A Travellerspoint blog

Central Argentina

sunny 32 °C

Cordoba (5th January - 6th January)

From Cafayate we took a bus to Tucuman and then another overnight bus to Cordoba. Travel by bus is alot more expensive here than the rest of South America but you get what you pay for including a 2 course meal!

We arrived in Cordoba on a Sunday to a dead city. Rarely anything opens on a Sunday in Argentina so we had a walk around the city before eating lunch in a park and spending the afternoon taking shelter in the air conditioned hostel from the heat outside. In the late afternoon we went to an art gallery and a craft fair, then bought steaks to cook on the BBQ at the hostel - a recurring thing over the next three weeks.

The next day we couldnt believe how busy and buzzing the city was compared to Sunday. We tried to go to a few museums but they were shut for their summer holiday so spent the afternoon picking up the money we had transferred - in Argentina there is a black market for dollars as the people have no faith in their own currency, so we were able to transfer money from our bank account in the UK and get about 35% more for our money than if we just withdrew it from the cash machine - definitely worthwhile the effort of waiting in a Western Union style office for an afternoon.

Although Cordoba was a lovely city we didnt find a great deal to do so were happy to get out the city and go into the Cordoba Sierras.

Cordoba Sierras (7th January - 8th January)

It was a two hour bus ride to Villa General Belgrano, a small town in the mountains where we stayed for a night. Due to a mixup when phoning the hostel to confirm our room we got our room for half the price which was a nice bonus. Straightaway we took another bus to a village further into the mountains called La Cumbrecita. It was packed with Argentine tourists but it was a pleasant afternoon walking around the small village admiring the waterfalls and views.

For dinner we bought some sausages and salad on the way back. There were a lot of people in the outdoor kitchen area preparing their meals, which largely consisted of red meat either cooked in the wood fired oven or on the BBQ. There is an art to BBQing Argentinian style (yes it is differnt from at home, no charcoal and firelighters here!) and we felt a bit intimidated by trying to use the BBQ so were going to fry our sausages until some guy offered to show me how it was done. In the end, the guy basically cooked our sausages for us which was great, although they looked a little pathetic next to his enormous 2kg slab of meat!

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Mendoza (9th January - 12th January)

We explored the city on our first day, visiting a few museums and taking shelter from the sun in the tree covered plazas. At the hostel we joined in with a cooking class, and learned how to make traditional empanadas which is another dish to be added to our foreign cusine repertoire.

The next day we took a bus to the countryside where we hired bikes and cycled to a few vineyards. The vineyards were within 10km so it wasnt too far to cycle. Our first stop was at a French owned winery which was a bit posh but the guy gave a very good tour. Next we stopped at an Italian owned winery where we had a tour of the historic wine making factory from the 19th century for about an hour which was very interesting and then more wine tasting. The server was very generous with her servings so we basically had a glass of wine for each wine we tasted! It definitely made cycling harder but it wasn't far to our lunch stop, a beer garden where we enjoyed cold ales in the glorious sunshine. Having had enough alcohol, we visited a olive oil / deli style farm where we tasted oils, jams and liqueurs. Favourites included Chardonnay jam and the olive tampanade. To top off a great day the man we rented our bikes from gave us a bottle of wine (we're still not quite sure why!) so we went back that and our own purchases to drink at the hostel. I really wanted to try a proper Argentine style BBQ after learning from the guy in Villa Belgrano, so we bought a kilo of meat to give it a go...however someone took away the grill so we had nothing to cook it on which annoyed me. Instead we roasted it in the oven for about an hour and had amazing succulent beef. Even buying cheap steaks from the supermarket taste so good here!

The next day we were up early for a rafting trip on the Rio Mendoza. It was a beautiful day so we were looking forward to it. We spent about an hour rafting down the river, which despite the air temperature being in the 30s, was a refreshing 8 degrees. The rapids were excellent - probably the best we have been on and Alice and I were at the front so we had a lot of fun! Alice really didnt enjoy having to jump out the raft though, far too cold in the water! Having made sure there would be a grill today we went to the supermarket to buy another big slab of meat and some veg to do on the BBQ. Traditionally, they make a fire from wood and then use a shovel to sprinkle the embers under a grill. It took a while to get the fire going and then we had to wait for embers but in the meantime we prepared the meat and some cheese and tomato stuffed peppers to BBQ. Although we had to be patient, and didn't eat until 10.30pm, the meal was amazing!

Our final day in Mendoza we spent climbing a hill (good practice for Patagonia is how I persuaded Alice to do it). It was well over thirty degrees and very sticky which didnt make the steep climb much fun but we got great views of the city and valley from the top.

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Rosario (13th January)

Rosario, famous for being the birthplace of Che Guevara and the hometown of Lionel Messi, was a relaxing day stop on the way to Buenos Aires. We explored the city and walked along the river front before cooking ourselves another BBQ at night. Alice is slowly getting sick of red meat but I am in heaven!

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Buenos Aires (14th January - 18th January)

It was a four hour bus ride to BA from Rosario.

We spent the next three days fully exploring BA and reckon that we covered about 65km by foot which was no mean feat in the searing heat. BA was a city we both took to very quickly and we enjoyed exploring the different districts - from the parks in Belgrano, antique markets in San Telmo to walking around Puerto Madero and its Docklands and nature reserve. For us La Boca was a bit disappointing, some brightly painted houses which were quaint surrounded by hundreds of tourists and multiple tourist tat shops. Alice was desperate to go to a tango show and class so despite my reluctance we did both, seeing a traditional show one night, which was very impressive, followed by a class the next day. I think more than one class is required to make me a dancer, but it a good experience anyway. Alice is keen to try again at home, but I'll find some excuse to avoid it!

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Posted by duncan-alice 10.02.2014 12:31 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Northern Argentina

sunny 34 °C

Quebrada de Humahuaca - Tilcara (27th December - 28th December)

We have now made it to Argentina, arriving at the border crossing in La Quiaca at 6am on the 27th after a cramped overnight bus ride down from Sucre. My first thoughts about Argentina...much more comfortable buses, we had comfy seats, aircon and a toilet on board, luxury! Our first stop in Argentina was the village of Tilcara, in the Quebrada de Humahuaca, and we enjoyed the bus ride there, surrounded by fantastic scenery as we drove down a wide valley with hills on either side.

Getting off bus in Tilcara, and out of the aircon, my second thought about Argentina was that is is blooming hot here! By the time we had arrived at midday the tempertaure was about 32 degrees and climbing. We got to the hostel and immediately changed into shorts and t-short and slapped on the suncream.
Our first afternoon in Tilcara we set exploring the village and visiting the nearby fortified ruin of Pucara. There wasn´t much left of these ruins, but it was nice strolling around in the sunshine and reading the odd information board. Then came the long wait until Argentine dinner time at 10pm...going to take a little getting used to this new eating schedule, and 6pm snacks are definitely needed!

Our second day in Tilcara we did a lot of walking, which was pretty hard work in the heat, but Duncan kept telling me was good practice for our trip to Patagonia in 3 weeks time! In the morning we walked to the "Garganta del Diablo", a gorge and waterfall a 12km round trip out of town. I was surprised by the amount of water in the falls, given the hot dry climate we were in. Then in the afternoon we walked out the opposite side of town and followed a dirt road through the countryside and past small adobe houses, with nice views of the red-coloured mountains in the background.

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Salta (29th December - 1st January)

Next stop in Northern Argentina was Salta, a big city, but with a very relaxed feel to the place. The relaxing feeling was probably partly due to our arrival on a Sunday during siesta time...absolutely nothing was open, and only a few people were braving the heat outside!

We took an organised tour from Salta on Monday to the village of Cachi, about 4 hours drive away. The highlight of the tour was the journey there, through some amazing scenery, ranging from lush green valleys to desert areas with lots of giant cacti, and a scary section of narrow winding road taking us up 2000m from Salta to Cachi. Cachi itself was a pleasant village, with a pretty plaze, but our 2 hour stop there for lunch and exploring was plenty, before we headed back to Salta.

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We spent the next 2 days in Salta itself, and soon discovered that whilst the city is very nice to stroll around, there really isn´t that much to actually do here. Instead we spent a lot of time sitting in the main plaza, picnicing in the park, and taking refuge from the heat in the air-conditioned supermarket. We also made the hike up Cerro San Bernando, a hill overlooking the city. Although the climb was not strenuous, we still arrived sweaty and hot at the top, and appreciated the breeze up there whilst we checked out the view.

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We had expected busy and bustling New Year´s Eve celebrations in Salta, and were shocked when on leaving our hostel that night that everything was shut...including the restaurants and bars! After walking round for 45mins with no luck, we finally found the one open restaurant in town, and were lucky enough to grab the last unreserved table. The food was great, and Duncan was happy tucking into our enormous grill for two, which included six huge chunks of various types of meat each, washed down with some good (and really cheap!) local wine. After dinner we headed to the main plaza, which was surprisingly empty, to see in the New Year with only about 50 other people. I guess New Year here is more of a "stay at home" celebration with family and friends. Nevertheless we had a good night, even if it wasn´t quite how we had anticipated it.

Cafayate (2nd January - 4th January)

Next stop was the small town of Cafayate, about 4 hours south of Salta, famous for it´s wine and scenery. On our first afternoon there we looked around the town, and found a great empanada place for lunch, called ´Casa de La Empanada´, which had a huge selection of fillings which were all great. We also went to a local goat farm, where we had a short tour to see the factory, meet the friendly goats, and try some of the cheese. Whilst there we met another couple from the UK (the first British people since arriving in Argentina), who we hit it off with, and met later on for drinks. They were doing a cycle tour of the Americas over 18 months, and I think they have inspired Duncan even more to try cycle tourism in future. Not sure I could manage their route though, as their next few days would be heading up over the Andes! On leaving the bar at 1am it started to rain, so Duncan and I hurried back to our hostel and bed before we got too wet...only to be awakened an hour later by rain pouring through the ceiling and soaking our bed! Needless to say it was not a good night´s sleep after that, curled up on a damp mattress underneath our plastic ponchos, listening to the rain drip down!

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Day 2 in Cafayate we dragged our tired bodies out of bed, hired bikes and took them on the bus 50km out of town along the Quebrada de Las Conchas for a day of cycling. The lack of sleep and having not cycled for months made the ride hard work for me, but the scenery made up for it, cycling along a river valley, with amazing hills and weird rock formations to see the whole way along. Unfortunately it started to rain (hard!) about 6km away from town, and we arrived back soaking yet again. Thankfully though we had managed to change room by this time, so warmed up with a shower then caught up on some sleep in the afternoon while the rain passed.

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Our final day in Cafayate we hired bikes again, and headed out to find some bodegas and sample the local wine. To begin with we had little success. We cycled along lanes through vineyards, but couldn´t find the first two bodegas labelled on our map, despite following signs saying they were only 300m away! Eventually we found a small ´artesanal´ bodega, and had a short tour and tasting. We were amazed to find that the wine here was less than 2 pounds a bottle, and delicious, so I couldn´t resist buying a bottle. After this we headed to two of the larger bodegas, and had more tastings, another tour, and of course bought more wine! We finished our cycle with more empanadas and some malbec and torrentes wine flavoured ice cream, yummy! Then we were back on the road, heading to Cordoba, 18 hours away...

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Posted by duncan-alice 16.01.2014 16:07 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Bolivia

overcast 16 °C

Sajama National Park (7th December - 9th December)

From La Paz we took an early morning bus towards Oruro and changed at Patacamaya where we took 2 minibuses to get to Sajama where Bolivia´s highest mountain is located. The town, if you can call it that, consisted of about 20 families most of whom had a shop or offered accommodation to tourists. The weather in Sajama was not great, grey and raining for parts of each day, and freezing at night! However, during a break from the rain we managed a walk to a laguna about two hours away where we were surprised to find flamingoes bathing in the water. On the way back it started to rain again but luckily we got a lift by with an engineer who was doing a survey of the area. After the rain subsided we climbed a nearby hill which gave a fantastic view of the valley, it was only a shame that our view of the volcano was clouded.

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Cochabamba (10th December - 12th December)

We had originally planned to stay in Sajama for longer but seen as the weather was rubbish we came to Cochabamba a day earlier than we had planned. It was a long day of travel and started with a minibus at 0600, which we made sure we were early for as there is only one a day. Being early thankfully meant that we got the two front seats rather than being cramped in the back - about 18 people for 12 seats! From Patacamya where we were dropped off, we waited for a Cochabamaba bus to pass. Eventually one passed and we negotiated with the bus boy the fare - there was only 1 seat left so for the first half of the journey I had a luxury wide leather seat while Alice was up front sitting beside the driver! The journey to Cochabamba was supposed to take about 6 hours but we found out there was roadblocks all around the city so we feared spending hours or even the next night on the bus. Luckily for us, we joined the roadblock at about 1500 and by 1615 the road was opened. Soem other people in our hostel who had gotten night buses the night before were forced to wait all day but we got lucky with only an hours delay. Our hostel in Cochabamba was a twenty minute ride out of the city which was a negative but it was a lovely big building with lots of space. As the bus drivers were still striking, there was no public transport, making access to the sights a little difficult and expensive. On the first day we explored Cochabamba in the pouring rain, visiting a convent and wandering about. The next day the weather cleared up and we went into town again and took a cable car up to a statue of Jesus (at one point the largest in the world!). Cochabamba was a nice enough city, but not much to detain us as tourists for too long.

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Oruro (13th December)

From Cochabamba we went to Oruro a day earlier as we were scared we would get caught in blockades again and miss our train. Oruro didn´t have much to offer but we visted the cathedral in the morning which had a minethat you entered from within the church which was very cool! In the afternoon we took a train to Uyuni.

Uyuni (14th December - 17th December)

The purpose of coming to Uyuni was visiting the salt falts so we spent the first day organising a tour. The operator we wanted to go with didn´t have a tour running the day we wanted so we were forced to find another operator to go with, but thankfully it turned out still to be a great trip. At night we went to see a traditional dance performance by a group from La Paz - the start time was billed as 1930 so we turned up for then only to be told by the show director that they wouldn´t start until 2030 as no one turns up on time round here...in the meantime we wandered about the town, almost catching a glimpse of the president who was in town to give a speech...but also turned up over an hour late, so we gave up waiting for him and went back to the dance performance instead.

The next dat we set of on our 3 day tour of the salt flats. The first day we visited the salt flats which were an incredible sight with pristine white as far as the eye could see. It was amazing and completely different to anything we had seen before on our trip. The next however, the weather wasn´t as good and it was very cloudy. We stopped to see a volcano as well as at multiple lagunas where we got amazingly close to the flamingoes. We spent the night in a hostel next to Laguna Colorado, the most beautiful lake of the trip, with pink ,blue, green and white coluring caused by different algae in the water. On the third day we were up at 4.30am for a visit to some impressive geysers and hot springs before dropping some people off at the Chilean border then driving 8 hours back to Uyuni, a long day for all of us!

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Tupiza (18th December - 20th December)

We took an overnight train to Tupiza where we went on a walk in the amazing red valleys that afternoon, managing to get lost (typical Bolivan walk with a crummy map and no signposts!), and ended up scrambling up and down loose rock slopes to get between the valleys. The next day we went horseriding for the first time in our lives which was great fun! I was a bit nervous at the start as we were beside the main road however the horses couldn´t care less. We went a walking pace for most of the trip however we did get to try both a trot and a canter, where we were both surpised how fast it was! The rock formations in the valley we went up were interesting however both our bums were hurting by the time we got back!

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Potosi (21st December)

Potosi is famous for being the highest city in the world as well as the hill Cerro Rico overlooking the city which has been mined for silver since the 16th century, making the city one of the richest in the world at one point. We organised a mine tour where we went into the mine to see what life was really like for the miners. It was an eye-opening claustrophobic experience. There were three levels to the mine and Alice and the other boy in our group never made it past level 1 because of the heat, dust, claustrophobia etc. That meant it was just me and the guide for the rest of the tour. I got a good understanding of how the mines work and the appaling conditions in which the miners work. The average life expectancy of a miner is under 55 and they will likely die from silicosis. They only receive a salary based on the quantity and quality of the minerals they find so they don´t have much incentives for example to make safe tunnels. It was also a bit frightening how easily the guide pointed out arsenic - it´s fair to say I was glad to get out alive!

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Sucre (22nd December - 26th December)

We had chosen to spend Christmas in Sucre, as we heard it was a nice relaxing city at a lower altitude which equals warmer weather. Unfortunately when we arrived when it was raining but the weather did pick up for us as Christmas Day approached, and we had bright sunshine for Christmas day and 25 degrees, quite a change from what we are used to for xmas! We treated ourselves to a "luxury", but actually very cheap, B&B so enjoyed relaxing in the courtyard whist waiting for Xmas dinner to cook. Sucre is called the "white city" and was full of lovely architecture which was nice to wander around. On the other hand, the city was full of beggars and homeless people, including lots of children, which was sad to see. For Christmas Day we planned to cook our own meal so enjoyed shopping for all our ingredients at the market. On Christmas Eve we went to Midnight Mass which was an interesting experience but very long - over an hour and we didn´t realise how much sitting and standing we would have to do! On Christmas Day we went for a walk in the park and handed out some sweets we had bought to the homeless children. We then began cooking our feast of roast chicken, homemade stuffing, roast potatoes and carrots and stuffed courgettes. For dessert, we had the most sweet and sickly banoffee pie Alice made. After a rest, while lieing on the sun loungers in the sun we went for another walk to a viewpoint over the city to hand out more sweets. We then spent a very amusing half an hour sitting in the main square watching lots of children play with the presents Papa Noel had given them. The most amusing was watching a young boy who had been given a remote control car which flipped - his reactions were incredible and had us in fits of laughter! From Sucre, we are taking an overnight bus tonight to the Argentinian border, looking forward to more good weather, steak and wine!

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Posted by duncan-alice 26.12.2013 10:44 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

La Paz

sunny 18 °C

Copacabana (15th October - 16th October)

From the border with Peru we took a shared taxi to Copacabana, only 10km away. I wish I could have taken a photo as Alice was wedged into the middle seat in the back between two large Bolivian women in their traditional dress! We spent the afternoon looking round the town, including taking in a breathtaking sunset from a hill overlooking the town and the Isla del Sol, which we visited the next day. It was a 2 hour boat journey to the north of the island. From there we walked to the south which took us about 4 hours, walking along the ridge down the centre of the island with fantastic views across the lake on both sides. There were very few other tourists but I was irked by having to pay an "entrance fee" at each small town we passed. We stayed overnight on the island in another homestay and enjoyed another magnificent sunset over the island and lake titicaca that night. The next day we got the boat back to Copacabana and then a bus to La Paz.

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La Paz (17th October - 7th December)

As we approached La Paz we were both struck by the amazing landscape in which the city is located. We came from El Alto which is about 4,000m above sea level and could look down into the bowl that is La Paz at 3,800m. The bus dropped us off at a random location and we got a taxi to our hotel.

We had decided to spend longer in La Paz volunteering at a prosthetics charity Alice had found, as we wanted a break from being on the road and to feel useful again! On our second day in La Paz, we went to the centre to meet Ivonne, a Bolivian volunteer who manages the operation on the ground. For various reasons, the clinic had had to leave their old centre and had just moved into a new building with nothing in it, having had to leave all of their machines and equipment in the old place! Ivonne very efficiently helped us find a room in a homestay that morning which took a bit weight of our shoulders.

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On our first full day at the clinic we went to buy wood as our first task was to build 4 heavy duty workbenches for the workshop. Thankfully, we had a bit of an apprenticeship with woodwork during our time in farms in Australia! We had to buy the wood and then get the guy to size it for us followed by sitting on the back of a pick up truck with it to get it back to the office!

During our 7 weeks working at the clinic, getting it ready to reopen to patients, other jobs included making shelves, helping with office work and other random DIY projects. We have now built 8 tables of various type for the clinic...it is becoming our speciality! It was satisfying to be able to see the fruits of our effort but it was disappointing that we have spent 7 weeks helping to get the centre open rather than seeing the centre in action with patients. We both got really frustrated with the slowness of progress - one of the technicians went AWOL for 2 weeks and the other didn't turn up until our last week. The inefficiency got to us, but thankfully now, by the time we are leaving, the centre is pretty much up and running, only 8 weeks after they moved into it although they are shutting for Christmas next week and will not reopen until middle of January! With a bit of hard work from everyone, it could have been ready in a month I think.

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Whilst in La Paz we have enjoyed having a private room and bathroom in a homestay with a proper kitchen to use. The location was ideal as it was only a 5 minute walk to the centre and the area was nice. Most days we ate lunch to a restaurant very close to the centre, where you can get a four course lunch for under GBP1.50! We developed a weekend tradition of food shopping at a big street market, and getting a delicious breakfast there of Tucamana (kind of like a deep fried Cornish pasty) and freshly squeezed orange juice. It also became a weekly occurrence to go to the cinema to see a subtitled film as well as buy DVDs from the street for 30p a shot to keep ourselves entertained!

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We enjoyed eating out and took advantage of the diverse range of restaurants to eat Arabic, Indian, Chinese, pizza as well as more local food. Bolivian food isn't the finest in the world and Alice quickly became tired of her slab of meat and two carb portions, normally poor tasting rice and boiled potatoes! We also loved going to a specific cake shop where we would share a portion of the most sickly chocolate cake as well as a nut pie!

The city doesn't have a great deal to offer to the tourist but it was a relaxed place to stay and was easy to settle into. We never felt scared or worried being in such a big city. However, I did get a wallet pickpocketed when we went to the largest street market in South America, El Alto. Unluckily for them, it had no money in it and only our old student cards! Whilst in La Paz we have both become extremely fit as we walked almost everywhere - this is no easy feat in La Paz as the city is at such a high altitude and has some of the steepest streets we have ever seen!

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During our stay we have done some excellent walks on the outside of the city with magnificent views of the valley and the surrounding mountains. One memorable day was when we crossed a mountain ridge just outside La Paz via the 'Muela del Diablo', or Devil's Molar, a huge craggy rock formation on top of the ridge. Fantastic views throughout across the city and surrounding valley, although the path wasn't exactly clear and we ended up having a very large, aggressive dog chase us down when we took a wrong turn. For the first time in my life I pelted a dog with stones but thankfully it worked and we were able to retreat and find the correct path! In addition, on the way down we again took a wrong path and ended up scrambling along a cliff at the side of a filthy, stinky river, desperately hoping we didn't fall in! Thankfully we made it back to La Paz in one piece and without getting wet.

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Coroico and Cycling the World's Most Dangerous Road (9th November - 11th November)

On one of our first free weekends we organised to go on a tour to the World's Most Dangerous Road where we enjoyed a fantastic sunny day descending about 3,600m over 60km. We were both a bit nervous given the title of the excursion but we had an awesome time. The first part of the ride was on a sealed road and we probably hit speeds of up to 40km/h. It was even more incredible watching the guides whizz past without a fear in the world. After a short refreshment break we took a bus 8km to the start of the death road for real where the road was unpaved and single track in places with waterfalls falling on our heads and steep cliff faces down! This part was a lot more challenging and sore as the vibrations from going over the rocky road were painful on our hands. Travelling such a relatively short distance, it was incredible to see the change in landscape as we descended from altiplano to jungle. By the end we were only 1500m above sea level and it was sticky and sweaty. After finishing, we went to a plush resort for a buffet and shower, relaxing end to a fun day out.

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Whereas most of the group went back to La Paz, Alice and I went to the town of Coroico where we spent the night and next day. On arrival, we were worried we wouldn't find accommodation as the first three places we asked in were full! Thankfully, the next place had a spare room which we took. Although only 2 hours from La Paz, Coroico has a completely different climate, and was clearly a weekend holiday destinations for young Pacenas. We both enjoyed the next day walking to a waterfall in the glorious sunshine.

Sorata (23rd November - 24th November)

Another weekend excursion took us to the town of Sorata, in the Cordillera Real. It was a 3 hour journey by minibus to the small town, perched halfway up a valley, overlooked by the glacial peak of Mount Illampu...not a bad spot to sit in the sunshine in the pretty main square enjoying an afternoon beer! Not a huge amount to do here, but it was a relaxing weekend, and we did make one trip to an interesting cave for a look around, then walked the 12km back to Sorata, yet again all uphill!

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We are now packing our bags again for our final 2 months of travelling. Our plan for the rest of December is to travel around Bolivia, spending Christmas here and then spending New Year in the North of Argentina. We have about 1 month to see Argentina, then a brief visit to Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil before returning home and facing reality!

Posted by duncan-alice 06.12.2013 09:03 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Peru

sunny 20 °C

We are now in La Paz, Bolivia having spent an excellent 6 weeks in Peru without once updating our blog...oops!

Arequipa (7th September - 8th September)

From Arica in Chile we took a chaotic bus over the border where we had to surrender our passports to the bus conductor for the first part of the journey which left us feeling a little nervous. In Tacna, now in Peru, we went to the domestic bus terminal looking for a bus to Arequipa and luckily found one which should have left 25 mins ago but hadn't so we rushed onto that. It was a 6 hour journey through barren desert to Arequipa.

Arequipa is Peru's second largest city nestled at the bottom of the Misti volcano and we spent the next day wandering around the charming city full of buildings made from local volcanic rock. A particular highlight was the Convento de Santa Catalina, a 16th century monastery only opened to the public in the 1970s. It was almost a city within a city it was so big, as well as being calm and peaceful compared to the hustle and bustle outside. For lunch we treated ourselves in a (relatively) expensive Peruvian restaurant full of Peruvian families having ceviche, raw fish "cooked" in lemon juice, onions and chilli. It was a culinary highlight and we wished we could have tried more - we also had scallops smothered in parmesan which were delicious too.

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Colca Canyon (9th September - 11th September)

From Arequipa we took a 6 hour bus to Cabanaconde where we arrived at dinner time. I was feeling horrendous as we had driven over a pass of about 4900m so my head was splitting. The next day we got up early to catch the 0630 bus to a viewpoint into the canyon to see condors flying. These are native Andean birds with wingspans of up to 3m. We got lucky and managed to see about 20 of them very close up! Then headed back to Cabanaconde for a 2 day trek into the canyon, which is the second biggest in the world. It was a very steep descent down into the canyon which took us about 4 hours but at the end we were rewarded with a bed in a lodge by the river which had lovely warm hot springs to relax in. The next day we got up early and walked across the other side of the valley to a traditional village before descending to 'the oasis', full of lush vegetation and hostels with swimming pools. We had lunch at one of these places and then took the steep path back up the canyon. Given it was mid afternoon and we had no cover from the sun, it was a very hard 2 hour climb!

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Nazca (12th September)

From the Colca Canyon it was another 6 hour bus journey back to Arequipa and then an overnight bus to Nazca, famous for the Nazca lines. The town itself wasn't up to much at all and we decided not to do a flight over the lines as it was really expensive. Instead In the afternoon we took a taxi to see the Nazca lines up close and from the top of a couple of viewing towers, very impressive, although I'm sure they are better appreciated from the sky. Alice also treated herself to her first haircut in 9 months in a fancy salon in Nazca!

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Huacachina (13th September - 14th September)

We spent one night in Huacachina, an oasis in the desert with a lagoon surrounded by mightily impressive sand dunes. We tried sand-boarding, similar to snowboarding but on sand, which was great fun but very daunting standing at the top of such huge sand-dunes. Apart from the dunes there wasn't anything to keep us at Huacachina so we spent the next night in Ica, a 10 minute taxi ride from the lagoon.

Ica (15th September)

Ica was another town with not much to offer us but we did make a trip to a bodega on the outskirts of the city where we were shown around an artesanal pisco bodega where the grapes are crushed by feet, unfortunately we visited outwith harvest season so we couldn't partake. The best part was the tastings where the guide seemed intent on getting us drunk. We tried numerous vintages of pisco and he had a double helping himself every-time which must have been a perk of his job. After such an enjoyable tour we decided to buy a bottle, which we gave to my parents when we met them in Cusco a couple of weeks later.

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Paracas (16th September - 18th September)

The Paracas nature reserve is one of the best places in Peru to see wildlife and we did a boat tour to the Islas Bellestas where we saw thousands of birds, sea lions and penguins. It is called the 'poor man's galapagos', and Alice enjoyed it so much she left already planning a trip to the real thing, not this trip though unfortunately. We also visited the national park where we saw flamingos from a very long distance and some impressive rock formations.

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Huaraz (19th September - 23rd September)

After a 4 hour journey to Lima, crossing the city in a taxi, and then an overnight bus we arrived in Huaraz, the trekking capital of Peru, situated at over 3,000m above sea level. We took the first day easy to acclimatise to the altitude but unfortunately I had some digestive problems which lasted the whole time we were at altitude. On the second day we got up at the crack of dawn to take a collectivo (shared taxi) to a village nearby in the mountains where we climbed to Lake Churup at 4,450m. We walked up with a Swiss guy who wasn't as used to walking as us and almost fainted at one point when we had to scramble up the side of waterfall using ropes. It was a lovely walk to a peaceful lake high in the mountains but it was nothing in comparison to Laguna 69 which we did 2 days later day. Laguna 69 was a hard 2 hour trek to the lake but it was an amazing sight with crystal blue water surrounded by snow peaked mountains and a waterfall. The only downside to this walk was that it was a 3 hour drive away, 2 of which were along a steep and winding unpaved road. On another day, we took a 3 hour bus ride to Chavin to see ruins from a pre Inka culture but it was a bit lost on us without a guide. We decided to take a shared taxi back to Huaraz as the buses were unreliable. We set off with the vehicle half full but soon picked up workmen. When they all got in the driver was unable to do a hill start so some people had to get out while the driver got us to a flatter part. We then picked up some more people on a hill and again the driver couldn't do a hill start. However, he didn't put the brakes on properly so we started rolling down the hill. Despite everyone screaming at the driver we ended up in a concrete ditch, thankfully unharmed. We all helped push the vehicle out and then continued only for the suspension to break. Despite the driver assuring us it was safe to get in after he had tied it together we decided to wait for the next bus to pass, arriving safely back in Huaraz later that night.

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Trujillo (24th September - 25th September)

Trujillo was our most northern stop in Peru and it was a relaxing place to spend 2 days. We stayed in nearby Huanchaco which was hosting the World Longboard Championships at the time so we spent a bit of time watching the surfers but it didn't really capture our attentions. Trujillo was a nice city and had two important historic ruins nearby, Chan Chan, the largest adobe city in the world, and Huacas del Sol y de la Luna, more adobe temples pre Chan Chan. Both sites were impressive, especially seeing Peruvian hairless dogs at both.

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Lima (26th September - 27th September)

We only spent a day in Lima as no one we had spoken to had really inspired us to spend more time there. We were staying in the posh Miraflores area by the sea but went into the centre to see the main square and churches. However that day there was a general protest by workers so the whole square was cordoned off a block on every side with a heavy presence of riot police. We tried to get in at one checkpoint but the heavily armed policeman refused point blank to let us through. Thankfully at the next checkpoint which was a lot quieter we were allowed in to the deserted square where we watched changing of the guard. We then went to a cathedral where we saw some impressive catacombs before going back to the hostel having seen enough of Lima.

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Cusco (28th September - 2nd October)

It was a 22 hour bus journey to Cusco from Lima but we travelled first class with the most expensive bus company which meant we had nice reclining leather seats with a personal TV to choose films and music from. We both watched an excessive dose of movies but found these more expensive seats less comfy than the cheaper ones as they had less legroom for us both. After relaxing for the afternoon we went to meet Alice's family at their hotel and then out for dinner. They were kind enough to look after us while we were in Cusco which was a nice change from our budget travel!

On our first day with the family we spent the morning wandering around Cusco and in the afternoon did a city tour with a guide. It was different for us having a private guide and we both noticed how much more tiring it was to take in all the information she gave us as well as see about 6 different things in one afternoon, although much more interesting with a guide! The highlight was seeing a picture in the cathedral of the Andean version of the last supper, where guinea pig was served for dinner!

The next two days we had to ourselves so we went to some Inca and other museums which had lots of interesting potteries and artefacts but rubbish English translations and explanations. It was an enjoyable and relaxing couple of days. We were both glad to spend this time with Alice's family in Cusco as it was the most relaxed city we visited in Peru but also with things to see and do.

On our final day in Cusco we went into the Sacred Valley. Alice's family had a tour that day which we didn't go on with them but we headed in the same way and bumped into them several times! The ruins were perched on a steep hillside with incredible terraces. Alice and I started at the top and walked all the way down into the village below which was a great walk, made better by the fact we hardly saw anyone else! On the way back, we stopped off at a small animal sanctuary where we got incredibly close with some native animals, with parrots sitting on our arms, and condors swooping just inches from our heads!

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Inca Trail (3rd October - 6th October)

Probably the only thing we said we definitely wanted to do when we first started talking about this trip was the Inca Trail so we both had really high expectations for the trip. However, after we came back from our briefing trip the day before we were both a bit down as we felt almost everything the guide said was negative.

The first day we had to be at a square in town by 4am so it was a very early start. It was then a two hour drive to a town where we stopped for breakfast and then another hour to km 82, the start of the trail. There was 14 people in our group with 2 guides and 21 porters carrying our stuff! We were glad we had opted to pay extra for a porter to carry our stuff as it meant we had the minimal on our backs as we walked.

We were blessed with fantastic weather on day one with glorious sunshine. The first morning was easy walking and it was relatively flat along the valley. For lunch, everyone was amazed at the quality of the food the chef rustled up, three courses, and four different mains to choose from! This continued for the next two days, and we even got proper cake with icing, although I have no idea how they cooked it halfway up a mountain on a gas hob!

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Alice and I were lucky that we had spent a long time at altitude and also alot of time walking since we left home as we were by far the fittest among the group. As we were always near or at the front we had plenty of breaks waiting for the others to catch up which also helped. Day 2 was the "hardest" day where we climbed Dead Woman's Pass which was at 4200m. It was a long climb but there was great views to be had from the top. Unfortunately, the weather didn't stay good for us on day 3 as we awoke to rain pouring down. Thankfully, by the time we started to walk it had reduced to less heavy rain but our ponchos were still required! We arrived at our final campsite by lunch and had the afternoon to relax and explore a nearby Inca site.

The walk was very enjoyable and it was amazing to see the change in landscape as we progressed. The scenery was spectacular but not the most impressive we had seen. On our final day, we got up at 3am so that the porters could pack all the equipment and make their train home. We then joined the queue and waited for the gate to open to Machu Picchu. Luckily, we were one of the first groups to arrive so we had a seat and cover for the 2 hour or so wait. The guide then lead us to the famous Sun Gate for our first glimpse of Machu Picchu. He went as fast as he could which I was just able to keep up with but Alice dropped back when we hit some steep stairs, but it was worth it as when we arrived there was only a handful of people already there and we could just about make out the outline of Macchu Picchu as the clouds passed over. By the time the rest of the group arrived there was probably nearer 200 people and the cloud was getting worse so we felt lucky to have got their early.
We then descended to the site and after visiting our first non-long drop loo in 3 days the guide gave us a tour of Macchu Pichu. Luckily, the cloud disappeared as the morning wore on and we got some great photos of the site. On the recommendation of other travellers, Alice and I had bought entrance tickets for Waynu Pichu, the towering mountain over the site which gave amazing views. We both definitely agreed that this had lived up to expectations. Back in Aguas Calientes, we met up with the rest of the group for one final meal. The annoying thing was that our train back to Cusco wasn't until 1900 and we didn't get back home until near midnight so it was a very long last day. Overall though the Inca Trail has been a definite highlight of our travels so far!

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Cusco (7th October)

Despite being tired from our walking, I persuaded Alice to get up before 7 and we went for the day into the Sacred Valley to a small town called Ollantaytambo. There were more ruins there but they were a bit disappointing having seen Macchu Pichu so we went back to Cusco, stopping for lunch in a small town on the way. At night, we took a night bus to Puerto Maldonado, where we would spend a few days in the jungle.

Puerto Maldonado (8th October - 11th October)

Puerto Maldonado is in the middle of the jungle and we could feel the change in climate as we descended from Cusco. By the time we arrived we were sticky and sweaty, making me wonder how I coped in Asia for 3 months! On our first day here, we slept in the morning and explored the town in the afternoon but there wasn't really anything to see. We then spent 3 days in the jungle staying in a rustic homestay on the edge of a lake. We were lucky to see lots of animals including caimans, giant river otters, loads of monkeys, parrots and lots of other exotic birds and butterflies.

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Lake Titicaca (12th October - 15th October)

From Puerto Maldonado, we took a bus to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. On our first day, we spent the morning in bed followed by the afternoon exploring the town. We also went to see a boat from the 1860s which was constructed in England and then transported to Arica, Chile and then by mules to the lake. It had been very well restored and you can now stay on it which would have been nice if we had a bit of extra cash.
The next day we went to a small town called Llachon, further around the lake. There were very few tourists here but the community offers homestays so a woman on our collectivo suggested we stay with her. The accommodation was rustic but better than we had anticipated. It rained in the afternoon but we managed to arrange with a local man and his wife for them to take us to the floating islands the next day in their small boat. The floating islands are made entirely out of reeds, the floor, the huts, the boats, everything! Seeing these islands was amazing, and because we had arranged it ourselves from this small town, there weren't any other tourists there when we went. Later in the day, we took a minibus, then mototaxi and then boat to the island of Amantani where again we stayed in a homestay. Not quite so good this time, no running water and a lunch of a boiled egg and a couple of potatoes! In the afternoon we climbed to the top of the island and had great views across the lake from some Inca ruins. We were going to stay up there to watch sunset there but as it was cloudy we came down before it got dark.

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The next day we went back to Puno and then took a collectivo to the border with Bolivia.

Posted by duncan-alice 01.12.2013 15:08 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

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