● For full details on our route, transport info, hotel details, etc, look at our Google Maps page

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Motorbike to Machu Picchu

25th - 27th June 2008

The ancient citadel of Machu Picchu straddles the saddle of a 2380m high mountain with steep terraced slopes falling away to the fast moving Urubamba river below. Towering overhead is Huayna Picchu, and green jungle peaks provide the backdrop to the whole majestic scene.

Most visitors arrive by train to Machu Picchu from Cusco, others hike there along the Inka Trail over the course of 3 days. We decide that neither was for us, and took up the challenge of getting to MP by Motorbike!

This is no easy task, as there are no roads to the nearest town of Aguas Calientes - it is only accessible by train. Julio, the owner of a motorcycle hire place in Cusco explained to us how we could get there by bike. The ride would be about 220km each way, with 70 kms of this on dirt road, and a 4300m mountain pass to contend with. Unphased, we hired a bike for 3 days and planned to leave for Machu Piccu on Wednesday morning.

The Ride
After picking up the bike and filling up with fuel we were on our way. Nothing could have prepared us for what lay ahead over the next 6 hours as we headed into the mountains in search of the Inkan ruins...

The route is detailed on a separate page here for anyone interested in doing to ride themselves, along with maps and instructions.

Julio advised us not to stop and take photos on the way there, as we had to get to the Hidroelectric power station by 4pm in order to make the only train that would take us the last 8 miles to Aguas Calientes.

The first couple of hours were on open road, great on a motorbike, with very little traffic and no speed cameras to worry about! After reaching Ollantaytambo, the climb up the La Malaga Pass begins and the fun really started. It is difficult to describe the road in words, the Google map on this page paints the best picture. 45 hairpin bends on the way up to the summit and lots of long open stretches of new tarmac with no traffic to contend with made this riding heaven! Only the last 15 minutes of the climb did the cold temperatures caused by the altitude make it a bit harder going. The scenery along the road is breathtaking, we were lucky to have a clear day and we could see several glaciars and numerous other peaks.

We paused at the summit for 5 minutes, then headed down the other side of the pass. More hairpin bends and smooth tarmac before we reached the first of several streams across the road! The first one took us by surprise, and Ady's jeans took a soaking! 45 minutes further and we came to a small row of shops and houses. I noticed that the asphalt road surface came to an end here, so we took a break and had a drink. By the side of the road, we noticed two familiar faces... two english girls who we had been bumping into everywhere since Rio! They were doing a 3 day trek to get to Machu Picchu, and this was the mountain bike leg. We set off before them to avoid a pile up and took on the first dirt section of the road. 40kms later, and we arrived at Santa Maria, where we filled the bike back up with fuel.

The next section of the dirt road, was off the main road, and towards the town of Santa Teresa. We had been warned by Julio that there we three alternative routes, all of which with had their issues. We took the shortest, most dangerous route as it was the only one we could find! A section of this was cut into the cliff and dropped off to a river in a canyon far below. The picure here shows the section, there are more pics on Picasa!

30 extreme nail biting minutes later, around more tight, skiddy hairpin bends cut into the mountain (we were lucky the road was so quiet!), we saw the town of Santa Teresa ahead. As we drove down the street looking for the hostel where we had to leave the bike, we were spotted by the hostel owner and beckoned in. We had to hurry as there wasn't much time before the train left and the station was still a 30 minute drive away. Bike parked up, we were bundled into a collectivio (shared taxi) and Ady had the luxury of sitting in the boot! A hairy drive to Hidroelectrica, onto a train and before we knew it we were on the last leg of our journey to Aguas Calientes.

Aguas Calientes
We stayed the night in Aguas in order to be able to take the first bus up to Machu Picchu the follwing day. This is a manufactured town soley to service the needs of people visiting MP, therefore everything is very expensive! This includes water, and as Ady was unable to bring himself to pay almost double the normal price in a shop! We hiked into the part of the town wher the locals live, in search of a cheap eat and some normal priced water! After several goes, we managed to buy some cheap water... another victory. We ate chicken and chips in a local restaurant too and paid half as much as in the main part of town!

Machu Picchu
A 5.30am start was needed to get the best views of MP in the morning as the sun rose. We took the shuttle bus ($7 US! tourist price!) up to the site and got through the gates at 6am.
We headed straight for Huayna Picchu, to join the queue to climb to the summit. Sam was feeling the effects of not much sleep and something approaching bronchitus, and almost didn't do the climb. Ady convinced her to give it a go, and before long we were hiking up the 200m high peak!

The view from the top made the hike worthwhile as you can see from the pictures here. At the top, we bumped into Julian, who was also riding a motorbike from Cusco. After resting at the top, we headed back down with Julian and on the way back we climbed the smaller peak of Huchuypiccu.

We were glad that we had made the climb and not just looked round the main part of the site. It made the day far more memorable. The number of tourists at the main site by the time we got down from the climb made the whole place seem a bit like a fairground attraction. We had a brief look around some of the main sights, but then decided to head back down to the bottom of the valley to get the train back to Hidroelectrica.

Faced with either a $7 bus ride or a 1 hour walk downhill, we opted for the walk. We also had a plan to get the train from a kind of mini station instead of walking all the way back to Aguas. Ady was walking ahead when he heard a crash and a scream. Sam had slipped on a step and fallen over. Her ankle was badly twisted...

We decided that down would be easier than up, so Sam hobbled down the steep steps. We had the deadline of the only train of the day passing the station at 12:35, and it was now 11:45! It was a close call, but we made it to the station in time for the train, and luckily for us it did stop!

Santa Teresa

The hot springs near Santa Teresa are like no hot springs we have ever seen before. They are huge, and reminded us of the swimming pool complex of a 5 star hotel, without the hotel. Open 24 hours, we returned after dark for some relaxation! After shrivelling up like prunes in the water, we returned to our luxury hotel and went out for dinner. Actually we had Pizza from a wood fired oven that was lit especially for us, and it was more of a hostel, but never mind!

In the morning, we met up with Julian and set off back to Cusco. We were able to stop and take some pictures of the journey back, but luck wasn't with us as the clear weather that we had on the way out wasn't there... temperatures plummeted below freezing and the cloud obscured the views of the glaciers. As such the photos don't show the full picture.

Sam and Julian were both feeling the effects of a stomach bug during the course of the day and didn't really enjoy the journey. Ady however loved every minute. Back in Cusco, we had a sense of achievement having made it to MP without using the train and witnessing some amazing roads on the way!

Saturday, 28 June 2008


21st - 28th June 2008

After the white knuckle bus ride with Expreso Power, we arrived in Cuzco, by far the most touristy place we had been to so far.
The ancient Inca capital is said to have been founded around AD1100, and since then has developed into a major commercial and tourism centre of 275,000 inhabitants. Almost every central street has remains of Inca walls, arches and doorways; the perfect Inca stonework now serves as the foundation for more modern dwellings.

After finding a place to stay, we set out to explore and eat. At the tourist information office, we first bumped into Gustavo and Annie who had been in the Jungle with us. They had just managed to get the tourist office to divuge the secret cheap way to get to Machu Picchu! We turned round as someone came through the door, and to our surprise it was Steph who we had met in Sucre, Bolivia!!!

We arranged to meet up later on in the day and spent the next couple of days both exploring Cuzco and working out how we were going to get to Machu Picchu. The Into Raymi festival was also happening this week, so the city was particulary busy! The train to Machu Picchu had also sold out for the follwing few days... what were we to do...?!

Food was a highlight in Cusco, especially a small kebab shop that also sold falafal wraps... I think we ate there 3 times, but it might have been more... It's a must visit place if you are in Cusco, shame we can't remember what it's called!!! It's shown on our google map, the location is there but the name missing! There were several other cool bars, recommended especially is Indigo for it's Pisco Sours and Jenga!

Inti Raymi, or the festival of the Winter Solstice is enacted at the Incan ruins above Cusco, at a place called Sacsayhuman (pronounced Sexy Woman!!!). On Tuesday afternoon, we hiked up the hill along with thousands of other people to catch a glimpse of what was going on. Unfortunalty, the american dollar had yet again proved too tempting for the Peruvian authorities, and the whole thing had been turned into a stage show for the rich tourists.

Instead of being able to stand on the ruins and watch the ceremony, the local people along with us were shepherded to a field far away from the action. Several hundred rich tourists had paid $90 US to get grandstand seats for the show. In previous years, this had been a festival for the people of Cusco, but greed had got the better of the powers that be, and the locals were no longer able to see or hear anything.

To our amusement, after 30 minutes of not being able to see or hear the action, a few brave people tried to break through the police lines that were holding the mass croud back. They were soon caught and returned, but this had got the crowd excited and soon chants of 'Vamos, Vamos' drowned out any of the real show. Without warning, the crowd surged and broke through the police cordon, thousands of people flooded onto the ruins and were able to see what was going on! Another victory for the people! You can see more pictures of the enactment here.

The following day we set off for Machu Picchu. You can read more about that mini adventure here. Needless to say, we didn't quite take the traditional route to get there!

On returning to Cuzco, we spent one more night to recover from the adventure (and the endless flu) before taking the night bus onwards to Arequipa.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Puno - Into Peru

19th - 21st June

Another night spent coughing and spluttering and we set off on the 9am bus for Puno, a short way across the border into Peru. Having sought the advice of Sheiba and Jose and their fluent Spanish, we decided against the cheaper method of taxi and two combi´s in favor of the cushy tourist bus. I think we were both slightly alarmed by the stories of others we´d met being held at gun point by border guards and robbed of everything they owned. Despite having stuffed surplus wads of cash and credit cards under inner soles of shoes and into underwear we breezed though Bolivia emigration and Peruvian immigration with barely a second glance from the officials.

The road to the border was surprisingly smooth and looked almost new. This would be a short trip to Puno we thought. But no, how wrong can one be?! Shortly across the border we experienced roadworks, Peru style. The road had been completely dug up and a very soft field of dirt took it´s place. Diggers and steamrollers were working at full force. At first glance we thought the bus would have to turn back, but the road was still open! We set off down the road, following one steam roller, and then had to stop to let another through the opposite way. Mayhem!! At one point we mounted a significant bank of earth at the side of the road to let another coach through and our coach started veering off the side of the bank towards the lake, just meters away. Sam swore very loudly, horrified by thoughts of being dunked in the icy lake, even Ady was mildly concerned! Thankfully our driver steered us back to safety and the rest of the journey passed uneventfully.

Puno is situated on the northwest shore of Lake Titicaca and is Peru´s folklore centre, with a rich tradition of music and dance. This certainly wasn´t the most attractive place we´d visited, but I guess it gave a sense of real Peru quite early into our visit. We found a room at the Don Tito Inn, which despite it´s chintzy-ness was pretty luxurious and erring on the hotel rather than hostel side of possible lodgings. We had a thick plush carpet, plump pillows, something resembling a quilt and most impressive of all, a shower lacking the famous South American trickle – anyone who has visited will have experienced these for sure. You know the one whereby you can have a normal pressure cold shower, or a hot trickle you have to "dance" under!

Our first Peruvian "almuerzo" (set lunch for peanuts price) set the standards for the rest of our stay. We ate a two course lunch for 2 Soles each– about 40pence! I won´t say it was the nicest meal of the trip so far but in terms of extending the longevity of our RTW trip it was worth eating!

Puno, like Copacabana is visited largely for it´s proximity to a number of islands. The Uros islands or the "floating islands" are probably the most well known. Others include Taquile, Amantani, Anapia and Yuspique. Again, overnight stays can be enjoyed on these islands, and again we toyed with the idea of doing as such. Unfortunately we had brought our vile flu germs to Peru with us and decided better against infecting the islands indigenous people (and nothing to do with the 6am start). We opted for a half day visit to the Uros islands, arranged easily through the harbor. We arrived a little later than advised but were shown onto a boat and told we would set sail shortly. An hour and thirty minutes later the boat was finally full and we set on our way. The floating islands are located in the mouth of Puno bay, and the entrance to Lake Titicaca proper. The route to the islands takes you through a channel of reeds, part of the national park and protected to preserve the wildlife that inhabits it. We saw a number of ducks and koots, both the red billed species found at home and a new blue billed variety we´d not seen before.

Reeds like the ones growing in the channel are used by the islanders of Uros in many ways. They eat them, make their boats from them, their houses, indeed the very foundations of the islands are made using the reeds. The base layer is a thick wad of earth from which the reeds grow. They then pile layer upon layer of loose dried reeds ontop of this to create a meter thick "mattress" which floats ontop of the water. When you walk on the islands you feel as though you are walking on a giant bouncy castle or water bed!

The islanders live from the lake by hunting and fishing, but supplement their income from tourism. Some of the islands most visited have literally become floating souvenir stands and each visitor is subjected to a fairly hard sell from the women living there (the men are typically out on the lake hunting). Some of the islands feature small restaurants and huts where you can spend the night. From the first island we visited we took a huge reed boat to the second island. Two women were at the oars slowing maneuvering this hulk of a thing. Ady had a go at the rowing and claimed it was bloody hard work and not as easy as it looked! See piccie!

Upon our return we had a delicious fish lunch, trucha and papas fritas – fish and chips Peru style! Again the trout was amazingly fresh having been caught earlier that day. We spent the afternoon exploring the Yavari – the oldest ship on Lake Titicaca and built in 1862 in England. It was shipped over to Peru in 600 individual pieces and carried by mule to the lake. The journey took six years! The boat is currently under restoration by a private owner who hopes to re-sail the boat on Lake Titicaca in the near future.

Friday, 20 June 2008


17th - 19th June 2008

A little town on the shores of Lake Titicaca, a huge inland sea whose sapphire blue waters form the world´s highest navigable lake, at an altitude of 3,855 meters.

Just 158km from La Paz and 5 hours later we arrived in Copacabana, after one ferry crossing and a bus journey on a paved road – quite something after weeks of travelling on Bolivia´s wonderful dirt roads! After the usual game of hunt the hostel we took up residence at the Arco Iris, for the usual miniscule fee of a couple of pounds. It seemed to be newly refurbished and the bathroom was probably the cleanest we´d seen in a while. It was also very quiet, we seemed to be the only guests. All became clear shortly after unpacking…the place was still being refurbished and the builders suddenly made themselves known! The hostel owner assured us they would soon finish for the day. We agreed to stay, after all it was only for a night or so and we couldn´t be bothered to re-pack.

We set out to explore the town and made it no further than the café in our hostel before we ran headlong into Jose and Sheiba, our friends from Sucre and most of the rest of Bolivia. Small world, especially the gringo trail! We swapped tales of our respective journeys out of the jungle over a cup of mate (they´d chosen the fun way and opted for the 20 hour hellish bus ride to La Paz) before going in search of food. Dinner presented itself in the form of the most delicious meal at a lovely French restaurant a few doors down. We must admit it was the fire that drew us in, I think we were so hungry we would have eaten anywhere. Instead we feasted on the lake´s speciality – trout. Yum! Ady had grilled trout in garlic with al dente vegetables (quite a rarity in Bolivia) and Sam chose trout lasagna. As usual the portions were absolutely huge. Washed down by some fine French wine (again, pretty unheard of) it wasn´t long before we called it a night.

Did we say that Ady had finally succumbed to a miserable cold virus caught from the lovely Irish girls we were in Uyuni with. By this I mean the very worst flu like symptoms – sore throat, cold, blocked sinuses, aching teeth and the worst rattling "40-a-day" cough. We thought we´d got away with it, it was three weeks since we last saw them. Clearly, the longer the incubation period the worse the eventual symptoms. Now Sam was suffering too and was not a happy bunny. A sleepless night and many painkillers later, we nodded off around 6am, only to be rudely awoken an hour later by the sound of the f****** builders! Argh!!!

One of the main reasons to stay in Copacabana is the ease with which you can visit Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna, two of the islands of Lake Titicaca. Legend has is that Viracocha, the creator god had his children, Manco Kapac and Mama Ocllo, spring from the waters of the lake to found Cusco and the Inca dynasty. A sacred rock on the northwest of Isla del Sol is worshipped as their birthplace. A popular trip is to visit and stay overnight on the island. After much deliberating we bailed out of this idea and took a much shorter half day trip, arranged from the harbor with Titicaca tours for just 15BOB. The journey each way takes around 90 minutes. We were informed that a half day visit allows just one hour on the island, and you don´t get to visit Isla de la Luna at all. Enough to get a feel for the place though, we thought, and not enough time to catch hyperthermia! The boat ride was pleasant enough, until a guide introduced himself and his services. He insisted we needed a guide to walk between two points on the island – basically the landing point and the departure jetty, which was an hours walk away. His price was 25BOB per person, ontop of the 15 we had just paid. In real terms it was only a small amount but in Bolivia you can pay for a very nice meal or a night´s accommodation with this. We claimed poverty and said we wouldn´t use him. Already we had passed the departure jetty and could see the route between this and the arrival jetty. A small child could have walked unaided between them! In short we had a full blown slanging match on the boat in front of everyone. He wouldn´t give us a valid reason as to why we needed a guide and just re-iterated that without him we wouldn´t be allowed back onto the boat at the end of the walk!!

By the time we arrived we were both very riled and wished we´d stayed on the mainland. We spoke to a guy at the jetty collecting the arrival tax and understood from him that it wasn´t obligatory to take a guide. Visitors were free to explore as they wished. With that we set off at break neck speed in an effort to "follow" the official tour, and made our way over the terraces and past some incan ruins in just half an hour. The return boat arrived shortly afterwards and in the absence of the snotty guide we took the opportunity to jump aboard. Result! We may not have learned a great deal from our time on the island, but we felt victorious in the war against ripping off tourists.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Out of the Jungle

17th June 2008

With much anticipation, we walked to the office of Transporte Aereo Militar, the well known Bolivian airline! Check in was carried out at the office in town, as the airport in Rurrenabaque is little more than a grass airstrip and a wooden shed containing a number of people who you have to pay numerous airport taxes to!

The plane landed a little late, but the turnaround didn’t take too long. The pilot got his set of ladders out and poured some oil into each of the engines, and we were ready to go. The formalities of a safety demonstration or video didn’t seem to happen, but a little light saying FASTEN BELTS NOW did light up, and before we knew it we were bouncing down the grass runway heading for a very big river.

Luckily, we managed to become airborne before we got to the river. The numerous digital cameras, phones and ipods that people were still using obviously didn´t affect the plane’s ‘systems’… in hindsight we weren’t sure it had any. Anyway, at least I got lots of good pictures of the takeoff and landing.
We touched down over 4000 meters higher than we had started from, infact, the whole flight as just a climb up to La Paz. TAM fly into the Military air base, we didn’t hang around to find out any more and headed on to Copacabana.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008


7th – 17th June

The bus pulled up at the Terminal in Caranavi, and looked very nice. We were a little concerned as to whether or not we would have seats, as this was the bus from La Paz and looked very full. Worry not said the driver, and changed the seat numbers on our tickets as we boarded. The back row beckoned – we knew it would be a bumpy ride, but surely it couldn’t be that bad… it was and 11 hours of hell later we were in Rurrenabaque.

Rurrenabaque is a jungle town on the Rio Beni. It is the main starting point for tours of the Bolivian Jungle and Pampas. It is also a major attraction for Israeli travellers – over 15,000 passed through last year, retracing the steps of a young Israeli who was rescued by a local several years ago.

We decided to rest for a couple of days before starting the first of our trips to the Jungle, and we were greeted by tropical weather which was a big change from the cold temperatures of the Andes.

See our post here for details of the Jungle trip.

On returning from the Jungle, we had 2 nights in Rurrenabaque before we started our Pampas trip. We ran into Jose and Sheiba again and arranged to go out for dinner, Mexican food which was a welcome break from the Jungle food! It was also a good opportunity to have some hardcore internet café time, and get caught up with the Blog and photos!

Next was our trip to the Pampas. See here for the story.

Back to Rurrenabaque again, and we were now ready to get the hell out of the town for good, but due to flights being booked up, and bad weather delaying the departure of some flights, we had another 2 nights before we could leave. It seemed like everyone we met over these two days had the same idea of getting back to La Paz and had also spent longer here than they would have liked!

Jungle Trip

10th – 12th June

We chose Fluvial Tours for our Jungle trip, and at 8am on Monday morning, we met the other people in our group at the office, and headed to the river to jump on our boat. The trip upstream took 3 hours, on the Rio Beni then the faster flowing Rio Tuichi. On several occasions we had to get out of the boat and push as the water was too shallow to use the motor.

The camp is deep(ish) in the Madidi national park, and is a 10 minute walk from the river. Laden with supplies for the next three days, we hiked to the camp, getting our first taste of our new surroundings.

Our group consisted of 6 people – Adriano and Begonia from Spain, and Axel and Pia from Argentina. Our guide was Eliberto. The trip would be a test of our Spanish skills as Eliberto spoke very little English, although the other group members, all native Spanish speakers, spoke very good English.

Over the course of the 3 days, we took several different walks into the Jungle, to view different plants and animals. The photos don’t really do justice to the kinds of things that we saw, it was difficult to capture the scale of the place with the camera. We both agreed that the part of the jungle we were in wasn’t as thick as we expected and the canopy was not as high as we had read about. Nevertheless it was a strange feeling to be immersed in a thick green world where everywhere you turned looked the same and without the guide we would have been lost within minutes. Although there are some unmarked trails, it is very easy to stray off these and the guide was using tracking techniques to record the path we were taking. This was especially important on the walks that we took after dark, the other group who was staying in the camp at the same time as us did manage to get lost on one of their walks, and it was only by luck that they managed to get back onto one of the trails!

We spotted a variety of animals, including monkeys (see photos), wild pigs, a variety of birds and many different insects. We were shown lots of different plants with toxic properties such as venomous sap from one of the largest trees in the Jungle. As it was raining on the morning of our second day, we used the time to make rings and necklaces from some of the things that we had found on the forest floor. There’s a business in making and selling these things and we realised why so many people are selling this type of thing on the street – it’s so cheap to make!

The return journey, downstream, was a little quicker than the last time we had been on the river, as there had been a lot of rain through the night. The river had turned a very muddy brown, and it promised to be another bumpy ride (now the norm for any type of transport in Bolivia!) We were back in Rurre in half the time it had taken us to get upstream 2 days earlier!

Pampas Trip

13th – 15th June

Rurrenabaque is also the jumping off point for trips to the Bolivian pampas, the low lying wetlands around the Rio Yacuma. A three hour drive by 4x4 along the usual bone-crunching, head-jerking dirt road took us to a small town called Santa Rosa where we stopped for lunch, before continuing our journey by canoe.

We had chosen to take this second trip with Fluvial also, being fairly satisfied with the treatment we’d received on the jungle tour. There are so many agencies to choose from, sometimes it’s a case of ¨better the devil you know¨!

A number of canoes were moored to the riverbank, some definitely looked more river worthy than others! A few even had proper, deck-chair like seats! We’d heard about these from other travellers and had decided to favour the more authentic dug out canoe with wooden seats (nothing to do with the price!) – though we heard not so great in the wet and a little sore on the rear after the ensuing 3 hour boat ride!

Within minutes of leaving the river bank we saw alligators and many varieties of birds. Around the corner and we spotted our first alligator…and then another and another. They were literally everywhere! There were also Caimans, though less in number, thankfully, for these black, fierce, alligator-eating reptiles were an awesome sight. We saw capybara – large mammals up to 150kg, like overgrown rodents. Further upstream were pink river dolphins, leaping in front of and alongside the boat, at which point one of our group stripped down to his pants and dived in! We had been told that a group of swimming dolphins (what is the collective name for this?) keeps the alligators at bay and allows for their human friends to take a dip also, without being devoured for dinner!

Just before we reached the camp we saw Howler monkeys, like the ones in the jungle, high up in a tree and making, yes you’ve guessed it…a howling noise! In the smaller trees just above the riverbank were the cutest little Squirrel monkeys (who the guide proceeded the feed with a banana – not sure this is strictly ecologically correct) and the not so cute, larger Cappuccino monkeys. All were going crazy over the food offering and were clambering into our boat to get to it. We kept our hands firmly in our pockets and away from those sharp little teeth.

The camp was as to be expected and provided accommodation in wooden huts with all the extras – spiders, mosquitoes, cockroaches etc. Thank god for the silk mozzy nets but are they cockroach proof?!! As the first official tour agency in the pampas, the location was excellent and situated on a sweeping bend in the river with views in both directions. They had pitched a row of hammocks just perfectly for watching the river pass by. On the first evening when our group had gone out to shine torches into alligators eyes (another unsound ecological practice) we relaxed in the hammocks, enjoying the tranquillity, being entertained by pink dolphins frolicking in the river.

Over the rest of the time at the camp, we participated in piranha fishing (throwing the fish straight back into the water), swimming with dolphins (briefly!) rising to watch the sunrise (but there was too much mist!) and looking for anacondas. We skipped the snake hunt and stayed back at camp to sunbathe (Ady was unwell and suffering from jungle flu and Sam is just plain scared and didn’t want to step on one in the waist-high grasses). An alligator was basking on the riverbank next to our camp and our cook went down to stroke him. We watched in awe and he beckoned us down to join him. The alligator seemed incredibly docile and appeared to enjoy the attention. Ady too joined in the petting. You can see the picture here! Not a bad alternative to being bitten by poisonous snakes. BTW our group found one anaconda and one giant cobra – I’m glad I wasn´t there!!

All in all it was a very relaxing few days, with much time spent lazing in hammocks and the rest lazing in the boat. The heavy rain that had plagued Rurrenabaque and the jungle region for the last week had not reached the pampas and we enjoyed glorious weather for the whole time, a far cry from our Glastonbury-like experience in the jungle.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Bumper Bolivian Update

As you may know, we've been having some technical problems, but eventually we have got the backlog of posts and pictures posted up!

Here's are links to our new posts in chronological order

15th - 26th May Sucre
26th - 28th May Potosi
28th - 31st May Salar de Uyuni
1st - 3rd June La Paz
4th June La Cumbre to Coroico
4th - 6th June Coroico

We are now in Rurrenabaque touring the Jungle and Pampas, so another installment will be posted when we get chance!


4th - 6th June 2008

Coroico is perched on a hill at 1760m amid beautiful scenery. The hillside is covered with orange and banana groves; coffee is also grown and condors circle overhead.

Our room had an amazing view as you can see here to the right, and at 80bvs for the room was another bargain!

After the altitude and the cold temperatures of the past few weeks, Coroico was a breath of fresh, warm air! The sleepy little town had a nice feel about it and we spent our full day there by heading off in search of the waterfall which supplies the town’s water supplies. The waterfall proved illusive; however on the way back from our walk we bumped into Jose and Sheiba, people that we had met several weeks earlier in Sucre!

El Cafetal is a small hostel and restaurant run by a French guy called Phillipe. Jose and Sheiba were heading there to look for a room, and we had heard great things about this place and it’s food, so went along with them. The restaurant was closed, but Sheiba persuaded Philipe to open up for us in the evening.

The plan was to head on to Rurrenabaque the next morning, and Sheiba gave us some translatory help with understanding our options when talking to the guy in the tourist office. We thought it was as simple as getting a bus, but it turned out to be a little more complicated and talk turned to trucks, vans, buses and cars… some of it was a little beyond our basic Spanish!

When we returned to El Cafetal later in the evening, some cheap local rum was flowing (we sat at a ‘hostel’ table instead of a ‘restaurant’ one!) courtesy of our friends. The dishes cooked up by Phillipe were superb and were just what we needed after the long walk earlier in the day.

Journey to Rurrenabaque

Our options were clear to us as we left the hostel at 8am.
1- Pay 80 bolivianos to a woman at Coroico bus station who would ensure there was a seat for us on the 18 hour bus straight to Rurrenabaque.
2 -DIY! Head down to the junction as early as possible and pick up some form of transport heading in the direction of the next big town, Caranavi, 70 kms away.

Looking for adventure we took option 2, and jumped in a shared taxi to Yolosita, the junction where the traffic to Caranavi passes. Cost 5bvs. There were two other locals trying to get to the same place and we asked them for advice. They told us to be patient!

We waited at the road junction for an hour before the first potential vehicles came past, but they were all full! After another half hour a couple of busses passed through, also crammed full. Then our luck turned and a truck stopped at the checkpoint, and the locals spoke with the driver. There was room for us and the cost would be 5bvs each…. This is normally a 3 – 4 hour bus journey, so we had no idea how long it would be in a truck…

To spare the nerves of some of the readers from our direct family, we’ll spare the details of the truck ride, needless to say that when we arrived in Caranavi we were filthy, covered in dust from the road. Unfortunately the driver wanted to charge tourist prices, so the ride cost us 6bvs, 1 more than the 5 we had agreed at the start. The journey had taken 2 and a half hours, the next step was to find onward transport to Yocumo or Rurrenabaque.

Our search proved fruitless, and we were unable to find any trucks, busses, taxis or horse and traps going in the right direction. We admitted defeat, and bought a ticket for the 6pm bus, which would have been the one that we could booked originally for 80bvs. The ticket only cost us 45bvs, so when you add on the 11bvs spent on taxi and truck, we saved 24 bolivianos* over what it would have cost to book the bus from the woman in Coroico!

We felt we had achieved something! (*24 bolivianos is just under £2. That’s £2 each by the way!)

All that stood ahead of us now was a 12 hour bus journey into the heart of the Bolivian Amazon, and with seats reserved on the back row, that couldn’t be too bad, could it…?!

Thursday, 5 June 2008

La Cumbre to Corioco – The Worlds Most Dangerous Road

4th June 2008

There are literally tens of companies now touting the experience of cycling down the Worlds Most Dangerous Road, so we chose carefully before putting our lives in their hands. We chose a small company, called B-Side (http://www.bside-adventures.com/) who offered good full suspension mountain bikes, a very low guide to rider ratio, and had excellent reviews.

We met the rest of our group at 7.30 and were taken in a van to La Cumbre, the highest point of the road at 4,660m. At the top, we put on our thermals, and tried out our bikes in the relative safety of the car park! At this point, some other group members showed their lack of bicycle riding skills – this was going to be interesting.

The statistics for the ride for those of you who are interested, are as follows:
Start Altitude – 4660m
Finish Altitude – 1110m
Total Descent – 3550m
Total Distance - 63km (39 miles)

The first section of the ride is a fast descent on the new asphalt road. There is very little traffic, and we took up our positions behind the lead guide, tucked low down and went as fast as the bikes would let us go! Sam commented at the first stop that she couldn’t be in top gear as she couldn’t pedal any faster - she was though!

At the end of the asphalt section, we regrouped and were briefed on the next stage of the ride – the dirt road. The pictures tell the story better, but at this point it is worth noting that we were still above the clouds! 2 minutes (for us!) down the dirt road our group had divided into two, and Sam and I waited for the others to catch up. After a frustrating 15 minutes waiting, the rest of the group arrived.
Luckily for us, the guides decided to split the group into two and we ended up with our own private guide. This was a far cry from the other huge groups that we would have had to endure had we gone with one of the larger companies – what a result we thought…! It seemed too good to be true as we set off down the road in our convoy of three!

The dirt part of the decent usually takes 2 and a half hours, but as we were in a small group and as we are both (relatively) good riders, the guide wasn’t wasting his time and we hurtled down the road! We were able to take our own version of the most popular photo spot with only us on the picture!

There are also some videos which we will post on You Tube when we get the laptop back up and running.
After only 1 and a half hours, we had reached the end of the ride, and took a well earned breather! Oh, the private guide did come at a price… the health of our legs! Little did we know that our prize for finishing early would be a large number of fruit fly bites, from sitting around waiting for the other group members!

On reflection, the dirt part of the ride did have some steep drops but the surface was good and we didn’t think it was that dangerous. Experienced mountain bikers would be able to do the ride on a hard tail mountain bike with no real problems. There are more challenging rides around the La Paz area, and it has certainly whetted Ady`s appetite for some more challenging rides! Overall, we would highly recommend B-Side to anyone wanting to do the ride!

The day was rounded off by lunch at a hotel in Corioco, which was also our next destination.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

La Paz

1st - 3rd June 2008

La Paz, is the highest capital city in the world, it’s airport is at a staggering 4,000m above sea level. The sight of the city, lying 500m below at the bottom of a steep canyon and ringed by snow peaked mountains, takes your breath away – literally! At this altitude, breathing can be a problem! The Spaniards chose this odd place for a city on 2oth October 1548 to avoid the chill winds of the plateau, and because they had found gold nearby.

After a boneshaking ride on the overnight bus from Uyuni, we arrived into La Paz at 7am on Sunday morning…. The journey, is worth mentioning for the unbelievable amount of rattling on the brand new bus! The windows shook because of the road surface, and when you thought that they wouldn’t be able to shake any more, they got louder and louder!

Anyway, 7am on a Sunday is not the best time to try and find somewhere to stay! We found a room at the Hostel Copacabana, near the Witches Market. It was cheap, warm and had the luxury of an en-suite!

There are some pictures of La Paz on Picasa, but the main reason we had come here was to use the city as the gateway to a number of other activities that we wanted to do. First on the list was Mountain Biking down the so called ‘Worlds Most Dangerous Road’, followed by a trip into the jungle.

More good food, including a trip to Wagamama (not the same as the UK chain, but still, very good Sushi!), rounded off our visit to La Paz and set us up for some serious mountain bike action.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Salar de Uyuni

28th - 31st May 2008

The six hour bus ride between Potosi and Uyuni was really quite breathtaking and showed the Bolivian landscape at it´s very best. We would recommend anyone that can visit Bolivia to do so, if just to experience the views we saw on this journey.

Uyuni lies near the Eastern edge of the Salar de Uyuni (the highest and largest salt lake in the world)
And is one of the jumping-off points for trips to the salt flats, volcanoes and multi-colored lakes of southwest Bolivia.

We arrived in Uyuni late afternoon and we instantly accosted by agents from tour operators, trying to sell us their trips across the salt flats. Feeling a little worse for worse (the old Bolivia belly had struck again!) we fought off the masses and headed to the nearest hostel around, the very lovely Residencial Sucre. Clearly our standards have been slipping since we left home, the room on offer was little more than a cell. However at a bargainous price of just 38 Bolivianos (£2.71!) for the room, how could we refuse!

After spending a very chilly hour checking out the various agencies for tours of the salt flats, we agreed on Lipez tours. The guy had chased after us from down the street and initially we were sceptical, but upon seeing our friends names (an Irish couple) booked onto the tour for the next day we relented. The guy confirmed he could chuck in some thick sleeping bags and a couple of hot waterbottles and suddenly it seemed like a good deal!

The night time temperatures on the Uyuni flats and surrounding lakes were known to drop as low as -25C. With only very basic accommodation (in Bolivia this means no central heating and often doors and windows that don’t close) provided on both nights it was time to sort out some warm clothing. Check out our matching alpaca jumpers in the photo on Picasa…don’t we look fab!!

The day of our departure we arrived on time at the office, only to discover that some of our group had been delayed by the overnight train from Argentina. There was also the minor detail of a missing 4x4. One was parked outside, a fairly new looking Toyota Landcruiser, however with only seats for 6, and by this time we were 8. Unfortunately we drew the short straw (in more ways than one, but that’s another story…) and were chosen to make a second group with the four delayed Irish girls. Time ticked by and it was looking less like we would leave Uyuni at all that day. By midday and after much calming one another down, our guy Elios arrived with the second 4x4.

He introduced himself as our driver, guide and cook for the next three days. The Irish girls had also materialised and finally we were set. Just one minor problem…it seemed that our guide spoke not a word of English, and our Irish friends not a word in Spanish! We were in for a fun few days, the two of us acting as translators with our only basic grasp of the language!

Within a very short time of leaving town we arrived at Colchani where the "terraplen" (the ramp) for the lake is situated. There were a number of artisan stalls here selling crafts made entirely of salt and a small salt museum displaying huge salt sculptures. We stopped here only briefly but managed to catch the other group who had just arrived from the Railway Cemetery. Driving onto the lake itself was an awesome experience. In contrast to the bright blue sky on this sunny day the white salt crust was just dazzling. We stopped a short distance into the flat to look at and climb all over the salt mountains that were being prepared for shipping to Cochani. Lots of people take funny pictures here but we’re both just too cool for this…! Next stop was the original salt hotel, now no longer in use for lodgings due to environmental reasons (though many others now exist off the salt flat itself) but still open to the public for viewing. Everything is made of salt blocks, even the furniture!

"Isla del Pescado" (Fish Island) and called as such because of it’s shape, was a real highlight to the first day. The island of coral rises mightily from the bed of the ocean, now the salt lake and is covered in it’s entirety in massive cacti. Being on the salt lake itself was a pretty bizarre experience, a sea of whiteness in every direction. Now here was this strange island and it’s larger than life vegetation! Whilst our driver/guide/cook prepared lunch we explored the island, a little breathlessly due to the altitude. Much of the afternoon was spent taking more silly pictures on the salt. Ady decided to sunbathe topless whilst Sam performed cartwheels in a bid for the most original photo on the lake!
The first night was spent in s salt hotel just off the side of the lake. Like the hotel we had visited earlier this was made entirely of salt, with salt blocks for the beds, tables and chairs. Fortunately soft furnishings were provided for our comfort, but other than these, only the bathroom and glass windows were made of anything else!

A 6.30am (!) start was in order the next day. Needless to say, nobody had slept very well – the floor was covered in salt and each time somebody walked to the loo the floor crunched loudly under their feet!

We continued south, towards the furthest southwest of Bolivia, the Lipez region and home to the ¨Reserva Nacional Eduardo Avaroa¨. Roads to and across the puna are unmarked, rugged dirt tracks. We could see now the 4x4 was a real necessity, as would be our driver's skills! We stopped at some really cool rock formations, eroded by the fierce wind sweeping the plains before driving some distance towards the Volcan de Ollague. There are a series of five lagunas here, I can´t remember the names and don't have web access to look them up but each were really stunning and some were home to pink flamingos.

We stopped for lunch on the shores of one and were joined by a number of foxes. Check out our pictures…so cute!!

A ride across the Siloli desert to the Arbol de Piedra to see more strange rock formations and the weirdest, hugest bunny rabbits ever!

Laguna Colorado, at 4270m, 346km south of Uyuni is one of the highlights of the reserve and home to our hostel for the night. The lake waters are coloured flaming red from the presence of algae, in contrast to the shallows and shoreline, bright white from the salt and borax. Here again are flamingos, but a rare ¨James¨ breed of flamingo exists here alongside the more common birds found in other lakes.

The second night is the one reputed amongst travellers as the most difficult, where night time temperatures drop to -25C and everyone gets frostbite. Lets just say that Sam was a little concerned about her ability to survive the night! Thankfully our rather nice guide had brought a small amount of firewood which he chucked on the stove, along with a whole load of petrol! Fantastic! We´d heard later how other groups in other parts of the hostel were given wine, but personally I think a hot stove and 10 layers of clothing (all at once) are the way to go!!!

Our final day of the tour was due to start at 5.15am. Well, that was the time our guide had instructed us to be ready for. We gathered that he and the other guides must have hit the bottle the night before as he turned up very bleary eyed at 5.45, to find us fully clothed and back in bed. The morning temperature was now -10C, and even with the heaters in the car going full blast we couldn´t warm up!

We passed over the Cuesta del Pabellon, 4,850m to the Sol de Manana Geysers, very cool…blasts of thermal sulphurous air being expelled from craters and crevices in the ground into the freezing morning air. By 8am we arrived at Laguna Blanco. Whilst our cook prepared breakfast, we, or rather Ady alone, prepared himself for the natural thermal pool found there. The water was blissfully warm (apparently…) but the bitter wind and still chilly air temperatures proved too much for Sam and the four girls to think about undressing and instead locked themselves in the heated car.

The nearby Laguna Verde was the next stop, and the final laguna of the tour. The lake was sparkling green, made so by the heavy concentration of arsenic, and as such devoid of any life forms. The wind was so fierce we didn´t stick around long, and thoughts of the long journey home were hanging over.

The ride back to Uyuni was pretty amazing however, the scenery was so magnificent. We travelled through mountain passes, streams, hill and dale, in our opinion what we saw way surpassed anything we´d seen back home and of all places Bolivia was where we least expected it. I think the real highlight for Ady however must have been the 90 minutes Elios let him loose behind the wheel, giving over full responsibility of this ton of a vehicle and it´s heavily loaded cargo. Secretly, I think Elios was suffering from the night before and wanted to catch a kip!
Due to our slow start to the tour, we had missed out on the first attraction that all the groups stop at – the Railway cemetery – a hulk of rusting trains from decades gone by. Everybody was really tired by this point for we had driven for most of the day. A certain somebody (no names mentioned!) really wanted to take a look, and some pictures…maybe some numbers…! Anyway, we´ll let the pictures tell the rest!

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