A Travellerspoint blog

Chilly and chilling in Chile

Enjoying the trip South

all seasons in one day 10 °C
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Well, as you might have guessed from the long pause since the previous entry, I have been a bit busy over the last month. Incredibly, I've actually come to the end of my trip and have (eventually) made it back to the UK. So now I'm trying to take advantage of the Christmas break to summarise the last few weeks of my trip. Hopefully there will therefore be several new posts arriving in short succession.

So, continuing from my last post, which (if you can remember that far back) left me travelling through central Chile. We arrived in a pretty little town called Puerto Varas, where I bade farewell to the Pachamama bus and enjoyed a few days R&R. The town is located on the edge of a large lake with beautiful views of volcanoes in the distance, and is a nice place to relax and enjoy a slower pace of life.

Sunset over the volcanoes in Puerto Varas

Sunset over the volcanoes in Puerto Varas

I had three days there, spending my time drinking coffee, sorting photos, writing my blog and genrally chilling out. My one slightly more active adventure was rafting on one of the the rivers fed by snowmelt from the volcanoes. This was lots of fun, racing down a massive river and ploughing through the grade 3 rapids getting soaked in freezing cold glacial waters.

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Views of Puerto Varas

Views of Puerto Varas

All too soon it was time to leave town though and head for Puerto Montt and a date with the Navimag ferry. I had a day in Puerto Montt, a fairly dull and uninspiring city, turned into a fairly significant and wealthy city by the multimillion pound salmon industry based there, but was glad when it was time to board the ferry and get out of town. The ferry is an interesting boat; originally just a cargo ship, the owners noted the slowly increasing number of gringos wanting to travel on board, so they turned it into a proper passenger ferry, which can now carry several hundred passengers as well as a cargo of cars, livestock and other essentials.

The Navimag ferry

The Navimag ferry

We boarded the boat in the early afternoon, then waited whilst they finished loading the cargo and prepared to set sail. Finally we headed off, leaving Puerto Montt behind us and saiing towards the open waters of the fjords. The first evening was spent enjoying the beautiful light over the distant hills and getting to know some of the other passengers. There was a pretty mixed group, including mostly independent travellers like me but with some tour groups as well. I'd met a couple of Dutch girls climbing the volcano in Pucon who were also on board and through them got to know some of the others, including a couple of slightly mad Dutch pilots, until we had coalesced into a fun group of 10 people or so. Everyone had brought plenty of drinks on board so we had a entertaining evening playing cards and drinking nice Chilean red wine in the bar.

Sunset on the first evening aboard

Sunset on the first evening aboard

The next day we woke to mountainous fjords emerging out of the fog and rain on either side, as the water narrowed until it was just a couple of 100 m wide. The rest of the day was spent enjoying the views, taking pictures of some of the many seabirds swooping around the boat and dodging the irregular rain showers.

Some of the beautiful scenery

Some of the beautiful scenery

Seabird up close

Seabird up close

Late in the afternoon we left the safety of the sheltered fjords and started our 15 hour crossing of the Golfo de Penas. This literally means the Gulf of Pain, and is exposed to the full force of the Pacific Ocean, leading to some pretty exciting sailing. We experienced a fairly bad crossing, with 5m swells causing the boat to plunge up and down, the occasional wave causing massive crashes to reverberate through the ship. Everyone had paid heed to the earlier warning given by the captain and was dosed up on seasickness tablets, but there were still a lot of green-looking people around and dinner was pretty empty. Nobody fancied a repeat of the previous evening's drinking and everyone was tucked up in bed by 10.00pm hoping to sleep out the worst of it.

Waves crash over the bow during our crossing of the Golfo de Penas

Waves crash over the bow during our crossing of the Golfo de Penas

Day 3 arrived to calm seas and heavy rain, a pattern which lasted for the most of the morning, somewhat limiting our ability to appreciate the views. Fortunately, the weather improved slightly in time for our first highlight of the day - passing the rusting hulk of the Capitan Leonidas, which ran aground in 1968. Apparently the captain had unloaded his cargo of sugar, but was planning to sink his ship, pretend the cargo had been washed away and then claim on his insurance. Unfortunately he managed to ground his ship on the one shallow rock in the channel, thereby preventing the boat sinking and scuppering his evil plan. One good point is that it now makes it somewhat easier for other boats to avoid the rock, and makes for some pretty photos!

The Capitan Leonidas

The Capitan Leonidas

Stunning scenery on the boat

Stunning scenery on the boat

A couple of hours later we arrived at Puerto Eden, an incredibly remote, tiny little town located at the foot of some stunning mountains in the fjords. We disembarked from the Navimag into small boats which then ferried us ashore to the town and then had an hour for a quick wander round town on the boardwalks suspended over the boggy ground, before we had to return to the ship. Our captain was on a strict timescale as our next stop was one of the highlights of the trip - the Pio XI glacier, and we had to arrive in the light.

Puerto Eden

Puerto Eden

Disembarking from the Navimag

Disembarking from the Navimag

Beautiful scenery on the walk round the town

Beautiful scenery on the walk round the town

In the intervening period we had started to work through some of our large remaining stocks of alcohol that we had all brought onboard, and it was during this that someone came up with the idea of posing for some comedy photos in front of the glacier. So, instead of wrapping up warm and enjoying the majestic spectacle from the deck, we instead stripped down to swimming costumes and posed for photos in the freezing cold air. We immediately became the main attraction for everyone else on the boat, who crowded round getting pictures of us, rather than the glacier. Five minutes was more than enough in the freezing cold and we soon threw our clothes back on and returned to the warmth of inside, where the party continued late into the night.

Us, cold?

Us, cold?

Calving icebergs on the glacier

Calving icebergs on the glacier

The next day was our final one on the boat and we arrived at our destination in Puerto Natales by late morning. It was incredibly windy on the boat, and we were blown all over the place as we watched the boat arrive. I'll leave this entry here, and save my adventures in Patagonia for next time, which hopefully will follow soon.

DSC_5089.jpg Windy weather on board

Windy weather on board

Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales

Posted by Davelanky 09:19 Archived in Chile Tagged fjords ferry navimag Comments (0)

Chile

Heading South

sunny 20 °C
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Hot on the heels of my previous entry comes another, hopefully slightly shorter one, trying to catch up with my travels.

Leaving the salt plains and deserts of Uyuni, I hopped on the bus with Laura, who was heading in the same direction, for the quick journey to San Pedro de Atacama on the Chilean side of the border. It was really interesting to see just how sharply things changed on the border - suddenly we moved from dirt tracks to smooth tarmac, complete with safety barriers, run-off zones and all the bells and whistles. San Pedro itself turned out to be a cute little town, with dusty streets filled with single-storey adobe houses. It has a lovely little square with a very pretty church, and all in all was a nice place to hang out for a couple of days.

San Pedro de Atacama

San Pedro de Atacama

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The cute church in the main square

The cute church in the main square

The next day, recovered from the exertions of the previous few days, Laura and I hired bikes and cycled out of town to visit Valle de la Luna, a spectactular area of desert which has been likened to the surface of the moon, hence the name. It was an amazing landscape, filled with rocky canyons, vast sand dunes and huge vistas. We had a fun, albeit rather hot, few hours cycling through the valley, stopping along the way to explore some of the canyons and caves along the way.

Freewheeling through the desert

Freewheeling through the desert

Laura explores one of the caves

Laura explores one of the caves

Great views from the top of a dune

Great views from the top of a dune

By the time we got to the end of the park we were both feeling the heat, and weren't looking forward to the long ride back up a steep hill we'd just freewheeled down. Fortunately our saviours arrived in the shape of a friendly Chilean family in a big pick-up truck, who happily let us chuck our bikes in the back and gave us a lift back up the hill. We then raced back to town, just in time to sign up on another tour out to visit some of the lagoons and pools in the area. Our first stop was at a saltwater pool, where the water was salty enough to float in, dead sea style. This was fun, though rather cold, and we hopped back in the bus covered in a layer of salt, ready to drive onto the next, freshwater pool. Here we washed off the salt and played around for a few minutes before getting out and warming up.

Floating in the saltwater pool

Floating in the saltwater pool

Some of the stunning scenery

Some of the stunning scenery

Our final stop was at a much larger lagoon with stunning views of the mountains and volcano in the distance, where we stayed to watch the sunset, whilst enjoyig a nice cold pisco sour. We also managed to befriend a group of Chilenos, who were very hospitable and shared a very nice bottle of Chilean champagne with us.

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More stunning scenery

More stunning scenery

Enjoying the sunset with our new friends

Enjoying the sunset with our new friends

It was 8pm by the time we got back to town, but our day wasn't over yet, as we'd also signed up for an astronomy tour. So we stumbled sleepily back out of the hostel at midnight and were bused out to the middle of the desert, where a slightly eccentric bunch of French astronomers have set up an observatory. We had a very interesting talk on some of the stars and constellations visible, and then got to look a certain stars and galaxies in more detail through the range of telescopes they have there. It was incredible to see some of the galaxies in detail, and I even got to try and take some pictures through the telescope with a special adapator.

My attempt at capturing a galaxy (or was it a nebula?)

My attempt at capturing a galaxy (or was it a nebula?)

The next day was spent recovering from all the activities and catching up on photos, email and blog, before catching a 24 hour bus south to Santiago. It was really interesting watching the scenery change from Featureless desert, to cacti-filled desert to small bushes, then trees and so on, getting greener and greener as we neared Santiago until we were passing vast acres of vineyards.

After a pleasant evening at my hostel in Santiago enjoying my first bottle of Chilean wine, I dragged myself from bed the next morning just in time to join a free city tour. Our guide took us right round the city centre, showing us some of the nicest buildings and areas of the city. The sun was shining and Santiago had a really nice feel to it, with clean streets, lots of beautiful architecture and plenty of green spaces. After the tour I had an interesting look round the house of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, which is now a museum housing his fairly eclectic collections.

The former house of congress

The former house of congress

One of the many parks in the city centre

One of the many parks in the city centre

Santiago, with the mountains just visible through the smog

Santiago, with the mountains just visible through the smog

Nice artwork on a house

Nice artwork on a house

Then it was to visit Mont San Christobel, the highest point in the city where you can get great views of the city, with the snow capped mountains just visible through the smog. After all of this I just had time to visit the museum of Precolombian art, which has an amazing collection of ceramics, statues and other things.

Statues in the museum

Statues in the museum

Cool little figurines

Cool little figurines

That night I bumped into some of the girls who'd been on the city tour, and they spent the evening trying to persuade me to join their tour heading South through Chile. I had been planning to travel into Argentina and visit Mendoza and Bariloche, so changing this made a big difference to my plans, but in the end after several hours of pondering I decided to take the opportunity to see some more of Chile and signed up for the Pachamama bus tour. This is basically a minibus for travellers which runs from Santiago down to Puerto Montt and back up, stopping at various places along the way for activities, photos and other traveller friendly things.

The first day saw the 10 of us who'd signed up heading South from Santiago through the vast areas of vineyards with Jose our driver and Sergio our guide/fixer. After a couple of brief stops, including a large dam (always good to see a nice bit of engineering!), we made it to our destinaton for the day, Pichilemu. This is a cute little seaside town, famed for it's surfing. A few of us braved the icy cold waters for some surfing, though I seemed to have forgotten everything I'd learnt in Brazil.

Nice bit of concrete!

Nice bit of concrete!

Whale building in Pichilemu

Whale building in Pichilemu

Sunset in Pichilemu

Sunset in Pichilemu

The next morning we moved on, with a long day's driving to reach Pucon, a really pretty little town known for its outdoor activites and located on the edge of a lake, with the large and smoking volcano Villarica towering over it. We stopped here for 24hrs, to enable the more intrepid of us to climb the volcano. This involved a 6 hour trudge throug the snow to reach the top, where we enjoyed stunning views of the crater and surrounding mountains. Then we got to slide all the way back down on sledges - definitely the longest toboggan run I've done and probably the most fun way of getting down a mountain!

Starting the climb

Starting the climb

Getting closer

Getting closer

The crater

The crater

Stunning views of the surrounding mountains

Stunning views of the surrounding mountains

And sliding back down

And sliding back down

The next day we drove on to Valdivia, a pretty city set on the banks of several rivers. We enjoyed a traditional Sunday lunch at an amazing place on the edge of town where you could buy all sorts of diferent foods from empanadas to kebabs and seafood, then enjoy the food whilst watching traditional dancing. We also had a boat ride on the river, which was very pretty.

Enjoying the dancing

Enjoying the dancing

Traditional dancing

Traditional dancing

Sealions in Valdivia

Sealions in Valdivia

Our final stop (for me at least) was in Puerto Varas, where I said farewell to everyone and left the bus to enjoy a couple of days R&R. BUt more of that in my next post. With only 4 weeks left I'm heading down to Patagonia by ferry on Friday, then trying to cram as much into the kast few days as possible. So more to come next time...

Posted by Davelanky 04:46 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Bolivia Part 2

Sun, sand, salt and silver

sunny 30 °C
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First things first, the more observant of you may notice a slightly different (better) style to the blog from this point onwards. This is thanks to my wonderful sister Jo, who has been slaving away in the cold, dark UK to craft me a custom blog layout, which I hope you'll agree looks pretty sweet.

The past couple of weeks have been so hectic that I haven't had a second to sit down and think about updating the blog, only now have I stopped to draw breath and can revisit some of the places I've seen recently. The last post left me in La Paz, recovering from my exploits climbing mountains. My stay in La Paz ended up being a few days longer than planned, as I was enjoying myself and the social life at my hostel so much. I was also encouraged to stay for Halloween, which is a much bigger event over here than in the UK. So after a fun night out dressed up on the saturday and another spectacular parade on the Sunday, I finally prepared to leave town on the Sunday evening.

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Impressive costumes at the parade

Impressive costumes at the parade

This is where things all started to go a bit pear-shaped. Firstly, after my constant reminders for 2 days, I found out that the hostel had failed to book my bus ticket to Sucre, and the only alternative was to head straight to Potosi. This had the knock-on effect that the bus left a couple of hours later, so I had time for dinner. Unfortunately, as I found out about 5 hours later, this dinner gave me food poisoning and I endured a fairly unpleasant bus journey, followed by a couple of days in bed in Potosi. Ironically, the whole of Potosi had shut down for those two days for their All Saints day festival, so I couldn't have done much anyway.

On the third day I finally felt well enough to get up and out and start doing some activities. The first thing on my list was a visit to the silver mine. This is the most famous part of Potosi - a vast mountain full of silver and other minerals that has been the basis of the city's wealth since the 1500s. The mine was started by the Incas, then expanded by the Spanish to supply their empire, making Potosi the third wealthiest city in the world for a time. Today the mine is still worked, but with techniques not that disimilar to those used hundreds of years ago. A visit to the mine is recommended as one of the most interesting, but challenging, things you can do in Bolivia, as I was about to find out.

Our group was collected promptly at 8.00am and taken first to be kitted out with protective equipment including overalls, helmet and lamp. We then moved on to the miner's market, a collection of shops selling everything the miners need - tools, dynamite, alcohol and coca leaves. Our guide gave us a quick explanation of how to use dynamite (casually tossing it around without a care in the world), and also explained a bit more about the miner's use of coca. Conditions in the mine are so unpleasant that the miners couldn't endure for long without some form of artificial assistance and coca leaves have provided this since the Incas first started mining here. Chewing the leaves releases similar chemicals to cocaine (which is a highly concentrated extract form the coca leaves) and provides resistance to hunger, fatigue and some of the conditions in the mine. Ironically, the Catholic church apparently first banned coca leaves as an unchristian evil, then immediately reversed their decision and made chewing the leaves compulsory when they realised what a huge effect it had on productivity in the mines.

How to use dynamite

How to use dynamite

We then had the opportunity to buy presents for the miners we were about to visit - bags of coca leaves, alcohol and dynamite! Our next stop was at a mineral refinery where the rocks extracted by the miners are processed to extract the minerals. This was an interesting place, full of huge rock crushers, foul smelling chemicals and, at the end, small quantities of silver and other valuable metals. Our quick tour here ended with a line-up of workers holding out their hats to be filled with coca leaves, then we moved on to the main mine, further up the mountain. Cerro Rico (literally rich mountain), is a huge, scarred cone rising above the city and peppered with mine workings and other facilities.

The refinery

The refinery

Chemicals being dispensed into a network of pipes

Chemicals being dispensed into a network of pipes

Cerro Rico

Cerro Rico

We entered a small dark hole representing the mouth of the mine, and stumbled along the passage in the dark. It wasn't too uncomfortable to begin with, though just low enough to make you smack your head on the timber shoring on a regular basis. After 10 minutes or so we reached the end of the first level and started to descend to the next level. This involved squeezing down a narrow set of tunnels at 45 degrees. It was hot, dusty and really uncomfortable, and we began to understand just how unpleasant it would be to work here. Once down at the third level, we visited a group of working miners, which involved leaving the main shaft and crawling 20m through an even smaller tunnel. At the end of this was a slightly larger chamber with a wizened old miner bashing away at the rock with a hammer and chisel. The miners work in small collectives of between 4-20 people, with several collectives working each mine (the one we visited had about 100 active miners).

Our guide explained that the average wage in Potosi was about 700 Bolivianos a month (about $100), whereas the miners can make 1500-4500Bs a month, depending on age and experience and how rich the seam they are working is. This is why virtually the entire male population of Potosi is working in the mines or mine-related activities, despite the huge risks of rock falls and other dangers and the extremely high rates of silicosis of the lungs that the miners suffer due to breathing in all the dust for years and years. Unfortunately the estimates are that the mine only has another 40-50 years of life, and nobody knows what will happen to Potosi after that, as there are virtually no activities in the town that aren't linked to the mine. We chatted to the miners for a while, then left them goody bags of dynamite and coca and headed back out of the mine. By the time we were back at the surface we were all extemely relieved to get out of there and back to the cool fresh air. The last part of the tour was to explode a stick of dynamite. After having our photo taken with the lit dynamite, our guide ran down the hill and planted it, before racing back in time to watch it explode with a large band and cloud of dust. Not the most sustainable activity but good fun!

In the mines

In the mines

Miner hard at work

Miner hard at work

Dynamite!

Dynamite!

Later that day, after coughing up some of the dust I'd swallowed and recovering with lunch in the sun, a luxury the miners don't have, I visited the silver museum. This has an amazing collection of artifacts relating to Potosi and the minting of silver coins, all housed in a beautiful colonial building which used to be the national mint. It was really interesting to see some of the coins made here with the silver extracted from the mines, together with some of the amazing machines they used.

The oldest (donkey-powered) press

The oldest (donkey-powered) press

And a slightly newer steam powered one

And a slightly newer steam powered one

Finally, I had time to walk across town to a slightly odd tower, which turned out to be a slightly old and shabby rotating restaurant of all things. Sadly it wasn't rotating whilst we were there, but we still enjoyed great views of the city over a coffee.

View of Potosi

View of Potosi

Then it was time for me to leave Potosi, heading towards Uyuni and the border with Chile. I'd booked a seat on a bus through the hostel and headed to the street they depart from with plenty of time in hand. After waiting in front of the bus company's offices for twenty minutes wondering where the bus was, I suddenly spotted it hidden on the far side of the street behind a much larger bus. I rushed over to find that it was completely full, with not even standing room left, so despite the fact I had a reserved seat in theory, there was no room for me. Fortunately I managed to argue my case in my slightly less rudimentry Spanish, and eventually they managed to get me on another company's bus. This had the bonus that I ended up sitting next to Kevin, an Irish guy from my mine tour, who it turned out ws heading in the same direction as me. By the time we got off at Uyuni we'd also met Laura, a Brazilian girl also planning to do the same tour as us.

After a good night's sleep we were up early in Uyuni to sort out our tour of the salt flats, and just managed to squeeze onto a tour at the last minute. The salt plains are known as one of the highlights of any trip to Bolivia, so I was pretty excited as we pulled out of town in our Landcruiser. The first stop was the train graveyard, a surreal place where a heap of old steam trains have been dumped in the desert to slowly rust away.

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Steam trains in the desert

Steam trains in the desert

Fortunately, rusting trains in the desert with bright blue skies make for great pictures, so I happily snapped way for half an hour before we moved on to the main event, the salt plains. These are a vast expanse of totally flat, totally white salt, on the location of a vast ancient lake bed. It's a jaw dropping sight, with nothing to see but the odd pile of salt and the silhouette of mountains in the background, shimmerig through the heat haze.

Uyuni salt plains

Uyuni salt plains

Excavating salt on the plains

Excavating salt on the plains

We stopped on the salt plains for lunch, giving us the opportunity to indulge in the standard salt plain activity, taking humorous pictures with distorted perspectives. Due to the lack of features, it's possible to play around with the scale of objects, so you can have a very small person sitting on another person's hand etc. It's quite hard to do convincingly, but I managed to get a couple of fairly good shots.

A giant Kevin

A giant Kevin

Laura vs the giant bottle

Laura vs the giant bottle

After a delicious lunch of BBQ llama, we drove on across the flats to our next destination; Fish Island (so called because apparently it looks like a fish from above). The island is one of the few things that rise above the flat plains, and it is also covered in cacti, which present a surreal spectacle against the salt flats beyond.

Fish Island

Fish Island

A 4WD is dwarfed by the flats

A 4WD is dwarfed by the flats

That night we stayed in a salt hotel on the edge of the flats. The entire building was built of salt, the walls, columns, even the beds. Certainly not a material I've considered using in my structures before!

Interior of the salt hotel

Interior of the salt hotel

Salt bricks

Salt bricks

The next morning we were up to watch the sun rise slowly over the salt plains, before driving on to our next destination. I had been focused on visiting the salt plains, and hadn't realised that the second day of the tour would be one of the most mind-blowing of my entire trip. We started off driving through the desert past various volcanoes, stopping for photos along the way and spotting various wildlife, including an owl and a desert fox.

Volcan Ollague

Volcan Ollague

An owl, don't know what type (suggestions welcome)

An owl, don't know what type (suggestions welcome)

Desert Fox

Desert Fox

The first properly stunning place we stopped at was Laguna Chulluncani, a riot of colours, from reds to blues to pink flamingos. We stopped here for an hour over lunch and I had a great time snapping away from every possible angle.

Laguna Chulluncani

Laguna Chulluncani

Stunning colours across the laguna

Stunning colours across the laguna

Flamingos in the mud

Flamingos in the mud

I had thought this was going to be the highlight of the day, but things got better and better as we drove through the desert, first past another beautiful laguna and then on to visit some amazing rock formations carved by the wind and sand.

Vicuñas grazing in front of the laguna

Vicuñas grazing in front of the laguna

More amazing colours in the mountains

More amazing colours in the mountains

One of the crazy rock formations

One of the crazy rock formations

Rock reflections

Rock reflections

Finally we headed on to Laguna Colorado, an even more stunning bright red due to the minerals in the water. This topped off an amazing day, and we were all pretty overwhelmed by the time we got to our hotel for the night.

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Laguna Colorado

Laguna Colorado

A night of card games and enjoying the odd bottle of wine ensued, and we were all very bleary eyed when woken up at 4am the next morning. We bundled into the cars, and headed off to visit an area of geysers and steaming mud baths in time for dawn. It was pretty cool wandering around between the geysers and boling mud pots as the sun slowly rose through the steam, but we only had a few minutes before being whisked away to our next and final stop at the hot baths.

Steaming mud obscures the rising sun

Steaming mud obscures the rising sun

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Relaxing in the baths

Relaxing in the baths

This was just the hangover cure I needed- lying in toasty hot water at 6.00am watching the sun rise, before enjoying pancakes for breakfast. All too soon we were dragged kicking and screaming from the water and had to get back into the car for the final part of our journey to the border with Chile.

This post has already gone on far too long, so I'll leave the border crossing for my next entry. With only a matter of weeks left, my trip is slowly drawing to a close, but with the whole of Chile and Argentina still to see, I'm looking forward to the remaining weeks.

Posted by Davelanky 05:53 Archived in Bolivia Comments (1)

Bolivia Part 1

Sunsets and Adrenaline

sunny
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Well, I've been in Bolivia for almost ten days now, and it's been a fun mixture of laid back chilling and action packed adventure. My time in Bolivia got off to a good start when we were welcomed across the border from Peru by the friendliest border staff ever, instead of the usual dour expressions and fierce stamping of passports, we got smiles and jokes cracked about living in London. Definitely some other countries could learn a thing or too about making a good impression on visitors (not least the USA!).

I headed straight to Copacabana, a small town on the banks of Titicaca. Although this good impression was slightly spoiled by experiencing the worst service ever at my first meal in Bolivia (rude, slow, incompetent and whatever else), this was more than compensated for by enjoying the best sunset of the trip so far from a hill overlooking the town. The sun set behind the mountains on the far side of the lake, and the colours just got better and better as the sun sank further below the horizon.

Copacabana

Copacabana

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Stunning sunset over Titicaca

Stunning sunset over Titicaca

The next day I awoke to heavy rain, which fortunately turned into sunshine in time for me to catch an early afternoon boat across to Isla de Sol, a small island in the lake, which the Incas believed was the birthplace of the Gods. It's an amazing place, which although over-run with tourists still feels relatively unspoiled, with the local inhabitants mostly still sticking to a traditional lifestyle of farming and agriculture. I arrived to be met by a horde of local kids, each jostling with one another to advertise accommodation. One got hold of me, and took me along to one of the many small hostels, however this one had the most amazing view looking out over the fields and the lake, towards the mountains in the far distance. I was immediately smitten, and got a room, which had this view out of the window. Almost immediately I started thinking about staying more than the one night I had originally planned.

Local ladies on the boat to Isla Del Sol

Local ladies on the boat to Isla Del Sol

Isla Del Sol

Isla Del Sol

Possibly the best desk in the world?

Possibly the best desk in the world?

I had time to go for a walk to the nearest end of the island, enjoying the sunshine and the views of the amazing terraces which cover most of the island, before finding a bar with a terrace to enjoy my second consecutive stunning sunset, although this one was improved by the cold beer.

More stunning sunsets

More stunning sunsets

The next day, I set off to walk round the island, visiting various sites of Incan ruins along the way. It was a beautiful walk along the ridge along the centre of the island, then back following the coast passing through several small villages. Whilst the ruins themselves weren't that impressive at least compared to the sites round Cusco), the beautiful weather and scenery made it a really memorable day.

The path across the island

The path across the island

Cha'llapampa village

Cha'llapampa village

Boats crossing the lake are dwarfed by the scenery

Boats crossing the lake are dwarfed by the scenery

After another night on the island I returned to the mainland and got a bus to Sorata, a small town known for it's hiking. I had originally been intending to do a 3 day trek there, but a combination of bad weather, lack of time and being unable to find anyone else to trek with resulted in a decision to change plan and head straight for La Paz after just one night in Sorata. So all I gained was an impression of a pretty unexciting town (I didn't take a single photo!) and sore legs after 6 hours cramped in tiny minibuses.

Still I arrived in La Paz looking forward to a few days of relaxation and some more exciting activities. The first couple of days were spent wandering around seeing a few sights and organising the various trips I had planned. La Paz has a spectacular location climbing up the sides of a huge valley, with snowcapped peaks visible in brief glimpses down certain certain streets and from the higher areas. As well as few pretty areas of old building and squares, La Paz has some of the best Zebra crossings I've ever seen, using live Zebras (well people in costume actually, but near enough!). These "zebras" act as traffic ladies do in the UK, stopping the traffic to let pedestrians cross safely. All the time they're clowning around and generally entertaining evereyone passing by. I'd say this is a brilliant invention we could do more of in the UK.

Zebra crossing La Paz style

Zebra crossing La Paz style

La Paz seen between the narrow streets

La Paz seen between the narrow streets

Plaza Pedro D Murillo, the main square

Plaza Pedro D Murillo, the main square

My first adventure activity was mountain biking down "The World's Most Dangerous Road", a steep, narrow road which runs from Coroico to , losing over 3600m altitude as it goes. The nickname of the road is well deserved - more than 25 vehicles a year used to be lost over the edge and down some of the precipices up to 600m high. Apparently the worst accident involved a truck carrying over 100 passengers plummeting off the road with no survivors. Some of you may also recall the road featuring with a fairly nervous Jeremy Clarkson in the Top Gear South America special. These days a new road has been built, so the old road is used mainly by mountain bikers and the odd local. It's still dangerous though, we were shown the wreckage from the most recent fatality when a car went off the edge in August, killing the driver. In addition, about 15 bikers have been killed doing the route over the last few years.

So it was with as much fear as excitement I turned up early in the morning ready to risk my life. After an hour driving out of LaPAz, we arrived at the start of the trip and put on out protective gear. I had paid a few extra dollars to go with one of the best operators (B-side if anyone's interested) and therefore out kit included full suspension mountain bikes, full protective gear and excellent guides. After getting ready we set off on the first stage, a descent on tarmaced road through stunning scenery. It was nice easy riding and we aere soon flying along, overtaing the occasional truck along the way. We were all getting pretty confident when our guide pointed out that this wasn't the death road proper, just the normal road.

Getting ready

Getting ready

All too soon though we reached the real start of the death road, to be greeted by thick cloud concealing the extent of the precipitous drops to one side. Nervously, we set off down the steep and rough road, winding our way down the mountain. It didn't take long to start to build up some confidence, and we were soon racing along, taking the bends at speed and generally having a great time. It wasn't long before we came out of the clouds and could see some of the huge drops we were passing. The scenery was spectacular and it was hard to concentrate on the road rather than the views. I was having a great time whizzing down, just about managing to keep up with our guide, although I was pushing quite hard to do so (our guide said later he was riding at about 60%!). It was at this point my one near-miss happened, coming into a sharp bend I suddenly realised I was going to fast, tried to brake, lost the back end and only just managed to get it under control and stop about half a metre from the edge. Whilst it wasn't one of the huge drops, it would probably have hurt, so after that I eased off a bit.

The view we were greeted with at the top of the road

The view we were greeted with at the top of the road

A minibus is dwarfed by the cliffs above and below

A minibus is dwarfed by the cliffs above and below

Gradually it got warmer and more humid until we found ourselves in the jungle proper and near the end of the trip. After a couple of flat sections (we actually had to pedal!) and some river crossing we arrived at our destination at the end of the road, where we celebrated with a cold beer and a relaxing lunch before driving back up the road. It was only driving up, which took several hours, did we realise just how far we had come.

Stunning views down the valley

Stunning views down the valley

Sunday morning saw me out and about in La Paz, and more by luck than judgement stumbling across a huge parade celebrating something to do with the anniversary of the city (I never quitefigured out what). There were hundredsof people parading dressed up in beautiful traditional costumes, some with quite franklyscary masks. It was a stunning spectacle and I had a happy couple of hours taking photos and enjoying the experience.

Scary clowns

Scary clowns

Traditional dress and dancing

Traditional dress and dancing

More scary masks

More scary masks

That evening came a slightly differentform of entertainmen - Wrestling Cholitas. This is billed as WWF style "fake" wrestling, but starrring Cholitas - local women in traditional costume. The evening startedoff with a couple of all-male fights, with plenty of the anticipated slapstick. Things took a turn to the bizarre however with the next match, instead of girl vs girl, the poor cholita had to take on a guy, who proceeded to throw her round the ring, and even over the barriers at our feet at one point. Whilst she got a few good shots in, the guy comprensively won, leaving the girl lying in the ring covered in (fake) blood. We were all a bit bemused by this, and were even more so after the next match, which followed a similar pattern. The third cholita proceeded to beat theliving daylights out of the poor guy, which made us feel slightly better, but it was all a bit strange, even if it is supposedly faked.

An expectant crowd of gringos and locals

An expectant crowd of gringos and locals

The first Cholita tries to give as good as she gets....

The first Cholita tries to give as good as she gets....

...but is eventually left flat out

...but is eventually left flat out

more action in the all-male fight

more action in the all-male fight

Monday morning I set off on my next big adventure, climbing Huayna Potosi, a mountain near La Paz. The summit is at 6088m, so it is a pretty serious undertaking and a whole 100m higher than my previous best on Kilimanjaro. I had been lucky enough to bump into a couple of people I had met on Isal de Sol in La Paz and I had managed to persuade Simon to come climb the mountain with me. So we set off with our guide Osvaldo and cook Simon for the drive to the mountain. It wasn't long after leaving La Paz that we got our first good view of the mountain - covered in snow and looking pretty intimidating for the two of us, having never done any serious climbing before. Fortunately we had an amazing guide in Osvaldo, who filled us with confidence.

our first view of the mountain

our first view of the mountain

After dropping our kit off at base camp and grabbing a quick spot of lunch, we walked the 40minutes up to the base of the glacier to get some practice in with ice axes and crampons. Osvi explained the basic principles, then took us up and down all over the glacier on increasingly steep slopesto give us confidence in the gear. The final challenge was scaling a proper 6m high ice wall using crampons and ice axes. This was great fun, although incredibly hard work, particularly on the arms. We returned back down to camp feeling more confident, althugh still pretty apprehensive about what was to come.

Walking up to the glacier

Walking up to the glacier

Ice climbing on the glacier

Ice climbing on the glacier

The next morning we left base camp at 9.30 for the 2 hour trek up to the advanced camp at 5100m. The cloud had settled in and we spent most of the journey trudging through thick mist. We were carrying all of our own kit as well as crampons, ice axes, harnesses etc. so we were pretty well laden, making the climb fairly hard work. We made it to the hut by lunchtime and had a couple of hours to relax and recover before Osvi took us out for a look at the route. We climbed the glacier for half an hour just to get a feel for the snow and the type of terrain. It was a lot less technical than the practise we had done on the glacier, which gave us some confidence. Then it was back to the hut in time to enjoy spectacular views as the sun set behind the mountain and the clouds parted, followed by an early dinner and an attempt to get some sleep.

Looking back down the valley

Looking back down the valley

View of the ascent to come

View of the ascent to come

After lying awake for 6 hours with countless thoughts racing through my head we were back up at midnight to get ready for the final ascent. We left the hut at 1.30am to find the weather conditions were perfect - clear and relatively warm (a mere -5 degrees celcius). We set off up the glacier, a series of small pinpricks of light visible further up the mountain showing where other groups had got to. We trudged upwards at a slow pace, roped together for safety and our crampons biting into the frozen snow. We were both feeling pretty good, with no symptons of altitude sickness and enjoying the experience. Gradually as we got higher, the lack of oxygen began to kick in more and more, with each breath coming in gasping, heaving sobs as we desperately tried to suck in enough oxygen.

Setting off in the dark

Setting off in the dark

The pace slowed and we could only focus on trudging upwards, putting one foot in front of each other. After 3 and a half hours, we reached 5900m the point where most people who turn back hae had enough. Whilst knackered, we were all still feeling determined and continued on, heading on towards the final ridge. We got here about 5.15, just as the first rays of light appeared on the horizon.

The first light of dawn

The first light of dawn

As we climbed the ridge, trying to ignore the huge drops on each side, we were treated to a stunning sunrise, as the sky went from black to blue to orange. We eventually made it to the summit and collapsed to the ground, trying to suck in enough oxygen to appreciate the amazing 360 degree panorama. We had just enough time for a few photos before we had to head down, needing to get past an area of potential rockfalls before the sun start to melt the frozen rocks.

The sun appears from behind the mountain

The sun appears from behind the mountain

Almost at the summit,with the shadow of the mountain visible on the landscape beyond

Almost at the summit,with the shadow of the mountain visible on the landscape beyond

The journey down was even more challenging as we had given almost everything just to get to the top, but now had to summon the energy to get safely back off the mountain. We trudged down,at least able to enjoy the stunning vistas in the early morning light. Eventually we made it down to camp 2, absolutely shattered, and had the luxury of a lie-down for an hour and a bowl of nice hot soup. Then we had to pack up and carry our heavy packs back down to base camp, arriving there on weary legs craving a hot bath and comfy bed. All that was left then was the drive back to La Paz and a very early night. I'll finish this entry now, with more to come soon.

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Stunning landscapes on the way down

Stunning landscapes on the way down

Made it!

Made it!

Posted by Davelanky 12:43 Archived in Bolivia Tagged la_paz copacabana isla_del_sol huayna_potosi death_road Comments (0)

Peru Part 2

Visiting some Inca redible sites!

all seasons in one day 10 °C
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Sorry for yet another poor pun starting this entry off, I can't seem to stop myself! My last post ended with me leaving Nasca for Cusco, where I arrived after yet another night bus. Cusco is an amazing city, set deep in the mountains and sprawling up the sides of the valley - the first view as you come into town is pretty spectacular.

I got to enjoy a few days relaxing in Cusco whilst sorting out my trek to Machu Picchu, so had a good look round, took some pics etc. The city has a fascinating history - capital of the Incan empire, it was captured by the Spanish in 1533 and they swiftly tried to demolish most of the Incan structures, using lots of the stone to build their own churches and other buildings in an effort to impose Catholicism on the Incas. This has left a fascinating mix of Incan and Spanish influenced architecture - plenty to keep me happily snapping away.

Plaza De Armas, Cusco

Plaza De Armas, Cusco

Cusco from Qorikancha

Cusco from Qorikancha

Another highlight was meeting up with my friends Adam and Nicole, who are travelling separately. They got engaged earlier in the year and are travelling round the world for 6 months before tying the knot in Kenya - all very exciting. I'd missed Adam's stag due to my travels, so it was great to see them for the last time before the big day. Due to time constraints they were doing an organised 3 week trip in Peru, and I got to become an unofficial member of the group for 24hrs. This included a great night out, with pisco making lessons, guinea pig for dinner and then a fairly messy night out (ironically this was the weekend of the national elections in Peru, and the sale of alcohol was banned for 3 days, however this didn't stop our guide finding a place to drink the night away).

Enjoying a night out with Adam and Nicole

Enjoying a night out with Adam and Nicole

The next day found us with fairly sore heads visiting an alpaca clothing store, followed by an afternoon of horse riding between Inca ruins. This was great fun, up on the hills above Cusco visiting some of the many Inca sites that are scattered around. The biggest of these is Sasquewama (pronounced "sexy woman"!), which still has an impressive set of ruins.

Horse Riding in Cusco

Horse Riding in Cusco

Llamas and ruins

Llamas and ruins

All too soon it was time to bid Adam and Nicole farewell and to set off on my own trek to Machu Picchu. Based on a number of recommendations, I had chosen to do an alternative to the Inca Trail called the Salkantay route, which is supposed to be quieter, prettier and (slightly) cheaper. Our trip began with an early morning pick-up and then a 3 hour drive into the mountains, stopping for breakfast in Mollepatur (where the restaurant had a shed full of guinea pigs that weren't kept as pets!).

Dawn over Cusco

Dawn over Cusco

Lunch!

Lunch!

Another couple of hour's drive up a steep and rough track brought us to our start point, complete with spectacular views of Salkantay mountain. We had also got to know each other on the drive - our group of 6 comprised Matt and Jess from San Diego, Daisy from Texas and Suyog and Niral from India (via the USA). We all got on really well and enjoyed each others company - I spent most of the time bickering with Matt about whether the US or the UK was better! We were also fortunate to have a great guide in Whilder - he was always incredibly enthusiastic and taught us loads we went along about flora, fauna and history of the area.

Team Salkantay

Team Salkantay

After transferring all of our gear from van to the mules which would be doing the donkey work (sorry!) for the next few days. The first part of the trek was a pleasant walk up the valley, enjoying the stunning views and sunshine. The path gradually steepened until we were working our way up some serious switchbacks. The altitude was also kicking in - at almost 4000m any exertion was extra-hard. I was lucky in that the last couple of weeks spent at altitude had pretty well acclimatised me, so I felt few effects, whilst the others who only had a couple of days in Cusco before the trek suffered from intense headaches and nausea. The emergency horse was soon brought into action, and we staggered our way up to the top of the climb and our lunch stop.

looking back down our route up the valley

looking back down our route up the valley

Lunch at the glacier

Lunch at the glacier

Our cooks and muleteers had raced ahead and were already preparing our lunch - an amazing menu of guacamole with corn chips, vegetable and pasta soup followed by chicken and rice - we definitely weren't going to go hungry on this trip. All this was presented with table, chairs tablecloth and a stunning view of the glacier, even if it was freezing cold. As usual, I ate everything put in front of me, whilst the others struggled with the altitude - I generously helped them out! After lunch we pushed on to the highest point of the trek at 4650m, before continuing down to the valley below. By now the mountains were shrouded in cloud, but we still got some stunning views of the valley below.

Salkantay Glacier

Salkantay Glacier

Made it! - the highest point on the trek!

Made it! - the highest point on the trek!

Evening light illuminates the valley

Evening light illuminates the valley

We reached camp at 5.30 to find out tents already set up and a cup of tea waiting for us - I could definitely get used to this level of service! We all had a rest before another delicious dinner, which was a fairly quiet affair as everyone was feeling the cold and altitude - we were still camping at 3800m. Then it was off to bed, in preparation for an early start the next morning.

Breakfast views

Breakfast views

I woke up particularly early, and got up to enjoy a beautiful dawn with the sun gradually creeping over the mountains in a clear blue sky. After a breakfast of pancakes and fruit salad we set off, heading down into the valley below. The terrain quickly changed as we lost height - first an area of bushes thronged with humming birds, then the denser upper jungle. We continued down all morning, as it gradually got hotter and greener. Everyone was feeling much more cheerful after a night's sleep and the drop in altitude, and we made quick progress down the steep and rocky path. The only flaw was a strange injury I picked up - a pain in the outside of my ankle, where the bone spur rubbed on the boot. I have no idea why - I've had my boots for two years and never experienced anything like this, but it got increasingly painful through the day, and would be an irritation for the rest of the trip.

We arrived at our next camp by lunchtime and had a pleasant afternoon relaxing in the sun. Later on, we got to enjoy some football with the locals - first with a local kid called Jefferson, who was impressively skilled for a 6 year old. This was followed by a more serious game with the locals. Matt and I participated - Matt putting on a heroic show in goal considering his team didn't seem to have a defence. I wandered all over the pitch for the other team, and managed eventually to get my name on the scoresheet with a cheeky lob over Matt that I somehow managed to hook in when it bounced off the bar. It was hard work with the altitude and rough pitch, and I was pretty relieved when it finally got too dark to see and the game was called off.

Relaxing at camp 2

Relaxing at camp 2

Matt shows Jefferson how it's done

Matt shows Jefferson how it's done

The next day we had another early start with a 6.00am wake-up call, although at least it was accompanied by coca tea in bed! The route today followed the river most of the way, and we enjoyed stunning views of the river and dense jungle, interpersed with the occasional waterfall and extremely rickety bridge. It was hot and sunny, and brightly coloured butterflies were flitting around all over the place. This was another short day, and we reached our lunch stop by 11.30. After lunch we were driven along to our campsite for the night in .... This was the first time we'd stayed in the same place as other groups doing the Salkantay route - 4 or 5 groups stayed here, and it turned into a fairly raucous evening around the camp fire.

Following the river through dense jungle

Following the river through dense jungle

This made the 5.50am wake-up call the next morning even more painful, but I just about managed to drag myself out of bed. We were driven along to our start point for the day at a hydroelectric plant, which also marked the end of the railway line. Our route took us along the railway, with the occasional train roaring past. The terrain had changed dramatically into rocky spires all around, which was the first indication we were nearing Machu Picchu. At one point we passed a series of Inca terraces, which amazingly had only been discovered a natter of weeks ago, and were in the process of being uncovered by archaeologists. The fact that these had just been found, literally round the corner from Machu Picchu with people living minutes away, made you realise just how easy it would be for an entire city to remain lost in the jungle.

Along the railway

Along the railway

Newly discovered Inca terraces

Newly discovered Inca terraces

After a couple of hours we rounded one hill to get our first glimpse of Machu Picchu - a few terraces just visible on the mountain high above us. This was also a sign that we were nearing the end of our trek and the town of Aguas Calientes soon came into view- a pretty uninspiring place alomost totally catering for gringos, despite a stunning location. We all crashed out in our hotel for the rest of the day, emerging for our final dinner as a group, before heading back to bed for an early night.

Aguas Caliente

Aguas Caliente

The next morning was when it started to go a bit wrong. After 6 days of beautiful weather, I woke at 3.00am to the sound of torrential rain pouring down outside. After pulling on full waterproofs we headed down the the bus station for a 4.00am meet - we had to there that early in order to queue for the first bus up to Machu Picchu. This in turn meant that we would be one of the first groups to arrive and would be able to get a pass to climb Wayna Picchu - the mountain behind the main ruins. Only 400 passes are given out each day, so we had to make the early start to be sure of getting one.

Suyog and Niral looking a bit damp

Suyog and Niral looking a bit damp

We queued till 5.30, with the rain continuing to pour down and it was still raining as the bus drove up the steep switchbacks to towards the summit. We were pretty much the first people to enter the site at 6.30, although there wasn't much to see as everything was still shrouded in cloud and rain. Nonetheless, this was our only chance to get some pictures without hordes of people in shot, so naturally I pulled out my camera and started snapping away, doing my best to protect it from the rain. Whilder took us round a couple of the terraces, and we got the occasional glimpse of the terraces stretching way into the fog, which was a breathtaking sight. It was then that the day went from bad to worse - first I managed to lose the group, stopping to take a picture then turning round to find groups wearing identical ponchos disappearing in each direction. Then, I found that my camera had stopped working altogether, presumably the pre-existing problems combining with the rain to go one step too far.

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The first (and last) views of a misty Machu Picchu with my camera

The first (and last) views of a misty Machu Picchu with my camera

As most people will probably have picked up from reading this blog, if they didn't know before, I like taking pictures, lots of pictures, so you can imagine just how frustrating this was. To make matters worse, I have been carrying my compact camera around everywhere for the last month as a backup, knowing my SLR was a bit screwed, but I had managed to leave the battery for this one in the charger back at the hostel in Cusco (yes, I know- very stupid)! I couldn't do much else than carry on and try and focus on enjoying the experience of being there, something I'm always in danger of forgetting when obsessing over taking pictures.

I eventually caught up with everyone else and we started our climb up Wayna Picchu. The path wound steeply up the side of the mountain, with precipitous drops of at least 300m down to the valley below. Fortunately the rain started to ease off, and as we reached the top the clouds even cleared briefly, giving us spectacular views of the entire site. It really is a breathtaking spectacle, and one of the most memorable experiences of the trip. We returned back to the bottom and spent an hour or so wandering round the site. By now the 100 or so tourists doing day trips had arrived and were swarming all over the complex, every single one snapping away with their working cameras. It was like some kind of cruel torture, putting me in one of the most photogenic locations in South America without a camera, whilst everyone else has one, and I was halfway between laughing and crying. The rest of my group were all very sympathetic, taking lots of pictures and letting me use their cameras if I wanted, but it wasn't quite the same.

Trying to put a brave face on things

Trying to put a brave face on things

View from Wayna Picchu as the clouds finally clear

View from Wayna Picchu as the clouds finally clear

The classic view (photos thanks to Suyog)

The classic view (photos thanks to Suyog)

We left the site at lunchtime and headed back to Aguas Caliente to catch our train back to Cusco. The hour and half train ride took us through some spectacular mountainous terrain, before we were collected by minibus for the final drive to Cusco. Just to really rub things in, the sun was setting as we drove through the mountains, and the light was probably the most beautiful I've seen all trip. Sadly I can't show you the pictures! Back in Cusco we had a few celebratory drinks before heading towards our beds for a well-deserved rest.

My next destination was Arequipa in Southern Peru. The city is surrounded by volcanoes and is known for the beautiful white volcanic rock the buildings are constructed from, as well as Juanita, the Inca ice mummy who was discovered on the summit of one of the volcanoes. I had a day there exploring, visiting the museum dedicated to Juanita as well as the Monasterio Santa Catalina - an enormous convent created in the 1580s and which covers a massive city block. It's an amazing place, filled with beautiful courtyards and a warren of the nun's living quarters, all stunningly photogenic. Fortunately, my SLR had just about come back to life after a few days of drying out, albeit with the same shutter release problems as before.

One of the many churches in Arequipa

One of the many churches in Arequipa

A beautiful courtyard at the convent

A beautiful courtyard at the convent

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Views of the convent

Views of the convent

a typical private kitchen for one of the nuns

a typical private kitchen for one of the nuns

The next day I was up at 3.00am, ready to be collected for my next adventure, a three day trek in Colca canyon. We had a 6 hour drive through the mountains, enjoying more stunning views as the dawn light illuminated the volcanoes wreathed in mist. Colca canyon is the second deepest canyon in the world at 3191m (the deepest isn't the Grand Canyon but a neighbour of Colca which is just 163m deeper), and is a very popular location for trekking. After a brief stop at Cruz del Condor - supposedly the one of the best places to see condors close-up in South America (we saw one a long way away, other than that just hundreds of tourists!), we started our hike. The first morning involved descending to the canyon floor via a steep switchbacked path. We got to see one condor fly past, using the thermals to ascend to the top of the canyon, then we continued down to the bottom. We had another good group for this trek, this time five Spanish nurses, one German and our Peruvian guide so an interesting mix of nationalities.

Colca canyon at its deepest point

Colca canyon at its deepest point

My one close-up of a condor

My one close-up of a condor

After three hours of descent it was a relief to finally get on flat ground, at least for a couple of minutes before we started to climb the other side. A stop for lunch and another couple of hours hiking brought us to our home for the night, a small farm on the edge of one of the towns in the canyon. We spent the evening there, playing with the local kids and chatting with the women cooking our dinner (well the Spanish contingent chatted at least).

sunset over the canyon

sunset over the canyon

Our hostess cooking dinner by candlelight

Our hostess cooking dinner by candlelight

Next morning we continued on to the oasis, an amazing place at the bottom of the canyon with luscious green foliage surrounded by the stark orange walls of the canyon. We got there by lunchtime and got to spend the afternoon relaxing by the pool and in the gardens, all very nice.

The oasis

The oasis

Our pool

Our pool

The girls chilling out

The girls chilling out

The next morning we were up at 4.30am, ready to start the ascent of the canyon at 5.00. The climb wasn't as hard as I'd feared, and we got to enjoy a beautiful sunrise as the sun slowly crept up the valley, the rays gradually illuminating the far side of the canyon. We reached the top in time for breakfast and a walk round the local town of Cabanaconde before driving back to the head of the canyon at Chivay. Here we got to enjoy the thermal baths, very nice for soothing aching muscles. Then it was time to return to Cusco, getting back with the sunset for a quick dinner and early bed.

Dawn light hits the canyon wall

Dawn light hits the canyon wall

Made it!

Made it!

Relaxing at the thermal baths

Relaxing at the thermal baths

The next morning I returned to the monastery for more pictures as the light was much better (obsessed about taking pictures, me?), before hopping on the bus to Puno. We passed through some amazing volcanic plains, the barren landscape interrupted by herds of grazing llamas and vicuñas (a close cousin of llamas), before gradually entering greener landscapes. We arrived in Puno on the shores of lake Titicaca after dark, and I just had time to set up a tour for the next day and grab dinner before falling into bed.

One of the beautiful gutters

One of the beautiful gutters

View of the mountains beyond

View of the mountains beyond

Warning- llamas crossing!

Warning- llamas crossing!

The next day I joined an organised tour for a trip to some of the islands on Lake Titicaca. Our first stop was at the floating islands, an amazing collection of islands formed from reeds that literally float on the lake. They were originally constructed by tribes seeking shelter from the Incas, and have been maintained ever since. Today, the islands only cater for tourists and the inhabitants pretty much rely on the hundreds of tourists visiting for their livelyhoods. Whilst it was overly touristy, it was still fascinating to see the islands and learn a little about the lifestyle of the inhabitants.

Our welcome at the floating islands

Our welcome at the floating islands

Getting eaten by tame birds

Getting eaten by tame birds

Figureheads on the reed boat

Figureheads on the reed boat

After this we motored across across the lake for an hour or so, enjoying the sun and stunning views across the vast expanse. We then stopped at the island of for lunch and a walk around. Again, it was horribly touristy, with hundreds of tour groups and the associated street sellers, but the island itself was stunning, with beautiful views over the lake.

One of the best toilet views in South America?

One of the best toilet views in South America?

We returned back to Puno in the early evening, where I spent my last night in Peru before Heading for Bolivia. Peru has been an amazing place, and I've loved (almost) every minute of it. So now I'm looking forward to what Bolivia has to offer.

Posted by Davelanky 12:00 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

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