including....Jungles, Lakes, Mountains, Deserts!!
26/05/2010 - 15/07/2010 14 °C
Well, i lied...this one took a litlle longer than the last to write....but only because i´m packing so much in!
When I last wrote I had a week left in Cusco before leaving with Jana to travel into Bolivia. There was still time to fit in a nice little weekend trip to Ollantaytambo before we left. Its a small little town which people usually visit for a couple of hours before starting the Inca trail...but deserves a bit more time. Whilst there we got up early to go explore the ruins and see the sunrise over the valley...and of course take hundreds of pics. We went with one of the good friends made whilst volunteering. Tarn is one of the many people I hope to see again after my travels and visiting New Zealand now seems like an even better idea.
The first stop after leaving Cusco was Puno, a town situated right on Lake Titicaca....and we were fortunate enough to arrive just before sunrise.
Once the sun had put his hat on we got on a boat to Uros - the floating islands made entirely of reeds. They were originally built to serve as protection from the invading Incas and are a perculiar sight. Despite being told that the islands still serve a purpose to the people, it did seem that their sole existence is now just for the income from tourism...but its a good way to make money. So the people invite you in for a picture and encourage you to buy the souvenirs. It did seem a bit weird though....and when all the local ladies in traditional dress say "hasta la vista baby" at the end...it seems tourism has had a strange effect!
Straight after getting back on dry land we got on a bus to Copa...Copacabana and into Bolivia! A small little town, again right on the edge of Lake Titicaca. Its a nice place to relax and some great views - especially from up on the mirador.
After exploring Copacabana we caught a boat to Isla del Sol, a small island close by. We went to the north side, a bit less touristy so the hostels are nice a cheap, £1.50 to be precise! By day the island lives up to its name...lots of sun...however by night when the sun has laid its head, things get a little nippy to say the least! Cold, cold, cold.....so sleeping in some sexy thermals is a neccessity
The run from the outside shower back to the room is also fun,...and i dont think i´ve ever held on longer for that early morning pee (its just so much nicer to stay in bed than face the cold outside world). But once the suns up, everything is good again and we did plenty of walking around the hills, fields and private beaches.
Sadly, Island life was cut short when one morning financial calculations over breakfast we realised staying one more night would leave insufficient funds to leave the island (there was no cashpoint on the island...not surprising really...considering its mainly inhabited by sheep and i dont think they have the dexterity to make use of them). Upon realisation we felt slightly silly, as we sat there in full hiking gear as we had made plans to trek our way to the south of the island.
But back to Copacabana we went and to cheer ourselves up splashed out on lavish accomodation. The hotel, with room overlooking the lake blew the budget at £4 each a night!
One continental breakfast later we hopped on a bus and made tracks to La Paz. The second biggest city in Bolivia and all but capital (this is actually Sucre - there´s a bit of rivalry between the two of who holds the power).
We found a nice hostel situated near the San Francisco plaza and even closer to the ´Witches´ market! There was some very strange stuff on sale there, the most eyecatching being the dry Llama phoetus´....but i never did pluck up the courage to try the potion to help battle hairloss
La Paz was a huge, bustling city with loads of interesting places to check out. Nice Plazas, markets, bars and restaurants. One day we took a bus out of town to Valley de la Luna...where I lost Jana´s lense cap down a big gorge...ooops! After the walk around the space like terrain we were off to the zoo.
Whilst in La Paz the World Cup started and there was a great Dutch bar to watch all the games...but thats the last mention the tournament gets...as we all know how it went and I´m still sore from it. (German girlfriend + 4-1 loss to Germany = Bad times!).
Next place on our hitlist...the Jungle, however before making our way to Rurrenabaque we stopped off in Coroico for a night. A quiet little town that offers some incredible views. It was a nice place to relax and recover from the pant-wettingly scary ride along the infamous´death road´. The road has mountain one side and steep drop the other...not actually too bad when you drive a a normal speed and don´t take any unnecessary risks - however these words must have been blotched when the Bolivian cab drivers handbooks were distributed.... Overtaking a coach, on a blind bend is bad enough, let alone when because of the 3500m or so altitude there is thick clouds covering the road. But we got there in one piece.
The night stopover was also good - as we unknowingly faced another hellish journey. We booked the last two seats on the 17hr coach to Rurrenbaque which turned out to be the back seats. Unlike when on school journeys these used to be the seats in highest demand for the cool kids....now it turns out they are just for stupid travellers. The back seats not being able to recline leave you with about 6" breathing space when the person in front decides to be kind to their spine. This, combined with a continuous bumpy and dusty road, a movie playing at full blast makes for an uncomfortable journey (and the movie, quite fittingly was some bad version of Tarzan, cue non stop ape and monkey noises for the first half hour)....
Then when it starts to get dark and you want to get some sleep, my paranoia of bag thieves kicks in making it hard to drift off.... finally when i did get some shuteye - to be awoken by the rustling of hands around my feet and holding of my ankle... the bag thief paranoia steps up a notch...only to realise when i shine my phone bright on the floor that its a small child been put to sleep in the aisle. I´m glad i didn´t lash out...that would not have put me in favour with the locals....however I did manage to practice my bad spanish with the guy next to me as we talked about the World Cup. The international language of football knows no boundaries.
Needless to say the journey was well worth it, and we stayed at a hostel which had been recommended by a few friends. Hammocks overlooking the river a always a bonus. We booked oursleves on a 3 day pampas tour and were lucky to end up with a nice group of 7 - english, dutch, german, Israeli, Korean, Russian and Bolian all accounted for. All led by our brilliant guide, the slighty racist sounding´Negro´, that was his name, not my attempt to make friends with Nick Griffin...oohh Political.
The tour was amazing and we were spoilt with the vast array of wildlife all around us. When the sight of an alligator 10m away from you becomes common practice you know its a good tour....and when you touch it on the nose thats just cool.
Obviously we were always safe, our expert guide still had all of his 9 fingers... so there was never anything to worry about! We marched knee height througb the swamps, warned "tread lightly not to annoy the Alligators", in search of Annacondas. We found them and yes a picture of me looking brave follows:
The camp was basic but nice, though anyone who knows how pathetic I am around creepy crawlies will realise falling asleep was not so easy to the sound of insects - rustling, chirping, scratching, knawing, screaming...(ok all but the last one.) Rediculous though it may seem, deep in the wild, there was even a TV to keep up to date with the World Cup.
I realised, I didnt have what it takes to become a fisherman when we went Piranha fishing. I didnt want to see the ugly little critters hooked through the head, so tended to let them just snack on the tasty bait and not pull my line......the same can not be said for the blood thirsty Jana:
The Piranhas were cooked up for part of our dinner. The last day of the tour was an early start to watch the sunrise and then see a lot incredible birds (the flying kind, not Bolivian women in bikinis)...one interesting fact for this area of Bolivia is that 10% of the all the worlds species of birds can be found here!
After this it was back to Rurrenabaque where we chilled out for a couple of days, before the 20hr journey all the way back to La Paz. Return was relatively peaceful, as we did not make the amateur mistake of booking back seats, and some old Russell Brand podcasts saw me laughing all the way back.
We stayed in La Paz for a few more days before making our way onto Cochabamba....this saw the return of a good old friend...Couchsurfing! Once again CS outdid itself when we found a great host in the form of Jose and his family (his mum is also a member). They also had a couple of nice Argentinian csers staying with them at the same time. They had a lovely house at the top of a hill overlooking the city - incredible...we hadnt quite known what to expect before turning up and this surpassed all expectations.
We stayed only two nights but during that time went to see bands play both nights and also paid a visit to Jesus in the day. Cochabamba to our surprise and usually to everyone elses, has the worlds tallest statue of Christ..."what bigger than the one in Rio"....i hear you all say...yes bigger than that one!
Our adventure through Bolivia then took us onto Sucre. Bolivias capital and all round nice place, very picturesque. Unfortunately after the first night Jana started to feel unwell and spent the next few days mainly in bed, in a very bland hostel room So I tried to make the most of myself....and ended up watching most of the World Cup and Wimbledon coverage!
Thankfully when Jana was better we did get time to see the sights Sucre had to offer, but we moved on pretty quickly to put the sickness behind us...and so it was onto Potosi....location of the ´Devils Mine´! Before visiting the mines we checked out the natural hot springs situated out of town. Swimming in hot water high up in the hills is an extremely nice feeling and it was a nice enough day to just dry off whilst lying in the sun....we then got very lost when trying to find our way back...but thats always fun.
The next day we booked ourselves on a tour for the local silver mines, this starts in the market where you buy coca leaves, drink and dynamite for the miners that you will meet later. Its a strange experience just to walk into a shop and be able to buy explosives, cant remember doing it before on Oxford street....but if anyone wants some please let me know and i´ll stock up...dont think it´ll be any bother at airport security.
The mines themself are incredible, and its unbelievable the conditions that some miners can withstand, sometimes up to 24 hrs at a time....Perhaps the 96% alcohol helps (this actually exists)! We went 2 levels down into the mines, after some very wobbly wooden ladders we got far enough in to meet a few miners and learn a bit about life down there, the heat at this point is stiffling, and they´re are hammering away for hours. Definitely not reccomended for claustrophobes...there´s a great film on the mines called the Devils Mine - an interesting watch.
On the outside again, with our eyes adjusted to the sunlight we caught a bus to Uyuni where we would be starting the Salar (Salt flats) tour. The climate here again plummeted to below freezing and it was back to the thermals, gloves, hats, scarves and anything else we could find to sleep in (this was good practice for the next few nights), plus the cold showers defintely woke you up in the morning.
The Salar de Uyuni tour was a 3 day incredible sight seeing trip. Despite our guide being not overly talkative, the tour was very enjoyable and the differnent landscapes absolutely breathtaking. The tour starts in a train cemetary and then into the salt flats themselves (where we kind of struggled to take the usual humorous pictures that you see everywhere).
Another cold sleep out the way, and the day started with a trip to a smoking volcano...from a distance of course. Then some impressive lagunas and Llamas, Flamingoes and luch by a frozen lake. A quick game of cards with our nice group before an early sleep to wake up at 5am the next day.
Starts with a boom, or Geyser to be precise, and then the best part another natural hot spring yet this time the outside temperature is -10C. Dont think i´ve ever stripped off so quickly...getting out was the hard part...but in all honesty not as cold as you´d imagine. You do realise just how cold it is though when you see the girls hair freeze!
Once the tour came to an end we had a transfer into Chile to San Pedro de Atacama...which went smoothly until at border patrol we forgot to declare a bag of oranges in our luggage and were asked for our passports and it was a $200 fine!! Luckily our confused/innocent/scared faces and "Lo siento, me olvidé" was enough to get through with no financial damages....i really would have been annoyed if we paid $200 and there had been a lot of pips in those oranges!
San Pedro was an extremely nice looking place, but rediculously touristy as its obviously the place where most people end or begin their tour. This means prices are almost at a level with Europe...and this seems even more expensive when you´ve just been in Bolivia for a month. So all in all we did not want to stay long and booked our bus out of there for the following evening. This left just enough time to fit in some horseback riding to the Valle de la Muerte (valley of death!)....so named not because every horseback rider comes to a grisly end but because nothing really lives there. The horse riding was fun and Jana used to ride so off she galloped whilst I had mr lazy
Whilst trying to make our way from San Pedro to Arica we had some troubles and were told to wait in the wrong place whilst transferring buses in Calama...this made us miss our bus and needing to find a hostel late at night....The bus company was very helpful however and arranged us tickets for the following evening to Arica. Arica is a nice beach town, however out of season the beach is not so great...but we still checked it out and the dull weather reminded me of the great British beaches at the height of summer
Seeing the sea again was a welcome sight, and the return to normal altitude meant my lungs could once again take the strain of running around like a fresh spring lamb....and so up another little hill we climbed to see another Jesus (he certainly gets around).
This was to be our last stop in Chile as we still wanted explore different parts of Peru and the exchange rate in Chile was not quite so friendly to us cheap skate travellers! Although we obviously did not see that much of Chile, it really is interesting how a country can be at such a different economic level to its close neighbour Bolivia - but i wont turn this into an economics essay. On returning into Peru we would travel to Ariquipa.....and returning to Peru is where i´ll leave it as i´ve already written way to much and I must return to the beach to soak up the sun and Jana....as she only has 2 weeks left before flying home to Germany. Next time I write my blog, it´ll probably be in a very somber tone as I know I´m going to miss her an awful lot
Important Note....Please be aware that despite my complaints during some parts of this blog, I fully appreciate I´m a lucky little bugger to be doing this and I am loving every second of my travels 110%... I just find it fun to write like Victor Meldrew on his holidays