A Travellerspoint blog

Landscapes from another planet

sunny 28 °C
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I arrived early into Uyuni having had little sleep. This was due to a combination of the huge Bolivian woman who smelt of fish beside me and the crying baby in front. The town of Uyuni is not particularly exciting, although the nearby salt flats are, so I quickly joined a tour of the Bolivian Altiplano for the next 3 days.

The salt flats were as beautifully blinding as they had been described. Visiting them during the rainy season enhanced the experience as the shimmering water reflected the clouds above.

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Everything was perfect until, returning from the Salt Hotel (where, you guessed it, all the furniture is made out of salt) the jeep broke down and steam began to billow out of the car. After a delay of several hours, we decided to continue the tour the next day. Away from the salt flats, the area became more arid yet almost always we were surrounded by snow capped peaks.

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We stopped for the night at a red lake with hundreds of flamencos. Try as I might to part the red water, it quickly became evident that I lacked the special touch required. The next morning we awoke early to visit steaming geysers and hot water springs before being dropped off at the Bolivia-Chile border. Cue another unnecessarily inefficient, complicated and tedious process.

Eventually, I arrived into San Pedro de Atacama - a trendy town in the middle of the driest desert in the world. That afternoon I visited the 'Valle de la Luna' where the salt sediment and barren landscape creates the feeling that you are walking on the moon. I stayed for sunset as the fading light cast shadows across the weathered rocks.

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Despite being trendy, money is clearly not one of San Pedro's strengths. Today I tried to take out money to last for at least a week, but found that both of the banks are broken and that no shop will accept a bank card. Foresight had ensured I had an excess of Bolivianos which I exchanged for Chilean Pesos, but I had to use my emergency $50 to pay for my bus ticket out to Santiago. Consequently the sandboarding I had hoped to do today is no longer an option. It goes to show that even the best laid plans go awry...

Posted by chris89 07:41 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Lake Titicaca, Copacabana and the 'Death Road'

sunny 26 °C
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After a day of rest in Arequipa, I travelled to Puno, a town on the Peruvian shores of Lake Titicaca. The town itself is nothing special (except for the chaotic carnival scenes during my stay) but the port acts as the starting point to the nearby islands of Uros and Taquile.

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The Uros Islands are unique as they are manmade floating islands, made out of reeds, which are anchored to the bottom of the lake. Despite the spongy experience of walking on the islands, they support 2000 inhabitants. The only drawback to this original idea is that the rotting reeds need to be replenished every couple of months. Following a 3 hour journey across the lake (spent sunbathing on the deck) we arrived at Taquile - a beautiful rural island with stunning views of Titicaca.

The next day I ventured across the border to Bolivia to reach 'Copa, Copacabana...'. In addition to having a great name, the tourist town also has a daily blessing of cars outside the cathedral to ensure a safe onward journey, and a imposing hill to observe the sparkling lake and spectuaclar sunset.

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After a day in Copacabana, I moved on again to La Paz - the highest capital in the world at 3640m. Arriving in the evening I immediately reserved a place to cycle what has officially been declared 'The Most Dangerous Road in the World' and is also known as the 'Death Road'. Indeed, people have died on such trips in the past year.

The ride started from a height of 4700m and the 64km journey was almost always downhill. The precearious trip was made all the more dangerous for me (hardly necessary) as my right contact lense quickly fell out - rendering me with only one eye to negotiate the loose rocks that threatened (and in my case frequently did) throw me off my bike.

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One particularly spectacular crash saw me nearly fly over the handlebars. As I was crashing, potentially with severe consquences, what did I think about? Did my life flash before my eyes? Did I think of family and friends back home? No my final thought was that the crash would ruin my suntan...how shallow am I?

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Having just about survived the ordeal (and got the free T shirt!), I am spending my second day in La Paz sightseeing before boarding another overnight bus that will take me to southern Bolivia.

Posted by chris89 11:03 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Amazon adventures and Volcanic views

sunny 33 °C
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Negotiating our way along river meanders in the Amazon, we watched monkeys play in the trees and, as I drank beers supplied by a crazy South African, I reflected on an action packed 9 weeks since I left home.

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After 4 hours by boat we arrived at our lodge 2 hours from the Brazilian border. We were immediately confronted by a capiavara - the world's largest rodent, weighing up to 60kg. Later, as darkness descended...so did the bats! The use of candlelight in place of electricity only enhanced the romantic isolation of the lodge. That evening we went for a night walk through the rainforest seeing the largest spider in the Amazon (bigger than my handspan) and saw some of the fascinating ways animals have evolved in order to survive. For example, the butterfly that has markings that look like an eye so that it can fly away in the opposite expected of the predator.

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Other Amazon highlights included sightings of red macaws, climbing the vines hanging from the trees and going on an (albeit unsuccessful) night boat trip to watch aligators.

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Our excursion to the Amazon over, we flew back to Lima where I belatedly went, along with some friends, to the first 'discoteca' of my trip. Unsuprisingly, Peruvian clubbing is somewhat different to to the melee of its UK equivalent. Peruvians have a strange combination of rave and tango and form several, fairly rigid straight lines on the dancefloor.

The following evening I began my overnight, 17 hour bus journey to the southern city of Arequipa. The journey itself was one of the better ones I have had - if you forget the frequent nappy changes of the baby beside me. Disconcertingly, I woke to find the bus driving through a desert reminiscient of the Star Wars movies.

I eventually arrived in Arequipa - a beautiful city dominated by the volcanoes that loom above it. The most striking of which, 'El Misti', I chose to climb. The summit is 5822m above sea level. To put this in perspective, it is more than a 1km higher than any of the Alps, and 500m higher than the base camp of Everest.

Setting up camp at 4500m, I watched a spectacular sunset as I tried to forget the bitter cold. Once the clouds had separated I could see the bright lights of Arequipa more than 2000m below.

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At 1am, having had three hours sleep, I set off with my group for the summit. After 4 hours of exhausting climbing, my spirits were being severly tested by the dark. However, dawn soon broke through and hiking through snow, we arrived at the volcanic crater 2 hours later.

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Concerned about frost bitten fingers, I was thrilled to know that the way down would be much quicker as we were to skid down several kilometres of steep volcanic ash. If this wasn't exciting enough, further anxiety was created by the large rocks that bounced around us at knee height as we descended. Luckily I reached the bottom of El Misti before a major rockfall occurred...

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The views along the way were superb, but my legs now feel the need for a rest. 'El Misti' was my Everest - I can't imagine climbing to that altitude ever again.

Posted by chris89 15:03 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Lima and the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Enough to take your breath away

all seasons in one day 23 °C
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Lima, the City of Kings, was a welcome suprise. Despite the city's dubious reputation, Lima proved to be my favourite capital of the trip so far (admittedly not a difficult feat).

I enjoyed staying in the Miraflores district - a pleasant if touristy area. A visit to the old region of the city, with its huge public squares and surrounding markets also proved highly worthwhile.

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In Lima I met up with the tour group with whom I travelled to the anciet town of Cusco and ultimately Machu Picchu. Having flown into Cusco, the first thing you notice is the altitude. At 3,300m above sea level (compared to England's peak of 978m), Cusco has significantly less oxygen in the air, which makes exercise (even a gentle stroll around the main square) challenging.

A local remedy to prevent altitude sickness is to drink 'Mate' (otherwise known as cocaine tea). Having never been a big fan of normal tea it came as no suprise that, whilst it produces positive results (particularly if you have a drugs test afterwards), 'Mate' was not exactly my cup of tea... One step further is to buy a big bag of cocaine leaves and chew on them as you ascend. This is more effective and personally preferable - though I think I currently have enough 'substances' in my body to make Ben Johnson look clean!

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I spent the day in Cusco wandering the streets surrounding the attractive main square and just about managed to haul myself up a nearby hill to the Christo Blanco. The views of the city below were made all the more spectacular by a sudden thunder storm.

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The following day we departed Cusco for the Sacred Valley where we had a gentle hike among the Inca ruins. Warm up over, we began the 50km hike along the Inca Trail that would lead us to Macchu Picchu early the next morning.

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Over the next three days we travelled through beautiful scenery. To ensure good progress we were awoken each morning at about 5am - often to the sound of rain hitting the tent. However, the rain rarely lasted long as we travelled past llamas through valleys of jungle and ascended numerous peaks - the highest of which (Dead Woman's Pass) was at a dizzying altitude of 4200m.

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With aching calves we awoke especially early on the final morning in order to see sunrise over Machu Picchu. The ruins are instantly recognisable, yet still left me amazed. Not only the ruins themselves, which are fascinating, but also the surrounding mountains which I struggled to take my eye off. After a small rest I climbed the less famed 'Waynapicchu' (the big mountain always in the background of photos of Machu Picchu) which provided a different viewpoint from which to gaze at the Incan city.

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Following a train journey back that included a fashion show, I have now returned to Cusco where there is currently a carnival sweeping through the city. Currently the festivities appear to centre on throwing water balloons and spraying foam on unsuspecting victims as they walk through the city. Consequently, it is probably for the best that I leave tomorrow - heading for the Amazon!

Posted by chris89 08:01 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Monteverde and Playa San Miguel - via San Jose

A tug of war with a boar...and enjoying Costa Rica's 'pura vida' (good life)

sunny 34 °C
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After leaving La Fortuna, I travelled to Monteverde - a beautiful area of rainforest where I spent two peaceful days exploring the reserves as dappled sunlight broke through the canopy. Although I did not see many animals, I was unlucky enough for my lunch (consisting of a banana sandwich) to be stolen by a wild boar. Unhappy at the loss of my food, a subsequent tug of war ensued between the boar and I over my loaf of bread. Determined to have something for lunch, I eventually was the victor - though the bottom slices which he had chewed were rendered unedible...

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In addition to a sloth found sleeping outside my hostel, another Monterverde highlight was the canopy tour which involved travelling on high speed zip lines through the rainforest. The tour also included a nerve wracking 'tarzan swing' . Similar to a bungee jump, the 'tarzan swing' has only a small fall (and a jolt that felt like I had been kicked in the groin), before you rise back in the air in a huge 100m arc. After several decreasing swings I was brought back to the rainforest floor - exhilarated if a little sore!

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Due to a convoluted series of events, I then headed south to San Jose to catch a domestic flight to reach my destination on the Pacific coast - a place so remote that it is almost impossible to travel there by bus. Although feeling slightly decadent (not suprising for someone now used to travelling on cramped buses) the journey, made in a propeller plane with a capacity of 20 passengers, is one I will not forget.

The past week was spent improving my surfing skills - with significant success. I just wish I could say the same for my Spanish...which remains pitiful. My lodging for the week provided a free and extensive breakfast which I gleefully took advantage of - several bowls of granola (made all the more special by the absence of cereal for the previous seven weeks) followed by a plate of fruits and then banana pancakes and waffles. It was certainly an improvement on my usual peanut butter breakfasts!

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Other highlights of my stay were playing card games and beach football with Costa Rican children, and watching the sunset over the beach in a hammock beside Matthew and his father - two Canadians who kindly let me spend much of my time with them. One final highlight was venturing deep into the nearby rainforest to a waterfall great for sliding down for a refreshing swim....

After almost eight weeks of unforgettable experiences in Central America I sit here writing this in Lima, Peru. I am eager to return to the region in the future but for now I am looking forward to a couple days exploring Peru's capital.

Posted by chris89 16:31 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

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