From Latin America

The Yucatan Peninsula – 4 Things You Need to See

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on August 31, 2010

Most people know Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula for the super-resort of Cancun and the white sand beaches of Playa del Carmen, but there is much more on offer. For visitors wanting to explore the varied delights of the Yucatan Peninsula, it’s a good idea to have an itinerary planned out in advance as distances between attractions can lead to spending too much time travelling between the different things on offer. It’s also worth timing your trip right, as the rainy season from May to October brings down temperatures that are normally quite high. Tourist season is also December to March, so for less crowds, plan your trip accordingly.

When considering your itinerary for Yucatan, here are four suggestions to make for an unforgettable trip.

1) Dive with whale sharks
The largest fish in the world, the whale shark is vast but harmless and notoriously hard to find. Countless scuba-diving stories crop up all over the world of trips to find whale sharks that ended in disappointment. However, between May 15th and September 15th Holbox Island off the coast of Yucatan is one of the few place in the world at which dive companies can confidently offer a guarantee of swimming with one of these gentle giants. Strap on your fins and gas tanks and get ready for the dive of a lifetime!

2) Visit a world-famous archaeological site
Thought to be one of the most important regions in Mesoamerica, Yucatan plays host to a huge number of temples and ruins, particularly from the Mayan period. Indiana Jones wannabees can watch a huge serpent of shadow climb the steep steps of the Castle Pyramid at Chichen Itza during the time of equinox, wander the coastal fortress city of Tulum next to the electric blue sea of the Caribbean or climb the Pyramid of the Magician at Uxmal to marvel at the intricate stone carvings that adorn its walls.

3) See nature’s finest in an ecological reserve
Fortunately, the natural treasures of the Yucatan Peninsula are well conserved in a huge number of parks and reserves. Wildlife on the Peninsula is diverse to say the least, and visitors can see over 450 species of birds if they have the patience to keep count. A couple of well known options are the Rio Celestun park, where you can see flamingos, and the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve which has mangroves, lagoons, savannas, coral reefs, rain forest and Mayan temples to explore.

4) Cool off in a Cenote
The Yucatan Peninsula is home to a huge variety of natural wonders, and cenotes (or sink holes) are one of them. Over 3000 exist on the Peninsula, composed of four different types; those that are completely underground, those that are semi-underground, those that are at land level like a lake or pond and those that are open wells. Some of them are accessible for swimming and cave diving, but this is something that should only be practiced with a professional guide. Visitors to sub-terrainan cenotes can expect to see impressive selections of stalactites and stalagmites, as well as magical lighting from the sunlight falling in columns from natural holes in the ceilings of the caves.

The Yucatan Peninsula has much more to offer than the suggestions above. This will make the greatest problem for your tour or vacation to Mexico not that you can’t find anything to do, but how you are going to do and see everything!

Author: Gary Sargent – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America


Mexico City – 5 Things To See And Do

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on August 28, 2010

Despite resting on the ancient Aztec capital, Mexico City is an example of a modern city that is pushing for progress. At roughly 23 million inhabitants, it is one of the biggest cities in the world, and visitors will be spoilt for choice with the wide range of activities and experiences that the city offers. To try and cover everything in Mexico’s capital would be impossible, so here’s 5 things to whet your appetite during the day, and something for the evening if you’ve still got some energy left.

5 Things For The Daytime…
1) Visit the floating gardens of Xochimilco
With Aztec farmland scare, the population developed a system of floating reed mats covered with soil to create gardens on the lake that surrounded their ancient capital. Visitors today can take a journey in a flat bottomed boat around Xochimilco, an area in the south of the city to see the impressive floating gardens where most of the city’s flowers are grown. You’ll also have the opportunity to get an understanding of the immense scale of the agrarian canal system that watered the Aztec capital.

2) Take a city tour
Plenty of tours exist to help you get an overview of the most engaging parts of Mexico City without getting overwhelmed by all the options of museums, architecture, sights and sounds. One of the options that could be included in your tour is the looming Metropolitan Cathedral, the largest church in Latin America, which houses many treasures from the colonial period of the city’s history. It took a back-breaking 250 years to build, well demonstrated by the variety of architectural styles as new people took up the project over the years. Another option could be Chapultepec Park, home to 5 museums, 2 lakes, a zoo, tranquil botanical gardens and, on the other end of the scale, an amusement park with one of the world’s largest roller coasters. For those with a desire to learn about 3000 years of human evolution, a visit to the world-class Anthropological Museum will satisfy you. Thousands of artifacts are displayed, including burial tombs, giant Olmec stone heads, the famous Aztec Calendar Stone and a reconstructed Mayan temple.

3) Visit the ancient ruins of Teotihuacan
The most impressive reminder of the Aztec order, the huge pyramid of Teotihuacan is an easy day trip from Mexico City. Walk the Avenue of the Dead and watch the sun set over the Pyramid of the Sun to get a feel for the once mighty capital that was said to have held a population of 200,000 at its peak.

4) Find some souvenirs
Bargain hunters can’t do much better than the Ciudadela Market, Mexico City’s arts and crafts bazaar. A buzzing hub of activity and trading, shoppers will find handmade artifacts from all over Mexico and are sure to bag a beautiful keepsake.

5) Get serenaded by a Mariachi band
If you enjoy the sight of a group of Mexicans wearing matching costumes and gigantic hats sidling up to you with instruments eagerly at the ready, pay a visit to the Garibaldi Mariachi Plaza. It’s a site surrounded by cafes and restaurants, perfect or open air concerts and wandering musicians. Either receive the full personal treatment from a band or watch from a distance – either option is well worth it.

…And A Slice Of Nightlife
If you can’t face heading out on the town to one of the countless bars or dance clubs after pounding the streets of the city all day long, Mexico City has the option of you. Hosted in the majestic Hidalgo Theatre, Amalia Hernandez’ Folklorico Ballet of Mexico of has performed more than 12,000 presentations over the last 50 years and represents the preservation of traditional music and dance throughout Mexico. It’s a wonderful assault on the senses of colour, sound and movement. The best part is that after a long day on your feet soaking up the wonders of Mexico City, you get to enjoy it sitting down.

Author: Gary Sargent – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

Great response to new Lima tour program from Escaped to Peru

Posted in Traditions and Culture by escapedtoperu on August 27, 2010

Lima, the capital of Peru, is a city that many tourists have traditionally avoided spending much time in. A new city tour designed and run by the tour company Escaped to Peru is changing the perception of visitors to this huge South American metropolis.

The tour company Escaped to Peru has received a great response to its new format Lima city tour. Two months ago the company, based in Cusco,  decided to introduce a new format for its full day city tours in Lima giving visitors a better and more rounded experience of this South American metropolis. Passengers who have taken the new tour have been very enthusiastic about their experience and the format has been deemed a success.

Gary Sargent, Managing Director of Escaped to Peru, explains “Lima has an unwarranted bad reputation in our opinion, it is in fact a nicer, safer city than many of its Latin American counterparts. Many people elect to avoid the city and just transit to Cusco or Arequipa, which in our opinion is a shame given its rich and varied history and the interesting legacy this has left”.

The new full day city tour called “Culture and Contrasts” allows visitors to see some of the many facets of this huge city. As well as visiting the pre-Inca mud brick pyramids now surrounded by modern suburbs, plus the colonial center with its lovely ornate buildings with their wooden balconies, visitors also see some of the modern districts, both rich and poor. The extreme contrasts of Peru are made obvious as visitors are shown some of the poorest neighborhoods such as La Victoria followed by affluent areas such a San Isidro. Passengers have walking tours several times during the day allowing then to see local people doing everyday things. Lunch is taken in the Bohemian district of Barranco in a local restaurant rather than in the more touristy places in Miraflores.

Gary ends by saying “After taking this tour our passengers are left in no doubt that Lima is a very interesting city with a rich heritage and plenty of things to see and do, and they are glad they didn’t just fly in and out!”.   

A full description of the program for this guided tour can be found on the company websites.

Peruvian Music and Instruments

Posted in Traditions and Culture by escapedtoperu on August 21, 2010

The music of Peru is based on sounds from the musical roots of this ancient Andean country combined with the influences of Spanish colonial period music. There are many varieties of Peruvian music including coastal Peruvian music, traditional music from the highlands, and Peru Negro which is a fusion of traditional and afro-Caribbean themes. There is another type of popular Peruvian music that is called Huayano and is very much like Pre-Columbian music. Coastal Peruvian music has a fusion style while Andean Peruvian music is native to Peru.

Established in 1969, Peru Negro is an Afro-Peruvian style of music designed to celebrate and conserve the black culture and heritage of the Peruvian coast. It gained a reputation as it rescued conventional dance and music and became internationally recognized with the release of the album, “The Soul of Black Peru”, with songs from popular Peru Negro singers. The year 2001 saw the first international recording of the song “Sangre de un Don”, released by Time Square records. At the time Peru Negro had only twelve members but has since grown to thirty, all of whom are very talented.

The charango is the national instrument of Peru and forms a major part in much Peruvian music. It has five strings and is similar to a mandolin or ukulele. It can have a harp-like quality if it is played as a plucked instrument but can have a stronger and more rhythmic sound if played as a strumming instrument.

Other instruments used in Peruvian music are lutes, guitars, bandurrias, vihuelas, pan pipes, and rattles made from llama toenails! A very simple instrument, very popular along the coast is the “Cajon” which means “box”. It is a rectangular wooden box which has a whole in to emit sound and is simply drummed with the hands while the player sits on it!
The pan pipe is an instrument made up of five or more pipes that increase gradually in size and length, based on the principle of the closed tube, which is a tube that is closed at one end and plays a single frequency. It has long been considered a popular folk instrument and has been determined to be the first mouth organ, predecessor to the pipe organ and harmonica. Materials that make up the pipes of the pipe organ are typically bamboo or giant cane but can also be wood, plastic and metal.

The bandurria is a type of chordophone which is an instrument that makes its sounds by means of vibrating strings between two points. It was used primarily in Spanish folk music and is similar to the mandolin. The modern bandurria has twelve strings which are tuned in pairs and is classified as part of the Hornbostel Sachs set of musical instruments.

The vihuela is a type of guitar or lute derived from fifteenth and sixteenth century Spain, where its “Christian” shape made it gain popularity over the lute derived from Arabia. It typically has six strings and is very comfortable to hold. Some vihuelas do not have octave stringing in the bass but many do and each design works equally as well for its sound which is very resonant and sweet and bright. Known as “chapchas”, the llama toenail rattles are a type of percussion instrument, and are worn on the wrists while playing the drums.

When in Peru you are sure to hear the sounds of pan pipes whilst in the Andes and of course the Amazon has its own styles. In addition to traditional music you will of course hear plenty of salsa, merengue and Latin pop should you choose to sample the nightlife.

Author: Gary Sargent – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

Peruvian Wildlife

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on August 19, 2010

Due to the existence of the Andes Mountains, the Amazon River and the Pacific Ocean, Peru has the one of the greatest bio-diversities in the world. This Andean country is one of the 17 countries on earth that is home to 80% of the total world biodiversity. Peru is host to 53 protected areas with over 1,800 species of birds of which 120 are endemic to Peru, hundreds of mammals, including pumas and bears while the coast has a great deal of marine life including sea lions, penguins and other seabirds.

Among the best known of members of the Peruvian wildlife family are the bespectacled bear, the llama, alpaca and vicuna, the condor, viscachas, the puma, tapirs and otters. Found in high, rugged areas, largely unsuitable for agriculture is the bespectacled bear. It is predominantly black or brown in color with shading around the chest and neck in white, cream or orange with each eye encircled by a ring, which gives it its name. It is a relatively small animal with the males weighing about 175 pounds and the females about 135 pounds. Its feet have five sharp, short and powerful claws which are used for climbing and tearing trees apart. It eats wild fruits and particularly enjoys eating figs, leaves, insects, small animals, herbs and grasses. It lives in tree tops and builds a nest every night for sleeping.

The llama, alpaca, vicuna and guanaco are members of the camelid family and are characterized by having no horns, being cud-chewing and having an even number of toes and padded feet. Llamas are bigger than alpacas, typically with a height of 40 to 45 inches at the withers and 5½ to 6 feet at the head. Their average lifespan is between 15 and 30 years and they weigh between 280 and 450 pounds. Alpacas, on the other hand, weigh about 100 to 175 pounds and have a height of 36 inches at the withers. Their life span is about 15 to 25 years.

There are many similarities between llamas and alpacas. They use their posture and ear and tail movements to communicate, with aggressive modes of communication being stamping, kicking and spitting. They are very social animals and are best when pastured together. They differ not only in size but in ear shape, hair, fleece and curvature of the back. Alpacas have symmetrical pear-shaped ears and shorter noses while llamas have ears that are longer and shaped like a banana. The shape of the alpaca’s back has a slight upward curve while the back of the llama is straight. Llamas are descendants of the guanaco while the alpaca was domesticated from the wild vicuna.

Vicunas are the smallest of the camelids, weighing between 70 and 90 pounds and having a height of about 36 inches at the withers. The color of the wool is light brown on the dorsal side and white on the belly and chest. Both vicuna and guanacos are not domesticated animals. The guanaco has a slender body with a wooly, thick and short coat that is brown in color. The legs are also brown with a necklace of white hair. They grow to 46 to 68 inches in height and weigh between 200 and 300 pounds.

Viscachas are a type of chinchilla that are about the size of a rabbit with large hind limbs for leaping and dense, soft fur. They have relatively large heads and range in color from gray to black. Not including the tail, they are between 11.8 and 23.6 inches long with the tail being between 2.9 and 10.5 inches long. They typically weigh between 1.1 and 19.8 pounds and live in rocky outcrops, scrub and grasslands.

The Andean Condor is one of the world´s largest birds with a wingspan up to 12 feet wide. They are brown when young, changing to predominantly black as an adult with a white collar and often white coloring on the tops of the wings. The head and neck are bald, and the birds are ungainly when on the ground. In the air however they seem to glide effortlessly on thermals and make for an impressive sight.

The animals described above are largely found in the Andean region of Peru. Much of Peru however is made up of the Amazon basin which is of course the world’s most biologically diverse region and teeming with wildlife. Wherever you choose to visit you are sure to encounter at least some of Peru’s rich fauna.

Author: Gary Sargent – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

Introduction to Peruvian Food

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on August 16, 2010

One of the great attractions of Peru is its food. Almost every Peruvian dish is prepared with imagination and contains rice and potatoes plus chicken, pork, lamb or fish as the base. Also included in many of the dishes is a different kind of hot pepper native to Peru, which is either of the yellow aji or red rocoto type.

When the Spaniards came to Peru 500 years ago, they introduced chicken, pork and lamb. Potatoes and other ingredients were already being grown in Peru and the Spanish took those back to Europe. Today over 200 kinds of potato can be found in the Lake Titicaca area which vary greatly in size, color and texture. Peruvian potatoes can be brown, blue, yellow, and purple in color and be as small as nuts or as large as oranges.

There are many popular national dishes in Peru. Ceviche is probably the most famous and is fish or mixed seafood with lime, lemon or occasionally sour orange used as a marinade. To give ceviche its gusto, hot peppers, green pepper, garlic and onion are then added to the marinade. The dish is served cold with corn on the cob and slices of cold sweet potato.
Parihuela is another seafood dish which is the like the French bouillabaisse. It is made with fish and shellfish, cooked in a strong broth, and is light enough to be eaten during the summer months. Chicharron is a Peruvian dish that is based on deep fried meat, pork, or seafood. It is usually served with rice and an onion salad called Sarza.

Rocoto relleno has as its base the rocoto chili which is one of the spiciest chilies in the world, at fifty times spicier than a jalapeno. The entire insides and the seeds of the rocoto are removed and filled with fried ground beef and pork mixed with chopped onions and sliced hard-boiled eggs with an additional special seasoning. A slice of mozzarella cheese is placed on top and then baked for fifteen to twenty minutes and served immediately. Aji de gallina is the closest dish you will find to a Peruvian curry, with shredded chicken cooked in a spicy milky-like cheese sauce.

Lomo saltado is a very popular Peruvian dish that is made of fried marinated steak, tomato and onion with fried potatoes, served with white rice.

A very traditional Peruvian dish from the highlands is Cuy which is guinea pig and has a taste similar to rabbit. It is considered a staple of Andean cuisine and can be baked or barbequed and served with a hot sauce. It is typically served on special occasions but many locals will eat it on Sundays each week with the family.

Pachamanca is a very traditional way of cooking meat in the ground, normally on special occasions. A cairn of stones are heated in a hollow in the ground onto which meat and potatoes are placed, covered by further hot rocks and straw and then buried with earth to slow cook.

Other Peruvian favorites include papa la huancaina which is potatoes served with a spicy sauce, olives, lettuce and egg; papa rellena which is potato patties stuffed with meat; and seco de frejoles, which is lamb stew and boiled beans cooked in a green sauce, served on white rice and raw onions seasoned with aji and lemon. A further staple is pollo a la brasa which is spit roasted chicken served with fried potatoes and salad.

The cuisine in Peru varies according to geography with distinctive dishes found on the coast (although these vary from the north to the south), the Andean region and the Amazon basin. A particular favorite in the Amazon jungle for example is Tacacho. This dish consists of balls of mashed, baked and deep fried bananas which are seasoned and spiced and accompanied with either sausage, pork or beef. The dishes listed above are some of the best known but there are plenty more to try. There are also numerous types of soup and desserts (Suspiro Limeno is a particularly good desert) common to Peru, as well as tasty snacks such as empanadas.

In addition, Peru has been influenced by Western culture and dishes such as pizza have become popular. However, they make it their own way by baking in old-style, wood-burning ovens which have been traditionally used for preparing many of Peru’s most famous dishes. The Chinese immigrant population has also made their mark with Chinese style “chifa” restaurants being common.

All in all you would need several weeks in Peru to try all the dishes on offer and you can be sure that there is plenty of variety to keep your taste buds interested.

Author: Gary Sargent – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

Adventure Travel – 6 Steps to Solving Travel Problems

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on August 15, 2010

"It's not really a proper adventure,” says Steve Mellor, General Manager of Escaped to Peru, based in Cusco, “until something goes wrong." We often fondly remember our trips by relating the travel problems, disasters and setbacks when our feet are firmly back on home soil, so most of us would be happy to agree.

However, it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with a vacation full of adventure when faced with a selection of frustrating or worrying problems. From dangling at the end of a fraying rope to waiting for a delayed flight, here are some simple steps to run through to turn your travel problem into a fondly-told story when you return home.

1) Don’t panic
The very same words inscribed on the cover of the Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy are the best piece of advice that we could ever offer. You’re in a sticky situation. Flipping out, screaming and waving your arms like a drunk air traffic controller isn’t going to get you out of your situation, probably just deeper into it. Take a deep breath and ignore the thoughts pounding your brain about all the bad outcomes possible. If you are traveling with a reputable travel company you will have a 24 hour telephone number that you can call to resolve the situation. If you are traveling independently, read on!

2) Consider the situation
Now hopefully a little more in control of your emotions, have a cold, hard look at things. What are your surroundings? Who is involved? What is the mood? If you can distance yourself a little from your immediate circumstances, you’ll put a bit of space between you and the problem. Try to think of things from another point of view, and consider a different perspective if someone else or a group of people is involved. What, for example, is going on with the rock-throwing villagers? Is this in any way connected with the expensive looking idol in your hand that you just picked up?

3) Reach an understanding of what the problem is
This is often overlooked. We’re often so wrapped up in our immediate circumstances that we completely miss the problem. With a bit of distance between you and the root cause of the issue in your mind, hopefully you can accurately see exactly why the border official is asking for twice the expected price; something to do with looking hungrily at the large SLR camera dangling from your neck. If this is a problem based in a conflict with someone else, its essential to come to a joint understanding of what that problem is. Raised voices in a foreign language can be intimidating, but with patience you can find out why people are shouting.

4) Decide on the best way to resolve the problem – stay solutions focused
OK, you know why you’re in a pickle. You’ve found out the reason why the cold sweat of fear or the hot stab of anger is driving you crazy. The next thing to do is figure out a simple plan to remove the problem, and not dwell on your difficult situation or the past. You can put the idol back, or pay what the official asks for and keep the camera out of sight next time. You might need a bit of work to agree across the language barrier the best way to mutually resolve an issue, but it is possible. Draw pictures, use mime, get a translator. Be creative, and respectful of the other person; after all, you’re a part of this problem too…

5) Do what is necessary to resolve the problem
You now have a pretty good idea now of how to sort out the problem. So do it. Remember, if you are on an organized package, even in the middle of nowhere, let your travel company know asap, they have the resources to solve the issue quickly.

6) Check that the problem is resolved and can not occur again
So, did it work? Has the flurry of stones ceased? Did the official let you cross the border? If not, congratulations! You’ve got out of your challenging situation, and you’ve got a great story to tell. If not, back to step 4 and try another solution. Keep at it, you’ll get there eventually.

There’s nothing like a spot of focus to work your way out of a problem. If you keep the clear process of the steps above in mind, you’ll eventually come out the other side with no harm done, or at least a couple of impressive scars to show the next time you see your friends. Just remember that with a level head and bottomless patience, Steve Mellor and his colleagues in Peru will be impressed with your seasoned approach to the turbulent and unpredictable twists of adventure.

Travelers Stomach – What To Do If You Get Sick on Vacation

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on August 14, 2010

Exotic locations in Latin America unfortunately often come with their share of exotic problems. Many of us are happy to avoid the pleasure of wailing into a toilet bowl at 2am in the morning after an ill-advised ‘seafood experience’, but if you’re determined to get out and ‘live it local’ then sooner or later it is something you’ll have to deal with. If you’re planning an action packed itinerary to make the most of your vacation in Latin America, the last thing you need is to get sick, so here is some advice to help you spend more time enjoying your trip than cursing from the comfort of your en suite bathroom.

Gary Sargent, the Managing Director of Escaped to Latin America comments "The food in many parts of Latin America, particularly Peru, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico is excellent. However make sure you take the advice of your travel company to avoid any real health issues and fully enjoy your vacation."

Prepare for the worst – Travel Insurance
As well as stomach trouble, you can pick up a variety of unpleasant conditions if you’re getting stuck in to your destination; its always best to have it covered if things go wrong. Ensure that your travel insurance, if purchased independently, includes medical care. Ask an insurance advisor or your tour operator if you need any destination-specific advice and do not simply rely on the cover given by your credit card as this is often not adecuate!

Get a portable medication kit for your destination
A destination guidebook, your tour operator or your doctor should be able to advise on the contents of a simple portable medical kit to cover the most common ailments while abroad, including digestive issues. It shouldn’t take up too much packing space and could make life a lot more bearable when you are tearing frantically through your luggage trying to find something to ease any discomfort.

Take it easy the week before leaving
Your body is pretty incredible; in many cases it has the ability to resist disease, infection and the variety of nasty things that you put into it. However, if you’ve been burning the candle at both ends to get all your work finished before your vacation or attending a string of leaving parties before flying out, your immune system could be weak, making you much more susceptible to problems.

Clean hands
A great way to pick up germs and all manner of nasties is from your hands. A simple alcohol or anti-bacterial gel or spray to clean them before meals or after going to the bathroom will reduce the chance of something unwanted finding its way into your mouth.

Careful cuisine
There are common culprits that have brought unwanted bacteria and diseases to the stomach lining of travellers over the years. Whilst if can be a great experience to eat vendor food out on the street of a foreign country, if you don’t have a few weeks to go through the roller coaster of allowing your stomach to adjust it is probably worth taking a safer option. Typically dubious options for food are raw or undercooked meat, poultry, raw fruit and vegetables and dairy products. Water is often a source of problems in many Latin American countries, so try to stick to bottled water and avoid ice, as this is often made from tap water. If you are determined to eat local snacks, try to do so earlier in the day when they are still fresh.

Hopefully you’re not reading this on a Blackberry whilst heaving in a toilet cubicle, but it’s good to have a plan if things go wrong; remember these simple steps to get on the road to recovery fast.

1. Get back to your hotel and rest

2. Tell your tour company local contact, a friend or someone at reception to keep an eye on you and inform them of any medication taken or allergies in case a doctor needs to be informed

3. Drink lots of water and use re-hydration salts from your medication kit. Take a couple of painkillers if necessary.

4. Many stomach problems can be resolved in 72 hours, but if your condition is still the same after 3 days or there is any blood involved, contact a physician as recommended by your tour operator, guide or hotel.

Getting sick is certainly not a desired outcome of any one's trip, but at least you can take comfort in the fact that going on an international adventure is pushing you out of your comfort zone and developing you as a person.

Charles Darwin – 5 Rare Facts About the Galapagos Island's Most Famous Visitor

Posted in Latin American History by escapedtoperu on August 5, 2010

Charles Darwin is legendary as the biologist who published the famous work “Origin of the Species” that continues to stir controversy 150 years after its publication. Many know about his voyage to the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador which formed the basis of his theories, but how many of the facts below do you know?

Darwin wasn’t the only evolutionary theorist on the block
Shaken to his theological core by the implication of his theory of evolution and concerned about the response to his findings, Darwin sat on his research for two decades after reaching his conclusions. In the late 1850s he was shaken out of his self inflicted paralysis with the discovery that another biologist, Alfred Russel Wallace, had come up with a similar theory. Darwin was motivated into action, and finished Origin of the Species in time for a joint presentation of his and Wallace’s work at the Linnean Society in London in July 1858. Darwin was credited with the theory as his version was deemed to be more complete.

Darwin has his own award
Several forms of the Darwin Award exist, all with the tongue-in-cheek intention of honoring people who “…ensure the long-term survival of the human race by removing themselves from the gene pool in a sublimely idiotic fashion," according to Wendy Nothcutt, author of the Darwin Award book series. Wendy permits award applications based on 4 categories; Inability to Reproduce (nominee must be rendered dead or sterile), Excellence (astoundingly stupid judgement), Self-selection (cause of one’s demise), Maturity (capable of sound judgement) and Veracity (ability to be verified as a genuine event). Glorious examples include using a lighter to illuminate a fuel tank to make sure it contains nothing flammable and juggling active hand grenades. It’s not often that tragedy meets comedy and science, but when it happens, it’s beautiful.

Darwin got a mountain for his 25th birthday
Most of us make do with socks from Auntie, but not Charles Darwin. On Feburary 12th, 1834 whilst rounding the bottom of the American continent, Captain Fitzroy was feeling generous. The Captain of the Beagle, the ship which carried Darwin on his research expedition, he named the highest peak in Tierra del Fuego “Mount Darwin”.

Darwin married his cousin
A scientist to the core, Darwin tackled every problem with a logical approach. This included marriage, for which he made a long list of pros and cons. The greatest con potentially seen by many is that the marriage was to his first cousin, Emma Wedgewood. However, this didn’t cloud the conclusions of logic, and Darwin signed off his musings with the statement “Marry – Marry – Marry Q.E.D.”. Thus the father of the concept of importance in genetic variation left the mark of his ironic decision on the pages of history…

Darwin had no sea legs
Darwin was sick to his stomach for the majority of his time at sea, a circumnavigation of the globe that took about 5 years. This could explain why he spent so much time on land and catalogued so thoroughly the flora and fauna of the incredible diversity in the Galapagos Islands and other destinations on his voyage.

An interesting character, Darwin is still the inspiration for many with the publication of his theory in the face of huge public opposition, and many follow in his footsteps to the Galapagos Islands. It seems that even for a theologian settling down for a quiet life as Darwin almost once became, a trip around the world to see wonderful and exotic places can have the same life-changing effect as for visitors to the Galapagos Islands 200 years later.

Author: Gary Sargent – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

5 Great Things To Do In Banos, Ecuador

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on August 3, 2010

Known as the ‘Gateway to the Amazon’, Banos in Ecuador is one of the most popular destinations in the country, and it’s not hard to see why. Tourists, volcanologists, religious pilgrims and a whole host of other characters are drawn to Banos for a variety of reasons, probably one of the five listed below.

1) They want to enjoy a spot of culture
Banos is famous for its magnificent Basilica, the Church of the Virgin of the Holy Water. Pilgrimages are frequently made to thank the Virgin for the many miracles that she is said to have performed and for blessings. The Virgin gets her own festival in October, a combination of religious processions, music, dances and ear-splitting fireworks. If festivals are your thing, you’d do well to arrive in town on December 15th, when the anniversary of the town is celebrated. Each neighbourhood hires a band, and wild dancing in the street ensures.

2) They go in search of outdoor antics and thrill-seeking
Banos has something for everyone, from bike rides cruising through spectacular scenery, to horse riding to bungee jumping off bridges. Those wanting to use pedal power can ride the 60km to Puyo on the recently paved road, dropping from 6000ft in the Ecuadorian high jungle down into the rain forest basin. You will pass waterfalls and stunning vistas before shooting through dark tunnels cut into the rock and out the other side, stopping off with fruit vendors to load up on vitamins for the rest of the journey.

3) They flex their shopping muscles
Banos is home to some wonderful markets and shops where you can find some high quality crafts, handiwork and silver jewelry at very low prices. For those wanting to satisfy their sweet tooth, you can try out the local sugar cane taffy ‘Melcocha’. You may see it being made or pulled by beating the candy against a door frame or other sturdy surface. The town market is also overflowing with local produce, so for cheap food that’s about as organic as you’ll ever get as you wander the maze of stalls.

4) They explore a volcano
Banos was evacuated in October 1999 for several weeks, thanks to the highly active Tungurahua volcano. Known as ‘The Black Giant’, the volcano is the largest in Ecuador, but easy to climb. There are periodic drills to keep visitors and residents aware of potential risks, so you shouldn’t run into any trouble. To get up close to the majesty of Tungurahua, arrange a tour of the 400 metre diameter crater.

5) They take a thermal bath
Banos didn’t get its name for nothing; any visitors to the town would be missing the point somewhat without dipping into one of the many hydrothermal mineral springs that pop up everywhere. There are numerous spas around town, and they are an ideal way to ease aching muscles after a day on a bike saddle or hiking through the surrounding hills. Temperatures vary from scorching hot to cool, depending on the amount of cold water mixed into the bath’s water supply. Enjoy the thermal springs in town at Banos de la Virgen near Hotel Sangay, and Santa Clara baths which boast a sauna and a gym. Other options are El Salado, Santa Ana, and Eduardo's baths near town.

From active volcanoes to gentle walks, adrenaline fuelled rafting trips to soaking in warm mineral-rich waters, you’ll find something in Banos to suit you. A good option is to get in contact with a regionally based tour operator that can help you make the most of your trip; chances are you won’t have enough time to enjoy all that the town has to offer!

Author: Gary Sargent – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America