Monday, 18 June 2012

Aw Man!


On the 29th of May 2007 I pedalled my trike out of Wokingham heading to the south coast and a ferry to France. I was embarking on a journey of unknown length, destinations and experiences.

However at the back of my mind I knew that at some point this day would come....but does it really have to be today!

The plane takes of at 18:30 and lands at Heathrow 21 hours later (and yes I am not looking forward to the flights but I really hope there is a smoking lounge at the transit airport).

You know what this means don't you....I’m going to have to get a job!!

The Horror...The Horror.

So I’ve had fun, pain, pure bloody cold sweat running down your spine terror, absolute joy, moments that I never wanted to end, despair and episodes of intense clarity. I've met some cool people, way to many skank heads, idiots and occasionally people that turned around and said “when I 1st saw you, you looked really mean and frightening but now that I know you......”

As an old friend said “you haven't changed, you're just more you”

Writing this last blog was in no way f******g depressing...I’m lying obviously














Mind you, there is always Plan B

Monday, 7 May 2012

Mint cake please


On Monday I got the 11am bus to San Rafael about 4 hours down the road. Getting off at the brand new terminal I soon discovered that perhaps the local taxi drivers didn't know where it was yet. It was only about a miles walk into the centre of town but by the time I turned the corner onto the main drag my right knee was ceasing to function, despite the fact that I was wearing my new and improved “fuck you” knee support. Luckily an “old time” hotel was nearby with creaking worn out floor boards, a huge bed and a bucket load of charm.

This town is like Mendoza only smaller and the nearby Canyon de Atul is a tourist attraction. Sadly it's the low season and as I am by myself the cost of a tour wasn't worth the expense.

Tuesday was spent mostly lying on the bed with my right knee covered in the local brand of heat cream. “Fuck you” was giving me real cause for concern but at least “You bastard” wasn't acting up in sympathy...well not yet anyway!

Wednesday was the day to leave. I was heading to the town of Bariloche. The bus left at 1am and arrived 14 hours later.....Like I’m getting on that bus! Instead I got the bus to Neuquen, 9.5 hours down the road. I had two options, catch the 1am bus or the 1pm bus, regardless I got the fat-boy downstairs.

The bus pulled into the terminal of Neuquen about 4kms from the centre of town at 10:30pm.

Never wanting to hang out in a palindromic city I spied a hotel across the road whilst having the usual. Before I checked in and checked out I thought it would make sense to what times the buses were to Bariloche.

Turns out the next bus was a t midnight, only 80 minutes away. Its a 6 hour drive to Bariloche...

Arriving at the small bus station of Bariloche at 6am I regretted not calling tails when I tossed the coin in Neuquen. Damn it was cold, I felt like shit and dawn was still over two hours away. Not having booked a room I got a coffee in the station café, then I got another one. By the time I had finished my 3rd plus smoked several fags it was 07:30.

I put on my jacket (1st time since Bolivia) and got a taxi the 2 kilometres into the centre of town.

The 1st two hostels were dark, the 3rd had lights on and someone on reception. Asking if they had a room, the answer was yes...however at 250 pesos...hell no!!! I carried on till I found another hostel (with lights on). The price was 230 pesos but by now all I wanted to was lie down and use a bathroom! So I said “what the hell” and as it turns out they had a special offer on, stay two nights but only pay for one. Looks like I’m here for the weekend.

Bariloche, on the shores of Lake Nahuel Huani is the (self proclaimed) gateway to Patagonia, its near one of the best ski mountains in Argentina and quite a few lakes, well it is lake district after all!

But I didn't see any of this till the afternoon. Crawling sloth like off the bed (the small radiator was right by my head so it was touch and go for a while) I wandered around the town. It was cold, the wind coming off the lake was super chilled, the sky overcast and trying successfully to rain. The town itself was full of outdoor shops selling all your year round requirements like clothes, boots, skis, bikes way to many shops selling high quality artesian chocolates of seemingly infinite varieties but no mint cake!!!

The only shop I needed was one selling black coffee, they’re called cafés and I was spoilt for choice.

Come the evening I was back in my room by 9pm, disappointed with the weather. By 11pm I was fast asleep.

The next morning I woke up at 09:30, such a good sleep. Walking into the dinning room on the hunt for fresh coffee I looked out of the window...Blue Skies!!! Happy days....still bloody cold mind you.

Last night I had thought of buggering off to Chile and heading north to somewhere warm and sunny. Now I had sun (I have warm clothes and a woolly hat) I pondered about heading further south.

This town caters to the outdoor pursuits, so lots of tour companies offer

  • hiking: “you bastard” and “fuck you” say no!

  • Mountain biking: see above

  • paragliding: see above

  • rafting an kayaking: way to cold

  • skiing: to early

  • sitting on the lake shore admiring the view: 5 minutes max, it's cold

so that leaves....a boat tour around the lake. Sounds nice but it costs 280 pesos and you have to make your own way to the harbour which is 25kms away. Does make me wonder why there is a harbour in town?


what I am doing tomorrow.

The morning came around and I reluctantly pulled myself out of bed. The minibus was typically 30 minutes late so I had time for more than one coffee.

The destination of the day's “day trip” was Cerro Tronador or Thunder Mountain. I was looking forward to seeing my 1st ever glacier. The minibus climbed out of town and then travelled along Ruta 40, which I think has become my favourite road in the whole wide rocks! After passing a couple of gorgeous lakes we turned off the tarmac and onto a dirt road which lead into Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi. After paying the very cheap 50 peso entrance fee we travelled along for a few miles before getting out to photograph and admire the view of a lake drenched in the bright morning sun.

Back in the van the road rose and fell, twisting its way through the trees before we stopped at a lookout point for panoramic views of another lake...classy! Then we drove to a small café, crossing a trout filled river of crystal clear waters. After a 20 minute stop it was uphill towards the mountain, which is in fact an inactive volcano.

Glimpses of the glacier covered mountain were seen through the trees. We stopped on a bend in the road for a quick panoramic fix before continuing on to a restaurant with stunning views. Some people went inside to eat lunch??? Me, I went for a glad I did!

Once lunch was over we proceeded to the base of the mountain. There are several glaciers on the mountain, the largest one higher up feeds the “Black Glacier” lower down. It does this by falling several hundred metres and when it does (which it did whilst I was there) the sound made by several tonnes of falling ice and snow impacting sounds like now you know how the mountain got its name.

The black glacier gets its name because...well its black!

In the evening (it was a Saturday night) I went out and sampled several of the locally brewed beers.

On Sunday morning I watched the Spanish GP and then watched City win the league (so glad I am not a city fan...I don't think I could of handled that much agony and despair for 92 minutes) and of course Joey Barton going “scouser”.

Monday morning came around I was on the 11:30 to Esquel. The bus was quite posh, on the top deck there were only 3 seats across and I was in seat number 3, a single seat right at the front for 5 hours of fantastic views straight ahead. Or so I thought......

For some reason the bus company decided to put some advertising on the front windscreen and my view forwards was completely blocked by a multicoloured sticker two foot in diameter...why bus company why??

Three hours down the road the one thing I’ve always wanted to witness finally happened. The road was traversing a wide and grassy plain and I was looking aimlessly out of the window (and I’m not making this up, my mp3 player was playing Constant Surprises by Little Dragon) as the bus slowed right down to cover a worn out stretch of road. It was then I saw a vulture walking along, no more than 20 metres away. “That's a big vulture” I said to myself....O.M.G, its a Condor, a wild Condor!!!!!!

The view of that Condor walking along nonchalantly was only 20 seconds long but it will last me a lifetime.

A few hours later the bus pulled into the town of Esquel and it was a short 6 block walk into town. I did the usual thing of walking around the centre to find a place to stay. After 15 minutes I didn't see a single hotel, I was shocked! It was then I choked back the tears of despair and headed towards the tourist information office. I got to within 100 yards when I walked past a hotel...sweet! It ain't great but it will do.

An hour later I was in a nearby tour company booking a ticket for a ride on La Trochita for the next day. The tour company had several tours on offer, I really was interested in a day trip to the “tunnels of ice” but its the low season....bugger :( In the evening I ended up in El Bodegon Bar, it was completely unexpected. I mean a blues/rock bar in this little town. Nice one universe, shame about the not being able to smoke inside mind you.

The next morning it was time to ride La Trochita or the little trout. It's a narrow gauge (75cm) train that used to travel for miles and miles. These days it goes 22km and back again but its a steam train and that's enough!

The train left at 10am and I was at the station 30 minutes before that, well I wanted to see it warm up 1st.

The hour's ride to the next station went past way to fast but the sun was out and the window was open. Because it's a small train it can't handle big gradients, so even after travelling 22kms by rail I was only about 6 or 7 miles from Esquel by road. The train loitered at the station for about 45 minutes before retracing its tracks back to Esquel.

Back in my hotel room in the afternoon it was time for thinking...where to go next???

  • Tierra del Fuego

Its at the bottom of South America. By the time I get there it will be the middle of winter and the Max temperature is 5oc. That's not a problem I have a woolly hat. The problem is once there you only have about 4 hours of daylight every 24 hours. So I wont have enough time to see much at all. The only reason to go there now is so that I can say I’ve been there and that is never a good reason to go anywhere.

  • Go to Chile

Cross the Andes into the Chilean lake district, that sounds more fun, then I can head north afterwards.

So it's settled then....tomorrow I’m going to Wales!

Trevelin is, along with several other villages in Patagonia, a small enclave of welsh descendants who's ancestors left the UK after Westminster passed “The Sheep Welfare Act” of 1862. The village is surrounded by snow dusted mountain peaks and in the village are several “Welsh Tea Shops” that are a very poor imitation of your traditional “English Tea Shop”. The reason they ain't all that is that they don’t open till 3pm. Any teashop worth going to is open no later than 10:55....just in time for elevenses.

I hanged out for a few hours before enjoying the views from the bus window on the way back to Esquel, 25kms away.

Today is Thursday 17th of May and tomorrow I’ll be on the 8am bus to the Chilean border. Which means I’ll have been in Argentina for two months but it does feel like I have been here longer. The next time I come here I’ll be bringing my own transport and travelling along the entire length of Ruta 40!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012



At 5am on Wednesday the 2nd of May the alarm clock woke me up. I got out of bed, dressed and went outside. Slurping a can of Red Bull and smoking 2 full fat Camels I tried to wake up.

I went back in my room, picked up my bags and headed to the bus station. Walking out of the entrance and onto the street I wondered how many steps it would be before those two dogs “went for me”. Turns out it was 17!

Carrying on down the street the sound of a dog whimpering put a smile on my face. Turning the corner and walking past the square another two dogs got up close and personal. Well what do you know! Turns out that adrenaline is much better at waking me up than taurine!

Arriving at the station I had a 20 minute wait....time for smoking.

The bus took 4.5 hours to travel to the city of San Juan, stopping at many small villages along the way. At the bus station in San Juan I only had a 30 minute wait for the next bus to the city of Mendoza, it was time well spent.

A few hours later I arrived at yet another bus station, this one was in Mendoza. In the taxi to the hostel the views of the city of Mendoza weren't bringing back any memoires from 18 years ago.

The hostel is on Ave San Martin about a 20 minute walk from the main square and because it's the low season I was one of only 3 guests....nice and quiet, brilliant!!!

In the early evening I strolled to the main square or Plaza Independencia. It's a big square and I didn't remember it at all, now that I come to think of it I don't remember anything about Mendoza!

I checked out the “Irish bar” (well you have to really) and luckily a game of football was on the tv otherwise I wouldn't of stayed. Near the hostel were several bar so I thought I would check out a few.

The 1st one I walked into was the Casa de Usher, a dimly lit “grunge” bar with live music and ashtrays on the bar. I don't know why this keeps on happening to me I’m just glad it does...thank you universe you’re the best!

In the morning I dropped of my clothes at the nearby laundrette and then went for a wander. I went back to the main square and checked out the modern art museum. It was small and disappointingly full of works by art students, C- I’m afraid. Then I went to the nearby Plaza San Martin. The place was cordoned off and swarming with police and “men in black” complete with earpieces. Unlike in the film, these black suits looked cheap and ill fitting. For some reason my act of walking around the square made them nervous.

I've been in Argentina now for about 6 weeks and there are two things I’ve noticed.

a) Argentinians find it hard to walk in a straight line, or they just like making a bee line towards me...who knows?

b)This country is the “most European” of all the Latin American countries I’ve been in.

How do I know? It's the only country I’ve been in where the locals give me “that look”. You know the one...if I was walking down the street in England people would avoid walking near me because they would assume I’m an enforcer for the EDL.

Just ask my parents!

“the sun was in our eyes and we didn't know it was you” is not an acceptable defence for crossing the road to avoid walking past your son!

So what else did I do, well apart from the obvious not a lot! I know how wine is made and what it tastes like so going on a “wine tour” was the wrong side of boring


On Saturday (after being in Latin America for two years) I managed not to go out till 11pm!! Shocking I know. I got back in just after 4am and when I woke up in the afternoon I realised that I had missed one game of football and the Portuguese round of MotoGP....bollocks!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Down the road to boring town


I liked Cafayate, not because there was loads to do but because there wasn't. In the 5 days I stayed there I don't think I went further than 3 blocks from the main square. The area in the valley surrounding the town is home to a multitude of vineyards but I did all my sampling in the restaurants. I did however go to the wine museum and jolly nice it was to!

Once the 5 days were up it was time to leave and for some reason I got the 6am bus to Tafi de Valle! No idea's only 3-4 hours down the road and they have a bus going in the afternoon. The bus left the arid Valley Calchaquies behind and began to slowly climb up the mountain. Descending down the other side, cacti gave way to grass, the valley sloped steeply down and in the distance I could see a small lake sparkling blue in the sunlight.

The small town of Tafi de Valle is situated 2/3rds of the way down and for once the café attached to the bus station served really good coffee. Two cups later it was just after 10:45 and I needed to find a room.

Spying a sign for a hostel which was only 400m away from the centre of town (it wasn't) I thought to myself “why not”. Walking through the door I got a big hug and a sloppy kiss on the cheek from the girl on duty. She was cute but in a “I’m old enough to be here father” kind of way :( Sadly that was the highlight of the hostel (seriously, how much does a can of paint cost!) so I left and walked back into town.

I found a room, it wasn't hard and went for a little bimble around the didn't take long.

Tafi is a tourist destination and dotted across the landscape are small holiday homes belonging to people from the large city of Tucuman a few hours drive away. The main drag has lots of shops selling tourist tat and the local chesses that Tafi is known for. There are also quite a few restaurants in town and as I found out in the evening they don't open till 8pm!! I’m English and I eat at 6pm!! (just because I have been in Latin America for nearly two years doesn't mean my stomach is going to change its ways)

The next day I went for a bimble following the course of the river downhill towards the (artificial) lake. It was a beautiful day and the only sounds were the waters of the river cascading over the rocks and birdsong. My bimble was slower than normal (yes that is possible) and I spent many minutes sitting on rocks at the waters edge at various points along the river bank just listening.

At one point the path disappeared so I made my own across what turned out to be a bog. My right leg was covered in mud up to my knee when I was lucky enough to find a really deep part!

After washing my leg and shoes in the river I noticed that several owls were looking at me...

By now I was 2/3rds of the way to the lake but instead I turned around and made my way to Tafi. Why? Well in the last month my knee has gotten progressively worse to the point where even I am concerned about it (and yes I was wearing a knee support)

In the morning I got a bus to Tucuman, two hours and over 1500m down the road. The descent onto the plain was epic. The scenery was glorious, the road steep and twisty and at times overhanging the narrow fast flowing river.

Arriving in Tucuman it was a 10 block walk to the main square and after 8 blocks I walked into a hotel. It was expensive (well it was 180 pesos or 25GBP) but it did have wifi, cable tv and for the 1st time since Panama City (I think) Air conditioning. I didn't need it but as I was paying for it...

Tucuman is a large city of about 800,000 people and for the few days I stayed there I enjoyed it. For some reason I could only find one camera shop and the prices for new cameras are a joke (I killed my Nikon a few weeks ago). The import taxes being levied mean that compared to England a decent camera is 50%-100% more expensive...I ain't smiling!

I left Tucuman without a new camera and for some reason it was on a Saturday

golden rule of travelling number 27: never travel on the weekend.

The bus left at 14:30 and arrived at the bus station in La Rioja 6 hours later. After the usual I got a 15 minute taxi ride to the main square. Once there I did what I always do....walk around the square 1 block down and find a hotel. Usually I find a place on the last corner and tonight was no exception.

When the bags hit the bed I was walking out of the door and heading to a café. After the warmth in the lowlands of Tucuman it was nice to be back above 1000m and wearing the big fleece.

In the morning I used the old style lift to get to the lobby, the pavement and the 1st fag of the day. Walking back inside the block at reception said it was fine to smoke in the room. I pointed to the “its against the law to smoke inside” sign behind him and he just shrugged his shoulders and said “who cares”....bloody fantastic!!!!

Back in my room the tv was on ESPN for the football and my laptop was screening the Bahrain GP. It was a great start to a Sunday especially now that I was smoking in bed.

La Rioja, like most Latin American towns is “closed” on Sundays. Thankfully the local Carrefour supermarket was open. With vitals brought I went back to my room (which had a fridge), the tv, the ashtray and chilled out big time.

Monday morning found me back at the bus station, a 3 hour wait and then a bus 2 hours along the road to the small town of Chilecito.

Chilecito straddles Ruta 40, the south American answer to Route 66 and is famous for its cable car. It starts in Chilecito at 1100m and travels 35kms across several peaks and one tunnel before ending at 4600m


a) it no longer works


b) it was built in the early 1900's to carry ore from the mine to the railway at Chilecito.

When I read about it online I was super excited till I got to the second sentence.

It was a 15 minute walk from the bus station to the centre of town and my knee was happy when I found a hostel two blocks from the main square.

Hostel Paiman is a cool little place just don't stay in room 6 like I did, unless they put a new door on the about frigging hard to turn the key in the lock!

I found the town to be a nice place to hang out and relax in for a few days. The main square has several cafés (one of which you can smoke inside, so yes that one was my favourite), a few museums and for a small town far to many shoe shops.

The following day was Tuesday and after a mornings bimble to see yet another statue of Christ and a small but interesting museum I was back at the hostel in the kitchen/dinning room in front of the tv to watch Chelsea v Barcelona in the second leg of the champions league semi final. It was a nerve racking 90 minutes. When Torres scored in the final minute the 3 Argentinians who were watching it with me got the shock of their lives! My palms smacked down on the table with a mighty force, I stood up sending my chair crashing backwards and spoke the words “get the fuck in there” followed by “you little beauty” and of course much more quietly “lo seinto”.

The next day I watched Bayern Munich beat Real Madrid but more relaxed and a lot more quieter.

Thursday was to be my last full day in Chilecito. I brought myself a new camera (and no I had no idea GE made cameras) for 100 quid more than it would cost me in England and I very reluctantly bid a fond farewell to the caterpillar boots I brought back in Antigua in December 2010. The soles were worn out, their backs were broken and the leather cracked. I also managed to break my “world travel plug” but as all of my plugs are now Latin American all I needed was a 10 peso adaptor. I know that's not really interesting to read about but it's my there!

On Friday afternoon I got the bus to Villa Union, three hours down a beautiful road with fantastic views and when crossing over the mountain many life changing drops inches from my window.

Arriving at the bus station on the outskirts of the small town of Villa Union I got “hassled” by a hotel tout. The teenager gave me a flyer which I put in my back pocket before waking into town and the main square.

On the wiki-travel page for this place were quite a few hotels, damned if I could find more than one! I popped into the local tour agency on the square and the French guy running the place said that because it was a long weekend the chances of getting a room for more than one night were very limited...bugger!

It was then I remembered the flyer in my back pocket, the photo made it look expensive. It was only a few blocks away and it made for a short walk. Just outside the entrance two dogs decided that they were indeed hard enough and came over to have a go. My stone throwing skills are getting really good!

Walking into the complex I was given the warmest of welcomes. Turns out they did have a room going spare for the weekend. The room was en-suite with wifi and cable and it looked really nice. So I asked the question”how much”, I didn't believe her answer at 1st so I asked again. Damn, it was 90 pesos a night...what a bargain!!

I chilled out for a few hours and then went for a coffee in the café on the square.

Villa Union is at the bottom of a wide shallow valley with snow capped mountains and multicoloured ridges of reds,blues and greens on both sides. In the morning I went for a closer look...

In the afternoon I checked out the town. There really wasn't much to it and what there was wasn't up to much either.

In the evening out of the 3 restaurants I saw only one was open and it didn't really inspire me to eat there. So, after a booking a tour for the next day I went to the local shop for supplies and had a quiet night in.

At 9am the next day the 4x4 picked me up and off we went (me and an Argentinian couple) up the road to over 4000m to see Lake Brava. As we got higher the more snow we saw, the driver (or idiot) managed to get the 4x4 stuck in the snow and without a shovel on board it took him nearly 45 minutes to get was cold!

The views were...go on, look at the video, you know you want to!

In the evening it was cold and I ended up wearing both of my fleeces when I walked to the restaurant and a truly uninspiring dinner.

The next day I had wanted to visit Talampaya national park some 60kms to the south and without my own transport I needed to use the tour company, sadly no one else did!

Therefore on Monday evening I went to buy a bus ticket for the following morning only to find out that because tomorrow was the 1st of May there weren't any. Damn it, looks like I would be stuck here till 6am Wednesday morning.

On the walk back into the town I came to the conclusion that over the last 5 years of travelling and over 300 cities, town and villages I’ve stayed in Villa Union was by far the most boring!!!!

I mean it was really really really really really mind numbingly boring

Andrew’s top travel tips number 1: don't visit Villa Union....ever!!!

Monday, 2 April 2012

Into the valley


It's a 4 ½ hour bus ride from Salta to the village of Cachi and for some reason the bus left at 7am. For the 1st time since Puno I had to set the alarm and wake up early (I used to wake up at 04:30 six days a week but that was a lifetime ago). Thankfully at the bus station a man was selling strong sweet coffee from his little Thermos laden cart...yippee!

Cachi is about 1600m higher than Salta and the road followed the path of a small river and as the bus went higher, trees gave way to grass. The views were great but unlike the hoards of minibuses ferrying tourists on day trips the bus didn't stop (which is why the photos ain't that great).

Finally the bus reached the top of the mountain and crossed the watershed. From here the grass was replaced by cacti and scrub thorn trees surviving in a dry and arid landscape. The vista was wide and sloped gently towards the river. On the other side of the valley, far off in the distance were snow capped mountain peaks under blue skies.

The bus stopped in Cachi 50m from the main square and after the usual I walked there and then carried on for another 100m to an okay hostel at the rear of a restaurant. By the time my bags were hitting the bed I was walking out of the door back to the plaza for 3 cups of coffee...well what do you know...turns out it was actually 4!

The little village of Cachi hasn't changed much in the last 200 years and the centre is still postcard pretty. The tree laden plaza, with the adobe church next door, cobbled streets and kerbs 3 foot high in places. I liked what I saw and the place was relaxed and tranquil.

The next morning after a long lie in and more coffee than you would think was good for you I went to the bus company office. The next village I was heading for had buses going there only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Not wanting to leave the next day I thought Friday would be a good day to travel.

A few hours later I was having lunch when I remembered that it was Easter on the weekend. There are two times I don't travel in Christian countries, Christmas and Easter. I went back to the hostel and gave them a wad of cash that paid for my room till I checked out on the following Monday. Looks like I’ll be in Cachi for a week and lets face it that ain't a bad thing.

Cachi is in the Valle Calchaquies, a famous wine growing region of Argentina. They also had steaks that were non to shabby as well.

My time here wasn't all coffee, wine and steaks! I was able to squeeze in a couple of bimbles in the beautiful countryside. Along dried up river beds and cacti covered mountain slopes I strolled (and at least once an hour I stopped to remove the various bits of plants that were sticking out of my shorts and socks).

The week passed surprisingly quickly and on Easter Monday I got on the 11:30 bus to Molinos.

The even smaller village of Molinos was a few hours down the world famous “Ruta 40”, a road that stretches for almost 5000km from the Bolivian border to the bottom of Argentina. This section was narrow, twisty, untarmaced and with fantastic views out of the bus window.

The village of Molinos is a mixture of the old and the new. Standardised government housing line up along dirt roads laid out in grids whilst nearby a 400 year old church stands opposite an even older hacienda once owned by the last Spanish governor of the Provence of Salta (which is now a 250usd a night hotel). The road that goes past them is colonial with a cute little info centre in a fully restored house. The wide and shallow river Molinos gently curves nearby defining the shape of the village in one direction whilst the multicoloured mountain ridges take care of the other sides.

I found a great little hostel on the edge of the village and for 100 pesos (or 15gbp) not only was it en-suite, it had satellite tv. Crashing out on the bed I turned into ESPN and watched the 2nd half of Aston Villa v Stoke and then Fulham v Chelsea, at the end of the game I kinda wished I hadn't bothered.

As the day turned towards night I went and hit the mean streets of down town Molinos. This place was really quiet! The only restaurant I found didn't open till 20:30, which was over two hours away. However a local shop sold bread, cheese and salami (and of course beer). So I had a quiet night in watching tv...bliss!

The next morning I found myself wandering aimlessly around the village, why? The café didn't open till 10am...after a big breakfast of champions I checked out the “old stuff” in the village and then slowly wandered down to the river. Seeing a sign for an artisans shop that was pointing in the direction I was going I thought to myself “why not”. To get to the “San Pedro Nolasco de los Molinos” meant crossing the river...there was no bridge.

Wading across the wide river in my bare feet it was only a few inches deep all the way across. Well apart from twice when my foot fall landed on soft sand and my knee got wet. Once again on dry land it was only a few hundred metres to the shop and by the time I had got there the dirt from the road had dried my feet, on the downside my feet were dirty.

This place is also a breeding centre for Vicuñas, the wild relative of lamas and alpacas and they had quite a few handwoven items for sale...I brought a very nice 3x2 foot wall hanging for only 300 pesos, or 45GBP.

The next morning I was off to the village of Angastaco, 42kms down the road. There are two ways of getting there

A) hitch-hike

B) taxi

Hitch-hiking is great if you are travelling light and there is a good volume of traffic on the road. I ain't and the road didn't, so I got a taxi. At about 1GBP per 1000m I was once again being “ripped off” by a taxi company. However the lass in the office was so bored with her life she had given up swatting flies...haggling with someone like that is impossible. It was at this point I reminded myself of the following: money, its only bits of coloured paper.

The drive took about 90 minutes and I enjoyed every single second, the landscape was de...wait for it...lightful!

Arriving in the really really small village of Angastaco in the late morning I got a room in one of the two places to stay. Then I went for a bimble...ten minutes later I had seen the entire place. Thankfully when I was in Salta I stumbled across a little multi language bookshop. Its English section was small but eclectic. I decided to pass the afternoon reading several chapters of the “Vicar of Wakefield”.

In the evening I found a delightful and completely unexpected restaurant. It's behind the church at the end of a dead end street and then up an alley next to the car mechanic shop. When the meal was over I asked the dude what time in the morning was the bus to Cafayate...I didn't believe him! Back at the hostel I asked the lass the same question, she gave me the same answer! Cafayate is only 100kms or 2 ½ hours down the road so why the fuck does the bus leave Angastaco at 6am!!

The next morning I caught the bus!

At 08:30 I was in Cafayate and walking the two blocks from the bus company office to the main square, a café that was open and the 1st of 4 coffees and several fags...then I went and got a room!

Sunday, 18 March 2012

My life is going downhill


On Sunday the 18th of march I was at the border nice and early. After an hour of queuing I had my exit stamp for Bolivia. Thirty minutes later I was officially in Argentina (for the 1st time since 1994).

The centre of La Quiaca (3400m) was 1km away and it made for a nice Sunday morning stroll. Two hundred metres down the road was a big blue sign stating that the Falkland islands were in that Argentinian, they just can't let it go can they!

Reaching the centre of town I got a room with a shared bath for 3 times the price of yesterday's room...I definitively wasn't in Bolivia any more. However comparing the two border towns it was easy to see which country was more prosperous.

After grabbing lunch I did what I do best....have a siesta!

In the evening as it was a Sunday, most places were closed. I managed to grab some local cheese and ham and so I enjoyed a quite night in in front of the tv.

The next morning I was off down the road for a few hours to the village of Humahuaca (2900m). Humahuaca has a postcard pretty centre of town of narrow cobbled streets and plaster covered adobe buildings. As pretty as it was, I found it to be dull, I mean really dull. However I spent two nights there, relaxing and chilling out in the hostel courtyard...good times!

On the morning of Wednesday I got the bus to Tilcara (2400m) and it was “the best bus ride ever”. Not because of the comfortable seats or the decent amount of leg room but because it was only 46 minutes long...a proper day's travelling

The walk from the bus station to the centre of Tilcara was about 800m and after a little look around I got a very “rustic room” in a great little place metres from the main square. From the outside it looked really scabby but once you got past the reception and into the 1st of two little courtyards it was really nice.

This village has a much better vibe than Humahuaca, it's not as pretty but it was more vibrant. I hanged out here for 4 nights, I’m not in a rush. On one of the days I went to the nearby ruin of Pucara (or fortress). It is about a 1000 year old settlement on top of a small hill near the river, giving excellent views of the gorgeous countryside. Several buildings had been completely restored and for some reason in the middle of the site the “archaeologists” built a pyramid....???? I did however enjoy the cacti.

On the Sunday I got the midday bus to the town of San Salvador de Jujuy (1900m) a few hours down the road, the views out of the window were lovely.

Arriving at the bus station in Jujuy it was a 10 minute walk into the centre of town. Failing to find a hostel/hotel I used the guide book...I know, shocking!!

I liked Jujuy! It's a little town with a lot of history and some seriously good coffee!

After two nights it was time for another long journey!

The city of Salta (1200m) was a long two hour drive downhill along tarmacked roads (am I being sarcastic?). I had booked a room online (out of the 30 or so hostels only 5 had single rooms) and it was about 3 blocks from the main square. The place was quiet and tranquil (with cable and wifi obviously) and as I found out on the 1st night my room had such a comfortable bed. I had booked the room for 6 nights as I had been travelling way to fast in Argentina...4 places in 9 days, come on!!

The main tourist thingy in Salta is the “train to the clouds”. The train leaves Salta at 7am and then ascends over 3000m into the clouds along a myriad of switchbacks, bridges and viaducts before returning to Salta at about midnight. 17 hours on a train you can't smoke I’m ever going to get on board that!!

Thankfully Salta has other touristy things to offer the tourist, so I did those instead!

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Sugar, the Devil and Salt



I finally left Samaipata on Sunday the 26th of February.

The plan was to head to Surce via the “old” road thus missing out on the delights of a 12 hour night bus journey along the “new” road. The day before Frank had made a verbal reservation on a bus heading to Villa Serrano.

So there I was in the morning standing on the highway waiting....At about 11am the 1st bus from Santa Cruz heading to Villa Serrano came along, it didn't stop! Thirty minutes later another bus passed me by at 40kph.

12:30 came around and there was still no sign of the bus that contained an empty seat with my name on it...bollocks, thought I!!

20 minutes later a bus heading to the small town of Valle Grande stopped at my feet. As Valle Grande was on the way to Villa Serrano I got on board. About three hours later I was standing in the rather pretty main square of Valle Grande, the town where Che Guevara's body was displayed after being killed in La Higuera. I got a room in a hotel on the square and popped into the nearby coffee shop for a much needed caffeine fix.

In the evening I had a quiet night in because pretty much everywhere was shut. I did manage to buy some local cheese and ham and a fairly good bottle of wine, which at 25bs was a bargain.

The next morning after a leisurely breakfast of champions I visited the local museums. The 1st one was archaeological and the 2nd one was all about Che Guevara, both were small but also interesting.

After chatting with the guy in the local tourist office I discovered that on Mondays no buses go to Villa Serrano, queue a lazy afternoon.

Tuesday afternoon found me sitting on a small roundabout on the main (dirt) road on the outskirts of town at 1pm waiting for a bus to turn up sometime in the next few hours. Just before 14:30 a bus came into view.

The road to Villa Serrano is the same road I travelled along to get to La Higuera. The best views are on the right hand side, sadly I was on the left but on the brightside the window opened up wide! Three hours later the bus passed the turn off for La Higuera and started a long slow hairpin bend happy descent down into the valley and a bridge across the mighty Rio Grande. The views were beautiful!

When we got to the bridge it was around 6:30pm and the driver stopped for a 15 minute lie down (the bus left Santa Cruz at 8am with only 1 driver!) I smoked a few fags and enjoyed the vista in the dimming light. Back on the bus it was only 75kms to Villa Serrano...the bus got there at 9:50pm

It was a 2 minute walk to the main square, a fairly good hostel and a much needed toilet break. With my bladder empty I needed food. I ended up grabbing a couple of egg and chip butties washed down with 2 cans of beer from a food stall in the plaza. Then I went to bed!

Due to roadwork construction on the main road to Sucre the bus didn't leave till 4pm. That was okay as the square was a cool place to hang out and while the day away.

It took 5.5 hours to travel to Sucre and the views from Villa Serrano to the main road (which took an hour) were wonderful. The main road wasn't as pretty but it certainly was more dusty. The day became night and the bright lights of Sucre appeared in the far off distance. Then another horizon was lit up by a spectacular electrical storm. The clouds shimmered silver as lightening flashed across the sky, bolts of lightening seemed to linger as the earth was connected to the heavens (and the gods spoke but only in Sanskrit).

I arrived in the main square of Sucre at about 9:45pm Wednesday evening. 10 minutes later I was dumping my bags in my room at the Hotel Torino one block from the plaza. Hitting the mean streets of Sucre I grabbed a quick bite to eat before heading to a place where they sell beer...I believe it's called a bar! It was during my 2nd glass that I wondered if the tv in my room had cable? 45 minutes later I got my answer...I was a happy chappy!

My 1st full day in Sucre was spent, no not watching tv all day but getting things done


A) getting my clothes washed

B) watching tv, well it's my 1st tv since Santa Cruz!

C) keeping my mum happy

The last one was the easiest, all I had to do was upload the last blog. My mum can go on a bit and then my sister joins in...damn you facebook!

Following an early night in watching tv, Friday morning came around and I went for a bimble. Sucre used to be the capital of Bolivia and its terracotta tiled roofs and white painted colonial buildings really didn't impress me at all! After 4 weeks of village life walking around a big city was at best an annoyance. On the brightside the coffee in Café Florin was good and there was football to watch on the that’s it!

On Monday I got on the midday bus to Potosi 3-4 hours up the tarmac road! Potosi is famous for two things

a) it's the highest city in the world

I found walking around at 4070masl to be fairly easy, guess I’m used to the altitude.

b) it's right next door to the Cerro Rico or rich mountain

Since the 1500's over 60,000 tonnes of silver have been mined! The numbers of people, who were forced to work in the mines that have died number in the millions!

I got a room one bock from the main square and the 1st thing I did was put on some long pants and get my big fleece out of the rucksack. Yep, it's bloody cold up here! With warmer clothes on I went to a nearby coffee shop for a much needed slurp. On the way back to the hostel the sun had set and my room was colder than outside...but at least it had wifi.

A few hours later after dinner and a couple of beers it was 10pm and I was getting ready for bed. Jumping into the bed was like lying on a block of ice!! Ten minutes of frantic horizontal running later the bed was warm, well the small bit in the middle where I was anyway. Trapped under several blankets the heat couldn't escape to the rest of the bed and on the odd occasion when my foot moved to far the heat got sucked out of it!

In the morning I needed a shower...the room was still freezing cold but thankfully the water was lovely and hot but I did at some point have to turn it off!

I spent the morning walking around the centre of Potosi and because there was a strike on it was refreshingly car free. Potosi was back in the day the richest city in south America and the grandeur of the houses was impressive but along with the once brightly coloured paintwork its slowly faded over the centuries. It makes for a great place to walk around, down narrow streets with the front of the houses shielding hidden courtyards, to the impressive churches appearing at random, to the pavements so narrow they would be called kerbs in England.

One of the main tourist attractions is the mountain itself. Although the silver is all gone, tin and other precious rare earth metals are still there waiting to be dug up. 1000's of people work in co-op mines in basic conditions with most of them heading to an early grave due to various lung diseases caused by the poor air quality. To protect themselves from harm they “worship” the Devil in a quasi catholic fashion.

The idea of spending 3-4 hours scrambling around a working mine that H&S had forgot really wasn't pushing any of my buttons. In the end I decided that I would rather spend the time sitting in a café drinking coffee! Night-time came around and the bed hadn't suddenly got warm!

The next day was Wednesday and it was to be my last full day in Potosi. I spent the morning unsuccessfully trying to find a pair of boots in my size that were wide enough (my 15 month old caterpillars have about 20 miles left in them). In the afternoon I had a guided tour around the “royal mint”. Its the largest colonial building in Potosi, yes even bigger than the cathedral and was built in the 1700's replacing the original mint that had become to small. The 90 minute tour was fascinating but the biggest surprise was that the modern day currency of Bolivia is minted and printed in Europe as it is cheaper to do so???

The evening found me at the bar sitting on the stool nearest the heater drinking cold beer and “looking forward” to getting into bed. At least tomorrow afternoon I’ll be 500m or so lower, so it could be at least 1 degree warmer...time to get back into the shorts!

The road from Potosi to Uyuni is described in the lonely planet book as “scenic”, it is so much more than that! It took just under 5 hours to travel across various mountain ridges but eventually the high plain became visible as the little bus crested the final ridge. Far off in the distance were snow capped mountain peaks, in front of them was the wide expanse of the salt flats and at the place where mountains and plain met was the small town of Uyuni, seemingly placed at random.

Compared to Potosi this place was scorching hot and after getting a hostel room I did indeed change into my shorts. Uyuni is a small town of 20,000 people or so and perhaps back in the day it had a industrial/commercial reason for being here. These days it seems to be all about the tourist hoards that descend on this little town as the starting point for a 3 day 2 night tour of the nearby salt flats.

In the evening I had a little bimble around the mean streets of down town Uyuni, it didn't take long! I ended up in the “Extreme fun pub”...a bold statement of intent if ever I saw one!

The morning came around and after a lovely lie in I went for the usual. When breakfast was done I needed to book the “3 day tour” from one of the many many many tour companies. Most people would check out several different ones and talk to gringos who have just come back from doing a tour. Me, well I just walked into a tour company office that had a nice wooden door.

So, with the trip booked I had nothing to do...

The Tour

The 3 day/2 night tour takes in several lakes, more mountains than you thought you needed to see and of course the world famous “Salt flats of Uyuni”

It all started at 10:30 outside the tour company office on Saturday 10th of March and in typical Latin American fashion we didn't leave till at least an hour had gone past.

The “We” were Anna and Amy from London, Angelic and Paul from Paris (Paul was half English, the lucky man!) another French guy (whose name I could never remember....sorry dude!) and me. The seating arrangements in the 4x4 sorted themselves out easily. The girls in the back, the French in the middle and little old me up front next to the driver....I know, what a result!!!

The 1st Day

It was really only half a day but what a way to spend a Saturday afternoon. After checking out the Train cemetery which has several trains from the late 1800's rusting in peace (at least one of them was held up by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) we headed to the salt flats. It took about 45 minutes to drive to the edge of the salt flats. Normally the tour route goes straight across the 12000 square kilometres of flats but its the end of the rainy season now and as a result a large area is under water making it to dangerous to drive across.

At the edge Angelic, Paul and myself climbed onto the roof for amazing views (I’m not going to be describing the views I took lots of photographs instead!) The Jeep was heading to the salt hotel in the distance, it was hard to judge the how far away it was...

The Jeep traversed across the sparkling blindingly white salt crystals, the tyres crunching, then when we hit water a gentle sloshing sound. The sounds interchanged at irregular intervals till at last we reached the salt hotel. The “hotel” is built , yes, out of salt and in three directions was the only visible man made structure. Many photographs were taken......

Eventually it was time to leave and head to the small village of Villa Alto about 3 hours or so along the main dirt road (there is no tarmac in the area). Driving into the small courtyard/car park of the local hostel we discovered several other Jeeps, the place was going to be busy tonight. Whilst we were getting the bags off the top of the 4x4 three more turned up full of Israelis. This was not such good'll find out why later!

By 23:30 many empty red wine bottles littered our dining table (we had “bonded” as a group...go Team Wolf!!!) and I decided to call it a night. Ten minutes later the Israelis decided to have a impromptu 3 hour outdoor rave...Whoop!...Whoop!....You Bastards!!!!!!

Day Two

In the morning just before they left those wonderful Israelis thought it would be “fun” to block up the toilets so that other people couldn't use wouldn't catch the Palestinians doing that!

After breakfast we were on the road heading into big sky country. The day was spent visiting 4 lakes, each one a different colour due to the mineral contents of the water. We also went past many snow capped peaks.

The final lake was Lake Colorado, red in colour with hundreds of flamingos wading around. From there it was a short drive to the evening's accommodation (at 4300masl). Just before dinner it started to snow and it didn't stop for several hours. By 9pm the daily two hour limit of electricity was up and we all headed to bed in the dormitory. Everyone was putting on thermals and jumpers before climbing into sleeping bags and then getting into bed and under the covers. There I was standing in my boxers wondering why everyone was feeling cold!

Day Three

The next morning we left at 5am and I think out of the group I am the only real “morning person”. It was dark, misty and everything was under a blanket of snow. Cresting a ridge at 5000m we saw the geysers below us, superheated steam blasting out into the fridged air. In deference to the cold I was wearing my long pair of socks, however they were rolled down to my boots and I was still wearing my shorts!

Leaving the geysers behind we travelled down the road. 10 minutes later the Jeep stopped so that we could all enjoy one of the best sunrises I’ve ever seen!

From there we travelled to the Chilean border to drop off Anna, Amy and the French dude. As they walked to the checkpoint I thought to myself “you know for an old girl Amy does have a great arse”

Then it was several hours of driving back to Uyuni, there's something about blue skies and snow capped mountains that makes my heart sing!

I spent another two nights in Uyuni before getting on the Wednesday midday bus to Tupiza....well that was the plan. Unfortunately I was the only passenger, so it got cancelled. Instead I got the 20:30 bus arriving Tupiza at around 3am Thursday morning...what joy!

I hanged out in the pretty little town of Tupiza till Saturday morning. I didn't do much...well apart from sort out 3000 or so photographs. On the Saturday morning I got the bus to Villazon which is a town on the Bolivian/Argentinian border. I hanged out there for my final night in Bolivia and on Sunday morning I queued......

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Jesus, Monkeys, Mosquitoes and Che


I was glad to leave La Paz's weather behind but I was going to miss the chips in Oliver's Travels (the English pub).

The bus to Cochabamba took several hours and a hotel in the centre of town was a short 10 block walk from the bus station.

As it was Saturday night I hit the town but the sudden and heavy downpour dampened more than my clothes and I ended up having a reasonably early night.

The next day I met Jesus, well it's actually a statue of him on top of a hill on the edge of town. It's similar to the one in Rio but slightly bigger thus making it the largest statue in South America! There are a couple of ways to get to the top and I chose the cable car over the steps, which will come as no surprise to anyone. A return ticket costs 80p and it was worth the money...there were lots of steps.

Once at the top, for some reason the statue didn't seem as big as I thought it would be! However you can go inside and climb up several dodgy metal spiral staircases till you end up just below the head of Jesus. As with all large non habitable concrete structures there was the faint whiff of urine in the air but the views through the little peep holes more than made up for it.

The next day I decided to go on a day trip to the “colonial” village of Torata. I walked down past the biggest market in South America to where the minibuses were. Dammed if I could find one! So instead I went to the bus station to book a seat on the next morning's bus to Santa Cruz. It's a 10 hour journey and not one of the bus companies had a “fat boy seat”....sod that!!! Instead I went back to my hotel and did some research on what was along the road to Santa Cruz. Turns out it was a place called Villa Tunari.

On Wednesday morning I got a bus for the slow and uncomfortable 4 hour ride to Villa Tunari. The road snaked its way along and over the mountains before entering the lowlands of Bolivia. Getting off the bus at the side of the highway I lit a fag and let the beads of sweat form into droplets and slowly roll down my face.

Yep! It's hot and humid in the lowlands...

I scored a great little hostel on the main square and had a walk around the town. Ten minutes later I was back in the really is a small town.

In the afternoon I was having a coffee in a roadside shack when the heavens opened. For the 1st time in months the rain was warm!

The following morning I walked to the edge of town across the bridge to Inti Wara Yassi. Its a rescue centre for various animals caught up in the illegal exotic pet trade. You can volunteer here for 15 days or more but I just came for a visit.

Once you pay the entrance fee its a walk uphill through the jungle to the mirador (or viewpoint). Small groups of monkeys were swinging in the trees and following you along the route. At the viewpoint there are great views and monkeys to stroke (if you want fleas...)

The next day was Friday and after some confusion on my part I got the 9am shared taxi to Santa Cruz, five hours away. The window was open and my arm didn't have any sunblock on it...doh!!

Santa Cruz is a big city of 1.5 million people and being dropped off at a roundabout somewhere in the city made me stick my arm out and waggle my finger. One pound and 12 minutes later I was at the main square getting out of the taxi.

I got a hotel room half a block from the main square. It was more than I had wanted to pay but the bed was big and the cable tv had ESPN and Fox's the 1st weekend of the 6 nations, Chelsea are playing Man Utd and its the Super Bowl on Sunday.

In the evening I headed to the “Irish pub” on the main square. It turned out to be a huge disappointment (there should be a U.N mandate that states you can only call yourself an Irish pub if the guy behind the bar is in fact Irish, otherwise just call it a pub!) I walked out without even having a drink. Instead I walked around the corner to another bar, the beer was a third cheaper and the bottles twice as big!

The next day....the 6 nations were on! Well done England!!!!!

In the evening I left my hotel and headed to the main square only to find the road was lined with people. For the next three hours one dance group after another went past. It was the practise run for the main carnival in two weeks time. It's not just Rio that has them, every large city, small town and village holds one!

The next day was a Sunday and there's not much to do in a Latin American I went to the zoo.

Monday came along and the only thing I had to do was get a visa extension. A quick taxi ride to the immigration office was followed by an amazing experience. The visa extension took me FOUR MINUTES!!! I’m in shock over how quick it was!

On Tuesday I got a taxi to where another taxi was parked and then travelled to the small village of Samaipata three hours up the road (its about 1200m higher than Santa Cruz and therefore cooler).

Samaipata is a small beautiful village (with people from at least 24 countries living here) surrounded by lush green hills on the edge of the Amboro National Park. It also has caves, waterfalls and a very ancient fort nearby.

It's a great place to chill out in and that's what I did for three days in a row.

On Friday morning I got back onto 2 wheels. A Dutch guy living here has a couple of dirt bikes for rent, so that is what I did.

Now, I’ve never ridden a dirt bike before and the main reason why is because the seat height on most dirt bikes are based on having a 32 inch leg, mine are only 29 inches long. However once I was sitting astride the Chinese made 150cc beast my toes could touch the ground, so as long as I didn't stop next to a pothole I would be alright.

And then I was off...!!

I was heading to a place called La Higuera and it was only 170kms away. The 1st 120kms to the town of Valle Grande took about 3 hours along quite good tarmac roads, 1st along a valley and then up into the hills.

By the time I reached the main square I had gotten used to the bike (and its general lack of being able to take corners at speed...or it could have been my lack of talent) well apart from my arse! After a fag and a wiggle it was back on board the beast for the last 50kms, all of it along dirt roads. The night before in Samaipata it had pissed down turning the road outside the bar into a fast flowing river. So I was expecting the road to be a little muddy!

After several km's of flat dry road I turned a corner and headed uphill. As I climbed up and into the clouds the road got wetter and more muddy but the views were great. On the high point of the road the low clouds reduced the visibility down to less than 50m. The road was just ribbons of mud and water and my back wheel was moving around a lot, which was fun but not when the front wheel joined in as well.

Then it started to rain, heavily! There was no shelter so I got very wet from the waist down. My forward speed reduced down to about 10kph because I couldn’t see to well with the rain in my eyes, my hands were numb from the freezing cold weather and even though I thought the road conditions couldn’t get any worse they did!

Forty minutes later the rain stopped and I could see patches of blue sky around the corner...but I still had over 20kms to go!

At about 4pm I arrived in La Higuera with wet boots, damp jeans and a big smile on my face. The hamlet of La Higuera has about 15 to 20 houses nestled two thirds the way up a mountain ridge, overlooking the Rio Grande in the valley far below.

La Higuera is infamous because this small village is the place where Che Guevara was killed (or assassinated depending on your view point). In the village are a couple of statues and a small museum and that's about it!

I got a room at Los Amigo's run by a French couple (who are a little bit on the bohemian hippy side) so the food was great but of course they refused to speak English :)

The place was quiet.....with birdsong the only sound.

In the evening after great food and watching “the motorcycle diaries” I was in bed asleep by 9pm. A few hours later the 3rd weirdest thing in my life happened. I could write about it but you'd never believe me!

The next day I just wandered around...

On Sunday it was time to go. As it hadn't rained since I got here the road had dried out and the cars had compacted the mud in most places. Therefore along the flat sections I could hit 60kph but most of the time I was going around corners, admiring the views and stopping to take photographs.

I arrived back in Samaipata in the middle of the afternoon, dropped of the bike and had a long hot shower. In the evening I had several cold beers!

On Tuesday I was planning on taking the 12 hour night bus to Sucre. Then I found out that it was the carnival on the weekend (which I had completely forgotten about). Looking online it became obvious that a room would be very hard to get! So I decided to stay in Samaipata, getting a room here was proving difficult as well! I was in the bar ( chatting to David and Kirsty, the Aussie couple who own it (along with their gay dog Charlie) about my plight. One phone call later I had somewhere to stay.

Turns out a German bloke called Frank (who owns Roadrunners tour company) who I had shared a few beers with the night before had a little cabin at the bottom of his garden for rent. He was more than happy to rent it to someone that wasn't from Santa Cruz! So for 600 bolivianos I had a place to stay for a week. It had a kitchenette and a living room with a covered patio and 3 dogs who liked belly rubs!

On Saturday evening the carnival started!

...Right now it's Monday afternoon and the bands are still playing, people are still drinking and water balloons and spray foam are STILL filling the air but I think they call it quits on Wednesday!!!

...It's now Thursday 23rd and I was going to be leaving Samaipata this morning. however when it came to packing the bag last night I realised that I didn't want to leave just yet....but I will be definitely catching a bus on Sunday morning (maybe).

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Heading to a hole


The nearest town to the Peruvian/Bolivian border is Copacabana, which gave its name to the beach in Brazil. The beach here isn't a place you would want to sunbathe, saying that the tourist part of town isn't really much either.

However, the accommodation was cheap (Bolivia is one of the poorest/cheapest countries in South America depending on whether you live here or you are just a tourist) and the beer was cold.

I spent 3 days hanging out here not doing much at all. On Sunday I got a morning boat to the Island of the Sun. it's the largest island on Lake Titicaca and according to Inca mythology it is the birthplace of the 1st Incas.

The boat ride took about 90 minutes and dropped me off on the southern end of the island below the small village of Yunani. To reach the village involved walking up an Inca staircase followed by a steep path. Thankfully 50m above the jetty was a hostel...result! It only took me 5 minutes of walking to reach it but by the time I got there I was knackered! I am okay walking around at 3800masl so long as its flat, the minute I start walking uphill I slow down and quite often come to a complete stop!

I spent the rest of the day chilling out on a grass terrace reading a book, looking at clouds, distant snow capped mountains and listening to the waters of the lake lap against the shore.

When the sun went down I got cold. I even ended up wearing my beanie (1st time in south America) and both of my fleeces. By 10pm I was huddled up under the covers and the several blankets did the trick of keeping me warm and cosy throughout the night.

In the morning I enjoyed an average coffee but with excellent views!

At 10:30 I was on a boat heading to Challapampa on the northern point of the island. This little community is popular with skank heads because it has a small sandy beach for free camping and evening drum circles.

The reason I came here was to walk the 5 miles or so back to the hostel.

The trail is well maintained and easy to follow. It climbs out of the village and heads upwards onto the ridge line. The arid nature contrasts sharply with the deep blue water of the lake. Along the trail the views were....awesome!

The trail went up, over and down three peaks and highest one reaching nearly 4000masl. In a few places it was quite steep and the steps were taken slowly. Five hours and 2.5 litres of water later I reached the village of Yunami squatting indecently on top of the ridge (if I had walked up here yesterday looking for a hostel I would have been disappointed and more than likely crippled).

The village really isn't all that and I kind of feel sorry for the donkeys who have to haul everything up here, their lives must have been easier before the tourist arrived!

Crossing over the ridge and passing through the village I started my descent down to the jetty and my hostel. The walk down was quite enjoyable (which is the complete opposite if you are walking the other way) and when I got to the bottom the cold beer was just what I needed. The 2nd one was pretty good as well.

The next day I got the boat back to Copacabana. I spent another two nights here and on Thursday I got on a bus.

I was heading to the small village of Sorata and there are two ways to get there:

a) get off the bus at Huarina and hope one of the passing minibuses has a spare seat

b) go all the way to La Paz and get a minibus back to Sorata.

I chose option B

The bus from Copacabana to La Paz took about 4 hours and included the dodgy ferry crossing across the straits of Tiqunia. It was easy going till we reached El Alto, which is the overspill from La Paz, here be traffic!

Getting of the bus somewhere in La Paz I got a taxi to where all the minibus to Sorata congregate.

I only had a 15 minute wait till the 12:30 departure and I managed to call shotgun and got a seat upfront. It only took 3.5 hours to travel to Sorata and because I was in the front I got to see all of the “wonderful overtaking manoeuvres” attempted by the driver...and some were successful. The final part of the journey was a 20km descent down through the clouds and into a steep and rugged valley along twisty roads with large drops inches off the “racing line”.

Arriving in Sorata at around 4pm I got a room in the Panchita hostel, on the main square (it has the most comfortable bed I’ve slept in since...I don't know when) and had a little bimble around the village. The walk around the village was easy because at 2600masl I was 1200m lower than I was in the morning. In fact I haven't been below 3400m since I departed Moquegua at the start of December.

On Saturday morning after a long leisurely breakfast of champions I bimbled around the square and came across a sound stage being constructed. Looks like there's a party in Sorata tonight.

Monday morning came around and I was on the 11am minibus to La Paz, once again I had a seat upfront and as the weather was sunny with some blue sky great views were had as the bus climbed out of the valley and onto the plateau.

Once in La Paz I got a taxi to my hostel which is above the “English pub” (What! Surprised?) and chilled out. I had booked the room for 5 nights just I case I had a sunny day or two for day tripping. As it turned out it was 2 days to's overcast and drizzling!

Monday, 9 January 2012

Up, down and up again



After 35 nights in Cusco I left!

Now, there are plenty of things to do in and around Cusco

  • Machu Picchu

  • the sacred valley sites of Pisac and Ollantaytambo among others

  • Saqsaywaman

  • various museums and churches

Would you care to guess how many of these places I went to? That's right ZERO!!

I’ve already been to all of the above places before and my sightseeing batteries were drained. Instead, at night I barflyed at Norton Rat's Tavern (they had ashtrays on the bar) and during the day I lounged around or sat in of the squares watching people and clouds go by.

Life was easy and relaxing, just what I needed

On Christmas day I “skyped” with my always delightful family. Turns out I got a tax rebate from 5 years ago. The following week I spent it! It is a lovely woven wall hanging.

On Monday 9th of January I got on a bus to Puno and I was glad I got a big boy seat. The eight hour ride seemed at lot longer!!

Checking into my hotel I immediately arranged for a boat tour of lake Titicaca for the following day. In the morning the traffic woke me up 45 minutes before my alarm had to.....

Leaving the Port of Puno the boat headed out onto the waters of lake Titicaca. The sky was blue, the clouds white and fluffy and the sun was shinning (mind you at 3800masl it was UV intense).

The 1st stop was the famous “floating islands of the Uros people”. Around 70 floating islands made of reed roots are home to about 2000 people. It was interesting to see but it did feel slightly like a human zoo.

We spent about an hour there before heading out into the middle of the lake and the island of Taquila. It took about 2 hours to get there, which I spent sitting on the stern of the boat gazing out across the waters.

The island of Taquila rises steeply out of the water and every inch of land that can be terraced has been. It was a slow walk up the path towards the centre of the island, a locals home and an excellent trout lunch. They also laid on some entertainment in the form of traditional dancing (thankfully I wasn't asked to join in).

After lunch we walked uphill to the “town” square which had amazing views of the lake and the snow capped mountains on the distant Bolivian shore. Then it was a downhill walk to the other side of the island and the waiting boat. Back on board I had a wonderful 3 hour cruise back to Puno.

The next afternoon I went on a tour to Sillustani. Upon a hill overlooking Umago lake are several Inca and pre Inca funerary towers which once held the mummified remains of the posh people. The views across the landscape were epic!

On Thursday the 12th of January I caught the 07:30 bus for the 3 hour ride along the shore line of lake Titicaca to the Bolivian border and the town of Copacabana.