A Travellerspoint blog

Thank you for Reading!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Peru

sunny 24 °C

So everyone I just want to say a really big thank you for actually reading my blog, do not worry, I do not plan to waste much more of your time as this will be my last entry. To tell the truth I am a little relieved that this is the last and I am sure that all of you who have felt obliged to read each one have let out quite a sigh right now, or maybe not if it has proved a great distraction/ procrastination tool at work or for revision. I actually get figures about who reads the blog and there are some real regulars so again I express my gratitude. To finish I will just give you a quick run through of what I have been up to for the last week in Peru and then I promise you are free, or you could just stop reading now.

So of course I had to visit the standard Cuzco and walking into the Plaza de Armas I didn´t realise that there would be so many festivities- as I turned the corner there were masses of people and a carnival taking place with loads of floats and music. My favourite had to be the giant guinea pigs that looked quite evil, does this justify me eating one in Lima in the next couple of days? Sorry to all guinea pig lovers, but if they are too small/cute/furry for you then Alpaca meat is a really tasty alternative! I also strolled along Loroto, which is lined with Inca walls, and had a look in the Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus. There were so many people my movements were pretty restricted so I just soaked up the atmosphere.

I then decided to do something a little bit more useful with my time and do some volunteering with an orphanage/school in Tambomachay and with the flood victims of The Sacred Valley. It wasn´t terribly taxing, a lot of sorting through donated items and carrying heavy bags to different buildings, but it was made a lot more difficult due to the altitude. It was really nice to meet the locals and be welcomed into their homes to catch a glimpse of their daily lives. Talk about simple living conditions and yet they were still so insistent to use the little money that they had to buy us food and drink to show their gratitude. It was such a nice gesture but the drink that we were given, Chicha, I really didn´t like. It is a corn bear that was given a strawberry flavour and they gave it to us in glasses that were about 1 litre, I am not exaggerating, so you couldn`t just gulp it down and get it over and done with one "Salut." The orphanage seems to provide such a vital service for the girls that live in the surrounding mountainside, they get a good education and do not have to spend 5 hours of their day walking to and from school as they can live there. It`s such a shame that the NGOs for the flood victims of The Sacred Valley are not being a little more supportive. They have withheld money from them for 2 years now as they expect the community to produce architectural plans for restructuring, yes I am sure they have the resources and experience to provide these. Luckily someone has managed to get a volunteer from Architects without Borders to lend a hand so hopefully some real rebuilding will be able to start soon!

It was then Trek time and great to finish my trip on a high, emotionally and geographically. From my experience, unless you are really unfit, I would suggest that you do the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu rather than the Inca Trail. It is more challenging as it is longer in days and distance, higher in altitude and not paved like the Inca Trail so the terrain can be a lot rougher, but it is really not that challenging. The route is also far less touristy, you meet few other groups, and yet the views are spectacular and the environment you walk through so diverse. On the first day you reach your highest point at Abra Huamatay (4600m) and there is rugged mountainside to conquer. By the third day you are walking through the high rainforest eating wild passion fruit or picking up bananas and avocados that have fallen in your path. There are early starts, a couple of 3.30 am wake up calls, but there were a few mornings that I couldn`t wait to get up as it was so cold, another minus 14 degrees, and you couldn`t sleep because of the dogs and roosters making so much noise. On the final day, when we were to arrive at Machu Picchu you also had to have an early start if you even wanted the vaguest chance of being able to climb Wayna Picchu. They only let 200 of those that enter Machu Picchu climb Wayna at 7am and 10am therefore there is quite a race to get to the ticket booth first. Everyone wants the 10am slot as the views are clearer so 3 of us from the group root marched it up to Machu Picchu at 4am. Its disgusting as I was literally drenched in sweat, it was so humid even at that time, but we made it up the approx. 1000 steps in 40 mins and were in the first 30 to join the queue. It was well worth the effort as the overview of Machu Picchu from Wayna is incredible. It was a very surreal experience actually being somewhere which you have seen 100´s of photos off but it was even better than I had imagined and a lot less touristy than I feared, you could still have your own space looking around.

So I have just arrived in Lima to get my flight home, a very strange feeling! The bus company took a lot of precautions for the night bus journey, videoing each person that entered the bus, where they sat, and taking your fingerprint. I felt like a criminal but I guess it works to make the journey safer. I probably would have felt better if the driver had just taken the corners a little slower!

So a final thank you for reading! See you soon,

Love Becks xxx

Posted by TEAMNORRIS 10:15 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Flying Down Rocks and Having Rocks Flying At You

La Paz to Puno (Bolivia and Peru)

sunny 14 °C

Please do not let the stories that you have heard about Bolivia put you off from visiting La Paz, just VISIT, there is so much to see and it is such a vibrant city. I didn´t feel unsafe at all during my stay there, I obviously didn´t wonder down quiet streets at night by myself, and the Bolivians were really helpful. La Paz has many pretty plazas, the Plaza Pedro D Murillo bordered by the grand Cathedral and Palacio Legislativo, only slightly ruined by the hundreds of flying rats that it is home to. I understand that pigeons are hard to get rid off but I do not understand why people would encourage them, buy them food or in the case of one crazy lady cover herself in bird feed so she looks like the man in Home Alone. They also hinder your ability to get away from the persistent masked shoe shine boys that don´t really take "No, Gracias" for an answer and think that you are interested when you are actually trying to keep your boots clean by not squashing any birds. There are also some good diverse museums, the Museo de Coca providing a great insight into the use of the coca leaf, historically to the present day cocaine trade. I didn´t realise that at first many condemned the chewing of coca until research showed that it increased a slaves endurance to work, put it to some good use. At the end of the day, once I pulled myself away from the many more craft stalls that had even more variety in the Witches Market, I headed to Miradar Laokakota for a great view of the city. Although the actual viewing point is closed until September I am quite sure that by climbing up the railing the view is just as good.

It was then time to put my skills on a bike to the test, I do not use a bike very often, and ride down The World´s Most Dangerous Road. After a 45 minute drive we were kitted out at the top with out stylish high-vis jackets, gloves and goggles. We were then given our mountain bikes, mine was called "Bart" and told to give them a try. The high quality suspension and breaks actually put me off balance at first however once we started to move downhill I was very appreciative of them. The first section is on tarmac, and although in some ways less dangerous you have to contend with far more Bolivian drivers that could make it easier for you. It was then on the gravel, contained by a steep cliff edge, and down the WMDR. You felt a lot more likely to fall off your bike on this longer section and knew that if you did you would be in a lot more danger. It took me a while to build up my confidence but once I had I really didn´t want to stop and would have liked a few more challenging corners. It was a little off putting being shown where people have died and I was impressed that with one van that fell 3/4 people survived, 2 of these children. It was also a little creepy that the 1st and 3rd cyclist to die on the route were both Iranian girls that died on the same day. At the end, once my arms were sufficiently achy to need a rest, shower and food we stopped at the Sante Verde wildlife sanctuary. They like to keep cage use to a minimum so you would wonder around and a spider money would jump on you, or a squirrel monkey would be playing by the pool. Feeling refreshed it was then the scariest part of the day, the bus ride back up the WMDR. There were a few points where I was quite worried and felt very out of control, the driver pulled up so close to the edge to show us where Jeremy Clarkson had tried to overtake in Top Gear that I couldn´t see any solid ground beneath the wheels. I guess it´s good to raise your heart rate every once in a while and I finished my day off in style. Visiting "Bits and Cream" I had one of those meals that makes you smile, loads of ice cream mixed with cookies, chocolate, sauces etc. They had to make it by torch light as there was a power cut as soon as I arrived but it went down so well.

I had wanted a relaxing journey to Cuzco the next day, a direct bus ticket had been booked, however due to issues at the border I could only go as far as Copacabana (Bolivia) and try and find my own way across. With time limited I needed to move north so arrived in Copacabana hopeful that there would be a bus waiting. No bus but there was a boat, they were blocking roads but not water, so it seemed that I could easily make my way to Cuzco. That was until we got to the border and were greeted by many defeated looking individuals who could not get their passport stamped. It seemed that we could not get a stamp out of Bolivia as we could not get one into Peru. It soon became clear why, at the border were many protesters throwing rocks (not stones), waving sticks and holding catapults. When it seemed that hope was lost however the police finally seemed to take control and move the protesters on. We now had stamps but the mob had moved in the direction of the boats so our guide had to lead us through peoples gardens and fields to find us a new spot where we could get on board. I felt like some kind of hideaway but we obviously didn´t do a very good job. The protesters were soon with us but this time the tour guides had slipped the police some cash to keep them further away. They were still not completely in control as they had to send the boat away again to calm the mob down but soon the boat met us on the shore line and we climbed aboard. It all seemed very straight forward from there, that was until darkness set over Lake Titicaca and our boat broke down in the middle of it. Actually broken down is the wrong word to use as it makes it sound inevitable, like the tour company couldn´t have predicted it. In actual fact the boat ran out of petrol so in order for us to get to shore we tried to attract another boat using torch light. This was obviously not amazingly effective and therefore the 3 hour boat trip took 5. Yet we did make it to land, easily purchase a night bus to Cuzco and I have arrived in time to experience a bit of Peru before my trek, but it was a truely stressful Bolivian /Peruvian experience!

Posted by TEAMNORRIS 05:48 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

It's getting cold up here, so put on all your clothes!

San Pedro and Uyuni. Chile and Bolivia

sunny 10 °C

Final stop in Chile, San Pedro de Atacama, and it was nice to soak up a bit of sun. A drastic change from Santiago with many hut like buildings rather than skyscrapers and an unbelievable amount of dust rather than smog, there was a real small town feel to the place. I spent a good few hours sitting on the benches in the Plaza de Armas reading my book, I highly recommend Memoirs of a Geisha, and doing a spot of people watching. I also popped into the church alongside the plaza that really does sound like it will fall down with every step that you take inside it, the creaking echoing around the entire structure. After a good bit of relaxing it was then time for some action so I headed out with a group to go sandboarding in Death Valley.

I would love to take up sandboarding as a hobby but I don't think the environment of the UK will allow me to. By my second run I managed to not fall over, however before the correct technique was explained to me I pulled off a spectacular face plant into the dune followed by a few rolls. It really doesn't matter, it's such a soft landing, however if sand getting everywhere irritates you then I don't suggest sandboarding, or just make sure you never fall. By the end of the boarding I was picking up quite a good pace and turning etc. however you really wanted to make each run last as long as possible as it was hell walking back to the top of the dunes. A heavy board and boiling sun does not make for easy climbing. From Death Valley we then went to the Moon Valley for the most spectacular sunset accompanied by a few pisco sours. The variety of colours that the setting sun produced on the background of the mountains and volcanoes was pretty unbelievable and they altered with each minute. The climb back down the Moon Valley was a little dangerous with no lights etc. however this created the perfect setting to walk through the caves to then gaze at the stars. I got a lot of help so that I could spot the different stars, no matter how many times Stew explains I never remember, and it was quite refreshing to see how much more beautiful the world can be at times when you remove human influence. It was then nice to go out for a few drinks with some people from the tour however I did what I was warned not to do, have several Pisco Sours, which are not great for your stomach in large quantities.

This meant that for once I was not wide awake and ready to go for my 7am tour start the next day, and it earned me the name of Pisco from the French couple on the trip for the entire tour. I guess it beats the different versions of Rebecca. Heading into Bolivia I had to deal with another immigration office however it couldn't have been more different to the last, a little hut where there was one official and he changed desks to stamp your passport depending on if you were arriving or departing from the country. This meant that getting into Bolivia only took 10 mins rather than 2 hours and we were soon at Laguna Blanca. If I had known about the lack of hot water for the next few days I may have stayed longer in the hot springs however 15 minutes was enough to enjoy a soak and it is certainly the nearest thing to a bath that I have had in the last couple of months. We then made our way to the Geysers where you were surrounded by the lovely aroma of rotting eggs. Yet once you could ignore the smell you could get quite close to the white and blue thick liquid powerfully bubbling away inside them. Unlike most tours I have been on we were surprisingly well fed with Colque Tour Group so after a nice cooked lunch we then arrived at our final destination for the day, Laguna Colorado. I wish the photos I have taken could capture this lake however they will only give a snap shot of the red water surrounded by yellow rocks that were both dotted with flamingos.

When the tour guide said basic accommodation she meant basic, and at nearly 5000m above sea level not having heating makes a big difference even if you do have coca tea to help you keep warm and acclimatize. To be fair to them, they did have a fire burning until 10pm, however when the temperature drops to minus 12 in the night the flames are a distant memory. I wore to bed that night nearly every item of clothing that I had with me however I was still aware of the cold and I don't really like sleeping in my coat, gloves and hat etc. I think we were all relieved to get up and out in the morning into the vaguely warmer van. Mario, our driver, tried to lighten our mood with a few of his Bolivian tapes. These were really fun at first however the 2 tapes that he had contained about 3 songs each and they played on repeat continuously for the next two days, I can still hum the tune now. Day 2 of the tour was really a Lake Day and we had great fun trying to see how far we could walk over the frozen water until we could hear cracking sounds and had to swiftly make our way back. Visiting the train cemetery also provided a good climbing frame, these abandoned due to the switch from coal to gas.

For the final day of our tour we left Uyuni to visit the nearby village where they process the salt from the salt flats. Seeing a four year old boy helping bag salt with his family really brought you down to earth, the reality of families working just to live, knowing that if they do not make any money then there is not a welfare system for them to fall back on. The market stalls were amazing and I had to stop myself from buying all of the goods that they produce, the colours and fabrics are just so lively and you really can't begrudge the prices. My main restriction is obviously my rucksack. The final point of the trip, and by far the most breathtaking, were the salt flats, the Salar de Uyuni. A never ending 12,000 sq. km. expanse of glistening white crystals only broken by a few volcanoes and the cactus island that we had a very surreal picnic on. We of course couldn't resist trying to create some of the famous pictues, using the white background, to look like we were standing on each other etc. The only testing part of this was that it was a very bumpy journey in the 4X4 back across the flats which does not help when you have a very full bladder.

Saying that it was not nearly as bumpy as the night bus to La Paz, where there wasn't a toliet on board and you felt that you were sitting on one of those massage chairs that had lost control. But it did the job and I am now in the Capital to experience a bit of city life Bolivian style.

Posted by TEAMNORRIS 18:17 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

You shall not defeat me Puyehue Volcano!

Bariloche and Santiago (Chile!)

semi-overcast 10 °C

So I have finally made it over the Andes and into Chile, but quite a few days later than I had originally intended. This is due to the fact that the highly inconsiderate Puyehue Volcano decided to erupt for the first time in 51 years and block my passage across the border. I was on a coach going from Bariloche to Puerto Montt (Chile), at the time, when the bus had to stop and turn around. I however, speaking very little Spanish, did not know what was going on until a kind nun came up to me to explain that the volcano was active and it was too dangerous to continue. The drive towards the Andes had been beautiful with crisp green trees and blue tinted water, however the return involved looking at the same shapes all in different shades of grey- the ash was falling. When finally we got off the bus I started to get covered in what seemed to be sticky hail, the bits landing on me only getting bigger as I tried to navigate myself to a hostel, (there were no taxis available), in the thick, grey, rubbley snow. I must have been quite a sight when I finally arrived at the hostel as the owner made me give her all of my clothes so she could wash them at the house for me, very kind, and then hoovered my rucksack. We were then all told by the hostel to only go outside if we needed to and to cover our noses and mouths, the locals were wearing masks, as they had not determined how toxic the eruption was yet.

The next morning I woke up to a very grey and dusty Bariloche and was told that the border was still not open into Chile, along with the airport being shut etc. A few thousand people had been evacuated from the area due to the red alert and the volcano had created a column of gas 6 miles high and 3 miles wide, following earthquakes with an average of 230 tremors per hour. The photos are pretty impressive, worth having a google. I then decided that rather than waiting it out in Bariloche I would start to move north in Argentina and make the crossing from Mendoza into Santiago. The bus ride to Mendoza was very creepy as, due to the ash, it became pitch black at lunch time as we were driving out of Bariloche. After an hour of darkness however we were back up to a good speed and hurtling towards our destination. Although the Volcano created another barrier, as the border was not open at Mendoza, I had an impromptu stay in the city for the night and then finally made my way over the Andes.

What an amazing coach journey, approaching the snow capped Andes towering over your passage majestically. Another one of those moments when you have to stop taking pictures, thinking that this view has to be the best view so far, and just make yourself sit back and take it all in. The immigration point into Chile took forever to get through, about 2 hours in total, and I can tell you this- This border crossing is not the place that you would even attempt to take drugs through. You should see how they react over an apple in someones bag so I can´t imagine what they would do if the dogs running all over your stuff stopped at your bag. We did however finally all make it through and onto the bus for a few more hours to Santiago. I greatly respect punctuality, and like that the driver wanted to get us into Santiago as quickly as possible, however I did not feel that this aim warranted his overtaking of lorries as we were speeding down the narrow roads that were twisting themselves down the mountain side. A little bit nerve wracking but then the roads will only get worse as I move into Bolivia and Peru.

My time in Santiago was jam packed and I managed to avoid visiting the usual museums by going on a great informal tour of the city. Although we obviously covered the historical buildings such as the Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago and the Palacio de la Moneda y Alredeclares we also got taken to some of the regular but less talked about haunts of the locals- "Cafe With Legs." These are coffee shops where they ensure that each male is served their coffee by a woman in a very short skirt who will talk to them for a while. The guide said this ensured that the men went to work with a smile on their faces! I am sure it does but firstly most of them are married, cant their wife/parter/girlfriend do that for them, and if not then maybe take a look at that relationship. Secondly what about the many women gong to work each day, who is there to ensure that they go to work with a smile on their faces? But after seeing the Chilean men I would not want them anywhere near my drink topless. And dont think that is all, no, some places have taken the idea of "Cafe With Legs" and have adapted it to what must be "Cafe With Bikinis." These are not hidden down some dark street either, but in the middle of the commercial area so that all the men going to work can get a drink served to them by a woman in their underwear. We were walking past at 10am to see the men stroll in for their morning drink and a leer, probably wishing with all of their heart that "Happy Minute" would come any time soon. What is this "Happy Minute" I hear you ask, and I am sure that quite a few of you reading this wish that these were part of your daily lives, it is when a bell is rung and for one minute the women take all of their clothes off to dance on your table. It does not happen very often but does happen. Having seen the women inside they are certainly not the ones on the posters and you would have to be pretty desperate to find them attractive, but then I suppose that is why strip clubs are so popular. And also possibly because these men feel that they have the right to see naked women all of the time because of their high paying job that pulls them into the city and the cafe just happens to be conveniently placed. Wow a bit of a rant but I am finished.........let me continue...........

I also went up the San Cristobal Hill and luckily, because it had rained the evening before, the smog had lifted so I had some great views of the city with the backdrop of the Andes looking like clouds surrounding it. An amazing sight only improved by the pisco sour that I had, a great lemony/sugary/egg white drink that both the Chileans and Peruvians lay claim to. I must try it in Peru as it is meant to fluffier, very different in some cases- I will let you know. This was also followed up with a well deserved ice cream which I was going to be adventurous with at first. However after trying the Rosa ice cream I decided it really did taste as roses would if you ate the petals of them, so as you can guess, I opted for the dulce de leche.

A great couple of days in Santiago but I must move North again, chasing the sun.

Posted by TEAMNORRIS 05:41 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Scuba diving with Sea Lions, Seals, Whales and Penguins

Puerto Madryn (Argentina)

semi-overcast 3 °C

You must go to Puerto Madryn is the message that I would like you to all take from this blog- if you´re bored already then please feel free to stop reading now. It has been so nice to spend a few days away from the city, with it´s museums and galleries, and just experience an environment that we do not have at home. Yes it´s a lot colder and I have put thermals, hats, scalves, gloves, coats etc, to good use, but you just don´t get the opportunity at home to wake up in the morning and head to the beach to sit and watch the whales. On my first morning I saw between 5-10 southern Right Whales and they came so close to the shore due to the beach being so steep. Annoyingly my camera just didn´t react quick enough to take many good photos, however that was probably a good thing as it made me just sit and watch the show with my eyes rather than through a lens. Although you obviously didn´t see the full 15 meters of whale at any point, just watching them dip in and out of the water, flashing a thin perhaps, was amazing. As I was watching the whales a group of 12 penguins then swam past, although heading in the wrong direction. They shouldn´t really be there at the moment, it´s a bit too southern for them, so hopefully they´ll turn around soon. You had to stop yourself from following them and trying to chase them along the beach as you were really fighting and loosing battle. They can swim a lot faster than you can run along a stony beach, so you just had to make yourself stand and wait to see them again.

That afternoon I then went with a guide to Pta. Ninfas to sit with about 30 elephant seals- you need to sit with them so as not to seem threatening. If you do scare them then they waste their energy by moving around, and they obviously don´t have enough energy otherwise they would be out swimming in the sea. They are huge, some males getting up to 4 tonnes, and it looks like a lot of effort for them to move around, only using their front flippers to drag their bellies across the beach. They also have such massive eyes and stare at you why they make noises that sound like belching. Elephant seals are surprisingly hairy and what I didn´t realise, until sitting with them, is that their flippers have little fingers with nails and when they scratch themselves it looks very human. They didn´t seem that put out by us sitting there, however the male sea lions were very quick to move away- they can move a lot faster as they use their back and front flippers.

My final activity with the wildlife of Puerto Madryn was to go scuba diving with the sea lions, they were pups so nowhere near as large as the males I had seen the day before, but still pretty robust. I´ve only been scuba diving once before, so it took me a little while to get used to the breathing etc., but after that I was completely distracted from the fact I was 7m underwater due to the many sea lions surrounding me. You don´t play with the sea lions, they play with you, nudging you, playfully biting you and tugging your wetsuit. It was great to swim alongside them as they twirled around you or holding them until they bounded off again, I just want to do it again now. It was such a privilege to be able to go into their home, into the sea, and see them all together naturally rather than entering something that is man-made. I was very cold when leaving the water but we made our second dive into a ship wreck. This allowed me to practice my diving a bit more as there were obstacles to contend with and holes to get through. The other guy that did the dive with me got stuck at one point, and I found it funny that this panicked me, who could move freely, nearly as much as it worried him. In a few seconds the instructor was there however to unhook him from a bit of the wreck and we were on our way back to the surface.

Next stop- Chile! I hope there will not be any obstacles..................

Posted by TEAMNORRIS 13:25 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

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