Friday, March 23, 2007

Adventure in Peru - Search for the Dead

By Vic Hanson

No, it wasn't a failed search and rescue mission; I was just out looking for ancient tombs. Coming back from the neighboring village Oyolo last week, Brad was telling me about talking with an archaeologist who was studying the ancient Inca and Wari cultures of the Cotahuasi valley. I am fascinated by the ruins that I often see on my hikes but I don't really know what I am looking at. Is it Inca or Wari, the remains of a house or just an enclosure for livestock, or what? Some are round, some square, some have the graves in holes in the ground, and other graves have stone structures build above the ground. I was hoping to be able to talk with the archaeologist about some of these questions, and maybe even visit a site with him. I found out that the team was still here and where they were staying, so I went to see them. Unfortunately, the team leader, Justin Jennings, from the University of California, Santa Barbara, had already returned to the United States. I did get to talk to Willy, his Peruvian associate, and some of the students, who were still finishing up the work here.

I also did some research on his website and read about a place called Arcopunko, where there are a bunch of tombs built into a stone arch on the side of a cliff. It was described as being above the current village of Yumasca. I had never heard of Yumasca but started looking on my map in the general area of where they are working now, and found it right away. It is above the hot springs at Luicho, which is where the team is staying. I had hoped my friend Max could go with me, but Monday morning when I went to pick him up, he said plans had changed and he had to work. I did get directions to the trailhead from him and found out that there are two trails, one a narrow shortcut called a pitipan, and the other a wider main trail. I always like the pitipans so headed up that, starting at 9:10 am. A lady at the base of the trail said it was 30 minutes to Yumasca but it took me 45, which was a preview of things to come. When I arrived in Yumasca there was almost no one around, they must have been out working in their fields. I finally found a woman at home with a couple of young children and asked her about the ruins. She said I was on the wrong side of the village, I had to go the other way, and that it was leeeeeeejos. Lejos means far and when they stretch out the vowel like that, it means it is REALLY far. I headed in the direction she indicated and but didn't see the trail so had to ask directions again. and was told there was a wide trail leading up to the top, where the ruins are.

The man I talked to wasn't very open and friendly at first, which is something that Justin had mentioned in his article. They seem to be very protective about the ruins and don't want outsiders, especially gringos, coming in and taking any artifacts. When I assured him that all I wanted to do was look at the ruins and take pictures, he was less suspicious and gave me directions. Ten minutes later, after the trail I had been following turned into a narrow path along an irrigation ditch, I knew I had gone too far. I backtracked a ways and asked again, and a young man pointed behind me and said that was the trail. It didn't look like much of a trail, I had to scramble up a large rock and then over a wall, but it soon turned into a nice trail. I followed that until it came to a grassy area and then I couldn't tell which way it went. An old man had been a few minutes behind me so when he caught up to me, I asked him. He said he had to do something first and then he would show me. I watched him as he plugged a drain hole in a water reservoir and opened another one to send water to a different canal. All of the farming here depends on irrigation and there is a vast system of reservoirs and canals, many of them date back to the Incas. Shortly, after the man had finished his work, he led me up to the correct trail. He said his father used to own all that land but now there wasn't enough water to farm it.

I was soon up on top of a plateau and lost the trail again among various animal trails. I spend over an hour struggling up a hill, feeling very lethargic and sleepy. I'm not sure if it was from lack of sleep due to the workmen starting early upstairs above my bedroom, the bad cold I just got or the medicine I am taking for it. After a miserable time of bushwhacking on various animal trails, I finally found the main trail. I set a goal of getting to 13,000 feet and then I would decide if I should continue or turn around. Reaching that point, I realized that I would not be able to make it to the cliffs where I hoped the tombs would be, before 3:00 pm, which I had set as my turn around time. However, I was feeling a bit better and it was easier going now that I was on the trail again, so decided to try for 14,000 feet. I reached a large bump on the side of the mountain at about 3:10, hoping it would be 14,000 feet, but it was only 13,800 feet. Knowing that my 3:00 turn around time was conservative, I picked out a large rock farther up and headed for that.

At 3:30 I reached the rock, it was at 14,100 feet; at least I had reached that goal. It was tempting to continue, as I was only about 30 minutes from the cliffs, but I had forgotten my headlight so I knew I had to turn around and go down. I was making real good time going down so I took the pruning shears out of my pack and cleared some of the worst of the thorny branches along the trail. Many of the trails are not used regularly and are overgrown with wicked thorns, so I usually carry a pair of pruning shears to make the trails a little more passable. At 5:45 I got down to the junction of the shortcut and the main trail, and decided to take the main trail. It turned out that it went down a very steep and narrow canyon and was of course longer. I was glad to reach the bottom of that before dark, and then had a road to follow back to where my car, was parked at the hot springs. I arrived there at 6:30 and by this time it was dark so the timing worked out perfectly. Next time, I will need to leave earlier, make sure I have my light, and hopefully will find the tombs.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Kazakhstan - NOT Borat Land

By Chris Merriman

SUMMARY: An article on how life really is in Kazakhstan, from the point of view of a Westerner who moved here in 2006. Ideal for those wanting to learn more, for either an upcoming holiday/vacation or purely for educational purposes.

I have written this article to help people who want to learn more about Kazakhstan. Whilst the film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan was funny, it did not paint anything like an accurate picture of this country. Some people want to learn more about Kazakhstan purely for their own education, others may be thinking of taking a vacation here. I moved to from Britain to Kazakhstan in April 2006, to Astana, where my wife's parents live. Since then, I've learnt a lot, and seen many of my mis-conceptions blown away.

Things that may grab your attention whilst you’re over here:

Men nearly always shake hands upon meeting one another, even more so if it is the first time you’ve met. Women don’t. If they are family, there may be a peck on the cheek, or a quick embrace. This area is still a little fuzzy to me, so I just stand back and accept whatever comes my way :>

If someone thinks you look a little different to the accepted norm for a Russian or Kazakh person, they will simply stare at you. This shouldn’t be taken as an insult (or an invitation to get to know one another ;>). It is just if they want to get a good look, they won’t be subtle.
People have different coping mechanisms for this behavioural trait. Some avert their eyes, others pretend not to notice. Still others will decide to turn it into a juvenile game. Whoever breaks the stare first loses, and you can keep a tally through the whole day you are out. Once you are up at the end of a day (18-3 for example), you can assume you’re no longer feeling like such a wimpy foreigner. Ummm, or so my friends tell me ;>

Whilst we may all joke about British manners and overly polite social standards, standing in line for something over here is an experience you’re not likely to forget very quickly. You’ll also be likely to quickly re-appraise your understanding of the term 'line' or 'queue'. People will have no shame, nor should you, about pushing their way to the front of what could have been a perfectly civil and organized wait for the bus/ticket desk/shop assistant/train.
I still draw the line at elderly/young people, other than that, its every queue jumper for themselves, ultimately. (This does tend to mean most elderly/young people get served/on the bus before me, but I have this thing against trampling over brittle bones/people smaller than me.)

Upon arrival/exiting the country, be it 8.30pm, 3.45am or 3pm, you’ll likely find yourselves being greeted with a small (OK, more likely a table laden with more stuff than you’d normally see for a ‘light’ meal) snack and some drinks, to celebrate your arrival/time in the country, if you are staying with people, rather than a hotel.
You might not feel exactly like wolfing the whole lot down, but if you take your time, with the food and the drink, you should do fine. DON’T feel obliged to down shots of Cognac/Vodka each toast. Unless that’s your adjusting mechanism to the flights & time difference ;>

Bureaucracy - if you are on holiday, rather than emigrating, coming into and out of the country is the most likely area you’ll possibly encounter any problems. To be fair, we’ve not been stopped in a couple of years, but if they decide you look like a likely person to have violated a rule, there isn’t a great deal you can do about it. Coming into the country, they can decide not to let you in at all, and worse, leaving the country, they are only too well aware that you need to be available to get on a plane pretty soon.

Once you arrive in the country, you will need to register your presence, within 3 or 4 business days. There is nothing to worry about regarding this procedure; it is just so they can know who is officially registered where. Whilst this country is a lot ‘freer’ than it may have seemed to Westerners 15 or 20 years ago, you will have to remember that the approach taken by the government over here to maintain control of the population is not how we view ‘best practice’ in the West. Tough luck, their country, their rules, which, all in all, seems fair, if the roles were reversed, we’d not expect people to complain too excessively about our customs/social rules/laws.

Re. CDs/DVDs vs. portable hard drive. I’ve read around, and people have less difficulty taking hard drives out of the country than lots of discs, apparently. I couldn’t find any info on importing. Personally, I’ve never had a problem in either direction. There is apparently a rule, on your way out of the country, that if Customs discover discs in your luggage, they must have been previously inspected and sealed by a dept. elsewhere in Astana. You’ll need to do this four or five days before the flight. Some people stock up on cheap Software, Music and other media, though don't forget your home country may not allow you to keep these items if they search your luggage on your return.

When in the country, you will see some people walking around in army camo fatigues, most of these people are manual labourers, who use them as hard-wearing clothes to work in. If, however, you see a group of 2-6 young men wandering in ‘urban’ colour camos (blue/purple), these are some sort of street patrollers. No idea on their legal/military/civilian status, I just make sure I’m not littering/jay-walking when I see them around :>

Then you have the regular police force, who you will see in cars (often using their PA systems as public education systems (’Drivers! Do not park here’ or ‘Move out the way NOW’)), on foot, or in little kiosks at key strategic civic points. The worst you can expect from them is a request to see your ID and/or passport.

There is also a traffic police force, who occasionally turn off the traffic lights, and get out their little wands to manually direct the traffic. Unless you intend to drive over here (don’t forget to apply for an International Driving License in the UK, if so), you can safely ignore them.
Finally, you’ll occasionally see the Army guys marching round in unison, but they seem to stay off the streets for the majority of the time.

“So how much money should I bring?”

Well, not sure on total, but if I give you an idea of how much stuff costs here, you’ll be better informed to guess a holiday total I suppose... (All prices are approximate and sampled in Early 2007)

20 fags (Parliament) - $1.50

20 fags (Marlboro) - $1.00

20 fags (Russian smokable stuff) - $0.40

Bottle of coke in a shop - $0.50

Bottle of vodka in a shop - $1.60 to $8, depending on the brand (from drinkable to nice & smooth), whilst you can pay more, what’s the point?

Bottle of beer in a shop - $0.45 to $1.60 (Russian to European brands)

In a restaurant/cafe, fags, coke and beer maybe double the price, or there abouts, vodka costs approximately $4 for 200ml

PC Games/Applications/MP3 collections - $4 to $10, depending on the amount of discs in the box, and how obvious the copy is! Music CDs - About the same as American prices, normally

Taxi ride (real taxi) - $3 to $6 pounds for a 15 minute ride
Taxi ride (flagging down a random car off the street) - haggle on the price, normally around 30% to 60% cheaper than a real taxi

Meal in a cafe (salad, meat dish, french fries, coke, vodka) - Between $8 and $15 per person, depending on the type of place you go to

Meal in a restaurant (same menu as above) - Between $12 and $30 pounds tops, per person. Again, you can spend more if you go high class

Obviously, if you want to get drunk, rather than merely relaxed, add more money for the extra vodka/soft drink/beer in the prices quoted above

Entrance fee to a club - $5 to $20 - basically, the more ‘exclusive’ an activity or brand is, the higher the price soars, prices for drinks in clubs are a little higher than elsewhere.

Kazakhstan is next door to China, so disposable electronic trinkets, that might last 5 years, or 5 days, are to be found in plenty of shops.
If you want any ‘Kazakh’ souvenirs - cultural stuff, definitely bring along a little bit extra cash.

Re. Money - bring at least 100 euros or a little more in dollars, the rest is up to you - there are ATMs over here (don’t forget to budget for bank's commission/charges for this service), and there are at least two places that we know of that will exchange English pounds sterling for Kazakh Tenge, and all currency exchanges obviously accept dollars.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Diving Paradises On Four Continents

By Harish Kohli

SUMMARY: If you're looking for an adventure that is physically active yet relaxing, mentally stimulating and spiritually uplifting, diving amid the wonders of a coral reef may be the ultimate answer. But where should you go, especially if you have a taste for something and somewhere a bit out of the way?

Here are four corners of paradise for the discerning reef diver, which are teeming with wondrous wildlife but not yet with truckloads of tourists.


Eritrea has perfect coral reefs untouched by humans and teeming with aquatic life in all the colours of the rainbow. At the bottom of the sea you’ll find sunken wrecks, ships, tanks, rocket launchers and even a complete dry dock. In the Dahlak coral reefs you can find 250 species of fish, as well as sharks, dolphins, barracuda, tuna, caranx – narrow-bodied fish with widely forked tails – and dugong, the near extinct sea cow. Dugong are large enough not to have many predators; on the other hand, they have a long life span and are slow breeders, which make them vulnerable to threats. See them while you can. You need a visa to visit Eritrea. There are good hotels to stay in but sleeping on the beach is free and fun.


The Barrier Reef off Ambergris Caye (island) lies about a kilometre off the windward side of the island. At about 300 km, it is the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere and the second longest in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef off Queensland.

Inside the reef the water is shallow and blue-tinged; outside the reef, the water is deep and seen from the air looks a dark royal blue. Near Ambergris Caye the reef almost touches land and here it is a magnificent, almost so!id wall of coral formations, broken only by narrow channels called "quebradas". The coral is astonishing in its endless variety of shapes and colours: rainbow-tinged tropical fish, delicate sea fans, sponges and gorgeous coral gardens.

Beyond the reef, the seabed drops sharply in a series of layers to enormous depths, where gamefish such as mackerel, tuna, sailfish and marlin.

To the east of the Barrier Reef there are three separate atoll reefs, which run northeast-southwest and are separated by deep marine trenches. Just to the north, in Mexican waters, is a fourth atoll reef, Banco Chinchorro, where there are abundant wrecks to explore. UK-based operator (020 7430 1766, an adventure specialist undertakes some interesting tours to the region.


Tropical sunshine and the warm Aughlas current have allowed the formation of a unique coral reef at Sodwana, about 400 km north of Durban near the Mozambique border. The reef is home to over 1200 species of reef fish and also hosts visits from mantas, whale sharks, Zambezi sharks, humpback whales and dolphins.

Sodwana Bay – the name means “little one on its own” in Zulu - is one of the most popular of the dive sites, being easily accessible by road from Durban and enjoying temperatures averaging a pleasant 24°–28°C. There are many shallow coastal pools suitable for snorkelling, with interesting reef formations and fish life. Check out with for your customised tour to the region.


Yes, of course there’s the Great Barrier Reef, but for something a bit different, think about Ningaloo Reef, which is off the town of Exmouth, pretty much as far west as you can go in Australia (flights from Perth daily).
Ningaloo Reef is a fringing, rather than a barrier reef, because it is quite close to the shore and only shallow water separates land and reef. This intricate reef system stretches over 260 km and, at some points, is only metres from the beach. It is home to myriad marine animals, including the largest fish in the world, the rare whale shark, some specimens of which grow to 18 metres in length. Whale shark visit the Ningaloo Reef between March and June looking for plankton to eat. Humpback whales, manta rays and green, loggerhead and hawksbill turtles can also be seen in their season.
The little damselfish, which hide in the coral, the colourful and conspicuous wrasses, the exquisitely patterned and graceful butterflyfish and the similarly gorgeous angelfish, abundant cardinalfish and parrotfish all contribute to making this an environment of rare splendour, impressive as a diving destination all year round.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Croatia: Jewel of the Mediterranean

by Andrew Scherer

SUMMARY: World travelers, take note: there is no beauty superior to that which can be absorbed by witnessing the natural spenders and the cultural richness of Croatia.

World travelers, take note: there is no beauty superior to that which can be absorbed by witnessing the natural spenders and the cultural richness of Croatia. With a national history dating back to the seventh century a.d., Croatia has exhibited the wonders of, as the country’s national tourism board states: “The Mediterranean As It Once Was”.

Unending natural exquisiteness prevails in all of the varied and marvelous areas that compose Croatia – from the sparkling rivers that spawn from the Adriatic Sea and the Black Sea basin, to the semi-mountainous ranges that harbor wide-ranging magnificent wildlife. While visiting beautiful Croatia, you may be inclined to get in touch with Mother Earth by engaging in a bicycling tour. There are more than sixty active cycling clubs in the country, and you are always cordially invited to participate.

If cycling isn’t for you, then you might elect to go sailing on the Adriatic. Marine life flourishes in this wonderful region as does life in general. When traveling the diverse regions of Croatia, be sure to stop and dine at some of the many authentic and affordable Croatian restaurants. The local produce, spices, and genuine cooking will warm your soul and nourish your body for further exploration of this fabulous land.

You could travel some of the thousands of kilometers of coastline by sea kayak. You could backpack through thousands of square kilometers of unspoiled wilderness. You could simply lie back in the sand and enjoy the bountiful sunshine and crashing tides, soothing your troubles away like drifting sea foam.Whatever method of exploration you elect, enjoyment of a land so enticing is unavoidable. Croatia is a wonderful place to visit; a wonderful place to be enveloped by. The undeniable cultural heritage and pride of Croatia’s indigenous people shows through at every level. Travel to Croatia, and you will never forget the experience.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Tips and advice for the Business Traveler

SUMMARY: Do you feel exhausted after every business travel? It is true that most of the business travels have tight schedules, and you get exhausted after that. Above that, sometimes you confront many unexpected obstacles that turn your trip completely miserable. Following are a few tips to help you complete your travel successfully. It would be a great help especially for the young executives.


Laptops are the most vulnerable accessory for theft. Never leave your laptop away from you while traveling. If you are in the airport or onboard, carry your laptop in your lap or shoulder. Never check the laptop; always carry it as onboard luggage. You may use a leather bag that does not look like the laptop carry bag to avoid attracting the thieves.

Make sure the accommodation you are provided has got the facility to charge your laptop and use it appropriately. However, don?t forget to charge it fully before you start the trip and carry an extra set of battery.
Airport tips

Make sure that you reach the airport at least an hour before. Of course, everybody is aware of it, but problems may crop up if you plan your journey exactly keeping one hour in advance. Try to start your journey to the airport much before the planned time, especially if you are starting on a holiday, or a peak hour of the day, or if you are likely to encounter a bad traffic because of bad weather or other imminent obstacles.

Use the curbside baggage check service available for a minimum amount, and so you can avoid the long queue at the front desk, especially if you are in a hurry.

Flight delays are a common phenomenon, especially in poor weather conditions. While booking your ticket, make sure that you request for the next available flight booking if the flight gets cancelled or delayed. The airlines usually transfer you to their next flights, but are not likely to transfer to their competitor flight unless you make special request for it.
Preparing for a foreign travel

The following are the important tips that guide you prepare for an international tour.
  • Make a list of the travel documents required well in advance, and get them ready days before your travel.
  • Plan your budget according to the travel plan. Even if the company takes care of your expenses, you need to make an estimate of the expenses that are likely to come up. You can avoid the confusion in the exchange rates if you get a clear idea of the exchange rates of the country you are traveling to and the amount that you are carrying. Always ensure that you carry sufficient fund, more than what is required.
  • Lastly, buy travel insurance. This would be a security for you throughout your journey. Make sure that you opt for the important services such as the medical emergencies, lost baggage, missed flights, etc.
  • Don?t exchange the money at the airport; the currency exchange rates are worse at the airports. Also there are more chances of getting robbed at these notorious places.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Why Your Next Vacation Should Be A Jamaica Vacation

One of the most popular tourist attractions almost anywhere in the world, if you ask almost any vacationer looking for rest and relaxation, would be a spot where the weather is nice and it is near the water or the ocean. It is for this reason that one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world has been Jamaica in the Caribbean islands.

Jamaica has been referred to by many travel authorities as being a tropical paradise. A Jamaica vacation at any of the major Jamaican locations includes beautiful temperate weather, white sandy beaches, beautiful mountain ranges which produce some of the most magnificent sunsets ever seen, as well as a huge variety of things to do, from shopping to casinos to world-class golfing to some of the friendliest and most active nightlife seen anywhere. What more could one ask for?

The lodging options for your Jamaica vacation run the gamut. You can go for the bed and breakfast option, where such opportunities are plentiful, and allow you to get to know the locals a bit better, as well as getting a better sense of what it is like to live in Jamaica and a flavor for the culture and customs. You can choose a mid range hotel, which is very similar to mid range hotels found throughout the US. And you can also opt for the all inclusive luxury resorts, of which Jamaica boasts several. In fact, Jamaica was the home of one of the very first all inclusive resorts, where one price includes virtually everything. At these resorts, just about everything you could want is all without the resort itself.

Many of the mid range hotels and almost all of the resort hotels are also very much geared towards families. You can get adjoining rooms, so that the parents can stay in one room and the kids are separate but still nearby in the room next door. Most of these resorts also have babysitting services and child activity services, which include beach trips, treasure hunting, and so many more things that your kids are sure to enjoy as a very memorable vacation, which allows the parents to go off and get re-acquainted with each other, knowing the kids are in good and qualified hands in their absence.

One tourist type that is usually attracted by thoughts of a Jamaica vacation would be honeymoon couples. Jamaica presents an ideal atmosphere for newlyweds. Even if you do not stay there, you should visit Treasure Beach, which is home to an ideal honeymoon resort known as Jake’s Place Hotel. If you are not relaxing at the beach, you may also want to include Strawberry Hill in your Jamaica vacation itinerary, which will treat you to Old World ambience, some of the best Jamaican native food to be found, as well as mountain hiking expeditions.

There are so many options for what to see, what to do, and where to stay on your Jamaica vacation that you would be best advised to do some planning before you start your trip. You may even find that you need to allocate more days on your vacation to be able to see and do everything you discover is possible as your plan your ideal Jamaica vacation.