La Frontera y Volvemos a Bolivia

Before arriving in La Paz to do the death road, we had ourselves a very interesting journey to cross ‘la frontera’ (border)! The idea was to leave Arequipa on our pre-booked bus, which ‘would’ arrive on time to catch the connecting bus at and only at 2:30. Luckily for us, our travelling luck was in and we had the privilege of following trucks on all of the single track roads, leaving us hoping that the ‘Tortoise and the Hare’ story was going to come good……….which it didn’t! We arrived exactly at 2:40pm, which once again our travelling luck was in and ALL of the connecting 2:30pm buses left nice and sharp that day! We therefore seeked out the next pausible route to get across the border. Which was a joyful 2 and 1/2 hour ‘taxi’ ride thats takes you to a very, very non touristy border, unlike the one when coming from Copacabana. Only in SA is it possible to grab a 4 person taxi for 2 1/2 hours!! Love this place.

Again our luck was on top form and we were (for the first time I might add) pulled into the customs office to be questioned, patted down, bags searched, individually while the other squirmed outside. After a slightly (used very lightly) smoother re-entry into Bolivia, we jumped on the next mini-bus bound for La Paz, which again was a delightful 2 1/2 hours on a very over crammed 6 person mini-bus. We ‘were’ meant ti be dropped off at one of the smaller more local bus depos, however as our luck was on tip too form that day, instead the driver thought it would be better to drop us in one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in La Paz, as there was potential fares to pick up! So after being refused to be taken anywhere by a few taxis, as we were too far away from anything, we finally landed our first bit of good news that day and got one of the happiest, most helpful drivers we could of asked for and possibly had in South America this far. The guy wasn’t sure on where our hotel was, but said this was not a good neighbourhood for us to be in, so would help us find it anyway he could, which after his many questions to police officers and standers by, he managed to find it down a quiet little street in the safest and nicest neighbourhood of La Paz! Which we also had one of the nicest rooms we have had since being in SA and genuinely felt like the day hadn’t been a total right off, even though there was only 30mins of it left and it started at 7am!!

Safe to say it was one of our most interesting border crossings and was definitely not without its drama. What a difference a day makes though, as in the morning it turned out we were the only guests in the hotel and had possibly theeeee best breakfast we have had so far in SA and all to ourselves, complete with fresh bread, various fresh fruits, fresh juices, coffee, serrano ham and fresh cheese…….mmmmmmm. Strange how easily your happiness can be changed with a good lodge and good grub, making me nice and relaxed and ready to throw myself down the worlds dangerous road…..


A little bit of peace and quiet in Arequipa, Peru.

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20131020-033420 PM.jpgView from our apartment at day and at dusk

Arequipa was a haven for us. We managed to find an apartment for cheap (cheaper than any hostel) and we pretty much had a 3 storey house to ourselves for a week! We were very happy. Never underestimate having your own space. After 9 months of having sometimes not even a room just to yourself where you can spread your things out and feel settled, we went to having a house with your own bed (big deal…) seperate living room (…wow…) and a CLEAN kitchen, not being used and mucked up by others where we didn’t have to store our food in the fridge in a plastic bag with our names on and no risk of it being eaten by others (this was the icing on the cake!) Its safe to say we were happy and felt at home and relaxed in Arequipa instantly.

Bearing this is mind, we actually did very little in Arequipa. Sometimes not even leaving our little neighbourhood. Like I said, we were happy just…being, I guess. We went to the local market and bought loads of fresh fruit and food and every morning had a beautiful fresh fruit salad with freshly squeezed OJ (Adams new speciality learnt from our host mum in Bolivia). We caught up on some exercise and constantly had our camera uploading to Skydrive (we were still uploading pics from Asia!)

The days we did decide to leave our nest, we got the local buses down the hill to the town centre and had a walk about the beautiful streets. Arequipa is a very beautiful city and it reminded us of Sucre in Bolivia quite a lot. This is maybe why we liked the place so much.

There is not really a lot to report on from Arequipa, but having a week to ourselves really makes you appreciate just ‘stopping’. Stopping from the buses, border crossings and constant unpack and repack routine. Stopping from just being on the move constantly. Not that you can complain about any of these things (they are amazing things to be able to do) But hopefully, any person/s in the same position can appreciate the feeling of just Stopping and just Being.

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I couldn´t resist naming this blog post what I did, after seeing a huge glittering, lit up sign inside a bar there with these words written on. Kind of rolls right off the tongue.

Now to all the geographers out there, your probably already thinking what a strange route to go, up into Peru and then come back through Bolivia “again” to get to Argentina. Well this might make you have a meltdown. As we had heard so many bad things about Lima, we literally couldn´t be arsed to make the 25hour bus journey to get there and realise it was everything, eveybody had told us. We were however willing to spend 18hours on a bus, which would take us 7 hours away from Lima to Ica, to then travel back the way we have came to Arequipa, back to Puno, La Paz and end up in Salta, where we first set off for Sucre!!. In Ica there is a desert oasis to be found, called Huacachina, which is nestled inbetween monstrous sand dunes and sits at the gateway to the sandy badlands of endless dunes. 1375636_838399121512_1203644311_n 994927_838398722312_1474223361_n

Some clever dicky came along to Huaca and decided that taking a dune buggy, loading on a few sandboards and driving out into the huge dunes, could turn out to be an exciting adventure. This person wasn´t wrong. Its pretty much the only draw to Huaca, as the lake is not exactly Oasis like, thanks to its influx of swan boat peddling tourists and no doubt the residents sewage running straight into the lake!!! (just a theory, but where else would it go?).

The town consists of one street, which curves around the lake and every building is either a restaraunt, hotel, hotel/restaraunt/tour agent or restaraunt/bar/hotel/tour agent. Essentially its a nothingy town which can be explored in all of 15minutes. Having said that, after being in Sucre, La Paz and then Cusco, the peace and quiet (apart from the occasional buggies until 6pm) do make this the oasis it is. A typical day involves eating breakfast around the poolside bar at your hostel, sunbathing by the pool until lunch, strolling around the lake to stretch your legs and get some cheap lunch at the only cheap restaraunt and then fall asleep back at the pool until the sun goes down. Quite similar to a beach resort routine, which to be honest, with everything completely covered in sand, your only a fish and chips away from the full package.

The biggest highlight of Huaca, is ofcourse the dune buggying and sandboarding. Which essentially is the exact same principle as snowboarding (you can even use snowboarding gear), the only difference is that before each slope you need to wax your board, else the friction just brings you to a hault. Before you can reach the sandboarding dunes though, you obviously need to get out to them first, which is where the buggying comes in handy. Depending on your group size, the buggy will have enough seats to accomodate everybody and you all get your own bucket seat, complete with made shift 5 point harness (two seat belts tied together!). 625546_838399640472_1860411690_n

Once everybodys arms and legs are inside the ride, its time to tear-off into the dunes, where the driver isn´t to shy to slam the pedal to the floor. The only thing I can liken the experience is to a roller coaster, as you tear up the really steap dunes, perch on the top and then slowly creep over the other side and (sometimes) go as close as you can to vertical, where you can feel the back end kick up. These dunes aren´t the ones you find at south shields either, were talking 80foot high dunes where instead of breaking the driver just trusts the sand! 988741_838399805142_633705549_n 1375806_838399410932_1799041853_n 1383114_838399720312_832980970_n

Then once you reach the drivers “best spot” for sandboarding, everybody hops out, waxes down the board and waves bye to the driver, as he tears down the dunes to meet us at the bottom. Then the shit hits the fan and you realise that these things are really steap and really huge, but one by one everyone straps up and throws themself down. Which can also be done lying flat on your belly, which I only discovered on the last hill, is actually the way to go, as unless your Shaun White of the sandboarding world, you aint going fast, friction will not allow it when you stand up. Lie down and distribute your weight right, go dagger straight and your off like a rocket. I don´t mean this in a “I couldn´t even get fast, because I´m really good”, I say this because I tried, kept falling over and thought it was just me being shit, until two canadian snowboarders, who had hired snowboards, told me it was nothing like snow and you can´t get the same speed up. Which is weird because all of the people on their bellies where saying they couldn´t slow down!! So the obvious choice was belly down, face first and feet up in the air. The result is like shit off a stick, much better than standing up, apart from the fact that at the bottom, the footprints of previously people, become landmines and destroy your man parts. 1381331_838398487782_1533474285_n 1385663_838399301152_615838194_n

If your also as crazy as we are, you can climb up the huge dune, which incases the oasis and you can do this by two options. The sensible but longer route up the gradual incline, which is slightly more solid thanks to lots of people walking up it or the stupid tiresome route straight up the steapest part of the dune, which is soft, crumbles under your every footstep, but is a much shorter route……yeahhh. So obviously as were both dumb as, we chose the straight up approach and literally went straight up the steepest part of the dune! After what felt like hours, when we made it upto the top, we were met with awesome panoramic views of the surrounding area and a great view of the distant sun setting. We aso met a really nice guy from the US and his dog, who were about to hitchike all the way back to California!! Epic roadtrip and very much so, since he had very, very little spanish!

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It was nice to have an inland beach holiday for a few days, but paradise certainly came with a price and it was not a cheap place to eat and drink. Great for recharging the batteries though, after spending so long in the cold of Bolivia and Cusco. Also great to try our hands at something different, although its safe to say, next time I will try and just hire the buggy and leave the sandboarding to the pros.


Inca Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu

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We always knew we would not do the normal trek up to Machu Picchu, mainly because it books up 6 months in advance (and we hate being tied to a schedule) and because it sounds boring as hell. Walking for 4 days straight. Just walking, nothing else. Zzzzzzz….

So we tried to research some companies who do a more varied trek. In the end we opted for Lorenzo tours who offered downhill mountain biking, trekking, ziplining and rafting. It costs half the price of the normal trek with a lot more excitement. So we got picked up at 5.45am the first morning and taken for some breakfast when the bikes were loaded on top of the van and everyone got to know each other. We were very lucky as there was only 7 of us on the trek. After brekkie we jumped back in the van and headed for our highest point to start the downhill mountain biking, at 4,300m above sea level. We felt OK at this altitude, just a bit cold, but others felt dizzy, vomited etc. Lucky we didn’t stay at that height for long. We got geared up and started our quick descent down the mountain accompanied by beautiful scenery.

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This first day was comparatively easy upon reflection. We biked for around 5 hours, majority of it downhill before we ended at our eating place for lunch. The rest of the afternoon we got to relax and explore the local village. We relaxed in our semi-open air room for a bit before heading out, I say ‘semi-open air’ as our windows did not actually meet the ceiling, so once it got dark we decided to not turn any lights on. Didn’t want any unwanted guests in with us!

The next morning we met at 7am for brekkie before our big day of walking began at 8am. Our guide was fantastic the whole way, giving amazing insight into history and answering all of our questions that we had. We started on the flats and as the day progressed the mountains got steeper. Firstly we walked around a small mountain side trail and stopped in a coca leaf farm where we had a try of the chewing of the leaves. It was OK, just tasted like chewing on a tea bag really, just a bit fresher. We carried on our trek and started going up some really steep hills, but stopping every so often for our guide to run up a tree and pick some fruit, or fish for termites for us to try! At the steepest parts we also stopped at some local villages to be shown some local traditions and foods.

The trek was truly amazing as we walked through such varied terrain, from a dusty mountain side, to the lush jungle mountain, to an original Inca trail which had only been discovered by the founder of the company we were trekking with (Lorenzo) in 2003 or something close to that date. The beauty of this was that we only saw one other group our whole 4 days, unlike the normal trek where you fight for space to walk against extremely aggressive walkers with sharp pointy walking sticks. Not my cup of tea.
So after a good 4 hours going up at a horrible degree we were rewarded with beautiful views of the valley we just trekked through. After that it was mainly downhill, which is not as easy as it sounds on 600 year old wonky steps with a 400m drop to your immediate left. After lunch we finished the walk off through some long reeds, travelling over a river in a hand pulled cable car and then scrambling over rocks to end our day in natural volcanic springs. Perfect end to a hard but rewarding day. Its safe to say I hobbled to bed that night.

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The third day comprised of ziplining in the morning which I thought would give my legs a break, but we still had to hike up a steep mountain to our starting point. This walk was a lot slower than the day before that’s for sure! So we did our first zipline and I was bricking it. I do not like heights, so this was a big deal for me and I was very close to backing out, but after I did the first one, i just wanted to do more and mote! It was a great feeling flying through the air above lakes and forests. Adam did one in the superman style, but I was happy sticking to the normal way you fly through the air on a piece of wire. However that is. In total we did 4 ziplines, the longest being 1KM long and 400m high. It was sooooooo much fun! After lunch we had an easy (flat) walk through the jungle and along the train tracks to end our day in Aguas Calientes. Again, hobbled not only to bed but also to dinner…

20131008-060215 PM.jpg Can you see the dot in the middle? That’s Adam!

We woke up on our last morning at 3.45am to meet for our walk to the gates at 4.15am. This walk took us about half an hour, with me hobbling at the back, smacking my head-torch (whilst on my head) to make it work. We also had some canine companions accompany us pretty much from our hostel and waited with us at the gates. I was walking so slow, even the dog with the limp was infront of me!

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Once waiting at the gates, we had a little snack and just quietly waited…then some overly pumped up young North Americans loudly entered and pushed their way to the front of the gates stating loudly how the were going to be the first ones there…bla bla bla bla…Zzzzzz… Any-who, the gates opened at 5am and we began our last ascent up the 1,800 steps to Machu Picchu. I’ve got to say, with our legs in bits, we took it nice and slow but still did it in 50mins and it was meant to take an hour. I have 2 favourite parts to this last walk. 1) seeing ‘limpy’ our dog mascot meet us at the top and 2) overtaking some of the arrogant North Americans about half way! No, but really, reaching the top was amazing! After 4 days, you realise you are actually there and its a great feeling. I also expected to be greeted with the sight of Machu Picchu, but instead was greeted with a public toilet and large entrance queue. Still, the loo was a happy sight!

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So we entered Machi Picchu with our group and our tour guide gave us an amazing 3 hour tour around the sight. We still had more steps though, every single step felt like a colossus effort. I was promised no more steps after the last 1,800 and someone lied to me…! It was all worth it though, the history, the architecture and the views were truly awe inspiring. The massive groups of tourists which turned up about 10am were not. After our tour ended, we spent a few more hours wandering around and trying to find a secret spot to eat some brekkie/lunch with the best views in the world without being caught. We achieved both and left happy. Only 1,800 steps down now…no biggy… 😥

We finished a great (hard) 4 days with a couple of beers and a massage, perfect!

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Cusco (mini reunion)

After finally arriving in Cusco from our little detour through Copacabana and Puno, we were delighted to hear that some of our friends from the animal sanctuary would also be arriving at the same time and to make things even sweeter, our friends that were already there, had made all the necessary arrangement at the cheapest hostel in town for our arrival. So all of the hard leg work was already done for us………….nice.

We were quite surprised by Cusco, as our intial ideas (from hearsay whilst travelling) were lots of tourists and the majority of them from the US everywhere, making it impossible to soak up any local culture. Also that the architecture was all modernised and it was impossible to get a warm feeling about the place. The only thing that prevented us getting a warm feeling about Cusco was the fact it was below 5 degrees, constantly. Other than that the city was laced with beautiful old architecture, some which dated back as far as the incas (with obvious improvements to maintain the structure). As far as food went, we ate cheaply and locally every single day, without issues. Ofcourse if your somehow unable to pull yourself away from the very, very touristy ´plaza de armas´ then ofcourse all you will find is Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC and an Irish Pub, but luckily we are not all from the US and some of us make effort to find good food.

1378454_838371461942_192025841_n 1383057_838371332202_875160879_n 1384127_838369640592_340457283_n As the main attraction to Cusco is obviously Machu Picchu, there isn´t a vast array within the city to see, that doesn´t come with a high price. Walking around on the free tour though, was a great opportunity to pretty much see what Cusco had to offer in the way of beautiful buildings and view points over the city. Most of our time spent here, was making up for what we didn´t get to do at the animal sanctuary with our friends and that was grab a lot of beers, have a good old chin wag and stay up until the early hours. Most of the time it was spent talking about the animal sanctuary and how we all really, really missed it, as well as organising when and where we will all next meet in the world, which it turns out, might be Rio!!

One thing we had been highly recommended to do whilst in Cusco, was to try “Cuy” or to us english speakers “guinea pig”!!!!! However this “delicasey” has soared in price over recent years thanks to tourism and it is very hard to try Cuy for under 40GBP, not unless ofcourse your willing to speak to the locals and take a 20minute taxi to the outskirts of town, thats when you strike gold and find the thing everybody is looking for, but for a quarter of the price! Having said that, it can be as cheap as it wants to be, it still looks and tastes horrible. The flavour was very gamey, but still nowhere near as nice as rabbit, pheasant etc. Atleast I can now say I have been there, done that and tasted the piggy!!!

5 into the back of a micra...easy

5 into the back of a micra…easy

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The rest of the food in Cusco was similar to their neighbours Bolivia, lots of deep fried chicken and chips, lomo beef with chips, rice, onions and mayo etc. There was one dish though, which was a speciality of Peru and was meant to be very good in the Mercardo San Pedro, which was Cerviche. The only way to describe the dish, was a poor mans sushi! In that I mean no seawood, no rice and certainly no fancy slices of exotic fish. Instead what you get is a plate of onion salad, corn and what I believe to be raw river fish! Of which kind I haven´t a clue. It sounds insane, but it tasted great and the I am still yet to throw up from it, so I think they are onto a good thing.

The time we spent in Cusco was more of a slow build up, to our Inca Jungle Trek, getting our gear ready, packing, unpacking and packing again our small rucksack to make it light as possible. As well, as I am sure you can tell, spending a lot of time with our friends eating lots of different foods and just generally doing the best past time of all Latin Americans (and Spaniards), spending quality time with your friends, usually with a beer in hand and good grub on your plate.



Puno and the Uros Islands

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After possibly one of the easiest border crossings we walked over the border and into Peru. Before we got back on the bus we saw the most futuristic looking tuk-tuks! Bearing in mind we hadn’t seen tuk-tuks since we left SEAsia, it was a novelty in itself. But the fact that they look like something from a bad 80’s space movie, it made them even more entertaining.

We arrived into Puno and got a bubble version of the tuk-tuks to our hostel. After knocking on the door for 30 minutes, the very stoned looking owner answered the door, realised our booking hadn’t been noticed and therefore we didn’t have a room. Not a great start. In the end, after a very confusing Spanglish conversation we ended up with a room. And it was the best room we had had in a loooong time! For starters it had an electric heater, the first room we have had one in, although we have needed one since we landed in Santiago, hot water and a TV. We were living in pure luxury! Things were looking up.

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We had a quick look around Puno to try and find a barrato Almuerzo (cheap lunch) and we did! We were very happy, we then returned to the hostel to book a trip for the next morning to the Uros Islands. Again, after a very confusing conversation, we think we had a trip booked. We were not 100% but pretty sure we had booked it.

The next morning we were up at 6am for a great brekkie before being picked up at 6:50 ready for our trip to the Uros Islands on Lake Titicaca. We took a quick boat ride to the first island. The amazing thing about these islands, and why everyone wants to see them is because they are completely made from reeds. The islands are made from reeds, the houses, churches, schools, look out towers and their boats are all made from reeds (apart from their speed boats partially hidden from sight!) These islands are Pre-Incan so originally the Uru people spoke neither Spanish nor Quechuan. Now, they need to so that they can trade with the main land and for tourism also.

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The islands are obviously impressive, as are the people who build and live on them. Most people never leave the islands unless they need to trade or for the older children to attend high school or college. We had a great morning here, and then we got back on the boat for a 2-3 hour very choppy boat ride to another island.

The ride was not worth it at all. Upon reflection we would have just visited the floating islands and not bothered with the other one as we literally had a long horrible sea sickness inducing journey for an expensive lunch. Not worth it.

We stayed in Puno for a couple of days, visited a museum and ate in cheap places before moving onto Cusco.