Thursday, 25 October 2007

La Paz

We got a bus from Copacabana across to La Paz. A great journey through pretty wild and desolate countryside which if I wasn´t having a bit of a camera tizzy, I could illustrate with piccy's and video.
La Paz itself has an amazing location. It´s down in the crater of an extinct ( we hope ) volcano. The bus approaches the rim through the suburbs, then suddenly you drop down into the crater to reach the city centre itself. Pretty awesome. Have a look at the photo ( I nicked it from the web - not one of mine ).
We spent yesterday sorting out the next 3 weeks of Bolivian action ( off to the jungle and pampas to interfere with monkeys, parrots, cayman and perhaps to wrestle with anacondas, then we're off to cycle down ´Death Road´ ( not Athena, ´cos she has a brain ) and then finally we'll head to the Chilean border via the Salar de Uyuni ) which was a bit of drag, but now we´re free to explore the city.
Much to our surprise, we actually quite like La Paz. Yes, it´s scruffy, chaotic and the wiring is nothing short of shocking ( ho ho ho ! ), but it has a nice buzz ( ha ! ) to it. It´s also cheap which is always nice.
I ( Alan ) tried the local dish for tea last night, Pique Machu, and very nice it was too. It´s a spicy mix of beef, tatties, peppers, onions, tomatoes and eggs. Mmmm - beats guinea pig.

And finally, after unkinking the Bolivian internet cable, here´s a video vista over the city.

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Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Copacabana - Isla del Sol


We got a bus from Puno ( Peru ) across the border into Bolivia, and then continued to a small town called Copacabana. It has a lovely location on the banks of Lake Titicaca. It feels like we're on a Greek Island - bright sun, blue skies and turquoise water. Unfortunately, we're still at about 3800m above sea level, hence it's a bit nippy. The lake water is at about 9C. Brrrrr.

Just along the coast is the Isla del Sol. A small island that was the religious centre of the Inca civilisation. To be honest, the Inca remains on the island were a bit ropey, but we enjoyed a spectacular walk across the spine of the island back to the port for the boat ride back to Copacabana. From the top of the island, we could see both the Bolivian and Peruvian banks of the lake, and in the distance, there was a huge snowy mountain range. Hopefully tomorrow, we'll pass this range on the bus to La Paz.


Here's video of sunset across the lake from the top of the local hill....


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Floating Islands of Uros

Just off the coast of Puno, in the shallows of Lake Titicaca, are the floating islands of Uros. They're made from tightly bound reeds and support entire communities.
Apparantly it all started about 600 years ago when the local Aymara people got a bit cheesed off with being regularly beaten up by the Quechua ( Incas ). Instead of sitting down and inventing gun-powder or suchlike, they decided to run off and hide in the lake instead. Seems a bit wet ( ha ! ), but 600 years later, they're still here...

Inca Cola

The Peruvian equivalent to Coca Cola, is the cunningly named, Inca Cola. It's bright yellow, tastes like bubble gum and has so much sugar in it, that it makes your teeth ache. Anyway, I thought it was important that you could see what Becky's Californian Smile looks like through a glass of the aforementioned beverage.




Thursday, 18 October 2007

Arequipa

We got a fancy bus for the 6 hour trip from Puno to Arequipa. Very nice.



The intention was to spend 1 day in Arequipa itself and then another in Colca Canyon ( double the depth of the Grand Canyon apparently ). This is where a little more research would have benefitted us. Colca was a further 6 hours bus travel away, so regrettably, we decided to ditch that idea and spend an additional lazy day in Arequiba.



Arequiba itself has a lovely setting. The photo shows us perched on a Nunnery with one of the 3 surrounding volcanos in the background. The city has a fantastic town square surrounded on 3 sides by colonial arches, and on the 4th, by a large cathedral made of white volcanic stone. There´s lots of other grand old buildings lurking around, but to be honest, the real highlight was a tour of a Inca museum that housed the mummified remains of a 500 year old human sacrifice that was discovered about 10 years ago on a local mountain top. Very spooky, but very interesting.



Dog and I were feeling a little silly during our tour of the Nunnery thing, so decided to treat you to a cheeky little nun-joke. Unfortunately, I don´t know how to rotate video clips, so you´ll have to lean to the right to fully appreciate the glory of our production.


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Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Train from Cusco to Puno

Blimey, Peru is big ! We got the train from Cusco to Puno. Didn´t look far on the map, but it took us over 10 hours. The train was pretty slow, especially as it climbed up through a 4000m high pass, before descending down to the anti-plano that Lake Titicaca sits on. We're getting the bus to Peru's second city, Arequipa, pretty much straight away, but we'll return to Titticaka later on. Just thought I'd try and give an idea of the size of the place with this short video clip. Imagine this scenery for hour after hour, after hour, after hour. And some folk ( mainly the indigenous Quechua ) live out here. Hardy fellas those Quechuas .. . . .
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Inca Trail to Machu Picchu - Day 3 and 4

Day 3 started early ( before dawn ) to make the best of the daylight. If we were hoping for an easy day after yesterday´s exertions, we were not going to be in luck. First was another climb up to Runkurakay Pass ( 3800m ). This was renamed Alan´s Pant´s Pass by a scheming Carl who had managed to swipe the large pair of trollies I had been drying on the outside of my pack. Sands of Iwo Jima anyone ?


After the climb up to the pass, the rest of the day was relatively gentle. Up and down all the time, but through wonderfull cloud forest scenery. Jube was fantastic at spotting and explaining about the flora and fauna we passed on the way. Hummingbirds are as common as Sparrows in Oxford up here.
The final campsite was at Winay Wayna ( 2700m ). Before tea ( again awesome food considering we were perched on a mountainside - I was thinking of erecting a small shrine to the cook ) we were treated to a lovely display of swinging genitalia by some naked Germans. A great appetizer . .

Day 4 started well before dawn to give us oppotunity to reach the Sun Gate ( first view of Machu Picchu ) shortly after dawn. Although it wasn´t very far, again the trail was very much up and down, so we were all bit knackered again by the time we got there. Awesome view though. It´s hard to describe the setting of the place, it really is perched on top of a mountain saddle, surrounded by high peaks. No wonder it was ´lost´ for 500 years. Hopefully the video clip will help out a bit.

From the Sun Gate it was a short drop down to the start of the city proper. Here´s me in my lovely T-shirt again. Note the peaks in the distance.


We spent the rest of the morning touring the city itself with Jube providing excellent commentary throughout. I´ll not witter on about the city itself. If you want to know more, type in Machu Picchu into google or something. Suffice to say, it´s a truly world class site.

After a pizza and beer stop at the bottom on the mountain ( whilst watching England beat the French in the semi-final of the Rugby World Cup ), we caught the train back to Cusco for a massive kip....

Here´s a crap video clip. Hopefully it´ll give you a bit of an idea of the spectacular setting of Machu Picchu and hence why it is such a draw for folk from all around the globe.

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Inca Trail to Machu Picchu - Day 1 and 2

The Inca Trail is one of the major tourist draws to Cusco and Peru. It´s a 45km trail that follows an ancient Inca route to the famous city of Machu Picchu. It takes 4 days so I´ve split the blog up a little for easy armchair reading.

Day 1, was pretty easy. A minibus drove us a couple of hours from Cusco for our last sniff of civilisation ( ish ) when we stopped for breakfast in Ollantaytambo. After that is was a short ride down into the valley of the Urubamba river. We got our boots on, lifted up our packs and then spent a very pleasant few hours trotting the 12km to the first campsite. Most of the journey was along the river ( hence easy gradient ), but the last couple of k´s up to the campsite gave us a indication of the what faced us for day 2. The campsite was in a place called Wayllabamba which was at 3000m above sea-level. Breathing whilst exercising was noticably difficult !

Anyway, the cook for our group whipped up an amazing feast using a primus stop and 14 Gringos went to sleep happy... I also seemed to gain a reputation for eating alot....Gits.

Day 2. Eeek ! Day 2 is generally considered to be the most difficult day of the entire trip. Becky and Athena wisely hired porters to carry their packs, whilst Dog and I decided to continue fully loaded and hence to save a few pennies. Jerks.

We started from the campsite ( 3000m ) and basically spent all morning crawling up to Warmiwanusca Pass ( Dead Woman´s Pass - 4200 m ). The final few hundred metres were really hard work for all - breathing became more and more difficult, to the point where a short stop would become necessary every 20 steps for so. Eventually, all 14 Gringos made it up, and here´s a photo to prove it. From the left to the right, we have - Jube and Percy ( Qhechu guides ), Vicky ( Manchester ), Kathy ( Guernsey ), Jean ( Manchester ), Jo ( Perth Oz ), Athena, Mona ( London ), Micheal ( Perth Oz ), Paul ( Guernsey ), Becky, Dog, Lynne ( Guernsey ), Carl ( Gold Coast Oz ), Duncan ( Guernsey ) and me. Please don´t rip the mickey about the T-shirt. I´m very sensitive...

After the climb up, we still had to drop back down to the campsite at Pacamay ( 3600m ). All in all, it was a very up hill and down dale day to say the least. Everybody was pretty knackered and indulged in a well earned afternoon kip, only to be woken by another amazing feast prepared by our wonderfull cook ( aptly named Jesus ! )

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Inca Knees-Up in San Salvador

We were invited by one of the ladies that runs the hostel that we were staying in in Cusco, to go along to a traditional Inca Festival in a village called San Salvadore. We really didn´t know what to expect and boy, were we in for a treat !

The village was about 1 hours minibus ride away, and was perched on the side of deep valley. I reckon it´s normally population would have been about 100 people, but there must have been about 2000 folk hanging from every vantage point. The festival lasts for 4 days and is basically an Inca food and dancing competion. Here´s the view from the hillside down to the main arena.



The dancers were fantastic. I think each local village supplied a troup and they attempted to out-do each other with crazy costumes and a variety of music and moves. Some would mount raids into the crowd for small children which they would deposit in a heap, others would twirl around, others would try to whip each others feet, but our 2nd favourites were the Gringos who´d run around swaggering and drinking beer, spraying the crowd etc. Out ultimate favourites were the dudes who dressed up as llamas ( with balaclavas ) who basially took to beating the hell out of each other for the crowd`s entertainment. Have a look at the video clip below !


At lunch time we were invited by a local Mayor ( ! ) to sit down and have some food and booze. We were very generously given a huge plate of food and a glass of chicha. Chicha is the local firewater, made by folk sitting around chewing corn and spitting the result into a bucket - we only found out about this bit later on ... . The food was even more bizzare. On each plate was some corn, chicken, river weed, fish-eggs, guinea pig, tortilla, dubious sausage, a chunk of llama and a chilly pepper hotter than the surface of the sun ! The photo shows me munching on a guinea pig leg. Mmmmmm.



Here´s a short video of folk dressed as llamas, knocking several shades of sh*te out of each other.....




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Monday, 8 October 2007

Cusco

Cusco is the ancient capital of the Inca empire. Modern day Cusco is in Peru and is a massive tourist town. People are drawn to see the Inca ruins and also to walk the famous Inca Trail up to Machu Pichu ( more of that in a week or so ). The town is at 3400m above see level, so it takes a few days to get your breath back after climbing any hills.....


We´ve had great few days here. We visited most of the town centre sights and a fantastic set of ruins called Sacsayhuaman ( that the Inca language - Quechua, but most people simply remember it as Sexy Woman ). Sacsayhuaman used to be the huge Inca fort looking down on Cusco. The most impressive feature has to be the size and fit of the masonary ! The stones they used are absolutely massive ( see picture of Athena for scale ). They´re all a little bit irregular so have been fitted together on an indvidual basis. They didn´t use mortar to hide any gaps between the stone, because they were such skilled masons that they didn´t need to to. You can´t get a fag paper between adjacent stones.

There are lots of other old Inca walls that have been incorporated into the fabric of modern Cusco. This photo shows off the typical style where they´d built the walls with a significant top to bottom taper. Again the fit between adjacent stones is near perfect.
There are loads of other nice things to see ( loads of colonial churches and a fantastic market with chicken´s feet and live frogs etc etc ), but to be honest, it´s the Inca stuff that makes the places special.
We also bumped into a selection of mates. Zoe Checkley ( collegue of Alan`s from Honda ) was here with her friend Lynn. By bizarre coincidence they`re going to be crawling up the Inca Trail over the same 4 days that we will be. We also met up with Steve ( AKA The Dog ) and Becky who we`ll be travelling around with for the remainder of our time in South America. Becky speaks excellent Spanish, so is to be treasured !



Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Want to buy a Ferret ?


Unfortunately, a reference to our Spanish dictionary revealed the sad truth that this shop was in fact an ironmongers. Bah ! Damn you pesky Spanish speakers.

Mendoza

We´ve been in Mendoza for the last 5 days or so. Mendoza is a couple of hours flying time west of Buenos Aires, just before the foothills of the Andes begin to rise. It turned out to be a cracking town. Apparantly it was levelled by an earthquake in something like 1840, and was rebuilt with nice wide, tree lined, avenues and large squares, so it has nice spacious feel to it, especially after the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires. It also has lots of things to do...

We went on a wine tour. We visited an old family run winery and by way of contrast, a very large, modern factory style winery. Both were very interesting, but we´d have to admit that we prefered the samples from the factory !

We took a minibus right up into the High Andes. We got about 30km away from the Chilean border and saw some absolutely spectacular scenery. We hiked up a small valley to get a view of Aconcagua. At just under 7000m, it´s the highest peak outside of the Himalayas. We had a perfect day for it. Have a look of the photo of Athena for proof, and if you want to know a bit more about it, the video below features me waffling on......


We spent the next day river rafting, hiking and abseiling. The rivers are relatively quite at the moment. They´re fuelled pretty much only by melt water, rather than rain and that doesn´t arrive until late spring. Either way, the trip down the river was great fun with loads of rapids to prat about in. Only one person fell out, despite our best efforts. Next up was a 1 1/2 hour hike around the local peaks ( see second bit of video ). The scenery reminded me alot of Nevada - very dry and scrubby with bizarre rock formations sprinkled liberally around, but it has the added bonus of the peaks of the High Andes for a backdrop. To finish off the day we abseilled back down to the road level. Great fun, once you´ve got the first 5m or so under your belt.

Anoncagua video ( turn sound on to enjoy hearing me waffle ) ...
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Hiking video...

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