Saturday, December 26, 2009
So the first day after recuperating from the bus journey Simone and I.... didn´t really do anything. Good cheap mixed juice at the market, asked about tours to the canyon, got tickets from the bus station, internet... oh and then went for a delicious falafel w/roasted veggies for dinner. That might have been the day´s highlight...
Up real early and off to catch our bus... that although we had already bought tickets wasn´t going? And the bus company people weren´t showing up? %&@"*!! I was so incredibly annoyed, I mean who does that? That would NEVER happen at home! After they assured us when we bought tickets that of course it was going, every day at 7. So we had no choice but to take the next bus at 9, 2 hours stuck in the busy terminal with the most annoying cryers yelling out the bus destination ¨juliaca, juliaca, juliACAAAA!´ like if the only job requirement is yelling a name over and over again at least hire someone without an annoying voice, how awful. That combined with the squeakiest version of ´feliz navidad´ being repeated every few minutes we broke down and escaped to the internet for an hour just to preserve a bit of sanity. Long bus ride to Chivay across barren desert landscape, looked just like Atacama with vicuñas and all. Chivay - Little nowhere place that no the buses to Cabanaconde only go in the early morning or late afternoon, not every hour. Adjust plans again, no time today to do anything. Sat around in Chivay, tried alpaca for lunch and this omg, grossest soup ever! In Simone´s words it was ´cow diarrhea soup´, we just picked out the veggies and left the dark thick gloopy broth, gag.
Most packed bus ever to Cabanaconde on the canyon edge, made it just in time to hurry to the viewpoint and take a few photos in the dusk light. Cheap hostel with nice volunteer from Mexico. Up super early the next day to walk to the viewpoint again and then to catch the 6:30 bus which became the 6:50 bus after spending a hlaf hour cramming as many people as humanly or really non-humanly possible on to the bus. Took us an hour to go 15km as people would get off every km. Got to the Cruz del Condor and there was almost no one left standing. Hurried down to a viewpoint to wait and wait for hope of a glimpse of this magnificent bird, but low season for them so chances are not great. But we saw one, amazing gliding around below us, just gorgeous and so graceful with like a 2 metre wingspan I think. And the canyon itself is awe inspring as well, although quite barren, it´s just so huge. Deeper than the Grand Canyon (though apparently not quite as impressive) but so rocky and steep. Waiting around there for over 2 hours, saw a nice eagle as well and then hopped on the next bus back to Arequipa at 9:30, the afternoon one was booked full because of christmas and the night one would have been packed, an absolute nightmare so we skipped a canyon hike and just decided to get back, we´d seen it and by this point we were just so ready to be off the road, we really just went for something to do. Another long bus ride back with this annoying kid his mom was trying to pass off a 5 year old (try at least 7!) so he didn´t have to pay for a seat and just wandered up and down and kept calling me ´tia´(aunt) and then asking about the snacks (aka my lunch) I had in my bag so I had to eat very sneakily. Got back late in the afternoon and met up with Corinna again. Went to a nearly viewpoint to see the city and volcano at sunset then to the mall, crazy holioday shoppers but not quite as insane or commercial as home, really never felt the holiday spirit at all, it was so weird. Though I did have a moment when they were playing skate canada on the flatscreens in the electronic dept... really missing home and just sick of living out of a suitcase. Got Chinese food for dinner, cheap and quite good, though different, first time I had tried it down here even though ´chifas´ are everywhere.
Christmas eve day... Christmas for the Germans so we ´celebrated´ that day... Shopping all morning running around the market getting almost everything we needed from the stalls, quite the adventure, quite exhausting. Dump it all at the hostel and then spent some time in the internet so they could call their families. Back to cook and cook and cook! Wow, we are amazing chefs, not bragging, just the plain truth. We made fresh fresh salad, brocoli cream soup with cheese and spagetti with paprika chicken (that I had to butcher!), mushrooms, onions and garlic in a cream wine sauce. Fantastic. We were so full after the first 2 courses we only had a bite of the third and then just skipped making dessert at all. After digestion, went to the cathedral for 8pm mass. Nice music but I didn´t understand much of the sermon, just nice to relax and people watch. At the end the bishop carried a big baby Jesus doll all the way down the church to the flashy nativity scene set up at the back and placed it in the cradle with everyone crowding around and many carrying other dolls or gifts to leave there. Interesting...
And back to have a hot chocolate (they were giving out free hot chocolate to the street people that sell cigarettes, gum and candy and it just smelled so good) so we made ourselved real south american hot chocolate with boiled milk, cacao paste, cinnamon, cloves and brown sugar. And dipped some paneton (aka easter cake, a huge sweet bread with bits of candied fruit eaten during the holidays here) in it. After we wanted to watch a movie and be depressed but no dvd player and our weeks of attempting to secure ´Love Actually´ were in vain. We must´ve asked a million dvd sellers ´no tiene la pelicula realmente amor´? always no... everything but! So we went to the other hostel down the street were there was supposed to be a party but it was pretty low-key, however chatted to some really nice people and got to watch the city explode in fireworks at midnight, 360 degree fireworks going off everywhere for at least 20 mins. Just in the street, just maybe a bit on the risky side? But it wouldn´t be SA if it was safe!
Christmas morning... stockingless, familyless and giftless, bah-humbug. Tried to make the best of it, made amazing crepes even without a recipe, yes I rock. Fresh mango! (there now are you jealous?) To the internet to call my family, miss you all!! And then back to, surprise! More of those amazing chocolates in my shoes! Crazy Germans, thank-you girls so much =)
y que mas... relaxed on the terrace and had leftovers for early dinner with microwave cakes since we skipped dessert the night before. Rush off to the bus, night bus to Lima. Cruz de Sur, much nicer bus company and I actually slept, plus, best of all they played one of our movies for us!
Woke up in the morning to a dessert of sand dunes under thick fog, pretty cool. And am now in Lima just biding my time until the 26hour bus ride tomorrow to Guayaquil.
About ready to be back! No more Christmas trees of flower pots or bottles, no more latino santa clauses and most of all no more awful versions of feliz navidad!!
Ok, ok, I´m still happy and loving life but just need to get off the road. Lima is huge, grey, polluted and pricey. At least I can finally wear shorts again!
And this computer won´t read my phone so no pictures today. But almost back to my laptop and will post a bunch! Happy holidays =)
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Oh my, how awful, we were mocking them and didn`t realise we were walking right by one lady until she burst out giggling at us, at least its nice to know they find the situation ridiculous too.
The first day we just ran errands: laundry, money, tour arranging (let`s just do this ourselves!), internet, food of course. Oh and I got myself an ISIC card after much running around in the rain, half-price student again!
Up early the next day and off on the bus to Pisac to see the ruins there. Very impressive. We weren`t sure Machu Picchu could beat them (but it did...) Up high on a mountian there was a collection of ruins, temple of the sun. That we hiked up and through and got lost and got unlost by scrambling down a steep bank. Views over the valley, the town of Pisac and all the ancient terraced agriculture plus tombs in the the hill behind. Hiked around for about an hour and a half, at one point along a very narrow trail on the side of the mountain and through a short tunnel, watch your step!
Wandered through the artisanal market in Pisac but soon got fed up with people trying to sell us stuff (yes we can see you have lots of different colours, that yes it is alpaca and that toque is obviously reversible!) and off on a another bus to Urubamba and a micro to Ollantaytambo, more ruins and where the train leaves from to Aguas Calientes (for machu picchu).
Very impressive ruins there too: hundreds of steps up through the terraces to the forteresse on the top and views up and down the valley. Words can´t describe it, and I´m not even the pictures I will eventually put up can do it all justice.
We ended up with too much time in Ollantaytambo, just a village. Expensive food, ruins, tourist shops, more expensive food, delaying in the restaurant playing Yahtzee.... grab some food from the market for the next day... ok can we finally go to the train station now? Basic train to aguas calientes, we were so tired and there was the most annoying german guy that we kept running into after (almost had to look over my shoulder and make sure he`s not here! We keep running into the same people everywhere, it`s crazy)
Aguas calientes in the pouring rain, 5 hours total in our hostel and up at 4:20 to be down at the bus stop before 5, not the greatest start to what would at least turn out to be an incredible day. You see they only allow 400 people a day to climb Wayna Picchu (young mountain) the mountain across from Machu Picchu (which mean `old mountain`and actually refers to the large mountain behind the ruins) so first-come-first-serve leaves to some crazy early morning rushing although had we known, it`s really no problem to get in during low season, its high season that has people hiking up at 4am and racing for the entrance. But anyway, we successfully obtained passes and bus tickets to be on the 5:30 bus and the 272nd person through the entrance right at 6am. So our tour didn`t start until later and we got wander around at dawn taking pictures with the llamas with very few tourists around. Surreal, such ruins amongst such impressive scenery! Crazy Incas to build a city at the top of very inaccessible mountains. It really did live to our expectations, and I must say those were pretty high! This was the one thing I really wanted to see. Got the guided tour in Spanish (much better, ugh can´t handle anymore ok my friends with that terrible accent) and the guide was pretty good, what an advanced civilisation.
Hurried off to climb Wayna Picchu, looked impossible but we conquered! Almost an hour of vertical rock steps in the heat. Straight up, thank goodness for the guide cables in the way down as there were parts more like rock climbing than hiking clinging to the mountain side. Plus a squishy tunnel to struggle through at the top. So glad I`m not claustrophic and can handle heights! The views from the top were more than worth it, perched on huge rocks on the top of the world. Ruins even up top, can see 360, valley, river, machu picchu, birds and butterflies and a picnic in the sun. Then down (nearly as hard as up), to see the sun temple and then down to the village, over an hour and we were totally knackered by that point with no sleep and hiking all day. Don`t think I`m for the Inca trail.
So tired and dirty. Really enjoyed relaxing in the dirty waters of the hot springs that gives aguas calientes it`s name. Then grabbed delicious `fast food` (a menu that the ladies cooked super fast for us!) before running off to the train in the rain again (first class this time since the backpacker was full, they even gave us more food) and grabbed a collectivo (taxi van) from ollataytambo back to cuzco with 2 guys from Toronto.
Slept in. Got bakery brunch. Really did nothing all the next day. Oh, in the evening we met up with 3 girls Corinna knew from her time in Arequipa, went for dinner and then out dancing but the music was mostly just what you get at home.
Sunday, up and off on a tour of the salt pools and another ruin with the guy who works at the hostel. (close call getting on the bus, someone managed to unzip the front of my bag but there`s just kleenex in there. someone almost got simone too, cuzco is the first place we`ve had to watch out) Snacking on yummy cake on the bus for breakfast (peruvians finally know how to make decent cake!) After 3 hours, got a taxi to the ruins of Moray, really different. Huge circles of terraced agriculture in a valley believed to have been used as an experimental farm. Every level has a different temperature, humidity and soil. Amazing a few metres can make such a difference! The Incas would plant different things and then find out which level they grew best at and tell the area with similar conditions to grow those plants.
Then a stop for a lunch before just missing the real rain and walking across the countryside for an hour to the salt pools. Again, amazing scenery with farmers working corn and potatoes, fields bordered by huge aloe-like plants, red dirt, green valleys, framed by huge snow-capped mountains with storm clouds. So peaceful.
Salt pools, very interesting. The guide works there sometimes in the summer high season so could tell us a lot. One tiny volcanic stream feeds hundreds of little pools nesteled in a valley where the water dries and leaves salt, then the workers rake it up and rinse it several times depending on the quality desired and then they package it up and send it off to every but north america it seems. In high season over 1000kg of salt a day and to think it all comes from one small stream. The workers work barefoot and hand and the salt cracks their skin plus the sun reflecting off the white salt pools often leaves them blind.
Then it was another long bus ride back, grab our stuff and onto the night bus to Arequipa.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Valle de la Luna just outside of La Paz
View from behind the waterfall of paradise (las cuevas, samaipata, bolivia)
view over copacabana from the shrine on the hill
corinna and I half way up to the shrine
beautiful church in copacabana
view from the top of Isla del Sol, lake titicaca
lady selling andean popcorn and other grains in the copacabana market, or perhaps la paz
amazing private waterfall in samaipata, bolivia
ok have to run, more later. almost done next blog update. now relaxing in rainy cuzco!
The ride was almost the best part, views across the plains to the snow-capped peaks of the andes. the guide throwing the left over dry bread out the window to all the stray dogs that wander that stretch of the highway of that sole reason. Got dropped off just outside la paz and negotiated the bus to copacabana, the original copacabana! (the brazilian´s named their famous beach after bolivian town since they had a famous shrine on a mountain top like christ the redeemer in rio)Bus ride, when we finally got seats sorted out, was squished but nice scenery and the first view of the lake was stunning, peaceful calm and huge. Had to ferry across a bit (passengers on a little wooden motorboat and the bus on a huge wooden wobbly platform with a motor, the south american way! We were´nt expecting much from the town but it was actually quite lovely. In a cove on the lake bordered by big mountains, the last day we hiked up the main one with the shrine admidst all the local pilgrims gasping for breath in the heat and the altitude. It was a Sunday so the place was full of religious pilgrims coming to see the huge beautiful white church that houses the famous black virgin of copacabana believed to grant miracles and the climb up past the 7 crosses to the shrine where they sell plastic trinkets (cars, houses, shops, paper money, dolls, etc) as it believed that buying an object and blessing it up there with bring you luck with a new car, house, store, money, baby, you get the idea. It was an interesting blend of christian and traditional beliefs at there were indigenous men doing smoke blessing ceremonies with families on the way up. For us though, the view from the top was best and well worth the death hike. It seems nature will always impress us the most, man just can´t compete!
Our main reason for going there though was to go to Isla del Sol on the lake where there are more Inka ruins. The entire island is covered with ancient terraced agriculture, some still in use. Gorgeous day and views thought the ruins weren´t that impressive, a maze of stones. And too touristy, you had to pay to enter all the 3 parts of the island. But lovely hike from one end to the other though the altitude and the intense sun played their part again only the cool lake breeze and picnic break (mangoes!) saved us. Intense blue lake, yellow rocky hills, green trees, stone path and views to either side of the island across the lake to the snow capped hills. Dipped our feet in the lake while waiting for the boat. Had delicious trout (rainbow trout imported to lake titicaca from canada?? crazy!) fried with garlic (I´m drooling just remembering) on the shore of the lake at sunset, perfection once again. More good food, Andean popcorn, little bags of chocolate milk or yogurt for 15c, what a great idea, save millions of tetra paks.
Ok.... no more about bolivian food. Anyway, chao beautiful cheap friendly amazing Bolivia. I will return. Maybe in 5 years for the next elections and seek out our secret private waterfall again.
On to Puno, not much to say ugly city but decent cheap hostel and whoa cheap food. Like 50cUS for a soup, main plate (fried cheese! with rice, potato, veg) and a sugary mate. Full of locals, we got a few stares for once. Off early in the morning on a tour on the islands: first stop - the floating islands of Uros. 49 islands built of totoro reeds each island inhabited by about 4-8 indigenous (Aymara) families who have lived there forever. Each island is autonomous and can literallu lift anchor and float off to another place. Kids go to public school in little reed boats, very picturesque. Too much actually, it looked like the entire place had been built for tourists to view. Cute little floating reed villages. But really cool anyway, we were told about life there (solar power now) and the lake and then forced into colourful native clothing, real tourists and "encouraged" to buy handmade souvenirs. Then sent off with a chorus "vamos a la playa" I feel so sorry for them, annoying tourists everyday but I guess when your islands get taken over, you make the best of it ($$$)
3-hour boat ride to Amantani where we spent the night, supposed to be with a local family but ours was more a family-run hostel. Still nice people and good food. Hike up to the sun shrine on the top on the island and circled it 3 times counter-clockwise to get our free wish before walk ing down during sunset past people selling local crafts on blankets every 2 steps. Made coversation friends with a nice Dutch and American girl. And just when we thought it couldn´t get more touristy, we were once again stuffed in local clothes (this time thanks to Corinna!) and invited to get drunk and dance to a local band of teenagers. We danced for about mins and got out of there! Every night they do that, how terrible. The next day it was off to the other island of Taquile where we hiked to the top, relaxed in the town square (more shopping time...) and had lunch overlooking the lake before heading back 3 hours to Puno. Again, stunning scenery and peace but I think either copacabana or puno would´ve been enough. Anyway, we enjoyed it and were ready to move on to Cuzco on an uncomfortable no-sleep night bus. (even though it was almost cama-cama and babyless) Really had enough of those.
Only have pictures of Cuzco for the moment, a sneak preview!
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
The next day we did two trips: The first we paid a ridiculous amount of money to bump around in a truck for an hour until the start of our hike down around and up from a valley over slippery rocks with a silent guide jumping stinging ants nests, plastered in bug spray and sunscreen. Just trudung along through snake and puma filled woods, Ddying from the heat climbing for 3km straight at the end. And the second: We did a lovely hike in the mountains, first down to a clear brook bubbling over smooth red rocks in gorgeous greenery filled with more butterflied than I have ever seen. Got see a few giant fern trees and we even hiked fast enough to be able to go the little extra into a 16m waterfall which we swam in, how cool! Had a nice picnic lunch, saw a snake (not poisonous) and didn´t get a single mosquito bite. Even conquered the 3km uphill. Plus got invited by a local lady while waiting for the truck back to pick fruit and eat some (wuapura or something, like huge delicious black currants maybe but sweeter?) And back to the village in time for another merienda. OK so actually that was just 2 sides of one trip... I will remember the second version but not everything is as peachy as it can seem when I`m only writing in retrospect.
The next day was Sunday the 6th, elections! So there was a vehicule restriction on and a lot of things were closed, we had been forwarned of this luckily and had decided to spend a 3rd day in samaipata since there were no buses. best decision ever! We had also thought ahead enough and decided to bike since there were no taxis out to a waterfall 20 km away that they ensured us would be open (it wasn´t, but we called at the house next door and the awesomest kid came out and was like, it´s closed.... but I could let in. You still have to pay the entrance fee (a dollar) and well, you see, you`ll have to cross the river and for that well, you´ll have to take off your shoes. And we were like no problem! Ok, so this was the greatest day ever. Perfect bike ride there : Pavement, weather, views, slight downhill and almost no traffic for the restriction. Passed more livestock than vehicules. Then the waterfalls. just, WOW Like paradise. Plus, we were the only ones there, paradise to ourselves!! Waded across the river, short walk through a park-like place and and we emerged at a series of 2 waterfalls pouring over pink rocks surrounded by lush greenery, circled birds in a blue sky with a few puffy white clouds and a lovely sandy beach around a swimming hole below the biggest waterfall, water was the prefect temperature and we could even sit behind the waterfall, butterflies.... you get the picture, perfection. We swam and then relxed playing cards on the beach and eating our delicious packed lunch from the hostel. Later we walked up the shallow sandy river, so safe and calm. Planning to go back in 5 years for the next elections!! (shhh don´t spill the secret!) However the bike ride back was not the easiest, 14km slightly uphill we managed but then it got very steep for the last 6... and we might have lucked out with a taxi that took us the last 5. But after a hot shower we were back to perfection and took a nice walk out of town (to a viewpoint we never found, but the views we did see were awesome enough) Lovely green hills, red roads, flowers. More delicious market food for dinner, picnic in the gorgeous plaza and then it was time to pack to be ready to head out super early the next morning in a taxi to Santa Cruz, and that story will have to wait.
Now in Puno, Peru. Next 2 days on the islands of lake titicaca without internet and after straight onto Cuzco!!
Sucre... la cuidad blanca (the white city). Truly a lovely city (another one I could see myself living in... a least for a year.) And we were actually able to appreciate it as, get this, we spent almost 3 days there! Not counting the 2 nights I didn´t sleep in Atacama, that was the first time I had spent 2 consective nights in one place in a month. Much needed.
Also much needed was a shower, we´ve been treating ourselves to places with hot water which actually seems more common here than Ecuador. Night buses, public baños (hold your breath!) and desert dust take their toll. Then off to a delicious breakfast at Joy Ride (gringo restarant/bar/tour agency). The whole day was a wonderfully lazy day doing things like laundry. (I love fresh laundry!!) Walked around the city a bit... for a big capital city in SA it´s amazingly calm and well-kept. Apparently there´s a law that they have to re-paint the buildings (white of course) every year. The only downside was that there seemed to be more beggars and child show-shiners than other cities, or perhaps they just stuck out more in contrast? We (Paul and Jay are still with us) walked uphill to a viewpoint (rolling hills, perfect clouds and greenery) then decided we deserved to relax most of the afternoon in the very nice cafe at the top, drinking fresh batidos, chatting and playing cards. Later it was booking tours, stopping by the market and then Jay and I made use of our free movie tickets for the tour agency to see Todo Sobre mi Madre (all about my mother) which was weird but much better than I expected and just nice to do something like watch a movie... hadn´t done that in forever!
Dec 2 was a spectacular day. Another highlight (they just keep coming!) We booked a tour with Joy Ride (the 4 of us and another German man) which involved a great blend of mountain biking, hiking and swimming. (Like Cyswog´n fun, certainly the fun part anyway!) We were driven out of town, set on our bikes at the top of a crazy dirt road and just told to go for it! Yikes, after that I decided I will not be doing the Death Road here in La Paz, I like biking, on pavement that is!! But I survived, just a bit bruised from all the bumping and felt like I challenged myself. Also felt like my lungs were as dusty as the road... then it was on to part two: Hiking into a secret canyon. Nice easy hike except for the bit where you look down and realise one loose pebble and you´re sailing down in the rocky river below. But there was no reason to look down since the scenery was once again beyond belief: River running over pink and blue-grey rocks up to the green mountainside, the high peaks and finally the blue blue sky with the odd fluffy cloud. Passed some indigenous fishers (Bolivia has more indigenous people than any other SA country and many still speak their native language, mostly Quechua or Aymara here) They were fishing for these tiny fish that later we felt nibbling when we were swimming. It´s rainy season so the water was a bit higher and the only way into the canyon was to swim upstream. Fantastic! It was perfect (and yes mom, perfectly safe), great temperature. A few minutes hard swimming and you´re in this isolated, peaceful canyon in the Bolivian mounatains. Sculpted smooth pink rocks along the side, excellent for laying on and soaking up the sun. I even had a mud bath =) It was great. Then, getting to float down on our backs completly effortlessly. Relaxation at it´s best, what a unique experience. The another short hot dusty hike back the truck, back to Sucre, back to a free drink at the restaurant. And to end the perfect day, we cooked yummy dinner in the hostel, watched the crazy lighting storm that came out of nowhere, dumped rain for an hour and then ended just in time for us to dash to the internet before the power went out.
Dec 3 was another relaxing day, we had only just got up when Corinna (my friend Anna from Germany´s friend) showed up off the night bus. So great to finally meet her, she has taken off to Uyuni and is meeting us tomorrow again to continue possibly all the way to Ecuador with us (the more the merrier!) But then we had to say chao to Paul and Jay, what wonderful travel companions, I miss the British humour and the aerobee already =) Ran around all day: Food, bus tickets, internet, market, indigenous art museum (beautiful weaving!) and packed those backpacks again. Tough to leave somewhere we had settled into a bit. On the night bus to Samaipata... an experience hopefully not to be repeated, I´ve been on some pretty bad buses but this one was just a bit smellier (always try to get a bus with baño, then it only reeks urine when the bathroom door is open at least!) a chorus of babies and annoying teenagers, smokers, awful road (we got stuck twice) (I mean, this the main road from the capital to the 2nd biggest city. and yes it is the poorest in SA but I feel a bit more infrastructure would be a worthwhile investment). Then the bus didn´t even remember to stop for us, I had just woken up and blearily glanced out the window when a building with ´Samaipata´ flew past. So our stay there started with a nice long hike back down the highway at 5:30am, but no worries, it steadily improved from there!!
Monday, December 7, 2009
Nov 26 Out of Argentina and back to Chile on the day long bus from Salta to San Pedro: Just tourists! Tourists (especially older French couples…) are quite annoying, so fussy. I prefer a bus full of locals who never complain and know what´s up. It took us ages to go through the exit and enter border stations. Otherwise a great ride for the scenery! Starting off with the craziest rainstorm in Jujuy: the streets were actually rivers and two girls and a guy were putting shampoo in each other´s hair and pushing the others into the torrents of water. Incredible, and then a half later, after passing through thick fog we were in the desert. Passed through dry valleys and beautiful multi-coloured mountains before climbing up and up a crazy dirt road through the Paso de Jama where I suffered a tiny bit of altitude sickness. Finally arrived in San Pedro de Atacama and hunted down Simone in the nice hostel she had found (so nice to be re-united!!) That evening we walked around the town a bit (such a tiny and odd place, more tourists than locals, all one-story mud brick buildings forming a solid wall down the streets so it´s like a maze, cold nights and hot days) and booked tours for the next day.
Nov 27 Up at 3:30 to head off on the 4am tour to see the geysers at dawn… after the bumpiest 2-hour minibus ride to the park! Absolutely worth it though… the barren landscape spewing steam in the freezing cold. Hot water bubbling up periodically. Like nothing on earth (which is how I could describe most things we saw the last couple days!)… breakfast heated in the hot pools and much nicer ride back which included vicuña sightings (desert deer(?) gorgeous delicate animals that graze in small herds in the most harsh environment) Tagua birds and bright green moss plant that is being used to cure diabetes. Plus a stop in an indigenous village where I even tried llama meat on a skewer! (have to say if was delicious, like a mix of beef and lamb and perfectly seasoned) After running some errands it was off on our evening tour out into the atacama desert which is apparently the driest, it rains less than 2 hours a year and the water that´s there just bubbles up from the geysers. Valle de la muerte and valle de la luna. Incredible volcanic rock formations and a huge sand dune from the top of which we watched the sunset… exhausted, back to town to get rid our last few Chilean pesos and pack!
Nov 28 Off at 8am in a minibus for the Bolivian border with our tour group that we would spend the next 3 days packed in a Land cruiser with… Me, Simone, Jay and Paul from England, Alfonso and his daughter Kathi from Austria and her Spanish boyfriend, Josemi. Really lucked out, wonderful travel companions. The Bolivian border was the most desolate yet, just a shack way high up in the mountains of the desert with a flag. File in, pay a tiny bit and get your 30-day stamp no questions asked and definitely no customs there either. Some people started feeling the altitude here (later in the day we reached 4830m!) but surprisingly seeing as I´d had problems before, I never felt anything except a bit short of breath. Had breakfast out of the back of our minibus while waiting for the 4x4 that would be our home for the next 3 days. Add our Bolivian guide and driver, Alberto, and our international group was complete. Speeding across the barren but ever-changing colourful landscape squished in with 7 other people (listening to ricky martin…) unforgettable experience. The first day we passed the laguna blanca, laguna verde and the most spectacular of all (perhaps the most spectacular thing I have ever seen) Laguna colorada. A red and white and blue lagoon, mostly red, from the minerals in the water, constantly changing colours and filled with gorgeous pick flamingoes. Amazing birds! It took us nearly the whole 3 days to be tired of taking pictures of them… All to a backdrop of pastel coloured volcanoes and mountains. Indescribable, I don´t even know why I´m trying! Hopefully will get some pictures up but not even those will do it justice. Stayed in a really basic hostel place which the dorm rooms and communal washroom and group tables reminded me of summer camp. Snoring and all! But it really wasn´t as bad as we were told to expect, never very cold, the food was decent and no intense exercise, everything was planned to it was pretty relaxnig really. A few people got altitude sickness (but the coca tea was plentiful so cured that) and I was completely fine.
Nov 29 Another day of bumpy 4x4-ing across more mazing landscapes. Stopped at the arbol de piedra, for the me the one rock that looked like a tree was the least of the attraction, better yet were the huge smoothed lava rocks you could climb (or play the drums on...), and such wonderful silence. true middle of nowhere. And then on to a view of the volcano (more rock climbing). I spent that entire day wrapped in my scarf from the intense sun. headscarves are truly the most practical. We passed 4 more small lagoons, pink lagoons packed with pink flamigoes. like out of some fantasy book... and near the end of the day reached a small salt flat, our first taste of what the next day held! Jay and Paul (the Brits) had the brilliant idea of packing an aerobee (hollow frisbee) and so there were numerous games of aerobee, I think I improved, gradually? great fun anyway! And through a small village (llamas and civilisation) and out again. Just before we made it to the edge of the salt flat, our land cruiser broke down... (it had to happen!) but not for long, one coming the other way helped us and we got in another great game of aerobee =) Finally arrived at the salt hotel (like the ice hotel but, you guessed it.... made out of salt!) Tables, beds, stool, walls floors, everywhere the tourist can see! (the kitchen behind was not) Still neat experience. and that put us right on the edge of the salt flat and ready to take off before dawn.
Nov30 Up at 3:30 to be ready before 4.... but then our driver disappeared... My only complaint about him. We even went for a short walk to try and find him since we thought he was sleeping in the house next door, so we got a nice walk in the black with the brightest milky way over the salt flat but no Alberto... Finally, he shows up and we load up the 7 huge bags and all for the last time, and only get out of there an hour late. Then we`re cruising across perfectly flat white ground that streches for miles and miles as the sky slowly gets lighter and stars disappear, all of us in a lack of sleep stupor. Totally surreal experience. Just believe me that you stop trying to absord it since it is so incredible. Arrived at the cactus island at dawn, and I was sooo tired and with the altitude only Paul and Jay made it to the summit just as the sun rose, the rest of us missed it. Urgh. But caught it half way up and that was still just as cool. Sat taking pictures on the top of thiscold bizarre rocky cactus island until the sun was up over the plain of pure white salt. Priceless. (or actually about US$130 for 3 days, plus camera, plus getting down to Uyuni... everything adds up, except my bank account, it just goes down) From there is was hot breakfast (packed pancakes, yogurt and granola!!) on a rock table at the bottom, off to play a bit more aerobee, marvel at the scenery and pile back in the jeep. Flying once again towards the horizon with one quick stop to take some fun salt flat pics, endless possiblities playing with size! a lunch stop in a small town on the edge of the flat where they have salt mines and where the contrast between the one street with the tourist souvenirs and then rest of the barren village of workers is terrible. One more stop by the train cemetery and we arrived at our destination early afternoon: Uyuni. Actually a fairly major bolivian town but really not much. With the worst public washrooms ever, but I won´t go into the ugly details, I´m sure you only want to know how great a time I´m having! (but truly nothing´s as peachy as the blog makes it sound!) Pop by the internet and bank for the first time in a few days and we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in a restaurant on the main plaza (all bolivian towns have amazingly nice central plazas. The infrastructure here is the possibly the worst I´ve seen, but they certainly don´t skimp when it comes to the manicured plazas, gorgeous, so great to have a piece of peace in every town). Oh and to mention the not-so-peachy bits, I got shat on by birds 3 times in Uyuni. Just me, and for the first time in my life. Ridiculous, and then yesterday it happened again! I love Bolivia but apparently the birds here don´t like me!!! Anyway, Uyuni, after some debate we ended up heading straight to Sucre on the night bus and skipping Potosi. Or at least, we tried to skip Potosi, but after the hour´s stop there at 1am, the bus driver told everyone to get off and get on the other bus (saving going to whole way I guess) but there were´nt enough seats on the other bus and there was no way we were going to stand at night for 4 hours when we had paid for semi-cama (which it turns out the other bus was even) so finally the other bus was like are you 4 (Paul and Jay were still with us) coming or not? and took off. So we hurried back to the first bus and whined at a lot and the lady magically found another bus (a real semi-cama one!! up grade!!) that had room and even a bathroom. Score for us, not so for Dutch guy who got the last seat on the other bus crammed in the back, hahaha. Speaking spanish pays off once again, but that was a bit sketchy.
Dec 1 and we arrive ok in Sucre, which I will leave to the next post!
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Last night I wrote up a huge blog about our desert excursion, but didn´t quite have time to post it so saved it on my usb... and now this computer won´t read it! So I´m going to try again later since it would take and hour to re-type it. Patience please, but I am now safely in Sucre, Bolivia. Loving everything and off to a small town to the east (Samaipata) tonight.
Laguna verde, some volcano and an inukshuk I built
View over Sucre the white city
Playing areobee (frisbee) at dawn on the world´s largest salt flat!
The 4 trekkers, never without cameras!
Sunrise over the cactus island in the middle of the salt flat
Geysers in the atacama desert, again at dawn...
Colourful mountain out of bus window from jujuy argentina to san pedro chile
Plaza in Salta, argentina
View from the top over argentinian wannabe german village of villa general belgrano
Central park of Che Guevara´s hometown of Alta Gracia
So there are a lot of gaps.... but better than nothing! Will update you all soon!