateinen patikkamme Calientesiin oli ohi, majoittauduimme halpaan hostelliin ja ostimme pääsyliput raunioille. Tässä kansainvälinen ISIC-opiskelijakortti tuli ensikertaa hyödylliseksi, sillä säästimme sitä vilauttamalla flaboissa noin 30 dollaria. Koska myös bussit Calientesista ylös Inka-kaupungiin maksavat hunajaa, heräsimme aamuneljältä ja kiipesimme jalan Machu Picchuun. Muutaman tunnin haikkaus oli jyrkkä ja raskas, mutta kerkesimme kivasti ennen auriingonnousua ylös.

The first part of the hike had to be done with the help of headlamps.

The first part of the hike had to be done with the help of headlamps.

We weren't the only ones at the gates at opening time.

We weren’t the only ones at the gates at opening time.

Sunrise from up there:
Tältä se auringonnousu sitten näytti:

That's hardly worth the ~US$500 folks usually pay for their trips.

That’s hardly worth the ~US$500 folks usually pay for their trips.

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We wandered around the nice (but really not that astonishing) ancient ruins about three hours and walked back down and straight back to Hydroelectrica and took a minibus back to Cuzco.

Pyörimme ympäri raunioita kolmisen tuntia ja laskeuduimme alas vuorelta ja kävelimme suoraan takaisin vesivoimalalle, josta löysimme suoran minibussikyydon takaisin Cuzcoon.

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No rain this time!

No rain this time!

Finnish-funded slacking off going on in here.

Finnish-funded slacking off going on in here.

If you happen to be around it’s worth visiting, but don’t make this the main reason for your trip to Cuzco.

Jos olet kulmilla, käy ihmeessä tsekkaamassa rauniot, mutta älä ihan niiden tähden buukkaa lentoja Peruun. Suomenlinna on aikalailla yhtä siisti mesta, ja vielä ilmanen.

It’s rainforest for reason – Viidakkojimit sademetsässä

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Now that we’d experienced the pampas of the Amazon rainforest, we headed to the heart of the jungle for another 3-day trip from Rurrenabaque.
The rain begun when we were taking a boat up the Tuichi river towards the jungle huts we’d occupy the next two nights. After three hours of driving upstream we reached the log tied to the shore that served as a quay. It rained. A lot.
It was my turn to stumble to a muddy river wearing white shorts when we walked to the huts. Everything was soaked already anyway, so it hardly mattered.

Pampa-reissun jälkeen buukkasimme uuden kolmipäiväsen retken Rurrenabaquen ympäröivään viidakkoon, tällä kertaa itse sademetsän sydämeen.
Sade alkoi jo menomatkalla veneillessämme Tuichi-jokea kohti viidakkomajoitustamme. Venematka vastavirtaan kesti kolme pitkää sateista tuntia, kunnes saavuimme laiturin virkaa palvelevan kookkaan tukin luokse, jolta kävelimme puolisen tuntia leiriimme. Sade jatkui rankkana, polku oli mutainen ja joet tulvivat ruskeasta vedestä.
Oli minun vuoroni könyttää valkoisine shortseineni jokea vierustavaan mutavelliin. Kaikki kamat oli kylläkin jo likomärkiä, joten tuo ei juurikaan miestä syönyt.

Driving up the Tuichi river.

Driving up the Tuichi river.

There was a creepy pink ghost sitting right next to me!

There was a creepy pink ghost sitting right next to me!

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If I failed to mention, it rained quite heavily there in the rainforest. All evening, all night. It rained the whole next day.
It even rains now six weeks later as I’m sitting in a bus in Costa Rica and writing this whine.

Jos en huomannut mainita, metsäretkemme alkoi varsin sateisissa merkeissä. Sade jatkui koko illan ja yön, koko seuraavan päivän.
Sataa jopa nyt kirjoittaessani tätä itkuvirttä kuusi viikkoa myöhemmin istuen bussissa jossain Costa Rican rannikolla.

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Also a sizable spider searched a shelter from the rain from our beds.

Also a sizeable spider searched a shelter from the rain from our beds.

A lot of time was spent in this table. No one even had a deck of cards, so we had to shoot the shit all night long.

A lot of time was spent in this table. No one even had a deck of cards, so we had to shoot the shit all night long.

The rain ended at the morning of our departure, but we had enough time to wander in the dense jungle for a couple of hours. Our guide had a serious obsession to nature’s medications and kept on explaining how this tree peel cures malaria, how that vine makes the blood gather to a certain place and how those weird berries bring peace to the world.

Sade viimein lakkasi kolmantena viidakkopäivänämme ja lähtöpäivämme aamuna, jolloin kerkesimme sentään tarpoa muutaman tunnin tiheässä viidakossa. Luonnonlääkitykseen vahvasti kiintynyt oppaamme selosti taukoamatta koko parituntisen eri kasvien lääkinnällisistä ominaisuuksista. Tän puun kuori parantaa malarian, toi köynnös on luonnon Viagra, noi marjat takaa maailmanrauhan jne.

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Coffee beans.

Coffee beans.

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Mom taught me to smile in pictures. The other creature in the pic requested censoring for looking like a hospital escapee. It's a tree behind us.

Mom taught me to smile in pictures. The other creature in the pic requested censoring for looking like a hospital escapee. It’s a tree behind us.

Although the pampas trip was a more pleasant experience with tons of exotic animals and so on (and partly due to atmospheric factors), it was definitely worth the time and money to see how the insides of the lungs of our planet look like. They look like a very dense and humid forest.
The boat ride back to Rurrenabaque took just about an hour because now we were going along the stream. The driver had a tough job in dodging all the logs and branches that had fallen to the river in landslides during the rainy days.

Vaikka pampa-rundi oli mieluisampi kokemus eksoottisine eläimineen ja myös aurinkoisen sään ansiosta, oli sademetsäreissukin ehdottomasti hintansa arvoinen kokemus. Oli kiva nähdä läheltä miltä planeettamme keuhkot näyttävät. No tiheältä ja kostealta metsältähän ne näyttää.
Paluu botskilla Rurreen kesti vaan tunnin verran, koska nyt pääsimme ajamaan myötävirtaan. Tuichi-joki oli täynnä maanvyörymissä pudonneita puunrunkoja ja oksia, joita kuskillamme oli täysi työ väistellä.

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That's a yacht by the Bolivian standards!

That’s a yacht by the Bolivian standards!

When we got to Rurre, we rushed to the office of TAM i.e. Bolivian air forces that organize flights to La Paz. The buses had been on hold for several days due to landslides, and we did not feel like taking chances and possibly end up spending another 40 hours in a bus without toilet.
We were very lucky and got places to a flight the same day, but were not that lucky with currencies. We were out of Bolivianos and did not have US dollars either, only Euros. It was Sunday and exchanging money was impossible, and none of the three ATMs in the village worked (it’s very common in Bolivia that ATMs are simply out of money). Just at the last minute for catching the flight the clerk agreed to accept part of the payment in Euros. With a terrible exchange rate, of course.

Palattuamme takaisin Rurrenabaqueen, kiiruhdimme samantien La Pazin lentoja järkkäävän Bolivian ilmavoimien toimistolle nopean lennon toivossa. Bussit olivat olleet päiväkausia jumissa maanvyörymien takia, eikä ollut oikein fiiliksiä koittaa onnea dösien kanssa ja mahdollisesti jumittaa toiset 40 tuntia vessattomassa onnikassa.
Päivän Pazin lennolla sattui olemaan vielä muutama vapaa paikka. Maksuvaiheesa kuitenkin oli pientä kitkaa, kun Boliviaanot oli vähissä, taaloja ei ollut eikä virkailija kelpuuttanut euroja. Juoksin kaikki viidakkokylän kolme pankkiautomaattia läpi laihoin tuloksin. Kaikista oli rahat loppu, kuten Boliviassa usein. Myöskään rahanvaihto ei missään onnistunut koska oli sunnuntai. Virkailija sitten viimehetkellä ennen mopokyytiä kentälle suostui ottamaan eurojamme vastaan, luonnollisesti aikamoisella kiskurikurssilla.

The main entrance of Rurrenabaque INTL.

The main entrance of Rurrenabaque INTL.

The renowned food court of Rurrenabaque INTL.

The renowned food court of Rurrenabaque INTL.

Our plane arrives along the eco-friendly runway...

Our plane arrives along the eco-friendly runway…

Boarding time!

Boarding time!

The airport and runway of Rurrenabaque were pretty interesting, but the flight was surprisingly smooth considering the circumstances. If I have to find something negative of this quality flight, there was a moist stain with a pungent scent of human excrement on the seat I first chose. With a fast move I changed the row and saved the smelly seat to a local gentleman who was the last to enter the plane.

Rurren lentokenttä ja kiitorata olivat varsin mielenkiitoisia, mutta lento ilmavoimien koneella oli yllättävän tasainen. Ensimmäisellä valitsemallani istuimella tosin oli ihmisulosteen tuoksuinen läikkä, mutta kerkesin onneksi vaihtaa riviä ennen kuin epäonninen paikallisherra kipusi viimeisenä koneeseen ja oli pakotettu jännäkakkapaikalle.

A bit like flying from Geneva to Helsinki, but with 3km higher mountains. And less turbulence!

A bit like flying from Geneva to Helsinki, but with 3km higher mountains. And less turbulence!

Sunset at La Paz airport.

Sunset at La Paz airport.

Flying from Rurre to La Paz means an ascent of almost four kilometers, so there really wasn’t much of a descent at all as the plane never got much higher than the level of the airport of La Paz.
Here’s a butterfly to make your day.

Lentäminen Rurresta La Paziin tarkoittaa lähes neljän kilometrin vertikaalinousua, joten varsinaista laskeutumista ei edes ollut, vaan liidimme nätisti Pazin kiitoradalle noustuamme sopivaan korkeuteen.
Ja sit yks perhonen viel tähän loppuun.

Moi.

Moi.

Rurrenabaque pampas tour – Viidakkojimit Rurren pampalla

As some of our four readers may have noticed, this blog drags more than a month behind our actual journey. We (or more likely I) try our best to catch up with the posts now and eventually write in ‘real time’ about our adventures. Also an effort will be paid on writing at least a summary in Finnish to every post, as a response to a request from the audience.
Kuten jokunen lukijoistamme on saattanut huomata, laahaa blogitekstit yli kuukauden jäljessä reissustamme. Teemme parhaamme kuroaksemme viiveen kiinni ja joku kaunis päivä kirjoittaa reaaliaikaisesti edesottamuksistamme. Myös suomenkielistä sisältöä pyritään yleisön pyynnöstä (huolimatta) lisäämään.

When we actually got to the jungle village of Rurrenabaque in Bolivia after the rather rough bus ride (on which Sari promised to write something), we booked a 3-day trip to the pampas of Bolivian Amazonia. The pampas tour is other of the two main trips organized from Rurre and it includes cruising and watching wildlife along the small rivers on wetlands of the rainforest.

Kun viimein pääsimme Rurrenabaquen viidakkopitäjään nihkeähkön dösämatkan jälkeen, buukkasimme retken Amazonin sademetsän pampalle. Pampa-retki pitää sisällään Amazonian joissa moottoriveneellä räppäilyä ja villieläinten bongailua.

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On the first day we took a ‘4×4’ ride to the place where our boat took us to the eco-lodge where we spent the nights. Already during the first boat cruise we spotted many exotic species that I had never seen before at their natural environment, such as crocodiles and yellow monkeys.

Pampa-retken ekana päivänä ajoimme ‘neliveto’-kiesillämme kolmisen tuntia rantaan, josta pitkulainen veneemme lähti kohti eko-asumustamme. Jo menomatkalla tuli nähtyä jos jonkinlaista elämänmuotoa, joita en ennen ollut livenä nähnyt.

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The eco-lodge was like a small village built around 1.5 meters above the water level. Caimans and crocodiles occupied the water, so falling down could have had serious consequences. Playful yellow monkeys begged for fruit and screaming howler monkeys hanged from the treetops and tried to drop cones on unsuspecting tourists.

Majapaikkamme oli puumajamainen korotetuista laitureista koostuva rakennelma, jonka alla kaimaanit ja krokodiilit väijyivät putoilevia turisteja. Puut vilisivät hedelmiä kerjäävistä kelta-apinoista (??) ja osuvasti nimetyistä mölyapinoista, jotka pudottelivat käpyjä pahaa-aavistamattomien matkalaisten niskaan.

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At the evening of arrival we went watching the sunset to a nearby jungle bar and went searching for crocodiles when it got dark. You’re supposed to spot them with a flashlight, as their eyes reflect the light. We just found one baby crocodile.

Ekana iltana ihastelimme sademetsän auringonlaskua paikallisessa viidakkojuottolassa ja hämärän laskettua jahtasimme krokoja fikkareilla. Krokotiilin silmät heijastaa tehokkaasti valoa takaisin, joten sohimalla taskulampun valoa pusikoihin voi näitä otuksia pimeälläkin löytää. Krokotiilinmetsästyksemme poiki tuloksena vain yhden vastasyntyneen krokotiilin, mutta päivänvalossa niitä näki ihan riittämiin.

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Sunset at the jungle bar.

Sunset at the jungle bar.

After a night of fighting mosquitoes and trying to sleep in the loud noises of the jungle (howler monkeys were the worst), the next morning we stepped into rubber boots and went hunting anacondas. I was lucky to find one baby snake just as I was narrating a video clip. Sari was less lucky when she stumbled to the muddy water with her white pants.

Nukuttuamme ekan yön kotoisassa sääskien ininässä ja viidakon metelissä, vedimme lantsarit jalkaan ja suuntasimme käärmesjahtiin läheiselle heinikkosuolle. Onni potki ja satuin löytämään anakondanpoikasen juuri juontaessani videopätkää. Saria onni potki toiselta kantilta, kun hän pannutti mutavelliin valkoisine housuineen.

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A guide of another group found a bigger anaconda and inconsiderately ripped its nest apart for showing the creature to paying customers. The disgraced reptile stayed calm and still, although a little bit of action could have taught the guides some respect to the wildlife.

Naapuriryhmän retkiopas löysi kookkaamman käärmeksen ja häikäilemättä repi sen pesäpaikan auki, jotta uteliaat turistit pääsisivät kyyläämään luontokappaletta. Anakonda pysyi tyynenä häiriöstä huolimatta, vaikka löyhä niskalenkki turretyttösestä olisi ollut oppaille oiva oppitunti villieläinten arvostuksesta.

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The same evening we cruised along the rivers and visited the jungle bar once again. The US couple, Carol and Will, had a beverage to share, which greatly animated our evening. Also a cockroach the size of a thumb was found from a bed of our jungle apartment.

Illan vietimme ruijien pitkin jokia ja piipahdimme taas viidakkokuppilassa. Ryhmämme jenkkipariskunnan järjestämä juomatarjonta elävöitti iltaa mukavasti. Asumukseen palattuamme löysi israelilaistyttö sängystään mukavaa uniseuraa peukalon kokoisen torakan muodossa.

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The third and last day was piranha fishing and swimming with the pink dolphins that were abundant in the rivers. We did not catch any piranhas (only some less exciting fish) and dolphins escaped our cameras and did not want to swim in our vicinity.
Our drive back to Rurre was a great success until we got across a stuck truck that blocked the whole road. After 45 minutes of shoveling, pushing cars and crawling in the mud, we got around the blockage and returned to Rurrenabaque. The car advertised as a 4×4 was nothing but a front wheel drive MPV with slicks, which did not help much.

Viimeisenä pampa-päivänä yritimme kalastaa piraijoita ja uiskennella vaaleanpunaisten delfiinien kanssa, mutta piraijat hylkivät syöttejämme eikä valokuvia väistelleet delffaritkaan viihtyneet läheisyydessämme.
Matka takaisin Rurrenabaqueen sujui mukavasti autossa körötellen, kunnes vastaan tuli koko väylän blokkaava jumiutunut rekka. Esteestä selvittiin noin kolmen vartin lapioinnilla, autojen työntämisellä ja mudassa räpiköinnillä. Nelarina markkinoitu kulkupelimme ei ollut nelivetoa nähnytkään, vaan oli sileillä nakeilla varustettu etuvetoinen riisipussi.

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Did you think that I already got enough of glaciers and icefalls and got all bored of hiking and mountains down in Patagonia? No way! The Andes are very present also in La Paz and snow-capped mountains are visible from the city on a clear day. The closest high mountain to the capital of Bolivia is Huayna Potosí that rises above six kilometers. For understanding what such an altitude means, the highest mountain in the European Union is Mont Blanc at about 4800m. Climbing this beautiful peak near Chamonix, France requires about three days of acclimatization and training followed by two days of climbing. Oh, and more than a thousand euros for guides, equipment etc.

Huayna Potosí as seen from a car on the way to the first camp.

Huayna Potosí as seen from a car on the way to the first camp.

Before arriving to the city I had no idea of this mountain and the possibility to climb it, but after reading some advertisements and getting a recommendation from a friend (Thanks Michaël!) I could not resist trying to climb the mountain. It is a very rare opportunity for an European chap to reach 6km without a significant investment and heavy training.

Heading to the first practice session.

Heading to the first practice session.

Thanks to the high altitude of La Paz (3600m), a big part of the acclimatization process is already done, and it’s possible to climb Huayna Potosí in just two days from there. I still had more than 300 days left of my summer holiday, so I chose the ‘normal’ 3-day option, where more time is spent on acclimatization and training before the summit attempt. According to some fellow climbers the statistics are that 50% of 2-day climbers make it to the top, whereas the success fraction is 75% for the 3-day option.

Having history of altitude sickness and migraine (more on that in: ), Sari decided skip this trip and joined our group only for the first day when we practiced walking with crampons and climbing with ice axes. The group I was going to do the summit attempt with consisted of two young ladies, one from France and the other from the US, and one British guy.

First we trained climbing at a lousy 3-meter wall..

First we trained climbing at a lousy 3-meter wall..

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..but after my request the bravest of us could try a more challenging one.

..but after my request the bravest of us could try a more challenging one.

This wall stayed unconquered :/

This wall stayed unconquered :/

After the first day and night of training and acclimatization in the first camp at 4700m (~summit of Mont Blanc), we started to hike to the second base camp called the Rock Camp at 5200m. This was supposed to be a rather easy hike of about two hours, but the lack of oxygen at the altitude and our heavy backpacks gave a bit of challenge also to this part. Especially the French girl seemed to be very exhausted during this hike, and it was not a good sign considering the summit attempt.

Our bedroom at the first camp was nice and cozy..

Our bedroom at the first camp was nice and cozy..

The summit from the camp at 4700m

The summit from the camp at 4700m

Starting the easy hike to the high camp.

Starting the easy hike to the high camp.

Disappointed hikers whose summit attempt realized as only an attempt.

Disappointed hikers whose summit attempt realized as only an attempt.

Altitude of 5000m reached! Huomaa kylmissä olosuhteissa korvaamattomat reissumiehen räkäjarrut.

Altitude of 5000m reached! Huomaa kylmissä olosuhteissa korvaamattomat reissumiehen räkäjarrut.

We reached the high camp at 5130m early in the day and had a whole day there without much to do besides drinking tea and chatting. The glacier started right after the Rock camp so I even tried to borrow a pair of skis from the wall of the hut and for seeing if I still mastered alpine skiing after a break of 20 years, but my efforts were wasted as there was no boots for me to borrow. The rest of the day was then spent walking around, admiring the scenery and packing our day packs for the final climb. We went to bed at 6pm and tried to get some sleep.

Rest room facilities of the 5130m. Nice two-seat long-drop toilet on the verge of a very steep cliff.

Rest room facilities of the 5130m camp. Nice two-seat long-drop toilet on the verge of a very steep cliff.

Meals were decent and included in the price.

Meals were decent and included in the price.

Our room for the second night.

Our room for the second night.

Why on earth did we go to bed at 6 o’clock you may wonder. Well, because the wake-up was at midnight! Moving on the glacier long after sunrise is too dangerous, as the risk of avalanches goes up and the level of grip of crampons to the snow goes down rather fast when the sun heats up the mountain. So our plan was that we wake up at midnight, dress up and eat ‘break fast’ and start the climb at 1 o’clock.

After about six hours of not sleeping I dressed in as many layers of warm clothing as I had and on top of those all necessary climbing equipment. Having eaten a light break fast, we switched on our headlamps and started our climb in the heart of the night. If climbing a mountain under a pitch black sky sounds silly, I can tell it feels really silly too.

Me and the French girl were attached to one of our two guides.

Me and the French girl were attached to one of our two guides.

Here's the same picture without a flash.

Here’s the same picture without a flash.

We started the summit attempt shortly after 1am. The first challenge was to hike up a steep glacier slope, but with fresh legs and a light backpack going was quite easy. Before long, however, the French girl tied to me started to have problems keeping up with our pace and needed a lot of breaks. I was then moved to the rope of our other guide and never saw the French again before returning to the rock camp.

Now there were three of us with the second guide of our group, me, the American girl and the British guy. The Brit was the next to start asking for prolonged brakes, after maybe some four hours of walking and occasionally climbing. Already when booking the trip I asked whether it’s guaranteed I can make it to the top is my own strength and weather permits it. I was assured that it is, but now our guide informed us it’s either all or none of us in this situation, as he can’t let anyone alone in the mountain. I was very worried that we’d have to turn back for the British guy.

Landscapes from about 5800m just before sunrise.

Landscapes from about 5800m just before sunrise.

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After a while of struggling and a longer break he luckily could again keep up with the pace without bigger problems. Our guide started already to call for the other group for re-organization of our groups but did not hear from them, so we continued as we were.

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We had heard a lot of horrifying stories about a narrow ridge that have to be climbed for reaching the summit. We arrived at the beginning of this ridge just when the first rays of sun started to appear from behind the horizon. It was just as horrifying as we had heard. About half-a-meter wide at some places and cliffs of certain death at both sides. Our legs were tired and even breathing at that altitude is a challenge. Of course we were not giving up now, 15 minutes from the top!

I had to pay special attention on the ridge because I had promised to a professor at the uni that I’ll be careful at the mountains unlike a former student in the faculty who failed to return from his vacation after falling a kilometer in Chamonix.

We reached the summit of Huayna Potosí at around 7am after about 5h 30min of hiking and 3500 burnt calories. We were lucky to have the very limited space only for our group because other climbers started their journey back down promptly after we got to the top.

Behind this posing tourist you see the vast shadow of the mountain.

Behind this posing tourist you see the vast shadow of the mountain.

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We rested and took pictures for about ten minutes and started our descent. I was delighted to hear from Sabino, our guide, that I have to lead the group trough the narrow ridge now. Boy that was horrifying. I broke the frozen mount of my GoPro cam at the summit so unfortunately I could not take video of descending the ridge.

Here's a poorly exposed shot I managed to take from the ridge (despite Sabinos strict prohibition).

Here’s a poorly exposed shot I managed to take from the ridge (despite Sabinos strict prohibition).

Walking (and crawling) back down was rather boring and actually more demanding that I had thought, as my legs were pretty weak and wobbly after the ascent. Views were astonishing though. I was also pissed for the fact that we were walking down a perfect place for snowboarding. Should I have had a snowboard with me, that would have probably been the best off-piste run of my life.

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Laziness in La Paz

Football mania at a Brazil 2014 qualification match between Bolivia and Argentina. 1-1.

Football mania at a Brazil 2014 qualification match between Bolivia and Argentina. 1-1.

Entering La Paz and Bolivia was an instant remedy to the budgetitis we’d developed in expensive Patagonia. A couple of hours after stepping out of the bus we had booked a night in hostel for 35 Bs, eaten in a hamburger joint for 15 Bs and watched a Hollywood flick in a theater for 10 Bs. In euros that’s about 7€ in total.

Prices of meals go easily down to ~1€ in non-local eateries..

Prices of meals go easily down to ~1€ in non-local eateries..

..but in real local eateries you'll get a 2-course menu for around 70 euro cents!

..but in real local eateries you’ll get a 2-course menu for around 70 euro cents!

Some minor symptoms of budgetitis appeard the very next day however, as we booked a 20-hour Spanish course from the Pico Verde language school. That was around 100€/each, which is a very cheap price compared to courses in more expensive South-American countries. We took a rather rough curriculum and ploughed trough the 20-hour course in just three days and one afternoon, meaning 6h of Spanish in a day.

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Besides ridiculously cheap food, accommodation and activities, one of my favourite aspects of La Paz are the markets. Should you need anything from fresh exotic fruits to plumming hardware and from dried llama fetuses to hallusinogenic plants, you can find if from the markets of La Paz.

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It is believed in Bolivia that building a house without burying a llama under the porch brings bad luck, so you can by dried llamas ranging from 10 cm fetuses to half-a-meter cubs from the Witches market.

It is believed in Bolivia that building a house without burying a llama under the porch brings bad luck, so you can by dried llamas ranging from 10 cm fetuses to half-a-meter cubs from the Witches market.

After brushing our Spanish our second week in the capital of Bolivia went mostly walking around the markets searching for nice llama and alpaca clothes and eating well now that our budget allowed it. If some (or either) of our readers happen to visit La Paz, I can warmly recommend the breakfast menus (~25 Bs) of the Swedish-owned Cafe del Mundo at Sagarnaga street and the abundant breakfast buffet (30 Bs) of hotel Banais Naira a few blocks down from Mundo.

A brand-new handcrafted guitar with a leash and a bag for 35 €.

A brand-new handcrafted guitar with a leash and a bag for 35 €.


Now my challenge is to keep the instrument in one piece for the whole year! All good so far despite a few broken strings..

Now my challenge is to keep the instrument in one piece for the whole year! All good so far except a few broken strings..


Trekking shoes get a nice shine for 3 Bs.

Trekking shoes get a nice shine for 3 Bs.


Don't you even consider visiting Bolivia without buying a poncho!

Don’t even consider visiting Bolivia without buying a poncho!

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Oh, and one thing we also did (and deeply regret) is going to see the Cholitas Wrestling show. We did not have much of a clue what it would actually be and got convinced by the sweet-talk of the sales rep. So we ended up spending a whole Sunday evening watching a pathetic show wrestling with chubby Bolivian girls fighting with men and each other. Not funny nor entertaining. A bit dangerous also to the audience. Make yourself a favour and skip this one.

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