A New Season in Torres del Paine

After closing last year’s tourism season with a devastating wildfire, Torres del Paine National Park is gearing up for another high season. The thousands of tourists that will be arriving should expect changes.

 

The wildfire began at the end of December 2011, and raged for nearly two months. By the end of February 2012, an estimated 17,606 hectares (43,505 acres) of Parque Nacional Torres del Paine had been destroyed, according to Conaf, the national forest service. The entire park was forced closed until the blaze could be contained. Eventually the northern sector reopened.

 

The Puerto Natales hostel, erratic rock, informs V!VA Travel Guides that burned areas include along the trails in the Las Carretas, Paine Grande Italiano and Paine Grande Grey sectors. Ruth, an erratic rock volunteer says, “There is already new green grass growing, which makes the black even darker, so it is pretty impressive.”

 

Reforestation of the burnt areas of Parque Nacional Torres del Paine has been slow. Thus far, only 10,000 native lenga beech (Nothofagus pumilio) have been planted. Conaf takes national and international volunteers in a variety of positions.

 

The high season opened on October 1. Since then, regular bus service has begun and most refuges opened. The ones at Los Cuernos and Chileno are slated to open October 15, and Refugio Dikson, which forms part of the circuit, will be online November 1. Catamaran service also has begun once daily; at the end of October, it will run twice daily, and as of November 5, three times per day.

 

Prices for the 2012-2013 season are:

* Park entry: 18,000 Chilean pesos (CLP) or $36 USD

* Public bus from Puerto Natales: 15,000 CLP ($30 USD) round trip

* Lago Pehoe catamaran: 12,000 CLP ($24 USD) one way; 22,000 CLP ($44 USD) round trip

* Refuges: 22,500 CLP ($45 USD) per bed, without sheets or meals

* Meals: breakfast 5,500 CLP ($11 USD), lunch 8,000 CLP ($16 USD), dinner 11,000 CLP ($22 USD)

 

Tourists will face many more regulations, especially concerning camping, and more education about park rules. Also, many more patrols will be on the lookout for people who camp in non-designated areas. Drop by erratic rock’s free daily information sessions at 3 p.m. to learn about new changes and about all the challenges you’ll face in Torres del Paine National Park.

 

 

A big thank you to the staff of erratic rock for the above information. Pack along your V!VA Travel Guides Chile for the most complete coverage of Parque Nacional Torres del Paine and the other wonder destinations of the region than any other guidebook on the market.

Earthquake Shakes Colombia

Sunday morning, a 7.3 earthquake struck southern Colombia. The epicenter was at La Vega (Cauca Department), a small village located nine kilometers (six miles) north-northwest of San Agustín, a tourist destination popular for its archaeological statuary sites.

 

For centuries, San Agustín's statues have silently watched the earth move many times. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

The quake, which occurred at 11:31 a.m. local time, was felt in virtually all of Colombia, as well as the northern 10 provinces of Ecuador and in Quito. No deaths have been reported.

 

Fernando Alegría, secretary of the government of La Vega, stated to the newspaper El País (Colombia) that there was no destruction in that village.

 

In Cali, damages were a bit more extensive. Two clinics – Santillana and Rey David – suffered cracks in their walls. One woman was hurt while escaping from her home. In Timbiquí (Cauca Department), near the Pacific Coast, 20 homes were damaged. Popayán, 64 kilometers (40 miles) south-southeast of the epicenter, was only shaken.

 

Bouselahane Amid, general director of Magdalena Rafting in San Agustín, said people felt it very lightly in that town. René Suter, owner of Finca El Maco, states there have been no reports of damages in Colombia’s Archaeological Capital. Apparently none of the region’s numerous ancient sites were affected. The tremor was also slightly felt in Mocoa, 259 kilometers (158 miles) east of San Agustín, according to Felipe Goforit of Hostal Casa del Río.

 

Damage from the strong earthquake was minimal because of the depth of the seismic event –168.3 kilometers (104.6 miles) beneath the surface of the earth.

 

Find out more about Colombia in VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guideavailable in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. See why award-winning environmental-travel journalist, Tracy Barnett, says, “This edition of Viva Colombia! Adventure Guide does not disappoint; the insiders’ perspective, the detailed listings, the descriptive writing all add up to a guide you can count on.”

Ecuador and the U.K fail to reach an agreement over Julian Assange

Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino met with British Foreign Secretary William Hague this week at the United Nations in New York, to discuss the case of WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange. Assange has been living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since June of this year, and he was officially granted diplomatic asylum by Ecuador on 16th August. He has been unable to leave the embassy however, as he faces immediate arrest by the British authorities.

Julian Assange (by acidpolly)

Assange is wanted in Sweden, where officials have issued a European Arrest Warrant for him with regard to allegations of sex offences, which he denies. Assange believes that, if he does return to Sweden, he will be extradited to the United States to face questioning over the 2010 publishing of classified war documents and diplomatic cables, which he fears could result in a lengthy prison sentence or even the death penalty.

Foreign Secretary William Hague by Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Hague and Patino failed to come to an agreement however during their meeting on last Thursday, 27th September. The British Foreign Secretary’s spokesman reported that Hague told Patino how “the UK was under an obligation to extradite Mr Assange to Sweden.” Patino told reporters after the meeting that “we still do not see, of course, an immediate solution, but we understand that there is a willingness to discuss the topic.”

Three Argentine Authors to Read

In the Northern hemisphere, autumn has officially arrived. It is now time to prepare for either hunkering down for the winter, or be like a snowbird and head to warmer climes.

 

Whether you looking for a book to curl up with in front of the fireplace, or a tome to toss into your knapsack before hitting the open road, here are a few classic Argentine authors to read. Their works are available in English and other languages.

 

The epitome of gaucho literature is José Hernández’ Martín Fierro. This slim volume recounts the struggle of the gaucho underclass against the powerful ranch owners. The story is recounted in poetry.

 

Nahuel Sanata con Jorge Luis Borges, por Nahuel Santana http://www.arteyfotografia.com.ar/10319/fotos/177169/

The most famous of Argentina’s 20th century writers is Jorge Luis Borges. This Buenos Aires native wrote not only poetry, but also short stories. Borges often wove elements of the Kabbalah and other mysticism into his literature, in a pre-Magical Realism style. His opus includes Ficciones, El Aleph and Other Stories and Labyrinths.

 

A contemporary of Borges was Julio Cortázar, who went into exile during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship. His internationally acclaimed novel, Hopscotch (Rayuela) is an avant-garde reading adventure. Readers may choose to read the chapters in any order they wish—much like tossing a stone in the children’s game and skipping from block to block. If that proves a bit mind-boggling, try a collection of his short stories, which are wonderful vignettes of life’s bizarre adventures. Those published in English include Blow-Up: And Other Stories and All Fires the Fire and Other Stories.

Julio Cortázar por anastacia http://www.arteyfotografia.com.ar/4940/fotos/116440/

 

Pick up a copy of V!VA Travel Guides Argentina and venture through that remarkable country with our writers. It is loaded with special articles on the history and culture of Argentina—as well as the best places to go, from de rigueur Buenos Aires to off-the-beaten track pueblos. V!VA Travel Guides Argentina is available in print and e-book formats.

 

Galapagos for the Whole Family

Thinking of taking young kids to the Galapagos? Many parents have doubts of taking their kids to a country so adventurous and exotic as Ecuador, and cruising around the Galapagos Islands, but if your kids can handle a few basic requirements, the Galapagos are sure to become your kids’ all time favorite vacation.

How old should children be?

Eric Sheets, owner of Galapagos Expeditions, a tour operator specialized for in Galapagos for families says, “Usually, as soon as children are old enough to appreciate animals, the beach, the ocean, walk for an hour or so in the heat, and stay on a boat, they’re old enough and mature enough to go on a Galapagos cruise. So, depending on your children, kids as young as three can have an amazing experience in the Galapagos.”

If that sounds like a challenge for your little ones, the option of staying in a hotel on the Galapagos and doing land based tours or day trips is even easier on kids than taking a cruise.

The daily routine if you’re on a boat consists of getting up around 6am, having a buffet breakfast, boarding a dingy to an island to go on a morning hike, coming back for lunch on the boat, then doing a second afternoon excursion to an island or sometimes snorkeling. But, you can always skip an excursion if the kids (or parents) get tired.

If your child can snorkel, it opens a whole new world under the sea. So if possible, it’s recommendable to buy snorkel gear ahead of time and practice snorkeling in a pool or the tub first to get used to the mask.  The boats usually provide snorkel gear, but not usually small sizes for small children. The water is normally quite cold and wet suits are used.

An unforgettable family vacation

My own son, who has gone to the Galapagos three times between the age of 3 and 8 claims to have been there four times, the first time being when his mother was seven months pregnant claims, “I remember, I could see the animals through my mama’s belly button, I swear!” If you ask any of my kids which they prefer, Galapagos or Disney World, they unhesitatingly say Galapagos, always.

For more about traveling to the Galapagos with kids, pick up a copy of  VIVA Travel Guides Galapagos book, and eBook, by  Crit Minster, whom is the father of two preschoolers and is married to a guide in the Galapagos

Colombian drug lord Daniel Barrera captured in Venezuela

One of Colombia’s most powerful drug barons has been captured in neighboring Venezuela. Colombian president Juan Manual Santos reported that Daniel Barrera, also known as El Loco and Crazy Barrera, was arrested in San Cristobal, Venezuela, 24 kilometers (15 miles) from the Colombian border, on Tuesday 18th September. Barrera, who had alliances with both FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and paramilitary groups, has been involved in drug trafficking in Colombia for over 20 years; he has been described as one of Colombia’s most wanted drug lords, and the boss of Eastern Colombia’s drug trade. Barrera had previously gone to extreme lengths to avoid capture, including having plastic surgery and burning his fingertips with acid.

President Juan Manuel Santos reported Barrera's capture (Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos by Connect2GDNet)

Barrera’s capture was the result of collaboration between U.S., British, Venezuelan and Colombian authorities, with the U.S. offering a $5 million award for information leading to his arrest. Barrera’s is the third detention of a Colombian drug baron this year, a reminder of Colombia’s progress in the past decade: in 2010,  the U.S. State Department declared that security conditions in the country had improved significantly. Tourist numbers have increased greatly in the past few years, from 0.5 million in 2003 to 1.4 million in 2010.

The Southern Coast of Ecuador's Quieter Alternatives

Chances are if you are traveling to the southern coast of Ecuador, you are heading to Puerto López, Montañita or Salinas. While these towns definitely all have tourism appeal and a better tourism infrastructure to match, the small beach towns dotting the coast in between them provide for ultimate relaxation and unique experiences, and should not be overlooked. Additionally, they are all simple to get to. Just head to the main coastal highway—also known as the Ruta del Spondylus—wave out your hand and hop on any north- or south-bound bus and ask to be let off at the town you are going to. Here are a few of those small beach towns you won’t want to miss:

Salangothis sleepy village six kilometers (3.7 mi) from Puerto López is an authentic fishing town with excellent seafood restaurants and an archaeological museum that has artifacts dating back more than 5,000 years. Salango sits in front of Isla Salango, which has ample opportunities for snorkeling and scuba diving. It also participates in community tourism and has community-run lodging in rustic cabañas.

Las Tunas: a place for relaxation, Las Tunas is merely a long strip of clean beach bordered by a small Malecón and several nice hostels and eco-lodges. Many of these hotels are set in gardens and have private beach access, and during off-season, you will likely have the beach all to yourself.

Las Tunas

Ayampe: further south down the same beach as Las Tunas is this quiet surfer’s paradise with big swells and small crowds. For such a tiny place, though, there is a fairly big selection of lodging options, ranging from camping to more upscale bungalows with an on-site spa. Ayampe also has a small swamp and nature trails that can be explored by foot or bike.

Ayampe

Ayangue: a small, still undeveloped coastal town built around a calm bay partially enclosed by cliffs, Ayangue is a laid-back, family-friendly beach between Salinas and Montañita. It is surrounded by virgin forest with Palo Santo plants and is known for its scuba diving opportunities at the nearby Islote El Pelado, which has colorful coral and a statue of Christ underwater. The friendly locals and cheap lobsters are just extra reasons to come. Also accessible from here are the Baños Termales de San Vicente, which are hot springs and mud baths in a volcanic crater, where you can also enjoy a massage or relax in a sauna.

Ayangue

Ballenita: Ballenita, or Little Whale, is basically on the map due to the magical Hostería Farallon Dillon, which doubles as a nautical museum. The museum showcases items collected during the last 30 years while sailing, and you can see 18th-century diving equipment, adornments from bows and objects used by navigators. Whether you decide to spend a night here or merely visit the gallery with marine artifacts and enjoy lunch on the water, this is an interesting stop on the Ruta del Spondylus.

VIVA Travel Guides Photo Contests

After sharing your photos of your trip to Peru or Ecuador with family and friends, there’s one more place you can dazzle eyes: the V!VA Travel Guides’ community.

V!VA Travel Guides is having two contests for the best photo of Peru and Ecuador.

Each winner will have his or her photograph published on the cover of latest edition V!VA Travel Guides Ecuador & Galápagos and V!VA Travel Guides Peru, and each receive $100.

For complete guidelines, see the V!VA Travel Guides website. The deadline for entering photographs of Peru is Monday, October 1 and for Ecuador, the deadline is Thursday, November 1, 2012.

Winners will be chosen by the V!VA Travel Guides facebook community. To vote, like Viva Travel Guides – Peru and Viva Travel Guides – Ecuador on facebook, then choose your favorite shots.  Tell your family and friends to vote and show their pride in your photographic eye!

Voting ends the same day as the entry to the contest – So enter early, to have the best chance to receive a lot of votes.

Good luck!

 

Guatemalan volcano erupts, forces thousands to flee

A volcano in southern Guatemala erupted violently this week in what is said to be its biggest eruption since 1999. On Thursday morning (September 13th), the Volcán del Fuego, which sits 31 miles south-west of the capital Guatemala City, began propelling huge clouds of ash over 3 kilometers (2 miles) high. It also spewed rivers of hot lava and gases for over 600 meters (2000 feet). Ash clouds were said to have spread for 80 kilometers (50 miles) south and south-east of the volcano, leaving the area in almost total darkness and forcing the evacuation of several nearby villages. Around 33,000 people were ordered to evacuate, though some chose to stay in their homes. By late Thursday, the eruptions were said to be dying down, and officials were hoping that evacuees would soon be able to return to their communities. No deaths or serious injuries have been reported, but several people have had to be treated for respiratory and eye problems.

Volcan de Fuego erupts (Volcán de Fuego haciendo erupción, septiembre 13, 2012 by Rudy A. Girón

This is by no means the first time the 3,763 meter (12,346 foot) volcano (whose name translates as Volcano of Fire) has erupted. It is in an almost constant active state, usually emitting smoke on a daily basis, and has already erupted five times this year, though this month’s eruption is said to be the largest in over a decade. It is one of the most active volcanoes in Central America.

 

Nine Great Jurassic Park Adventures in Argentina

Argentina is an ancient land, geologically speaking. Once upon a time, its landscape was covered by jungles and seas where dinosaurs and other mythical creatures roamed. Today, you can venture into those lands of Jurassic and other monsters.

Dinosaurs roaming across the Argentine plains. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

During the Permian Period of the Palaeozoic Era (251-299 million years ago), South America was still part of Pangaea. This supercontinent began tearing apart. South America and Africa were still one continent during the Jurassic Period (150 million years ago), the most famous dinosaur era. Those great jungle forests were covered with ash when this great continent tore apart, forming the Andes. The landscape then was covered by sea about 40 million years ago.

 

Fossils from all these eras scatter the pampas of western Argentina and the Patagonia. Some dinosaur species are unique to Argentina.

 

The most famous dinosaur fields are near Neuquén, on the northern edge of Argentina’s Lake District. Plaza Huincul (106 km / 65 mi) west of Neuquén towards Zapala) has a museum that displays dinosaur eggs and a skeleton of the 35-meter-long herbivore dinosaur Argentinosaurus huinculensis, the largest ever found in the world. You can see a replica of the biggest largest carnivorous dinosaur in the world, Giganotosaurus carolinii, at the museum in Villa El Chocón (80 km / 50 mi southwest of Neuquén). Three kilometers away, near Lake Ezequiel Ramos Mexia, are well-preserved, 120-million-year-old dinosaur footprints. Centro Paleontológico Lago Barreales, 95 kilometers (58 mi) northwest of Neuquén, is an active dig.

 

North of Neuquén, is San Agustín del Valle Fértil, located between San Juan and La Rioja cities. San Agustín is the gateway to two parks that preserve prehistoric remains. Parque Provincial Ischigualasto (Valle de la Luna) has rain and wind-sculpted, 45-50 million-year-old rocks that are said to be the best fossil fields in the country. The most primitive dinosaur, Eoraptor lunensis, was found here. Adjacent to the Valley of the Moon is Parque Nacional Talampaya, a national park protecting more dinosaur fossils.

 

To see life-size dinosaurs roaming across the Patagonian plains, head to Sarmiento and its Parque Temático Paleontológico Valle De Los Gigantes. This is a Cretaceous Park, featuring great—and small—reptiles from the last dinosaur era, like Aniksosaurus Darwini, which weighed only 50 kilograms (110 lb), Notohypsilophodon comodorensi (25 kg / 55 lb) and Epachthosaurus sciuttoi (10 metric tons / 11 tons). Some 38 kilometers (24 mi) southeast of Sarmiento is Monumento Natural Provincial Bosque Petrificado Sarmiento, a petrified forest created 65 million years ago during the great geologic upheavals.

 

The largest, most impressive petrified forest in Argentina is Monumento Natural Bosques Petrificados, also known as Bosque Petrificado Jaramilo, located 220 kilometers (132 mi) south of Caleta Olivia and 230 kilometers (138 mi) north of Puerto Deseado. This national park contains not only the remains of the semi-tropical forests that carpeted these prairies during the Devonic and  Jurassic periods, but also fossils of oysters, shark teeth and ancient other marine life from when this was a massive sea.

 

Cabo Curioso. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

More remnants of that sea can be seen at Cabo Curioso, 11 kilometers (6.6 mi) north of Puerto San Julián. The cliffs are rife with 35-75-million-year-old, gigantic oyster fossils that piqued the curiosity of Charles Darwin.

 

The dinosaurs and forests that once carpeted southern Argentina from Neuquén to Puerto Deseado left behind petroleum that the region’s economy thrives upon. The landscape is dotted with oil wells dipping and rising, pumping the rich, black blood to the surface.

 

With the austral spring approaching, it’s a great time to get to these and many other palaeontological sites. To help you dig Argentina’s Jurassic, Devonian and Cretaceous Parks, pack along a copy of V!VA Travel Guides Argentina.