A Travellerspoint blog

Copacabana, Salar de Uyuni, Potosi and Sucre

Into Bolivia...

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Copacabana and Isla del Sol

We crossed the border into Bolivia and found our way to the slightly run down but nevertheless pleasant town of Copacabana, on the other side of Lake Titicaca. There's no mistaking the difference in wealth, Bolivia is a lot poorer, but touch wood doesn't feel unsafe at all.

Up to now, Anita had escaped any kind of real illness, but twice she tried trout, the local speciality, and twice she was rather ill. So much for once bitten, twice shy!

Nonetheless, we made it across on another boat to another quaint little island with some Inca ruins. There we decided that we should go and see the Salar de Uyuni if possible before Phil went home.


Salar de Uyuni

A bus and flight later (on yet another tiny plane) and we arrived for our tour of the salt flats. Before we got to see the Salar, our 4x4 tour stopped at the so-called train cemetery on the outskirts of town. This is where old 19th century trains come to die - one of the many examples one comes across of Bolivia's once grand industry.


We then went on to the Salar, which is simply awesome in its scale, barrenness and strangeness. Our 4x4 tour took us across the blinding flats to a volcano, underneath which flamingoes strolled about. The following morning we went up the volcano to a cave full of dead mummies all curled up in the foetal position because apparently they believed in life after death. That was nice!


Then, after playing with perspective shots on the camera we headed back across the flats to the absolute dump of a town that is Uyuni. Here, we bid our farewell to Phil and Anita cried. Not because she was going to miss Phil, but because he was going home to a nice cup of tea and a curry and we were being left behind in the most ghastly town we had seen in our travels (something had to trump Broome eventually).



The next morning, we headed off to Potosi, apparently the highest town in the world at 4100m. First The bus took us through Uyuni's open air rubbish dump and then upwards into the Andes altiplano, which is incredibly stark. A few hours later we arrived in Potosi, formerly the richest town in South America.

There is a huge mountain behind the town. Once upon a time a local shepherd kid lit a fire on the mountain and noticed melting silver streaming from it. Then the Spanish rocked up, made a fortune supplying silver all over the world and built some very fine houses which are now rather nice hotels! Not fancying the rather dangerous mine tour, We went to the museum, saw some big machines and learned that an American treasure hunting company had found a sunken ship full of Potosi silver a few years back and of the several hundred million US$ haul, sent but one silver coin back to Potosi for its museum.



Now we find ourselves in Sucre, a very nice colonial town full of white washed buildings and with a pretty good French restaurant (one can only eat so many slabs of steak with rice and chips - see below for what Bolivian Silpancho looks like; occasionally one needs a nice sauce as well). We're just relaxing here ahead of our flight across to Brazil.


Posted by jamesandanita 14:25 Archived in Bolivia Comments (1)

Hiking, Incas, and a big lake

Peru part 2

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Right then, time for another blog post. We're a little behind with our blogging, so this one will just cover the remainder of Peru (though we're actually well into Bolivia now). When we last left you we were on a long overnight bus to Arequipa...

Arequipa and Colca Canyon

We arrived at our hotel in Arequipa, with it's towering view of Misti - the nearby snow-capped volcano rising up to over 6000m. We then took a stroll around the historical centre of town (based around Plaza de Armas, like all Peruvian cities). The centre itself was very beautiful, in particular the rather imposing cathedral on the main square, and the monastery in the centre of town, which we did a guided visit of. James sipped his first pisco sour of the trip (a rather nice drink as it happens).


No rest for the wicked though, as we were heading off far too early the next day (3am pickup!) to go hiking in the Colca Canyon. We had a two day hike planned, descending into the gorge on day 1, then ascending (1200m vertical) the next day.

On the first day we stopped at the Mirador del condor, and were fortunate enough to see two condors circling incredibly close to us. They're apparently the second largest bird in the world (after the southern albatross) and are really impressive to see close up - even a little daunting when they're circling 10m above you.


Then we proceeded with the 'warm up' hike, intended to acclimatize us and prepare us for Cusco. We'd thought that it looked a bit easy to do over 3 days so managed to find a guide willing to take us on the same hike over 2 days instead, 7-8 hours on day 1 and 3-4 hours on day 2. Well, day 1 began with 3 hours of vertical descent during which Phil's newly resoled boots disintegrated within about an hour leaving him walking on his insoles. Ouch. We then hiked through the valley for a few hours of 'Peruvian flat' as our guide called it. Phil sadly didn't have a sunhat either so was forced to wear Anita's mercifully clean pyjama shorts on his head over the two days to prevent sun stroke.

By the end of the day one we were all fairly knackered, noses bleeding with dust, barely able to breathe with the altitude and shattered with all the usual aches and pains of a long hike. Phil, really not Mr Lucky on this one, also suffered very badly with altitude sickness and was barely able to eat or drink. Nonetheless, we made it to the bottom of the valley and were rewarded with an alpaca blanket covered bed and a swim in a warm pool fed by a waterfall. The next morning, up at four, we began the second 'lighter' day, 1200m up from about 2200 to 3400m in three hours. Not going to lie, it hurt. Not so much in the legs, but rather in the dust coated lungs gasping for what little fresh air there was around. Phil was particularly suffering having eaten almost nothing in two days. Accordingly, when a savvy Peruvian went past offering a ride on a mule for 50 soles, Phil jumped on it and we watched him go galloping up into the sunrise with pyjamas pants on his head. If it didn't hurt so much we'd have laughed. We slowly but surely made it to the top, and then headed back to Arequipa with a first rewarding stop at a hot spring on the way and an unbelievably cruel second stop at 5,000m to completely finish off our ability to walk or even breathe (except James who was completely unaffected by the altitude but later succumbed to something worse...)



After Arequipa it was another long overnight bus and on to Cusco, the capital city of the old Inca empire. The centre was very lovely, with loads of striking colonial architecture - primarily churches and cathedrals - surrounded by remnants of Inca and pre-Inca structures. Still recovering from our Colca Canyon experience, we decided to rejig our plans to give us some well-earned rest in Cusco for a day or two.


We (minus Phil) started off with a relaxing horse ride in the hills around Cusco, taking in the ruins of Sacsayhuaman as we went. A very impressive ruin in itself, though nothing compared to what we would see later.

Next up was the main event, Machu Picchu. We decided to cheat and go the train route rather than do the 4-day hike along the Inca trail. On the plus side that gave us time to do a tour of the sacred valley. Sadly James managed to get food poisoning the day before and therefore had to skip out on the tour and join up with Phil at Machu Picchu. He's not the blogging type though, so sadly we'll never know what that was like...

Machu Picchu

We spent the night in nearby Aguas Calientes before heading up to Machu Picchu in the morning. Despite having seen a million and one, postcard photos of it previously, it still really does take the breath away (literally as well as figuratively thanks to the altitude). Despite the hordes of tourists, it was still a mightily impressive place, but rather than blabbering on about it, here are some photos...


Puno and Lake Titicaca

After another day in Cusco to unwind, it was onwards and upwards to Puno which is on the shore of lake Titicaca (still on the Peruvian side). At over 3800m it's apparently the highest large lake in the world (presumably for some definition of 'large') and doing anything there is pretty exhausting - even walking up the smallest of hills can be a pretty breathless affair; especially the walk up the hill to the hotel after a beer (which is all it takes). Despite some dire warnings about Puno from a few fellow travellers we met along the way, it was a reasonable enough place to spend the night with some decent restaurants. As chance would have it we even stumbled upon one of the annual festivals, which meant the locals were dancing in the streets on the Plaza de Armas in traditional costumes. We spent an afternoon doing our best to acclimatise to the altitude, and then set out for a two day tour of some of the islands on the lake.


First up was a stop on the floating islands of Uros. These are man-made islands made of many layers of reeds attached to the bottom of the lake. There are several dozen of these, each occupied by a few families who make their living there primarily from fishing and tourism. A pretty odd place, and very much on the beaten tourist track, but interesting to see all the same.


After that was the best bit of our lake Titicaca experience - we went to Amantani island for a home stay with a local family. After a 3 hour crossing on what must have been the slowest boat on the entire lake, we were greeted by our host and taken up the hill to their home. There wasn't a huge amount of conversation due to my still improving Spanish, but they were very welcoming and we got some of the local specialities for lunch and dinner (quinoa soup, and kingfish). We even got to go to a local dance in the evening, which involved us all getting dressed up in traditional Peruvian clothes and massacring their local dances (see below for the evidence)!


After Puno it was across the border into Bolivia, but more on that next time...

Quiz of the week

Well, no entries from afar on last week's quiz of the week, however Phil managed to get it immediately on seeing the photo. It was in fact a fish trap; from a river in Huahine. Which brings us to this week's brain-teaser - what's this.


Posted by jamesandanita 18:53 Archived in Peru Comments (2)

Hola from Peru

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When we last wrote, we were sitting by a beautiful picturesque beach in French Polynesia - Huahine to be precise. It's been a while since then, and we've made it a pretty long way, so here goes...


We stayed in Huahine for a couple of days. It's an island which is fairly off the beaten track in terms of tourism - certainly compared to Bora Bora. We stayed in a lovely family-run pension with some pretty quirky bungalows with crushed coral floors (very pretty, but quite sharp underfoot when you get out of bed in the morning!).

We had a pretty lazy time there generally, but took in the sights by car - the highlights being a river with sacred blue-eyed eels, more Marae, and generally very pretty views over the mountains and lagoons.

We also got talking to some of the locals, who were telling us about the annual pirogue (outrigger canoe) race. It includes a 30 mile ocean stretch between Huahine and Raiatea - a small 6 man rowing boat in seas that have several metres of swell; impressive stuff!



After recovering in Huahine off we went to the island of Moorea, just next to Tahiti. We were again staying in a lovely bungalow by the sea, between the two main bays on the north side of the island. We got some good (if somewhat tiring) kayaking in, including another futile whale search after we got reports that there had recently been some in the bay - sadly the curse of the missing whale struck again.

We even managed to catch a traditional Polynesian dance show, which was pretty impressive. Especially the fire spectacle bit. There was even some audience participation featuring both of us - sadly though the internet here isn't up to uploading videos; what a shame eh?


After Moorea we spent a couple more days relaxing in luxury in Tahiti to unwind before heading back. Anita and Catherine both managed to get some last-minute shopping in, so left Polynesia happy.

Arrival in Peru

Sadly it was finally time to leave the beautiful islands of the Pacific. We said our farewells to Catherine at the airport, and headed over to LA where we spent a night between flights - nothing exciting to report there.

Then over to the flight down to Lima (in case you're wondering why we flew all the way up to LA just to fly back down to South America, so are we!). We weren't alone for very long, as we met up with Phil (a mutual friend from university) in Lima - he's joining us for the next 3 weeks as we wind our way through Peru. We stayed the night in Lima, but didn't really get a chance to venture out and about to see much (though by all accounts there's not a huge amount to see there anyway).

Nazca lines

Our next stop was the town of Nazca, famous for the Nazca lines - a series of very large carvings (up to several hundred metres in size) which the Nazca civilization made in the desert. To get there, we got on our first (of many) South American long-haul bus journeys. It was an 8 hour trip, though the buses are brilliantly kitted out - films the whole way, very reclining seats, hot meals included, and even wifi internet on the bus!

After our long bus ride and a good night's sleep, we were ready to see the lines, which we did from the air. We all got in a little 6 seater Cessna (after they'd found a small woman to fly with us and get us under the weight limit after Phil and James had weighed in). The flight itself was a little bumpy (Anita not looking happy), but was a great experience both for the lines themselves and for the vista over the surrounding desert and mountains.

As I'm writing this we're on another bus taking us to Arequipa - 10 hours and overnight this time. Hasta la vista!


Riddle of the week

Finally, it's been a while since we last had riddle of the week - our sincerest apologies. Without further ado then, here goes - same format as before: what's this a photo of? Answers below (click on the "comment" link)...


Posted by jamesandanita 19:45 Archived in Peru Tagged peru nazca moorea huahine Comments (1)

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