Argentina again before home!

Argentina: 15th – 27th February, 2013

The last blog about the trip will be a joint effort. It seems fitting and it is also essential because we were doing separate things most days.

Buenos Aires: 15th – 16th February, 2013

Chris: I was good to be back in Buenos Aires. We stayed in Palermo again, so the streets were familiar and it was a good feeling. On our first day back we went for a wander around the local area. It was hot and I discovered how tiring it can be to walk around on crutches. The arms are so used to being carried around all day, not doing the carrying around. This meant that I got tired and so started leaning on my sticks too much, applying pressure to the nerves under my arms and ending up with tingly/numb fingers!  Back in the hostel it was time for a bit of internet research. A couple of useful articles and Youtube videos later and I was able to set my crutches to the correct height and knew the golden rule – don’t lean on them!!

We had a restaurant recommendation to check out so the helpful people in the hostel made us a reservation and we headed over to Green Bamboo, a Vietanmese restaurant. Funnily enough our table ended up being on the floor! The waitress was concerned that it would be a problem for me, but it turned out ok because it was easier to keep my leg straight slightly elevated – perfect! The food was tasty too.

Sarah: I’d never seen anyone sweat quite as much as Chris after crutching around the 5 block square area in Palermo in the 30 degree humidity going to the cash point and finding a laundrette. After that any group excursions were limited to a 2 block radius, or I did supply runs and Chris stayed in the hostel which was the prettiest hostel we’d stayed in, with plenty of floral, pink patterns and fun ornaments decorating the place- there was a fashion shoot going on one afternoon in the lobby.

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Mar del Plata: 17th – 22nd February, 2013

Sarah: Mar del plata was a last minute addition instead of going to Uruguay as it was easier to get to and claimed to be a big surf spot in Argentina. The hostel owner in Trindade, Brasil gave us plenty of tips on where the best beaches were and what to do in the area as it was his home town. Unfortunately we’d already booked the surf lessons before Chris broke his foot but we were able to cancel Chris’ without having to pay anything! I was a bit nervous joining in the class on my own but the tutors Marco and Toby were very good and I met some friendly people in my class and got to practice my Spanish as well as surfing! The surf school was super professional with everyone in matching cocoa cola and ripcurk sponsored rash vests. We started each lesson with a run up and down the beach, group stretches and plenty of dry land paddling and pop-up practice. I will never be able to forget the drill words remando & arriba (paddling & up)!

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We were lucky enough to have 2 amazing Norwegian ladies join us in our dorm at the surf hostel, who were doing surf lessons for a week before moving to New York for 3 months to attend dance school. We had a great time lounging on the beach in between surf classes and getting to know some of the other students in our class most of whom were from Argentina and were super happy to share their mate and local sweets with us, even if I did steal the Falkland Islands (Las Malvinas)! I popped back to the hostel a few times during the days to see what Chris was up to. Luckily our 1 block radius had plenty of cafes and restaurants and shops so Chris could feed himself while I was down on the beach!

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Chris: So way back in Colombia we met some Argentinians and I happened to mention that I was an F1 fan and that I hadn’t seen anything related to the five time world champion – Juan Manuel Fangio. Happily (as far as I was concerned) they were able to tell me that there was a museum dedicated to him in his home town of Balcarce, an hour and a half down the road from Mar del Plata and our true motive for going there.

During our stay in Mar del Plata we stayed in two different hostels and both did their utmost to ensure that my stay was a comfortable and easy as possible. The Che Legarto was amazing because it had a lift, so getting to our spacious first floor dorm. room was easy. Then for the second and third nights of our stay they moved us to a ground floor private room which was again spacious and comfortable. The reception area also had a lounge area that was comfortable and three computers that seemed moderen and worked well. I really enjoyed our stay there.

Getting to the Fangio museum involved a short taxi to the bus station, a bus and then another taxi in Balcarce. Easy, even on crutches. Having previously looked at the museum’s website I knew that there were a large number of cars on display, along with numerous other artifacts and trophies. There was also an English audio guide! Due to me being on crutches we started at the end of the dispaly on level 3 and made our way down towards the beginning so it was a little back to front chronologically, but it made it easier for me.

I really enjoyed the museum, there were lots of cars important to the history of Fangio and another couple important to the history of F1, (a Prost Renault and a Senna McLaren) the audio guide was informative and the shop was good too. We bought a Fangio Thermos flask and T-shirt! I was happy hopping around looking at the old cars and other interesting items. Sarah really enjoyed the chairs in the museum as they were comfy and it was pretty quiet, so she was able to catch up on a lot of reading while I was hopping around.

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Buenos Aires: 23rd – 26th February, 2013

Sarah: I continued my girly days of Mar del plata spending time with Lucy and Anna from our hostel, rediscovering San Telmo and La Boca districts, enjoying sangria, tango performances and the blistering sun. I also got to meet up with some of the Argentinian gals from surf school as they had returned to BA after their surf holiday and felt a little bit like a local hanging out in Plaza Serrano, the Alto Palermo shopping centre and drinking mate in the hostel with our new friends!

Chris: So apart from going out to get food, I pretty much stayed on the couch in the hostel all day, every day. I developed a favourite spot that offered everything that I needed in terms of comfort and also a plug socket to allow me to plug in the laptop and surf the ‘net for most of the day. When I wasn’t surfing the ‘net I was reading, so it was a pretty tough routine.

Time to go home…

Sarah: Ending our journey in the city we started with great weather and lovely people was a perfect ending. The only downside was Chris’ lack of mobility, and despite the freezing weather waiting to greet us back in the UK we almost wished we were going back a few days earlier as the thought of re-acclimatising, moving back to London and getting ready for work  in just 4 days felt daunting.

Chris: So the time had arrived where all that remained to do on our trip was to write a message on Facebook thanking everyone we had met for helping to make the trip amazing and telling everyone back home how much we were (or weren’t) looking forward to coming back, but were looking forward to seeing them again! That and get to the airport and catch our flight home. Getting to the airport was fine and when I got there I had arranged a wheel chair so we were able to jump the queue at security, but I had to be taken to a special X-ray machine where I stood on a conveyor belt and was moved through the machine to make sure that I wasn’t faking it and had something contraband hidden inside my cast! Thankfully they let me on the plane and we made it back to the cold, grey UK without too much discomfort. The in flight movie selection was good, so the time flew by (ha ha).

The trip was amazing. We met so many lovely people, had the chance to do so many fun (and at times crazy) activities, go to so many beautiful places and eat some lovely food. It was fantastic. It felt like how life should be lived.

Sarah and Chris: Travelling. We’d recommend it!

Brazil – beautiful and tasty!

Brazil: 24th January – 14th February 2013

Chris here to tell you all about our adventures in Brazil.

Rio de Janeiro: 24th – 28th January 2013

So when we arrived in Rio, boy were we excited! We were in Brazil! One of the most notable first impressions was the heat which was sweltering – a promising start!

As it was the run up to carnival there was a party atmosphere in Rio and plenty of events and street parades happening. There was also a free outdoor gig in the Lapa district, but half of Rio had decided to turn up so the crowd was densely packed. We instead found Caipirinha’s in the street and a bar with a live band playing rock covers that suited us just fine.

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Coming to Rio we had to go and visit JC on his hill and Sugar Loaf mountain. Both cost quite a hefty whack to do, but do afford you impressive views of the city and both views are different. When we went to visit JC it was nice ‘n’ sunny, but alas very busy, even though we got up early to beat the crowds. Sugar Loaf has much more room to move around but we were unfortunate to visit on a slightly  cloudy day, so Rio wasn’t shining in the sun.

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We were also unlucky with the weather when we visited the famous Ipanema and Copacabana beaches because it was again cloudy. The beaches were also quite dirty and we would find better ones later on in Brazil, but they were still much better than anything that London has to offer and there was a stall selling tasty sandwiches to provide an energy boost! From our time in Rio I imagine that living in a city with beaches must be great!

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We also went to have a look around a couple of favela’s too. We weren’t really sure what to expect, but as the guide described it, the people might be poor and living conditions cramped, but it wasn’t misery. And it sure was cramped with people living in very close proxomity to each other. It certainly put into perspective how good we have it in the UK!

Being a huge Formula 1 fan, I was sad to learn that the Nelson Piquet circuit in Rio was destroyed at the end of 2012 to make way for facilities for the 2016 Olympics, so there’d be no going to watch some local motorsport there, which I had hoped to be able to do.

Wandering around the district of Santa Teresa in the hillside was an enjoyable afternoon and showed a different side of the city – you could completely forget that it was Rio, it was so different.

Food wise we were able to try lots of tasty dishes. We tried Feijoada which is a kind of stew with beans and pork and the one that we had was lovely. We also tried Brigadeiro which is tasty choclate in a form similar to truffles. Brazilians also like lots of small snack type dishes that could typically be beef or chicken with potato and covered in breadcrumbs. These were tasty and cheap!

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Ilha Grande: 29th – 30th January 2013

When we were planning the Ilha Grande part of the trip we hadn’t quite factored in how long the boat ride to get there took and the fact that there were only a few boats per day, so our time there was somewhat limited. The short time that we did have though, we made good use of.

As it was raining on the first night, Sarah and I found a bar to take shelter in and decided to take pictures of each other and watch a plastic tub fill with water. Later on there was a man playing guitar and singing and it was mainly indie covers, so we quite enjoyed that.

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Ilha Grande is another place where you have to earn the rewards that it has to offer. We made the two hour walk to Lopes Mendes beach and weren’t disappointed by it. The quality of the sand was fantastic, it was that really fine sand that squeaks underneath your feet as you walk on it and doesn’t get everywhere. Sadly the sea was a bit disappointing because the strong currents meant that the red flags and no swimming signs were out. Still, it was fun going into the water to get bashed about by the waves for a little bit before getting a boat back (walking the two hours once was enough).

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In the afternoon we walked an hour in the opposite direction out of town, this time heading to see a waterfall. The walk was pretty uphill, downhill and pretty slippy thanks to the recent rain, so we were glad to have our walking boots on! We made it to the waterfall and it was really pretty. There were only about four other people there when we arrived and when they left we had the place to ourselves. We each enjoyed a shower in the waterfall with the cascading water proving to have a very massaging and relaxing effect. Suitably refreshed we walked back to our hostel, sadly there was no boat option for the return journey this time.

Paraty: 31st January – 1st February 2013

Paraty has a lovely town centre that has cobbled streets that are closed to cars (the cobbles and huge and the roads lumpy bordering on extremely dangerous if you’re not looking where you are going) and we enjoyed a wander around the shops there.

We decided to do some kayaking (having put in the practice way back in Chile) and spent a nice day visiting a couple of nearby islands and their beaches. We also had a tasty lunch on the beach at a third stop where we also had time to frolic in the huge mud patch at the end of the beach which was great fun! Sadly it was again a little cloudier than we would’ve liked, but despite that and despite wearing sun block I still managed to get a couple of pretty nasty patches of sun burn.

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To help relieve the pain we found some pretty lethal 700ml caipirinha’s to enjoy with the group of friendly people that we had met at our hostel and soon the sun burn was all but forgotten about.

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Trindade: 2nd – 3rd February 2013

Trindade was certainly one of the highlights of Brazil. It was a relaxing town with a great vibe and it nestled in amongst some of the most beautiful beaches. We stayed at Samblumba hostel which was really like staying in your friends house. The owners were so friendly and helpful and it was a fantastic place to stay, they even let me watch the Superbowl through their projector which was ace!

In the nearby hills, about a 15 minute walk from town was the “Stone that swallows” which is a waterfall that you can slide through. It’s a little bit unsettling going through the waterfall on your first attempt because of the slide into the unknown that you have to make, but once you have tried it you realise that it isn’t that much of a big deal. It’s fun! The weight of the water coming down onto you as you go through is impressive to feel.

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Trindade had some beautiful beaches and we enjoyed a fine meal on the beach of Praia do Meio (our favourite beach) while watching the afternoon sun drop in the sky. There was also live music in the streets to enjoy in the evening and a few beachside bars and clubs, where even a power cut didn’t spoil the party!

Sao Paulo: 4th – 5th February 2013

Sao Paulo has a bit of a bad reputation, but because it hosts the F1 I was prepared to give it a quick couple of days before we moved on towards Florianopolis.

I was glad that we did because among other things we discovered some lovely brigadeiro cake! The first impressions of Sao Paulo were good. The man at the bus station tourist information point was super friendly and enthusiastic about answering our questions and providing us with useful information. I know that it is part of his job, but he was a perfect example of how all tourist information workers should be.

Sao Paulo has a thriving graffiti scene having given over a large area to urban art. We spent an enjoyable couple of hours wandering up Av. Cruzeiro do Sul admiring the works that have covered the concrete columns that support a road overhead. We even saw a car crash while we were there and thankfully no one was hurt!

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Another enjoyable couple of hours was spent enjoying the Ibirapuera park where we hired cycles and did a couple of laps of the park.

Florianopolis: 6th -10th February 2013

Florianopolis is an island which has 42 beaches to choose from, so plenty of choice. We stayed in two different hostels, the first of which was a mere 200 metres away from the beach – perfect. We managed to get down there for a couple of surf lessons with the friendly Thor who managed the impossible and helped both Sarah and I to stand up on a surfboard for the first time! Yey! It’s such a great feeling!

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Sadly it was also very rainy while we were in Florianopolis so we did get extremely wet one day when we made the trip into the town of Florianopolis. I learnt the hard way that my hard shell did a great job of keeping my body dry, but made the water run down and get my shorts saturated – not comfortable! Sarah fared much better with her umbrella.

Thankfully it did stay dry on the Saturday night when we again went into town, this time for the carnival celebrations, which turned out to be a lot of fun. The town was turned into a big party, with lots of roads closed and turned over to the townsfolk. It quickly became apparent that tradition also dictated that the men dress up as women because most of them were, which was pretty funny. There was also a street parade which we managed to join and while we were waiting around for it to start we met a man with a drum who let us have a go. It was pretty hard actually and I wasn’t very good, but it was fun trying!

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Foz do Iguassu: 11th -13th February 2013

Thanks to a good tip from some friends that we made on our travels, we were staying in a camper van in a hostel garden in Foz which was certainly different and fun!

Thankfully, as it all turned out, we decided to visit the Argentinian side of the falls first then the Brazilian side the day after. For the Argentinian side the hostel offered a day trip with a man who they worked with to drive you across the borders, to the park and then the return journey and he was brilliant! There ended up being a group of six of us in total, two fellow Brits and a couple from America. We went around the park together, taking the fun boat ride that took us right into the heart of the falls, taking a trip over to the island in the middle of the falls and then taking the train and the walk out to see The Devil’s Throat. Thankfully the weather cooperated and it was a beautifully sunny day which meant that the pictures looked better and we could see the falls in all of their spectacular glory. The Devil’s Throat is incredible, it really is!

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The next day the weather didn’t cooperate and it was pouring with rain, so we donned boardshorts and rain coats and made our way regardless. It was still good to see the falls from the Brazilian side because you could take in the scale of them more easily from a distance and with it raining it was probably quieter than it would have been in the dry, but lets face it, the photo’s would’ve looked better in the sun and no one likes spending the day in the rain.

We also managed to get a place on one of the technical tours of the nearby Itaipu Hydroelectric dam which was really interesting. The dam was a joint project between Paraguay and Brazil and it was really impressive to see. The scale and the size of the project was huge! You get to see inside the plant on the technical tour including a look at the rather dated looking control room and we thoroughly enjoyed it. There was a funny moment when they let us off the bus on the road overlooking the reservoir because the rain was still pouring down and there was quite a wind also. Sarah and I were eager to see it though and so jumped off the bus. Sadly we hadn’t really factored in how soaked we were going to get and so spent the rest of the tour drying out. Thankfully inside the plant it was pretty warm, so it didn’t take all that long and didn’t stop us enjoying the tour.

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With all of that done we had ticked off all of the big “must sees”  from our list. This was a good job because while we were in Foz I managed to to break a bone in my foot. I have since learnt that both Beckham and Rooney have suffered from similar injuries while playing football and that it is quite a common injury among footballers. Sadly, I didn’t do it playing football, or anything exciting at all. I took a fall down two steps in a restaruant that I completely didn’t see and so stacked it in front of everyone. I quickly picked myself up and tried to style it out and make it over to our table that we were being showed to. I took a seat and ordered a drink to try to take away the pain, but it swelled up and when I tried to walk back to the hostel it gave a lot of pain. I knew then that a trip to hospital was going to be needed. Thankfully the guy at the hostel reception offered to come with us because he knew where to go and spoke both Potuguese and English so was invaluable for translating. The emergency clinic that we went to was much better than I had feared. I was shown straight to a doctor who of course ordered an X ray. I went straight into X ray and then straight back to the doctor where he confirmed my fears and administered a pain killer (I won’t say where). I then had to take an ambulance transfer (my first ride in an ambulance) to another hospital where I would get put into a cast. All for free! It took about 3 hours in total and I was soon on my way to a 24 hour Pharmacy for some anti-inflammatory drugs and in bed (but now with my foot in a cast of course!)

The next day we had to go and buy some crutches because the hospital didn’t provide them but again the hostel receptionist (a different one) proved invaluable by taking us in his car to the orthopaedic shop where they had all manner of devices in the cabinets and a range of crutches to try. After trying several and finding a pair that suited we were good to go. That afternoon we had a bus booked to Buenos Aires, but thankfully we had decided to treat ourselves to the swanky, sleeper seats and they allowed me to keep my leg elevated and were really comfy, even with a foot in palster!

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Brazil was really beautiful, we saw some great sights, met some more lovely people, stood up on a surf board, broke a bone and most importantly had some really tasty food! The only thing that we could’ve asked for was a little less rain, but that was our fault really for going in the rainy season (and maybe not breaking a bone either)!

Colombia es pasion!

Colombia: January 2nd – 23rd 2013

Bogota: 2nd – 3rd January 2013

Bogota, our sixth capital city and by now, they were starting to all look the same. Bogota did have the Bogota Beer Co. from where we enjoyed a tasty pint / cocktail and embarked upon an unsuccessful attempt to witness something a bit different that is on offer in Bogota – Cock fighting. When we got to the venue it was closed and appeared deserted so I was rather surprised when I got an answer to knocking on the door. The somewhat scary looking man helpfully told us to come back on Friday. It was just a shame that we had already booked our flights out of Bogota for Friday. Oh well.

One highly recommended attraction of the city was the Gold Museum, but Sarah and I didn’t take a shine to it, finding the endless displays a little repetitive and tedious. There was an interesting video reconstructing how some of the artifacts were made that we enjoyed, but otherwise it wasn’t our cup of tea really.

But there were some enjoyable highlights. We had a great time wandering around the free Botero museum. Botero is a Colombian artist with a penchant for the rotund and this free exhibition of over 100 pieces was set in a beautiful building and was an amusing and pleasant use of a couple of hours.

We also enjoyed the Bogota graffiti tour. A sunny afternoon spent wandering around the Candelaria region of the city with a friendly guide and group of people admiring the works of Pez, Nomada, Rodez, Crisp (the tour’s founder), Toxicamano, DJ LU and others. There were some truly amazing pieces of work and it was a pleasure to learn a little about them and their creators.

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Thirdly, we took the ride up to the top of the hill overlooking the city. We went at night time and with it being close enough to Christmas there were still lots of pretty lights which made the whole place more beautiful. There is also a church at the top which was beautifully lit and the view of the city was impressive.

Medellin: 4th – 7th January 2013

Sarah and I really liked Medellin from the beginning of our time there. This was in large part due to the fact that we were staying in the heart of the El Poblado neighbourhood. An upmarket area full of trendy bars, restaurants and boutique clothes shops, it was a great place to be staying. There was also a nearby Exito supermarket to get me excited where I finally found a camera to buy to replace the one  that sadly became water damaged way back in Peru.

Medellin was also the only place on our trip where we found not 2 for 1, but 3 for 1 cocktails! The place was called Thaico and it also happened to have really good food (which was also half price before 7pm) and the cocktails weren’t lacking for alcohol either. They have got it down at that restaurant and that explains why it was really busy all night long, with queues later on.

The Botero appreciation continued in Medellin (actually his home town) with a sunny morning spent in the Botero park which had about 30 sculptures made by the man himself. It was funny posing with some of the ruder sculptures, but some of the locals weren’t as Britishly prudish as us, with one oldie jumping up onto the plinth to pose with the statue of the Adam and she didn’t bat an eyelid at Adam’s display of masculinity (Adam was depicted pre apple)!

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We also managed to learn a lot about water with a trip to the water museum, where Sarah and I were able to enjoy a guided tour in English and were the only two on the tour.

From Medellin we were also able to take the 1.5 hour bus trip to nearby Guatape, a colourful, lakeside town where you can also visit El Peñol, a huge rock (that looked like a whale sticking out of the ground from a distance) that they have built a concrete staircase to the top of so that everyone can enjoy the view (which was stunning). The 700+ steps were well worth the effort! Unfortunately it was the Colombian equivalent of a bank holiday and so Guatape was teeming with people and had too few buses back to Medellin. We were back at the bus depot by around 5pm and were told that the next bus that we could buy a ticket for was at 9.45pm, so I asked a conductor if we could sit on the huge plastic island between the drivers seat and the passeger seat up front. A couple of cushions were duly produced and Sarah and I had our way back to Medellin sorted (albeit non too comfy after an extra half an hour stuck in the massive train of traffic going the same way).

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Cartagena: 8th – 10th January 2013

Cartagena has an old, colonial heart which sits within its own walled enclosure that draws a lot of visitors and while it is a nice change, making it stand out from most of the other cities of South America, Sarah and I weren’t unduly fussed by it all. That could be because we were hotly anticipating the Wednesday night Media Luna (our hostel) party, which was reputed to draw gringo’s and locals alike from all across town.

But before that we had time to get on a big boat and take a long time to get to a tiny island with an aquarium (which we chose not to visit, instead favouring the 3 metre wide beach). We then took our big boat to Playa Blanca, which is the nicest beach in the area, but if you’re going to visit I’d recomment that you stay a night and not just do a day tour. That way you’d get to enjoy the beach when all of the day trippers aren’t then, when I have heard it is quite nice. To be fair to the slow boat, they did do a good job at providing entertainment to help the journey to pass quicker, but it is anything but relaxing!

The Media Luna party turned out to be as busy as we were led to believe, but thankfully we were able to wave our wrist bands and jump the queue. There were two live bands to enjoy (the four members of the first band were actually our dorm mates), tasty cocktails and it was a fun, party atmosphere.

The highlight of Cartagena was a trip to Volcan El Totumo – a mud volcano! Visitors get to wallow in mud for a while, get a massage and then get scrubbed clean again, all being snapped by the local kids who offer photography service, each for a small fee. It was a funny feeling in the mud, moving around was difficult, but it was sadly a bit busy and some of the other people in there didn’t seem to mind kicking or bashing you in their endeavours  to move around. I felt that there was a sign needed to ask people to be aware of other people around them, but then that should be common sense! On the way back we stopped for lunch at a nice beach side restaurant and then enjoyed a walk on said beach, which was beautiful and quiet.

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Santa Marta: 11th – 12th; 14th and 19th January 2013

I would like to tell you how amazing Santa Marta was (or wasn’t) but the honest truth is that I can’t because we didn’t see it. We were staying in The Dreamer hostel which had a decent pool, served good food, had a good amount of seating, friendly staff and a nearby supermarket and so we spent all of our time at the hostel. And we enjoyed every moment! It was nice to have a swim, sit and read, have a snack and a drink and then repeat the cycle.

I tell a lie. We did visit one of the Santa Marta beaches and a bar in town when we took the Chiva bus from the hostel for a couple of hours jaunt around town with a stop at the beach, before getting back onto the bus to go to the bar. It was a brilliant party bus with enough alcohol to ensure that everyone was doing plenty of socialising, space enough to dance and the bartenders from the hostel also came along to serve the drinks. The bar was also a lot of fun and we were able to have a good dance before the night’s end.

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We loved Santa Marta and we didn’t even see it!

Taganga: 13th January 2013

Taganga is a small town over the other side of a mountain from Santa Marta which has become an increasingly popular party destination, but Sarah and I were there for one reason only – to go diving in the sea with the fishes. A little bit of wandering around later and we were signed up with Oceano Scuba Diving to do a couple of dives. The staff and instructors were friendly and relaxed, but also very professional, the equipment looked good and the boat looked sturdy (after Peru an important factor). We did two 40 minute dives up to a maximum depth of 12 metres. We saw lots of different little fishes to say hello to, which was nice, but the best bit was swimming between two huge rocks in what felt like a scene from a James Bond film. We were just missing harpoon guns.

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Despite having the pull of Babaganoush restaurant (which was very tasty) we weren’t overly enamored with our hostel or the village and so we cancelled our second night and made our way back to the sanctuary of The Dreamer for a night before making our way east to Tayrona National Park.

Tayrona National Park: 15th – 16th January 2013

Tayrona National Park certainly makes you work for your rewards. We wanted to get all the way to the furthest camping sight at El Cabo. This meant a walk of about 2 hours in the morning heat, thus ensuring that you arrive hot and sweaty. A quick dip in the sea soon has you feeling better and then you are able to appreciate the beauty of the surroundings. It is awesome. We managed to secure a hammock for the first night of our stay which we were excited about, but the fact that we changed for a tent the second night tells you all that you need to know about how much we didn’t enjoy sleeping in the hammock. It was a little chilly with the sea breeze and the cooler night temperatures and while hammocks might be comfortable for a nap, we both found that for a night’s sleep we preferred something a little firmer beneath us.

Besides the beautiful scenery, notable mention must also go to the pan chocolate which were available fresh every day and yummy! Tayrona was a beautiful, quiet place to relax for a couple of days, but we were both looking forward to our next stop which was The Dreamer in Palomino.

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Palomino: 17th – 18th January 2013

Dreamer on the beach. Palomino wasn’t originally on the destination radar, but when we rocked up to The Dreamer in Santa Marta and they told us about their Palomino sister, well, it would’ve been rude not to visit really. The hostel itself had the best pool that we were to encounter on the trip. It was huge, clean and drenched in glorious Colombian sunshine. The hostel was only a few weeks old and they were still finishing the final building and adding finishing touches elsewhere around the place, but it didn’t detract from our enjoyment. The hostel was also a stones throw from the Palomino beach, which was rustic and largely unspoilt by tourism. You could walk along or sit and relax relatively confident that you were not going to be bothered at all. Which was great! There were also some huge tyres that appeared a bit random, so we took turns to stand on top of them.

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One of the highlights of Palomino was the fact that a few fellow travelers that we had met at various points along the way also happened to rock up. This meant that along with a couple of new faces we had a group of 11 with whom to share a tranquil afternoon floating down the river with tubing. This was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon’s entertainment which started with all 11 of us squeezing into a land rover, with 11 giant rubber rings strapped to the roof. We then had a  short walk to the river and a couple of hours floating down stream. We also enjoyed a meal together at a beach restaurant where the Langostino were sublime and later we made a fire on the beach to sit around.

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Bogota: 20th – 22nd January 2013

With a flight to Rio that we didn’t want to miss, we reluctantly decided to leave the beautiful Caribbean coast behind us and head back to Bogota for a few nights to finish our time in Colombia. Cleverly we had left the Salt Cathedral (200 metres underground within the tunnels of a salt mine) to visit, so we spent a day there.

We also visited (on more than one occasion) Crepes & Waffles which is a chain of restaurants recommended to us whose menu centres around Crepes and Waffles (of course). They also had a  Panne Cook, which was a hollowed out bread loaf filled with various fillings (Stroganoff was the best) and it was always tasty (and cheap).

That was Colombia and Colombia was fantastic!

Ecuador

Vilcabamba, Ecuador – 20th to 21st December 2012

So in an effort to catch up with this, we’re going country on you! Yep, Ecuador, Colombia and Brazil will be done as one(!!) post each (although the Christmas update has helped reduce the size of the task for Ecuador and Sarah had written Vilcabamba, ready for when we got to that part of the blog) but bearing in mind how much I can write, this tactic might not actually save any time.

Sarah: I’m sitting in our hostel overlooking the stunning area that surrounds the town of Vilcabamba. The town is famed for being home to lots of exceptionally old people. There is supposedly something in the water as well as the region’s produce leading to a low fat, high fiber diet. There are billboards of old people in town in the main square- although none of them look that happy…hmm (lack of chocolate I think).

This place is the perfect antidote to the roller-coaster of the 3 bus journeys it took to get here from Peru. The first bus was late, 2.5 hrs to our first change which we missed and were shoved on another bus where the conductor said we didn’t have a valid ticket but luckily he couldn’t be bothered to fight it out. At the Ecuador border crossing we went for a little supermarket sweep challenge to see how many stamps we could get in our passports in 5 minutes, 2 from the Peruvian side, before running back to the bus, going over the bridge and then some more on the Ecuadorian side, with the bus conductor shouting at us to hurry up the whole time. We were the only gringos on the bus so were holding everyone up- for some reason everyone else on the bus seemed to have dual nationality as no-one else went through passport control. The final bus journey started with just 3 of us, on the 1.5hr bus journey from Loja to Vilcabamaba, and ended up being a full house as we picked up people on the side of the road. We made it to the hostel in good time and had to wait for reception to open, but it was just so nice to be at our lovely hostel taking in the view of the lush green tropical looking valley.

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The next stressful bit was money, we had enough cash for a day, but the only cash machine we found didn’t seem to recognise our cards and the hostel didn’t accept cards which is common. Slightly worried, we did manage to find another cash machine but we were told it often runs out of cash as it’s not filled up that often- thankfully we were able to get enough cash to get us to our next destination in a few days time, phew!

At our hostel 2km up the hill from Vilcabamba we stayed in a dorm which meant we got to meet some lovely people, Katie who had stories about the craziest people, Robyn who told us where to stay in Quito and Banos (our next stops), Jeremy who was more of a film and TV fan than us and on the last night a brother and sister who were here to take the Sacred medicine made from the San Pedro cactus under the guidance of a Shaman, much like the lady in this blog:

http://thetravelcreatives.com/my-sacred-medicine-journey-with-san-pedro-cactus-part-1/

We weren’t really into hallucinogenics or the fasting required before it so instead we enjoyed the full body massages and I got my second manicure of the trip. The hostel was brilliant for relaxing and it’s advertised all over south america.

http://www.izhcayluma.com/

There are lots of different trails to walk in the area so we wandered along the dirt roads and tiny muddy paths up the valley for a great view over Vilcabamba.

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We also wandered into town and found the town unlike any other that we’ve been to. It was like a gringo retirment village. Life was centred on the main square where juice bars, craft stores and cafes line the circumference. American English is heard more than Spanish and conversations are mostly about new age beliefs or properties in the area. We had our food, got talking to a couple of friendly gringos in a juice bar one of whom believed water could stop a nuclear bomb, so we quickly retreated up the hill to the comforts of our hammocks and new dorm friends.

It was a shame to have to leave so soon after arriving but Christmas was fast on our heels and we wanted to keep moving up through Ecuador in order to give ourselves enough time in Colombia, which everyone we’d spoken to had raved about!

Cuenca, Ecuador – 22nd December 2012

Chris: Next stop, Cuenca. Apparently a very beautiful little city, but we were really only stopping off to break up the journey from Vilcabamba to Baños. One of our roomies from Vilca, Jeremy, was also making the journey and he had noticed in our guide book that Tiesto’s the second best restaurant in the whole of South America (According to tripadvisor) was in Cuenca!! So after arriving at the bus station and being refused by several taxis a lift to the centre (apparently the traffic would be too bad!!) we walked the 15 minutes (meeting a politician on the way) and checked into our hostel. We wasted no time in getting them to ring Tiesto’s and make a reservation for us. We then wandered around the town centre for a short while before making our way to the restaurant. We were treated to some great food. Upon arrival we were given bread with about 8 different options of things to eat with it. We then shared a big plate of mixed meats (with cheese) which came with five different accompaniments and was delicious and we followed that up with a chocolate dessert. After that we walked along the main street and went for a couple of drinks in a couple of other bars before heading back to bed. Sarah and I had an early start the next day, continuing our journey to Baños.

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Baños, Ecuador – 23rd to 27th December 2012

See the live, Christmas update blog from before for details.

https://chrisandsarahrunaway.wordpress.com/2012/12/27/live-update-christmas-in-the-bath-banos-ecuador/

The brief version though is that Baños was ACE!

Looking cool!

Quito, Ecuador – 28th December 2012 to 1st January 2013!

Upon arrival we checked in and then headed straight out for a wander to see what we could find in the Oldtown part of Quito, Ecuador’s capital (and the highest altitude de facto capital city in the world – Bolivia need to make up their minds!) We saw a well decorated church and the cathedral which had a plaza out front that had an interesting photography exhibit of Ecuadoreans too. We ate at a rooftop restaurant which afforded us a great view of the city and the moon rising when it was dark. Unfortunately it got rather chilly up there too, so we headed home.

You (apparently) can’t come to Ecuador and not go to Otavalo market on a Saturday and so that is what we did. For this we signed up to the travel agent that was attached to our hostel. We were collected early and taken first to the animal market. This was an experience. We had not previously encountered any form of animal market before on our trip and so the bags of guinea pigs and chickens were a surprise. The cages of chicks were cute and I found the use of the cattle prod on a rather gaunt cow rather sad. There was a lot of hustle bustle and smell and luckily we managed to leave without buying any animals.

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Next stop was the craft market which was huge. The stalls took up many streets of the town centre and again there was a lot of hustle-bustle but thankfully less smell! This market was not really my thing. The stalls were selling goods similar to those that we had seen continuously throughout Bolivia and Peru and many of the stalls sold the same thing, so the market could have been condensed to about a dozen or less stalls and taken up less space. Sarah however was enjoying buying a few goods and seemed to like the market more than I did. We then experienced one of the downsides of taking organised tours to places – one of the ladies got lost and was about 45 minutes late coming back to the van. All the while everyone else was patiently waiting in or around the van in the sweltering heat wondering where she was and become increasingly anxious to be moving on. Next stop was a small town nearby that has dedicated itself to leather! Coats, boots, bags, shoes, purses, belts, trousers, you name it, they made it (out of leather). I don’t quite understand how quite so many shops selling leather goods in such a small town sustain themselves in the long term because no one from our van bought anything. I can only surmise that a lot of van loads of tourists must pass through in a year and not all must be as stingy (or without need of leather products) as ours. Final stop was the Peguche waterfall, which was lovely. A very tiring day but we saw a lot and ticked off another “must see”.

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One of the highlights of Quito was a day trip that we took to the Equator (or Ciudad Mitad del Mundo as they called it). We took a couple of buses to get there (it felt good to use public transport and it was cheap!) The first thing to visit was the Mitad del Mundo complex that they have built. We enjoyed a spot of star gazing in their planetarium and then admired the giant monument that they had built to celebrate where the Equator lie and took the obligatory straddling the line photo’s. Sadly, whoever worked out where the line should be got it wrong and according to GPS measurements it lies 240 metres to the North. So we went to try to find the Intiñan museum up the road where the Equator really is. Thankfully a local helped us to find it and we were not disappointed. This site was much more hands on with activities like balancing an egg on a pin, water going down plugholes in differing ways, walking along the Equator and others to try. We had a lot of fun here. I was a natural at egg balancing, but not so good at walking in a straight line. The guided tour that is compulsory was entertaining and not too long and the demonstrations provided a bit more of a scientific feel to the place – right up our street! If you ever go to the Equator, be sure to visit this place!

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A restaurant in Quito that simply must get a mention is Chandani Tandoori. As the name suggests it is indeed an Indian restaurant, but this was a South American Indian restaurant with a difference – it was actually good! The staff were friendly, the food was the most Brit style curry that we have had on the whole trip and it was super cheap. It was so good that we went twice, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day – yep it was open on both and gets bonus points for that in my opinion. Anyone travelling for a long period who is in need of a good curry would do well to make a stop here and savour the flavour of yummy curry!

Another of our days in Quito was spent by first taking a ride in the Teleférico up to the top of the nearby mountain range to get a view of the stretching city that is Quito. While it was impressive to see the city, the view was broken up into two parts by a large mountainous/hilly outcropping that appeared to have a communications station on it (lots of satellite dishes) and was private property and off limits. This did spoil the whole experience for us because you couldn’t see the whole city unbroken, so we went down and to the Cathedral. Here you are able to wander around and explore one of the main towers behind the clock faces and then the tower at the other end of the Cathedral. Exploring these was fun – small, windy Cathedral staircases always are and there were views of the city from the top that were good. We were even able to make out our hostel!

While we were in Quito it was New Year’s Eve, so we made some friends in the hostel and enjoyed a few celebratory drinks. It was the done thing to wear wigs and for the boys to dress as girls (and the locals that we saw drank a lot of Tequila!) but I decided not to (mainly because the wig stand near our hostel refused to lower the price at all and I wasn’t in the mood to pay full price). Sarah had her wig from Bolivia, so dusted it off. After a bit of partying at the hostel and eating in an Italian place opposite (amazing Calzone) we headed into the  centre of town to see what entertainment we could find. Sadly some of the bars had a weird policy of not allowing you to enter if there were no free tables (everyone must have a table) but eventually we managed to get into a place and sit at the bar. We had a good dance and at midnight headed out to see what would happen because that was the time that the locals would burn the papier mache models that they had been busy making throughout December (the bar we were in had a very good Chucky from Childs Play – classic!) and sure enough there were soon a couple of bonfires raging. Local tradition dictates that people jump through the flames. We weren’t convinced that this was the safest activity for people who had been drinking Tequila all afternoon, but none the less took our turn and burnt off all the bad spirits (or so I imagine). Then we all headed back inside and danced away until about 1am when the bar shut. WHAT??!! So, we wandered around for a while and found a mixture of closed or empty, lame looking bars and so headed home. The evening was enjoyable thanks to the good company that we found, but it felt rather curtailed which was to the benefit of our wallets and our heads, but not to our partying spirit. We imagined all the friends that we knew who were heading to Montañita having a lot more fun at some beach party and were happy for them, but we failed to find the party in Quito.

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On New Year’s Day most places were closed (though thankfully not Chandani Tandoori) and so we had a quiet day on the whole, probably watching a film somewhere.

That was Euador. On the 2nd Jan we took a flight to Bogota to start enjoying Colombia. Overall we had enjoyed Ecuador, but both felt that two weeks was not long enough and that we had missed out a little by not seeing the Ecuadorean coastline. Still, you have to leave something to do during your next visit…

Wishing you all well,

Chris.

Did you say swim-up bar?- Mancora here we come!

Mancora, Peru 17th-19th December 2012 (trying to catch up!!)

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After the worst bus journey of the trip so far, it was great just to arrive somewhere to a smile from a moto-taxi driver, who took us on a 5 minute trip down the road to our new home for 2 nights, the wonderful Kokopelli Hostel- yes- with swim-up bar!

Moto-Taxis have the most interesting back windows...

Moto-Taxis have the most interesting back windows…

I’m not even sure why it was so appealing to me, but something about sitting at a table waist high in chlorinated water appealed,  so even though we never had a drink at the swim-up bar (the normal bar sufficed), I was excited to have it there as an option!

The one and only Kokopelli swim-up bar!

The one and only Kokopelli swim-up bar!

The hostel was very close to the beach, everywhere in Mancora was close to the beach, the town consisted of a main street parallel to the beach  with a grid system of roads between 1-8 blocks deep on either side of the main street, one side greeted by the beach. There was no post box or post office- it’s that small!

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Both mornings in Mancora we enjoyed our breakfast at “green eggs and Ham” restaurant on their balcony over-looking the golden sandy beach watching the surfers, body boarders, kite surfers, sun bathers and flocks of pelicans flying over.

Green eggs and ham view.

Green eggs and ham view.

The beach was the main attraction here so I treated myself to a new bikini and we wandered up and down the beach enjoying the happy, relaxed atmosphere, seeing the crabs scuttling back into their holes as we approached.

Shopping for a new bikini I didn't get this one despite the beautiful way it was modelled.

Shopping for a new bikini I didn’t get this one despite the beautiful way it was modeled.

We came across a couple of guys practicing on a slack-line tied to 2 palm trees, so we asked to have a go- as you do. It is an awful lot harder than you imagine, I blame the HUGE distance between the trees making the slack-line  more slack than normal, but I was incredibly bad at it.

chris' slack-lining days are over for now.

chris’ slack-lining days are over for now.

Our friends from Huanchaco and Lima came up on the last day we had in Mancora so we had a full day of lounging by the pool and sun bathing, finally a tan is appearing. Poolside was also where we witnessed the hostel giant Jenga record being almost beaten and gorged ourselves on delicious Chaufa (mountains of fried rice with vegetables and anything else you care to throw in)I’m in a bikini, but there’s no bikini diet in sight. We also enjoyed the bar, even if it wasn’t the swim up one as everyday there was a cocktail of the day to try, worth a mention was the Piscojito, yummy.

History being made- joint champions of giant jenga!

History being made- joint champions of giant jenga!

One alarming event happened in this paradise. We noticed a plume of smoke coming up from one of the streets between the main road and the beach and went to investigate. There were lots of people in that area, some crying, most just standing staring at the little wooden shack that had caught fire. All of the neighbours’ houses were at huge risk and 2 men were standing on a truck trying to extinguish the fire with buckets of water which didn’t seem to be getting them anywhere. It was sad to see the families from those houses crying in the street. Our guess was a cooking fire had gone out of control, but it could’ve been anything. The smoke eventually stopped in the sky, but we’re not sure how many other houses were damaged in the event. Makes you thankful for a decent fire service back home.

commotion as everyone finds out where the smoke is coming from.

commotion as everyone finds out where the smoke is coming from.

Unfortunately we had to leave the dream team behind to celebrate Christmas and continue our travels into Ecuador with just each other for company. After waiting for our bus that was an hour late, we embarked upon 3 bus journeys through the night (complete with one crazy border crossing) to get to our next stop- Vilcabamba, where people live extraordinarily long lives- they say it’s the water.

Just trying it on for size with Lucy- who wouldn't love this right?

Just trying it on for size with Lucy- who wouldn’t love this right?

Ciao for now!

Sarah

x

Surf and Turf. Huanchaco.

Huanchaco, Peru: 14th – 16th December, 2012.

We arrived in Huanchaco and checked into some lovely private rooms and promptly changed and headed for the beach!

Our hostel

It’s a tough life sometimes.

Down at the beach we had a great time relaxing and Konrad was recognised by the local schoolgirls who came over to him to ask for photo’s – so celebrity!

Being by the coast was a great opportunity to try some fresh fish so that evening for dinner we headed out to a pretty basic looking restaurant that had a BBQ outside in the street and next to it a table that had on it the days catch – yep, lots of whole, fresh fish waiting for the BBQ! One fish was huge and so five of us clubbed together to get it and when it arrived it was delicious! Everyone enjoyed their food and we were all full of praise for the restaurant.

Still needs a little more I'd say

Next day we took another walk around to admire the handy work of the local constuction men who were busy building the beach, getting huge piles of sand delivered and then using bulldozers to spread it out!! That afternoon we had a surf lesson which some of us enjoyed but I found it a little frustrating because I couldn’t stand up and got really cold despite having a wetsuit on. Konrad was unlucky enough to also step on some sort of sea urchin and get a spike in his foot which looked very painful to get removed!

We followed up our exertions with a Surfer Burger – a burger bar in town which served superb burgers and had seats outside from where we were able to watch a beautiful sunset. We were even allowed to add our comments to their graffiti wall, which was fun and felt like an honour.

Yummy Surfer Burger

Next day, Sarah and I wanted to move onto Mancora while the others had decided to stay on longer, so we needed to get ourselves a bus. The offerings in town were rather meagre and so we took a collectivo into Trujillo, where we wandered around for a couple of hours getting increasingly frustrated at being told that all the buses were full. Finally we found a company who had two seats left (and they were next to each other) so we took them, feeling a little apprehensive about the quality of the service that we might receive, but with no other option. That done we headed to the nearby ruins of Chan Chan, a city built by the Chimor people in around AD 850 which was interesting for the various designs carved into its tall, adobe walls. Upon heading back to Huanchaco we sampled more fresh fish and saw one last sunset before heading off to catch our bus.

When we got to the bus station our suspicions were worsened thanks to the complete chaos that was occurring with everyone trying to get their luggage into the bus. I think the bus was also a bit of a cut and shut because it was the longest bus that we had ever been on and you could clearly see a divide where extra seats had been added on. We spent a very uncomfortable night on that bus (noisy engine, no legroom, scared of being robbed) but thankfully arrived in Mancora, a little tired and groggy, but generally none the worse for wear and with all of our belongings! Phew!

Trying to get everything into the bus

Next installment will be Mancora.

Until then, take care and watch where you are going!

Chris.

Weird and Wonderful Lima

Lima, Peru 10th- 13th December 2012

I’m skipping over the bits that Chris already updated you on from Nasca, etc. to after we bumped into Lucy and Konrad in Huacachina. Chris and I carried on heading up north with the most of the group  to Lima. In total there were 7 of us: The Brits (me, Chris, Lucy Konrad) and The Irish (Sarah G, Sean and Dave).

A good omen on the journey to Lima with Cruz Del Sur was getting to watch Blue Crush 2! At any other moment it would’ve been naff, but excited about getting surf lessons in the north of Peru, Lucy and I had already cast ourselves in the next sequel- we  just needed to do a few more sit ups!

The hostel we stayed at was a bit of a party hostel, not crazy crazy, just more fun than most. The tell tale sign was a free welcome shot at the bar when we first got there from the lovely Daniella. The hostel had a huge roof terrace which was handy for lounging around, playing ping pong and the place was in a great location slap bang in a major shopping, eating area, opposite a cinema. The annoying bit about the hostel was the Argentinian bar guy making announcements on the PA system in the style of a bingo caller, but in such heavily accented English no-one knew what he was saying, except for the words “Happy Hour”. At least it gave us a break from the terrible music that was constantly being played, but I’m pretty sure we all preferred the music.

Daniella and our free welcome shots!

Daniella and our free welcome shots!

With the great location in Miraflores we did indulge in a couple of cinema trips, “El Asesino del Futuro” i.e. Loopers and “The Hobbit”, where Bilbo Baggins is Bilbo Bolson, but both were in English with Spanish subtitles. The great big department stores close by also meant that I could buy a replacement camera after the jungle incident (3rd camera of the trip).

christmas with sunglasses on!

christmas with sunglasses on!

We did try and do a bit of the cultured thing and explore the city a bit. Chris took us all on a little guided walking tour of the old town in the north, once we’d figured out the metro system- a trolley bus system that runs north-south. Konrad took the opportunity to ask a police woman if she’d ever fired her gun (she said yes, but our spanish didn’t get us any further than that).

see, we did some cultured stuff too!

see, we did some cultured stuff too!

Some of us made it to the beach, which didn’t really deserve the title, it was more stony and chilly but with a good view point from which we enjoyed some delicious ceviche. Chris and I also made a trip to the north of town to see the fountains with a bit of a light show to go with them, some of which were hugely powerful and impressive. The photos don’t do them justice so here’s a pretty good video that shows you what they can do:

But anyway back to the party hostel. The big night happened to Konrad, Sean and Dave after darts in the English pub, ending up with one of them waking up in someone else’s bed in the hostel. Unfortunately the girl who was supposed to be in that bed returned from the shower, or wherever she had been when her guest had slipped into the bed at 8 am, to hit him in the head to tell him to shove off back to their own bed!

This was the morning that Sarah G, Lucy and myself decided to treat ourselves to a ladies morning that stretched out until 6 pm to find that the guys were in exactly the same spot on the terrace that we’d left them in at 10.30 am.

Ladies lunching in Lima- til 6pm!

Ladies lunching in Lima- til 6pm!

There were weirder nights, maybe induced by pisco sour making night at the hostel, but we ended up being talked through the Mormon teachings by a guy who had just renounced Mormonism. He recommended this video as an overview:

Our Mormon acquaintance was just one of the interesting people we were shacked up with at Pariwana hostel. We happened to also be sharing our accommodation with a rapper called Chris, who gave us a free show in the bar. Something else we had to try not to stare at like weirdos was a rather obviously enhanced bum, we suspect from Colombia, but we had no proof.

All in all a fun city with a bit of everything and everyone!

Off to Huanchaco next to learn to surf!

Hope the snow is thawing back at home. xxx

More of an adventure than we planned on: Manu Cultural Reserve, Peru

Manu Cultural Reserve, Peru: 2nd-6th December 2012

So we couldn’t come to South America without going to the jungle. We pondered on a multiday boat trip through the jungle when we were still in London, tons of people we’d met said Bolivia was the best and cheapest, but concerned over whether we’d have enough anti malarial drugs we waited until Peru to delve into la selva.

Cusco’s streets are crawling with people trying to claim their commission on a jungle tour, Inca trek, sacred valley tour, city tour…. There are streets lined with tour agencies and only a small proportion of them are legitimate  official agencies. We went round full circle and ended up going with the first agent we visited because they had a decent hand out with all the information we needed and offered fun activities as part of the trip- it doesn’t take much to impress us!

It was a 4 day/3 night job. Our guide picked us up late (it is south america, but you’d be surprised how promptly most things run here). We joined 5 Germans, 2 Canadians, 2 Peruvians and 2 French people to make up the lucky 13 sitting in the mini bus with Juan Carlos, our second guide.  The journey into the jungle was 10 hours by road. It was broken up with a breakfast stop, a sight seeing stop at some pre-incan tombs, a stop off at pilcopata  town for a quick wander around and to pick up some snacks for the rest of the journey. It started to rain and it rained hard as we made our way into the cloud forest of the Manu Cultural Reserve area. We stopped off at a couple of buildings that were used as shelters for flies from the rain. A lady with a small child opened it up for us to use to eat lunch which was a nice surprise of rice, vegetables and chicken with a fruit and chocolate bar dessert.

They don't call it a rain forest for nothing!

They don’t call it a rain forest for nothing!

We carried on driving to the lodge in the cloud forest along a road that could rival the Death Road in Bolivia as the world’s most dangerous road. I was sitting up front on the right hand side of the bus, on the sheer drop edge of most of the road. The following real life video of a coach driver unsuccessfully navigating a treacherous part of the death road kept repeating in my head every time I could see over the edge.  Pretty sketchy.

Our lodge was basic but livable:  mossie nets over the beds, running water for showers and flushing toilets, you just needed to watch out for bullet-ants and other creepies in there with you! Torches are invaluable, I was so glad I got a decent LED one, you just need it all the time with no electricity and with things ready to jump out at you when you’re on the loo!

running water- score!

running water- score!

Over the next couple of days we went deeper into the jungle, got to know our jungle buddies better and saw some pretty cool animals like the national bird of Peru, a crazy red-coloured bird nick named cock of the rock, woolly monkeys howler monkeys, parrots feeding off  the minerals in a clay lick, enough ants to satisfy anyone’s insect appetite and some gorgeous butterflies or mariposas (such a lovely word).

woolly monkey coming in for a closer look

woolly monkey coming in for a closer look

Our trip also included some adventure activities. First was the white water rafting, which we’ve done some more of since, but as our first river rafting experience- it was great! no one fell in and we all got wet- life affirming,  but not too dangerous!

The zip lining, which we’d done some off before in Bolivia, was just plain wrong. We carried skanky, old, ripped rucksacks with our zip line gear in up into the jungle on a steep,  hot and sweaty walk for about an hour before opening these bags that contained what was going to stop us plunging to our deaths on the jungle floor: a pair of 100 year old gardening gloves (in my case 2 left hand gloves), a harness which was in working order (phew), a zip line trolley made from industrial off-cuts, with a braking system made from a cracked rubber door stop, and a couple of carabinas and some rope.

there's that broken stool

there’s that broken stool

However it was nice not to be walking up hill in the humidity anymore and we were looking forward to the breeze as we rushed through the canopy! The first launch platform had to be balanced with 3 people on each side so it didn’t lurch from side to side, but we made it across to the second platform, landing on a broken wooden stool to step down from. What the zip lining became about at this point was trying to stop the annoying little flying insects from a) biting you and b) flying straight into your eyes! So there we were standing on a platform, circling a  tree, waving our arms madly, with our eyes closed, high above the jungle floor, hoping for the last zip line! It did end on a high though with us repelling ourselves down from the platform, which was pretty fun! The day also ended well swimming in the river as the thunderstorm clouds rolled in and an impressive lightening show was about to start.

Swimming in the river!

Swimming in the river!

The last day in the jungle was all about getting back to Cusco, we’d spent long enough in the same clothes swatting away winged animals- but it was going to be a struggle.

The first part of out trip back was to get from the lodge to the port, about 25 minutes away, to get the minibus back to Cusco, but we were going up stream in a river that had been fueled by a heavy down pour the night before and the engine started to make an unsettling grinding sound, but we had faith in the guides and driver, so we carried on our merry way, unfortunately we carried on until the engine completely cut out at which point we were at the mercy of the very strong current and the emergency wooden paddle we had to steer was no use really. The boat spun around, knocking on the rocks as it went, a fair number of people were screaming and then the cook fell out and the driver pelted it down the rocky bank after leaping from the boat to rescue her. The water started to rise in the boat and the guides told us to balance the boat with our weight, people were panicking and bossy Sarah shouted at everyone to “BALANCE THE BOAT”, then we were sitting in water and just the brim of the boat and the blue tarpaulin canopy were visible. Chris told me to hold on the tarpaulin which contained all of our big rucksacks- but he didn’t realise that the boat was going to be a lost cause, so I politely replied- *!# the bags! get out of the boat! By this time one of the guides had made it to shore holding the rope to the boat, and we weren’t too far away but it was very very choppy as we were on the rapids. I think the guide thought we could jump out of the boat and onto the shore but the boat was tipping and the canopy of the boat tipped toward the shore as it completely capsized cutting us off from the bank. Jose told us all to swim to shore, so we all just navigated around the horrible sound of the cracking wood of the boat, pushing up on the bits of wood still poking out of the water. It took about 30 seconds from calf level water to capsize, cracking wood and bags rushing down the river. Our new Canadian friend, Michelle- said that she thinks she hurt her leg on the boat as it fell apart, she remembers swimming away with her leg in agony and thinking she wouldn’t be able to pull herself out of the water. Luckily Chris, myself and Michelle’s boyfriend Dan were in the front row so we didn’t have to clear much of the boat before we were at the shore. Chris ended up further down stream on the shore and picked up some backpacks that had been washed down with him. I was discovering that my camera was completely dead and sitting on the rocks further up stream with the French couple deciding if we should walk down or stay put while 3 people cried into their boyfriend/husband’s shoulders. We stayed put as Michelle couldn’t move her leg and one of the guides had splinted it with 2 walking sticks while they left us to get another boat, so we were left on our own on the river bank for them to come back with pain killers and a plan. The cook had been picked up and plonked back on the shore with us while they went back to refuel a bigger boat. She was sobbing to herself the whole time. They came back and picked us up, Michelle was lifted onto a board into the boat, blood seeping through her bandages. We made it to Atalya port after a very tense boat ride upstream and Chris and some of the boys lifted Michelle into a mini bus to go to the medical centre for assessment.

The last picture taken on this camera before it got wet!

The last picture taken on this camera before it got wet!

We made it back to Cusco about 10 hours later, after people bought dry clothes in a nearby town. Luckily the weather was hot and humid in the jungle, but when we got back to higher altitudes we were all a bit cold. We all went to the office together to see what would be done in this situation. They gave us tea in the next door hotel and asked what we wanted, we discussed the cause of the accident (lack of maintenance, too many people in the boat, strong currents, not reacting to the engine struggling) and also aired other annoyances about the tour, -not enough life jackets for everyone (the cook namely), the group was much bigger than advertised (no more than 7 was originally promised), no electricity for the 1st and 3rd nights (which was promised for all nights)- but we didn’t get anywhere. The following day was more of the same story. Nothing refunded, nothing for people that lost their belongings except a t-shirt and a £5 laundry bill refund, even when we dragged in the police and went to the consumer police (there are so many different types of police in Peru!) Luckily 2 people who live in Peru were on the tour so we could argue in Spanish as a group, but official complaints took up to a month to see through and we were all leaving Cusco within a couple of days, so no resolution.

So check what boats the companies have before you book!!

One good thing came of it though- we had a fun night out in Cusco celebrating being alive!

Sizzling in the Sand! Huacachina.

Huacachina, Peru: 8th – 9th December 2012.

First impressions are good1

As far as first impressions go upon arriving at hostels, this one was up there as one of the best! We literally got out the taxi, walked through the huge gate (which was really the back gate, but the front opened onto a pedestrian walkway around the oasis that is Huacachina and so was inaccessible to the taxi) and were greeted by the above scene.

Needless to say that I fell in love with the place straight away and that was before I even saw the great bar that they have besides the pool or the sofas and hammocks that they have down the front for relaxing in! Paradise!

So our one night booked was immediately extended to two. We then were told all about the sand boarding that we could do with the hostel that evening and as that was what we had arrived in Huacachina to do, we signed up.  Next on the agenda was a spot of lunch at the bar (cheap and tasty) and then a walk around the oasis town to check it out (which didn’t take long). Then it was back to the hostel to relax and settle in a bit more and who should we see in the pool but Lucy and Konrad (who we first met on the Death Road trip) and they were with 5 other people (Alice, Sarah, Rich, Sean and David) who they had since met on their travels. Ace!

Dune buggy!

At 4.30pm it was time to board the Dune Buggy (DB) and go sandboarding. Alice, Sarah, Sean and Rich were also going so it was great to have more company who we had already met! The V8 that powered the DB was nice and loud so I enjoyed rumbling through the small town to the dune entrance and then was soon whooping with delight as our driver opened it up on the dunes. The ride in the DB was as much a focal point of the adventure as the sandboarding itself with the driver taking us over huge dunes, which as you come over you are looking up into the sky and then suddenly dipping down into the sand on the other side. Great fun! It felt much like a rollercoaster ride and was an experience that I thoroughly enjoyed throughout the whole trip.

The sandboarding itself was… mental! With hindsight I believe that it was one of the most dangerous activities that we have done. Ever! The first slope was nice and gentle so while Sarah sat on her board to go down, I decided to try standing up. Needless to say I fell, but not heavily and so I climbed back up and tried again and stood up all the way down, which was a great feeling! Next slope was a lot steeper and longer so I think that everyone apart from Sean (who can snowboard so had a proper board and stood on all the slopes) went down on their stomachs and it was fast and fun! Then we drove to the next dune and the slope looked ok, so I decided to stand again. This time I fell head over heels pretty hard, but luckily with no serious injury, just a sore shoulder (that took a few days to pass!). After that I took all the rest on my stomach, which was fine because you could use your feet for stability and braking if you wanted to. The last slope of the day was huge and it was pretty nerve wracking at the top looking down and thinking that we would be going down on a bit of wood, but we all did and it was fun! Sean managed to take a tumble at one point and dislocate a finger, but no one else got hurt. The drive back was just as fun as always and we arrived back at the hostel to shower and try to get rid of all the sand!!

Queen of the dunes

That evening Sarah and I had signed up for the BBQ so we relaxed around the hostel and waited for that and we were not disappointed! The food was tasty, the particular highlight being the chicken, which I put into a roll with some avocado and was in heaven! Later on we went to a restaurant down the road with everyone else who had sampled the BBQ at the hostel the night before. Luckily for Sarah and I they had a good range of deserts. so while everyone else tucked into their mains, we were having yummy sundaes!

The next day was spent largely lounging around the hostel with everyone, alternating between the pool, the sun loungers and the bar, until early evening when Lucy, Konrad and David went to try their hands at sandboarding and Sarah and I took a stroll around the town to see the mermaid and then up one of the more gentle dunes in order to get a good view of the whole town. That evening we went to a different restaurant about two doors down from the hostel and had the worst food ever, everyone agreed that it was poor, so that was a disappointment when we could have been having tasty BBQ. The restaurant also had the wierdest toilet ever because just inside the restaurant was a mens urinal, but there was no partition wall at all so everyone could see and there was a window in front of it that overlooked a small pool that was also in the restaurant. Very strange and we were all glad to leave it behind!

Enjoying the pool with old friends and new

The next day we were all moving on. Alice and Rich to Cusco for the Inca Trail and the rest of us were taking an afternoon bus to Lima so the morning was more relaxing and reading next to the pool and for poor Lucy, who had taken a nasty bump to the head while sandboarding, it was an opportunity to convalesce.

We had had a really good time in Huacachine at Banana hostel and we had survived sandboarding. While we were sad to leave, it was great to have a host of friends to be travelling to Lima with, so it was all good!

Take care,

Chris!

P.S. Sarah is still writing about Manu, but it IS coming soon!

Hummingbirds, monkeys, orcas, hands and more – Nazca Lines

Nazca, Peru: 7th December, 2012

Chris here for a quick update of our short stop off in Nazca, Peru, home of the famous Nazca Lines, which according to Wikipedia are “shallow designs made in the ground by removing the reddish pebbles and uncovering the whitish/grayish ground beneath.” Oh and no one knows for certain who made them!

We stepped off our Cruz del Sur bus early in the morning to be hit by the heat – Nazca was hot! After our time in Cusco and Manu we were ready for some heat to dry us out, so this was the perfect place. Our hostel offered a collection service from the bus station which was great because it was one less taxi to worry about stepping into. We were soon checked in and shown to our room, which was the biggest of the trip so far. We had a double bed, single bed, desk, fridge, TV, annex walk-in wardrobe style room and ensuite bathroom. Thankfully there was also a ceiling fan!

Next we decided to head into town and try to buy a disposable camera and also to sort out a flight over the Nazca Lines, which we had decided that we may as well spend a few bucks on seeing how we had stopped off in Nazca and all. We headed to Condor travel who told us that we could leave in half an hour, great, except that we still had no disposable camera or enough money to pay because we hadn’t topped up our accounts.  So while I dashed back to the hostel to get an alternative card to get money with, Sarah dashed around the shops. I got money and got back to the tour agent to meet Sarah who hadn’t had any joy getting a camera, only to be told then that we needed our passports to take the flight and which we had left in the hostel! Grrr! Back to the hostel it was, but thankfully the agent agreed to have us picked up from there, which was a relief because all of the running around was getting us hot!

We were soon picked up and whisked off to the airport, through security and into the waiting room. We were going to be flying with two Argentinian ladies who were also waiting, in a six seater, tiny plane. We were soon introduced to our co-pilot who gave us a map of the figures that we would see and then taken to the plane. It was really fun, though I did feel a tiny bit queasy at times thanks to all the banking and sudden jolts due to turbulence. The pilot did a great job of passing each figure twice while the co-pilot told us what we were looking for and where, but they were pretty easy to spot and some were really big and clear. It was great to see them and it is a marvel how they were made on such a large scale, as they vary from about 50 to 100 metres or more in diameter!

Our tiny plane!

After landing and getting back to Nazca we headed for a bite to eat at a nice restaurant which served fresh Lemonade. We got a pitcher and it was served with heaps of ice so it was super cool and super refreshing! Perfect! The food was good too. After that we took a wander around and headed back to the hostel for a rest.

We saw this from the plane too!

Later in the evening we headed out again to the same street, but different restaurant to where we lunched and enjoyed some pizza.

Having successfully ticked off seeing the Nazca Lines we had booked our tickets to the next stop on our trip, Ica, from where we would get a taxi to Huacachina, an oasis in the desert where we would find more exciting adventures!

Hope you’re all having fun wherever you are!

Chris.

P.S. Sarah will be here to tell you all about our Manu Adventure soon – watch this space!