Cusco part 1 and Cloudy Picchu

Cusco, Peru: 25th – 26th November, 2012
Agua Calientes, Peru: 27th – 28th November, 2012
Cusco, Peru: 29th November – 1st December, 2012

So we arrived at Cusco after an overnight bus from Arequipa and went to our hostel to leave our bags and go out in search of food. We found a lovely little café that overlooked the main square and so settled in to enjoy our grub out on the balcony in the sun. There were a lot of people out and about, dressed up smart and a peculiarly a lot of them were carrying hard hats too so we wondered what was going on? Outside the Cathedral there was an awning and chairs all set out and it later turned out that it was the Sunday parade which apparently takes place every Sunday in Cusco and involves people from the military, police, schools and colleges.

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More importantly for me, it was the final race of the Formula 1 season that day and so I had to find somewhere to watch the race, which was in Brazil and so started at 11am in Cusco. Thankfully there are plenty of gringo bars in Cusco and one of them named Norton’s Rat Tavern, which had a nice big screen and turned on the race for me without hesitation.  At this point Sarah went off to try and find the free walking tour, but sadly it didn’t run on Sundays and so she was soon back and caught the second half of the race, which was pretty exciting and our boy Button won, which was fine with me. That done we headed back to the hostel to check in and we were pleasantly surprised to find towels, two pillows, soap, shampoo, a bath mat and cable TV all waiting for us in our lovely, clean, private ensuite room.  We were going to love it at Mama Simona’s!

Later that evening we had arranged to meet up with a David again as well as Lucy and Konrad, all of whom happened to be in Cusco too. We went to another gringo bar called The Real McCoys to enjoy pie and mash and swap tales since last seeing each other. We had a great time catching up and wished Lucy and Konrad well for their Jungle adventure trip to Machu Picchu which they were starting the next day.

Monday we had arranged to meet up with more friends who happened to be in Cusco at that point, Becca and James. We met them in Paddy’s Irish bar to enjoy more, good home favourite pub grub and swap tales with them. They also told us how amazing the crumble was at the real McCoys and how we were missing out for not trying it the night before, so we arranged to meet up with them again later that day for us to try it out and them to have one final portion before leaving Cusco that evening. In between Sarah and I had been trying to sort out a trip to the Manu National Reserve, but the company we were thinking of going with were not on the register of authorised agencies at tourist info, so we ended up back at square one, although grateful that we checked. Still, the crumble and custard didn’t disappoint and so that made up the frustrations from the rest of the day. We’d just have to sort out Manu when we returned from Machu Picchu. That evening we met up with David and an Australian girl who he had met while travelling for a spot of tasty dinner before heading back for an early night.

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Tuesday it was an early start to get the train to Aguas Calientes which is the town close to Machu Picchu. The Perurail train was lovely and we’d taken the Vistadome service and enjoyed the views of the Sacred Valley that we were journeying through. We even got a little snack on the train which we weren’t expecting! Upon arrival the lady from our hostel, Supertramp, was waiting to greet us and guide us to the hostel, a nice extra service that they provided free of charge and helped to quickly orientate us to the town.

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After checking in we went for a wander around the town and enjoyed a spot of lunch in a French style café. Agua’s itself was bathed in sunshine and a beautiful little place, spoilt only by the plethora of people hassling you to go into their restaurant. After lunch we had a wander around the market and then decided to make our way to an internet café where we spent a productive couple of hours writing blog posts that you have by now had the pleasure of reading! After an overly priced dinner in a restaurant overlooking the main plaza we headed back to the hostel to get an early night so that we could get up and get an early bus to Machu Picchu the next day as everyone told us that was the thing to do.

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Events took an unexpected turn when one of the hostel workers, Artur, was playing a few classic rock hits on his acoustic out on the rooftop bar and a group of Americans were celebrating their returning from visiting Machu Picchu that day. They all invited us out to be social and so we decided to celebrate with them. Then another load of late arrivals to the hostel soon turned it into a proper little party. As always when you are having a good time, time flies and so it was soon one in the morning and our early night had vanished, but we had a great time.

Despite our late night we still managed to get up at 6am the next day and get down to town to catch a 6.30am bus up to Machu Picchu. Our combined indecisiveness then struck because we couldn’t decide whether to get a guide or not.  They were quite pricey so we didn’t want to spend more money, but equally we thought it might be good to get some info on the site. Eventually we decided that a self-guided tour would be better and set off to see the wonders that awaited. Sadly our early start to beat the crowds was pretty pointless because it was extremely cloudy. So, while the site was pretty quiet, we couldn’t see a great deal or get any of the impressive photo’s because it was cloudy and grey and cold. This lead to a feeling of disappointment that would linger for the whole day. After exploring the site for a couple of hours it was soon 10am which was when our one hour window to start the climb up Waynapicchu mountain commenced. The climb was really enjoyable and some of the steps were pretty steep and rocky, but there were handrails for most of the really steep parts so climbing it was pretty easy and the views that it would afford us of the whole Machu Picchu site would make the physical exertion worthwhile.

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Sadly we were again denied as the clouds were heavy and prevented us from seeing anything. In fact it was pretty disorientating at times because you couldn’t see anything but white. Once we reached the very top we settled in to wait with lots of other people sitting on the rocks hoping that the cloud would lift. By about 12.30pm we were rewarded for our patience and the cloud did indeed lift and we could see the site, which was good because you could take in the size of the whole site at once and see the mountains that it sat nestled between. With that done it was time to go back down and finish exploring the site and then take some of the customary photo’s of us at Machu Picchu. In our exuberance to have good pictures we decided to do a jumping photo, only to have one of the guides come over and tell us that he was getting security to come and remove us from the site because jumping was not allowed. This was not stated in the long list of rules that you see when you enter the site (and most of which you witness being broken a lot) and while, with hindsight, we can understand that our jumping might cause a little bit of damage to the site, I’m not really sure why he was so uppity about it all. Anyway, we were done and security didn’t come to remove us. We walked ourselves out, collecting our Machu Picchu stamps in our passports before we went. Personnaly Machu Picchu was underwhelming and overpriced and I have enjoyed many other days of the trip a lot more than that one. I would also strongly recommend caution about racing up to the site too early in the morning if it is just going to be cloudy. It depends on the season of course, but I would certainly have preferred longer in bed and I didn’t think that the site got that busy in the afternoon to warrant getting up there super early, but you can all go and form your own opinions if you haven’t visited already. Also, no jumping!

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Once we returned to Agua’s we had a bite to eat and then waited for our train back to Cusco on which the train staff kept us all entertained with a fashion show and a traditional dance show, which was quite a different experience  for a train ride. Once back in Cusco we had arranged to meet up with the Americans that we had met the night before and had a fun time with them once again.

Thursday we decided on a tour to Manu and also went to the Cocoa museum which had a nice café overlooking one of Cusco’s smaller plaza’s where we enjoyed a chocolate drink and shared a delicious Brownie. We also probably had food at Jack’s, a super little gringo hangout in Cusco that served delicious food and often had a queue of people waiting outside, but it was certainly worth the wait.

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Friday we went to hire a duffel bag and a pair of binoculars ready for our trip to Manu and also did a city tour which had been recommended to us. This started at the Cathedral which as pretty interesting and then took us slightly out of town to visit three Incan ruin sites, the most famous of which being Sacsayhuaman, where we saw lots of big stones that were the remnants of some castle or palace or what not and was ok for something to do, but not particularly amazing in my opinion. I just don’t think I get these ruins….

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That night we packed up the things that we would need for Manu into the duffel bag and prepared for our jungle adventure, leaving the rest of our belongings safely deposited at Mama Simona’s ready for our return in four days time.

That is where I leave you for now.

Happy New Year!

Chris.

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Live Update! Christmas in the bath – Baños, Ecuador

Baños, Ecuador: 23rd to 27th December, 2012

As I write this we are still in Baños, Ecuador where we spent Christmas. Today is our last day in Baños and it has been raining for most of the morning and so I decided to write this Christmas special now, to allow you to know all about our exciting Christmas adventures while they are still fresh in our minds and as we are still about a month behind on the blog we thought that it would be a nice “Live Update” of where we are currently.

When we arrived in Baños we were greeted by rain. Not a good start. For some reason we decided that walking to our hostel in the rain would be fine because it was close, but really walking in the rain is never fine because you end up getting wet and that is what happened to us. Once we had dried off and the rain had stopped we walked into town to book a rafting trip for the next day with Geotours who had been recommended to us. That done we followed up on another recommendation and went to the Stray Dog, a microbrewery pub that did some great IPA. After that we headed over to Casa Hood to eat yummy Pad Thai and Burrito’s! That done it was back to the hostel for an early night in preparation for Christmas Eve rafting!

As rafting didn’t leave until 9am we had plenty of time to enjoy a breakfast of pancakes and fruit on the Terrace cafe before heading over to the meeting point where we met a couple from Australia, Lotus and Harry, who were also going to be in our raft. We were pleasantly surprised to find out that the company provided us with wet-suits  helmets and shoes and after a bit of faffing around we were soon on our way to the river. Once there we got changed and were given all the instruction that was required and met our guide, Andres. The final pair in our raft of six were a lovely mum and daughter from Juno, Alaska.

The team

Once on the water it quickly became apparent that our guide was the best of the  three because we were the first raft down because Andres was showing the other two the best lines to take through the various rapids. We were soon getting soaked by the rapids and Andres was also providing information about the river and the different features of the rapids. During the course of the time on the water we all swapped positions in the raft so that everyone had the opportunity to captain at the front and get the most wet. We stopped off for a break at one point where we were able to walk to another river and dive into a pool of water and then bomb into it again from higher up. Sadly the water level wasn’t high enough to allow us to jump in from the road bridge that went over the pool, but it looked pretty high so we were actually quite glad to be spared from having to decide whether to jump from there or not. During the later stages Andres decided that we should have some fun and took us down one rapids while rotating the raft in circles and another one backwards. All excellent fun! With our time in the water ended we dried off and changed and went back to the bus to be taken to the restaurant where we were to have a nice lunch before returning to Baños with beaming smiles on our faces and slightly tired bodies. Happily the driver of the minibus had volunteered to take pictures of us at various points on the way down the river using Sarah’s camera so we had some good pics to remember the day by.

Woohoo!

That afternoon I decided that I should go and get my hair cut ready for Christmas as it was starting to get a bit messy and I was fed up with it. I managed to find a friendly Ecuadorean barber to cut my hair and give me a cut throat razor shave which was fantastic and I felt much better afterwards. That evening we had decided to meet up with Lotus and Harry and their other two friends who were arriving that afternoon. We starting in the Terrace Cafe at the hostel, where we managed to get Brent, a friendly American guy, to join us in our celebrations, before all moving on to the Stray Dog for some food and the lovely microbrews. Then we rushed off to catch a bus to take us all up to a viewpoint that looked over the city and from where we were hoping to see the nearby (active) volcano, Tungurahua. The bus was very strange as it was open sided, had florescent lighting and played loud party music. We arrived at the top to be greeted by heavy cloud which prevented us from seeing anything. It did lift enough to allow us to see Baños, but any hopes of seeing lava spewing from the volcano’s crater were dashed. So it was back into the party bus to return to Baños and have a couple more Christmas Eve drinks in the bars of the town.

Christmas Day we awoke to pretty nice sunny skies and at about 11.30am bumped into Brent. We went to knock on everyone else’s doors to see who wanted to do something, but everyone else wanted to stay in bed longer. So, the three of us set out with the intention of hiring bikes to allow us to cycle out of town to see the many waterfalls in the area. However, upon reaching the gates of the hostel and looking in the intended direction it looked cloudy, while the mountains in front looked sunny. This prompted us to change our plans and go and hire dirt bikes for Brent and I and a quad bike for Sarah which would allow us to go up into the mountains and follow a trial that Brent had followed previously and which he had raved about on the previous night, getting us all very excited!

The first part of the ride was tarmac road out of town, before turning onto a nice tight and twisty tarmac road which was a lot of fun and allowed us to reach some good speeds on the bikes, but sadly the quad wasn’t quite so quick, but allowed Sarah some time to get used to the gears on the quad. We then ascended into the mountains on a dirt road, crossing rivers and fords that afforded us some spectacular views of the fields and valleys of the area.

Looking cool!

When we reached the top the sun was still shining, the road turned to cobbles and we were amazed to be inside and then above the clouds. It was at one stop along the way to take pictures of the clouds that Sarah screamed in delight that we could see the volcano. I jokingly said that it was erupting too, just as it decided to emit a fresh cloud of ash into the sky. Needless to say we were all stunned by the sight, it was truly breathtaking and we continued to enjoy better and better views as we continued the ride across the top and eventually descended down the dirt and then paved roads back into Baños.

Sarah plus volcano

Once we had returned the bikes we were dizzy with our success and wanted to continue our winning streak, so it was straight off to the Stray Dog where we knew they were serving Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. Upon arrival we were happy to find out that we hadn’t missed out as the Chef was just collecting the (huge) turkey from where it was being cooked (the oven in the Dog not being big enough) while we waited we had a celebratory drink and some crab-cakes to start us off, which were delicious. Then we got our Christmas dinner of turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, asparagus, green beans, cranberry sauce, caramelised onions and gravy all of which was scrumptious and soon disappeared, Wiltur, behind the bar was even kind enough to provide straws so that we could suck up all the gravy and ensure that nothing went to waste. It was that good. As tradition dictates you must eat a ridiculous amount on Christmas Day and not having had any lunch we were up to the task, so for our next course we had some of the extremely tender filet of beef  that had also been prepared as an alternative to turkey. This arrived served on a bed of asparagus and chips, covered in gravy with onion on top and was also super tasty. I decided to skip the next course, but Brent went ahead and had another plate of turkey and gravy but then I joined in again for the dessert which was pumpkin pie. After that I was full, but Brent still had room to squeeze in an artichoke, he must have hollow legs!

The three amigos

Feeling fully satisfied, but a little achy from the days activities we decided to take a trip to the thermal baths in town to help us relax. So we headed back to the hostel to grab our swimwear and headed to the baths for a late night dip. Arriving at about 8.30pm allowed us plenty of time to relax in the hot bath which was lovely and hot and we all managed a few cycles in the cold pool next to it which made the hot pool feel even hotter when you went back into that. Feeling fully relaxed and refreshed we showered off in the water diverted from the nearby waterfall which was a refreshing and reviving end to the time at the baths. On the way back to the hostel we went to the tiny funfair that was next door and went on the huge swing ride (like the pirates ship ride from most theme parks) where you could stand in a cage at the end of the boat and get a feeling of weightlessness at the top of the arc. Sadly for me my winning streak came to an end here as I managed to get a bit too much air and bang my head on the cage roof! Ouch!

For Boxing Day we had arranged to meet up at around 11am and head out to hire cycles and actually see the waterfalls that we had turned our backs on the day before. We set off in glorious sunshine and made good time to the first fall and then enjoyed a cable car ride over the valley and to the viewpoint that allowed us great views of the fall. Upon crossing back we set off again and likewise took a cable car down to the next waterfall. Sadly this one was guarded by a woman who had a house and gardens that you could pay to enter to get a bit closer to the fall, but she got a bit angry when Brent asked her if we could actually stand underneath it, saying that it was too dangerous and so we retreated back up the cable car and carried on our way, stopping at various points to view some of the smaller falls that are along the valley. Finally we came to the village of Rio Verde and made our way down to see the Diablo fall. There was another fall that we saw on the way down which was very impressive but then dwarfed by the Diablo, which happily you could walk down to and stand behind and even reach out to put your arm into with the result of getting very wet (thankfully we had all taken measures to ensure that this wasn’t a problem, be that rain coats or swimwear) which was very enjoyable. Sadly it started to rain heavily at that point so we trudged back up to where we had left our bikes, getting very wet in the process and took shelter for a while hoping that the rain would clear. When it eased off we made our way to the town and took a truck back to Baños, where we dropped off the bikes and then made our way back to the hostel for a hot shower and some dry clothes.

Diablo fall

Feeling suitably refreshed but incredibly hungry we headed out to get some food. Sadly the restaurants that Brent had recommended were both closed and so we went back to Casa Hood to get some tasty food before heading back to have an early night, feeling exhausted from the days endeavours.

While we missed our friends and family we enjoyed our first Christmas away from home (and Sarah and I’s first Christmas together) very much thanks to the new friends that we met and the fun activities that we were able to do. It was exhilarating to see an active volcano and it was weird that pretty much everywhere was open as usual on Christmas Day unlike at home where most things close down forcing you to stay in and watch bad TV, or if you’re lucky a new TV boxset!

We hope that you all had amazing Christmas’ too and wish you all well for the new year!

Chris.

Highs and lows in a Canyon twice as deep as the Grand Canyon: Arequipa and Colca Canyon, Peru

Arequipa & Colca Canyon, Peru: 21st-24th November 2012

The Cruz Del Sur bus to Arequipa from Puno as Chris said was great- a bit of Breaking Dawn and Liam Neeson made the 5 hour bus journey fly by.

However arriving in an unfamiliar city at night is not the best. We jumped into a cab after a lady from our bus said they were a decent taxi company  made it to the hostel and were led to the room by a lad who we’d woken up and who really just wanted to go back to sleep. We didn’t let him though, as our initial impressions of the room were destroyed when we found ants on the toilet seat and a cockroach scuttling round the bath. There were no other rooms available, so being as tired as we were, just slept in the room for the night, not feeling very welcomed to Arequipa.

By daylight the hostel seemed better, the breakfast was nice and we chatted to some others in the hostel, but when we ran the water for about 10 minutes and couldn’t get any hot water, we were back to drafting out our bad reviews of the hostel on hostelbookers.com.

Exploring the town of Arequipa that is famed for it’s pretty square and lovely buildings things were looking up. The Cathedral in the main square is beautiful and the private guided tour cheap and interesting. Lunch on a roof terrace also sweetened our moods until we had to wait 20 minutes to get back into the hostel, ringing the bell, shouting and banging on doors and windows while whoever was on duty slept through it all.

From the bell tower of Arequipa Cathedral

We popped back into town, not knowing if we’d ever get back into the hostel, to visit the Santa Catalina convent which is a city within a city and very spooky at night being lit mainly by candle light.

Back at the hostel- we were pleased that they let us cancel our last night in the hostel with no charge as we were off on a tour of Colca Canyon about 5 hours away by bus. We did this with a tour company called Colca Treks who were superb. The first stop were volcanic rock formations that looked like fingers protruding out of the ground. We were at almost 5000m altitude and a girl from Poland on the tour with us was feeling the effects. We armed ourselves with coca leaves that we stuck up next to our gums like tobacco sachets- very attractive, but they did the trick. We carried on to see some Vicunas, llamas and alpacas learning the differences between them all thanks to our friendly guide Salome. Our little mini bus was ahead of the big coach loads of tourists most of the time which made the experience much nicer.

Coca leaves making chris happy

The bus ride to the canyon was broken up with a lunch stop where we tried lots of local dishes from a buffet- delicious. The journey was also halted by road works which we had to wait for as a pipe was being ladi across the road. we watched the pipe being laid and the hole being filled back up and I was very impressed with the speed at which it all got done in- about 30 minutes- which I’m sure would’ve taken a few days in the UK.

Almost done with the road- but time for a quick snap

Arriving at our hotel which was still having some finishing touches done to it having only opened that week was the complete opposite to our previous lodgings. The room and bathroom were like something out of a luxury spa hotel with a panoramic view from the balcony out to the canyon.

AMAZING after the last place!

We didn’t have much time to dwell in the luxury of the room before we were walking off into the canyon, but only for a couple of hours. We were staying in a small town called Pinchollo which is at the point where the Colca Valley becomes a Canyon which happens very dramatically. The canyon is said to be the worlds deepest canyon- more than twice as deep as the grand canyon- at 4160m deep.

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After our evening hike we were back in the comfort of our luxury hotel practising our Spanish with our guide and bus driver, enjoying the view and a delicious trout dinner looking forward to seeing the Condors at the Cruz del Condors near the town of Chivay.

In the morning we walked for about an hour to get to the Condor view point. The huge birds are often spotted floating on the breezes at the lip of the canyon and we were in luck that day, we saw 3 or 4 flying around, not quite as close as perhaps we’d have liked, but still a sight to see with a 3m wingspan.

there's one!

There was a stop at some hot springs which we’d become a bit dubious about as the hot springs we’ve seen so far haven’t tended to be that hot, clean or big. This one at Chivay blew the others out of the water- it was huge, boiling and super clean. Chris even did lengths in it, almost passing out from the heat and the valley setting was stunning. We could watch people zip lining from one side of the valley to the other as we soaked all our worries away.

best hot spring ever!

Unfortunately the trip had to come to an end and we were dropped off in Arequipa to kill a couple of hours before another bus to Cusco where we were looking forward to an adventure trip to the jungle, Machu Picchu and seeing old-new friends!

Merry Christmas everyone!!

Sarah

xx

Island hopping – Puno, Peru!

Puno, 17th – 21st November, 2012.

So, time for country number four, Peru.

Walking across the border into Peru you were immediately struck by two things. Firstly the huge Peru sign that they have obviously paid someone a lot of money to design and that they clearly love as it appears everywhere (to be fair I do like it). Secondly, how similar Peru is to Bolivia, apart from the different currency, the fancy symbol and the fact that things generally work a little bit better!

Welcome to Peru

Arriving at our hostel (Tayka) we were met by a super friendly man who helped us to settle in, showed us how to get the hot water to work for the shower and also advised us about a couple of tours that were possible to do from Puno. We were happy to find that we had a TV with cable, HBO proving to be most entertaining. We also learnt of the Yavari, a 150-year-old British gunboat, that is docked on Lake Titicaca and so we set off to explore it and thanks to our friendly reception man the taxi driver wasn´t able to rip us off as he haggled the fare for us! Great!

The Yavari itself was docked behind a posh hotel a little ways out of town. We went onboard and was met by a friendly old guy who turned out to be our guide as well. He showed us around, the engine being the most interesting part and then we left our donation and returned to the city.

Aye, aye captain!

That night we went for dinner at a lovely place that served Bolognaise pizza, not a particulary typical Peruvian dish, but by far my favourite flavour of pizza and difficult to find in the UK! We sat on the table next to the pizza oven and were able to watch as the chef prepared our pizzas and cooked them. The results were delicious and so I was very happy!

Next day we had booked onto a two day tour of three of the islands on Lake Titicaca. First stop was the famous Uros islands which are made from reeds and float on the Lake. There is a whole community who live there on the many islands and they specialise in tourism, giving us an explanation of how the islands are built, a tour of their homes and a boat ride across to one of the other islands. While there, a brief shower passed overhead and so we were soon ready to board the boat and carry on to Amantani island, where we would spend the night with a host family! Very exciting! Sadly no one had told us that the Lake can get quite rough and so we were surprised when the boat started to bob furiously in the water and huge waves crashed off the front, sometimes spilling water into the passenger compartment through the window in the roof, much to the surprise of the man sat below it! It all felt like something out of A Perfect Storm and resulted in a couple of people beings sick! Not a great part of their trip, but thankfully for Sarah and I we were unaffected.

We finally arrived at Amantani island and were all introduced to our hosts, ours a lovely, little man called Daniel. He took us to his home where we were shown to a comfortable annex building that would serve as our lodging and introduced to his wife and mother (the later of whom just sat in the corner of the dining room and shooed off the cats). We were served a tasty lunch of soup with vegetables and cheese (the cheese being the only part that we were too scared to eat). After that we were escorted to the village meeting point where the whole group was meeting to start a walk up the nearby hill, which took us to the Pachamama “temple” where the locals had to all go once a year to make their offerings for a successful harvest. The view was good, but there were a couple of annoying boys who would play music to you and follow you around until the song was finished and you gave them some money. Avoiding them was an art!

Sarah, Daniel and Chris

The rest of the evening was spent having candlelit dinner (no electricity on the island) which was again tasty soup but followed by rice and vegetables this time. Then it was off to the party that the locals put on for the gringos where we dressed up in traditional clothes and took part in some local dancing. All very amusing! Sadly no good photo’s of Sarah and I dressed up in local garb survived, so you will have to imagine how (silly) we looked.

Next day it was an early start and off to the final island – Taquille. To everyones relief the waters were calmer and the sun beating down. Taquille was pleasant. We walked up to the main square where it was inventory day and so everyone was reporting how much they had made or sold so that the town inventory could be updated and money given out accordingly. We then had dinner in one of the local restaurants (beautiful, fresh trout served with chips and rice) before descending down the otherside of the island to meet the boat and head back to Puno. It felt like a bit of a whistle-stop tour but we had enjoyed ourselves and met some more nice people – the choppy lake certainly helped people make friends as we were all trapped in the same boat (haha!).

On Taquille Island

That evening we went to the cinema for the second time on the trip, but sadly the caliber of the film was much lower – Breaking Dawn part two. This time the film was dubbed into Spanish so we were denied (saved from) R-Pat´s and Kirsten Stewart´s real voices and we also bumped into one of the guys from the island trip, going along to practice his  Spanish (ahem!). The film was pretty much as you´d expect, but at least it was only £1.50 each.

The next day we went on a tour to the nearby pre-Incan chullpas (tombs) of Sillustani. These were huge, cylindrical stone structures of impressive scale. Sadly graverobbers over the years have destroyed a few, but many were still standing to marvel at. Also interesting to see was the huge ramp that they also had to build in order to be able to push the massive stones into place. Cranes were certainly a good invention when they came along and I´m sure that the Colla people would have been grateful for one! There was an impressive view of the nearby Lake Umayo made even better by the moody, storm filled sky in the distance. Thankfully we had been warned that it could get pretty windy or stormy at the site and so we had appropriate wind and rain proof layers at the ready, unlike some of the unfortunate people we were with! On the way back we stopped off at a local house, but after staying the night on Amantani this held little interest to us.

Sarah at Sillustani

And that was Puno. We had enjoyed our time and found it to be better than we were lead to believe by what we had heard from fellow travellers. Next day we had a productive morning planning ahead our time in Brazil (as it will be carnival time we had been advised to book well in advance) before going to get a Cruz Del Sur bus to Arequipa in order to go to Colca Canyon. The bus was awesome, having films with either English language or subtitles and ironically they showed Breaking Dawn part 1 – yey! Despite this we would use them almost exclusively in Peru.

Adios for now!
Chris.

No showgirls here!- Copacobana, Bolivia

Overlooking Lago Titicaca

Overlooking Lago Titicaca

Hola Chicos, Sarah here to tell you about our first stint on Lake Titicaca ( we were told the pronunciation is “titi-gha-gha” otherwise the “caca” bit means poo- like that´s the bit we need to worry about).

Not a bad bus journey at all

Not a bad bus journey at all

The bus journey around the lake to Copacobana was stunning. We  hopped onto a small boat for 15 pence to cross a gap while the bus got on a wooden barge with a guy punting it across the lake which was fun to watch while we bumped into David our old friend from Buenos Aires and of course La Paz.

The bus barge

The bus barge

There wasn´t too much to see in town. A beautiful basilica, a view point over the city and an extremely touristy high street that led down to the lake front heaving with restaurants, hostels and tat shops.

The walk up to the view point was a 30 minute uphill struggle, firstly because we were at 3800m above sea level, secondly beacuase my left leg was still suffering from the death road bike ride and thirdly because I´m crap at climbing hills! But we did it and were a little surprised to find stalls selling toy cars and gifts in between the crucifixes on top of the hill. We descended as the sun dipped in the sky as it was getting cooler just as people were climbing up for a romantic sunset over the lake- after 9 years it´s about practicalities not romance people!

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We booked overselves on a day trip to the Isla Del Sol & the Isla De La Luna to see a couple of Incan sites. A lot of people stay over on the Isla Del Sol for treks, but we have discovered they don´t agree with me, so we were able to enjoy the luxuries of our Hotel on the mainland for a little longer. The breakfast we have been used to has mainly consisted of white bread of varying textures and hardeness, with butter- again of varying hardness (usually on the rock solid end of the scale though), and some jam. So we tucked into our basket of bread when we were greeted with the question Fried or scrambled eggs?! This was just the beginning as the waiter did severeal runs back and forth from our table bringing us juice, yogurt, cereal, pancakes, eggs with tomatoes, cheese and ham and tea. And it was all included in the price of 10GBP each a night- I love Bolivia!

The tour of the islands was basically the boat transport there and back, but for 3GBP who´s complaining? Well, you might if you were on the boat. It took 1.5hrs to get to the Isla del Sol which is about 6 miles away on the slowest boat in the world. Chris and I continued on to the Isla de la Luna for another hour while David was left to struggle with his bag up the steep Incan steps on the Isla Del Sol with his luggage!

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There wasn´t much to see on the Isla de la Luna but once we´d finally made it back on the boat to Isla del sol we climbed to the top of the Incan steps for a magnificent view. It was stupidly peaceful, except for the sound of a donkey here and there and a woman washing her clothes in a tub in her garden.

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2.5 hours back to the main land on the boat, we enjoyed one last luxurious breafast before setting off for Peru in the morning. A whole new country , here we come!!!

Back to School- Sucre, Bolivia (part 2)

Back to school for the second time to try and brush up on some Spanish! Hanging round with our English speaking friends has made us very lazy and we still have 3 months in Spanish speaking countries to get by in! So I´m taking over from Chris to tell you about the rest of our stay in the White city of Scure.

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We made the descision to go with the Bolivian Spanish school opposite the Simon Bolivar park which features a tiny Effiel tower. Omar Chavez the face of the school won us over with his charm and winning smile and of course the reputation of the school as we´d had a recommendation from a couple of girls we´d met in Chile who were studying there.

SCHOOL IS COOL!

SCHOOL IS COOL!

Bolivia is a great place to study Spanish, firstly it´s super cheap, we were getting one on one lessons for 6 hours a day for half the price that we were getting 4 hours of group lessons in Buenos Aires. Sucre is a pretty and small enough town to walk to school, we were staying next door to our school for 35Bolivianos a night which worked out to a bout 3.50GBP a night. The park opposite was great to relax in at lunch or break times and far enough away from the main square to avoid getting asked if you wanted your shoes shined 10 times in 5 minutes (even if you were wearing flip flops!)

Sucre, known as the white city.

Sucre, known as the white city.

Two full weeks of Monday-Friday weeks with 6 hours of 1 on 1 lessons every day was going to be a shock to the system. It started out well. Our teachers Mirian, Jorge and  Edwin were great teachers and taught us what we wanted. The excitement wore off as we got into the routine of school- break- school- lunch- homework- dinner-bed. Any time that we tried to squeeze in anything additional meant that we were brain dead the next day. However Skyfall was worth it!

The excitement was all too much

The excitement was all too much

Halloween also fell on a school night. By this time we´d made friends in our hostel with some more fun people including the master of haircuts-Gary- who was funding his travels through hair cuts including mine and chris´ (everyday there was someone having their hair cut in the courtyard of the hostel- news travels fast in school!) The school put on a little party as an excuse to try some traditional (so spicy we had to order pizza) foods, dress up and make new friends which we all did!

Happy haircut gang on Halloween!

Happy haircut gang on Halloween!

Unfortunately we had to say goodbye to our hostel friends (Sanne, Jhan, Gill) as they moved on, again we were faced with saying farewell to great people not knowing if we´d see them again. It´s the saddest thing about travelling, but is made up for by the fun times had together!

30! ahhhh!

30! ahhhh!

Another event that made school a little bit harder in the morning was my 30th Birthday!!!! Chris and the school organised a cake in the morning break on the Friday before my birthday (on Sunday), which was delicious, and then we celebrated on Sunday with an activity packed day. First was quad biking in the Cordillera- stunning scenery, sore legs (after chris told me to grip with the thighs so I could loosen up my hand grip to allow me to go faster) and slightly muddy trousers (not as muddy as Chris´!)

Chris tearing it up on my birthday!

Chris tearing it up on my birthday!

As the sun was still shining after the quads and lunch at the infamous gringo hangout-Joy ride Cafe- we taxied over (with the taxi driver´s kid in the passenger seat) to Villa Norita- the out of town “water park”- it has some flumes at least. We were very much the only tourists there and Chris by far the whitest of everyone. He caused quite a stir in his white rash vest too! I don´t think anyone had ever seen one before. The day wasn´t over after that though, failing to find a bus or cab we got a free ride with the employees from the park back to Sucre along with an old traditional Bolivian lady who was stuffed in the boot- but seemed happy enough! The cherry on top of my birthday was an amazing meal at La Taverna- a French restaurant in town with amazing steaks in beautiful sauces for 6GBP- Bolivia is heaven!

From a high point of birthday celebrations Chris also suffered a low point- getting sick. We think this was from some Leon Merengue pie at lunch (although we did both have the same) which meant that Chris had to miss 2 hours of Spanish school, but on the up side we did discover that Coca tea is very good at clearing out the system.DSCF1326

Our last night in Sucre was different as all the museums in town were open all night long as part of the cultural festival going on. The school organised a group to go out to several of the sites, we visited the Casa de la Libertad, The textile museum, Recoleta view point over the city and the group carried on to the cemetery catacombs by which point we´d had our fill and headed back to crash out.

Night of the museums in Sucre

Night of the museums in Sucre

After over 2 weeks in Scure we were ready to move on, although the people we´d met in Sucre did make it harder, we were looking for the bright lights and bustle of the big city of La Paz. Now were were  armed to the teeth with 6 new tenses, and magazines of verbs and vocab to help us on our way!

Pre-thunderstorm clouds as the sun goes down on our last day in sucre.

Pre-thunderstorm clouds as the sun goes down on our last day in sucre.

I’m officially bored of flamingos!-Uyuni salt flat trip, Bolivia

So what do you get when you mix up 6 Brits abroad, 5 dancing Brazilians, 4 gazillion flamingoes, 3 days in a jeep, 2 cold nights, a crazy Canadian, a forgetful Norweigan and one shower?- an EPIC salt flat tour in Bolivia!

Chris is now 30, not long til my 30th, but before that we signed up to a 3 day jeep tour of the south west of Bolivia, from Chile to see the largest salt flat in the world near the city of Uyuni. There are heaps of tour operators running these tours, so there was a lot of talk about which operators had the most sober drivers and the lowest accident rates- we went with Cordillera- no accidents in 13 years, so it seemed like a good choice!

We would be trapped in a jeep with our group for 3 days so we were happy to find some great people also on the tour, a mix of Brits: Becca, James, Dan & Jess, Tasha from Canada and Robert the sailor from Norway! In our jeep Becca, James, Chris and I were joined by the fantastically happy and bubbly Pia and Janet (Pia´s Mum) from Chile. We got to practise our Spanish with Pia, Janet and our super fab Bolivian guide and driver Johnny (Johnny-five), who was pretty chatty considering we´d been told that Bolivians are very shy.

Our first stop was a quick trip to the Chilean-Bolivian border which consisted of a hut, where all paved roads ended and the need for a jeep was obvious. We were told “there are no bathrooms, but in Bolivia everywhere is your bathroom.” Joy.

Then we were off towards the specatular Blanca and Verde Lakes. The white lake´s colour comes form borax and the green from algae stirred up by the wind. Small towers of rocks surrounded the lakes, one of which Chris kicked over before being told off by Janet who explained that they were offerings to the powers that be to make dreams come true! Oops!

Play time next as we got our bathers on for a dip in the hot pool at over 4500m above sea level, with flamingos in the background. It got even more surreal when the jeep of Brazilians got us to join in a dance routine to one of my favourite Zumba tunes! (hard work with very little oxygen).

We were shown our refuge for that night before being taken to another phenominal coloured lake populated with flamingos. The red lake was more orange, but straight out of the pages of the National Geographic magazine. The refuge on the otherhand, was not. No showers or heating, concrete bed bases, but flushing toilets at least.

Headaches started to occur due to the altitude, but probably also the cold. When we woke up I saw Chris hugging his legs, head on knees, almost rocking for comfort. There was ice on the inside of the windows and Pia was being nursed by her mum- I think we all wanted our mums that morning after little sleep, headaches, altitude sickness, cold and hunger. At breakfast it seemed the pill poppers (Acetazolamide) were happy as larry, and coca tea just wasn´t enough for anyone.

The second day featured more lakes, but also some rock formations that had been eroded by the wind for millions of years. At each stop we´d meet up with the other jeep and a couple of times, we had to help out Dan, Jess, Robert & Tasha´s jeep due to mechanical difficulties- it was nothing Johnny-five couldn´t handle, and meant we had time for rock jenga, bowls and time to build a dry stone wall toilet! Second half of the day was spent at more stunning lakes with flamingos, but by this time I´d been desensitised to the beauty of it all and wanted to see some salt flat!


Our digs on the second night were plush in comparison to the first night, we had one shower in the hotel, which would spit out hot water intermitently. The hot water was turned off before everyone got showers, but Tasha soon sorted out that situation! The hotel was made of salt bricks, with salt on the floor, which did not lend itself to dancing as we discovered after dinner when we tried to show off our skills to the Brazilians and ended up causing everyone to choke on salt dust.

The third and final day was the highlight of the trip, and the lowest altitude, so we were all happy bunnies with no headaches. We were just sleepy as we were up at 4am to see the sunrise over the salt flat.

The salt flat seemed infinite and other-worldly. Breakfast was served at the Isla de los pescados which despite the name was not populated by fish, but cacti. After which the day turned into a photoshoot on the salt flats with various props- of course all our best ideas came after we´d left the flats.

 

We wound things up by going to the train graveyard outside of Uyuni town and then saying adios to Pia and Janet at the Cordillera office. As luck would have it the rest of our group was all staying in the same hostel as this was the only hostel on Hostelbookers.com or hotelworld.com to have a rating over 30%.

Uyuni was teeny in comparison to where we´d been in Chile and Argentina and the reality that we were not in Kansas anymore was hitting home. The only internet we could find was a throw back to the 90´s and when we tried to book a bus out of town we were told there were strikes so we´d have to stay 2 nights before escaping!

Crammed into the internet cafe!

With a day and a half before our chariot of unknown standard would be taking us to Sucre we made the most of our time in Uyuni and explored the local eateries which consisted of the lonely planet top choice pizza place where Robert discovered he´d been given Russian looking money instead of Bolivianos, followed by the Extreme Fun Pub the next day, which did live up to its name, and finally lunch at a mexican restaurant where the chef was called back onto the premisis to cook for us and the owner would pop out to buy ingredients or drinks when we ordered anything.

So we´d made it into Bolivia unscathed, made some great friends and were looking forward to moving on to somewhere else!