A Travellerspoint blog

Uyuni

Salt, Salt and more Salt

sunny 4 °C

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We arrived in Uyuni after a 10 hour bus journey, and wished we´d stayed in Sucre. It was so cold, we slept with 3 blankets, a duvet, in our sleeping bags and were still cold! I don't think they've heard of heaters here!

As soon as we arrived we booked a 3 day tour leaving the next day, of Bolivia's famous salt flats, that would end in the North of Chile. So the next morning we climbed aboard the 4x4 that would be driving us around for the next few days. Our first stop was the 'train cemetry', which is just outside of Uyuni and is basically a group of rusty old steam trains, but was fun to climb all over them. We were happily taking pictures of people lying on what we thought were unused tracks when we spotted something approaching rather rapidly!

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Next we drove to a tiny village called Colchani on the edge of the salt flats where the people process and package the salt. Once we'd been given a demonstration we left the road and drove onto the salt itself, the scencery was pretty amazing, like nothing we'd ever seen before.

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The salt flats here are the largest in the world, covering over 10,000 sq kilometres so all you can see in every direction is just the flat white layer of salt. It is really beautiful considering there isn't anything there, and also makes for some good photos!

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We stopped for lunch at 'fish island', which is an island of rock in the middle of the white salt, and is covered in cacti (some nearly 1000 years old!). After taking a few more funny photos we were off to find the 'salt hotel' that we'd be staying in for the night.

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As the name suggests it was made almost entirely of salt (tables, chairs, walls, floors and beds!). It was another chilly night, and when we left in the morning we spotted some washing on the line outside with icicles dangling off of it!

On the second day we drove further South through more stunning scenery, seeing volcanoes, unusual rock formations and multicoloured mountains. We stopped off at lots of half-frozen lakes and spotted some wild Chilean Flamingoes which were really bright pink!

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We also spotted an Andean Fox as we were driving along and stopped to feed it some crackers! It was really quite tame for a wild animal.

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At the end of the second day we entered the National Park at the border with Chile. We saw the 'Laguna roja' which was a red colour due to the minerals in the water. It was a pretty unreal sight!

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After the coldest night so far (because we were higher up than we had been before) we woke up really early to drive to see the geysers at dawn, as this is when they are at the most active. This was yet another amazing sight, but we were unable to appreciate it for long as it was just too cold in the wind to stand outside the car!

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We stopped for breakfast at some thermal springs, where we were amazed to see people stripping off their 5 layers of jumpers to take a dip! Alex ventured as far as taking off his socks to paddle his feet in the water that was luke warm at best. Afterwards they all said they felt much warmer than they had before they went in, so maybe it wasn't such a bad idea.

Our last stop before crossing over the border into Chile was the 'Laguna Verde' which was similar to the laguna roja but green instead of red.

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It was an amazing 3 days, but we were glad to be on the bus to Chile with our finders crossed that it would be a tad warmer in San Pedro de Atacama!

Posted by alexdani 13:52 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Sucre

sunny 20 °C

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From Potosi we got a shared taxi for the 2 1/2 hour journey to Sucre and were amazed that it cost the equivalent of just 3 pounds each! Once we'd arrived we found a hostel and then spent the afternoon looking around the city. Sucre was once the capital of Bolivia and is definitely much more beautiful than La Paz. It was so different to all the other Bolivian cities we'd visited, it was almost like being in a European city. We we also really pleased as it was much warmer than Potosi because it isn't so high up.

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There isn't a great deal to see in Sucre, but we'd heard that its a good place to stay a few days. We decided to make the most of this time by taking some Spanish lessons, especially as they're super cheap here (2 pounds each per hour!). We manage to learn quite a bit in just 3 days but now seem as useless as ever when trying to speak! At the end of every day we walked up the hill to a restaurant which looked out over the city and had a drink as the sun went down, it was really beautiful.

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On our final day we went to see some 68 million year old dinosaur footprints that have been preserved inside a cliff. We didn't really know what to expect but it turned out to be really interesting. A lady that worked at the centre explained that the footprints were formed around the edge of a prehistoric lake and preserved by a layer of different minerals falling on top. The layer of material containing the footprints was pushed into a vertical position when the Andes were formed and you can now see the tracks (some of the longest dinosaur tracks ever found on earth) on the side of the mountain.

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She also explained which footprints belonged to which type of dinosaur, and you can even see the claw marks on some of them!

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Posted by alexdani 14:18 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Potosi

The Mines

sunny 8 °C

Mining

Mining

The day after arriving back from the jungle we found a few strange looking scabs on us and when we picked them off found out that they were tiny insects that had burrowed into our skin! Safe to say we both spent the day seriously freaked out and checked and double checked that we´d got rid of them all!

We spent one more day in La Paz after the jungle and then took a night bus to Potosi. The bus with reclining comfy seats had broken down so we had to wait ages before a normal non-reclining seat bus arrived and we had a very uncomfy nights sleep. Potosi was a much nicer town than we´d been expecting, although it was absolutely freezing as it´s the highest city in the world at over 13,000ft (it got down to -10 at night!). We watched the Holland v Brazil semifinal in a cafe that was empty when we arrived but ended up full of Brazil supporting locals and by the end of the game there was a crowd of people pressed up against the window to see the TV!

In the afternoon we decided to take a tour of the silver mines which are the main source of work for the locals. People have been mining here for over 450 years, and during the Spanish rule they mined 45,000 tons of silver, making them the richest mines in all world history. However, this wealth came at a shocking cost as it´s estimated that as many as 8 million indigenous laborours and African slaves died in the mines. Unbelievably, the working conditions for the miners have changed very little for the 10,000 or so locals who still work in the mines. Most miners die of silicosis in their forties from silicon in the rock dust and water dropping from the walls and ceiling is said to contain arsenic and cyanide. It´s also not uncommon for the dynamite blasting to cause sections of the mines to collapse burrying the miners alive. For this reason the tour was far from an enjoyable experience but was certainly an eye opener to the way that people are still forced to work in seriously poor countries like Bolivia.

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Our tour started with a visit to the miners market where we bought gifts of soft drinks, coca leaves and dynamite for the miners and then visited a refinery where the silver is separated from the ore. Then it was on to the mines, located in the looming Cerro Ricco mountain. We walked along the mine cart tracks for about 30 minutes as it got darker, hotter and dustier and everyone kept banging their (luckily helmetted) heads on the low ceilings. We had bandanas over our faces to stop us breathing in the dust but they just made it even harder to breathe. After he first half an hour Dani had had enough of the horrific conditions and followed a guide back up to daylight. I ventured on for about another half an hour until we got to a part where the tunnel got so small you had to lay completely flat and shuffle your way through. I made it about half way down the tunnel but then was finding it hard to breathe in the 30 degree dusty heat and decided I´d seen enough.

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I followed another guide out into the amazingly cool fresh air where we waited about another hour for the few remaining members of our group to surface. It´s terrible that people have to work in these conditions all day and it made us both really disgusted that people can ever complain about their jobs at home. Apparently if they don´t stop mining soon the whole cave system will eventually all cave in, so we can only hope that the Government puts an end to it sooner rather than later.

Posted by alexdani 14:01 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Amazon Rainforest

Madidi National Park

sunny 20 °C

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It was an early rise at 4.30am to get to La Paz airport for our flight to Rurrenabaque in the jungle. The plane was tiny, only a 19 seater propellor plane with one row of seats each side of an aisle you couldn´t even stand up straight in! There was no stewardess, only an open door to the cockpit so you could ask the pilot any questions! The flight was only 40 minutes but had some great views of the snow capped mountains around La Paz which we flew in between rather than over.

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We touched town on a grass runway in the middle of the rainforest, where the airport was a single room and the luggage was carried by hand from the plane! We met our guide, Ernesto, in the small local town and he took us on a motorised canoe 2 hours up river to our Ecolodge. We found out that we were the only people on the tour for the next three days which was a bit of a result, as we definitely hadn´t been expecting our own private guide! We picked a company that was owned and run by indigenous people who actually live in the jungle- Our guide grew up in the jungle and spoke the native Tocana language as well as Spanish and English. On the boat ride we spotted a few birds and a little turtle lazing on a log. When we arrived at the riverbank of the lodge there were hundreds of beautiful colourful butterflies everywhere.

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We settled in to our jungle hut and then had a surprisingly tasty lunch. All our food was cooked by Wilson, the cook, and considering it was made in the middle of the jungle was all fantastic. It did make us laugh that every meal involved some sort of banana though, the best being a banana soup!

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In the afternoon we made our first venture into the rainforest. We saw lots of different ants, spiders and caterpillars and a few colourful birds including a small toucan. We heard a big blue billed toucan and slashed our way through the vines to try and spot it. It was very exciting stealthily going on the hunt but sadly by the time we´d reached the clearing we´d missed it. One of the highlights of he day was when we found a wild boar carcass and the guide calmly reported to us that it was a jaguar that had eaten it! Hiking through the dense trees was seriously tiring and it was quite frustrating to trek for 3 hours and only see a handful of things, but that´s the nature of the rainforest - tricky to spot much wildlife. After dinner, Ernesto took us on a night hike to try and spot some nocturnal wildlife. Walking in the forest at night is a pretty scary experience as you can hear loads but not see much. Ernesto led us to an abandoned hut where he found a huge furry tarantula up in the rafters.

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Apparently it´s poison turns your flesh to liquid so it can suck it up, how gruesome is that!? We made our way down to the river and began hacking our way through the reeds looking for Caimen (crocodile type things). If I´m honest, part of me was hoping we wouldnt stumble into a hungry crocodile and luckily/unluckily for us we didn´t. Hopefully we´ll see some from the safety of a boat when we visit the Pantanal in Brazil. We did find a really cool white tree frog clinging to a plant, and a night swallow sitting among the reeds.

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We also saw loads of fireflies down by the river, the female ones glowing green and the males red. Before heading back we sat on a log with the torches off, taking in all the sounds of the forest and looking at the star packed sky. It would have been a very serene moment had it not been for the thousands of insects buzzing around our heads!

The next morning we were up at 5.30am in hope of seeing some early rising wildlife. We started the hike in the dark but it soon got light and we found a jaguar footprint and a poisonous toad! We were desperate for some breakfast but carried on walking for 4 hours in total before having any food. It was worth it though, as we found some puma tracks and then one of the big blue billed toucans we´d missed yesterday. I´d really been hoping we´d see at least a few monkeys and just before breakfast we were rewarded with a sighting of not just any monkey but supposedly the rarest and smallest type in this part of the jungle, lion monkeys! They were tiny and really fast so we didn´t get a great look at them before they swung off into the distance.

We also found a group of about 100 wild boar which was quite exciting. We smelt them first, as they have a super potent earthy stench which they emit from their backs. Crouched low, we tiptoed through the vines following our guide until we got our first climpse of them through the trees. Then one scary looking boar walked right in front of us and we could see him sniffing us out and then reporting back to the rest of the group. It was an intense moment as we were told that the boars have 2 big sharp teeth and can be dangerous if they charge. Finally we arrived back at the camp for a banana based breakfast and some hot chocolate made from locally grown cocoa. We had a little time for relaxing in the hammock and a cold shower from water pumped from the river, then packed our things for the afternoon trek deep into the jungle where we´d spend the night camping.

It was about a 2 hour trek to the "jungle camp" where we would sleep on the floor under a mosquito net covered by a basic tarpaulin roof! Wilson had come with us to cook our dinner, and while he collected wood for the fire and prepared yet another culinary treat for dinner we were off trekking again, this time in search of spider monkeys.

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Strangely we spotted more of the rare lion monkeys first but then a little while later just before dark managed to find a big black spider monkey high up in the trees. It was much bigger than the lion monkeys, probably about the size of a small child but with long gangly arms and legs and a big curly tail which it was using just like another arm. Our guide said it was unusual to see one on its own so it was probably a young male who´d been exiled by the dominant male of the group, which was a bit sad.

We had dinner by candlelight back at the camp and then tried to get an early night in the noisy and chilly jungle. Then it was up early again to make it to a cliff where a colony of scarlet maccaws spend the morning. On the way to the colony we heard the wailing of a big group of howler monkeys and also tried to track down some wild deer. Without a doubt the highlight of the day and maybe the whole trip was seeing all the maccaws. When we got to the edge of the cliff where they all nest it was mega misty and we could only make out their silhoettes and not their amazing bright colours. We sat patiently for about an hour until the mist finally lifted and we saw maybe 100 beautiful maccaws swooping around the trees. It was fantastic to see them flying majestically in the wild instead of cooped up in a cage where we´re so used to seeing them.

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We walked along the cliff until we came within about 6ft of a pair of them, so we could get a really close look at their wonderful colours. We also had a great view across the rainforest and down to the winding river below from high on the cliff. In the afternoon it was back on the toy plane back to La Paz.

Posted by alexdani 13:55 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

La Paz

The world´s highest everything

sunny 12 °C

La Paz

La Paz

We arrived at about lunch time into the world´s highest capital city and spent the rest of the afternoon browsing all the tour agencies to find the best (and most affordable!) Amazon tour. After finally deciding which one to go for we had a quick look around the famous "witches market" which sells lots of strange things such as herbs, magic potions and even shrivelled llama fetuses, which locals bury under the porches of their new homes for good fortune!

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The next day we were up early to begin our bike ride down the "world´s most dangerous road". It´s not really the most dangerous anymore, since most of the traffic now uses a new safer road which was built a few years ago, but before then, when it was the only route to the jungle, 1500 people died a year on it for almost 30 years! The road is perilously narrow (only 9ft in some places) and two way traffic of trucks and buses would often have to squeeze past eachother with a sheer drop of 2000ft off the edge. The road is eerily littered with crosses on certain corners. It´s unbelievable that the Government waited for so long before building a safer road.

death road

death road

We began our tour near a lake high up in the clouds at 14,000ft, where we suited up in all the safety gear and spent a while getting used to the all important brakes. The total ride was about 100 miles all downhill, descending 10,000ft and took about 5 hours in total. The first part of the ride which lead to the start of the death road, was 23km down a nice new asphalt road which we whizzed down, through the clouds then it was on to the infamous gravel road for the final 33km. We chose a company that went a little later than all the others so we had the road all to ourselves which was amazing. The views across the lush green mountains were spectacular but we had to try and ignore them and concentrate on not cycling over the edge.

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There was one guy in our group who´d been our partying the night before and was still seriously worse for wear. He fell off his bike on literally the first corner and we were all convinced it was only a matter of time before he dissapeared off the cliff and all kept our distance from him! As there´s now a new road it´s very rare to see traffic on the road and we only saw one bus precariously wobbling round the cliff. After a very exhilerating few hours we finally made it to the bottom and hopped back in the minibus for the long drive back to La Paz.

Us

Us

As it turned out, this bus journey along the new "safe" road actually turned out to be the scariest part of the day. It had got dark and as we drove back up through the clouds all you could see was white through the windscreen. We had no idea how the driver could see where he was going and were both expecting to fall over the edge at any moment. We covered our eyes and miraculously about an hour later we´d broken through the clouds and could see road again. Seriously scary stuff.

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The day after we found an English pub to watch England´s embarassing farewell to the World Cup. It didn´t help that more than a few confident Germans had the cheek to watch it there too and strangely managed to escape much abuse. In the evening we followed some other travellers recommendations to see the "Cholitas Wrestling" which is basically like normal wrestling but with local women in full traditional dress. It was an absolutely hilarious and unique experience and surprisingly not just for tourists. There were mainly locals there, young and old, all having a great time! The wrestlers where actually pretty decent, unlike the venue which was essentially a town hall with a ring in the middle. At one point the women came into the crowd during a fight, and being on the front row I was nearly knocked off my chair! The whole evening was utterly bizzare but definitely entertaining.

Cholitas wrestling

Cholitas wrestling

When we got back to our hostel, the lock on our door had broken so one of the staff had to climb on to our second floor balcony and break the window to let us in. I watched the man dangling breathlessly from the balcony and honestly thought I might be about to see him plummet to his death - it was terrifying! Luckily he eventually managed to pull himself up and let us in!

Posted by alexdani 13:42 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Copacabana

Isla Del Sol

sunny 16 °C

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A surprisingly organised and hastle free border crossing was our first experience of Bolivia. It was strange to have changed countries but still be on the shores of Lake Titicaca, and we arrived just in time to see the sun set over the lake from our hotel room. We´ve seen quite a few sunsets on our travels now but this one had to be the most beautiful.

Our first job was to find a cashpoint to get some Bolivianos but the only bank in the small town had closed! We literally had no money so our only option was to exhange our Brazilian and Chilean money for Bolivian cash with a local tout, probably for a ridiculous exchange rate!

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The next morning we were back on a boat to visit Isla del Sol. The Inca´s believed this was the site of all creation and birthplace of the sun in Inca Mythology. We arrived at the north end of the island and followed a guide to see some Inca ruins and a sacred rock where the Inca creation legend began. Apart from these few sites, the island was fairly unexciting, although the views across the lake were again fantastic.

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We had lunch at a sacred table where a local performed some sort of fire ritual for a group of American tourists and then started the 3 hr walk along the mountain ridge to the south end of the island. We´d planned on staying the night here but when we arrived and saw that the hostels weren´t great we decided to hurry down to the port to catch the last boat back to Copacabana and see another awesome sunset from our hotel room window.

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The next morning we caught a local bus to La Paz. When we bought the tickets they forgot to mention to us that after about an hour everyone would have to get off the bus while it was loaded onto a barge and floated across a narrow section of the lake to the road on the other side. It was quite a funny site to see our bus wobbling accross the water, our rucksacks strapped precariously on top! We had to take another small boat to the other side to meet the bus. All very strange!

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Posted by alexdani 15:19 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Puno

Lake Titicaca

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We arrived in Puno at 5.00am after the dodgiest nightbus so far. On previous nightbuses we´d had to give fingerprints and have our passports checked about 5 times before finally getting on the bus where they film each person who gets on with a video camera! This time there were no checks, just straight on the bus with the ticket man repeatedly telling us to hold on tight to our valuables at all times! Nice! The bus also stopped loads during the night, the lights coming on each time. It wasn´t the best nights sleep we´d ever had.

Thankfully, when we arrived bleary eyed in Puno the owner of the hostel we were staying at was on hand to help us with sorting out our activities for the next two days. She booked us on a two day island tour of lake titicaca leaving in the next half an hour and even gave us a free breakfast! After a speedy brekky we headed to the port where we bought gifts of rice, apples and sweets for the family we would be staying with on one of the islands. It was only a short 20 minute boat ride to our first stop, the floating Uros Islands.

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The islands, which are still home to several hundred people, are made entirely from layers of buoyant "totora" reeds which grow abundantly in the area. The Uros people rely completely on the reeds, which they use to make their homes, boats and crafts which they sell to tourists.

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They even eat the reeds as an "Andean banana"! We visited a small island of only about 10 people where the chief explained to us how the island is made by sticking his arm through a hole and splashing the water below! He let us taste the Andean banana and told us how they have to anchor the islands down to stop them floating away. Apparently on special occassions they lift the anchors and push the islands together for big celebrations! We took a quick tour of their basic reed houses, bouncing on the strangely springy ground, then finally we took a ride on a traditional reed boat over to a second floating island before getting back on our normal boat for the 2 hour ride to our next stop, Amantani Island.

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When we arrived at the island we were introduced to Sophia, a local lady who´s family we would be staying with for the night. She made us lunch of fried cheese, strange dried purple potatoes and delicious Andean mint tea (called Muña). As the island is far from the mainland their diet is mainly vegetarian. After lunch we trekked to the highest point of the island to watch the sun set.

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You could literally see for miles across the beautiful blue lake which is the largest in South America and arguably the highest navigable lake in the world. We could see all the way across to the snowcapped mountains of Bolivia in the distance as well as Isla Del Sol which would be our first stop when we crossed the border into Bolivia in a couple of days. In the evening our host family leant us some traditional clothes (which meant poncho and silly peruvian hat for me, and frilly dress with nun style shawl for Dani!) and invited us to dance with the local ladies while the men played the music. I was the only boy in our tour group and ended up dancing with the Grandma of the family!

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On the second day we said goodbye to Sophia and her family and jumped back on the boat to visit our last island, Taquile. It´s renowned for its handicrafts, and all the local people were standing around knitting, even the men! The men were wearing comical long wooly hats and the women had brightly coloured pom poms on their shawls, which signify their marital status or standing in the community.

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After lunch it was a 3 hr boat journey back to Puno. This time we sat on the roof soaking up the sunshine and taking in the fantastic views of all the surrounding islands. The next morning we watched the last England match (finally a decent result!) before catching the bus across the border into Bolivia.

Posted by alexdani 14:43 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Machu Picchu

The Inca Pilgrimage

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The first part of our trip had been leading up to this moment, the most famous trek in South America to one of the most spectacular archeological sights in the world, Machu Picchu. Although the 4 day trek is only 33km long, it follows the ancient path built by the Incas 500 years ago and winds it´s way up, down and around the mountains making for a seriously challenging experience.

We started in the small mountain town of Piscakucho, and after crossing the river began the gentle climb alongside the river to see our first of many Inca sites, Llactapata.

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Then it was another 7km to the hamlet of Wayllabamba where we stopped for lunch. We had quite a large group of 16 people which meant we needed a whopping 22 local porters to carry all our food, camping equipment and some of our clothes. We picked the company to do the trail because it treats its porters much better than many of the other companies, only allowing them to carry a certain weight and providing them with walking shoes and proper rucksacks. We couldn´t believe some of the porters from other companies were only wearing sandals and strapping enormous sacks to their backs with only a piece of material round their shoulders. Even carrying all this stuff the porters still practically run along the trail, setting up tents for and preparing lunch long before we eventually arrived! We felt really bad seeing how much they had to carry up the mountain but it gives so many local people jobs and as long as they´re treated fairly and paid enough it can´t be all bad.

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After a surpisingly delicious lunch (considering it was prepared half way up the mountain!) we began a steep 3km climb up the mountain before finally reaching our campsite for the night which had a fantastic view of snowy mountain Veronica.

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Every evening when we arrived at our campsites we had "happy hour" which sadly was lacking in any alcoholic beverages (not a good idea at altitude!) but consisted of lots of traditional coca tea (a natural remedy for altitude sickness) and big plates of popcorn and biscuits. It doesn´t sound much, but after a day of hiking this seemed the most amazing thing ever!

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We decided not to rent the overpriced sleeping bags or inflatable matress opting instead for a foam matrress and our own lightweight Tesco summer sleeping bags. This resulted in a seriously chilly and uncomfortable night, and meant we weren´t looking forward to tomorrow night when we´d be sleeping much higher up the mountain where it would be much much colder!

The next morning we were treated to a breakfast of pancakes, bread and jam and then began the mega steep 2 hour ascent to the highest point of the trail at 4200m, morbidly known as "Dead Womans Pass". The views from here were absolutely breathtaking, looking down from above the clouds at the mountains either side.

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After this huge climb we now had to rather frustratingly climb all the way back down the other side down some knee-shatteringly steep steps to the river where utterly exhausted we stopped for lunch. After all this, it was safe to say noone was that enthusiastic about another 4 hours of hiking in the afternoon. We climbed for abour an hour to a round ruin called Runkurakay which had more superb views and then continued past two small mountain lakes before reaching the second pass at 3950m which has views of the snowcapped Cordillera Vilcabamba mountain range.

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Then it was into the cloudforest for the last stretch before the campsite. We were literally walking in the clouds and we spotted a few tropical looking birds including some beautiful hummingbirds in amongst the trees. Finally, we stopped off at another Inca Ruin called Sayaqmarka perched on top of the mountain looking down into the valley and then found our campsite for the night.

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This campsite was much higher than the last which meant it was absolutely freezing! We literally wore all the clothes we had with us to sleep, three jumpers etc but were still soooo cold!

The third day was a lot less tiring than the second and we had plenty of time to enjoy the views from another few ruins on the way to the final campsite, which we arrived at by lunch time.

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The first ruin we saw was Phuyupatamarka (which means "town in the clouds"), then we headed steeply down a flight of 3000 Inca steps passsing through some tunnels and finally reaching the enormous Inca agricutural terraces of Intipata.

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After lunch we took a short walk to the nearby ruin of Wiñay Wina just as the sun was going down. This was yet another impressive site built into the side of the mountain.

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The sites seemed to be getting more impressive as we reached the end of the trail and we were very excited about finally making it to Machu Picchu in the morning!

We left the campsite at about 5.00am on the finaly day to get in line at the entrance to the ´sun gate´. It was atmospheric walking the final few km´s up to the view point by torch light watching the sky brighten behind the mountains.

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We reached the top just before sunrise and had a few moments of panic as we realised it was too cloudy to get our first dramatic view! We waited a while and finally the clouds shifted slightly and we got an impressive, if somewhat obscured view of the ancient ruins 300m below us.

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A tad dissapointed we began the last part of the trail down to the ruins and much to our relief, by the time we´d got down the clouds had dissapeared and we got the classic (picture postcard view). 4 days of trekking and we´d finally made it, and the view was really spectacular!

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The city was completely deserted, hardly a tourist in sight, and we soon found out this was due to a train strike which had meant no-one but the 4 day trekkers we able to get here! 1000 day trippers usually arrive by train each day (as there is no road access) so we were incredibly luckily to have the amazing place practically to ourselves! Our guide took us on a tour explaining how the ruins are in such good condition as they were never discovered by the Spanish when they conquered the Incas and destroyed their buildings (hence the "lost city of Machu Picchu"). The actual purpose and function of the city is still a mystery as it wasn´t meantioned in the chronicles kept by the Spaniards and wasn´t discovered until 1911 but many think it may have been a royal retreat abandoned upon the Spanish invasion. Our guide showed us the main sights, including the temple of the sun, royal plaza and sacred plaza which were all really impressive. There were even a few llamas strolling around the place! After a few ours of exploring and taking about 1000 photos we got the bus down the mountain to the nearby town of Aguas Calientes where we were unlucky enough to catch the England v Algeria game!

The downside of the train strike was that we were now stuck here until the morning, so we hastily found somewhere to stay for the night. We were lucky, as we could afford to spend an extra night but most of our group had flights to catch the next day so not everyone was happy! The next morning we caught the super scenic train back along the river to the point at which we started the trek where we had to catch a minibus to another town before finally meeting our big bus to take us back to Cusco. The rest of our group were in a massive rush to catch their flights so told the minibus driver to step on it! This turned out to be a risky instruction as we hurtled down the dirt roads, and when a bull wandered into the road the driver refused to slow down! I was sat in the front next to the driver and got a full on view of the bus colliding hard with the side of the bulls head. I spun round expecting to see a splattered bull but unbelievably the bull was still standing and it turned out that the bus had come off much worse, with a massive horn scratch down the side and the drivers door massively caved in! Bull 1 Bus 0!

Posted by alexdani 08:23 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Cusco

The City of the Incas

sunny 21 °C

We arrived in Cusco early in the morning, just in time to see the opening games of the World Cup. We´d allowed 4 days before the start of our Inca trail to 'aclimatise' to the altitude. Although we've already been to some much higher places and luckily haven´t shown any signs of altitude sickness.

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The first 2 days we spent looking around the town and recovering from our last hike. Cusco is another beautiful city, with more plazas and cathedrals and a few Inca ruins thrown in here and there. It is a bit spoilt by being so touristy though which is a shame, as you can´t go anywhere without being offered food or a massage or an alpaca wool hat!

We found an English pub to what the first England game at. The place was packed and there were even quite a few Americans so the atmosphere was great, shame about the score though!

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On our third day we booked a tour to the sacred valley, to see some of the Inca ruins there. We ended up being on a bus full of Spanish-speaking people, and thought that we were´nt going to get an explaination of the sites. But luckily the guide also spoke really good English and repeated everything just for us, ir was almost like getting a private tour! We saw the Inca ruins at Pisac, Ollantytambo and Chinchero, which had all sadly been partially destroyed by the Spanish. Still the remains are really rather impressive, especially those at Ollantytambo which was a temple to the sun (the most important god to the Incas). Carved into the mountain opposite the site there is the profile of a face where, on June 21st (winter solstice), the sun would shine through the eye directly into the main temple. Pretty cool!

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The next day we decided to go to see another Inca site called 'Saqsaywamán' mainly because it has a rather amusing name, which cracked us up every time a Peruvian said it!

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Its on a hill overlooking Cusco, which gave us some great views of the town.

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It was also where the Incas retreated after the Spanish invaded Cusco, and the site of a rather bloody battle which the Incas lost. Due to its location close to the town, the Spanish used most of the stones to build their houses and churches, leaving only those to big for them to move (some of the stones the Incas used were enormous, and they had to bring them down from the tops of the mountains!).

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Quite understandably some Peruvians are not great fans of the Spanish, especially those in the small villages that are likely to be the decendants of the Incas. And although pretty much everyone is now Catholic, there are still many people in the country that worship the mountains and mother earth as well.

We had an extra day in Cusco when we returned from Machu Picchu, and decided to go and see some more Inca sites! Firstly we went to an area where they mine salt, and have done since Inca times. They use spring water that has collected volvanic minerals on its way down the mountain to produce pools of salty water, and when the water has eventually evaporated they can scrape the salt crystals off the top. It was really interesting and like nothing we´ve ever seen.

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We also stopped off at the Inca site called 'Moray' which is a series of agricultural terraces built in an unusual circular pattern. The experts think that it was an experimental site, where they would see if different crops would grow. The trip was worth it just for the ride into the sacred valley again, the scenery here is just so beautiful!

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We were sad to leave Cusco as we´d spent quite a while here, but were looking forward to moving on to our final destination in Peru called Puno.

Posted by alexdani 11:21 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Arequipa

The Colca Canyon

sunny 24 °C

The night bus to Arequipa was much better than our last experience and we actually managed to get some sleep!

We spent the first day looking around the city, which is beautiful and definitely our favourite so far. Most of the buildings are made out of volcanic rock that looks as though its come from the moon, and from the main plaza you can see 3 snowcapped volcanoes in the distance.

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In the afternoon we went to look around ´Santa Catalina´, a nunnery founded in 1500s which is actually more like a small town and we ended up spending a couple of hours wandering around the different streets and plazas. It was really interesting to see how the nuns used to live in quite small and basic cells, but you didn´t get to see where they live today.

The next morning we were up at 2:45am for our 3 day trip to the Colca Canyon. The journey was long and bumpy and not greatly appreciated after very little sleep. First we stopped off at a view point to see the Condors that live in the canyon. They were huge with a wing span of about 3 metres (one of the largest birds in the world!) and really graceful swooping around on the wind.

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We drove on to a small town called Cabanaconda from where we started our 3 hour trek down into the canyon. Once we´d reached the bottom we continued on for another 2 hours to reach a small village on the other side that is only accessible by foot. We stayed in a room in a local lady´s house, and were really impressed that we even got to have a hot shower! We went into the ´kitchen´ to speak to the lady as she made us dinner and were amazed to find about 40 guinea pigs running around on the floor! Occasionally she would throw them a piece of carrot to munch on!

The next day we made our way back down into the canyon, stopping along the way to try a cactus fruit called ´tuna´and a traditional drink that dates back to Inca times called ´chicha´. After another 2 hours we reached a place called Sangalle which is known as ´the Oasis´. It is right at the bottom of the canyon where the warm-ish water runs into swimming pools and makes the area really green and lush in comparison to the surrounding canyon walls which are rather dry.

We spent a few hours lazing by the pool before our dreaded 3 hour hike back up to where we´d started - 1100 metres above!! It might not have been too bad but our group was 4 boys and me, so obviously they were much quicker and I got left behind! What made it worse was the fact that it was really hot and sunny and the guide continuously shouting "Vamos!" at me all the way up! I eventually made it though and it was definitely worth the effort.

On the last day we got the bus back to Arequipa, stopping at some hot springs on the way back to soothe our achey legs. We also saw groups of llamas and alpacas grazing in the fields, and were lucky enough to spot some Vicuñas which are related to the alpaca but look more like a gazelle. Apparently they are an endangered species and can only be found in Peru!

We arrived back to Arequipa just in time to have a pizza delivered to the hostel and get to the bus station for our night bus to Cusco.

Posted by alexdani 16:03 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

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