A Travellerspoint blog

The End

So that's it, it's all over. We got home six days ago and it already feels like we haven't been away. The job hunt is on and the non-stop travelling of South America feels like a very distant memory. So let's rewind...

We spent three weeks after Mexico in New York, where Jaz has family. We saw all the tourist sites, spent a long weekend on Shelter Island, celebrated Liam's birthday with a night out and a ride on "The Beast" and ate our body weight in Italian food, in fact, any type of food. Jaz has been to New York many times before and was eager to introduce Liam to the city that never sleeps and it left a good impression. We met up with Garren (of Bolivian jungle fame) quite a few times over the weeks, but by the time September 30th came we were excited to get on our plane home.

The sunset in Shelter Island:
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Liam on Shelter Island:
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The boys at a Modest Mouse gig at the Williamsburg Waterfront:
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On the "Top of the Rock":
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Eating the "best pizza in New York" at Grimaldis (we didn't rate it too highly):
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Going to watch the Lion King on Broadway:
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At the Statue of Liberty:
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So, we had an amazing time. Definite highlights include:

The Inca Trail
The sense of achievement after doing this was just incredible. Despite the problems we encountered during the four days the moment we saw Machu Picchu we couldn't help but think it was all so worth it.

The Bolivian jungle
This was just a once in a lifetime trip. We sailed down a river, surrounded by alligators and capyvera, we hunted anacondas, we fished for pirahnas, swam with pink dolphins in the same river we had just been sailing down and even endured some food poisoning. The people we were with really made our time in the jungle, you're all ace guys!

Ilha Grande
This place was just PARADISE. It was ace to be somewhere so serene, without cars or motorcycles, where people didn't stare or comment and where the beaches were so perfect. We had an amazing few days here.

Mexico
We would have liked longer to explore Mexico, but we liked what we saw: from Mexico City to Isla Mujeres there was something that caught our eye. It helps that the food was ridiculously good (especially in Amigos!) and very cheap to boot.

It's crazy to think back to the favelas of Rio and how much safer we felt there than in the streets of Rio. The pickpocketing incident on just our fourth day. Watching the football on the beach. Skye. Enda. Brian. "Gringo! Christo!". Getting lost looking for the Lapa steps. Ilha Grande, paradise. The old guy in the canoe with his dog and coconuts. The rain in Paraty. The gypsies. Sao Paolo and the power cut. England losing to the Germans. Our first long-distance bus to Iguacu falls. Iguacu falls. Both sides. The Argentine side being better. Losing the yellow fever certificate. That medical centre filled with sick children, staring at us. Bellinha. The BBQ. Tony, Graham, Lauren. That boat ride. Getting wet through waterproofs. The flight to Montevideo which added an extra destination and was really delayed. Montevideo. Mate. The Uruguayans winning THAT match. The noise and excitement. Smcksy on his way to Colonia (Sandwich bag McGee). Lying on that bench when the dog was right next to Jaz's face. Buenos Aires. Oh Buenos Aires. Jeremy. La Boca. The bitter wind. Milhouse. The tango show. Sitting at that posh table for hours until anything even happened. Sneaky illegal filming. That 90s club. The cemetary. The first class coach. Travelling on Independence Day AGAIN. The bag theft. Mendoza. Mr Hugo. SPAIN WINNING THE WORLD CUP.

And of course we can't forget the bus ride to Santiago. The delays. Aldo. Xime. Paula. The tias. Liam's fever. Replacing clothes. Eating two completos each. Pisco sours, both types. Getting locked out of Aldo's. The cafe with the strippers. La Virgen. Mote con huecilla. Cindy the cat. The coach ride back to Mendoza. The cold. Numb feet. Disappointment. Never meeting our roomate. Salta. Even colder. The Waster. The snowman in the main square. That bbq dish. Israli war veteran. Coping with stress. Baseball bat. Early starts. Daytrips. Kenan, Kel and Hassan. More mate, with the yummy cheese and bread. The cactus farm. Windburn and sunburn. Our money-saving picnic in the square. Cafayate wine. Jibbing the wine tour. Robin on the wine tour. Climbing the hill overlooking the town. Being thrown out of the car and made to walk. San Pedro de Atacama. Demanding to be let back on the bus. For the entire 30 second journey. That older couple. The second hostel we stayed in and the dude that ran it. Sandboarding.

And then there was Bolivia. The four-day tour through the desert and to the salt flats. Hannah, Nuno, Di, Azoo. Geysers. Thermal pools. Lagoons. The cold. The wind. The "llaaaaaameeeeeeeeeees". One hot shower. One cold shower. Excitment at wine. Card games. The obligatory photos. That car that broke down and no-one could fix. The train cementary. Uyuni, awful Uyuni. Potosi, the highest city in the world. The mines. Being stuck in Potosi for FOUR days with nothing to do. Cooking an awful dinner in a hostel that wasn't our own. Eventually getting a cab the hell out of there. Roadblocks. Hitting that poor dog. Sucre. White trees. The dinosaur park. Joy Ride. The Bolivians hand-painting the lines on to the roads. The "Eiffel Tower" and "Arc de Triomphe" in that park. More road blocks. Cochabamba. 12 hours. Rubbish lunch. La Paz.

Wild Rover. The altitude. The drunkeness and hangover at altitude. Choco. Girl cat. Boy cat. TV room cat. City of Men- How DOES it end?! The brass band that followed every demonstration. The tear gas. The prison. Llama foetuses. Ekoko. The camera issues. Rurrenabaque. The jungle. Helen, Elliot, Garren, Aiden. Alligators. Capivera. Pink Dolphins. Dead anacondas. Tony baiting alligators. Pirahna Fishing. The first bowt of food poisoning. Sunsets. Card games late into the night. Attracting the bugs to the torches after the generator had turned all the lights off. La Paz. Lake Titicaca/Isla del Sol. The walk up that hill with the little lad guiding us. Liam carrying both bags. Apachetes. That sunset. The French people on the top of the hill. Almost missing the boat. Feeling sick on the boat.

Peru. Arequipa. Turkish Food three times, all amazing. Mexican food twice, disappointing. No beer ice cream. Rip-off merchants inside the church. Tiny Ice Princess. Fear of highjacking of our bus. Ica. Villa Jazmin. Anniversary. Huacachina. Climbing the sand dune. Sandboarding. Dune buggy. The Americans- "Yeeeeeeeeeah!". The Nazca Lines. "Hey Manchester!! Excuse me Manchester!!". Cuzco. Milkshakes. Rafting- "It was really cool". National Folklore Week. The Inca Trail. Miguel, Megan, Nate, Doreen, Mill. Food poisoning round two. Dead Woman's Pass. Apachete. Machu Picchu. The sense of achievement and pride. Resenting all the clean people. The porters. Papa. That weird offering to Pachamama. Being offered drugs every two seconds. The transvestite in the toilets of Mama Africa. That 21 hour bus to Lima. Sara, Sharon, Dorian, Luke. Chuey. The stuck up cat. Allianza Lima. The street food market. Bembos. Día de Santa Rosa. Hunting for guinea pig. The early rise to catch the flight. Running in the rain to flag a taxi down.

Mexico. The food. Mexico City. Those tacos. The non-stop walking tours. The night out with the hostel peeps who just wanted to pull. Oaxaca. The brass band in the square. The market. The bar with the one barman raving all the time. Realisation of lack of funds and error coming to Oaxaca. Sad times. The Mezcal. Happy times. Tlayudas. Hanging our washing out to dry and then the rain comes. 24 hours to Cancun. Isla Mujeres. The heat. The beaches. Chivas shirt. Amigos. The hostel beach bar. The guy in the white pants dancing. Locking ourselves out of our room and the security guard trying to break in. The golf buggy. The dive-bombing birds. Cancun. The beach club. The City. Tequila tequila. South African Dancing. Searching for sandals.

New York. The family. Shelter Island. Lots of food. Fishing. Tubing. Kayaking. Walks to the icecream shop. Times Square. The Statue of Liberty. The Beast. Top of the Rock. Central Park. The Lion King. Liam's new shoes. Lot's of new things. Ground Zero in the rain. Empire State Building in the mist. More eating. Liam's birthday. Samson's Birthday. Seven course meal. Home. The End.

We didn't realise quite how many of you read this until we got home and people mentioned it to us. Thank you so much for sharing our adventure with us, we mainly kept the blog as a way of staying in touch, helping those who are wanting to do a similar trip and to have something to read back when our memories aren't quite so clear in years to come, so it's great to know that people have actually enjoyed reading it, too.

Until our next trip,

Jaz and Liam xxx

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Posted by JazandLiam 10:35 Comments (0)

Mexico City, Oaxaca, Isla Mujeres and Cancun.

sunny 30 °C

1st September 2010 - 11th September 2010

Mexico City

The first day we were in Mexico City we went on a free walking city tour, booked through the hostel (Hostel Amigos- decent but loud). There were only three of us on the tour and our guide was a guy called Alejandro. We started by going in to a hospital that was hundreds of years old where there were murals on the wall. Alejandro explained the story of the murals for a good 15 minutes, which was very interesting (it was mainly all to do with the different Gods and how they depicted them). The hospital itself was founded by Hernando Cortes, the Spaniard who conquered Mexico. He realised that he and his men had brought over diseases that the Mexicans weren't equipped to deal with, so opened up the hospital to treat the ill- a pretty nice gesture from a man who then took over!

Next stop was the 'zocalo' or main square. It is so called as a monument was going to be erected in honour of independence, but only the base (zocalo) was ever made. When people were meeting with friends they often used to say that they would meet at the zocalo and eventually this is how the main square became known, despite the fact that the base has long gone. Unfortunately, the main plaza has high boards all around it as they were preparing for the independence celebrations (Mexico celebrates 200 years of independence on September 15th/16th), so we didn't get the whole effect. The buildings surrounding it, though- the cathedral and national palace amongst them- were covered in decorations, making them even more impressive than they already should have been.

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Other buildings we saw included a very grand art gallery, some bars and stuff and that's about all I can remember... After leaving Alejandro (and giving him a very substantial tip!) we went up the Latino tower with the other guy on our tour, to take in the views. You can pay to take the lift up to the top (about six pounds per person) orrrrr get the free lift up to the bar, have a drink there and walk up the two floors to the viewpoint. We did the latter, which was very worth it as the drinks were cheap as folk, the bar very plush and the scenery amazing. Well worth it.

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That night we went out with the peeps from the hostel and the next morning we were up early for a tour of three of the biggest markets in Mexico City. The tour was pretty much as you'd expect and a little bit more- we tried lots of different, local foods (including grasshoppers, but we passed up on the mosquito eggs and worms!) and Alejandro explained a lot of the different traditional religious figurines. We also saw traditional tortilla-making shops, which was cool. The tour was really interesting, if tiring.

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After two days we decided it was time to move on and caught the six-hour bus to Oaxaca (pronounced wahaka), but not before a quick visit to the (free) zoo first!

Oaxaca

Oaxaca is all about the food. The guidebook informed us that it is the birthplace of mole (no, not 'mole' like the animal, 'mole' with emphasis on the 'e'- like 'guacamole') and a scrumptious cheese called 'quesilla', oh and some amazing hot chocolate. So, naturally, all we did was eat, eat and eat a bit more (a common theme it seems!) We had red mole (very sweet), tlayudas (a pizza-type dish but with a tortila base. Very nice), enchiladas and mezcal (like tequila but more Mexican!) In fact, we camped out in one bar for a good few hours sampling their cocktails and finishing of the night with a very strong mezcal- it was awesome.

Oaxaca itself is a very sweet little town with cobbled streets and pretty plazas. On one of the days we were there we saw a brass band playing in the zocalo; apparently it is either tradition or law (I can't remember) that the local brass band must play in the main square in the days leading up to Independence day, we're not too sure why though...

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After two days in Oaxaca and realising there was no direct route to Cancun, we resigned ourselves to the fact that we'd be catching a 12-hour bus to Villahermosa (it ended up being 14 hours thanks to a landslide blocking off both roads), waiting three hours (it was two after we were two hours late, but then the next bus was an hour late) and getting on another 12-hour bus to Cancun. It was most definitely a VERY tiring 28 hours and we were sick of the service station cheese and ham sandwiches by the end of it, but with such a short amount of time in Mexico (nine full days thanks to Mexicana going bust and us having to change our flights) we decided to just do it.

Cancun and Isla Mujeres

We got to Cancun late at night so decided to stay there and make our way to Isla Mujeres the very next morning. We got the local bus to the port and then paid something ridiculous like 70 pesos (3.50 pounds) for the 30 minute ferry ride across the sea., arriving in Isla Mujeres at about 10am. First impressions were that it was much bigger and much more built up than Ilha Grande and also much more of a tourist town, but once we eventually got to the beaches (we had to wait three hours before being allowed to check in at Hostel Poc'na- amazing) we could see why it was so busy! The sand was white, the water was crystal clear, the beaches weren't packed and the sun was blazing. We made ourselves comfortable, applied our factor 20... and still left burnt. The sun was INTENSE, the hottest we have ever known it. We spent two days lazing on the beaches and drinking cocktails in our hostel's beach bar. On one of the nights, we managed to lock ourselves out of our room- cue the security guard attempting (and failing) to break in to our room! We eventually found one of the guys from our room and luckily he had his key and let us in, but he seemed less than impressed, oops.

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A common thing to do while in Isla Mujeres is hire a golf buggy to transport yourself up and down the island, so we did. After three months of not driving (longer for Liam) we navigated the streets, made it to the south end of the island, saw some other beaches and generally had a laugh whilst simultaneously kind of fearing for our lives in our indicator, wing mirror and door-free buggy!

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A brief shout out here for restaurant Amigos in Isla Mujeres- we ate there both nights because the food was just. that. good. If you ever go, we recommend this place 500%!

After a couple of days of ending the trip in the best possible way, we went back to Cancun to continue relaxing. With it being our last day we spent the day at a beach club. We had sun loungers on the beach, next to the pool, being waited on hand and foot, drinking cocktails/beer and topping up the tan. It was luxury. We spent the entire day there and finished the trip properly with a hostel night out (we stayed at hostel Quetzal, which was really amazing- the owner was so nice and the free dinner was tasty). We went to The City club and for $45US we got: entry, queue jump, open bar, our own table with bottles of vodka, tequila, mixers and whatever else you want on it and waiter service- pretty decent! The night started with a show; acrobats, fire juggler/breather, lazer show, cocktail flaring and breakdancers- we all said we would have paid the entry just for the show alone! The night then continued with a mix and match of dance and RnB, dry ice being jetted out on to us all at random intervals and south african dancing (we can explain...) Overall, an amazing way to end our travels.

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The next day- 11th September- we flew to NYC for three weeks of merriment with Jaz's family and her mum was even flying out to meet us.

South America (and Mexico) it has been emotional.

We'll continue to blog through NYC and eventually do a final retrospective post with memories, dos and don'ts and just general advice.

Until next time,
Jaz and Liam xxx

Posted by JazandLiam 22.09.2010 21:00 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Cuzco - Lima - MEXICO!

overcast 10 °C

Once again we have neglected our blogging duties and, having the worst memory ever, I (Jaz) have forgotten dates and details so am just going to give you a quick run down of Cuzco, Lima and our trek to Mexico City (via Bogota!)

Cuzco

Post-Inca Trail we made our way slowly back to Cuzco. We had to get a bus to Aguas Calientes, a train to Ollantaytambo and a car transfer to Cuzco. It took ages and by the time we got back, picked up our bags from hostel Pirwa (we didn't want to stay here because of the rubbish showers and the fact we needed to be clean!) and moved them to hostel Pariwana, it was late and we were hungry. We got clean and were wanting to head for food, but the hostel was almost under lock-down... All the lights had been turned off (whilst Liam was in the shower, which was useful) and a crowd had gathered in the courtyard- there was about to be an offering to Pachamama. Said offering consisted of a guy in a weird hat/mask, a t-shirt and rolled up jeans (how very traditional) bounding around the courtyard, chanting and putting his hands through the fire he had started. This (and variations of it) carried on for about an hour and a half and quite honestly was a bit weird. It left us feeling a bit odd afterwards, but as soon as we could we went off for dinner.

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When we got back we were relieved to find that we still had the 12-bed dorm to ourselves and we settled in for a well-deserved sleep. The next couple of days passed in a bit of a blur and we mainly wandered around markets, saw some more of Cuzco and on the 27th (I think), we went off to Lima. The bus ride took 21 hours but was surprisingly ok! It was our longest journey up until this point, but we spent our time reading, listening to music, watching and films. The timing of it was good as we got on at 2pm, so we had a few hours until sleep and only a few hours after sleep until we finally reached Lima.

Lima

In Lima we stayed with a family friend, Sharon. We had our own room at the top of the house with cable tv and The Simpsons in English, so we spent a lot of time just chilling out, relaxing and also took the opportunity to get some washing done. On the day we arrived, quite a few of us went to an outdoor food market, which was a great experience- they had lots of outdoor stalls selling different types of cuisine and then undercover tables for you to sit at and enjoy. Other days were spent wandering Miraflores, going for drinks, trying a Bembos, buying gifts for people back home (here's looking at you dad!) and, once again, trying the local foods (what were the things called that we ate, Sharon?)
We went in to the actual city of Lima just once- on St Rosa Day (I can't get away! haha). There was a procession through the streets, a massive crowd of people at St Rosa Church (where they write wishes on to a piece of paper and throw it in to the well there), a mural on the ground and fireworks. Whilst the fireworks were going off, we took the opportunity to duck in to a convent nearby and have a look around. It was nowhere near as impressive as the Santa Catalina convent in Arequipa, but still quite nice (if not as well kept) and it had some lovely detailing.

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The main event while in Lima was finally getting to a Latin American football match. We went along to see Alianza Lima v Total Chaclao for the pricely sum of about two pounds each. The ground was only half full and there was no away support, but the atmosphere was still immense. We were sat behind one of the goals, on cement steps, and the noisy fans were directly opposite us. They had the stand shaking and were jumping around, waving banners, banging drums, you name it! The final score was 3-1 to Alianza (the first two goals were scored in massively quick succession- Total's defence was shocking!) All in all a great experience, but we were surprised by the low standard of the football and stadium and the fact that they had a female official!

Early hours on the 1st September we took a cab to Lima airport and started or trek to Mexico City. I say trek because we went Lima-Bogota (Colombia), which took 1.5 hours and then we waited for bordering four hours in Bogota airport (yawn) before getting the four hour flight to Mexico City. We woke up that morning at 3am (after about two hours sleep), left Sharon's house at 4am and didn't arrive at our hostel in Mexico until about 8pm. We were EXHAUSTED!

More to come on that, I'm off to pick my mum up from the airport!

Much love,
Jaz and Liam xxx

Posted by JazandLiam 12.09.2010 08:38 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Inca Trail (Part 2)

The Incas Strike Back

sunny 19 °C

Tuesday 24th August - Day 3

We awoke on the third day knowing it would be our last serious day of hiking and really looking forward to it as Miguel had mentioned it was his favourite day because of the views and landscape. We can see why he said this. The day´s hike began with the ascent of the second pass - `Abra de Runkuracay´- just under 4,000m. Halfway up, after about 45 minutes of hiking, we reached the ruins of an Inca fortress and look out tower where Miguel gave us some background info and history. It was just before we started the second half of the climb that Jaz began to feel really ill again, probably a result of her lack of breakfast. Miguel was on hand with his special solution that he dabbed onto some cotton wool and told Jaz to sniff when she felt nauseous. Apparently it was for insect stings but it did the job of keeping Jaz´s feelings of sickness at bay and became affectionately know as her `nausea rag´. It smelt like cola flavoured ice pops! Anyway, another hour of hiking got us over the second pass after a few `trick peaks´ where it looked like we had reached the top only to see the steps climbing higher and higher. We took a short rest and ate some of our snacks, provided by our porters (we love those guys), before descending down the other side of the mountain via some more very steep cartilage-eroding Inca steps. After about an hour of downhill stepping Miguel stopped us to give us some more info on the ruins of Sayacmarca above us, which translates as `inaccessible town´. We were given the option to climb another steep staircase (100 steps) to access the inaccessible or take the path down through the cloud forest to lunch. Running low on energy Jaz chose to head for the campsite but Liam and the others climbed up to the ruins and were rewarded by some stunning views and Inca architecture.
The short 15-20 minute walk through the Cloud Forest was equally as impressive. The path was surrounded by ferns, hanging vines, flowers, butterflies and other insects and through the gaps, as far as the eye could see, was lush greenery. Lunch was greedily lapped up by everyone, a good sign for the girls, and then we were right back on it, barely resting as Miguel warned us that we didn´t want to be reaching camp at nightfall.

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Spurred on by that warning and the promise of a beer that night at the camp bar we marched onwards and upwards to the third and final pass on the trail. Obviously energised by lunch, the whole group picked up the pace, in particular Liam and Nathan who decided to try and keep up with the porters! They both managed it and felt better for it - walking at a quicker pace keeps your momentum going - and before they knew it they were at the first `Inca Tunnel´ where the path had been carved through an overhanging rock! They waited here for the rest of the group to admire the tunnel together before continuing uphill.

Infront of the Inca tunnel:
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The climb to the top of third pass at 3,700m was by far the easiest and we were both at the top in no time, and before everybody else (Jaz didn´t even realise we had reached the top!). The views on this part of the trail are some of the best, as snow capped mountains dominate the background and towering green ones the foreground. What goes up must come down, down for three hours to be precise. Being honest, other than the impressive ruins of Phuyupatamarca, the trek down is extremely boring and laborious. Exhausted, we finally reached the campsite via the alternate route that takes in the ruins of Wiñay Wayna- huge terraces used for agriculture with yet more stunning views across the valleys. With the knowledge that we were now only a two hour hike away from our first views of Machu Picchu we were extremely satisfied by our work over the first three days and Liam treated himself to a well deserved beer, Jaz a full fat Coke! It was a good hour before any of the others (and Miguel) arrived, so a lie down in the tent was well received.

That night we had some more delicious dinner before the tipping ceremony for the porters. They lined up in the dining tent where we all said our bit to thank them, with Jaz translating. They then introduced themselves and told us their specific jobs on the trail and interestingly their ages (the youngest was 25 and the oldest was 51!). We then handed over our tips as a group to `Papa´ (the 51 year old) and applauded them for their hard work. They were all such friendly and humble people and thoroughly deserved to have that extra bit of money for their efforts. We went to bed extra early to rest before our 3am wake up call and the final stretch to the sun gate where we could finally look down on the lost city of the Incas.

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Wednesday 25th August - Day 4

We were woken as promised at 3am, in order to give the porters enough time to pack up camp and walk down to the train station to catch their train to Aguas Calientes where our bags would be waiting for us. We were not actually allowed to start hiking until 5.30am when the gates of the campsite and the last check point were opened, releasing the hundreds of hikers, scrambling to be the first to reach Intipunku (the sun gate) in time for sunrise. We took our time as we had looked across the valley and noted the heavy fog covering the mountaintops meaning that visibility of the city early on would be very poor at best. However we kept a good pace and chatted excitedly along the way, and after just under two hours of gentle uphill hiking we reached the sun gate and were greeted by......FOG. Fog covering as far as the eye could see. In a way it was an anticlimax to all our hard work, but in strange way we were so happy. Even though we couldn´t see Machu Picchu, we knew it was there, hidden, just as the Incas wanted it to be. They knew how to pick their spots! After a while most of the other groups began the walk down to the city but Miguel made us wait five more minutes as he said the fog would lift....and it did. All of a sudden, like something from a film, the fog dispersed and the sun´s rays shone down revealing the lost city of the Incas. There it was. For no longer than fifteen seconds, before the fog fell again, we all stood amazed at the view and taking it in. It was another one of those special moments that we´ll remember for the rest of our lives.

First view of Machu Picchu
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After our sneak look at the city, we snaked down the remainder of the Inca trail toward the top of it, passing some grand sacrificial alters and some cheeky llamas on the way. Miguel gave us some more info about the alters and the floating Inca steps but we were all really just eager to get our postcard pics of the site. After about half an hour of strolling downhill we reached the end of the trail and embraced our reward. There was still a bit of fog rolling across the ruins, giving it an eerie atmosphere and it wasn´t long before the non trekkers waltzed in smelling all clean and swamped the grounds taking something away from MP´s charm (bored of typing Machu Picchu). We kind of resented these people as we felt we had earned the right to see such a beautiful thing and they hadn´t, but we were mainly jealous as they were the ones who got to climb Wayna Picchu (the mountain that rises over MP). The Peruvian government only allows 400 people per day to hike the mountain and by the time we reached the entrance the tickets were long gone. It is impossible for anyone hiking the Inca Trail to also hike Wayna Picchu, something they really should address. We took our pictures and carried on down the entrance of the site laughing at the day trippers in their hiking gear along the way.

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After a visit to the bathrooms to clean up a bit, we left our beloved walking sticks resting against a wall (a very sad moment) and re-entered the site getting our passports stamped en route (yehhhh!). Miguel then gave us a two hour tour of Machu Picchu, pointing out what the various buildings were used for, explaining the clever reasons behind the intricate building of the city and telling us the story of its discovery. He left us besides the `Intihuatana stone´, a sacred rock that points towards the sun at the winter solstice and is said to give people energy if they hover their hands above it. We kind of needed some. Miguel departed to Aguas Calientes giving us the chance to explore on our own. After another hour or so of wandering around visiting the different temples of the city we all wearily made our way to the exit and onto the buses waiting to take us to Aguas Calientes, the small town closest to Machu Picchu. With our remaining 10 soles with purchased a small lunch and then found some left over Bolivianos, which we exchanged and used to buy some snacks for the train ride. We met up with the rest of the group and Miguel at one of the many restaurants, where our bags were being held, and shared a few memories and laughs about the trip. We bid farewell to Miguel at the train station and boarded our first class train back to Ollamtaytambo, where we would be picked up by a minibus and returned to Cusco. The journey back was spent admiring the trail from a different point of view and reflecting back on what we had achieved.

That night we changed hostels back to Pariwana and were relieved to have a whole 12 bed dorm all to ourselves. After some glorious showers we retired to bed, aching and bruised from our four day adventure but with absolute satisfaction after completing a once in a lifetime trip.

More to come on two huge cities; Lima and Mexico City

Much Love

Liam and Jaz

xxx

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Posted by JazandLiam 05.09.2010 14:19 Archived in Peru Comments (2)

The Inca Trail (days one and two)

sunny 18 °C

Sunday 22nd August 2010 - Day One

We woke up, tired but excited, at 5am. Needless to say that when Miguel (our guide) arrived to pick us up at 5:30am we weren´t quite ready, but not far off. We checked our bags in to the store at Hostel Pirwana and- armed with just our duffle bags- we set off to the bus. We were greeted by a humongous coach, which we had all to ourselves as the rest of the group had stayed in Ollantaytambo the night before. An hour and a half after setting off and we made it to the small town of Ollantaytambo where the first stop was breakfast! We went for the auld ham and cheese omelette, laden with ketchup and a glass of orange juice. We stocked up on water and got back on the bus- this time with the other four people from our group (Nathan, Megan, Mill and Doreen), nine porters and Miguel. Suddenly the massive coach made sense!
It was another 45 minutes until the start of the trail and when we finally got off the coach we slathered ourselves in suncream and insect repellant, bought our wooden walking sticks and set off. We had to go through a control desk- where we got our first stamp- and then we were there. The famous Inca Trail start sign.

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The first day is the easiest, though it didn´t feel that easy all of the time! Along the way there were indigenous women selling snacks and drinks, locals wandering around with their donkeys and kids and we had plenty of rest breaks. However, Miguel assured us it wouldn´t be like this the entire way. The hardest part of the day was a `gruelling´(we realise now it was nothing of the sort) 15minute uphill walk, at the top of which we were greeted with some immense views. A little further and we saw the ruins of an old Inca town and sacrificial altar and then we started going downhill.

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After a few hours of walking we finally reached our lunch site. Our amazing porters had started the trail after us, with up to 20 kilos of weight strapped to their backs, over taken us along the path, got to the campsite, set up the tent AND cooked us lunch before we could even get there. It was unbelievable and over the next few days we never quite got over the physical and mental strength these men must have to do a job like that. Lunch was served over two courses (the first soup, the second meat and carbs) and was pretty damn good! A short while later we were back on our feet and going up and over small inclines. We made it to camp (the porters had washed our dishes, dismantled the tent, packed everything up, once again overtook us, got to camp, set up the four tents for us, the cooking tent and made us snacks before we could get back!) and were very relieved to finally get our shoes off!
Camp was in a decent location and the tents were really spacious (two people to a tent- handy as we were three couples). We were treated to snacks of popcorn, hot chocolate and crackers and shortly after it was time for dinner. Once again we started with soup and followed up with a delicious main. Come 8pm it was time for bed- we were to be woken up at 5am the next day to start what is notoriously the hardest day of trekking- the ascent over `Dead Woman´s Pass´at 4,200m altitude.

After being unable to properly fall asleep, Jaz awoke properly at about midnight with a familiar feeling. Liam, woken by the unzipping of the tent, asked what was wrong. "I feel sick" was the reply. "In what way?" "The same way as last time". It was food poisoning AGAIN and the nice pile of vomit outside the tent the next morning made sure everybody knew about it.

Monday 23rd August 2010 - Day Two.

It turns out Jaz wasn´t the only one who had been ill the night before- Megan was complaining of an upset tummy. Breakfast looked great (pancakes filled with fruit) but Jaz wouldn´t know as she didn´t even manage to stomach a nibble of dry bread. At about 6am we started off on the dreaded Day Two and were immediately going uphill. It took about an hour and a bottle of Gatorade before Jaz was throwing up off the side of a cliff and with nothing left in her stomach she was void of energy. Liam lent her his walking pole and she dragged herself up through the stunning forests, barely even noticing the scenery around her. Liam stayed with her most of the way, occasionally going on ahead only to be waiting around the next corner when she finally appeared.

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What felt like a million uphill steps later, we made it to lunch. Most other groups didn´t bother with lunch (as we weren´t going to until the girls got ill), so the lunch site was really empty. Liam managed all of his food, Jaz and Megan managed about two slices of potato each, but that was all they needed and the group set off, ready to tackle the challenge ahead. Just looking at Dead Woman's Pass was tiring, so it was to our surprise that we al managed the first half pretty quickly (needless to say, not as fast as the porters though!)

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The second half treated us all differently- Liam powered up it, Nathan, Mill and Doreen weren't too far behind, Megan was feeling the effects of the night before and the altitude and Jaz was just exhausted. But we all made it up in our own time (I, Jaz, am going to point out here that I was only about ten minutes behind the rest of the group) and the feeling at the top was one of sheer accomplishment, helped by our team of porters and the rest of the groups cheering each person as they took those last steps up to the highest point of the Inca Trail.
We had a brief rest before group photos and Liam and I wandered off over to the apachetes. I think we have mentioned before that an apachete is an offering to Pachamama (Mother Earth) and traditionaly people would take a stone from the start of the trail before placing it at the highest point. Having remembered to take our stones from the bottom of the trail, we dug them out of our bags and made our offerings. Rather than feeling ridicuous, it actually felt like it meant something due to being surrounded by such amazing scenery and the things we had seen over the last few days. When we told Miguel what we had done, he thanked us.

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We started to make our way back downhill after about 15 minutes (longer for Liam) on the top of the pass. It was a horrible feeling to be heading straight back down after all the hard work it took to climb up there. We were going down stone Inca steps for 2.5hours, which were some of the most boring and knee-wrecking 2.5hours of our lifetimes. The views were breathtaking, but by the end we were eager to rest our knees, ankles, feet, legs, you name it!
Camp was set up perfectly when we arrived (Liam first, Jaz second) and dinner that night was soup (again) followed by pasta with cheese sauce and grated cheese- perfect for the sickly ones (without the cheese sauce!) We all passed out as soon as our heads hit the pillows. But with the hardest day over, we weren't dreading the next day too much...

It's time for bed now, but we'll finish the tale as soon as we can.
Much love,
Jaz and Liam xxx

Posted by JazandLiam 21:48 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Cusco

sunny 15 °C

Thursday 19th August 2010

We arrived Thursday morning after our 13 hour bus journey through the Andes from Nazca. After all the twists and turns of the route, we hadn't managed to sleep much and were also extremely hungry. We took a taxi to Hostel Pariwana and after dumping our luggage, went to the bar for a traditional Phillidelphia Cheese Steakwich and a BBQ chicken burger washed down by the world's most amazing milkshakes (oreo and banana flavoured!) After exploring our hostel, a rennovated colonial building, we set out to explore Cusco. Cusco is a beautfiul city full of old architecture and original Inca walls and roads. There are an amazing amount of churches just around the city centre as well as fountains, monuments and Peruvian markets, all encased by stunning mountainous scenery. We spent a good few hours wandering the antique streets and navigating the dozens of tree lined plazas before eventually arriving back at the hostel.

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That night there was live 'Peruvian' music on at the hostel, which turned out to be an American girl singing cover songs. We had a few beers watching the music (cocktails in Jaz's case) before heading out with two guys from our room to meet a few more friends at an Irish bar (Paddys). However on first appearances the bar seemed shut so we headed elsewhere (turns out the entrance is around the side). We were gutted that we didn't meet up with our friends (Graham, Lauren and Tony) one more time before they left South America. Keep in touch guys!

After being defeated by numerous closed popular bars (guidebook recommended), we followed one of the many guys trying to get us in to their bar. What followed was a real experience... We got our drinks (Peru Libres) and settled down to watch the traditional Peruvian band playing on stage and it wasn't long before the singer announced the arrival of some traditional dancers. What we saw were two guys and two girls in traditional dress, bouncing around incessantly, filled with energy! A paticular favourite move was the Peruvian head wobble (not its official name), where the girls wobble their heads from side to side faster than you could ever imagine possible. We watched this for about ten minutes before the dancers, exhausted, went for a well-deserved break and costume change. A while later they returned, dressed in scary dragon masks and going about dancing as they were before only a bit more aggresively. We all agreed that it was pretty creepy and by the end of it we had had enough of pan pipes and made our way to the well-recommended club 'Mama Africas'.

We spent a good few hours in Mama Africas dancing with old Peruvian men, drinking, being offered Cocaine, chatting to Colombian transsexuals and generally lamenting the music until, after a while, it was time to go home. We got into the first safe-looking taxi we saw outside and went back to the hostel. It was a good night.

Friday 20th August 2010

Today was spent exploring once again and buying yet more souvenirs for some of you lovely people. We lunched at Jack's (ace chips) and at 6pm we had a meeting with Pachamama Explorers about our Inca Trail. We were excited to finally meet the rest of our group, but after half an hour it seemed they were going to be late and we had a BBQ to get to at our hostel so our guide, Miguel, gave us a quick run-through of what the four days would hold, gave us our duffle bags and off we went, eager for food. Guess we'd just have to meet our group on Sunday.

Saturday 21st August 2010

Today was another of those rare days that we didn't spend together. Liam was off rafting down the River Vilcanota, taking on grade III rapids and Jaz was left to enjoy National Folklore day in Cusco city centre.

I (Liam) got up early for my pickup and two hour drive to the river. After reaching base camp and donning a fetching wetsuit, splash jacket, helmet and lifejacket combo we were ready for the water, although we had to drive a further twenty minutes upstream to reach our starting point. After a quick safety drill and a brief 10-15 minutes of training on calmer waters we were given the command 'all forwards' and off we went. The scenery we witnessed when rafting downstream was spectacular, although most of the time was spent making sure we didn't fall into the freezing cold water as some of the rapids were pretty challenging. After about two hours we reached base camp again and enjoyed the sauna facility (basically a boiler in a stone hut). We then got changed into our dry clothes and had lunch. Afterwards some of the group did some zip wiring but although it looked like good fun it was a bit too expensive for what it was considering I had already paid 50USD for the trip, which I booked through our hostel. It probably could have been done for cheaper but I don't think the equipment or guides would have been as good, and most of the other people had paid more than me anyway.

Back to Cuzco...
I (Jaz) had decided against rafting due to the sheer expense, the fact we had just spent 330 pounds on a flight change and the fact that I wanted to go horseriding that day instead. Horse riding didn't happen due to a lack of people, but it is probably just as well seeing as how it was the day before the Inca Trail and I woke up full of a cold.
My day started by withdrawing loads of money and going to pay off the balance on our Inca Trail...not fun! Next I was given licence to go shopping and get us beanie hats, baby wipes, sugary things, toilet roll and other such Inca Trail related necessities. It was during my trips that I crossed the main square and bumped in to hundreds of people and a parade. A man on a microphone informed the crowd that it was National Folklore Day, so I went off to get my camera and returned five minutes later, eager to take photos of the indigenous dress and dances. It was amazing to see the different clothing and music and really feel a piece of Peru. And the clothes were amazing.

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Liam got back at about 6pm and that night we moved to a different, quieter hostel for a good nights sleep before our early start and hardcore next four days. We made a simple noodle dinner and were in bed by midnight, eager for the next few days of trekking.

More to come on the Inca Trail. Hope everybody is well,
Jaz and Liam xxx

Posted by JazandLiam 11:14 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

Ica, Islas Ballestas and Huacachina

sunny 16 °C

Sunday 15th August 2010

With the next day being our two-year anniversary and the plan being to be in Paracas for it (to see the Islas Ballestas) before moving on to Huacachina, we thought we´d treat ourselves to a nice placeto stay for the night. Villa Jazmin (we didn´t just choose it because of the name, honestly!) was a piece of 16 pounds a night luxury.

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We arrived in Ica at about 9:30am and got straight in to a dodgy-looking cab who took us away from town to our piece of paradise. As we arrived at the hotel we couldn´t contain our excitement and this only got worse as we saw the amazing pool, our massive bedroom with two double beds and a flat screen tv and a humungous bathroom with a HOT, POWERFUL shower! Luxury after two months of hostel dorms and shared bathrooms!
Jaz promptly found a Spurs v City replay on the tv (80mins in unfortunately) and settled down with a packet of Chips Ahoy whilst Liam went discovering.

After a bit more football (Liverpool v Arsenal) and lazing about it was time to hit the pool, so we donned our swimming stuff, lathered ourselves in suncream and made our way out. After a while heating up, Jaz dared to go in the pool. It was FREEZING so she didn´t last very long. Liam tried it a bit later and lasted longer than Jaz managed. Lunch was eaten next to the pool and as the sun was going down, one of the hotel staff brought us our welcome drinks- Pisco Sours.

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We eventually dragged ourselves away from our deckchairs and went to get showered and make ourselves look pretty for our anniversary dinner.

We had dinner in the hotel restaurant, both of us choosing a different three-course set menu. Starters were asparagus soup or tortilla with an ensaladilla-type filling. The soup won. Then it was curried chicken or sesame seeded fish. This was a draw. And desert was cheesecake or icecream. The icecream won. We washed it all down with beer (Liam) and cocktails (Jaz) and before we knew it it was 10:30pm and we had fallen asleep with the tv on! It seems the previous night´s travels had really taken it out of us!

Monday 16th August 2010

Happy Anniversary Guapo!

We were up bright and early to catch our transfer to Paracas so we could see the Ballesta Islands. We booked through the hostel and paid $45 each (whenever somebody wants to charge you a lot in Peru, they do it in USD which are seemingly used alongside soles!) for the transfer there and back and the boat ride.
It didn´t take long to get there and we immediately got in to a queue. Our line was the first on to the boat, we all donned our attractive luminous orange lifejackets and off we went. We stopped along the way to see the candelabra (a carving in a sand wall that nobody knows how it got there) and eventually reached the Islas Ballestas, apparently home to the largest sealion colony in the world.

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The guide talked us through all the different types of birds- of which there were thousands- and we saw a few penguins and sealions. It was a very interesting trip- who knew there were penguins in Peru?!- but we both agreed that it was definitely not worth the time or money. We had been looking forward to this trip for ages and it was rather disappointing. Our advice would be that it is worth going if you are in Pisco/Paracas, but don´t go out of your way to do it.

We were back in paradise by 11:30am and sad to be checking out. We bid a farewell to the lovely staff and got in a taxi to Huacachina- a five minute drive away.

Huacachina really surprised us. Whenever anybody mentioned it previously, they had just said it was a good place to sandboard. Nobody had told us that it was an oasis in the middle of the desert and is quite simply put, beautiful. It took us a couple of minutes to find our hostel- Desert Nights but after we eventually did we dumped our stuff and went for a wander to find the United match and some food! We ended up in a cool restaurant come bar come hostel which had writing all over the walls and- more importantly- a big flatscreen tv with ESPN.

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To eat, we went for the cheapest option- a burger and chips. Bloody good choice because when it arrived it was actually two burgers and a mound of chips. Heaven. We watched the match, booked some sandboarding for the next day (s/.40 each with our hostel) and went for dinner (a set menu thing, it was ok, nothing more). We went to bed well eager for the next day.

Tuesday 17th August 2010

We chose to go sandboarding at 11 am to give us enough time to sleep in a bit, lazy so and sos that we are. We had heard from everybody that the best part about the sandboarding was the dune buggy because the sand is so thick that you cannot really go down it on your feet- just your stomach. Undeterred, we were sure we would be the ones to go down stood up...

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We got in to the dune buggy alongside an American couple, who were VERY enthusiastic- every time we went over a slight bump there were yells of ´YEEEEEEAH´ coming from them both. After a fast ride over the dunes, we made it to the top of one where our driver and instructor told us we would be going down the dune on our stomachs. A bit apprehensive, Jaz did it slowly but Liam whizzed on down.

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After sand tummying, or whatever you want to call it, it was time for another, faster ride over the dunes until we got to the top of one we could actually sandboard down. After our experience in San Pedro, we were out to improve- so Liam was going to try and stand up and I was going to try and move faster than 1mph. We succeeded, kind of.

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We had a go at a different, much bigger, dune and then got back in the buggy for our final ride. It was at this point that the driver decided it would be fun to go really fast and go over high drops. The Americans were yelling ´YYYEEEEEEEAAAAH´ pretty much constantly, Liam was loving it and Jaz had her eyes closed but was loving it as much as a person who hates rollercoasters can.

When we got back to the hostel we emptied our shoes of sand (it was like in the cartoons where it just doesn't stop!) and got showered before making our way once again to Ica. From there we got on a random Suyuz bus to Nazca and arrived that night, with Liam very excited to live out one of his life-long dreams and fly over the lines the next day.

Wednesday 18th August 2010

Doing the Nazca lines is expensive- about 50 pounds per person for a halfhour flight. With that in mind, we decided to not take the money out of the travelling fund and it was instead paid for by Jaz as Liam's birthday present (a month early but ahhh well). We got our transfer to Nazca airport at 3:30pm (it was originally meant to be 3pm), presented our tickets and passports and sat down to watch a film about the lines. About 15minutes in, our names were called and we made our way through security. After another 10minutes or so waiting, we were finally lead to our plane. It was tiny- it was full with just us two, two other passengers and the two pilots.

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Surprisingly, the take off went really smoothly- smoother than the plane we took to Rurrenabaque- and before long we were being spoken to down our headphones by the co-pilot, who was frantically pointing out the lines to us. We saw each line from both sides of the plane, which involved a lot of tight twists and turns (I was very glad I had taken travel sickness tablets earlier on!) We saw around 12 different images made by the lines including:

The whale:
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and

The tree and the hands:
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The whole trip went really quickly and the landing was as smooth as takeoff, much to everybodys' relief! Liam loved the whole experience and I quite enjoyed it, too. For the first few minutes I was quite sceptical about the whole thing, but now I just want to know where they really came from. It really does baffle you when you properly try to think why and how these lines are there.

That night we were back on a bus- this time for 13.5hours to Cuzco. We went for Tupsa, which was literally half the price of Cruz del Sur and the ride was pretty comfortable (though the road was very windy, so the auld travel sickness tablets came in useful again!) We were subjected to three films: one about a baby with wings, another with Robin Williams as a crazed priest and the final one about a monkey whop was a spy. We watched them anyway, but wouldn't recommend them! As we got to Cuzco the next morning, the bus hostess person went off on one because we were a pillow down. She subjected the entire bus to a hand luggage search and- as far as we are aware- she never did find it.

More to come on Cuzco. Tomorrow morning we start the Inca Trail bright and early, so we will tell you all about that when we are back.

Much love,
Jaz and Liam xxx

Posted by JazandLiam 14:02 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Peru- Arequipa

sunny 19 °C

Friday 13th August 2010
(It´s alright, Friday the 13th isn´t unlucky in South America- Tuesday 13th is the date you want to be worried about!)

We got up in time for breakfast (tasty pancakes with jam for Liam, sugar for Jaz) and consulted Lonely Planet and Footprints to plan out our day ahead. We decided to visit some of Arequipa´s most famous sites- the Santa Catalina monastery and a museum which showcases a real Incan `ice princess´- Juanita.

As we stepped out of the hostel, we were pleasantly surprised- the weather was amazing and Arequipa is quite simply beautiful. It is a town of old architecture, cobbled streets and big plazas. We hadn´t really planned on visiting Arequipa so didn´t know much about it until that first morning.

The first stop of the day was the extremely over-priced Santa Catalina monastery (s/.35 each). The monastery was founded just 40 years after Arequipa (which, by chance, was celebrating its 470th birthday the very next day) and is famed for being a `city within a city´. At one point over 450 nuns lived there, so you can only imagine the size! It was closed to the public until around 1970, but still a portion of it remains private.
The monastery was genuinely massive- it took us hours to meander round. It is filled with different brightly-coloured court yards, cloisters, tiny dark bedrooms and many a clay oven as the nuns used to make their way by making cakes and pastries for the local towns people. Unfortunately, I deleted half of the photos from the convent by accident but the few that remain show a small vista of inside the sillar (volcanic ash) walls.

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Post-monastery it was time for a bite to eat, so off we went to a branch of the same Turkish place as the night before, being assured by Lonely Planet (and the hostel) that the falafel was to die for. They weren´t wrong. The falafel wraps were huge and we replenished our energy levels a little bit more with another bottle of Inka Cola...niiice.
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Post-luncheon we meandered down to the museum which houses Juanita. We bought our tickets, checked in our bags (and camera-booooo!) and sat down infront of a National Geographic video about the discovery of the `mummy´. Just for those who don´t know (like we didn´t before we got to Arequipa), Juanita is a 12 or 13-year-old Incan girl who was believed to have been sacrificed at the top of one of the mountains surrounding Arequipa. She was left at the site of her sacrifice and the snow preserved her perfectly until her discovery a few years ago. The museum still keeps her perfectly preserved in a cubicle kept at a temperature of -20 degrees celcius.
After the video we entered in to the museum with our guide, who showed us other Incan relics that had been discovered such as pottery, shoes and clothes. Looking at the equipment that they used and carried to the top of mountains, we came to the conclusion that the Incans must have been a pretty strong race. They walked up mountains to altitudes of 5 or 6, 000 meters in just sandals made from straw and blankets coverieng them. Add on to this that they were carrying HUGE pots filled with drinks and food etc and it must have been pretty hard going.

The pinnacle of the visit was, obviously, seeing Juanita. The first thing that everybody commented on weas her size- she was tiny, maybe the height of a nine or ten-year-old, with tiny hands and feet. It was very surreal seeing this Inca princess and I found it hard to comprehend that she was actually real- that she lived in the days of the Incas, was sacrificed at the top of a mountain (as a payment to the mountain) and was wearing real clothes from back then, too. It really was a surreal, but great, experience.

We weren´t allowed to take any pictures, but here is one we took from http://www.arequipainfo.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/momia_juanita_arequipa.jpg

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The next stop on our list of things to do in Arequipa was to get an ice cream from one of the two reknowned ice cream shops in the city. According to the hostel, one of them stocked beer flavoured ice cream, so Liam was keen to try that! On our way there, we got sidetracked by a church with an exterior more detailed than any building we have ever seen. We decided to go on in and as soon as we did so, we got accosted by a little old Peruvian lady pinning holy badges on to us. This had happened to us previously in Buenos Aires, where we just gave the woman the equivalent of a few pennies and she went on her way. Not here. This woman demanded s/. 5 per badge (over a pound!) and when we started to take them off to give them back, she told us it was for the poor children. Feeling guilty we handed over the money and about 10 seconds later couldn ´t believe we had. We immediately took them off- pricking our fingers at the same time- and felt robbed, we´d have much rather just given the money to a poor child!
S/.10 poorer we made our way the few doors down to the ice cream parlour- where they didn´t have beer flavour and decided on a Queso Helado (frozen cheese) to share. This is not, as you may think, actually frozen cheese rather milk, egg, cinnamon and whatever else. It was actually really nice!

A popular tourist sight to visit from the city of Arequipa is the Colca Canyon, which is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and inhabited by giant condors. However, after a bit of research we realised that to properly make the most of the canyon we would need to do a three day trek, which we just didn´t have time for. Another option was to take a one day tour beginning at the ridiculous time of 2.30am and costing the equally ridiculous price of 35 pounds each. All of our research led us to believe that this would be a very rushed option and we would be cooped up in a bus for a total of 14 hours. Not worth it. Instead, we booked our bus tickets to Ica for the next night. That evening we were very excited to eat out at Tacos & Tequilla (a very highly recommended Mexican restaurant). We ate enchilladas and quesadillas washed down with pisco sours and our verdict was that it was okay but very overrated and undeserving of all the hype.

Saturday 14th August 2010

After the mammoth couple of days travelling, all we wanted was a good nights sleep and a bit of a lie in. We thought, being in just a six bed dorm, this would be possible. Apparently not. Around 8am a fellow traveller announced his arrival in our room with the persistant unzipping and rustling of bags and constant entering and exiting the dorm. Unable to get back to sleep, Jaz got up and went for more pancake goodness and Liam followed about an hour later. We had no real plans until our 10pm night bus so we lazed around and visited the market before arranging to meet Helen and Elliot (of jungle fame) for lunch. For the third day in a row we ended up back at the Turkish restaurant. We had forgotten that it was Arequipa´s birthday until part way through lunch when we were suddenly reminded by the sound of an approaching brass band. Elliot, the only one with a view of the road, shouted something about seeing a clown and sure enough when we stood up to have a look we saw an army of clowns marching by followed by dancers, donkeys and bulls. Hit with the sudden realisation that the journey to the bus station might take a while because of all the celebrations, Helen and Elliot made tracks and we headed back to Bothy Hostel.

That night we gave the Mexican restaurant a second chance (it still didn´t live up to the hype) and before we knew it we were in a race against the clock to get to the bus station in time thanks to the gridlocked, taxi filled roads in the city centre. Thankfully we made it with time to spare and got on our overnight bus to Ica (Cruz del Sur, semi-cama s/.90 each), excited for the next few days of anniversarying, sandboarding and Nazca line-ing.

That´s enough for now, more to follow!

Jaz and Liam xxx

Posted by JazandLiam 21:14 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

La Paz and Lake Titicaca

sunny

Tuesday 10th August

Tuesday was spent covering old ground in La Paz. We didn´t really see anything new and were just killing time awaiting the arrival of our freshly cleaned clothes (four days in the jungle meant they were particularly filthy).
We forgot to mention that when we left La Paz, there had been a few riots involving tear gas (these riots were usually preceeded by a marching brass band). We are happy to say that these particular conflicts were nowhere to be seen on our return. We booked our bus tickets to Copacabana through the agency in the hostel (40Bs each) for early the next morning. Despite being in a 16 bed dorm - next to the bar - we slept pretty well as most of the room was up early as well.

Wednesday 11th August

The bus trip to Copacabana had one highlight which was when we arrived at the shore of Lake Titicaca and had to be transported across a narrow part of it via motor boat, whilst the coach was floated across on a barge steered by, you guessed it, barge poles. Made for pretty interesting viewing.

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Once in Copacabana we booked our tickets for the boat to take us to the legendary Isla del Sol, one of the suggested birth places of the Inca religion. We booked a single ticket for 20Bs each as we wanted to stay the night on the island. The boat left at 1.30pm, giving us enough time to have lunch and catch up with the lads from La Paz who we randomly bumped into walking down the street.

We spent the boat ride over sitting on the roofless top deck (not out of choice) where it was bitterly cold because of the wind. About an hour and a half later we reached Isla del Sol and were greeted by a dozen or so boys trying to hard sell us a hostel. Despite politely declining, one of them decided he would walk with us the entire way to the village of Yumani where he eventually showed us to our hostel, where we paid 30Bs a night each (about 3 pounds) and tipped the young lad some loose change for his persistance.
The walk up to the village of Yumani was, however, no easy feat. The port is at the foot of a huge hill and the village is at the top. The path is several hundred inca steps long (a 25 minute walk) and at high altitude with all of our bags this proved to be quite a challenge! Not long after starting the climb Jaz was clearly struggling and was out of breath, barely managing to pant the words `its impossible!´. After ruling out putting Jaz on a donkey/llama and a quick change around of bags - Liam was now carrying both rucksacks and one front pack - we resumed the climb, navigating the stoney path, Bolivian women and several llamas and donkeys. The whole way we were encouraged and offered help by our new found friend. Upon reaching the top we collapsed on our bags and the remainder of our breath was taken away by the magnificent views across Lake Titicaca.

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Afer settling in and resting for half an hour or so (it really was that tiring) we set out to explore the island and its beauty. Our walk took us via more llamas to the very top of another hill, where we were greeted by the sight of dozens of apachetes. An apachete is a stone tower, an offering to Pachamama (Mother Earth). They are traditionally found at the highest point of the Inca Trail, but we have seen them at most high spots we have been to all over South America. We added our stones and made our way over to the biggest one of all at the very top of the adjoining hill. From here we watched the sun set over its Inca birthplace. A very special moment. We ate dinner at our hostel then did a bit of stargazing before going to bed.

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The next morning we awoke later than planned and had to rush back down the Inca steps to catch the boat back to Copacabana at 10.30am. This time we were charged 30Bs for the boat that was a LOT more choppy than the previous day´s journey and left most of the passengers (Jaz included) looking a little peaky to say the least. It is a shame we didn´t actually get to see any of the ruins or temples on the Isla del Sol as they are all located on the North side of the island, a 4 hour walk from Yumani, but it was a very scenic place all the same and we could see why there was so much myth and mystery attached to it.

From Copacabana we embarked on the second leg of the day´s journey after buying our bus tickets to Arequipa, Peru, via Puno for 90Bs. The border of Bolivia/Peru was again very relaxed; we got off the bus, got stamped out of Bolivia and then walked the 100 yards of no mans land to the Peruvian border where we got stamped into Peru. We changed the remainder of our Bolivianos and some Reals into Peruvian Soles before getting back on the bus. After two hours or so we reached Puno where we were to change buses for Arequipa. After studying our ticket for this third leg, we realised that the cost for this journey (which was three times longer than the one we had just done) was only 30Bs, meaning we paid 60Bs for a two-hour bus ride. It seems we were ripped off. Advice to anyone wanting to get to Arequipa from Copacabana is to buy two separate tickets, one to Puno and then one from there to Arequipa.
We spent an hour waiting around in the bus station and eating `cheese´ empanadas (they contained no cheese) before getting on our second bus of the day. We shared this bus ride with what seemed like the entire Arequipa ballet school and their ridiculous amount of luggage. Surely all they need is a pair of ballet shoues and a tutu??
At around 10pm we finally pulled into Arequipa bus station and were nearly at the end of our epic day of travelling. We got a taxi from inside the station and the driver was really friendly and helpful which was a relief as we had been warned about scams, theft and kidnap involving Arequipeño taxi drivers! We checked in at Bothy Hostel, where the staff were quick to check if our ride from the bus station went smoothly. They seemed quite suprised when we informed them that it was fine.

Absolutely shattered from our day´s travels and starving after eating very little, we popped around the corner to a recommended Turkish restaurant called Fez where we had some amazing chicken donner kebabs (Liam had two) and tasted our very first Inca Kola (bubblegum flavoured fizzy pop). Exhausted, we climbed into our top bunks for a well deserved sleep.

Jaz and Liam xxx

Posted by JazandLiam 20:55 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Jungle is MASSIVE!

and other jungle related cliches..

sunny 23 °C

Day One

With our flight scheduled to leave for Rurrenabaque at 8.30am it was another early start for us to give enough time to get a taxi to the airport. We had decided to pack all of our jungle stuff into one rucksack and our hand luggage leaving the rest at the hostel. We got to the highest airport in the world (El Alto - the high one) without a hitch, but seeing the queues at Amaszonas´ check in desk, we knew for sure that our flight would not be leaving on time. The people infront of us were queuing for their 7.30am flight...

Eventually, around 9.30am we boarded our mini (19 seater) plane to our second mini adventure within our big adventure. The plane journey was pretty cool, as we flew inbetween the snow capped mountains flying away from La Paz, and into the dense jungle as we touched down in Rurrenabaque. The airport was seemingly non existant, as we stepped off onto the runway before being boarded onto a bus headed for the town centre, bags on roof. We passed the `airport´ on the way there, it was literally a tiny one storey building, smaller than most houses. We were dropped off at Amaszonas´ office where we immediately purchased our return flight tickets for the Tuesday.

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We stayed at Hostal Los Tucanes de Rurre, which was perfect for our needs. After a quick comparison of the dozens of tour offices we made our choice based on gut instinct and the fact that the group already had four other English speakers in it (we saw on the form). It would have been much easier to make our decision if the tourist office was open because they have a notice board where other travellers leave their comments and recommendations for the jungle and pampas tours. Of course it was shut because of Independence day, a day we seem to always end up travelling on.

Our decision appeared to be a good one when we bumped into some fellow travellers we had met in Sucre and again in La Paz, and they informed us that the English speakers in the tour group were actually themselves! We booked our 3 day tour of the Pampas with a company named `Fluvial´. It cost 400Bs (about 40 pounds), which was the best price we could find both in La Paz and Rurrenabaque. It included all meals, accomodation and an English speaking guide (more on him later).

Later that night at the hostel we were pleased to see Tony, Graham and Lauren (the Irish trio we have been following around South America since Iguazu), who were just returning from their own Pampas tour. They booked through `Honey Tours´ in La Paz and had nothing but good things to tell us. After a quick poker lesson from Tony we settled for the night, ready for the early rise the next day.

Day Two

We met at the Fluvial Tours office at 8:30am, where we securly stored one of our bags and hopped aboard the jeep that would transport us the three hours along a dirt road to the river where the tour would really start. As well as us, Helen and Elliot we were with Aiden and Garren (an Aussie and a South African who knew Helen and Elliot previously), Nicole (German) and John and Tony (South Korean). Eight out of nine of us in the back of the jeep (Nicole up front and the bags on the top) was a bit squashed, but we made the most of it. We stopped a few times along the way; to see alligators, to buy water and to let Aiden throw up! Lunch was served at a `restaurant´near the river and we dined on soup, rice and chorizo.

When we got to the river we were met by our guide- Vismar. A jolly-looking chubby fella he spoke alright English and directed us in to the boat, informing us that we would spend three hours sailing along the river, watching Alligators, Capybara and many different birds. He wasn´t lying! We saw many, many alligators, of all different sizes, lining the riverbanks sneaking through the water. We saw families of Capybaras, many different types of birds, turtles, cayman and even squirrel monkeys (one of which stole from the boat next to ours...thief).

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We eventually made it to what would be home for the next two nights- a lodge on the edge of the river (all on stilts, thankfully!) with basic beds and toilets, but it did have electricity thanks to a giant (and very noisy) generator. After popcorn, juice and cookies we got back on the boat and headed out to Sunset bar to- you guessed it- see the sunset. By this point Jaz was feeling unexplicably rotten so indulged in a bottle of water whilst everybody else had an ice cold beer to welcome in the nightfall (and mosquitos!) We waited for complete darkness before returning to the lodge as we were going to search for alligators. When in the dark an alligator´s eyes will glow red if a light is shone upon them, so that´s exactly what we did. Vismar glided the boat along the river and being as quiet as we could be, we searched the waters and banks for alligators. There were loads. At one point Vismar turned the engine off and told us to turn our lights off and shut up so that we could take in the atmosphere of the river wildlife. So we were sat there in complete darkness knowing that hungry alligators were all around us, it was pretty creepy but also very cool, especially when we spotted all the fireflies flying over us.

That night´s dinner was soggy pasta in a watery tomato sauce with bland cheese. It still went down quite well for most though. Jaz was getting gradually worse so just about touched her food before going off to bed for a while whilst everybody else (except Aiden, who still wasn´t feeling great) played cards. A couple of hours after going to bed, whilst everybody else was asleep, Jaz woke up and threw up the contents of her stomach in to a carrier bag (which Liam later discarded of, thanks Guapo!) Turns out it was food poisoning. Fantastic.

Day Three

The plan for the day was as follows: search for anacondas, swim with pink dolphins in the alligator-infested waters and watch the sunset again at a different bar. So, nice and early, we got up, donned our wellies (none of which fit anybody well) and suncream and once again climbed in to the boat.

We docked not long after leaving the lodge and started the ten minute walk to the wetlands. Initial thoughts as we stepped in to the wet, sludgy, muddy ground were "oh, this isn´t as bad as we thoght it would be", but then we stepped further in. The sludge was going up to our calves, taking a step was a massive effort, we had holes in our wellies and our only mission was to not fall over.

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We searched in the first lot of wetlands for about an hour but all we found was an eel. With everybody getting frustrated in the midday heat, Vismar suggested that we go to a second wetland a "short walk away" where there would be more chance of finding the elusive snake due to the sludge being "so deep it´ll go over your boots".
This never happened. What did happen is that Vismar lead us for two hours through dry lands, not explaining what we were doing so that the whole while we thought we were just getting to the wetlands. The heat was unbearable, we only had six bottles of water between nine of us and by the time Vismar sat us down an hour and a half in to the trek we were all very irritable. Vismar then explained that he had been looking for snakes on the dry land but was unsucessful so we´d now be heading back. Very glad that he knew what we had been doing for the last hour and a bit! As we came full circle back in to the first wetland area, we came upon a dead Anaconda. Earlier we had come across a dead alligator, the smell was like nothing we have ever experienced before.
Another rest stop and a fifteen minute walk and we were FINALLY back at the boat.

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On the way back we demanded a pit stop at Sunset bar so that we could get our mitts on severly overpriced ice cold Coke before going back to the lodge for lunch. Lunch was soup, crispy chicken wings, potatoes and other such lark. Still feeling rather ropey, Jaz dared only to eat the bland foods but Liam assures that the chicken was good!
After lunch we finally had a couple of hours to ourselves, so everybody headed for the hammocks. The mixture of the gentle rocking motion, the afternoon sunshine and the chilled out tunes on the ipod eventually sent us to sleep
and we awoke half an hour before we were due to leave for that afternoons´activities. A quick shower later we were in our swimming gear and back in the boat.

Vismar lead the boat through parts of the river that were as yet unknown to us, looking for a colony of pink dolphins so we would be safe to swim. Apparently the pink dolphins ward off alligators, pirahnas and other such creatures by emitting a sound under the water that other animals just can´t bear. Rather cautiously, everybody eyed the water and noted where there were alligators along the banks before Elliot rather confidently whipped off his top and dove in to the (shallow) waters (soaking us all at the same time!) It wasn´t long before Tony, John, Liam, Aiden and Garren all followed (though John didn´t last very long- he had a bit of a panic attack and had to be helped in to a neighbouring boat by the rest of the lads). That just left the girls in the boat- Jaz, Helen and Nicole. Eventually, though, they went for it too and the boat was one of the only ones where everybody went in- Go Team!
This was a pretty cool experience, but would have been better if the dolphins had made a bit more of an appearance. You eventually forget all about the alligators surrounding you...until somebody points out that the one you had seen on the bank earlier is no longer there!

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It was straight to another bar to see the sunset, only this was a bar with football and volleyball pitches. The lads were straight in there with a Bolivians v Foreigners football match (Liam has the cuts and bruises to prove it), which the foreigners ended up winning 3-2 (Liam scoring two- his first a "delicate chip over the rooted goalkeeper" and his second a "superb left-footed firebolt in to the top corner" - his words). A stolen camera (poor Aiden) and a Singani (Bolivian spirit) and 7up stop later we were back at the lodge for yet more food. This time it was alphabeti spaghetti with a tomato sauce. It was alright and Jaz managed to get a bit down, much to her joy.
Post-dinner it was time for Chuflay (Bolivian drink) and card games. About an hour after the generator went off Jaz and Aiden called it a night and the others were in about an hour or two later (some of them rather drunk hey, Helen?!) Once again the sound of monkeys and other such animals in the trees outside plagues any attempts to get to sleep, but they were soon forgotten... until Nicole´s alarm went off at 5am!

Day Four

Most people wanted to get up for sunrise on our last day. We didn´t. So it was much to our relief when, shortly before Nicole´s alarm, Vismar came to our room and said there was no point as it was misty out and the view wouldn´t be that great. Instead, we got up at about 8:30, had breakfast (pancakes, pasties and other such random combinations) and packed our bags ready to leave that afternoon.

Our only activity of the day was pirahna fishing. Vismar prepared the `rods´before guiding us up-river in the boat. When we got there, however, he realised he had forgotten the bait. DOH! So he left us on the banks of the river (where there are usually alligators!) with our driver from the first day of the tour (not too sure why he was there) and told us he´be ten minutes. In those ten minutes our driver managed to make us climb some hill, ensuring that pretty much all of the group (Jaz and Helen were the exceptions) were covered in tics by the time Vismar got back.

Bai finally on the end of the rods, we started our fishing. Vismar informed us that pirahnas live in shallow areas of the water, so we weren´t too worried about throwing the `rod´out too far. We were pretty unsucessful, so when an alligator climbed aboard the bank and started following Nicole, we thought that a good time to move on. Back in to the boat we got and we found a new fishing spot. As soon as we got to our new spot, an alligator climbed aboard the bank where we would be standing. Vismar petted it on the nose and took off in a different direction to do some fishing himself. The rest of us took the obligatory photos and carried on fishing. All that is except Tony. Tony was touching the alligator and spent a good 15 minutes poking it with a stick, taunting it with meat and doing pretty much everything you shouldn´t to something that can eat you. He must have got some pretty good pictures, though, after another five minutes of shoving his camera in the animal´s face! Vismar eventually yelled over that enough was enough and about five minutes later, Tony heeded his advice.

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Just as we were all getting good at the fishing and were looking like we might catch something (Elliot pulled two to the surface, Jaz one but they got away), Vismar came over- three dead pirahnas in hand- and told us we were leaving.

Lunch that day was awesome- tasty meat, mash potatoes, veg, salad and pirahna! It was a quick meal and then we were back in the boat for the long ride back. An hour and a half later- after a quick nap and a lot of sunbathing in the boat- we were back on dry land and preparing ourselves for the bumpy three-hour jeep ride back to Rurrenabaque. The jeep ride consisted of word games (Harry Potter!) and not much else.

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That night the group- minus John and Tony, who had already left Rurre- met for dinner. Jaz had three mouthfuls and was very close to being ill again, so we left early but before that it was a really nice night.

The next morning we got on our 1.5 hour delayed flight back to La Paz where we once again made our way to the Wild Rover.

That´s all for now folks, we´ve been typing for hours!

Buenas Noches,
Jaz and Liam xxx

Posted by JazandLiam 19:39 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Potosi-Sucre-Cochabamba-La Paz

sunny 10 °C

It´s been a while dudes, we´ve covered a lot of ground and we can´t remember dates so won´t be including them... so here goes...

After a night in Uyuni we caught the early morning bus to Potosi- the highest city of its size in the world at 4,100m altitude. The bus ride, our first in Bolivia, was interesting to say the least! The roads were unpaved and bumpy as a bumpy thing, the bus stank, it was so full that people stood up for the entirs six hour ride, Liam had a fat Bolivian woman´s backside in his face and there was a black watery-type substance dripping on to us the entire way. But for approx 3 pounds what do you expect?!

Potosi

Our main reason for being in Potosi was to do the famous tour of its silver mines and as soon as we arrived we decided we´d do them and leave ASAP, it looked that bad. We reconsidered slightly when we got in to the town and decided to stay one night so that we could actually have a look around.
Potosi as a place is ok, the streets are filled with cars and women in indigenous dress. There´s nothing particularly beautiful about the city, but nothing awful either. We soon changed our minds once we had been there for three nights (four days) due to ridiculous road blocks.

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Basically, the Bolivian people are protesting for six reasons, the main one being the handing over of a part of their state to Oruro. The others include wanting better roads (as we go to press they are blowing up their roads with dynamite- go figure), an airport, better preservation of the Cerro Rico (the silver mountain) and all the rest of it, Bolivians just like to protest. Read more about it here (in English) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-10962634 So, because they had decided to block all of the roads surrounding Potosi, we couldn´t leave and to add insult to injury, nothing was open (if it was open the old Bolivian women would bang on the doors and windows with sticks, demanding that they close!) The roadblocks were due to finish on the Friday night at 8pm, so at exactly that time five of us jumped in to two separate taxis and demanded to get out of the city and be taken to Sucre.But before I talk about that, I´ll hand you over to Liam to talk about the real reason we were in Potosi- the mines. I decided not to do the tour as I´d had some issues doing anything vaguely energetic at that altitude, so off he went with a few other lads...

After meeting at Koala Hostel, we walked down to the tour office in the town centre. A quick mini bus ride up to their warehouse and we were all kitted up in some lovel mining gear (hard hats with headlights, rubber boots, and over trousers and jackets. We left our things there and drove onwards and upwards to the miner´s market. Here we visited a shop where we bought gifts for the miners, to show our thanks for letting us into their workplace, although it felt more like charity. I bought them a bit bottle of juice, a bag of DIY mining essentials (dynamite, fuses and glycerone) and some water. We then walked a bit further up the road to an old lady selling coca leaves from a huge sack. I bought a bag of leaves and we got back into the bus. The others had also bought the miners cigarettes (I thought their lungs must be bad enough) and alcohol - by alcohol I mean 96% proof ethanol. Apparantly every last Friday of the month the miners gather on top of Cerro Rico or in the mines themselves and drink themselves into oblivion and also sacrifice a llama to the mountain God `Tio´ (more about him later).

The first part of the tour was a visit to one of the factories where the minerals were extracted and processed in various chemicals. The fumes that filled the small factory building were literally intoxicating and at one point the guide told us we were inhaling cynanide (thanks for that). After a quick chat to the workers and handing over some coca leaves to them we were back in the mini bus and on our way to the entrance to the mines. Five minutes later we were there and to say the group was feeling nervous was an understatement. We had all heard the stories about people dying in the mines due to the structures collapsing, runnaway mine carts and having panic attacks due to the claustrophobic and dusty conditions, but none of us actually knew what to expect inside Cerro Rico or as the locals refer to it `the entrance to hell´.

Headlights on we marched forward into the gloomy cramped mines and the daylight started to fade. After five minutes of walking we came to a stop, to check how everyone was coping. The answer, not too well. Everyone was sweating, breathing very heavily and had fear in their eyes. We took on some water and calmed our nerves, that is until we heard the trundelling of a mine cart, that sounded like it was hurtling towards us at some speed. More panic prevailed as the group clambered to get off the rails and perched on the rocks at the side. We waited about ten seconds expecting the cart to come speeding past us only to see a couple of miners slowly pushing the cart up the tracks. The whole group burst out laughing and there was a lot of pointing about who was scared the most. More water and we crawled (literally) deeper into the lower levels on the mines. The heat got more intense and the size of the gaps we scrambled through got smaller and smaller. At one point I genuinely doubted whether I would fit through or not. After descending quite a few metres and watching some of the wooden beams used to make the passages literally being thrown down through some sort of hatch we followed the cart tracks to where some more of the miners were working. They were shovelling a tonne of mined dirt onto a higher ledge, where it was to be passed up to the surface the next day via pulleys and buckets. Everyone had a go at doing this, and believe me it is hard work. Working at such altitude in such dusty and hot conditions is not fun, but these people choose to do it for a living. They didn´t even have on any sort of scarves to filter the gases and dust filling the air from flooding their lungs. It is not suprising that almost all the miners die within ten years of starting work there. We were told that the conditions here were a lot better than other parts of the mines, where the actual drilling takes places (again with no breathing equipment to help them). However we were also told that the men who work in these places make the most money, and actually have a decent wage. Pity they don´t have too long to spend their money!

After offering our gifts we ventured further into the lower levels of the mine, and after some more impossible looking passages we came to a statue of the miner´s God, Tio. Tio is basically the devil. Satan. Lucifer.
It is this `God´ the miners look to for protection and good minerals in the mines as they feel they are working in his land as he is closer than God. They offer gifts of coca leaves, cigarettes, alcohol and llama foetuses to Tio in the hope that he will watch over them. If there is a death in the mines, it is attributed to not visiting Tio and paying him respect. After visiting Tio we were on the home straight and heading into the light. Not before the temperature dropped massivelyand we had to duck between ice coated walls helping the miners push a cart full of dirt along the way. Seeing the light at the exit to the mines was a massive relief. It felt like we spent about 1-2 hours in the mines and I don´t think anyone wanted to spend a minute longer in there. Our first breaths of fresh air were heavenly. I can´t believe people work in those conditions, and for little reward most of the time. The physical appearance of the miners is hard to describe but their bodies have clearly been shaped by grafting in shocking conditions, their weathered faces making them look older than they are. It was an experience, but not a particuarly nice one. Something I will never forget though.

Before we returned to the warehouse and Potosi, we were given a demonstration of an explosion. The guide lit a stick of dynamite and handed it to us to take pictures with, assuring us the fuse lasted two minutes.... After about a minute of picture taking, he took it back of us and ran off into the middle of a field. He planted the stick of dynamite and then casually strolled back to us and said `you look´. We waited, and waited, then after about 30 seconds we heard and felt the loudest booming noise i´ve ever experienced. Cue more laughter. And that was that.

Sucre

The two-hour taxi ride to Sucre cost us about six pounds each (three of us in the car) which, quite frankly, we thought was a major bargain. The ride was pretty uneventful apart from the hitting a dog part.

Sucre is a COMPLETE contrast to Potosi. It is beautiful beautiful city. It is tradition that every building is painted white, which leads to a lovely clean effect. The squares are lined with trees, the roads nowhere near as busy as Potosi and the markets as indigenous as you´d expect. We stayed in Residencial Charcas (decent hostel, very cheap for a private room), just opposite the main market and both mornings we were there we made a stop for brekkie- a chorizo, lettuce, tomato and mayo sandwich. The bread was dunked in to the sauce from the chorizo and it was quite simply amazing.

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Apart from that we lazed in the sunshine, saw the Sucre version of the Arc du Triomphe and Eiffle Tower and went to Joy Ride. Joy Ride is a proper gringo hangout where we spent both of our nights indulging in Chuflay (singani- a Bolivian spirit- and 7up) and beer.

One of the main `attractions´ in Sucre are the dinosaur prints, so encouraged by everybody who has ever been to Sucre, we jumped on the DinoBus (an open-sided truck type thing with a dinosaur head at the front) and enjoyed the ride up to...a cement factory. Behind the factory was the entrance to the park, behind which there was a giant wall covered in dinosaur footprints. I went in a bit sceptical but after 20 minutes of being told how they were on flat land but it got pushed up by tectonic plates and then the cement company found them yadidadidada I started to believe. The footprints were so far away it was hard for them to make an impact but it was pretty cool. Apart from that, there were just giant dinosaur replicas making roaring noises at us, which we probably enjoyed just as much as- if not more than- the footprints. We spent less than an hour there and went back to the DinoBus...singing relevant songs all the way back to town.

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When we went to book our bus tickets to La Paz we were informed that the roadblocks had started up again earlier than planned and we couldn´t actually leave. Again the Bolivians love of a good protest was standing in our way, but not to be deterred we got online and had a good Google for alternative routes. Liam came up with Sucre-Cochabamba-La Paz and according to tourist info this was doable so the next night we got on the bus to Cochabamba.

Cochabamba

At Sucre bus station you have to 1. pay a departure tax (downstairs) and 2. check your bag in at the bus operators office (upstairs). They then pass your bags down a stairwell to put them on the bus. We wish somebody had told us this, it would have made things a lot easier!

The bus ride to Cochabamba was long, dark, windy and mountainous. I (Jaz) was preeeeeetty convinced we were going to die. But after about 10 hours we finally made it. Bleary eyed at 5:30am we made it in to a taxi and set out to find a hostel. As most travellers without pre-booked accomodation do, we headed straight for the local HI. They ripped us off something rotten, but we got our heads down until 11am, got up, had lunch and at 3pm once again returned to the bus station.

Cochabamba has one main attraction- the statue of Christ that is bigger than the one in Rio. We didn´t get to see it, but from what we saw of Cochabamba (the main square and streets), it´s probably not worth going at all. It´s an alright place but there´s nothing special and we saw why it isn´t a tourist hotspot.

La Paz

We got the eight or nine hour bus to La Paz with a company called Bolivar. Don´t do it. The actual bus was as decent as you get in Bolivia (despite the awful smell) but the running of the bus was something else. To start with, we set off about half an hour late as they tried to fill the bus up. Then, approximately every half hour, the driver let beggars, vendors, singing children etc on the bus. This isn´t ideal when you´re trying to sleep and guard all your belongings. At one point we stopped for a toilet and food break and random people just kept getting on and off the bus. It was a bit threatening and I don´t think we´d ever go with that company again.

We arrived in La Paz at about midnight, hoping that our booking for the Wild Rover Hostel had been confirmed after us having to change dates three times due to road blocks. It hadn´t so we went to Hostal Republica just across the road. Once again we got ripped off, but the room was decent enough and it was only for a night as the next day we were welcomed in to Wild Rover with open arms.
When we got to Wild Rover we were gutted to see that six people we had met previously were just leaving (stoopid roadblocks), but the hostel being one of the most popular party hostels in La Paz meant that we soon bumped in to more people we knew and met many more.

The first day we were in La Paz we had to try and get my camera fixed, which was a nightmare and took longer than expected. That night we decided a few drinks and a night out would be a good call, so alongside our four room mates we went to the bar and indulged in the offer on Caiprinhas and 2 for 1 vodka or rum. It got to the point where Rachel (a girl we had met in Buenos Aires who was now working at Wild Rover) was pouring shots in to everybody´s mouths. It was at about this point that Jaz decided sitting on her bed would be a good idea. Needless to say, it wasn´t and she didn´t appear again for the rest of the night, but demanded that Liam go.
Liam and the remaining room mates plus new additions headed out to a club called Mongos, followed by another legendary La Paz club and made it back at 7:30am (well, two of the room mates got in at 4pm but that´s a different story all togeher!)

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The next day was spent entirely nursing hangovers and sleeping. So we had been in La Paz for two days and not seen a thing. That night it was all about the takeaway pizza and films in the TV room. We got an hour and a half in to City of Men and the DVD started skipping...does anybody know how it ends?!!! Three Manc lads then joined us with Old School so the room full of Mancs and Choco the cat were sat in the biggest party hostel in La Paz watching films, but it was just what we needed.

It was our third day in La Paz when we decided it was time to see what the city had to offer. But first we needed to book flights to Rurrenabaque for the start of our jungle trip. The tickets were 525Bs (about 52 pounds) each, one way, but it was either that or an 18-hour bus along the new death road... we know what we preferred! We booked them for the next morning and went off in search of the Witches Market.
The market was surreal. We had read about the potions and llama foetuses but seeing them was all together diffferent. Apparently Bolivians bury llama foetuses underneath their homes to bring them luck; the foetuses literally look like smalled, dried-up llamas. We decided AGAINST buying one of these but instead got some souvenirs for some of you lucky people and two good luck charms for us- according to the woman selling them one was for safe travels and the other for general luck in life. There were dozens of these charms, all meaning something different, but the most famous and reknowned of them all was a cheeky little chappy called Ekeko. He has a fat, smiley face and is laden down with all sorts of gifts and everyday items. He brings luck if given as a gift apparently...

After the witches market we walked down past San Pedro prison- made famous in the book Marching Powder for the inmates giving unofficial tours to the public. In front of the prison were two guards, but they were stood so far forward that we walked behind them and peered in. What we saw was a courtyard full of prisoners lining the front gate apparently waiting for visitors. The guards were stood casually at the side, wielding their guns but not really taking much notice of what must be a regular occurence to them. We would have loved to have arranged a tour, but they became very heavily clamped down on after riots in the prison a few months ago.

La Paz is, obviously, a big city with a lot going on. Unfortunately we missed the Cholitas wrestling (old traditional Bolivian women knocking ten bells out of each other every Sunday) and the football (Wednesday and Sunday nights) but they are probably pretty amazing scenes.
The city itself is a mixture of modern and traditional- there are women everywhere in the traditional dress, skimask clad shoeshine boys (who look threatening but are harmless enough), street vendors, beggars and what seems like a million collectivo vans everywhere but there are also men in suits and the traditional aspects you´d put in a big city.

Just a quick paragraph here to big up our hostel, The Wild Rover. It has everything you need, does ace food (have the chicken and bacon salad if you ever go- even the boys were eating it out of choice) and has the cutest cat ever (apart from Tiggy, Sooty, Gem and Mini!) The staff are really nice, the water is hot and the beds are massive and comfy. The only down side is that if you get a room near the bar you have no chance of sleep and people are allowed to smoke everywhere except the rooms- which leads to very stinky clothes and hair!

Anyway, the next day we were off to the jungle. What an experiene that would be...

Until later,
Jaz and Liam xxx

Posted by JazandLiam 07:37 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

From Sandboarding in San Pedro to Salt Flats in Bolivia

all seasons in one day 0 °C

Friday 23rd July 2010

Today I embraced my adventurous side and let Liam peruade me to go sandboarding. Anybody who knows me knows that I´m a massive wimp and this was a massive step!
We chose the local Hostelling International place to go on the excursion with and although it was slightly more expensive than other companies- 13,000 Chilean pesos (about 15 pounds)- we knew we could trust them and pictures were included.
We boarded our truck-type-thing alongside some South Americans, a Londoner and the first Northeners we have met all trip (Geordies) and embarked upon the short drive to Valle de la Muerte (valley of death...reassuring!) Oh, and this was straight after a girl telling the entire population of the hostel how her friend had almost become her `late´friend after crashing in to some rocks whilst sandboarding the day before...
When we got there we knew her friend must have been an idiot because the rocks were MASSIVE and really far away from the end of the run... he must have been messing about or hadn´t learnt how to stop, so that reassured us a little!
We got given our boards, tested the straps and walked the massive distance up the sand dune... that was knackering! At the top we were taught that to stop you `do the Michael (Jackson)´and that you must always keep your chest to the sand...and off we went!
Liam spent most of his time on the floor but got a good bit of speed up towards the end and I spent most of my time building up some speed before getting scared and making myself stop again, but we had an amazing time and are eager to do it again in Peru. Unfortunately, the only way back to the top of the dune was that awful walk, so I only went down twice and Liam three times. Another unfortunate event was the fact that the official photographer didn´t get any photos of me, despite getting about ten of everybody else (Liam included), I was gutted about that, but therein lies another reason to do it agan!

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After sandboarding we went off to Valle de la Luna (moon vallley), which was very aptly named due to its rugged landscape. We watched the sunset here (which was awesome) and had a Pisco sour before going back to the hostel, where we got a takeaway chicken and chips (for the second day running!) and prepared ourselves for the 7:00 rise for the start of our three day tour to Bolivia (via the desert, lagoons, geysers, salt hostels and salt flats and minus degree temperatures!)

Anymore brackets?!

Saturday 24th July 2010

As we said before, we booked our tour with Cordillera. The tour included all accomodation, transport, food and our own guide Felix (spanish speaking) for the whole 3 days. We´d like to point out here that the company were really professional, the driver was very safe and friendly (even letting us plug in our Manc tunes) and the food was awesome. Our tour group consisted of two other couples in our jeep, a group of guys in another and a group of Germans in another. The first day invloved Bolivian immigration (they didn´t even look at our passports before stamping them!), numerous lagoons (over the whole trip we saw green/blue/white/coloured you name it), thermal pools, geysers, Salvador Dali´s rocks and a freezing cold refuge for our nights´accommodation.
That night we played cards for hours with a couple we met, Nuno and Hannah before retiring to bed early just to get warm!

It is hard to describe the landscapes we saw in this first day so once again, a picture (or twenty!) speak(s) a thousand words:

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Sunday 25th July 2010

We awoke to seriously low temperatures and scambled eggs with bread and a cup of tea. After the drivers had finished preparing the cars i.e. defrosting the engines and packing our bags on the roof rack (fair play to them) we set off in our convoy to more breathtaking landscapes. We encountered more lagoons, including one that was populated by hundreds of Flamingos making rather a lot of noise between themselves, making for some brilliant photo taking opportunities- Jaz was in her element! Before this we came across some interesting rock formations in the middle of the desert, including one that looked like a stone tree. Pretty cool how they are all natural formations, sculptured by a combination of weather and time.

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After a short stop for lunch (Tuna mayo, veg rice and salad)- prepared by Felix and the other drivers- we drove on past an active vocano and more spectacular scenary. Before reaching our second nights´accomodation we came across a broken down jeep with no tyre! We are so glad that didn´t happen to us as the girl passengers of the jeep had been waiting since 9am that morning (it was now late afternoon). After every single driver had had a go at fixing the wheel, we made room for the girls and their luggage between our three jeeps and gave them a lift back to San Juan (where our Eco Salt Hotel was located).

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After arriving at our Eco Salt Hotel we were lucky enough to get a double room to ourselves and steal a hot shower (Liam not Jaz, who had a freezing cold one). The hotel itself was really cool, with almost everything from the floors to the tables being made out of salt! We had another tasty two course meal (with wine) of soup followed by vicuña steak and fried potatoes, all of which was shovelled down with glee after a long day of touring. The next day was to feel even longer as we had decided as a group to leave at 5am to witness the sunrise above the world´s largest salt flats. After some more card playing (girls v boys, it ended a draw) and a bit more wine we retired to our salty beds and another chillingly cold nights´ sleep.

Monday 26th July 2010

In the pitch black, freezing cold desert with no breakfast we were starting to regret our decision to leave at 5am and there was not much conversation in the jeep on the way to the salt flats! After just under two hours of driving with the morning light offering welcoming shades of yellow and blue on the horizon we reached Incahuasi (Inca Houise) Island, a rocky island in the middle of the salar populated by cacti. We reached the peak of the island after a 10-15 minute hike made extremely difficult by the bitter cold and altitude. As the sun peaked over the distant horizon and the first rays of heat reached us, we sat silently and took in the vast Salar de Uyuni. We desended the island, payed about 1.50 pounds for the privaledge and had ´breakfast´. They were obviously running out of food as breakfast consisted of a piece of cake and a yoghurt if we wanted it....

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After warming up a bit Felix drove us further into the flats until we reached a suitable spot for the cliched salt flat pics, using the lack of perspective to create some cool snaps with our props of water bottle and bags (it is harder than it looks and requires a fair bit of organisation and patience).

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Post-picture taking we were driven out of the salt flats via the first ever salt hotel (which still had guests staying there) and an area of salt mounds waiting to be loaded into trucks to be processed, before arriving at a tiny `town´ that survived from the selling of the usual alpaca goods and salt. Our final stop before Uyuni was the train cementery located about 3km outside of the town. This is an area of the desert filled with rusting locomotives and scrap parts, dumped after the arrival of electric trains. We should also mention here the sheer amount of rubbish scattered as far as the eye can see. We had been told about how bad it was, but witnessing this misuse of the land, where litter conserves itself perfectly due to the climate, was quite shocking.

We arrived in Uyuni around midday, and got dropped off at Cordillera´s office. After thanking Felix and giving him what we felt was a substantial tip (50Bs per person), we left our bags with the agency, as we went off in search of a hostal for the night and bus tickets to Potosi for the next day. We found both with ease, staying at the HI hostal for 4 pounds each (for a double room- we love Bolivian prices!) and booking our tickets with 11 de Julio for 3.50 each (6 hour journey).

After dinner and drinks with the rest of our jeep group, we bid a fond farewell as they departed for La Paz on an overnight bus (which Hannah later reported was absolutely freezing). En-route back to our hostal we made some gringo purchases and suited ourselves out in some lovely alpaca hoodies.

That night we went to the pub next door for a beer and ended up with free popcorn, olives and bread, it probably would have been a full meal had we not got the impression we were gatecrashing another tour group´s party and left hurridly. The next day we were up early again (obviously) for our journey to Potosi commonly referred to as the world´s highest city!

Until next time folks! Look after Manchester for us!

Jaz and Liam

xxx

Posted by JazandLiam 29.07.2010 10:29 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Salta, Cafayate, Pumamarca, Tilcara and Humahuaca

(And a lot of rocks!)

sunny 20 °C

Sunday 18th July 2010

After 19 hours on an overnight bus with the enemy (AndestheivingMar) we- and our bags- made it to Salta. We were met, once again, by someone from our hostel (Backpackers Soul) and put in a taxi which was then paid for by the hostel. We´d like to point out here that taxis in Salta are dirt cheap, the five minute ride cost slightly over 50p. You can´t even open a taxi door in Manchester without being charged 2.50 pounds!

The first thing we did was go out and compare the dozens of tour operators and their prices. We decided on Salta Connection (after a lot of Googling and asking around) for both our tours; one south to Cafayate and the other north (in both direction and altitude!) to Humahuaca. It was a bit more expensive than other tour agencies, but as we had been warned against booking with budget operators and it had been recommended we went for it. We got a discounted price for the two tours, coming up at $AR640 for the two of us.

That night we ate out at a restaurant on the main square (this was all we actually saw of Salta). We got a full-blown `asado´ (bbq) and chips for two for just $AR60 (about 10 pounds). The meat came served on a portable hot plate with coal underneath, keeping it warm and sizzling. We ate ribs, chorizo, steak and even cows kidneys (which was promptly washed down with a mouthful of chips and beer).

Monday 19th July 2010

The next day we were up at 6:30am for our tour to Cafayate, which started at 7:15. We went downstairs, ate a rubbish breakfast and waited. And waited. At 7:45am Fernando and his little red van rolled up spouting some nonsense about problems with the frost. Of course, he hadn´t expected it, it had only been -5 for the last week or so... we suspect he had a lie-in.

Anyway, we picked up our Argentine comrades (who we later found out would be our amigos on the next day´s tour), stopped for some hot water for Mate and made our way down the Quebrada de la Concha. It took about two hours to get to our first stop (we think, we slept most of the way!). All of the stops were to see different rock formations- some were shaped like castles, another like a toad, one like a mummy and so on. Two of the most impressive were the `Devil´s Throat´ (they like that name over here)- which was formed by two tectonic plates colliding- and the `Ampiteatro´, which was the result of a waterfall which used to flow over the rocks and left a large hole. The acoustics in here were apparently amazing, better than that in most theatres, but all we remember is the crazy guy playing the flute and trying to scav a lift home (there´s a video of that!)

At the highest point in the range- Tres Cruzes- we encountered an Argentine man selling paraphenalia, but mainly Ocarinas, which Liam was fascinated by (he kept harping on about Zelda or something...) He played a song for us and we filmed him doing so. It was the windiest place EVER so kudos to him for standing there all day.

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After a (long) while we got to Cafayate and had some lunch. Liam and I went for the picnic in the park option, whilst the Argentine lads nailed a muhassive asado and complained about how full they were for the rest of the day. They had informed us, as soon as they got in the car, that they liked food, something we noticed when they just kept pulling biscuits/bread etc out of their bags.

Post-lunch it was time for a(nother) wine tour or two. The first one was Nanni wines, a small family business which has been going since 1897. They make organic wines and only sell them in three cities in America and restaurants in Salta. That´s a massive shame as the wine was the best wine we have ever tasted, no exageration!
The second tour was of a more industrial bodega- Domingo Hermanos- and the tour guide admitted that if you were to ask for a glass of the house wine in North-West Argentina you would probably be drinking a glass of theirs. The proof was in the tasting. The best part about the tour was seeing THE BEST Robin look-a-like EVER. Liam kept following him around with the video camera (I think his parents were getting worried!)

Outside the bodega we sampled some llama salami and a bit later on we felt shamed as we fed some llamas on the side of the road.

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When we got back at 8pm we were glad that we had chosen Salta Connection to do our tour with. Our guide, Fernando, was a friendly fella and seemed to know what he was talking about (even if his English accent did leave us a little confused at times!)
Cafayate is a nice little town, but very much aimed at tourists and all the shops sell the same things- the woolen jumpers, hats and socks that we managed to resist, just thinking how much cheaper they´ll be in Bolivia (where it is all imported from anyway!)

That night we headed to the sister-hostel of Backpackers Soul for free dinner which is included in the price every night. Dinner was spagetti and meatballs and it went down a treat.

Tuesday 20th July 2010

Another early rise today as we got up at 6:30 (again), eager for our tour to Humahuaca. This tour promised to be less about the nature and more about the villages. We were picked by Hasan and the Argentine lads from the day before in a lovely little silver van and headed up north (via another stop for hot water for Mate, of course!) Within a couple of hours we were in Pumamarca, a tiny little village at the foot of the seven colours rock formation.

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The town was full of markets once again selling woolen goods aimed at tourists. There was a band playing and the atmosphere was quite lovely. We took a few pictures and then decided to climb to the top of the hill next to the village to breath it all in.

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The view was spectacular. Pumamarca is in a small valley, surrounded by not only the seven colour hills, but many others, too.

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Back in to the van and our next stop was Tilcara, where we reached 3,000m altitude and saw some Inca village ruins and a cactus farm. There´s not really much else to say about Tilcara, except that Liam got very very sunburnt as the sun was so fierce being so high up, but it was a nice visit.

Our third and final village of the day was Humahuaca, where the first thing we did was eat. Sixteen empanadas (Liam had ten, Jaz five, Argentine guy one). The other Argentine guy preceeded his llama steak lunch by running off as soon as we stopped to go and buy a sandwich (much to Hasan´s dismay- he had only gone to park the car and told us to wait two minutes!) He also had empanadas to start. And bread. Liam called this one Kenan (and the other one Kel, obviously).
After lunch we wandered around amongst the masses of tourists and yet more market stalls selling the ame things. We climbed the 106 steps to the monument of Independence (106 steps to mark the 106km from Salta). This was not easy at such a high altitude, but good training for the auld Inca Trail.

Back in to the wagon we went and headed back to Salta, via a stop at the Tropic of Capricorn (must wikipedia and see what that actually is...), a lake and some forest (where Hasan told us to get out and drove off! He was waiting around the corner...)
The journey back was immense, it started with a stop at a bread stall on the side of the road (we literally pulled the car up as if we were at McDonalds drive-thru). Kenan and Kel (obviously no longer full from their massive lunch) bought three massive naan-looking type bread and quesilla (a stringy, mild cheese which was almost a mixture of Babybel and Mozarella). They explained that this was THE bread to eat with Mate and they were not wrong. Having stopped (again) for hot water, Kenan made us some Mate con azucar (Mate with sugar) and Kel handed out the food. It was amazing and we have been craving it since.
Anyway, this mixed with the cheesy English 80s megamix being pumped out at full volume meant for a highly entertaining couple of hours drive. Especially when Kel was backseat dancing.
We had a really good day and we were sad to say goodbye to our new friends (though we did later see Kel through the window of his hostel and he looked very chuffed when we knocked and waved!)

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Wednesday 21st July 2010 and Thursday 22nd July 2010

We got up at 5:45am...there´s no rest for the wicked. This time it was to catch our ridiculously time-tabled bus (6:45am!) to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. We would have liked to have stayed in Salta another day to actually see the town, but the buses ran five days a week and Thursday wasn´t one of them and we didn´t want to have to wait until Friday to leave.

The bus ride was scheduled to take nine hours but actually took just over twelve, why were we not surprised?! Thankful that we had endured our last Argenina-Chile border crossing, we got off the bus (after having got back on after Chilean customs only to discover it was literally a minute drive to the town) and searched for our hostel. If it wasn´t for an elder couple we bumped in to, we would never have found it! We later went out for dinner with said couple and eventually got to bed ready for a long lie-in after a manic week or so.

We spent Thursday sleeping and booking tours (after having consulted the recommendations and complaints book in the tourist info office to find the best company) and settled on sandboarding and valle de la luna the next day and a three-day tour to Bolivia on Saturday (with Cordillera who, according to the book, were by far the most reliable and their being the only company without an accident in 10 years made us feel much better, too).

And that´s where we´re up to now, we´ll update on sandboarding and Valle de la Luna soon, but now it´s time for bed before our 8am pick-up for the start of our mini adventure within our big adventure (-20 degrees beckons tomorrow night!) We´re very excited to get to Bolivia and will update you all as soon as we can.

Hope everybody is ok and Happy Birthday Mum (Rosa)!

Love,
Jaz and Liam x

Posted by JazandLiam 23.07.2010 20:12 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Mendoza-Santiago-Mendoza

sunny 5 °C

This is just going to be a quick(er) post as we have lots to say but want to catch up to where we are right now...

Friday 9th July 2010 - Monday 12th July 2010

The town of Mendoza is lined with trees (although due to the freezing weather none of them have leaves on at thew moment...) and is surrounded by mountains. In the summer this probably looks very picturesque. There isn`t much to do in the actual town itself (even more so because we were there on Independence day and a Sunday, when everything is closed), but there are lots of day trips on offer. We took the advice of fellow travellers we had met in Brazil and Buenos Aires and took the bus to Maipu (pronounced `my poo´; cue much laughter) to find Mr Hugo. Mr Hugo is a legendary figure amongst travellers for his bike rental services. We jumped on our red bikes, were given a map and a bottle of water and- alongside Sarah and Matt, who we met at the bus stop- we made our way to the first bodega on our wine tour. Unfortunately a couple of the bodegas (the first one included) were closed on Saturdays, but we didn`t let that stop us! We cycled on to a few more bodegas and enjoyed some lovely Mendoza wine and a traditional Argentine stew called Locro.

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After going on to a chocolate and licquor factory (where we indulged in many licquors, including `Russian Death´, which we found was very aptly named!) we went back to Mr Hugo´s house where he plyed us with free homemade wine until we had to leave for the last bus. We can see why Mr Hugo has the reputation he does, he was massively friendly and really looked after us. And if your glass is half-full, he`ll be right over with a top-up and if you ask for a little, he´ll give you 3/4 of a glass... Good lad.

For the rest of our time in Mendoza we just tried to replace Liam´s clothes (unsuccessfully) and partied on down in the hostel bar for a couple of nights. And on Sunday 11th July 2010 we watched Spain become World Champions in a little Irish bar down the street. There was one very happy half-chilean, half-spanish English girl that night!

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Monday 12th July 2010 - Friday 16th July 2010

We spent the next five days in Santiago, Chile with Jaz´s family. Getting to Chile was a mare, a bus ride that was meant to last just six hours ended up being closer to nine after a 2.5 hour wait at immigration somewhere 2,500m above sea level in the middle of the snowy mountains. But as soon as we got there we were promptly picked up by Jaz´s uncle and spent the next few days taking a sort-of break from travelling.

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Santiago is HUGE, we feel like we didn´t see that much of it, but we sure did try most of the traditional dishes and drinks. Family took us out every day and amongst the foods we had were:

- Completo from Domino´s (not the pizza place). This is essentially a hotdog lathered in chopped tomato, onion, corriander and mayonaise (Liam added extra ketchup, mustard and chilli sauce). We all had two each, they were amazing.

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- Pisco Sour (both Chilean and Peruvian versions). This popular `trago´ made from pisco (surprisingly enough) was amazing. Apparently both Chile and Peru argue over the ownership of the drink, but they prepare them in completely different ways. The Chilean one was a lot sweeter, whereas the Peruvian one had a spicy kick. Traditionally the Peruvian version is made with egg white, so we look forward to trying that when we get up there!

- Marrequeta con Palta. Marrequeta is a type of bread (which I apparently loved when I was little) and Palta is mashed avocado with oil and salt. Any regular visitors to my house will probably know it as it´s one of my mum´s fave dishes to make.

- Mote con Huecilla. This is a summer drink, but we had it anyway. The essence of it is boiled dried peaches and oats. It´s a bit hard to explain and looks rank (see picture!), but it tasted amazing!

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- Chorrillana. This is a MOUND of chips lathered in oil and covered in onions and meat. There were six of us, we got two Chorrillanas between us and they were not finished! It was accompanied by a type of Chilean Sangria (whose name I can´t remember) that was immense.

- Bistec a lo pobre and Merluza. The former is a thin steak (cooked to perfection) with two fried eggs on top, served with fried onions and chips. Needless to say that was Liam´s dish! The latter was a battered hake, which I ate with chips. How very English. It was so nice though. We had these dishes in a food market, inside a fish market. The roof of the building was- we were informed by a random Chilean man- imported from Birmingham and is the same as that in a market in London.

In Santiago we mainly wandered around town, had a disastorous fringe cut (Jaz, not Liam), went up a couple of hills (inc seeing La Virgen- Santiago´s small version of Christ the Redeemer) and spent some amazing quality time with family. We also replaced Liam´s clothes, the camera wire and some other bits and bobs.

On the Wednesday we took a day trip to Valparaiso and ended up going to Viña del Mar, too. We got on the two hour bus at about 9:00 am and as soon as we arrived at Valparaiso´s rather dodgy looking bus station we found a tourist info desk, got a map and promptly realised they did city tours, too (including Viña del Mar) so booked it for about 20 pounds each. We swiftly changed our mind when the girl started to lead us down some dodgy-looking roads to `go and meet the car and guide´. Things came to a head when we were at a railway station which she was walking across to a deserted-looking carpark, so we let our thoughts be known and the girl went off to get the driver and they met us back on the main road.
The driver was a nice guy, who spoke English with an Australian accent. We demanded his certificates and identification and wearily got in to the car. It turns out we were wrong, he really was a decent guy and the tour was legit. For the first few hours we were weary and very, very cautious, but he did everything he could to put us at our ease.

We saw the open-air museum, which was essentially an area with paintings all over random walls. The paintings were done by local and national artists and were really quite varied, ranging from the alright to the awesome. We also saw the house of Pablo Neruda (which was shaped like a boat) and many different streets which looked like they belonged in different countries due to all the building materials being imported from them.

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Valparaiso is a major port town and for this reason it also has the coloured buildings as La Boca does. However, the buildings are also covered in corrugated metal for reasons we can´t remember...

The final part of our Valparaiso trip was a journey up a hill in a very old and very shakey cablecar type thing. From the top we saw the view of both Valparaiso and Viña del Mar, including the very very busy port. There we ate some awesome empanadas before carrying on to Viña del Mar.

Viña del Mar has the charm that Valparaiso lacks... it is quite simply gorgeous. A beach resort, the buildings are gleaming white, the beaches clean and the people friendly. We saw (and took photos of) the clock made out of flowers (apparently whoever takes a photo of it will one day return, we´ll see if that´s true or not!) and also an original head from Easter Island. After a brief wander around the markets (and some more wristband buying) we headed back to the bus.

We really enjoyed our time in Santiago, we think it helped that we were with family as it is such a huge city. It was a shame about the smog cloud covering the city but the views from the top of the cerros were otherwise amazing. It is hard to comprehend how big a place it really is and how close to the mountains, too. We would love to return in the summer, though- it was FREEZING! A massive thanks to Aldo and Ximena for everything they did for us while we were there (un gracias enorme para Aldo y Xime para lo todo que hicieron para nosotros).

On Friday 16th we got back on the bus to Mendoza and settled down for the six-hour journey. Needless to say, it took longer than that, five hours longer in fact. Firstly we had to stop for about 20 minutes whilst snow was shoveled out of the road and then we spent 3.5hours in immigration- including a very cold hour stood in a queue at 3000m of altitude in the middle of the Andes at night fall. If you ever get a bus on this route wrap up VERY warm!

We got back too late to jump on the last bus to Salta as planned, so we went back to Hostel International Mendoza, where we had stayed previously and they had spaces for us. The next day we wandered the market, made some food, played some epic games of Jenga and finally got on a bus to Salta that night. Nineteen hours later, we were there (no delays this time!)

More to come about Salta, another Argentina-Chile border crossing and San Pedro de Atacama, but right now my hands are cold and my belly rumbling!

Jaz and Liam xxx

Posted by JazandLiam 22.07.2010 17:17 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Colonia to Buenos Aires

overcast 12 °C

Sunday 4th July 2010

Today was actually quite warm, so we got up early and headed on out to discover Colonia, but not without going to check out ferry tickets first. After having scouted on the net for prices, which were coming up at $uyu130, you can imagine our surprise when we got down to the ferry port and the woman told us it would be $uyu900 EACH! So we toddled on back to the hostel (El Viajero- not very good) and booked through the Buquebus website. Saved us a massive amount of money!

After all that, we actually went to see the town. We had briefly walked through it the night before and went up the lighthouse to watch the sunset but today was the day to really explore (as well as try a `chivito` which had been reccommended to us by a taxi driver in Montevideo). The town was really lovely- all small cobbled streets, quaint little shops and little traffic. We did, however, notice that there were lots of old-style cars dotted around the town so we clambered in and took the obligatory photos!

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We stopped for lunch so that we could experience the aforementioned Chivitos, which are like MASSIVE burgers. One each and a beer to share and we were satisfied. We headed on back towards the seafront, lay on a bench (exhauted having eaten so much!) and watched the birds (of the tweet tweet variety) play. There was a funny moment when, lay on Liam's lap, he told me to look right. There was a dog stood RIGHT THERE, his face peering in to mine. I've never moved so fast in my entire life!

After a while we decided we should move, go pick up our bags and head towards the port. We got there about 20mins before our boat was due to leave and it's a bloody good job we did. We had forgotten we were moving countries (customs just pass us by now) and we'd therefore have to go through all the obligatory form filling out etc. It got to the point where the official were pulling us- and others- to the front of the queue so the boat could actually leave. Aaah well.

The boat ride was fine, it went by pretty quickly and we arrived in Buenos Aires. A swift cab ride later and we were at the hostel- Milhouse Avenue. A good nights sleep ensued.

Monday 5th July 2010

We woke up roaring and ready to go and explore Buenos Aires, so we did. Liam, a guy from our room called Jeremy and I set out early and headed down to Plaza de Mayo- home of 'La Rosada', a government building that is painted pink and- as we saw the night before- is lit up pink at night, too. After the obligatory photos we aimlessly walked around, went in to the cathedral and eventually ended up on a super busy shopping street (Florida). At the end of said street we found the BA FanZone, checked it out and then headed back to the hostel. We had planned on going out again a bit later, but the gray cloud overhead put an end to that plan.

After tea we headed for the bar and the pub quiz that was meant to be going on that night. It didn`t happen, so we had a few drinks and played pool and before we realised, everybody else had already gone to the other Milhouse hostel where a party was taking place. Liam, Jeremy and I walked the few blocks over and showed our wristbands at the door as if we were in some sort of secret society. The party was crazy considering it was just in the hostel bar- there was loud music, flashing lights and LOTS of very drunk people. We had a drink and crossed the road to the club of choice (Jeremy went home).
We had a good time, the music was mainly cheesy 90s pop and dance (despite being labled as an 80s night!) but this was a nice change from all the South American choooons we have been subjected to. We randomly bumped in to three people we met back in Rio and spent some time with in Ilha Grande and Paraty. It was good to catch up with them and hopefully we`ll see them again in Lima.

Tuesday 6th July 2010

La Boca was the name of today's game. We had booked on to the hostel-organised tour of the renowned colourful neighbourhood and left at 11am. Heydi (our guide) lead us on to the bus and we endured a cramped fifteen or twenty minutes. When we eventually got to La Boca, she explained the history of the town (it`s very interesting, but we won't bore you with it here- if you want to know look it up on Wiki!) and took u along to the famed colourful streets. What we didn't know is that these streets have been specially preserved as they are and are in fact an open-air museum! The whole experience was a bit like being at Disney Land- there is tango music being played everywhere, tango shows on each corner, large dummies hanging off balconies waving at you and a million and one people trying to get you in to their restaurant or shop. But it was awesome.

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We stopped for lunch after a while and Heydi lead us in to an open-air 'parrilla' (bbq) which wasn't really too open-air due to the umbrella heilding us from the horrendous weather. An old Argentine man was playing the guitar (he looked like Artie- mum and sam will get that!) and crooning away whilst massive racks of meat were cooking on the huge barbecue infront of him.

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After lunch we went to Boca Juniors´ football stadium- La Bombanera. We took a tour around the museum, witnessed a shocking `3d` experience of being a Boca player and then were taken out in to the stadium. It was a lot smaller than we expected, but the areas behind the goals were all standing, creating extra room. Even the away section on the third tier was standing and Heydi told us that the away fans are known to p*ss, spit and throw things (including their own sh*t) at those below them, hence the seats below are usually where the tourists are located! She also mentioned that during matches, there is a block specifically for police. Add on to this that the whole pitch is surrounded by glass screens with spikes on top and you can imagine how mental their fans must be. We wish we could have gone to a game but due to a small tournament taking place in South Africa the league was on a prolonged break.

Boca was a great place to visit, but we are glad we went with a guide who knew everything and everyone there. Apparently it is quite common for tourists to get jumped and there are certain areas she warned us to go nowhere near. That said, all the people who we spoke to were friendly enough, even when just trying to get us in to their restaurants.

We got back to the hostel quite late and watched the remainder of the Uruguay v Holland match on the big screen.

When in Argentina... see Tango. That night we strolled over to Tango Porteño to watch an hour and a half dance spectacle. After booking our tickets through the hostel ($ar100 each) we assumed we would have pretty standard seats in the theatre, so we were very surprised when the usher lead us to our own table for two with a kick-ass view (Liam`s words). She presented us with a menu, which we swiftly closed and gave back to her when we saw that a beer cost as much as the ticket. Everyone around us was having a meal, it seems we turned up a bit early (an hour in fact) and were kept waiting until 10:30pm.
The show was very impressive, some of the moves were quite jaw-dropping and the whole set up was eleborate and over the top- just what the tourists want! There was a 12-piece band playing throughout the whole show, carefully placed above the dancers. The story was tango through the ages, but this wasn`t really obvious (Jaz only realised because the of the changing styles of clothing). Overall there were nine couples dancing and the most impressive dances were when they were all on stage. It was an experience not to be missed.

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Wednesday 7th July 2010

After waking with the first signs of a cold looming (due to the constant smoke-filled rooms) we wrapped up warm (as in fleeces and long-sleeved tshirts warm!) and met Heydi for another day of sight-seeing. This time the tour was Recoleta and it was a bargain at $ar15. Recoleta is the `posh` area in Buenos Aires, where all the rich families once built their palaces. Now these palaces are mainly homes to embassies, art galleries and designer shops (rumour has it Armani opened up on one street but swiftly closed down when it couldn`t afford the rent!).

After seeing a giant metal flower (a sculptor by a local artist) that opens and closes depending on the time of day, we went to Recoleta cementry, famous for being the resting place of Evita Peron. The cementry is a strangely fascinating place. The rows and rows of huge mausuleums, make the cementry feel like a small town rather than a grave yard, with every mausuleum being its own piece of art. It was quite creepy being able to see the caskets through the doors and even creepier seeing the empty shelves awaiting their next inhabitant.
Heydi gave us a fascinating ten-minute summary of Evita`s life and explained how her body was moved between continents, given a fake name and `lost` before it was eventually returned to Argentina to distract the media`s attention from political scandal. Whilst telling us all this, Heydi wanted to speak very quietly, it seems there are still mixed opinions about the reign of the Perons.

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At night we indulged in our first Argentine steak at a small restaurant in San Telmo, recommended by our hostel. Liam opted for the T-Bone (medium, came out rare) and I went for a fillet (also medium, came out medium). We had pumpkin and normal mash and fried potato type things as well as a litre of Quilmes to share and it came out at about ten pounds each. The steaks were delicious (and massive!) and the mash was immense.

Thurday 8th July 2010

Thursday was spent wandering aimlessly around town until we had to catch our 9:20pm bus to Mendoza. We went to the market, bought a few (more) wristbands and then to Argentina`s oldest coffee shop. There was a queue to get in as the inside is really grand and majestic with chandelliers and a tango stage. We indulged in a `submarino´. Somebody had recommended this drink to us, it is basically a mug of hot milk and a chocolate bar shaped like a submarine. You put the submarine in to the milk et voila, it melts and becomes a mug of chocolatey goodness. It is essentially a hot chocolate for kids, but we loved it.

At 3:30pm we went over to Plaza de Mayo to see the weekly demonstration made by the `madres de plaza de mayo´. These amazing women have been protesting once a week for about ten years (we think) against the disappearance of their children under the military dictatorship of 1976 - 1983. Their aim is for them to never be forgotten and being in Buenos Aires we felt it was something we should bear witness and give our support to.

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At 8:30pm Liam, Jeremy and I caught a cab to the bus station. Madness ensued. One thing everybody should know when going to Retiro bus station is that they only put on the screen the buses that have ALREADY ARRIVED. We didn`t know this and ended up sprinting between three different stops, dodging between the independence day holiday weekend travellers with our bags getting heavier and heavier on our backs. We eventually got on our super-cama bus and relaxed. The journey was amazing- the seats reclined 180 degrees, we watched Yes Man (in Spanish), we were given a two-course dinner, wine and champagne and Jaz even won a bottle of wine in a game of Bingo (she was VERY chuffed!) We slept right through until 10am and missed breakfast. The 13 hours just flew by.

Another thing everybody should know is to NOT travel with Andesmar. We checked our bags on in Buenos Aires and got our tickets. The bus wasn`t supposed to make any stops (but it made about two in random petrol stations and one just on the side of the very dark road), so can somebody please explain how Liam´s frontsack was no longer on his rucksack when we got off the bus? Andesmar sure couldn`t when we reported it to them. They just insinuated that we hadn`t actually brought the bag at all (which is ridiculous!) and shifted all blame. They were very unhelpful and fobbed us off until Monday. Oh and my frontsack had all four buckles undone and the zip almost completely open and various other pockets and zips were opened on my main pack. Suspicious hey? The upshot of all that is that Liam lost a lot of his clothing, a lot of electronics (including the wire for the cameras) and the hard-drive with all our pictures on. Something tells us we aren`t meant to have any pictures this trip! The good news is that any pictures we did lose are still on Facebook or the camera itself (until someone robs them, too!)

Anyway, we arrived in Mendoza on Friday 9th July - Argentine independence day- and have had an ace time here. But it`s getting late and that`s all to come in the next post.

Hasta luego folks!
xxx

Posted by JazandLiam 11.07.2010 17:59 Archived in Argentina Comments (1)

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