Botanical Gardens and Lighting of the Lagoa X-Mas Tree

We weren’t too sure or in the know about either of the Botanical Gardens and Lighting of the Lagoa tree, but having spoke to a few Cariocas, they had said that the gardens are a welcome break from the Rio hustle and bustle and that the lighting of the tree is truly unmissable if you are in Rio at the time. Even if you aren’t in Rio at the time, it turns out that says that it is the 3rd biggest event now in Rio which draws tourists to this wonderful playground and since starting in 1996 has only grew in worldwide popularity year by year! So yeah, we were pretty excited for that.

As the Botanical gardens was in the same area as where we would be watching the tree lighting and fireworks, we decided to kill two birds with one stone and head their first, spend some time mooching around the gardens, eat and then join in with the festivities. Thanks to Rio traffic though and the lack of the bus we needed, when we needed it, we spent over 1-2 hours just getting there!! Although we weren’t anticipating it, there was a very small entrance fee attached with visiting the gardens, which is R$6 each, like I say….very small. Once you see where the money goes it is certainly money well spent.

We were immediately met with towering palm trees, which created a natural perimeter fence separating the urban jungle, from the (re-planted) real thing.

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The gardens was also the most organised I have ever seen, with a fully detailed map, road names for all of the paths and points of interest all around the vast gardens. Unfortunately for us, it had taken us so long to get there, that we only had 1 1/2 hours until the park closed at 5pm! Which given its size would probably be a flexible 5, but it certainly didn’t give us as much freedom as we would have liked to roam carelessly. So with our little map in hand, we planned out a little ‘logical’ route that would take us on a big loop around the gardens and cover the majority of things to see, it just meant we couldn’t really just sit around and take it all in! As well as having orchards, rose gardens, huge palm trees and wild life, the gardens also had a really nice Japanese garden, which I am not too sure on the reason for, but does anybody need an excuse to make a Japanese garden?! It was a really prim and propa area, with a really big pond full of Koi fish, lotus flowers and a pagoda.

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As we strolled around slightly aimlessly, we were consistently under the shadow of humongess trees, towering above us and creating a natural archway.

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There was also one area of thick bamboo and shrubbery which was home to a little family of marmosets, which once again, we were quite content just watching them play away in their natural habitat and look very confused about why the huge, white thing was trying to point something at them and take pictures.

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It was a real little tranquil hideaway that allowed Cariocas to escape the beeping horns, whizzing motos and touts selling their wares. Although it was all planted and you really couldn’t tell that this wasn’t a wild forest or small slice of the jungle. We would have loved to have spent much longer here and probably will go back there if we had a chance, to simply wind away the hours and enjoy nature at its best, all while under the watchful eye of big jesus (as always).

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Once we had been subtly herded out of the park, we made our way down to Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas to see what all the fuss was about. When we arrived there wasn’t really much going on, apart from a few people sat next to the waters edge and a few others sat in a restaraunt facing the lake. So our immediate thought was that we were in the wrong place, as we had heard on the other side of the lake there was a stage, music, big crowds and hundreds of vendors. We opted to wait it out in the restaraunt, to shelter from the rain and see how things developed, as we were there by 6:30pm and nothing was meant to start until 8pm earliest, which was fine, as we would pass the time snacking and throwing back some beers. Come 8pm, nothing had really changed, although lots of people had turned up and the gathering had turned into quite a large crowd by this point. So we decided to get ourselves a front row seat before the crowd got any bigger. We found out that things did start at 8pm,but on the other side of the lake, on the stage.

Our wait wasn’t too long though, at 9pm the huge tree (worlds largest floating tree) sparked into life and was fully lit up in a deep blue, then immediately after the sky erupted, by this point anyone in a 1km vicinity had flocked to the waters edge and had simultaneously started cheering and celebrating as if the new year had just been seen in! The sky was alight for a good 15minutes, with huge fireworks that eventually smoked out the majority of the lake, but it was quite clear why people chose this side, as the panoramic view of the epic fireworks display was awesome, even whilst we were hiding under our umbrella.

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Once the sky bombardment had finally stopped, there was a vast smokey cloud over the lake and the loud bangs were replaced by hundreds, if not thousands of people cheering and clapping. It was a true welcoming to the xmas period and if anybody knows how to celebrate, its the Brazilians.


2 sides to Iguazu Falls

After leaving behind our beloved Floripa, we arrived in Foz de Iguazu after a lovely 18 hour bus ride with not a lot of room and a lot of traffic on the roads. Due to our delayed arrival our plan of going straight to the falls on the Brazilian side went straight out of the window. So instead we just caught up on some R&R. This left us with only 2 days to see the falls.

The next day we were up early-ish to see the falls from the Brazilian side. We caught the bus to the bus station then changed to wait in the area which is specifically for the bus to Iguazu falls, and it’s pretty hard to miss with its floor to roof sign saying “Iguazu Falls”. Perfect. Tourist-proof.

We jumped on and had a pretty sweaty journey for about 40 minutes until we got off at the Bird Park. This place is a must see if you are on the Brazilian side and is walking distance to the ticket office for Iguazu. We spent about as much time in here as we did at the waterfall as it is a pretty big place, which is very well laid out, has great big enclosures for the animals and it is just pristine. The birds they have are all rescue animals from the amazon and just shows the variety of beautifully bright coloured birds that Brazil has to offer, and it is unfortunatly obvious why they are so heavily trafficked. We saw many different types of parrots that we didn’t even know existed. They were just beautiful.

Beautiful tropical flowers

Beautiful tropical flowers

These guys don't even look real to me

These guys don’t even look real to me

There are also large averies that you can walk through where you get very curious birds coming very close, especially the toucans, and since our stint at the animal sanctuary and our experience with Sam the Toucan, I kind of have a soft spot for them and their curiosity. So we spent some time trying to get some great photographs. Whilst we were doing this, we had one odd looking bird who seemed to like being photographed as whenever a camera was pulled out, there he was with his funny face and scruffy feathers. Ultimute photo-bomber.

We left the Bird Park and walked to the entrance to the Falls, and it was a bit weird, kind of like stepping into Disney. Don’t get me wrong, it was very organised and efficient but also completely Disney-fied. So we bought our tickets, which includes the 12km bus ride to begin the short walk. We got off and started the walk which, again, is pretty fool (tourist) proof. You can’t really deviate from the path and the walk shows the falls from all of the best angles. But you also have food and drink kiosks every 20 metres just incase you can’t survive the next part of the walk without anything sugary or cold. At the end there is a part where you can walk out and over the falls into the mist which is another great angle to see, but not really good for pictures, as you get soaked and will probably break your camera.


This guy hitched a lift part of the way

This guy hitched a lift part of the way


The next day we teamed up with 3 other girls from the hostel to tackle the falls from the Argentinian side, which as there was 5 of us, we hired a cab driver for the day, which meant we didn’t need to change buses and run the risk of not getting stamped out of brazil, which apparently can happen! We were all up nice and early, as it took about an hour to get to the Argentinian side of the falls, after doing border procedures etc. To our surprise, we also went back in time as Argentina is officially 1 hour going across a bridge means we are therefore on Buenos Aires time! Which was a huge win for us as we arrived at the park just after opening thanks to an unintentional time travel. As we had heard good things about it, our first mission was to find and book the river trip, which wasn’t too hard given that the ticket office was at the front door as we walked in and the next one would be leaving in 30mins, taking us through some jungle, before belting it up the river, towards the falls and under them!!!

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After getting completely soaked through and taking a shower under the falls, we head off around the various walkways, which lead you to various vantage points and awesome photo opportunities. On the way we walked through lush vegetation and there was certainly a lot more wildlife on this side of the falls compared to Brazil. Including our favourite friends, the Capuchins.

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After spending about 2-3hours walking around, getting drenched by spray from the waterfall and admiring mother nature at its best, we retreated to our ‘driver’ and headed on home. Out of the two sides its hard to say which is best, simply because both offer different things, like different view points and different experiences, but if I was to re-visit just one side, it would have to be the Argentinian side, as it feels more authentic, rustic and charming than the Brazil side.


Short stop in Montevideo

The initial route that we had planned out to go through Uruguay, get us upto Iguazu and over to Rio, was to go via Montevideo, up to Salto (which is a border town), cross over to Concordia (the Argentine border town), take a bus upto Posadas and then from there a bus upto Puerto De Iguazu on the Argetinian side. Then see Iguazu from the Argentina side, cross over to Brazil and then see it from that side also and then make our way over to Sao Paulo, then onto Rio.

What we hadn’t anticipated, is getting so many suggestions to visit Punta Del Diablo and South Brazil instead of going through the nothingy route that we had initially planned out. This in theory did sound fine and sounded a lot better than just sitting on long 8-12+ buses for no end, however we had been a bit pro-active and booked our bus ticket when we arrived in Montevideo for 3 days time and therefore were a bit fixed on our route…….or so we thought.

Thanks to our lovely hosts from the Caballo Loco Hostal (yes I am name dropping, because they deserve it), who kindly rang the bus company up, asked if we could come and get a refund and helped us get all of our money back with no questions asked!!! Thanks to their help and advice, we were now set for a new course, heading East to Punta Del Diablo, which is an old fishing village on the Uruguyuan costline and then make our way north into Brazil and upto Florianopolis, which after a bit of playing around and taking some days off Montevideo, it looked like we were going to be beach bound sooner than we thought!

As our stay in Montevideo had been limited to 3 days, which one of them was spent getting our refund, buying a ticket for 3 days time and then sorting out our route from Punta Del Diablo onwards, we were only really left with 2 solid days to look around Montevideo. Which, thankfully as we had an absolutely awesome hostel, when we ran out of things to do around the city, retreating to the hostel was kind of enjoyable.

Montevideo was a beautiful city, but nothing like the likes of Colonia and as we had spent so long travelling through big cities for a while, it was slightly difficult to find the motivation to do the standard look at this building, look at this church and then go eat here! Instead we took ourselves for a big walk around the main centre and delved into our favourite past time…..eating good food and drinking coffee whilst people watching!

The short time we spent in the city was really enjoyable and it was very easy to get around. If we had more time there was lots to do like nice bike rides along the sea front, open top buses etc etc. As we were entering Brazil earlier, we decided to penny pinch at every corner and unfortunately avoided the extra cost that tourist attractions have and stuck with the free ones instead……..walking.


Bustling Buenos Aires to Calm Colonia

After checking out of our apartment, we jumped onto a ferry across the Rio De La Plata to Colonia Del Scramento, waving goodbye to Argentina and saying hello to Uruguay, making it our 13th country in 10 months on our trip!! Not bad going at all. Thanks to the gail force winds and thunder and lightning storm the day before we set off on the ferry, the crossing was similar to climbing inside a washing washine and set it on spin for an hour and a half!!!

When we arrived off the bouncy boat, feeling a bit rubbery in the legs, we were met with a quaint little sea port, with cobbled streets and lots of golf carts wizzing around! As the town is so quiet and small, this is the norm here and if it wasn’t for the hefty $50 a day price tag, we would have definately got involved, which some of them were really pimped out.998800_848173323932_951569989_n 1461027_848175175222_1799766994_nColonia is a UNESCO world heritage site and when you take a walk down any street in and around the old town, its really easy to see why. The place is so rich in historic architecture from when the Portuguese had a colony here. It was also taken over by the Spanish, Barzilians and then eventually taken back by the Uruguyuans, which again lends itself to the rich blend of varied architecture. Coupled with beautiful seaside views and tree lined streets, you can easily see what all the fuss was about. 575746_848179037482_334311602_n 998100_848178308942_1393491109_n 1396014_848175529512_1022406705_n 1422526_848175559452_1762308873_n 1450300_848174456662_74420410_n 1454711_848174047482_1238045475_nAs well as admiring the old streets, remains of the old fort, lighthouse, piers and many old buildings. Colonia is also very famous for its artisan products such as mate cups, leather gaucho products such as hats, boots, jackets, knifes and ofcourse food products such as dulce de leches, breads, hams and cheeses.1390623_848176592382_1720794663_nIf your really lucky, aside from the old cars which I think have now became a permanent feature of the old streets and don’t move on a daily basis, you might also catch a glimpse of old american cars such as cadillacs, just cruising around the streets and taking in the sun.
1458622_848177854852_1755227221_nThe town is a picture perfect place and so often missed by travellers, who even though are only 1 hour away from Buenos Aires (making it an easy day trip) completely miss this tranquil old port town.



Riding the World’s Most Dangerous Road (Bolivia)

When people thinking of riding the Death Road the words that come to mind are usually downhill mountain biking, Top Gear, worlds most deadliest road. What they don’t usually talk about is climbing down the cliff side which gives the death road its name and rescuing a dog!!!! It was certainly a more unique experience to say the least.

The day starts with an early set off (7am) driving through the always at rush hour La Paz, to reach the police check point, before heading off into the mountains and racing ahead of the 20 or other so buses heading in the same direction. The start point of the ride is at about 4,800metres, where the majority of the biking companies will start, with some (from what i can gather) cheaper companies starting further down. Once the bike preps and briefings have been made about how to ride the tarmac section of the ride, its down to blessing our bikes and giving thanks to the ‘pacha mama’ or mother earth. This comes in the form of not only pouring 92% proof alcohol on your bike, but also having yourself a little swig!! Remember this is 9am in the morning and were about the hurl ourselves down a road at 40-50mph!! Only in Bolivia.
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Once we had all blessed our bikes, geared up, briefed and got liquored up, it was time to hit the ‘easy’ section of our ride for the day. Which was a downhill tarmac road, giving us plenty of time to get used to our bikes, smooth out any issues there might be with the bikes and get our adrenaline flowing and wake us up. We also got to take in some awesome scenery and as the road was a nice easy ride with not too much traffic, you could actually see some of the scenery as well, unlike what we would on the Death Road where our absolutely every bit of our attention would be needed. Our guide even took some down time to show off a few wheelies and supermans, which it was tempting to try, but I did actually want to make the deathroad!
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We reached the start of the actual Deathroad around about 10:30am, as we had made really good time, took over some other groups and luckily nobody had fell off or give up. So we were given a good briefing about how this road would be different a) being completely gravel, therefore punishing on the arms and b) its the death road, ‘death’ meaning its fairly dangerous! Where we started also gave us a great view down the valley, where we could see a huge chunk of the ride we were about to do, including the lovely trucks, coaches and vans we were going to be running into! My initial thought was, they shouldn’t be a worry because obviously they will go snail pace, along the tiny one track dirt road with a massive drop on one side, how wrong I could of been, how stupid of me to forget that this is Bolivia and nobody EVER drives slow!! Instead what they do is drive as they would on a normal tarmac road but stick to the inside, away from the drop, which means when two cars meet, its all about slamming on the breaks as fast as you can or swerving and not driving off the cliff like a rally car driver!! Still can’t see where the name comes from huh!
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Luckily for us the guide had split the ride into small sections, so that we didn’t ride for any longer than 15mins at a time, which trust me on a gravel road were you either go fast and don’t break or break the whole way, either way its punishing on the legs and arms. I opted for the bat out of hell, shut off a stick, no breaks approach were any hiccup resulted in the backend sliding out and me constantly fighting with the bike to keep it in check. It was fun as f*ck though and got the heart racing to say the least. The stops we made were usually places of significance or awesome view/photo points, one of the first stops being where a Canadian girl managed to over judge the corner, ended up at the bottom of the cliff and after 3-4hours of silence came through, started screaming and was rescued by guides from different bike companies! They were all astounded that she was intact, let alone alive! Another stop was a awesome photo point, where the ledge overhangs the cliff, so you can dangle your bike over, sit on the edge or just do your favourite ‘trend’ holiday pose. Just before we were about to set off, before all of the other companies turned up, our bus driver and I thought we could hear barking, which I thought nothing off, but then when the driver said the nearest village is over 1hrs drive away, it caught our attention a bit more. It turned out that there was a big black Rottweiler at the bottom of the cliff, which as soon as we started looking down at it, stopped barking and just sat and looked at us! Before we knew it, everyone was intrigued to know what we were looking at and once our guide saw, it was action stations, after obviously getting the all clear from all of us, to stay around and try and rescue the dog from the bottom of a 100metre high cliff, which has no obvious way of getting down or getting a dog up!!!
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After our guides and and the driver pulled out the climbing ropes from the back of the van (saved for a rainy day), Scooby (as he goes by) took it upon himself to go recce the situation, as from above it looked pretty plain sailing, but if that was the case why the hell was the dog not coming to us! As this was a popular spot, he said his walkie talkie had fell down this area before and he had climbed down a small section with no ropes, by small section I mean the first 20-30 metres of flat rock face! After reaching this space, he found that indeed the next part was not flat, as seen from above (as expected) and was a sheer drop with different levels all the way down. We just so happened to have a guy from NZ, who was a climbing instructor and got stuck into the action along with the driver, to help set up a rig for the ropes, so that once Scooby had reached the bottom, we could winch the dog back up. After about an hour, he finally reached the area with the dog and thankfully it didn’t bite him, runaway or worse! Instead the dog was placid and relived to see somebody. After making acquaintances and checking he wasn’t going to be savaged, Scooby went for a look around, as for a dog to be all the way down there, so far away from any villages, the only explanation could be that a car had gone over and the dog was in the car. After searching for about 30mins around the surrounding area, we were relieved to hear that it was only the dog, which obviously made it a greater mystery as it was completely unharmed, but at least there was nobody hurt or worse.
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After spending about an 1 1/2hours getting Scooby down there and checking the area, it was now time for the monumental task off getting the dog back up the sheer cliff face. Firstly Scooby tried putting the dog in his bag, throwing it on his back and then having the kiwi, driver and other guide winch him up, however by the first ledge, the dog ripped the bag because it was so heavy! So Scooby re-rigged the dog into a homemade harness and it would be dog first, throw the rope back and he would work his way back up using knots and footholds. I was getting itchy feet by this point and had done so well to not get myself involved and try climb down the cliff, but enough was enough and i couldn’t resist, it was only a matter of time! Plus the guys were really struggling with hauling up the dog, as that motherf*cker was heavy! To put it in perspective, it took 4 fairly strong guys 45 straight minutes of pulling and winching the rope to get the dog to the top (well to where we were!). When we eventually got him up, the poor thing was absolutely terrified and wouldn’t come near us, which I wouldn’t blame him. While waiting for Scooby to winch himself back up, we slowly got the dog used to us and although he was still very jumpy, he did allow us to give him a stroke and get really close, which was definately going to come in handy for the next part of the challenge.
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The final section was the last 20-30mts that we had all scrambled down ropeless to get to the first ledge. Thanks to the awkward shape of the rock face and lack of options for anchors, we could only winch the dog about 30% up, which thankfully was the steepest part, however after that it was all going to be by hand, with brute strength and a lot of stability! We had the winching down to a T, so he was up in a matter of seconds, as we simply pulled up the rope without setting up an anchor and again went for the brute strenght approach. We then had to leapfrog up the cliff and two people would push the dog from behind while the other (precariously above) would heave him up. After about 20mins or so of this process, we finally got the dog to the top and he was very relived to have all his harnesses removed. It was a great effort by all 5 of us, but more so by Scooby our guide, who literally threw himself down the cliff, pretty epic experience and definitely not something I expected to do on the Deathroad! Scooby said he was going to take the dog in as his pet if he couldn’t find its owners and he would be called Rocky…nice.
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As we had spent 3 hours rescuing a dog and all of the other companies had now long gone, we had to make up some time. Therefore our stops were very limited, although still happened and unfortunately our time at the bottom was now shortened, as we had to leave before it got too dark and cold on the mountain pass. We had anticipated going back to La Senda verda, as it was across the river from where Barracuda finish and therefore we could bob in for a few hours, see our old friends and our old monkey friends too. Now our time was down to 30mins and would be a very flash visit. The rescue mission was worth it though and its slightly ironic that in the process of rescuing a dog, we ate into our time at the animal rescue centre! It turned out perfect in the end, as the owner Vicky had just returned from La Paz as we were knocking on the door and had we turned up earlier, we would have missed her. So maybe it was meant to be. We still got to see all of our favourite animals, including my little favourite Combo, the baby capuchin. 20131024-021332 PM.jpg

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It was certainly an eventful day and when I signed up for the Deathroad, definitely not was I was expecting. The ride itself was awesome and I would happily do it again, although I would advise anybody who decides to adopt the shit of a stick approach to get ready for a all out pounding on the forearms and legs, good workout to say the least! Please also make the effort to go and visit if not stay at La Senda Verda as well, not enough companies push it doing the Deathroad, but they all finish in the village next door and its shame that so many people pass every day and don’t know it even exists.

Its now safe to say that I have survived the Deathroad, done that and got the T-Shirt….


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…..



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.


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.



Our Sucre Homestay

For the second leg of our Sucre adventure, we managed to find a fantastic homestay, that just so happened to be just around the corner from the hostal we were staying in and much closer to Sucre´s main attractions. We stayed with a homestay mammy, who had two kids, a 13 year old daughter and a 19 year old son who was studying in cochabamba. Everybody was immediately welcoming and keen on getting us involved in the family affairs. We always spent Almuerzo (lunch) as a family and when Niko (the son) wasn´t around, I was always nominated as the clean up man, polishing off all the left overs, which went down very well with Liz our host mam. In Bolivia and most Spanish speaking nations, food should never be left over and they find it very appreciative if everything is polished off, so the arrangement was fine for me. The family lifestyle and daily routine fitted in perfectly with our lessons and we easily slipped into a permanent and comfortable routine ourselves.

971957_822220388822_768340222_nWe knew when we moved into the house that our homestay mam worked in a travel agent, what we didn´t know was that this travel agent was owned by her and her family and that the company name was named after the ´Haciendo Candelaria´ which is a 16th century country estate which originally came with 1000 hectares of land in the Tarabuco region of Bolivia and is owned by Liz´s family. The estate now has only 100 hectares and instead of being used solely for agriculture, the family use it to host tours around the local area, to visit local weavers, crop growers etc and the famous Tarabuco market. We had the priveledge of tagging along for the weekend when there was a tour group heading out to Candelaria as part of the family! We were treated as extended members of the family and had the priveledge of meeting all of the permanent residents at Haciendo Candelaria, which were very hard to converse with given our and their limited Spanish, as they all spoke Quechuan. We were invited into the 16th century family kitchen to help prepare the guests food, which was equipped with a log fire stove and 40 year old pans! When we weren´t getting fed copious amounts of food or meeting new members of the Candelaria family, we were walking around the local area and meeting various weavers, who create beautiful tapestries which are a rich history among the indigenous people of Bolivia.

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After our fantastic weekend away, we became even closer to the family and everything we did they were always invited and vice versa, truly becoming a part of their family. Luckily for us, they also shared the same attitude of ordering take away pizzas when you have a crappy day and luckily for all parties, we all had the same crappy day (which happened alot)!! It also helped with improving our Spanish and although we are not fluent or even intermediate level, our confidence is much higher from constantly forcing ourselves to speak Spanish everyday all day, although again when there were crappy days, sometimes they didn´t have the patience for our slow speach so English was sometimes too heavily relied on, but again it helped us to bond more and have more in depth conversations.

Luckily for Cheryl, her birthday fell when we were still in Sucre and still with our homestay family, unlike mine which was celebrated in Chaing Rai with a full english breakfast (very average) and monsoon rain!!! So as soon as Liz got wind of this, she wasn´t happy that we weren´t going to do anything, as we didn´t really have the money, so in Bolivian tradition, we threw a BBQ and I was ordered to not return to the house until I had some presents, on strict orders from Liz!! As the majority of the friends we had made in Sucre had now moved on to Peru or Argentina, we had a small intimate BBQ, which in the UK would be a pack of frozen burgers, some crappy cheese, 2Ls of cola and some salad. In Bolivia you get 40Bobs of prime cut steak, make enough cheesey rice to feed an army, bowls upon bowls of salad, buckets of beer and plenty of llajwa (spicy sauce) doesn´t sound a lot, but when the steak is the size of your head for each person and the spoons of cheesey rice are like troths, you get very well fed quickly. Also to add is that this is probably some of the best steak hands down, I have ever had and it cost under 10quid for about half a cow!!!!!

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P1080516Our final week with the family was a very sombre one as we knew we were parting ways and had became so close, to the point that on a daily basis we kind of relied on each other for one thing or another, as a family naturally does. It was so easy for us to become complacent there and if we didn´t have so much of South America to see, we would have definately stayed there for a very, very long time. Our homestay mam spent the whole week persuading us not to leave and that she would find us work in Sucre or that we could stop joking about leaving as she knew we were really staying. It really hit our hearts hard to have this kindness and warmth from somebody we have really bonded with over our 4 weeks stay. We also constantly talked about how we would meet up somewhere else in the world and if not we would come rushing back to Sucre to see them.

It was almost as if we were waving bye to home again for the 2nd time and we were both very glad our next stop was La Senda Verde, as the special experience we would have their would hopefully take our minds off leaving, but then when we come to leave LSV the whole process will repeat itself again, as we know it will be somewhere we won´t want to leave!


Hola Santiago (Chile)

Just like with Australia and New Zealand, we hadn’t anticipated spending much time in Chile as we had heard it was so expensive, so had planned to literally land in Santiago, book our bus for the next day and then leave, but instead we stayed for 6 days because thats just the beauty of flexibility when travelling. There seems to be a running theme here in South America which is similar to SEA, that everything is compared to the cheapest countries, so in SEA everything is not as cheap as Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Here everything is not as cheap as Bolivia and Peru. What makes its way outside SA (South America) is that these places are not cheap in general! Which is definately not the case. If somehow getting a plate full of food that would feed 12 people for 4GBP is expensive, then please show me cheap!

Yes Santiago has its expensive attributes, but the standard of living is much better than that of cheaper countries and compared to SEA this is like home to us, if only we could speak more Spanish!! One thing that was evidently more expensive was the buses, but then this continent is 4 times the size of SEA and bus journeys are at minimum 7 hours to get anywhere and can be upto 60 hours!!!!!!!! Once again the standard of these are so much higher and for 25GBP you can have your own reclining leather armchair with footstand and plenty of leg room! Much better than 20GBP for Thailands ‘VIP’ buses or party buses as I liked to know them as, with bright lights and booming karaoke. Just to give a bit of a idea of the price difference, as for the next 6 months everything will be South American prices, so always good to set the tone.

The reason for our extended stay in Santiago was a mix of reasonable prices, plenty to do and a really great atmosphere at our hostel. The place we stayed was more like a house than a hostel and although it could have done with a little more revamp, it was a great location and staffed by a great Chilean guy named Ivan who owned the place and Jason who was British and had been working there for 10 months after travelling South America.

To follow suit from our great free tour in Sydney, we jumped straight on the one in Santiago so we could get to grips with the city and learn about where all the good free stuff was. As well as learning about ‘coffee with legs’ , please google it, lots of results will come up, very funny way to get people to drink shit coffee! Walking around Santiago made us feel very at home and although we lacked proficient Spanish, we didn’t feel intimidated at all, apart from when we needed to order food or drinks! This became quickly evident when we came to get lunch, but through the help of our phrase book and what we had learned in Spain in 2010, we managed to order ourselves a feast of steak and pork sandwhiches all for under 12GBP, but should have been well worth about 50GBP!! This became a reoccurent theme as we gained more and more in coinfidence in where we ate, which some of the best food (as always) came from the street vendors, including an ‘As Sandwhich’ which is exclusive to Santiago and is a big sandwhich filled with thinly sliced cooked beef and then SMOTHERED in guacamole, mayo, grilled cheese and tomatoes……….i know mmmmmmmmmm.

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We decided to stop stuffing our faces with protein, since we hadn’t really had our fix for 6 months and burn some of the excess meat off by heading upto San Cristobal hill, which you have two options, a venicular train which takes you to the top for a small fee and takes about a minute or a leisurely stroll up the foot path and take in the scenery. Obviously we opted for the scenic route, which after 45 minutes of steep incline, quickly regretted our decision! However we saw the task through and made it to what felt like the summit of everest. On the top of the hill was the large statue of San Cristobal, as well as panaromic views of the whole city below in all its smog and glory.

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On our way back from the HUGE walk and whilst eating our second As Sandwhich of Santiago in Belevista area, our attention was drawn to a very odd sight. Now street performers usually perform on the side of the street down shopping streets or in walkways etc. In Santiago they do exactly what it says on the tin and perform on the street when the light turns red, infront of all the waiting traffic! Then when they finish their performance, walk through the traffic and collect their donations! This can range from jugglers, gaucho dancers and a man who has a fake head attached to his crotch and shoes on his hands to make it look like a man doing cartwheels and……………just very odd is the best way to describe it and it needs to be seen to be understood.

Another part of Santiago and Chilean life is the constant presence of stray dogs. Now in SEA they are everywhere too, but they are sadly starving and possibly infested things. In Chile they are healthier than some pets i have seen and are super friendly, why is this?!!! Because the Santiagons (could be wrong!!) feed them, bathe them and get them their vaccinations. So essentially they are everybodys pets that roam free through the city and still have 2,3,4 maybe even 8 meals a day!!! Just nobody needs to walk them, instead if their doggie sense tingles and they know your going for a walk somewhere outside, they follow you as if they were your own.

I think its fair to assume that if the rest of South America is going to be similar to this, than we are going to get on justttttt fine…………..


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