Peru: In search of the Incas, budget styles!

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With the Colca Canyon done and dusted, we headed back to Arequipa for a bit of relaxation before heading north in search of the Incas. We’ve been told they are hiding Machu Picchu. On arrival in Cuzco we found it was carnival time so we donned the appropriately stupid paper hats, bought spray foam and joined the crowd. After a day of being soaked with water and sprayed with foam we were ready to find a way to Machu Picchu.

We were too late and too cheap to do the actual Inca trail so we decided to do the alternative four day jungle trek to Machu Picchu. This tour was a little bit of mountain biking and walking. We stayed at hostels in local villages enroute. Our group was a laugh, especially the two Argentinians who showed us some sweet moves at a village night club (watch out for the puppet!). The last day we got up at 4.30am to race to the top of Machu Picchu as we had been told only the first 200 people got to go to Wayna Picchu (the higher vantage point overlooking Machu Picchu). Armed with a torch that lasted all of 5 minutes we raced through the dark leaving everyone in our wake to arrive 17th and 18th respectively. We later found out that anyone could go to Wayna Picchu, but hey it was still fun and we got to see Machu Picchu without the hoards of people, a truely rare sight.

After spending the day wandering around the site, we headed back to get the train, only to find out that everyone in our group was on one train and we were on the next which arrived at 3am. We had no one to meet us to take us back the hostel but managed to get a lift with a few other strays, safe to say the hostel owners weren’t to happy to see us at that time of the morning.

We spent a few more days in Cuzco drinking free fruit juices at the central market and basically lounging around before heading north.

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Peru: Second Deepest Canyon in the World, Easy Right?

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A collectivo taxi to the border, a chocolate with our last Bolivanos and a then a short walk was how we arrived in Peru. After going to the wrong office we had our stamps and it was off in the tuk tuk to the next collectivo which would whisk us off to Puno.

Altitude sickness a thing of the past, we boarded our tour boat to visit the amazing floating islands of Uros. After the traditional craft market, Rach almost being forced into some local women’s clothes and a not so optional boat ride to the main island, we boarded our boat for the second not so amazing part of the tour, to Taquile island. Slower than the Kestral at half steam we droned across Lake Titikaka until finally we got to our most unimpressive destination. Locals wearing hats denoting social status was the most interesting thing on the island. A million life times passed on the return journey to Puno and the salvation of our hotel.

The next stop was Arequipa and a chance to relax a little. After pottering around town taking in the local sites we decided that we wanted to visit the Colca Canyon (second deepest in the world) but alas the tour prices were just too much. After a quick lunch chat, we decided to tramp the canyon ourselves and just camp as we went. With a little difficulty we found a local bus to Chivay first stop on the way to the canyon. Proving my now amazing altitude abilities I managed not to complain as we drive over the 4800 metre pass on the way into town – little more than a stop off point to Cabanaconde and the start of the trek. We found a hotel and made two minute noodles on our camp stove in the room. The trip to Cabanaconde proved to be one of the most scenic stretches of road to date, basically you barrel along the cliff edge of the canyon racing everything is site. This did however, give us our first glimpse of the canyon.

The canyon was something to behold, one of the most amazing vistas you are likely to see anywhere in the world. We asked a local for directions before we even started desending into the canyon, a bad sign? Nah! For the next 4 hours we had the place to ourselves, the local village and our first stop in the distance seemed like a lifetime away but it’s not a bad place to spend a lifetime. With the village getting close a local boy arrives to usher us down the path to his family restaurant. Unfortunately for him were too slow (his words) so he gives us directions to his restaurant/hostel. Feeling a little harassed and offended (we thought we were making good time) we decided to avoid the boy and head for another hostel.

The plan for the next day was to make it to the thermal pools and stay there for the night. After a productive morning we got lost and ended up walking a circles for about 2 hours, a little frustrated and with a handful of thorns (who knew the cactus fruit had thorns as well) I decided it was time to just bushwack my way up the hill to a path we could see. Surprisingly this worked and we were on our way again. More breathtaking views had us back on a high but with no village in sight and light fading we decided to take our chances and just pitch the tent. Luckily the spot we stopped happened to overlook the whole canyon, and we were treated to a crystal clear night full of stars, which we enjoyed with a plastic cup of rum. Best two year anniversary present you could hope for.

A little dubious of the legality of our camping spot, I was up early checking for locals, I don’t know why, in between the towns we hadn’t seen a soul it was a little eerie. As luck would have it though a man and his donkey trotted past and gave us a bit of a quizzical look. I don’t know why what’s more normal than a tent pitched in the middle of nowhere and a topless white guy sitting on a rock like a some sort of panicked meerkat. After a quick breakfast we were on the road again to the ever elusive thermals. Five minutes into the walk we meet the guy and his donkey, turns out he was bringing beer and soft drinks into the canyon to all the little villages. He was very complimentary of our camping spot and us all round. With directions from our new friend we powered through the next few deserted villages until we finally arrived at the thermal pool town. To my great surprise I noticed, could it be? Yes a rugby field, here of all places. Intrigued I went to talk to the owner only to be told, it was a soccer feild he was just to lazy to cut the tops off the posts. The thermals finally we made it, crossed the last river only to find that they were little more than a crappy swimming pool that didn’t even have water in it, wrong time of year. Dejected we had a very average lunch and we decided to head out of the canyon back to town. Back past the soccer field we got directions from the likeable owner and we were off. Tired I had used up all my spanish on the soccer field guy we misunderstood some travelers coming the other way. Don’t go right, go left.

“What did they say?”

“I don’t know, something about right”

After a little argument we decided to take the well marked road, right! (in our defence the soccer field man did say supplies came in via the road) bad move. For the first time in history the crappy unmarked goat path was the correct route. For the next 10 hours (the last 3 hours in pitch black, we navigated by the crunch of rocks under our feet, that indicated we were on the road) we trugged up the road heading further and further away from town. Running out of water and light Rach spotted a track leading up the side of the canyon so in desperation we took it. It worked out and after a marathon hike out that ended at 9pm we had made it. Some startled locals approached us and asked where we had come from, shocked they grabbed my hand and told Rach off for not looking after me better haha. Chocolate and chips for dinner as everything was closed. 13 hours of walking from 1000 mtrs at the bottom to 3200mtrs at the top, we had never been so exhausted in our lives.

Aside from the near death experience, this was one of the highlights of the trip to date. Next stop Arequipa and then Cuzco and Machu Picchu.

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Bolivia: High on life

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Bolivia is really not the right place for two sea level dwelling creatures. I had no problem with the altitude but Steve was not so lucky. Many offers of help and suggestions were on hand – Coca tea, coca leaves, coca lollies, a tea made from five freshly picked mountain herbs, rest, water and an array of medication. In the end a bit of time did the trick we found ourselves traipsing from height to height and seeing some spectacular sights and seeing snapshots of Andean life along the way.

An absolute highlight for me was the Uyuni Salt Flats. We departed on our merry tour out to the salt flats with around fifty other groups doing exactly the same thing. But even that couldn’t take away from the amazingness of the salt flats. As it was rainy season, the salt flats were flooded meaning we were standing about ankle deep in water and the sky was reflected in the water leaving us unable to tell where the salt flats ended and the skies began. The whole trip filled with stunning landscapes, flamingo filled lagoons, and crazy rock formations was amazing and shared with a lovely group of people.

We then spent two weeks in La Paz while Steve adjusted to the altitude, enjoying ridiculously cheap meals out, daring our bellies with all sorts of street treats (papa rellenas an absolute must try), stumbling across random parades, partying heartily for Steve’s birthday and just generally wandering about.

Then it was on to Copacobana where we enjoyed the most delicious trout at the lakeside stalls before a 17km walk along the coast to a port called Yamapata where a 75 year old man rowed us to Isla del Sol! Running out of Bolivianos we decide to forgo walking to the Northern part of the island which involved a toll and dinner, and spend our last few pennies on a bottle of wine and a bunch of bananas and watch the sunset.

A collectivo to the Peruvian border saw us sharing a station wagon with far too many people and the driver refusing to swap places with the two elderly women who were squashed into the the boot. An hour later an we were at the border.

Adios Bolivia! Hola Peru!

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Bolivia: Bribes, buses and blockades…

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Two buses and a short walk and we were there, Bolivia. It was Sunday so we were advised by the police officer we could enter Bolivia but to come back on Monday to complete our immigration formalities. Settled in our $60 boliviano room ($12) and we (including our new friend, Ramiro) headed off for a few beers and our first taste of Bolivia. Monday rolled around and it was back to the border. Rach didnt bring her yellow fever card so it was back to the room for take two, we wouldnt want someone with yellow fever entering Bolivia now would we.

Next step, get the train to the first city, Santa Cruz. Easy enough, yes, if it weren’t South America. After waiting 2 – 3 hours for the office to open we were told by a baggage guy it’s not open today but we could buy our tickets from him when the train arrives. Dodgy, yes, but what could be do. On our return, the guy asked for our money, produced a ticket and proceeded to tell us that he need our passports, alarm! Told not to wait in the queue with everybody else and to surrender our passports, this was not the start we had hoped for. Assured that the police needed to check them we handed them over and proceed to watch them be passed around from one offical to another. Shown to our seats minus our passports, we were advised the train master would return them shortly. After hearing this I tracked them down and demanded them back. ‘Sit down, Sir. We will bring them to you. It’s fine’. Our friend, the bagage man turn up again 10 minutes later to ask for a tip, 20 Bolivianos ($4) later and we had our passports back.

A few days in Santa Cruz, and a local warning of dengue and we were ready to head for the hills. Samaipata, a small town with lush forest and a nice colonial square, sounds nice we thought. Take a collectivo (shared taxi) to Samaipata. It’s easy, we were told. Two days, three attempts, a spear welding local were all part of the experience – A group of local tax collectors had been laid off and had rallied a group to block the road for five kilometres. Always take, take, take from the tax man, even when he’s been fired.

A nice few days relaxing in the moutains, a bike ride down a hill and back up. All in all very pleasant. Only the lady who hired the bikes told us that it will take you 40mins to get to the waterfall, but she forget to mention that the hill started at 1800m and went down to 0m, it didnt make for a fun return trip.

Next stop, Sucre and our first Bolivian bus. Go to the edge of town, wait by the checkpoint and flag down your bus as it goes by. Being a little cautious we got there an hour early. That hour past, a few more gringos joined us, one with a taranga (like a ukalele, strange man) but no bus. A few more hours and it arrived in a rush, ‘ get on right now this is your bus’, the man yelled before we knew it we were at the back of the worst bus I have ever seen heading for Sucre. At3.00am, we stop look around, there are no men left on the bus, after a quick assessment of the situation we realised they were all outside pushing a truck off the road. After I joined them and a few attempts we had pushed the truck to within an inch of a 1000m plus cliff edge, the driver was very happy.

Pretty old buildings, beggers and markets, Sucree. We decided to head to the famous Tarabuco markets an hour north or town, feeling confident in our abilities we decided to get the local bus and not pay the whooping 30bs ($6) tour price. It was the right move, as we boarded the bus, a cheer went up for Tarabuco and we were off. Sadly the markets didn’t share the same upbeat vibe as the bus, beggers everywhere and people selling every little bit of crap, ‘writstband amigo, wristband’, ‘no gracias’ ‘wristband amigo’ and so on. Alpaca and llama as far as the eye could see, it overwhelmed us to the point of needing a drink. Luckily an Austrailian girl (Kerry) already had this idea and invited us to share her bottle of wine, ‘shoppings not for me, I prefer to enjoy a drink in the sun’, we knew she was our kind of girl. She informed us that the previous night she bought a bottle of whisky but needed some people to drink it with. She was to become a feature of our Bolivia experience.

Next up Potosi, 2600mts in Sucre up to 4060mts in Potosi. This town is famous for arcaic mining in the local moutain, which you can take tours of. Rach was worried about the height but it was me that was struck by terrible headaches, stink! After our first night, I was is in so much destress, we headed to the local pharmacy. Luckily in South America, most main streets go pharmacy, photocopy shop, other shop, pharmacy. Rach asked for a altitude pill (name we got from the Lonely Planet) and the lady advised she didn’t have that one but produced another type to take maybe three times a day, oh well I needed some relief. It worked long enough for us to get to the mines for a tour.

What an experience, boys mainly working with only a head lamp hauling rock in Indiana Jones style mining carts. We were told they were the original carts brought by the Spanish 200 years earlier. Surprisingly, they all seemed pretty happy, smiling as we offered them coca and soft drink. One group even had music playing as they prepared to dynamite a wall (Dynamite was available for purchase at the start of the tour for 20bs.). If you’re interested look at the doco ‘The Devils Miners’, the doco team used the tour company we used.

With my head spinning, we hopped on a bus to Tupiza. With the sound of Tarija, Tarija, Tarija ringing in our ears, Bolivian advertising consists of yelling louder than your competition.

Author Stephen Bird

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Brasil: Falling for Iguazu and more!

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As we headed to the North of Argentina to see Iguazu Falls, we found ourselves on a ‘shortcut’ through Brasil to Bolivia – Brilliant! During our week here, we saw the Brasil side of Iguazu Falls, snorkelled in Bonito and marvelled at the nature in the Pantanal.

The sights, the sounds, the splash back of the water, the cool relief from 35 degree heat, the giddy feeling that you get being right amongst something so grand, the walking from fall to fall which gave you many different perspectives and made Iguazu Falls an amazing experience.

From there it was onto Bonito where we snorkelled down clear spring rivers filled with fish and ‘domestic alligators’. We hoping that was just one of those things that got lost in translation so laughed it off and were lucky not to spot any.

And then onto the Pantanal. Three mosquito ridden days which were made up for by the fact that we felt like we right amongst all the wildlife. We saw monkeys, caiman, cabybara, otters, spiders galore and countless birds.

All in all, a brilliant short cut!

Rach xo

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Argentina: Wine, Wine, Wine

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3000 metres up, 3000 metres down, the Andes can be beautiful if not a little troubling. After being at the beach, we set off to visit the local bodegas by bike, while enjoying the picturesque surrounding of the Andes. Simple enough; catch the bus to Maipu and away you go. So it seemed anyway. Knowing better as we always do, we got the bus to Maipu Central, however, Maipu Central is an entriely different place from the wine region, damn wrong bus again. Oh well, we decided to make the most of the situation and decided to visit the wineries we saw from out the bus window by foot.

For once we got a stroke of luck and ended up at Argentina’s oldest winery (and the original home of Argentina’s finest box wine, Vino Torro) as our first stop. No longer a funtioning winery, Vino Torro only provides grapes for other brands, they do however, run a first class wine mueso. The bored looking attendant was so happy to see us and to practice her English, she provided us with a tasting (full glasses) of 7 different wines from the region, $5 pesos, our mistake had turned into a truimph and it wasn’t even lunch time. After some advice from the museo staff and some photos with the mascot we were off the winery number two, the classy Bodega Lopez.

This winery offered a more up market experience with amazing grounds and the most over dressed staff you’re likely to meet, after one look at us we were offered the free tasting. We decided on the $25 peso tasting of their three finest reds. The waitress a little shocked brought us our drinks, left the tasting notes and put us in a corner at the end of the bar. This tasting came with a cheese and nut plater that included something as rare as gold in Argentina, good cheese. Sadly for Rach, I got the only piece of Cheddar. I´ve since been told this is the only thing she will hold against me forever, it was worth it. After passing our professional opinion on the wines; two very tasty and one that had a hint of paddock, we were in dire need of the baño. This was an unlikely highlight, we were told to go downstairs where we promptly got lost and enjoyed an unoffical tour of the winery, that included photos with giant wine bottles. Once discovered, we were politely showen the way to the toilets which we were pleased to find were in fact the finest toilets in all of South America (to date), you could even flush your paper, what a treat!

With the first two wineries out of the way we were feeling a little more merry than intended for so early in the day, so it was off to the local shops for a hotdog. On arrival we were greeted by a cheery chap who turns out had lost his job just that moment, we were asked to join him for a beer with lunch, why not. After three more beers and a few hotdogs the whole shop was enjoying chatting to their new NZ friends. The wine from the morning made this our most successful spanish conversation to date. (Rach was quite a hit with the rambling old man in the corner, still got it).

Lunch out of the way the final stop for the day was Baudron Bodega was our last stop. We arrived to find noone around so took the time to take photos on a tractor we found (20 points in tractor factor). A further search found us in a room clearly being prepared for a large tour group, after the initial shock of seeing us, the pleasant staff took the time to offer a free tasting and empanadas to accompany the wine. As the group arrived we were ushered into the street to end a very eventful and enjoyable day that went wrong.

The rest of our time in town was spent enjoying the local wines in restaurants and a bottle in the park, entertained by local market folk and a breakdancing father.

Next stop Cordoba, a city that both of us decided we could comfortably live in. On our only night in town we meet three delightful gents from southern Brasil who entertained us with stories from their previous night out. The best of which was their trip home where Ricardo decided to give a loveable stray a hug only to be bitten on the hand to the delight of his two friends. After a good night and a few less drinks than Mendoza we booked our bus for Igauzu Falls.

Next stop Igauzu and then Brasil.

Author: Stephen Bird

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Chile: Just chilling!

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After seeing in the new year, we headed to Chile both a little bit EXCITED. Travelling in Chile is just that little bit easier with the added bonus of seafood, spices and beaches!

The steak, baked goods and fresh fruit had been amazing throughout Argentina but I found myself reaching desparately for my shichimi (Japanese seven chilli seasoning) at nearly every meal. It had reached the point where I thought could never eat another ham and cheese sandwich so our first stop, Valdivia, a little port side university town, came at the perfect time!

We set up our trusty tent in one of our stranger locations, a 75 year old man’s backyard and headed into town. The highlight for us here was the markets – fresh fruit, veges, shellfish, and fish are all sold on the wharf right by the port. You could sit with a smoked salmon, avocado and tomato roll and watch the boats come in with the fish, which was prepared for sale on the edge of the wharf with the fish been passed up to the stall owners and the scraps being thrown down to the SEA LIONS and gulls waiting patiently.

We spent a few days being entertained by the markets, parks and plazas of Valdivia before heading north for Valparaiso for a week.

Pretty pretty Valparaiso! We were spoilt here… A week of sunshine, temperatures in the thirties with sea breezes. Before we left, one of Muzzs friends, Maria had given Steve a list of everything that we should be doing in Valpo. We made our way through most of her AMAZING suggestions trying half a dozen scollaps with lemon juice on the roadside, empanadas with prawns and cheese at the market, giant hotdogs with avocado, tomato and mayo, an odd mix of steak, chips and egg, seafood soups, wine mixed with fruit, pisco sours in old trolley buses, going crazy in the spice section of the market, wandering through the hills and appreciating the street art, reading books and drinking coffee, strolling through open air museums and antique markets, sneaking into Pablo Neruda’s house, chess battles, sunbathing at Vina del Mar and more!

We left Chile very HAPPY!

Enjoy the photos!

Rach xx

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