A Travellerspoint blog

Into Ecuador: Cuenca

Spanish lessons for some...

overcast 12 °C

We left Mancora last Friday, crossing into Ecuador on June 22nd, just on time to avoid a passport fine for Gregory - the Peruvians decided to give me 90 days but only 30 to Gregory...
This means that we spent the whole of 31 days in Peru, when the plan was to cross it in 2 weeks and disappear. Strange feelings about Peru... they are very tourist-oriented and this sometimes feels rather annoying, but generally I think we quite liked it. It certainly is very beautiful, especially the Andes part.
Paradoxically, in the Andean country with the most culinary culture, I got food poisoning and ended up sick for 3 weeks!! So I could not quite enjoy the cuisine here, and neither could Gregory, poor thing, who had to skip several meals as a result of things or eat roast chicken several times a week to stay on the safe side together with me. Exception was Mancora, where things went back to normal and we stuffed ourselves with the unmissable seafood. I think I would have eaten it even if I was still sick...

Anyways, back to Ecuador.
We had a bit of a traumatic border crossing, where I lost my temper with a greedy taxi driver and had to rush out of a frontier toilet while still closing my trousers in order to catch the bus to Cuenca which we were about to miss. There is one every hour except at the time when we were there, when the next would have been in 3.5 hours. Anyways, hopped on and five hours later we arrived in Cuenca, our designated spot for Spanish lessons. The weather was terrible: it was raining, the second rain in 5 months! We asked the taxi driver how long it had rained for: 2 MONTHS!! So we asked when does the rainy season ends? How is he supposed to know?!? It´s not supposed to be raining at the moment... So it emerges that it has been freak weather for a while, some parts of Cuenca have been flooded and it´s bloody cold. AND IT SHOULDN´T BE!! Delighted to stay here 8 weeks to learn Spanish.... Well, Gregory is having none of it and is very decided and eager to start his lessons, so I have had to give in and accept that this is where we are going to stay for a while. I will buy myself a hot water bottle.

We have spent the last few days checking out all the Spanish schools and hostels in town. Finally, we have decided to study at the Sampere School and stay in this shared flat just across the school which will only cost us $200 a month - which we found completely by chance while buying rum from a shop. The original plan was to stay with a local family, but they want $15 a day EACH and this is not affordable. Plus, I will only be doing an hour class a day, so I will have a lot of free time and I quite like the idea to buy my own food and cook it, for a while.
So we have found a roof and a school for when we are back from the Galapagos - we are GALAPAGOING THIS SATURDAY!

We are off to Guayaquil tomorrow so to have a day to spend in town before we fly off to the magic islands. Once on the boat, we won´t have access to the Internet till we are back - July 7th.

Will provide a full update with pictures as soon as feasible.

Cuenca

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Posted by Flav-Greg 10:16 Archived in Ecuador Comments (1)

Trujillo, Chan Chan and Mancora

very north Peru!

overcast 20 °C

Trujillo was a touch and go stop. We got there on Sunday night - everything was closed because of Sunday and we struggled to find a place where to eat - on Monday afternoon we went to Chan Chan and by Monday night we were on a night bus to Mancora.

Chan Chan is a pre-inca site and is known as ´the mud city´. It is built entirely in adobe, that is - mud - and it is quite large, though only a small part is well preserved and displays the original mud drawings and patterns. We went on an organised 4-hour tour - which was a very wise decision, since the site is spread out and they take you to see the most important spots which one otherwise would probably not do.

Trujillo cathedral
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Chan Chan
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The journey to Mancora was pleasant, we managed to sleep and we were there by 5 am. The mototaxi driver that was there to receive the early passengers showed us a couple of hotel brochures and this is where we ended up staying:

http://www.vivamancora.com/penalinda/

View from our room:
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Needless to say that we are enjoying this. There is absolutely nobody around and all you can hear is the sea. Great!

Posted by Flav-Greg 17:24 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

Huaraz and the beautiful Cordillera Blanca

Lagunas Churup and Llanganuco

sunny 15 °C

We left Lima for Huaraz on 12th June. It was another 8-hour trip on Cruz del Sur, but this time we brought our own food...

Huaraz is the biggest town in the Callejon de Huaylas, which is a 180 km valley about 400 km north of Lima which lies between the Cordillera Negra on the west side (no snow) and the Cordillera Blanca on the East side (many beautiful snow capped peaks). This is an area of really high and beautiful mountains, with Huascaran being the highest in Peru at over 6700 m. This is where the events of Touching the void happened!!!

We stayed in Huaraz just a couple of nights, to give us the chance to do a small trek up into the Cordillera Blanca. We chose to go up to Laguna Churup, which is described as a 5-hour moderate trek... While Gregory was not really that much for it, I insisted in going since I was feeling better and probably wanted to prove to myself that I really was so...Erm erm. The trek was NOT moderate. Thankfully we decided to pay double fare and get the combi to drive us all the way up to the last point, saving ourselves a couple of hours. From there it was still a painful 3 hours uphill, till we got to the last rocky wall before the lake, which turned out to be a lot more than moderate!! Until that point I was thinking we had wasted our money to hire a guide, what for, the path was fairly marked....But no, we did not waste our money at all. The climb up the rocky wall was not one that we would have attempted on our own, in fact even our guide relied on her cousin to help us all up to the laguna - her male cousin had come along to practice as he was studying to be a guide, and we were all so glad he did! On top of it all I was not as well as I thought. I had stomach cramps throughout the day and my legs turned out to be a lot weaker than I thought they would be. So Gregory was very right after all...for once :-))! Anyways, we did make it up to the top and the laguna was a nice reward. On the way back we stopped at a lodge for a drink and then missed the last combi back to town, so that we then had to walk most of the way down (15 km??). That was not what we hoped at all after walking and climbing rocks all day, but it did give us the opportunity to observe the local community while we were waiting for a vehicle that never turned up. As usual, lots of animals coming back home from the fields, old ladies overloaded with huge loads on their backs, children playing marbles in the dirt road, etc. It was a good day, despite my bad shape.

Next day we decided to move 60 km up the valley and booked a room at Llanganuco Lodge, which is a new place owned by a English young man up in the mountains above Yungay, near the famous Laguna Llanganuco. This laguna was actually the reason why we came to Huaraz in the first place, after seeing a picture of it in the book.
Yungay is one of the smaller towns in the Callejon de Huaylas, together with Carhuaz and Caraz at the end of it. Also, Yungay is the site of the single worst natural disaster in the Andes ever: in 1970 a earthquake loosened 15 million cubic meters of granite and ice from the Huascaran mountain, coming down at a speed of 300km/h and burying the town and almost all of its 18,000 inhabitants. Today the area has been turned into a Campo Santo and a new town has been built 2 km from there.

Llanganuco Lodge is about 18 km up the valley from Yungay, and it is a really beautiful place. It is being created by Charlie, a young chap from England who got fed up with chartered accounting and decided to give it all up for the mountains. Presently only two buildings are ready,the kitchen/lounge and one of the bedrooms building (one dorm and two double rooms - queen and king). We got the king room at discounted rate since the dorm was occupied and it was just such luxury! The biggest bed we have ever slept in, with a huge fantastic down duvet and the best view one can imagine! This is the website, though the buildings dont actually look like this yet:
www.llanganucolodge.com
Charlie´s mum, Ianina, is currently helping out and is the current chef at the lodge, so not only we had a great room and a great view, but we also had great food.
We spent 3 days here - the second day we just lazied around, given that I could not move as my stomach is still NOT ok, though a lot better.

On the last day we went up to the Llanganuco Laguna. Now,we were simply meant to walk along the mountain and reach the control entrance to the national park... except that on the way there we came across a really angry bull who was fighting with all other members of his herd. So we got a bit concerned and decided to walk away, but there was a ditch that we couldn´t jump...so... so we ended up walking away from where we were meant to be and soon we got lost in the shrubs. At one point I got a bit concerned because we seemed to become more and more entangled in the vegetation, not seeing a way out. Finally we did, thank god! We got down to the road we could see from our lost spot and found our way to the control point, paid our 5 soles entrance fee and got a taxi up to the laguna. To this laguna one can take a taxi, isn´t it great.

Once we got back, we had a drink and then descended from the lodge to Caraz (10 km away from Yungay), where we stayed at the most basic hotel we have had so far (just to make up for the luxury at the Llanganuco Lodge...) and then in the morning we jumped on a bus to Chimbote and then Trujillo via the Cañon del Pato, which is a really crazy road. Basically, the road follows the river all the way down to the sea through a very deep canyon with some really scary drops and many tunnels. Very scenic and worth the concern, though at one point we did slow right down on a road indent that I did not like at all!! 7 hours later we arrived in Trujillo in one piece, ready to visit Chan Chan the next day.

The climb up to the Churup laguna...
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Laguna Churup:
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Llanganuco Lodge and views
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Laguna Llanganuco:

pic nic with the cows
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The laguna
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El Cañon del Pato

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Posted by Flav-Greg 11:16 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

From Cusco to Lima

semi-overcast 18 °C

We left Cusco on June 8th, with some relief. Somehow, something was not square in Cusco. Maybe the fact that I wasnt feeling well?!! Possibly the altitude there made things even worse for me, 3,500 m above sea level is not that great when one is feeling rough. Or maybe it was just the karma of the place. Cusco is extremely commercial and most people on its street are out there to get at your money in whichever way they can. Trying to sell you tours, postcards, artesania, chewing-gums, flowers, you name it. Even the doctor managed to neatly sting me with a $75 bill!! Thinking about it, it was such a major rip-off. And I dont think that staying at Casa de la Gringa helped either. Yes, true, they had a cosy lounge with heater in the evenings, but that was just to make up for the tiny cramped oppressing room we had. The staff there were great and caring but still...it was the very same owner who recommended the thief doctor to us! Whatever it was, we are happy Cusco is behind us. Beautiful place as it is, full of history as it is, we much prefer Lima!!! We got here yesterday and have been fairly busy meeting the people and seeing a new doctor and having blood tests done. The new doctor charged us 50 soles for the consultation, actually visited me, checked my tongue, ears and belly, prescribed me yet another antibiotic and sent me off to a clinic to have blood and urine tests done, which cost the whole of 28 soles ($9) !!!! Well, the results have come back today (same day as well) and it is all fine. Yep, all fine, except that I still cannot digest what I eat and, incredibly, I still not have any appetite. I cannot wait to find out how many kgs I have lost!!!

Last night we went to meet Rob to catch up and book the Galapagos islands. In the end we got carried away and - together with the fact that apparently there is very little choice with cheap boats as we have entered high season - we have decided to go on the Sea Cloud yacht, which is VERY nice and VERY expensive. Check this out> http://www.discovergalapagos.com/SeaCloud/index.htm
As a result of booking this very expensive cruise we have decided to give Los Roques a miss, given that it would be another huge luxury package which frankly we cannot afford. We rather invest in the Galapagos.... So this is our first major change in itinerary - we will fly straight to Barbados from Ecuador and forget Chavez' land for now. Sorry Daniela!!

Here in Lima we have also met with Nader, Lella's Peruvian friend, who is a very fine artist and person. He has invited us for lunch on Monday and so we have decided to stay in Lima at least until Tuesday, given that the hostel where we are staying is very comfortable and inexpensive. Hostal Malka - nice and quiet, good location, has a table tennis table for Gregory's convenience.

Here are a couple of pics of Cusco and Gregory's birthday.

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This was a restaurant we went to where all profits go to benefit street children. The whole restaurant is decorated for children and it looks like a kindergarden! very nice, the owner, Yuri (pictured below) is only 28!
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Posted by Flav-Greg 19:15 Archived in Peru Comments (2)

Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

a bloody hard trek, especially when sick!!!!

sunny 22 °C

Hello everybody

Yes, we are still alive, even though just about!!! We have been off line for a few days due to a couple of significant events, the first one being that we went on the Inca Trail, the second that I have been sick ever since arriving in Cusco.

It all started in Arequipa, we think. We took this super expensive Cruz del Sur overnight bus which looked like a spaceship. Fantastic bus, we got a cama seat for the modest price of $33 for an 11-hour journey from Arequipa to Cusco, dinner inclusive. It is a doubledecker bus where the lower level is furbished with 9 cama seats that look like aereoplane business class seats and recline to a full bed. There are movies on board as well as a hostess who serves you dinner just like in a plane. Except that I have never been sick on plane food!!! By the time we got to Cusco (29th of May) and checked in our hotel in San Blas, I had already started feeling a little strange. Gregory started having diarrea but it kept at that and nothing more, lucky him. For me, it was the beginning of two days of no food and feeling terribly. Nausea, fever, vomiting, and the Inca Trail booked for the 31st of May!!! OK, let s give Cruz del Sur the benefit of the doubt, maybe it was not their cold rice that caused all this, maybe it was something else. We cannot tell for sure, but one thing is sure: I will not eat bus food ever again!!!

On May 30th we decided to call the doctor, who prescribed me antibiotics and other tablets and assured me that this would sort me out to go on the Inca Trail the next day. The problem with the Inca Trail is that, ever since they have limited the number of trekkers to 500 a day, making the bookings not transferable, if you fall sick on the day you are due, you lose your chance to go along with all the money you have paid. This ensures that lots of people who are not feeling well still go on this fairly demanding trek as they are, like me. I felt like a wreck for most of the day before departure. When I realised that the antibiotics and annxed tablets hadnt given me my appetite back and I was still unable to swallow anything at 5 pm, we went down to the SAS agency to discuss our options. We were greeted by the most unsympathetic representative on shift, with whom we ended up arguing. At that point the situation wasn't great, since we had already paid $1,020 to do this thing and Gregory was so annoyed and disappointed that I could not go that he didn't want to go any more!! Thankfully, by about 6 pm I started to feel like a human being again. I think it was the dose of rehydration salts that gave me new life, possibly. So we went along to our 7 pm briefing session and I decided that, if I was still breathing the next morning, I would try to go along.

And I did. It was really hard, I was fairly sick throughout the trek, with different problems on different days. I think the worse was the morning of the second day, which is supposed to be the hardest day of all, since you climb from 3,000 m to 4,200 m at Dead's Woman Pass (...). I woke up with a tremendous nausea, went to the loo about 4 times and by 7 am I was done in. I went to see Ernesto, our lead guide, and declared that I didn't know if I could make it. He said ‘let’s give it a try’ and so off we went, 4 hours of a million steps ahead of us. Well, not only did I get to the top of the pass, I got there before 3 other people in my group!!!!!! What the hell. It was a kind of surreal hike uphill, going really really slowly, step after step, and frankly I still wonder how I made it up there in my very sick condition. I must say, on a few occasions I did think of the guy in Touching the void and that gave me the motivation I needed. If he crawled down a mountain with a broken leg for a week, surely I could climb up to Dead Woman´s Pass with an upset stomach? Gregory, god bless him, carried my rucksack for me. And one should see what the porters carry!!! The biggest packs I have ever seen, all the way up and down the mountains for 4 days. Not only the size, they run with it!! Yes, they run, because they need to be ahead of the group to plant the tents and make lunch-tea-dinner and await the tourists with a welcome and cold drink. I did actually feel a bit uncomfortable with the whole concept, these people serving us constantly and a complete separation between them and us. OK, there are a couple of opportunities where presentations are made along with applauses etc, and the tips giving at the end etc, but generally the whole business is one of great segregation between the Quechua-speaking porters and the rest of us. As usual Gregory diverted a little from the general trend, having bought a small Quechua-Spanish dictionary which he endeavoured to use while on the trek, mixing with the porters more than anybody else. Then, at the final greetings session he declared in perfect Spanish: Lo siento, no hablo suficiente quechua. Pero…La proxima vez!!!

So… the Inca Trail. What can we say. It is amazing, 50 km of a fine ancient paved path crossing beautiful mountains, passing a great variety of vegetation and many ruins, and fantastic food none of which you have to carry. And then, on the fourth day you get up at 4 am to ensure you are at the Sun Gate for 6 am. We had great weather and on day 4 the sky was clear and rays of sun came out from above the sun gate and slowly revealed Macchu Picchu!! When doing the Inca Trail, Macchu Picchu is reached from the top, which is a fantastic view. It looks so tiny!! Then the sun illuminates it and you realise that you have the finest Inca city in front of your eyes. From down below (400 m from Macchu Picchu to the bottom of the valley) you cannot see a thing.

We stayed in Aguas Calientes (Macchu Picchu Pueblo) an extra night as we had booked it as part of the tour, thinking the hot springs would be good for us. We did not even attempt going there, given that by day 4 in the afternoon I had a sore throat, fever again and could hardly walk. At any rate, all the people who went said it was quite pathetic and the water not even hot. The next day Gregory managed to change our train ticket for an earlier one and got me out of bed back to Cusco for about 5 pm, which was nice. Back at Casa de la Gringa hostel, which really feels like home, especially now that I am not feeling great.

So here are some pics...

Day 1. The gentle beginning...
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Day 2. I did explain to Gregory that he was free to take the picture but I was not in a position to smile...
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Towards Dead Woman´s Pass
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At Dead Woman´s Pass
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Inca tunnelDSC06769.jpg

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Yes, this was the food!!
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Posted by Flav-Greg 08:26 Archived in Peru Comments (4)

Arequipa and the Colca Canyon

Arequipa - ¨the white city¨ - so called because of the volcanic rock (sillar) the Spanish used to build houses with.

sunny 15 °C

First impressions? Big and quite nice, the second largest and most important city after Lima, made out in baroque, neo-classical styles and colonial architectures. The main square has a beautiful cathedral and close by there is the famous monastery of Santa Catalina, which we did not visit because of principle: $10 to enter!!!!! We went to the website http://www.go2peru.com/spa/gal_santa_catalina.htm
and saw it from there....

The good news for gringos travelling to Arequipa is that it is low altitude - 2335 m.a.s.l and the air is very pleasant, despite the traffic the weather is quite ambient (day and night) for this time of year. As far as accomodation goes, you have the full range from cheap to expensive. We stayed at the Casa De Avila, www.casadeavila.com, a medium expensive colonial hostel ($20 double room with bath and breakfast), with an attached English school. It is clean, beautiful and has fantastic services, really friendly staff and an owner who speaks very good English. Highly recommended and worth every penny.

One of the museums in Arequipa hosts Juanita, an ice Inca mummy who was found in 1995, still frozen. The Inca had sacrificed her, together with other few kids, at the top of a 6,800 plus meters high volcano to please the gods. She rolled off the top and laid frozen in a cove and so they found her, still with her internal organs from hundreds of years ago!! We went to the Museum Andino to see her in her refrigerator, unfortunately they do not allow photos so no pics to show you. Lots of mummies have been found around here actually, some on the way to the Colca Canyon, where you can see their burial coves mid way up into a vertical hill side - so inaccessible you wonder how they hell the Incas managed to put the mummies in there??

We went on the 2-day tour to the Colca Canyon, which was a great decision. Possibly the best part of the tour is getting there!! The road is very scenic and they make lots of stops to look at things. We chose an agency - PeruBolivia - who offered small numbers (we were 9) and for $20 plus tourist ticket and no meals we had the full two days with accomodation in a basic hostel called Ricardito, which was OK, though cold. It seems that all hostels there are cold, unless you pay a great deal more $$ for a really good one. As one tends to spend very little time in the hostel, possibly it does not make a lot of sense to spend a lot of money for a better standard. Anyways. We saw lots of vicunas and lamas and alpacas and the road is dotted with children and ladies with baby lamas who hope for some money in exchange for a picture. We took a clandestine one and did not pay, but did not feel too rotten about it. While I was trying to take a picture of a church, some kids run in front of it and then run back to demand payment!! Cheeky - well Flavia did not comply, hope they learn not to be cheeky?? The Colca place and Chivay, the town nearest to the Canyon, are heavily touristy and on the way from Chivay to the Cruz del Condor you even see women dancing in a town´s square at 6:30 AM !!!! !! How insane is that??!

The tour base is Chivay, capital of the Colca valley, where one arrives at around midday. They take you to have lunch and then rest in the hostel for an hour before going to the thermal springs, which are quite nice. There they have ladies dressed up in local costume serving you from the border of the pool.... we had a pisco tea which was very strong.
Then you go back for dinner at a peña place, ie a dinner with a local dance show which is actually quite good fun. The dance shows a couple whipping each other and doing other strange things, then they fish a couple of tourists out of the lot and make them perform the same dance with local partners - I almost got picked but managed to hide behind a Belgian fellow traveller and saved my skin!!!
The next day we got up at 5 to leave at 6 for the Cruz del Condor, which is the highest part of the Canyon where the condors have their nests. The canyon is over 1,000 m deep, by the way, the deepest in the world!! When there is enough hot air the condors fly high up above the cross, sometimes at 5 meters from people´s heads!! We were not so lucky, they came up but not that high up and so we could only look down at them at a distance. Still quite impressive, they are huge, reaching 2.8 meters in wing span. The older ones have white collars and white wing tips, the youngs are all brown.

Guess what this is?? peruvian specialty...
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Arequipa town
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Road to the Colca Canyon
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Peruvians (and Bolivians) pile up stones as an offering to the spirits of the mountain
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Clandestine photo...
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We did see a condor or two from close by, not that unlucky after all..
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Posted by Flav-Greg 11:01 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

Into Peru

Lake Titicaca Peruvian side: Puno, Amantani, Taquile and Uros islands

semi-overcast 15 °C

On Tuesday we left Titicaca in Bolivia for Titicaca in Peru, landing in Puno after a 3.5-hour enjoyable bus ride over the border. Like our Peruvian guide on Titicaca reiterated many times today, 60% of the lake belongs to Peru, and 40% to Bolivia. It is a huge lake, over 170 km long and 60 km wide. Fairly big...

Puno is BLOODY FREEZING. The town itself is quite ugly and made up of very many brown unfinished houses that cover the hill onto the lake bay. It lies at 4,000 m above sea level and it seems to have an extremely rarified type of air - both of us have been suffering various altitude problems since we have gotten here.
We ended up in hostel El Manzano, which was recommended to us as inexpensive by a Canadian lady we met at the Calvario hill in Copacabana. It is actually not too bad, the people there are extremely helpful and the place is clean and indeed inexpensive ($11 for both with bath and breakfast). We booked a tour to the islands for the next day, as recommended by the nice French couple who we met in Tarabuco, who are ahead of us and sending us tips. Aren´´t we lucky!!

It was a good tour - 2 days and 1 night to the local islands. Like Luis mentioned, it was ´good tourism´. Meaning that you spend the night with a local family and end up buying artesania from the people who actually make the goods. And a real eye-opener as to how bloody lucky we are in the developed world.
The family we stayed with was on the Amantani island, which lies at about 3.5 hours by boat from Puno. We got there at midday and were introduced to our respective families. Ours seemed pretty poor - lots of very dirty kids roaming about in the courtyard, 2 small enclosures with smelly pigs and sheep, a tiny primitive kitchen and straw beds. No electricity of course and no running water. They invested a lot of money into making 2 rooms habitable for tourists, so that they can have guests every now and then and make some dollars - the agency pays them 25 soles each ($8) for the overnight stay, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Apparently the community shares out the available tourists on an even distribution system so that everybody gets some in turn, which is great but clearly there aren´t enough tourists going to this island: our family´s ´guestbook´ showed that the prevous lot had been there a month earlier. 4 guests at $8 each once a month is not exactly going to help much? Anyways. When we got there, in the sheep stall there was a very young lamb. When I asked the family how old the lamb was, they said: what lamb? Then they looked and informed us that it had just been born!!
We were served good basic food, lots of quinoa soup and potatoes and a root called oca (or oka?) that they dig out from the ground and leave to dry before boiling it. Given the hygenic conditions of the place, I was expecting food poisoning in the night, but it didn´t happen. Some other tourists were sick overnight, but we were lucky. Or rather, the 3 other kids were unlucky, since they were the only ones. The first thing the family did was to pull out their hand-knitted hats to sell to us. We felt compelled to buy at least one for $7, with which money you can buy 3 or 4 back in town, but it really did not matter there how much they wanted. was keen to know about how much we earn and how much our cameras cost, and get pictures taken so that we can send them to them possibly along with anything else that we can spare, like kids clothes and shoes etc. It did not feel good whatsoever. After Cuba, where a similar encounter make me cry for about a week, I think I lived this one fairly well, but certainly I have not been able to take this very well either.

In the evening they dressed us up in local costumes and went down to the local square for a party with local music. It was good fun to see all of us dressed up and dancing with the village. We bought them beer and coca cola (which cost more than what we pay them for the entire stay) and danced to what seemed to me like the very same song over and over... but it was good! At one point a small child of 5 or so approached me and mumbled something...till I realised he was asking me to dance!! That was really funny, and I could not even decline!

This morning they accompanied us down to the boat and from there we went to the next island, Taquile. This island seemed a lot richer, somehow. Here, tourists tend to stop for a trout lunch more than family stays. So we had a good trout lunch with the unmissable quinoa soup and then salied on to the Uros Islands, which are just 25 mins from Puno. These islands are really curious: they float! They are made with the lake´s totora, long reeds that they pile up and bundle together to make their islands! The place looks predominantly yellow and really cute. We stopped at two of them, bought some artesania from the ladies, and then returned to base. By the time we got there the sun was gone, which was a pity, since when it´s out it brings out the yellow of the reeds.

Tomorrow we are off to Arequipa, apparently the Peruvian equivalent of Sucre in Bolivia. Both called white cities because they are ´colonially´white and beautiful. CORRECTION: called white city because the colonial houses are built in sillar, which is a vulcanic white stone.

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Our host family
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The food, oca and potatoes
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The brand new lamb
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Amantani party
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Uros Islands
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Posted by Flav-Greg 19:09 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

From Coroico to Copacabana and Isla del Sol

sunny 18 °C

Here we are again! We left Coroico on Friday, as we managed to scrounge a lift back to La Paz from Downhill Madness, the company we came down with. Aaron was limping as they had an accident - someone took him over - which is rule no. 1 broken, NEVER overtake the guide - causing a small pile up on the good part of the road and someone broke a shoulder... sooo glad this road is past us!!!

Hotel Esmeralda was great but in fact we did nothing but eat and play pool, so towards the end we were concerned about our weight and eager to leave. On the last afternoon I went to visit Senda Verde, a animal refuge 30 minutes from the village. Gregory was not bothered and stayed to continue playing pool till the last minute. The refuge was well run and they had a lot of rescued monkeys, some of which were as young as 7 weeks and with nappies on! Really cute. This is the place where GRAVITY, the top biking company down to Coroico take their bikers for lunch. They have some cute cabañas to offer (not many), but this is a place for the few, very very tranquil, away from everything and full of animals, including insects!!! It is possible to volunteer here, though they are still quite small and struggling with the amount of work they get. It seems that Bolivians started taking animals here even before they actually put the place together...

We stayed in La Paz overnight and then got a bus to Copacabana.

Copacabana is quite nice, it has a huge beautiful cathedral which is quite impressive as one sees it from the bus getting into town. We stayed one night and then got a boat over to the Isla del Sol. Here we hiked the island north to south and then stopped for the night in the southern village of Yumani, at a very basic place for the crazy amount of $5 for both!! No bathroom and no flush toilets, but this is a very basic place we are talking about! It was actually an excellent opportunity to see how the Aymara local campesinos live. At sunset everybody comes back home, so you see donkeys and sheep coming into town from everywhere, really quite lovely!! And then the village lights up, all the family restaurants that are closed during the day come to life and it is really cozy and warm (in the romantic sense, it is quite cold in fact). While we were sitting down having a coffee a little girl got hold of my hair and started plaiting it and then put a couple of typical bands in it, like they wear them. Then she demanded 10 bs!!! We agreed on 7.5 and we were both very happy. The next day I asked the landlady at the hotel to plait them again for me... the landlady was Aymara and such a lovely woman!! Beautiful, with freckles and soo sweet. I recommend her to anybody who goes that way, Hostal Templo del Sol. She also had fantastic hand-embroidered sun table cloths that I was tempted to buy off her, but changed my mind when I realised how much they cost.

Well, today we are back in Copacabana and tomorrow we are leaving for Puno. This afternoon we went up the Calvario hill nearby - 30 mins steeply uphill - the views were great and we survived it, especially Gregory who is suffering the altitude quite a bit... fingers crossed for the Inca Trail in a week´s time..!!

While in Coroico we went to visit Tocaña, a local village where the Afro-Bolivians live, 40 families in all, the descendants of the Potosi mines slaves. We visited the local school:
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Coroico quiet street corner
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Senda Verde

cutest 7-week-old howler monkey
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more young specimens...
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Isla del Sol
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Coffee break in Yumani, Isla del Sol.
The little girl next to Gregory is the business woman who plaited my hair. At about 5:30 the family animals came back from the fields, so we had a catwalk of donkeys and sheep just behind where Gregory was sitting. Quite amusing!
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Posted by Flav-Greg 15:53 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

La Paz, Tiwanaku and Coroico

through the 'World Most Dangerous Road'

sunny 15 °C

LA PAZ

La Paz is quite nice. We got there in the late afternoon and got straight to our designated accomodation, Hostal Republica. It was a good choice, the place is just 3 minutes from the main square and really beautiful > www.hostalrepublica.com
We stayed 3 nights there and took it fairly easy, considering that this city is at 3,600 m and, being scattered all over the hill sides, steep roads are the norm. Generally, we cannot say that high altitude has affected us too much (Gregory more than me – choking sensation while in bed trying to sleep), however as soon as we do a little exercise, the effects are felt immediately – walking uphill is quite fatiguing. La Paz is quite chaotic and there isn’t so much to see really, apart from the main square and the many markets. It is quite extended and yet it has a provincial feel.
We spent half a day going up and down Calle Sagarnaga – the gringo street with the artesania shops and the travel agencies – and went to take a look at the famous Mercado de Hechicheria (witchcraft market). Here we bought a few good luck charms and amulets (they look cute and, should they not bring any luck, they won’t harm either) and took some shots at the many exsiccated lama foetuses which lie in heaps and are used by the Aymara population (the indigenas) to bring good luck. They burn them, together with other strange ritual material, on the grounds of new houses to bring fertility and fortune. Apparently they do not kill the lamas for the foetuses, these come from natural abortions. However, they do worse things to these animals, including buring them alive near the mines or cutting their throat and then eat them by the mine entrance in ceremonies held to wish for more minerals…

La Paz
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Central Square
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Calle Sagarnaga
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Mercado de Hechiceria, see the llama foetuses in the basket....
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TIWANAKU
The next day we went to visit Tiwanaku, a pre-Inca site about 70 km from La Paz founded about 3000 years ago. While the museum was fairly interesting and furnished, with lots of ceramics, a mummy, a good few elongated skulls (they used to stretch the skulls of babies in order to make them larger and create more space for brain cells!!) and monoliths (none of which could be photographed unless a bribe of 5 BS was paid to the museum guard) the actual site was quite pathetic. We managed to scrape a couple of decent pictures together but it really was hard work: the place has been pulled apart and the massive stones making up the pyramids displaced by the Spanish when they found gold in the ground, even breaking up the big ancient stones with dynamite to provide gravel for the foundations of the railway! Bloody hell.
This civilization grew quite large thanks to a remarkable agricultural system of raised fields called sukakullo, which enabled them to produce incredible quantities of food surplus. They say that in their time, the Tiwanaku could feed over 100,000 people, while today the same area produces food for only 7,000 or so. So they are thinking about re-implementing the same system today, which seems so much more effective than the modern technological methods! Quite incredible.

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THE MOST DANGEROUS ROAD

From La Paz we booked the famous bike trip down to Coroico in the Yungas, through what’s known as the most dangerous road in the world. ‘We’ is Gregory on the bike and me more safely in the minibus…. Yes, I chickened out and did not sign up for it.
At the beginning I was the one who was enthusiastic about it, and Gregory didn’t want to know. Then we did the mini-version of it back in Tupiza, and things changed for both of us: I did not want to do it anymore, but Gregory did!! So we booked the trip, but under the agreement that I would follow in the support minibus following the group. I came to the conclusion that there was little point in doing something that cost a lot of money and I was not going to enjoy (braking hard for 4 hours on fearsome precipices is not what I call fun), and in fact being in the bus and having the chance to actually look at the views rather than watching the road and being able to take pictures appealed to me a lot more. The road descends over 3,500 m in just over 60 km, and it is a crazy incredibly STEEP road. Nobody knows how many people have died there, but it is in the many hundreds. The thing is, nowadays the road is a lot less dangerous than 6 months ago. Until 6 months ago this road was the only one from La Paz down to the Yungas, meaning that it was very trafficked day and night in both directions. In some places only one car can fit, and they had coaches carrying 50 people and big trucks going on it! So every month some vehicle would fall down into the precipices, sometimes with lots of passengers. Many accidents were due to mechanical failure, some to human error and many others to drunken drivers. Drunken drivers!! It is just impossible to grasp how anybody would contemplate drinking while on a road like this. So now that a new road has been built and most vehicles use it, I’d say that it is a lot safer, though a couple of people still managed to die in the past 6 months while doing the bike tour. Even if you don’t fall off into the precipice (from where they can only retrieve you by abseiling down), there is still a real risk of falling off the bike and injuring yourself on the rocky road, and big stones still occasionally fall on the road from above. So not so safe still…One of the girls in our group fell off the bike and had to have 3 stitches in her head. So I spent the time worrying about Gregory, reminding him at every stop that he should exercise maximum care and feeling really rotten for having him doing this while I was sitting back in the bus. Well, he made it without ever falling once!
I think we picked a good company to do this with – Downhill Madness. They had some of the most expensive bikes ($65 - probably the most expensive, but even though really stingy, I was not going to go on the cheap on this) and the chap that we saw in the office, one of the guides, inspired us. His name is Aaron, a young English guy full of enthusiasm and a loud voice who has been doing this for months. Lots of attention to discipline and instructions, he spent a lot of time briefing the group at the beginning of each section of the road, providing lots of commentary on the many stops that they did. Most of the road is dotted with crosses in each spot where someone has died, quite an incredible sight really, so you get an account of the biggest or most curious accidents that took place over the years. I got a lot of stories too in the bus with Ollie, the driver, who was driving down the crazy road while taking pictures for the group, much to my extreme worry.
Downhill Madness - highly recommended company, the only one that uses full face helmets that protect your nose and teeth and not only the skull. Not cheap, but worth it.

The paved beginning, 9 am, 4,800 m....
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Isn´t it scary....
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Our intrepid Gregory...
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Watch this.. it happened to Aaron a couple of days after we came down the road with him, a biker broke rule no. 1 and overtook him. Consequence: innocent other biker broke a shoulder...

see also news about dangerous road-update 25/04/08
http://news.uk.msn.com/Article.aspx?cp-documentid=8167589

COROICO

Down in Coroico we were taken to Hotel Esmeralda for lunch and showers. We had already organised to stay down for a few nights to enjoy the warmer climate and unwind, given that there is a big swimming pool on site, sauna, pool table and lots of tranquillity. So this is where we are going to be till the weekend: www.hotelesmeralda.com

Posted by Flav-Greg 15:25 Archived in Bolivia Comments (3)

Last day in Potosi

moving on to Cochabamba

sunny 18 °C

The day after the mines we decided to stay in Potosi for the morning and to get to Sucre in the afternoon just in time to get the 7pm bus to Cochabamba. We had to take the night bus because there are no day buses going to Cochabamba!!! So again we missed out on what seemed a very scenic road, on top of risking our lives again. And we are not paranoid... On the way to Potosi we saw a bus lying on its side in a ditch next to the road (only 3 m or so deep, no precipice luckily) and found out that the driver had fallen asleep at 4 am in the morning: no dead. Then, while driving from Potosi to Sucre, we saw the carcass of a bus lying in the middle of a dried river bed, and could not quite understand how the hell it had gotten there... till we realised that it had gone straight through the railing of the bridge after coming down from a steep serpentine and rolled several times to the middle of the river: 18 dead. This also happened in the early morning. Apparently brake failure. So, towards the early morning on our night bus to Cochabamba, looking down into the precipices we could kind of see in the night, we were quite worries, at least I was. Gregory was not sitting next to the window and had his eyes closed, so I don´t think he suffered as much as I did. Anyways, we did make it to Cochabamba alive, urrah. From now on we should not have any more night buses to take, fingers crossed.

We came to Cochabamba with a view to visit the Toro Toro national park. This turned out to be far too expensive - over $200 each for 3 days jeep tour - and frankly, after having been to S Pedro and Uyuni for peanuts, we thought it´s just not worth it, especially when we can do with some extra time to spend around La Paz and Lake Titicaca. So we are moving on from Cochabamba for La Paz straight away. Cochabamba is the town from which Marta, my auntie Zia Maria´s carer was from. It is a rather messy place full of market stalls everywhere, quite ugly really. They seem to have quite a few flight agencies here, and lots of flights to Milan and Bergamo!!!

So far, the best city in Bolivia for us has been Potosi. Sucre is refined but Potosi is where life flows. Its old streets are really lovely, and the market is also a very interesting place. We have now developed a better tecnique to take pictures of people who don´t want to be photographed, so we have had a lot of fun with taking a few really good shots. Here are some.

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This is cow´s heads they are selling. Apparently a typical dish of the Altiplano, cow´s head soup... and they only cost 2 Bs ( about $ 0.25)
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The coffee here is very good...guaranteed by Gregory (TM)
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Posted by Flav-Greg 19:09 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Potosi

Hell underground

sunny 25 °C

This is Gregory, remember me?? Gregory, I am finally writing the blog!!

Potosí - 4100m above sea level , highest city in the World. Potosi is a wonderful and a tragic place in Bolivia.

Potosi is a living museum of Spanish colonial architecture, everywhere you look. It is difficult to understand at first why anyone would want to build such beautiful things here (remote, inhospitable location). So high up, sea level dwellers usually suffer the effects of altitude sickness, which includes headaches, shortness of breath and of course death if symptoms are not treated (usually a fast exit down to a more comfortable level). Gringo smokers need not apply for a job up here...

The tragedy of Potosi is also its fame and wealth, one name, Cerro Rico ( Rich Mountain) which we visited today for half a day underground with the miners.

A brief history is basically that the Spanish empire and most of Europe’s wealth was built on this mountain. Since the 15th century Silver, Tin, Zinc and other metals and minerals have been taken from this mountain. 8-9 million miners have died here since then, in the bad old days 90-100 miners a day would die bringing silver etc to the surface, mainly indigenous peoples and African slaves, the latter due to the altitude sickness and the 20 hours daily shifts, in a dusty, poisonous gas environment that is also why Cerro Rico was also called “the mountain that eats men”. The modern tragedy is the fact that there are some as young as 10-year-old children working in the mines, supporting their families. An interesting fact is that all the mines have a effigy figure call “el Tio” which they all worship every week on Friday by bringing presents of cigarettes and Coca leaves and llama foetus carcass, in order to make the mines give a good yield and save their lives. What is quite clear is that the Bolivian miners have no problems going to church on Sundays ( those that can) but in the mines they worship the El Tio –the devil, because they were taught 500 years ago by the Spanish that god is in heaven and the devil lives underground, where they work.

I mentioned earlier that Flavia and I spent the half a day in the mines. Just to describe the sequence of events. We were picked up in a mini bus that we had to several times get out of so it could go uphill (a small group of 8 gringos and 3 guides). They took us to the miners market to buy presents for the miners. The presents were bottles of coke, dynamite, fuses, ignitors, ammonium nitrate (bigger bang), and bags of coca leaves with all the bits that help to masticate them. Fully loaded up we then headed for a shack near the mines to get into our miners gear with our guide Jaime. Fully equipped with presents and geared up we entered the mines. The ordered chaos of the place is best experienced than described, in the beginning you were running to get out of the way of groups of four men running towards you with 1-2.5 tons of ore in a mining wagon, you learned pretty quickly to get off the tracks and stand clear when they were coming down the line. I banged my head about 10 times on the low ceilings, saved from fractures by the helmet I wore. It was a lot easier for the gringos to get out of the way when they were carrying their load trolley up hill , because of the strain on their bodies. Also they were glad to see the gringos in the tunnel, because they would scream for sweet drinks or coca leaves which we happily gave them as they passed. This is unfortunately all what the miners get out of the tourists, the cost of the tours is not shared or passed to them, which is really crap. But at least they get some drink and coca leaves for free, which are very very essential for working down there. These guys run from 2000m within the mine to the exit with 1-2.5 tonnes of ore 15 to 20 to 30 times a day. I think we got to about 2500 meters in the 4 hours we were there and it was exhausting. After the first hour 1000m into the mountain two girls of our party were overcome with events and had to be taken back to the surface, while the rest of us waited for the return of the guide watching the miners go by still running and moving tonnes like toys.

One very important point: coca leaves are VITAL to the miners and the people, without the coca no human being could ever work in the mines, in fact we just cannot conceive how they can do it, even with their mouth full of coca. The USA and Mr Bush should try a few hours in the mine themselves before trying to dictate what Bolivia should and should not do with their coca crops....

Potosi
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Cerro Rico
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El Tio. Note the fallic thing, this is about the fertility that he is meant to bring with extracting the minerals
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Gregory passing through the narrowest tunnel we passed
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The very civilised tunnel from the colonial era near the entrance, this is NOT what the inferno looks like a few more hundred meters into the mine...
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This is a bit more like it...
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Outside the mines, this is where the trolleys are emptied out
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Posted by Flav-Greg 18:10 Archived in Bolivia Comments (6)

Beautiful Bolivia

From Uyuni to Sucre

sunny 25 °C

We have finally found a bit of spare time to catch up with our blogger - I cannot believe how short the days are, even on holiday!!!

We got to Uyuni on Wednesday at around 2 pm and the town looked worse than Copiapo´, so we decided to get out of there asap and get straight to Tupiza (south of Bolivia). Out of the 3 jeeps that were kind of travelling together through the salar, we managed to find 6 people who wanted to come along and so hired a jeep which would take us there departing at 5pm (all transport leaves for Tupiza in the morning). Great! So we paid double the fare ($15 each) for the pleasure to leave Uyuni kind of right away in a vehicle which normally would stuff up to 12 people with just 6 of us. It never dawned on us why no vehicles go to Tupiza in the night....What a bloody journey!!! That night - it got dark 30 minutes after we left, at 6:30, since the jeep was late and we had to find petrol etc - that night we spent 7 hours literally doing a camel trophy style journey, crossing rivers, mountains, valleys and crossing just ONE small town in the whole time. When we got to our booked hostel at 1 o´clock in the morning (instead of 11 pm) all in one piece, we were all unanimous to give the driver, Apollinar, another $2.5 dollars tip EACH for getting us there alive. The guy did such a brilliant job, that road was just crazy. Doing it at night is crazy, much of the road is on serpentines on the edge of the mountain with very vertical drops, needless to say it is all a dirt road full of holes and big stones, ditches, basically it is not a road!!!! The man was a hero, our Apollinar, chewing coca leaves all night and getting us home. AND we missed the beautiful scenery... Never mind, you leave and learn.

Tupiza is a small place and quite pleasant. The group stayed together the whole 2 days there - Claire (Canada/UK), Malcolm (UK), John and Gabriela (USA and Brazil) and Simon (UK) who is a smart chap and who got there the next day travelling in the day. Togetehr we did a whole day trip called TRIATLON, which means that you go round the canyons first by jeep, then by horse, then by bike. It was all great till we got to the bikes... Now. The concept of the bikes is that they drive you up this place called El Sillar (it seats like a saddle between two valleys) and then you come down the mountain by bike. The road is 17 km to town and it drops 900 meters in height over this distance, which, together with the fact that the road is in appalling condition full of holes and stones etc, it makes the cycling down a very strenous and dangerous affair. You basically brake ALL the time (and your hands hurt like hell after 5 minutes) being very careful not to go over the hedge and fall to your death a few hundred meters down. I started second and arrived last, taking one whole hours instead of the average 40 minutes, by the time I got down it was dark and I could not even see the stones any more, it was just really stupid. The others seem to have enjoyed it though, so I must be a chicken?? The thing is, I was the one who wanted to cycle down the Yungas road - called the most dangerous road in the world - which is a downhill business like the one we have done in Tupiza, only 4 times longer!!! 60 km with a 3,500 m drop. Now I am not sure I would enjoy it. Will see.

From Tupiza we made sure we took a DAY bus to Sucre (10 hours) to get there on time to go to Sunday market in Tarabuco, a town 60 km from Sucre. It all worked out very well, apart from encountering an overturned bus on the way - guess what, a night bus!! - Sucre is a very posh and colonial town, the best and richest in Bolivia.

At the Tarabuco market we met a lot of known faces from Uyuni and did a bit of shopping, which was cheap until we posted it > $ 54 for 3 kg!!!! I wanted to cry, it so much hurts to spend unnecessary money, especially when the average hotel room costs $10 for the pair of us...

From Sucre we went back on ourselves to Potosi, which is famous for being the highest city in the world at 4,100 m, and for the Cerro Rico on which it flourished back in the centuries, Cerro Rico being the richest mountain in the world for silver and other minerals. We went to visit the mines - Gregory is writing all about it - and tomorrow we have a few hours to see the beautiful churches before we go back to Sucre and to Cochabamba from there (heading north).

At the market in Tarabuco we met a very nice French couple in their 50s who had just spent 5 weeks working in Potosi with the children of the mines - meaning that there are some 800 kids aged 10 and over working in the mines - they gave us a movie to watch which was extremely interesting (I cried throughout). Then we bumped into the couple in town, went to lunch together, then they came to our hotel and we looked at our pictures, then at theirs, and they had fantastic pictures which made me feel like ours are sooo inferior!!! Great people these guys.

One last thing I wanted to say before I shut off - Bolivia is nice, and Bolivians are nice people. Friendly. Inventive. They have no money and it is nice to see how they use what they have, like the plastic bottle screw cap that holds the toilet chain in place, or the metal coca cola cap that is implanted in the soap and this is held up over the sink by a magnet. Great. The only bad thing is that they do not like to be taken pictures of, this is sooo hard to deal with! Gregory says it is because I have no style when asking. Maybe he is right.

Tupiza and its fallic symbols...
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Trip lunch and Claire, really nice girl
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The devil´s gate
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El Sillar - from where we descended by bike...
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Sucre
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At Sucre´s Museo de Arte Indigena
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Posted by Flav-Greg 17:04 Archived in Bolivia Comments (1)

San Pedro to Uyuni

Through the wonderful Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa

30 °C

This trip was SPECTACULAR, possibly the best we have had so far. It is difficult to compare or rank the places we have visited (where do you put Fitz Roy??? Or Torres del Paine??? Or Perito Moreno?? Or Rio Carnival??? Or San Pedro de Atacama???), but this one was something truly out of this world. For 3 days we travelled through stunning mountain scenery, volcanos and lakes of all colours, only to end in the biggest salt flat in the world in a sea of some 10,000 square meters of very white salt!!

After having consulted the book of suggestions and complaints at the tourism office in San Pedro, we decided to buy our tour from Estrella del Sur, one of three Bolivian agencies offering 3-day tours to Bolivia. It was a very good choice - everything went incredibly smoothly and, unlike all the warnings found in the present tour guides, the food was good and plenty.

I will cut this short and post a few good pictures, though I must say that again, like with the Valle della Luna, the photos do not do justice to what we experienced. Very briefly, during the first day we went through a few lagunas of different colours with lots of flamingos. We stayed at an extremely basic shack up at more than 4000 meters at -20 degrees (nobody slept, despite the 3 layers of clothing plus the sleeping bag plus the 2 blankets) but hey! we were right next to the Laguna Colorada, dotted with hundreds of flamingos. And they were not even indoors!!!! The second day was a long drive through more lagunas, volcanos etc to a hotel by the salt flat shore - a salt hotel built with salt blocs! Walls, floor, beds, tables and chairs were all made out of salt - very peculiar! The third day it was a 5am start to drive to the middle of the salar and watch the sun rise. This was really crazy, we had the sun going up on one end and the moon going down at the other!! Then it was the drive across the white sea to the Isla del Pescado, a small island covered in giant cactuses, where we had breakfast. Then it was another drive in the white salt desert thorugh the salt ´mines´, where they extract the salt for human consumption, then the salt museum and finally a visit to the train cemetery on arrival in Uyuni.

I´ll shut up and let the photos show you the itinerary....

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Posted by Flav-Greg 19:25 Archived in Bolivia Comments (1)

Geological paradise explored

sunny 30 °C

We’ve now been in San Pedro for 5 days. San Pedro is a stunning place, every excursion we have done has surpassed the previous one, it is crazy!! Our first visit was to the Laguna Miscanti and the Salar de Atacama, the former being a beautiful basin of water at 4,000 + meters above see level (San Pedro is at 2,700, not joking either!) surrounded by some most yellow bunches of grass, while the Salar is the third largest salt flat in the world and housing flamingos (Laguna Chaxa).
The second day we went to the Valle della Luna and Valle della Muerte. This trip is done in the afternoon to catch sunset at the Moon Valley, which is extraordinary. Between 6.10 and 6.20 pm the colors of the cordillera change to very intense and many variations of pink and yellow, it is a tremendous show! Unfortunately, in this case the pictures do not capture the real colors nor the continuous change that takes place in the scenery during those 10 minutes.
On day 3 we canceled our trip to the Salar de Tara (it eventually hit us that it costs like all other 3 trips together and, after having seen what we have seen, probably not worth the money) and we hired bikes instead, at a 10% of the Tara trip cost!! We went to visit the Pukara ruins, which date back to the XII century and are OK. From there, though, it is possible to walk up to a monument on top of a hill from where one has a view over the Valle della Muerte and other cordilleras, which is really really really great. Not happy to have walked under the midday sun up to the viewpoint for a couple of hours and having drunk out all the water, we decided to take the bikes back into the Valle della Muerte (without water…) to get a closer look at the formations of the Cordillera de la Sal which we had seen the day before in the afternoon. Wow! The last part of the valley we had only seen from the bus while exiting the valley. Being on the bike gave us the chance to cycle through the canyon amongst these high cones of red clay, chalk and salt and take millions of photos! This is a place where you could take a picture every 2 minutes and each would be different and stunning just the same.
Today we went to the Tatio Geysers. This means being picked up at 4 am in order to be on site at 6.30 am in time for the geysers to start. It is 90 km away from San Pedro, at 4,300 meters of altitude, and the road is quite rough. When you get there, the guide prepares breakfast while people wander around the geyser field, being told to pay attention to where they put their feet as the frozen ground can give away and one might fall into the boiling mud under the surface!! The way the geysers work is that the water that comes through the field from a river is heated underground from the magma that lies below (at some 700m). At night it is very cold (-10 C or less), so when you get there at 6:30 in the dark the sun is still down and it is still very cold. As soon as the sun comes out, the temperature rises dramatically and this change in temperature causes the phenomena of the geysers shooting up boiling water and steam. We were not very lucky today as it was only -5 (!!!) when we got there and it was a little cloudy, which meant that the change in temperature was a couple of degrees less than we needed, so we did not have the sudden shot of water. But we saw A LOT of fumaroles and then visited the biggest geyser, where 3 people have died when falling in….basically boiled to death. Bloody hell! One of them apparently wore glasses that had steamed up and he did not see where he was going. Gosh. As for the others, I have no idea how the hell they could fall in the geysers, it is a good meter wide and the steam is a few meters high, no idea how one can walk into it. On the way back from the geysers we could see the scenery and hey! Fabulous again, of course. Beautiful colors, lots of vicunas (cameloid family), and a wonderful blue sky.

This is our last day here, and we are sorry to go. The place is lovely, the people really nice and the scenery out of this world. But I think we can take it, since we are leaving to Bolivia on a 3-day jeep tour through the Salar de Uyuni (the biggest salt flat in the world), visiting a few lagunas and other wonders on the way. Tonight we are going back to the only restaurant we have been while here (we have noticed a tendency to go back to the same place if we like it) it is called Torres del Paine because the owner is from there. He is a lovely man who the other day saw us passing by (half dead coming back from the bike trip) and called us in to invite us for a beer, and then invited us to go back for one of his pisco sours, on him again!!! Really lovely man, he lost his wife 18 years ago, she was shot during a protest in Santiago under the Pinoshit (like many call him) regime. That really touched me.

DAY 1:

Salar de Atacama: Laguna Chaxa
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Laguna Miscanti
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DAY 2

Valle della Muerte
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Valle della Luna
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DAY 3

Pukara ruins. Gregory (serious): It must be terribly hard to get down here when it rains...!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Pukara mirador
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Valle della Muerte by bike
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DAY 4: Tatio Geysers

Warming up the milk for breakfast...
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Machuca village church on the way back
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Posted by Flav-Greg 16:23 Archived in Chile Comments (4)

San Pedro de Atacama

Chile’s desert Mecca

sunny 27 °C

San Pedro lies in the middle of the Atacama desert 100 km away from the next big town, Calama. With just over 4,000 inhabitants, it offers 30+ places to stay and a similar number of tour agencies. Some people think that San Pedro is far too touristy and commercial. It may be so in high season, but at the moment, which is fairly quiet, it is just perfect. At least, we love it. It is actually nice to meet other travelers, and there is so much to see!!!

After the first night in the first hostel we found - where we didn’t sleep for the cold – we got ourselves a lovely little room in Hostal Sonchek. This is central and very secure, with some 12 rooms along a courtyard with all possible facilities we can dream of: well-equipped kitchen, basin to wash clothes, lines where to hang them, garden with chairs and tables, plenty of shelving and hooks in the bedroom and in the toilets, and a table-tennis table!! Once I spotted the table tennis I had made up my mind, while the girl showing me the place could not understand why I did not want to continue the viewing any more. > > We are going to spend some 4-6 days here, so it is vital that we have a good place where to rest between one excursion and the other.
There are a lot of places around where you do not find a single hook where to hang your stuff. Do these people have an idea of what tourists need when they stay in a room out of a suitcase or rucksack?? Obviously not, which means they also do not have a clue about what their guests need in general. It can be truly infuriating. So this Sonchek place has got it all in place, we give it a 4 stars if anybody needs a recommendation for a hostel here.

We have been round to the famous and recommendable museum already – very nice and rich in desert mummies and ancient skulls – and booked the 4 compulsory tours to Valle della Luna, the Lagunas, the Tatio Geysers and the Tara Salts, the last of which is not quite confirmed yet. While booking this last one we discovered that Rachel, co-passenger back on the Exodus truck, is in town!! Because when you book you need to leave your hotel and room number, we were able to trace her down and pay her a surprise visit last night. That was really funny.

NOTA ITALIANA SUGLI APPENDINI NELLE CAMERE IN AFFITTO
Solidarizzo con mio papa´, che si infuriava per il fatto che i bungalow del campeggio non avevano sufficienti ´chiodi´alle pareti. Qui di posti cosi ce ne sono a bizzeffe e io soffro con la stessa intensita´!!! Se continua senza chiodi potrei anche cominciare a fare una crociata personale agli appendini!!!

Our room at Hostal Sonchek
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The famous San Pedro de Atacama church
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Hermosa mujer Atacameña at the museum - famous beautiful mummy retrieved from the desert with full hair and skin
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Mummy in a jar
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Posted by Flav-Greg 17:37 Archived in Chile Comments (2)

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