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Monday, May 31, 2010

Scintillating Santiago

We made it into Chile on a peerless sunny morning with the Andes shining like an apparition of heaven. It was a hectic ride through the subway, and the luggage trolley collapsed and lost its wheels several times, but we made it to the Hostal Forestal, and after recuperating from our all night flight for half an hour went to the top of the mountain overlooking the city in the cable car and into tow to a supermarket to buy dinner.

The hostel is a bit of a rambling castle and somewhat noisy hostel at night full of party party but is friendly and has free wireless internet and a kitchen to cook in.

Here are a few pics ... more later so we can sleep before the early flight south tomorrow.

Some of the Andean peaks around Santiago such as Aconcagua are over 22,600 feet high
(6959m), rivaling the Himalayas.

Hostal Forestal

The cable car up Cerre San Cristobal

The view from the top

Circular panorama showing Andes to the smog covered foothills (click to enlarge)

Traditional hardware and shoe repair shops

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Under the Volcanoes

Pacaya and Tungurhua erupting

No sooner than we are putting all our gear into packs and bags, chaos strikes in the form of two volcanoes en route, Pacaya in Guatemala and more troubling for the next week, 16,000 ft Tungurahua or "throat of fire" in Ecuador, both requiring several thousand people to be evacuated. Guayquil airport was closed and some flights in and out of Quito as well and the news reports claimed Banos the town we are staying in en-route down to the Amazon and back, was being voluntarily evacuated. (Xinhua, BBC)

The authorities temporarily closed the airport in Guayaquil, where the runway was covered in ash, and diverted planes heading there to Quito and Manta. Officials also altered some flight routes to avoid the plume, including Lima-Quito and domestic routes between the capital and Guayaquil and the Andean city of Cuenca. The national director of civil aviation, Fernando Guerrero, told Reuters that the Guayaquil airport would reopen later once the runway had been cleared. The authorities have moved to safety about 500 families in five communities close to Tungurahua, officials said, while an unknown number of people left the area of their own accord. "At the moment we are keeping a yellow alert in effect for the area," said Fausto Chunata, mayor of the nearby town of Penipe, adding that they might order more evacuations later. Banos, a town popular with foreign and local tourists, was among the places evacuated voluntarily, officials said.

So I sent off an e-mail to the hostel Transilvania in Banos and got a reasonably reassuring reply "nothing serious is going on there are no disruptions to travel here villages that are on the volcano it self were evacuated, and I believe soon people would go back if they are not already doing that, because the volcano is pretty calm right now."

That is not to say that molten lava isn't dribbling down its sides and great rumblings throwing out room sized rocks and ash clouds 10 km into the air aren't happening. People writing from there earlier in the year say things like "i am typing this from banos... get the odd boom from the volcano.. but nothing effecting banos..."

Tungurhua from Banos in various moods

Here's an intriguing research report on the last evacuation in 1999, since which the volcano has been continuously active, with several more recent eruptions. I guess one can see why Itai at the Transilvania is saying everything is fine:

In 1999, the entire population of tourism-dependent Baños, Ecuador, some 16,000 people, was evacuated in anticipation of a violent eruption of Mount Tungurahua. Subsequently, many areas in the risk zone experienced heavy ash falls, lahars, and landslides, although no cataclysmic events occurred. Many small rural communities were also evacuated. While these communities became impacted by the hazard, Baños avoided most direct effects. Conditions for all evacuees were grim, and their conditions compounded because Ecuador was simultaneously undergoing profound economic and political crises. Absent livelihood alternatives, community leaders from Baños organized a return to their town even though it remained under an evacuation order. An aggressive campaign brought tourists and more residents back and Baños revived economically; however, this was achieved at the cost of hazard awareness among both groups, tourists and residents, and public safety became compromised.

The 1999 evacuation of Banos with the town's empty streets

Monday, May 24, 2010

Tweets and RSS News Feeds

Twitter and Blogger RSS News Feeds (see each page at right)

If you want to have a regularly updating news feed as the blog progresses, click the link to the blog RSS feed on the right of this page and it will install in your bookmarks bar and you can click it any time to show a menu of the current blog posts.

You can also access any tweets along the journey at twitter dhushara. The twitter page also has a separate RSS feed for the tweets.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Closing the Circles

The Chile-Argentine Circuit

The last ten days have been spent closing the circles by making internet bookings for transport and accommodation favouring chic budget backpackers who have good internet access. In the first loop around the lakes district of Chile and Argentina, we fly Sky Airlines from Santiago and plan staying at Casa Margouya in Puerto Varas, advanced booking on Andesmar to Villa la Angostura where we have beds at Hostel la Angostura, and Puma Youth Hostal in San Martin de los Andes, where we hope to take either the Tromen or the Hua Hum Pass back to Chile, hopefully reaching the Tree House in Pucon before returning north via a flight back from Temuco. San Martin has a very complete multi-lingual site with all these passes.

Green Accommodation

We have also booked for accommodation in the cities we fly into at night, Hostal Forestal in Santiago, the chic artistic Hostal Casa Verde Limon in Valparaiso, l’Auberge-Inn in Quito and the quaintly traditional Hospedaje Casco Viejo in Panama City.

The Ecuador-Colombia Circuit

After this we decided to explore bookings in the Ecuador-Colombia circuit because we have it to make through to Cali to catch the COPA linking flight to Panama and found some racy backpackers with internet or e-mail reservation and booked Hostal Transilvania in Banos, Hostal Rincon del Viajero in Otavalo, HostelTrail in Popayan and are waiting for e-mail replies from A Welcome Break in Tena and Hotel San Sebastian in Pasto.

Please also note that the old main bus terminal in central Quito has been replaced by two new ones on the outskirts, one serving north to the border with Colombia and the other south and most other areas, including Amazonas. We found it very difficult to find bus schedules and companies going the north route to Tena until we found this site, listing the bus company contacts and departure times for Quito-Tena via Baeza. Note that by October 2010 the old Mariscal Sucre airport will be replaced by a new one ten times the size 18 kms out.

The new Quito terminals (blue and red) and the abandoned central terminal (gray)
with local bus/trole links, showing Mariscal Sucre airport mid right.

We also clinched a few key bookings for a Budget rental car at midnight in SF airport, to add to those we have on arrival in Dublin, Rome and Avis Amman because they have an office at the Allenby Bridge. We also booked some further afield accommodation close to times we have to make a plane or ferry connection - Chicago Getaway Hostel, Camping Tiber in Rome, Solfataria in a geothermal field near Naples and several gypsy stops en route to a night at Carpe Diem in Brindisi before we catch the ferry to Corfu. There we have a choice of Dionysus Camping on Corfu and Elena and Kalami Beach at Igoumenitsa, depending on where the ferry stops first in the evening, and on via Delphi (Apollon) and Athens (Camping Athens or Hostel Aphrodite) to Crete.

We also did a rather ingenious thing using Google Earth, prompted by a neat camper van free camping web site called Green Archipelago - Arcipelago Verde - which had a Google Earth file showing the locations of free parks across Italy and neighbouring countries. This led to our own aerial search using street view for discrete free camping hideaways where we could park the car and put up a small tent on small side roads adjacent to wilderness areas while driving across Italy.

Now all we have to do is gather our medicines, international drivers licences, and some foreign currencies and pack! No just kidding there is heaps to do!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Beware the Wandering and Recluse

Chilean recluse displaying violin markings © Jim Kalisch Department of Entomology, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

One potent issue in our trip to Chile is the highly toxic Chilean recluse spider Loxosceles laeta. This triggered a medical journey into some of the most toxic species on planet Earth.

See also our page: Sexual Paradox in Spiders

In Spanish, the Chilean recluse is known as araña de rincón, or "spider of the corner"; in Portuguese, as Aranha-marrom or "brown spider". It is one of the larger species of recluse, generally ranging from 8–40 mm in size (including legs). Like most recluses, it is brown and usually has markings on the dorsal side of its thorax, with a black line coming from it that looks like a violin with the neck of the violin pointing to the rear of the spider resulting in the nickname "fiddleback spider" or "violin spider" in English-speaking areas.

This spider is considered by many to be the most dangerous of the recluse spiders , and its bite is known to frequently result in severe systemic reactions, including death. Some bites are minor with no necrosis, but a small number produce severe necrotic lesions or even systemic conditions sometimes resulting in renal failure and in 3-4% of cases death. The serious bites form a necrotising ulcer that destroys soft tissue and may take months, and very rarely, years to heal, leaving deep scars. The damaged tissue will become gangrenous and eventually slough away. Initially there may be no pain from a bite, but over time the wound may grow to as large as 10 inches (25 cm) in extreme cases. An anti-toxin is currently under development.

It's a good measure to buy some potent fly-spray and spray it around your bed area and window cracks and check your bedding carefully before getting into bed. People get bitten when they unintentionally squeeze them in clothing and bedding. These spiders frequently build their webs in woodpiles and sheds, closets, garages, and other places that are dry and generally undisturbed. The spider frequently is found in human dwellings. It can be found in nine out of ten houses from springtime and onwards, but is not commonly known to attack humans or to be particularly aggressive. Still, as any other spider, it will bite if it comes in contact with human skin and feels threatened.

Brazilian wandering spider

However while researching the recluse we came upon an even more deadly spider which is reputedly one of the 3 -5 -10 most deadly species on Earth, when a girl was stung in Australia by a species of box jellyfish reputedly THE most toxic species and the most painful. This is the Brazilian wandering spider, Phoneutria spp., more than earning its Greek name of murderess.

These spiders are really creepy for several reasons. One, it’s fierce. This is not some wimpy spider that will run away at the first sign of a human, allowing careless hikers to escape a painful death without even knowing they’re in danger. No, these spiders will attack anyone and anything they see as threatening. They’re both deadly and aggressive. Second, they’re not incredibly easy to avoid. They get the “wandering” part of their name from the fact that they roam around, rather than live in a particular web or tree. In densely populated areas, you can imagine how many people get bitten by an aggressive spider that wanders all over the place. They’re responsible for more cases of venom intoxication in Brazil than any other animals. Thankfully, even if the spider bites you it might not inject venom. Only about a third of it’s victims receive venomous bites. But if you do get any venom, you’re really going to regret it. It’s reportedly one of the most painful venoms in existence, thanks in large part to a high concentration of serotonin in the venom. While the venom is potentially fatal, the worst thing the Brazilian spider can cause would probably only make you die of embarrassment. The venom can cause priapism, an erection that won’t go away and might actually cause impotence. There is an antidote to the venom, but since it is so fast acting you’d better be carrying it on you if you’re out in the South American jungle. You’re not getting to a hospital in time.

White tail and daddy long legs

This brings me back to the white tail spider which has gained an odd reputation for precipitating Necrotizing fasciitis in our own country New Zealand. This may be more mythology than fact because although personal accounts of severe infections abound at least one research study has contradicated the claims, but woven into the story is another tale of carnivorous spiders. The daddy long legs spider Pholcus phalangioides has toxic venom but is harmless to humans because it cannot bite through thick human skin, however the idea is that the white tail, which is a carnivorous spider which hunts other spiders might become very toxic if it has just eaten a daddy long legs. Pholcids are natural predators of the Tegenaria species of house spiders, and are known to attack and eat redback spiders and huntsman spiders. Redbacks are considered one of the most dangerous spiders in Australia with neurotoxic venom. The irony of this is that the daddy long legs also eats other spiders, so might in turn eat a white tail!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Traversing the Darién Gap

Darien Gap (click to enlarge) The end of the Panamerican highway
can be seen just to the right of "Darien".

Or like stout Cortez, when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific - and all his men

Look'd at each other with a wild surmise -
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
-- John Keats

A principal impediment to our overland journey from Ecuador to Mexico is the Darien Gap, so I thought it would be entertaining to do a review of this area unique to human history and culture before we leave, since we can't actually traverse it on the trip.

The Darien Gap is a notorious area of swamp, jungle and 6,000 ft high mountain ranges, separating South and Cental America on the Panamanian isthmus. Despite an original intention to run the Pan-American highway from the US through South America, there is currently no regular surface transport by land, or even by sea, between South and Central America so, apart from hitching a ride on a yacht, or an occasional freighter, the only way across is to fly.

The Darién Gap is home to the Embera-Wounaan and Kuna Indians. It is also a wild west crossing point for a mix of FARC revolutionaries, right-wing AUC paramilitaries, drug traffickers and local bandits, as well as subject to a number of tropical diseases from Yellow Fever to Malaria, so its not a place to go trekking unless you know what you are doing. Travel is often by dugout canoe. On the Panamanian side, Yaviza is the main cultural center. It had a reported population of 1700 in 1980. Corn, mandioca, plantains and bananas are staple crops wherever land is developed.

New Caledonia

The history of the Darién includes many colourful and disastrous episodes. The late 17th century was a difficult period economically for Scotland. The country's economy was relatively small, and Scotland was in a weak political position in relation to England and the great powers of Europe. An ambitious plan was devised to establish a colony called "New Caledonia" on the isthmus in the hope of establishing trade with th Far East. The first expedition of five ships set sail on 14 July 1698, with around 1,200 people on board. Their orders were to proceed to the Bay of Darien and make the Isle called the Golden Island … some few leagues to the leeward of the mouth of the great River of Darién … and there make a settlement on the mainland. Inadequate provisions, caused by the English refusing to help in case it offended the Spanish, combined with the unfamiliar hot and humid climate, soon caused fever to spread and many settlers died. In July 1699, after barely eight months, the colony was abandoned. Only 300 of the 1,200 settlers survived and only one ship managed to return to Scotland.

The Caribbean colony that brought down Scotland BBC

Word of the disastrous first expedition did not reach Scotland in time to prevent a second voyage of more than 1,000 people leaving. The second expedition arrived on November 30, 1699 to discover the settlement of 'New Edinburgh' deserted and overgrown, but quickly set about rebuilding it. However, their fear of being driven out by the Spaniards, who regarded the territory as theirs, led them to attack the Spanish fort at Toubacanti in January 1700. The Scots were then subjected to sustained Spanish attacks at Fort St Andrew for a month before surrendering, and were afterwards allowed to leave. Of the total 2,500 settlers that set off, just a few hundred survived.
This led almost immediately to the union of Scotland with England. The Scottish establishment realized that it could never be a major power on its own and that if it wanted to share the benefits of England's international trade and the growth of the Empire then its future would have to lie in unity with England. More so, the Scottish economy had been bankrupted by the "Darién Fiasco" and Westminster had been petitioned by Scotland to wipe out the Scottish national debt and stabilize the currency.

Members of the Darien Ship Canal Expedition cut through forest during their march across the Isthmus of Darien in Panama. Led by Commander Selfridge, the expedition sought to plot a location for a canal linking the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Ca. 1871.
The Darkest Jungle tells the harrowing story of America’s first ship canal exploration across the Darién. In the 1850s, the whole world looked to the Darien Gap in eastern Panama as the site for a glorious canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. But someone had to survey the land of the Darien Gap. That task fell to the U.S. Darien Exploring Expedition, and what a task it was! Misled by the false maps of a fraudulent earlier "explorer," the expedition was faced with two mountain ranges, damp and brutal heat, swarming mosquitoes and flies, a hostile native population, and a catalog of other hardships. The expedition was soon at the brink of disaster; the men's ordeal of starvation, exhaustion, disease, madness, and ultimate despair as they succumbed to the brutal jungle is one of the great untold tales in the history of exploration.

The first post-Colonial expedition to the Darién was the Marsh Darien Expedition in 1924–25, supported by several major sponsors including the Smithsonian. The first vehicular crossing of the Gap was by the Land Rover La Cucaracha Cariñosa (The Affectionate Cockroach) and a Jeep of the Trans-Darién Expedition 1959–60, crewed by Amado Araúz (Panama), his wife Reina Torres de Araúz, former SAS man Richard E. Bevir (UK), and engineer Terence John Whitfield (Australia).They left Chepo, Panama on 2 February 1960 and reached Quibdó, Colombia on 17 June 1960, averaging 201 m (220 yd) per hour over 136 days. They traveled a great deal of the distance up the vast Atrato River.
A Range Rover on the British Trans-Americas Expedition in 1972 is claimed to be the first vehicle-based expedition to traverse both American continents north-to-south through the Darién Gap. However, this expedition used boats to bypass the Atrato Swamp in Colombia. The Hundred Days of Darien, a book written by Russell Braddon in 1974, chronicles this expedition.
There have also been several crossings by bicycle. The first fully overland wheeled crossing was that of British cyclist Ian Hibell who rode from Cape Horn to Alaska between 1971 and 1973. Hibell took the "direct" overland south-to-north route including an overland crossing of the Atrato Swamp in Colombia. Hibell completed his crossing accompanied across the Gap by two New Zealand cycling companions. Hibell's "Cape Horn to Alaska" expedition forms part of his 1984 book Into the Remote Places.

The Atrato swamp area from M, M & M
Men, Mud and Motorcycles (PDF, Part1, Part2) records, in a PDF book and photo blog, an expedition to the Darién by Robert Webb on a specialized motor cycle the Rokon Trail Breaker Explorer MkIII, in 1974.

(Left) the 26km to Yaviza (1980), (Centre-right) the Panama Colombia border markers (1975).
There have been several notable crossings by foot. Sebastian Snow crossed the Gap with Wade Davis in 1975 as part of his unbroken walk from Tierra Del Fuego to Costa Rica. The trip is documented in his 1976 book The Rucksack Man. In 1981, George Meegan crossed the gap on a similar journey. He too started in Tierra Del Fuego and eventually ended in Alaska. His 1988 biography The Longest Walk describes the trip.

In much more recent times there are a number of books and blog postings describing journeys into or across the Darién. The Darién Gap: Travels in the Rainforest of Panama by Martin Mitchinson gives advice from his experiences of one such journey.
"One trip that I recommend for those who insist on traveling in parts of the Darien Gap is to buy a cheap ticket on board one of the rusty cargo ships that load at the municipal dock (muelle fiscal) in a part of Panama City known as Salsipuedes - which translates literally to "get out of here if you can." When I first arrived in Panama, I made a number of trips into Darien aboard different cargo boats. However, the one that I used most often was the Dona Flor. With that crew I travelled down to Jaque on the Pacific Coast, surfing in a number of villages while the boat was loading and unloading, and staying for a number of days in Jaque with the family of the crew mechanic. On another trip, we entered the Rio Sambu to unload at Sambu and Puerto Indio. From there we continued up the Tuira, stopping at La Palma, Chepigana, Yaviza, and then Mercadeo for a number of days. The captain ran aground regularly, and we were stuck on a sandbar for a day and a half in the mouth of the Rio Sambu."
"Is it safe to visit the Darién Gap? There is a long answer to that question. The shorter version is that there are many factors that can make the visit more or less dangerous. Many of these would be in your control - Whether you take a guide; Who that guide is; What areas you visit; Your style and communication skills; How long you remain in Darien, and in each individual community. As well, there are many factors that are outside a traveller's control. Some of it is simply being in the wrong place at the wrong moment; meeting the wrong individual; or natural factors such as severe river flooding, encounters with snakes, scorpions, jaguars, and other animal residents of a jungle. But the shortest answer, is that I strongly believe that it is possible, and worthwhile, to make a trip into Darien. This can be done by foot, canoe, motorized boat, cargo ship, airplane or sailboat."
"Responding to advice from a few locals and other experienced Darien researchers, I adopted a few simple tactics that might or might not have helped keep me from trouble:

- Interact with locals. Don’t try to isolate yourself when you are in a village. You will meet good and bad this way, but for the large part you will find that locals try to steer you away from trouble. They don’t want you to get hurt, or worse.

-Share your exact travel plans with only those people who need to know (almost a contradiction of the first point). It appears that most kidnappings need to be organized on various levels, with a local person contacting someone else, who passes it on to another group for approval and action. This takes time, so it is likely best to not be so explicit with your travel itinerary.

- Consider moving and visiting a number of places, rather than staying in just one village for many weeks or months (related to the reasons listed in the previous point.)

- Don’t show off money or take along flashy or expensive items that are bound to attract the attention of those who are looking for an easy score.

- Trust your instincts. You don’t have to keep up a constant guard against everyone you meet, but try to keep your eyes open. I know that some recent books have discounted our ability to accurately perceive any real truth in this manner. Still, I have seen dogs squirm and cry when encountering a new individual who meant them harm – it is that sort of instinct that I believe we can sometimes count on."

Andrew Egan in his accompanying photos to "Crossing the Darién Gap" provides several illustrations of life in the region.

For a close experience of traveling through Panama in the region just north of the Gap, there is Rick Thompson's excellent photoblog of a journey to Yaviza the town at the end of the Pan-American, and then NW across the inlets of the Bay of San Miguel on the Pacific Coast through La Palma to the Rio Negro.

In "A State of Nature" (2013) Jennie Erin Smith in New Yorker describes an unsuccessful attempt to cross the gap.

Two views of Yaviza

Yellow Fever in Latin America

World map of Yellow Fever endemic regions (click to enlarge)
The following countries are considered at risk of yellow fever transmission:
South America: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guyana, Peru, Venezuela.
Africa: Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea,
Liberia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Sudan

The last 24 hours have been spent researching yellow fever and its vaccination requirements, as we traverse through Ecuador, Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica. I have previously had Yellow Fever vaccination and never had any side effects and the disease is generally deadly, once you go past the more common flu-like episode and get the symptoms of liver and organ failure, but we are only touching on the endemic areas in Latin America and we have to balance the risks against the risks of the vaccination itself.

We got drawn into this only because we began it check whether we would be barred from entering any country as a result of not having the official vaccination certificate. So far as we have been able to ascertain:

1. Colombia has no entry restrictions according to COPA and the gist of the CDC statement below.
2. Panama says it is recommended but not required for people over 9 months coming from endemic areas.
3. Costa Rica says it is required for people between 9 months and 60 years coming from endemic areas.

Here are come of the detailed risks, focusing on countries we are passing through.

Yellow Fever Cases in Travelers
• During 1970–2002, a total of nine cases of yellow fever were reported in unvaccinated travelers from the United States and Europe who traveled to West Africa (five cases) or South America (four cases). Eight of these nine travelers died.
• Only one documented case of yellow fever has occurred, which was in a vaccinated traveler from Spain, who visited several West African countries during 1988.

Risk Estimates for Travelers
• The risk of acquiring yellow fever is difficult to predict because of variations in ecologic determinants of virus transmission. For a 2-week stay, the risks for illness and death due to yellow fever for an unvaccinated traveler traveling to an endemic area of
• West Africa are 50 per 100,000 and 10 per 100,000, respectively
• South America are 5 per 100,000 and 1 per 100,000, respectively
• These estimates are a rough guideline based on the risk to indigenous populations, often during peak transmission season. Thus, these risk estimates may not accurately reflect the true risk to travelers, who may have a different immunity profile, take precautions against getting bitten by mosquitoes, and have less outdoor exposure.
• The risk of acquiring yellow fever in South America is lower than that in Africa because the mosquitoes that transmit the virus between monkeys in the forest canopy do not often come in contact with humans, and there is a relatively high level of immunity in local residents secondary to vaccine use.

Yellow Fever vaccine is live vaccine and is generally safe and has few side effects, but there is a small incidence of serious side effects, mimicking the actual disease, occurring at levels similar to the risk of a two-week visit to a Latin American endemic country.

Yellow Fever Vaccine-Associated Neurologic Disease (YEL-AND)
• YEL-AND represents a conglomerate of different clinical syndromes, including meningoencephalitis, Guillain–Barré syndrome (GBS), acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), bulbar palsy, and Bell’s palsy.
• Historically, YEL-AND was seen primarily among infants as encephalitis, but more recent reports have been among persons of all ages.
• The onset of illness for documented cases ranges 3–28 days after vaccination, and almost all cases were in first-time vaccine recipients.
• YEL-AND is rarely fatal.
• The incidence of YEL-AND in the United States is 0.8 per 100,000 doses administered. The rate is higher in persons ≥60 years of age, with a rate of 1.6 per 100,000 doses in persons 60–69 years of age and 2.3 per 100,000 doses in persons ≥70 years of age.

Yellow Fever Vaccine-Associated Viscerotropic Disease (YEL-AVD)
• YEL-AVD is a severe illness similar to wild-type disease, with vaccine virus proliferating in multiple organs and often leading to multisystem organ failure and death.
• Since the initial cases of YEL-AVD were published in 2001, more than 40 confirmed and suspected cases have been reported throughout the world.
• The onset of illness for YEL-AVD cases averaged 3.5 days (range: 1–8 days) after vaccination. YEL-AVD appears to occur after the first dose of yellow fever vaccine rather than with booster doses.
• The case–fatality ratio for reported YEL-AVD cases is 53%.
• The incidence of YEL-AVD in the United States is 0.4 cases per 100,000 doses of vaccine administered. The rate is higher for persons ≥60 years of age, with a rate of 1 per 100,000 doses in persons 60–69 years of age and 2.3 per 100,000 doses in persons aged ≥70 years of age.

Requirements by Country (See US CDC world listing)

Ecuador (US CDC)
The vaccine is required for travelers greater than one year of age arriving from a yellow-fever-infected country in Africa or the Americas. Yellow fever vaccine is recommended for the following provinces in the Amazon Basin - Morona-Santiago, Napo, Orellana, Pastaza, Sucumbios, and Zamora-Chinchipe - and for all areas along the eastern slopes and to the east of the Andes Mountains (see the CDC map for details). This does not include the cities of Quito and Guayaquil or the Galapagos Islands, though travelers to the Galapagos who make intermediate stops east of the Andes should be vaccinated against yellow fever. In recent years, yellow fever has been reported from the provinces of Morona-Santiago, Napo, Pastaza, Sucombios, and Zamora-Chinchipe. In April 2005, the Ecuadoran authorities announced a yellow fever alert in the province of Sucombios, due to a yellow fever outbreak in neighboring areas of Colombia.

Colombia (US CDC)
Not required. Yellow fever vaccine is recommended for all travelers greater than nine months of age, except that travelers whose itinerary is limited to the cities of Bogota, Cali, and Medellin are at lower risk and may consider foregoing immunization. Yellow fever vaccine is required for visitors to the country's national parks along the Atlantic coast. In January 2004, a yellow fever outbreak was reported from the departments of Guajira, Magdalena, Meta, and Cesar, including Sierra Nevada and Tyrona parks (see "Recent outbreaks" below). In recent years, yellow fever has also been reported from the departments of Antioquia, Boyaca, Caqueta, Casanare, Choco, Cundinamarca, Santander, Norte Santander, and Vichada, and the intendencias of Arauca, Cucuta, Guaviare, and Putumayo.

Panama (US CDC)
CDC yellow fever vaccination recommendation for travelers to Panama: For all travelers ≥9 months of age traveling to the provinces of Darien, Kuna Yala (old San Blas), Comarca Emberá, and Panama east of the Canal Zone, EXCLUDING the Canal Zone, Panama City, and San Blas Islands Panama requires travelers arriving from countries where yellow fever is present to present proof of yellow fever vaccination. Vaccination should be given 10 days before travel and at 10-year intervals if there is ongoing risk.

However Lonely Planet Thorn Tree states as of 2010: "Panama officially requires a certificate of anyone arriving from a country where YF occurs. That does not include the US or Costa Rica. However, the ministry of health says that the requirement is a recommendation, not a requirement." (See also Panama backtracks on Yellow Fever shot Requirement)

The Panamanian government official documentation states the same position:

"¿La ausencia del Certificado Internacional de Vacunación ó Profilaxis será impedimento para que los viajeros ingresen al país? NO, la ausencia del Certificado Internacional de vacunación o profilaxis no será impedimento para que los pasajeros ingresen al país ni para abordar aeronaves, embarcaciones y transportes terrestres interfronterizos, ya que en la República de Panamá, la aplicación de la vacuna contra la Fiebre Amarilla es una RECOMENDACIÓN Y NO UNA OBLIGACION, para los viajeros internacionales proveniente de los países enunciados en el punto 4."

Translated this roughly reads:

"The absence of the Certificate the International of Vaccination or Prophylaxis will be impediment so that the travellers enter the country? NO, the absence of the Certificate the International of vaccination or prophylaxis will not be impediment so that the passengers enter the country nor to approach transfrontier airships, boats and terrestrial transports, since in the Republic of Panama, the application of the vaccine against the Yellow Fever is a RECOMMENDATION AND NOT an OBLIGATION, for the international travellers originating of the countries enunciated in point 4."

In South America, these are: Bolivia, Brasil, Colombia, Ecuador, Perú and Venezuela.

Costa Rica (US CDC)
Required from travelers coming from countries with risk of yellow fever transmission. No certificate is required for travelers

Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala (US CDC)
Required if traveling from a country with risk of yellow fever transmission and ≥1 year of age.

We are still trying to decide whether to inject or wait till Panama, given our age over 60 and the high cost of the vaccine here ($100 US each).

Monday, May 3, 2010

Biting the Bullet

Some odd but essential items (click to enlarge) : The motion-sensitive combination cable lock (1),
alcohol stove(5),
12 V DC > 240V AC inverter with surge protector (7), and water pump with bacterial filter (8),
with smart Ni-MH battery charger (4), laptop (9), external USB backup drive (10), video and digital cameras (2,3),
LED-incandescent head-torches (6), tri-band cell phones on global roaming (11) and a Swiss army knife (12). .

Here are some booking details and notes on some of the natty things we take that help make an intrepid travel amazing race more enjoyable and less hideous kinky.

Booking your Life Away

The whole operation began when I casually went on to the One World site and found I could book an itinerary through South and Central America and on through the US and Europe, returning through Asia without having to route first to the US and back down to Chile to get there as seemed to be the case with other syndicates. I then wandered down to the city Quantas office to see if I could pay in New Zealand to avoid a huge internet VISA purchase, and before I knew it had a confirmed round the world booking.

Having been able to book our confirmed flights and not having to pay to get our tickets for a couple of months, we finally went in this week and threw away a cool US $3500 each on a One World 16 stop over round the world ticket with Quantas. Thanks to a computer error, which failed to include the highly contentious open jaw mileage (they try to count distances and charge you for the miles you don't actually fly with them but do overland journeys or buy tickets on other carriers) it was $250 less each than they claimed it should be, after guaranteeing us no price changes except for taxes. The standard price would have been ($3000 US + $763 taxes).

We also spent a hectic weekend researching and internet booking a series of links in the open jaws, which could have left us stranded if we didn't have confirmed link connections. Before we started we set up an internet debit card and transferred only the required funds in advance to it so we don't inadvertently find a Trojan or botnet virus has stolen our credit card details and thousands of dollars of credit limit out of our platinum VISA card that gives us 90 days of free travel insurance. This was a really good way to go, as many of the websites are in differing countries with weird systems and it worked like a charm instantaneously every time, including at least sending confirmation e-tickets with confirmation codes.

We found flights out of Ecuador to Panama were very expensive ($450 US inc each) partly because there is no surface transport by land or sea between South and Central America because of the notorious Darien Gap, so decided to travel overland to Cali in Colombia, where the fares are ($238 inc COPA). We booked an Air Asia return flight Singapore to Bali ($151 US inc). We booked a Spanair flight Seville to Barcelona (E64 inc) which was a fraction of the train price, and scored a cheap flight Agean from Crete to Istanbul with a stopover in Athens (E98 inc).

The main exception was internal flights in Chile where we are heading further south and need to fly. The cheaper carrier Sky air currently doesn't accept foreign credit cards on the internet, so after having a long conversation with an operator checking our details in English letter by letter and the booking e-mail failing to arrive, so we flagged it until a couple of weeks before leaving, and only last night finally managed to make an e-mail booking followed by a phone call in the middle of the night to give our card details and secure the bookings at a good price. We also decided not to book a flight to hop over Honduras because the COPA bookings are quite expensive and the cheaper promo fares can't be adjusted if you find your overland takes longer than you thought, so we'll decide when we get to Managua whether to fly, or bus through Honduras.

We also arranged rental cars for Ireland, Italy and Jordan with no down payment except VISA details for Ireland and Italy for a $40 no show. Budget has given the simplest and apparently cheapest and most straightforward deals overall, although Avis does also have an office at the King Hussein (Allenby) bridge, which could facilitate travel to Israel.

We also booked on three Greek ferries, linking from Brindisi to Igoumenitsa and then on to Patra, with a later link from Piraeus to Heraclion in Crete. This was a chaotic nightmare. The shipping lines change their schedules and leave old ones on the internet and there are some particularly bad internet booking sites which don't give you the schedules but demand your VISA details and personal details before even looking up a schedule. After days of searching we booked through Paleologos Forth system which did book the ferries and has since sent details of contacting the shipping companies with our booking numbers. But beware, you have to claim your ticket 2 hours in advance for Italy to Greece and 1 hour in Greece or they may give your place to someone waiting at the terminal! And today there are riots in Athens and a general strike paralyzing all transport. The free-falling Euros we bought a bit soon have already lost nearly $1000.

One of the insane ferry booking forms which doesn't tell you the schedule or whether there are berths
available, but expects you to enter all your financial details in one huge hit first! Don't use it!

We have also spent the last month and a half researching the trip details and scanning sections of a mix of Lonely Planet, Rough and Footprint guides (which are great for concise travel routes borders and transport) for the sections of countries we are passing through (it being impossible to take 24 heavy guide books with us).

We managed to find a series of passes through the Andes between Chile and Argentina which might be open at the beginning of winter if we are lucky so we can do a loop of both countries as well as counting out a hectic overland through Central America with an options to hop Honduras by air if we can't keep the pace overland.

Technologies for Intrepid Travel

We are now gathering our high tech equipment including video, cameras and laptop. We always carry Ni-MH battery smart charger which will quickly top up individually discharged batteries, including our three battery head torches, and a 12 volt to 240 volt inverter, along with universal in-out multiplugs. This means we can charge all our electronic gear either when we are in a car or a hotel. When I went down the Amazon I also took a small solar panel and 12 V motor bike battery, so I could recharge the laptop and video camera in the wild.

One really natty thing we got for only $11 US was an electronic motion sensitive combination cable lock which can be threaded through more than one piece of baggage and shrieks at 110 dB if your baggage is disturbed or the cable is cut and can be hung over hotel door knobs as well, or even used as a personal alarm in the street, so its harder to rob you in the night! We also carry a ceramic water filter which I have successfully used in the Amazon and a small brass stove weighing only 114 gm which has no moving parts and cooks beautifully on methylated spirits or isopropyl alcohol.

We will be carrying a laptop with most of our travel guides and language courses, which we will also use for storing photos and blogging at internet cafes via ethernet. We are taking a spare external USB drive with a backup operating system, so if one disc dies we can still function, and will have backups of critical information on DVD.

We will take a pair of sim-card cell phones with global roaming (Vodafone), set so neither the phone nor the sim cards can be accessed without a password if they are stolen. (Make sure you know your PUK code before attempting to set your phone! They will often demand it for the first set.) These should be active in all 24 countries. We need to have tri-band models with at least 900, 1800 and 1900 to access all the countries. This means we can both text home and one another if we are in different places in the same area. Rates are falling steeply, so by the time we go, texts may cost only $10 a megabyte.

This worked out great in our 10 country Asia overland except that we lost one phone (without password protection) passing from Nepal to Tibet which, was a huge hassle until I managed to phone home from a local sweet shop in the first town in Tibet and cancel the account. Be careful though, because we have heard of people who downloaded a single internet movie and lost something like $50,000 US.

We also carry a pretty full array of medicines. We'll vaccinate for swine and ordinary flu, have a booster for typhoid, carry two kinds of antibiotics, one active against staph (e.g. augmentin and erythromycin), immodium for diarrhea, doxycycline for malaria, as the South American variety is chloroquine resistant (which also helps protect against casual gastric and other infections as its a tetracycline bacteriostatic antibiotic), tamiflu, viagra, as well as topical antibiotics and antifungals and a first-aid kit. Then you have strong DEET for mosquitoes, and we'll pick up a can of fly tox when we arrive to avoid getting bitten by the notorious necrotic Chilean brown recluse spider which infests 90% of human lodgings.

Geodesic tent is a mosquito net with a covering fly sheet (not shown) ideal for the tropics

We are going to have to take both winter and tropical clothing and carry a small tent to camp in Europe all the way through Latin America, where it can serve as a mosquito net, as it is a tropical tent with all fine netting windows except for the fly sheet. So we will have layers of clothing that are light, but can be put together for snowy cold but stand alone for tropical conditions. Trousers with lots of pockets including sewn in money and passport pouches hard to access from the inside, so we can carry some cash to get us out of a tight spot in a remote place. Poly-propaline inners and light shower proof outers with ponchos and compact umbrellas. An old frame pack dating back to 1976 and a new 90 ltr soft bag with a separate trolley which can haul everything in the towns and which fits down the pack frame. Day packs with lots of pockets for the sensitive stuff, including some very hard to get to secure internal pouches.