A Travellerspoint blog

Chapter 8: Bolivia to Chile

The final leg of an extraordinary journey

sunny 25 °C
View Travelling 2016 on Daniel.J.B's travel map.

La Paz to Sucre, 12 hours, and another overnighter on a bus. The main thing I remember about the journey was falling asleep listening to Bowie, who I then dreamed was showing me round some kind of enormous mansion he and Mick Jagger were building. We bumped into Jagger admiring a statue of himself. I vaguely recall Freddie Mercury making an appearance, too. This has nothing to do with my travels but it was a pretty fantastic dream. I was a bit gutted when I woke up to find I was not at the home of rock gods, but at the Bolivian equivalent of a service station. I went to the loo, which you flush by pouring a Jerry can of water into once your done. It's not all glamour, this travelling business.

Anyway, I made it to Sucre, which is a quiet, pretty, chilled out little city, and the perfect place to recover from the slightly insane previous couple of weeks. Until Friday night, that is, when the place bursts into life. My hostel, Kultur Berlin, hosted a brilliant Bolivian culture night, complete with music and traditional dancers. While that was going on, I got in a heated game of Rummy with an Aussie and a Kiwi. I won the 15 Boliviano jackpot, much to the ire of the Aussie, and it's fair to say I did not win gracefully. In fact, I showered him with the deck of cards, and quite literally rubbed the money in his face. I wound up in a karaoke bar with a group of French girls and an Italian lad, attempting to sing The Final Countdown, forgetting there are actual lyrics other than 'it's the final countdown, da-loo-doo, da-loo-do-doo'. It was a truly horrendous rendition, matched only in its horrendousness by our dancing. I was physically incapable of getting a bus the following morning, so I stayed an extra day, which was spent with the aforementioned bunch exploring the city. That evening the hostel's promise of a 60s night sadly never materialised, so I wound up getting a relatively early night (>3 hours sleep). With my batteries recharged, I finally dragged myself to the bus station, and on to Potosi.

The city came to being in the mid-16th century when huge silver deposits were discovered in the Cerro Rico, which became the richest mine in history, apparently yielding 60,000 tons of the shiny stuff by the 19th century. It's still a mining town today, albeit largely for tin and zinc rather than silver. As such, it's pretty much obligatory to do a mine tour. Having read about them and spoke to others who had already been, my biggest concern was that the tours are slightly voyeuristic. These guys work in dreadful conditions, and many die from silicosis before they reach 50. Silicon, arsenic, cyanide and asbestos are a just a few of the hazards they face in their day job. It's no joke, and a bunch of tourists ogling them as they go about their work is the sort of thing I find a bit awkward and distasteful. However, if you choose the right tour company, a lot of the profits go directly to the miners and help provide supplies and equipment (which they have to buy themselves). As it happens, the day I decided to do the tour was August 1st. I didn't realise this was significant until about 9.30am, when a guy in the hostel came up to me yelling "llama sacrifice, llama sacrifice." I followed him to a yard around the corner, and sure enough there was a llama on its side being slaughtered. It was pretty gruesome. I went back a few hours later and ate some of the furry fella.

IMG_20160802_080849.jpgIMG_20160808_124939.jpgIMG_20160808_125115.jpg

It turns out August 1st is a big national holiday, and all the miners take the day off to get drunk. Having been to the miner's market and bought some dynamite, we headed down in to the temporarily deserted mine. The conditions are every bit as awful as I'd heard, and I can only imagine how tough working down there must be. It's said you could build a bridge to Spain with the silver that's been mined there, and another with the bones of workers who have died mining it. The fact tourists are allowed down there at all would have British health and safety types crying into their risk assessment forms. Nonetheless, it was an interesting experience, the only disappointment being that we didn't get to use the dynamite. We made it out safely, and joined the miners partying outside, most of whom were already smashed. Our group of gringos attracted a fair amount of attention, and a fairer amount of free beer. That night two of the hostel workers - both former miners - stumbled in bloodied, bruised and bandaged, so it's safe to say the party got a little out of hand later on.

My final stop in Bolivia was Uyuni, famous for the world's largest salt flat, Salar de Uyuni. The only way to truly get a feel for the place and to appreciate the scale of it is to do a 4x4 tour (everyone calls them Jeep tours but I didn't see a single Jeep, most use Toyotas, and I'm pedantic about stuff like that). A few days earlier, a group of tourists were killed on a such a tour after a tyre blew and the car flipped. Assuming these things happen infrequently, I figured straight after such a tragic incident was as safe a time as any to take the tour myself. I therefore signed up for a three-day trip that would take me over the Chilean border and in to San Pedro de Atacama.

The first day was incredible. At roughly 10,000 square metres, Salar de Uyuni is a natural phenomenon and like nothing I've ever seen. It really is like being on a different planet. Given the vast, flat landscape, photos playing with perspective have become part and parcel of any visit. We used a toy dinosaur, a Pringles tube and a beer can, among other props, to get our fill of clichés. The volcanoes forming the Ring of Fire around the flat complete the otherworldly landscape, made all the more remarkable as the sun goes down (and with it, the temperature). In the evening we stayed in a salt hotel on the edge of the flat, had dinner and a few beers. It was very pleasant, and we all went to bed by 11pm. Then, around 2am, I was partially woken up by someone in close proximity talking foreign (I wasn't conscious enough to figure out which form of foreign). A few minutes later, I was completely woken up as I was pushed to one side of my bed. Apparently I was taking up too much room for the guy who'd decided to get into bed with me. I sat up, utterly confused, and tried to find my phone so I could see what the hell was going on. By this time foreigner was fast asleep and snoring. The two Swiss girls I was sharing a room with awoke and asked what was happening, to which I replied something along the lines of: "there's a random f***ing dude in my bed." I couldn't find my phone so got out of bed and found my torch. My first concern was the whereabouts of my phone, thinking he may be the cockiest thief in the world - one who gets in bed with his victims - and by the time I'd found it he'd slinked out. It was really bizarre.

IMG_20160805_123053.jpgIMG_20160805_122732.jpgIMG_20160805_122353.jpg

My group spent the morning trying to figure out who my mystery visitor was, based on the clues that he wasn't English and had dark curly hair. We eventually blamed one of the drivers, assuming he got drunk and went into the wrong room. Anyway, the tour. We spent much of day dos in the car, covering the vast ground between Salar de Uyuni and the Bolivian side of the San Pedro de Atacama desert. I didn't mind being in the car as it was proper off-roading and a lot of fun, and we stopped frequently to admire the ever-changing landscape. Minerals in the rocks create wonderfully colourful rainbow mountains, while an array of seemingly impossible rock formations are the result of thousands of years of volcanic activity. We drove to the crater of one such volcano, where pools of boiling water and mud bubble violently and kick out steam. It reminded me - both in appearance and smell - of Rotorua in New Zealand. Only in Rotorua you follow a one-way path with barriers to ensure you keep a safe distance, while here we had free reign to do as we wish and if you fall in, well, whose fault is that? By this point, British-health-and-safety-type would be having a nervous breakdown. We ended the night in a thermal pool below the most spectacular night sky I've ever seen. I didn't realise it was possible to see so many stars - many shooting - from Earth. It was the perfect final night in Bolivia, a country that in two weeks has made quite an impression on me.

IMG_20160805_124550.jpgIMG_20160805_125121.jpgIMG_20160806_002804.jpg

We popped to another colourful lagoon the following morning before the group split, half heading back to Uyuni, the rest of us into Chile. San Pedro de Atacama is a picturesque little city dropped in the middle of the desert, with plenty of activities and excursions on offer. However, with my stomach having finally succumbed to South American food, I spent most of my three days dashing between a hammock and the bathroom. I was able to muster the energy to visit Valle de la Luna with a couple I'd met on the salt flat tour. I've become somewhat blasé to incredible landscapes after two months here, but the sunset was rather special. As I write this I'm back in my hammock, readying myself for the overnight bus to La Serena. From there I head to Santiago, possibly via Valparaiso, which will be my final stop before jetting off to Auckland.

IMG_20160807_073921.jpgIMG_20160807_072846.jpgIMG_20160807_073408.jpg

Unless something mental happens in the next week (which I'm not ruling out), this will be my final blog post from South America. It's been a truly extraordinary two months, possibly the best of my life, blowing away whatever expectations I had when I first set foot in Quito. The places I've seen, the people I've met and the experiences I've enjoyed have been beyond what I could have ever hoped for. If anyone I've met here reads this, know that you have contributed in some way - big or small - to a remarkable journey. I'll be gutted to leave South America next week, but there's no doubt in my mind I'll be back here, hopefully with a little more Spanish under my belt.

And if I find I'm feeling too sorry for myself as I board the plane, I just need to remind myself I'm heading to bloody New Zealand for a year! As far as consolation prizes go, that's not too shabby.

Posted by Daniel.J.B 10:00 Archived in Bolivia Tagged mountains lakes desert travel mountain lake chile lagoon bolivia travelling potosí la_paz atacama south_america san_pedro_de_atacama salt_flats uyuni sucre lagoons salar_de_uyuni atacama_desert Comments (0)

Chapter 7: Peru to Bolivia

I'm knackered

all seasons in one day 25 °C
View Travelling 2016 on Daniel.J.B's travel map.

Being me is quite fun right now, and I have no desire to die. Yet I decided to spend most of my first week in Bolivia risking my life. First by cycling down the North Yungas Road, aka Death Road, the most dangerous in the world, then by climbing Huayna Potosi. The latter climbs to 6,088 metres (19,973ft). Which is really bloody high; over 1,000 metres higher than I've ever been before on foot. Before all that, though, I had Arequipa, the Colca Canyon and Lake Titcaca to take care of.

Arequipa is a cracking little down, like a mini Cusco, flanked by three imperious mountains. My main reason for going was to spend three days trekking down, through, and back up the Colca Canyon. On my previous multi-day trek in Cusco we were provided with duffel bags that mules carried for us. On this occasion we were our own mules. That meant actually buying a backpack designed for this sort of thing, sending my battered and bruised London Marathon drawstring bag into well-earned retirement. The bus would arrive at 3am, so before getting an early night, a few of us checked out a museum that has a remarkably well preserved 500-year-old frozen mummy on display. Juanita, as she has been named, was sacrificed to the gods at around 12 or 13 years of age at the 20,700ft peak of Mount Ampato. The conditions kept decaying, both inside and out, to a minimum, helping researchers uncover a great deal of information about Incan civilisation and such sacrificial rituals. The guide was brilliantly engaging and the exhibition was well worth the 20 soles entry.

Bleary-eyed, I hopped on a bus and met some of my fellow trekkers in the early hours of the morning. Before the hard work began we stopped off to watch Andean condors dance through the canyon. Behind only the albatross and great white pelican in terms of wingspan, they are majestic birds and amazing to watch glide through the air a matter of feet away. The trek itself was almost entirely downhill for the first day, descending to the Colca River as the colourful canyon walls imperiously closed in on us. As is the norm in this part of the world, snowcapped peaks completed the spectacular panorama. We arrived at our base in the early afternoon, had a spot of lunch and then headed out to collect firewood. Along the way we learned about cochineal, a parasite that grows on the Opuntia cactus and is used, somewhat controversially, as food dye. Our guide used it to paint our faces with various symbols, which now I think about it is a little bit disgusting. But so is eating it, I guess. That night we did the classic 'scary stories around the bonfire' before playing cards and getting drunk.

IMG_20160726_091830.jpgIMG_20160715_064523.jpgIMG_20160715_025754.jpg

The second day was more undulating as we weaved our way through the canyon to Sangalle Village. The ever-changing view never failed to amaze, and I again developed a severe case of photographer's finger. We again arrived at our abode just after lunchtime, which was a lovely little lodge at the foot of the canyon. The third and final day started just after 5am. While it was hard to believe when my alarm went off, there were several upshots to this. The first was that, barring our headlights and torches, there was almost zero light pollution, so the night sky was able to exhibit it's stars in all their glory, before the sun's crown crept over the cliffs and eased the canyon back into life. The second upshot was that we didn't have the full force of the sun belting down on us for the relatively steep ascent, which would've been brutal in circa 25 °C heat. Upshot numero tres was that we'd be at the summit for around 8am, giving us the whole day to wind down and relax. Because I'm obvs such a boss at trekking, I again went full pelt and completed the supposed three hour journey in a smidge under two.

The reward for the mornings effort was a visit to the thermal pools in Yanque. Dashing between the ice cold river and the steaming pools was strangely enjoyable and surprisingly addictive. The lunch was a buffet so after two mains I had seven desserts and felt incredibly sick afterwards. Back in Arequipa I decided to chill for a day before setting off at 5.30am for Puno. A bunch from the trek came round to my hostel for a few civilised drinks, which were followed by many uncivilised drinks. At 5.30 in the morning a disgruntled bus driver barged into my room to wake me up, which he did. Unfortunately the moment he left I fell asleep again. He didn't bother trying a second time. The bus I eventually caught was driven by a raving lunatic, so I decided to go to sleep and hope I woke up in Puno in one piece. I did, finally, 12 hours later than planned.

IMG_20160715_124304.jpgIMG_20160726_081041.jpg

I've not heard great things about Puno, which sits on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. "It's a dump" was a phrase a heard more than once. When I got there, I found out it is, in fact, a bit of a dump. I figured I'd kill a couple of hours in the afternoon by visiting Isla de Uros, the floating islands. A few people had recommended them and for 10 soles (£2-3) you can't go far wrong. Unless the bus doesn't turn up, which mine didn't. My hostel rang the tour company and to their credit, they sent a taxi for me, and I then got a private boat ride and a private tour of one of the islands. Admittedly it was in Spanish, but I got the gist of it; the islands float on a bed of totora, the president of each island has a different shaped hut, and they make a living by giving tourists the hard sell and hoping they but stuff they don't really want. I bought a bracelet I didn't really want for 7 soles.

With a heavy heart I left Peru, a country I've fallen completely in love with, and strolled into Bolivia and to Copacobana. My bus ticket gave me the option of heading straight to La Paz or spending the night on Isla del Sol. If anyone reading this is taking the same journey, do the latter. It's one of the best decisions I've made on my travels. The island, where the sun was born (the moon on the nearby Isla del Luna), sits idyllically in Lake Titicaca and is wonderfully serene. A German lad, Sebastian, and I trekked the entire island in around 4 hours, capturing the vast array of landscapes and scenery on offer. Our hostel afforded the most spectacular view, the food was decent and the locals were some of the friendliest I've come across yet.

IMG_20160726_081735.jpgIMG_20160726_081401.jpgIMG_20160726_081550.jpg

A guy I met in Switzerland last year told me La Paz is somewhere you can lose countless days to drug and alcohol-fuelled frenzies. In the true party spirit, I immediately went to bed upon arrival. The next evening, having done roughly nothing during the day, I did partake in a drink or two with a trio of English girls I first met in Puno. They had been moaning about a guy in their room they nicknamed Snoorlax, who turned out to be birthday boy Lucas, who I seem to have bumped into in every city I've visited. I also wound up chatting to the nephew of Rose Woods, with whom I worked at The Olive Grove. Small world. Drinking that night wasn't smart, as I had to be up the next morning to cycle down Death Road. As if to make sure we didn't think the name was a gimmick, our guide had us look over the cliff and pointed out a bus that vouched for the title. It's the most dangerous road in the world, but also indescribably beautiful. My GoPro nearly joined the bus after it flew off my handlebar attachment, possibly because I hadn't clipped it in properly, landing two feet from the edge. Aside from that there was no real drama and most of the group made it down safely. One lad who fancied himself a bit fell over while showing off, injuring his elbow and ego in equal measures. I didn't find it at all funny.

The couple who had recommended I stay on Isla del Sol also suggested spending a night at Senda Verde Animal Reserve in Coroico, a town near the end of Death Road. Animals stolen from the wild and sold on as pets or attractions for shops and restaurants are not allowed to be reintroduced into the wild under Bolivian law. The vast reserve is a haven for these animals to recover from the mistreatment they've suffered, in an environment as close to their natural habitat as could be hoped for. I spent the night in a tree house and woke to a spider monkey peering in through the window. The reserve is home to eight species of monkeys, as well as an array of tropical birds, reptiles, armadillos, bears and everything in between. Like Isla del Sol, if anyone reading this is heading in that direction, I thoroughly recommend staying a night.

IMG_20160722_152240.jpgIMG_20160722_150443.jpg

Then came Huayna Potosi. I signed up for it with a Czech guy I cycled Death Road with. It was a ridiculous decision. I've never set foot over 5,000 metres, let alone 6,000, and I've never climbed a mountain requiring the technical ability of this one. It was a relief, therefore that day one was a training day on a glacier, learning how to use ice axes, crampons and other such fancy climbing equipped. We also got to climb a vertical ice wall, which was fun. Day two was a trek from Base Camp (4,700m) to High Camp (5,130m) which was a little rough, but only a taster of what was to come.

Then, as is often the case after day two, came day three. At 2am, in bitterly cold and windy conditions, we set off. And it was immediately difficult, scaling cliff faces while hanging on to the safety rope for dear life. Soon after that was out of the way we donned crampons and hit the icy terrain. The next five hours are something of a blur. We were jumping over deep crevasses, using the ice axe to haul ourselves up near-vertical walls, and trying desperately to inhale every particle of oxygen as the air's supply depleted. All while using only headlights and the faint illumination of the moon to navigate through the treacherous terrain. The final push to the summit damn near killed me. I was tired, struggling to breathe and had frozen snot on my moustache. Did I mention the temperature was around -25 °C? Anyway, I made it. It wasn't stylish, or heroic, or done with any conviction whatsoever, but I made it. And the views were stunning. On one side, the lights of La Paz shined brightly from the darkness that surrounded it. On the other, a spectacular sunrise revealing the truly immense nature of our surroundings. I'd have taken more pictures but I'm fairly certain my fingers would've instantly fallen off had I removed my gloves and mitts, plus my phone wasn't fond of the conditions and refused to play. There was, of course, the small matter of getting down. Not just to High Camp, but to Base Camp. This meant a 1,400 metre descent, which my broken body was not chuffed about. The sunrise also revealed how perilous certain parts of the climb actually were, and how one slip or misplaced step could have been rather troublesome. We made it down safely, and headed back to La Paz. I went for a nap that lasted 13 hours.

IMG_20160726_082351.jpgIMG_20160726_082149.jpgIMG_20160726_082032.jpg

I have three weeks left on this wonderful continent before jetting off to New Zealand. I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to spend them, but I like the idea of throwing sticks of dynamite at things in Potosi, and of course the salt flats at Uyuni. I'm still debating whether or not to pop into Argentina. We'll see. Whatever happens, I'm sure it won't be boring...

Posted by Daniel.J.B 06:27 Archived in Bolivia Tagged mountains lakes hiking peru trek mountain trekking lake arequipa hike climbing bolivia puno la_paz south_america copacabana colca_canyon lake_titicaca isla_del_sol huayna_potosi Comments (6)

Chapter 6: Peru

Partying, hiking and Machu Picchu

all seasons in one day 20 °C
View Travelling 2016 on Daniel.J.B's travel map.

The 19 hour bus ride from Mancora to Lima wasn't half as bad as it sounds. Two meals, super comfy reclining seats and an endless stream of Adam Sandler films dubbed in Spanish, what more could you want? So when I arrived at 9am, my main concern was whether to find somewhere to stay in Lima for the night, jump straight on a bus for a further 22 hours to Cusco, or head to the airport and hope I could get a reasonably priced flight. I've not heard great things about Lima, and didn't really fancy another bus, so opted for the latter. I got a flight for around $100USD, which was delayed almost immediately after I bought the ticket.

I finally got to Cusco and as daylight began to fade headed into town. I fell in love with the place pretty much immediately. It's visually beautiful, there was music all over the place, and locals clad in traditional clothes dancing on the street. I decided to brave some street food from an area teeming with locals, and got some sort of shredded meat with potatoes, corn and veg for 10 soles (£2-3). I'm not certain what the meat was but there were plenty of guinea pigs being grilled so it may have been that. If it was then you should forget that Dominoes tonight and get down to Pets at Home sharpish, because it was really good.

Because my liver is my least favourite organ, I decided to check in to the Cusco branch of Loki and give it some more punishment. As is becoming common on nights out, Brexit was a much discussed topic of conversation. As is also becoming common, I danced on the bar, expertly leading The Macarena. I had a day to kill before beginning my trek and Machu Picchu visit, so booked myself on a trip to the Sacred Valley. While the tour was a little rigid for my liking, a lot was packed into the day and some of the sights were breathtaking. The valley contains some of the most important and impressive landmarks of the Inca people, with Pisac and Ollantaytambo particular standouts. The guide was as entertaining as he was enthusiastic and informative, and at lunch I found alpacas are as tasty as they are cute.

IMG_20160702_081133.jpgIMG_20160630_080413.jpgIMG_20160702_105329.jpg

I got back to the hostel just as the 11th anniversary festivities kicked off. The main event was a train of 252 free 'blood bombs' (Red Bull, vodka and grenadine), followed by a giant 'LOKI 11' being set alight and a firework display. Naturally, there was also a professional face painter on hand. As a result, I ended up walking back to the hostel at 7am looking like Gene Simmons, which attracted a bit of attention. I checked out later that morning and stumbled across town to the hotel I was booked into as part of my trek. I thought I'd actually take a look at the itinerary, and it turns out the first day was essentially the same as the aforementioned Sacred Valley trip I'd taken the day before. So, bright and early, I was on my way back. While the tour was a little rigid for my liking, a lot was packed into the day and some of the sights were breathtaking. The valley contains some of the most important and impressive landmarks of the Inca people, with Pisac and Ollantaytambo particular standouts. The guide was as entertaining as he was enthusiastic and informative. I didn't have alpaca for lunch.

IMG_20160708_111024.jpgIMG_20160702_105801.jpg

The Inca Trail itself is limited to 500 people per day, only around 200 of which are for tourists. These sell out months in advance, so the trek I took started the other side of Machu Picchu in Lares. The one down side to the trek was that it didn't actually finish at Machu Picchu, rather at the Sacred Valley. Aside from that, the 3-day trek was phenomenal, with an eclectic mix of people. While the first day was great, the second day stole the show, with the scenery towards the 4,800m peak growing ever more dramatic and glorious. As we ascended, the mountains gained a sprinkling of snow, engulfing an array of deep blue lagoons. A backdrop of glaciers draped over the peaks of The Andes completed one of the most stunning sights I've ever seen. The trek wouldn't have been particularly challenging from sea level, but the altitude certainly made things more interesting. Having lived a less than healthy lifestyle recently, I decided to challenge myself and go as fast as my oxygen-deprived body would allow, meaning I had the utterly beautiful summit to myself for a good 20 minutes. After taking the obligatory selfies I sat there soaking up the serene silence of my surroundings. The rest of the group gradually emerged before we headed down the other side for lunch, provided by chefs who somehow produced top notch meals with barely any equipment. After a second (bloody freezing) night camping, the third day was a little more relaxed, ending with the train ride to Aguas Calientes just outside Machu Picchu.

While the trek itself was spectacular, there was one aspect of the trip I was somewhat uncomfortable with - the 'interaction' with the local kids. I wouldn't go so far as to say it was poverty tourism, but it seemed more for our benefit than theirs. Basically, we were told we could take toys or food to bring along and give out to the children along the way. In reality, the slightly baffled looking kids were sent to stand by the path waiting for us and take what they could. In return they would pose for a photo so people could go home and tell everyone what a good samaritan they are. It was so insincere it would've made Jeremy Corbyn blush.

While I enjoy camping in small doses, I was quite happy to sleep in a comfy bed in Aguas Calientes, even if we did have to get up at 4am to make sure we could catch one of the earliest buses to Machu Picchu. The low hanging clouds hovering around the peaks made for yet more spectacular views, and our brilliant guide Jhonatan led us through the various sections of the city. After that we had time to explore, so a group of us walked up to the Sun Gate, where some of the most spectacular shots of Machu Picchu are taken. We got a view of some clouds. Once back down, we got a demonstration of the Incan city's impressive drainage system, as the heavens opened. After donning super stylish ponchos, we headed back to Aguas Calientes for food and finally back to Cusco. And that is where I am now, sat in the hotel lobby reveling in the relatively decent WiFi.

IMG_20160707_200754.jpgIMG_20160708_110804.jpgIMG_20160708_081349.jpg

Argentina has been part of my plan from the beginning, mainly for Iguazu Falls, but I think it may be sacrificed. I would rather see fewer places properly than rush through many. I'm heading to Arequipa on Sunday, before Puno on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. From there it's into Bolivia where, among other things, the salt flats at Uyuni await. It's a hard life, but someone's got to do it.

Posted by Daniel.J.B 09:52 Archived in Peru Tagged travel peru adventure machu_picchu travelling cusco south_america quito mancora banos ecuador cuenca Comments (1)

Chapter 5: Ecuador to Mancora, Peru

I soke still have all my stuff

sunny 30 °C
View Travelling 2016 on Daniel.J.B's travel map.

I'm not going to waste too much precious Internet space on Miami. It is what it is, and I'm sure some people love it, but I'm afraid I ain't one of them. Thankfully there was plenty of football to keep me entertained for the two nights I was there before departing for Ecuador.

Trying to fit South America into two months is like trying to fit an elephant into a Mini. It's a squeeze. The Ecuadorian leg would be particularly tight, as I have a trek to Machu Picchu booked for July 2nd, and need to be in Cusco a couple of days early to acclimatise to the altitude, so time management is pretty important. Which is slightly problematic as I'm rubbish at managing time. I decided to start off with two nights in Quito before heading to Baños for a further two.

According to Duolingo I'm 4% fluent in Spanish, so when I arrived in Quito I was excited but a little apprehensive when it came to communication. I needed two buses to get to my hostel, the first of which I navigated fine, but when I got off at what I think was the right stop the place was a mad house. I had no idea which of the many buses I needed. I wimped out of trying to ask and got a taxi instead, experiencing my first taste of Ecuadorian driving and their scant regard for safety, which was fun. I used my phrase book to strike up a conversation with the driver, the dialogue of which consisted mostly of 'no comprende'.

IMG_20160616_154825.jpgIMG_20160617_163901.jpgIMG_20160617_014754.jpg

I finally made it to my hostel just outside of the vibrant old town, which is a cool place to wander around and get a bit lost in. A group of us went into town to watch Ecuador play the USA in the Copa America. South Americans are famously passionate about football, so an Ecuador victory would no doubt have been celebrated in style. They scored late on to reduce the 2-0 half time deficit and piled on pressure in search of the equaliser, but unfortunately the USA held on, so what could have been an amazing night ended slightly anticlimatically. Nonetheless, I quite liked the city so ended up staying an extra night. Quito might not be the prettiest place on Earth, but the cable car ride up the mountains results in some spectacular views. The 5km hike to the peak of the Rucu Pichincha volcano was a bit more challenging than I had expected, but was well worth the effort.

I made it to Baños the following day, where I met a Mario the Mexican. It just so happened Mexico were playing Chile that night, so once he'd donned his colours we headed out to watch it. It's fair to say it didn't go well. A bad first half ended with Chile 2-0 up, before a catastrophic second half saw them add five more. We drank a lot of tequila that night, and I learned some Spanish swear words. To get over the tequila-inspired hangover I decided to go rafting the following morning. The water was nice and choppy, so choppy in fact an American guy in the raft in front of us fell in after hitting a particularly big wave. He managed to get to the river bed where we dragged him into our boat and saved him. It was all very heroic. Baños is much like Queenstown, sat in the mountains with plenty of activities to get the adrenaline flowing. I talked Nicole, a Scottish lass I met rafting, into doing 'something with waterfalls' with a group from my room. Turns out it was canyoning, which she wasn't overly enamoured about. I thought it was great though, until we went down a natural rock slide at the end, when the harness contorted in such a way that it made life a little uncomfortable downstairs. My pained expression at least provided amusement for those at the bottom.

On the calmer side of things, Baños offers thermal pools, and the Swing At The End Of The World. The view from the latter would no doubt look all the more spectacular could we see anything other than clouds 10 feet in front of us, but it was still pretty awesome. I really liked Baños so ended staying an extra two nights.

IMG_20160620_082634.jpgIMG_20160621_144205.jpgIMG_20160622_065442.jpg

To make up for lost time I decided to pass straight through Cuenca and do an 18-hour trip all the way to Mancora in Peru. Once I got to Cuenca 9 hours later, however, I changed my mind and decided to stay the night. Doing so meant Mario and I could meet back up with Nicole and Ana who arrived the next day. This was good because A, they're quite nice people and - more importantly - B, they could return the swimming trunks I'd left on the balcony in Baños. Cuenca itself is a cracking little place, and the walking tour was superb. An unexpected highlight was the Panama hat museum and workshop, which was far more interesting than it sounds. I was deeply tempted to stay an extra night so I could visit the nearby national park. As it happened, I met an Aussie and American girl who were also heading to Mancora so I decided to tag along. It was my first experience of an overnight bus in South America, and while it wasn't exactly luxurious it did the job. Due to a little referendum you may have heard about my money at the end of the journey was worth a fair amount less than at the start, which put me in a bit of a mood. Fortunately it was a Friday and I was staying at Loki, an absolute party haven, so drowning my sorrows wasn't difficult.

Because I have my priorities straight, my main concern in getting from Mancora to Lima was how I would do it without missing any football. I had planned to work Trujillo into the journey to break things up, but that would mean sacrificing the Copa America final or the England game. The only feasible option was to stay in Mancora for an extra couple of nights, followed by a 19 hour bus straight to Lima. The added bonus was that in staying I was once again reunited with Mario, Nicole and Ana for a night. In all honesty, the whole four days are a bit of a blur. I do unfortunately remember the England game, and the endless jokes about leaving Europe twice in a week, made mostly by the gleeful Irish and Scottish contingent at the hostel. The details of that night are a little sketchy, but I do remember Dee Nicole pouring a beer over my head because I was quite scathing about her flip cup ability. She was terrible, in fairness. As I was packing the next morning I realised my GoPro was missing. I hadn't used it in Mancora, so assumed it had been stolen as I'd left my locker open. I was grumpily about to leave when I realised I'd left my toothbrush in the room so popped back to get it. I decided to do one final sweep, and found I'd inexplicably taken my GoPro out of my locker and left it on the balcony. I haven't the faintest idea why, considering I didn't even use it. Having already announced it had been stolen, I quietly shuffled out of the hostel without telling anyone otherwise. Admitting my idiotic ineptitude is far easier this way than in person.

IMG_20160624_104011.jpg

I met so many awesome, crazy people at Loki, but for the sake of self preservation I was ready to leave after four nights. As I write this, four hours into my journey to Lima, with the sun sinking gloriously into a lake over my right shoulder, and dry, arid desert to my left, it occurs to me that I haven't had a shower for three days and may not have one in the next two as I try to figure out how the hell to get to Cusco. Pretty views though.

Posted by Daniel.J.B 09:06 Archived in Ecuador Tagged travel peru adventure travelling south_america quito mancora banos ecuador cuenca Comments (1)

Chapter 4: Canada (Part 2) & the USA

The jacket saga continues

sunny 27 °C
View Travelling 2016 on Daniel.J.B's travel map.

Since my last post, I've been overwhelmed by the concern regarding the welfare and whereabouts of my jacket. Oddly enough it overtook me and made it to Halifax before I did, courtesy of Fréderique, the Dutch tenant of my Couchsurfing host in Ottawa.

While my jacket was on its way to Nova Scotia, I was still in Québec City, which was no bad thing. Following Montréal was always going to be tough, but I once again benefitted from an awesome Anglophile Couchsurfing host named Daniel and his Colombian flatmate Ricardo. It also helped that on my first full day in the city I met up with the lovely Steph, with whom my sister did a student exchange 13 years ago. We reminisced about all the conversations we didn't have because I was a somewhat shy 14-year-old at the time and barely spoke a word to her. We had a rather tasty burger and I forgot to get a photo of us as my mum had requested. Back at Daniel's that evening we were joined by another CSer, Calvin, from a part of Canada I couldn't remember the name of but though it sounded a bit like a Pokemon. We drank Jack Daniels and I finally got to play my favourite travelling card game, Yeniv. I won.

The next day I actually got a good look around Québec and the old city in particular, and it is a really beautiful place. As a Spurs fan I was less than enthused by the number of cannons around the city, but I'm reliably informed they aren't there in homage to Arsenal. Apparently it's just because the French and British bickered a bit back in the day. Calvin and I met up with Rached, a Tunisian now residing in Québec I'd met in Montréal, and had some excellent gelato.

Given it's not the biggest place, one day is plenty to see most of the sights in Québec. Myself, Calvin, Daniel and Jeanette, a German I'd met in Montréal, therefore decided to head to Jacques Cartier National Park and do a spot of trekking. This was a good decision. The place is phenomenally beautiful, and the 16km route we took had a spectacular view from the summit. Pictures, as usual, don't do it justice, but I've added a few below anyway. We also saw a porcupine, which was cool. We bolted on a little 4km hike as a warm down, finishing just as the heavens opened.

IMG_20160606_084044.jpgIMG_20160606_083511.jpgIMG_20160606_054615.jpg

I returned to Montréal in order to fly to Halifax, where I would be staying with my great-aunt Valerie. Upon arrival, I messaged Fréderique and she agreed to leave my jacket at her hotel reception for me to collect in the morning. In the morning, I therefore made my way to her hotel reception to collect my jacket, but the staff knew nothing of it. I messaged Fréderique who replied with "Crap.. I forgot." At this point I was beginning to accept that my jacket and I just weren't meant to be, so heroically braved the violent rain and wind and made it to the maritime museum around the corner for shelter. After spending a few hours in the museum, which was excellent, I found the weather was absolutely beautiful and was grateful not to have the burden of a jacket. I had some ice cream at the port and saw some jellyfish.

While in Halifax I met some of my extended family, had a lovely meal and forgot to get any photos as my mum had requested. The next morning I returned to Fréderique's hotel reception once more, having been assured my jacket was now there. Guess what? The guy at reception, the same chap as the previous day, seemed to think I was playing some weird and really not very funny practical joke and assured me my jacket was not there. I tried, to no avail, the hotel down the street before giving up and heading to quite literally the windiest place on the planet, Peggy's Cove. Despite the wind and my lack of protection from it, Peggy's Cove was awesome, especially as the tide was in and waves crashed violently against the granite rock formations.

Then, finally, at the third time of asking, the greatest reunification for 26 years happened. Great crowds gathered as, at last, my jacket was presented to me. It was like I had won the Masters. I celebrated this momentus occasion by joining Fréderique for a beer, along with her friends and colleagues, all of whom were in town for a science convention. In news that may surprise some, scientists are in fact real people and it turned out to be a pretty good night, during which I learned to hate the bloody p19 protein, whatever it is.

IMG_20160609_161743.jpgIMG_20160610_063806.jpg

With my three weeks in Canada complete, it was time to head to the US. I'd already booked flights to and from Miami when I found out Flight of the Conchords were playing in Philadelphia that weekend, and after a few beers decided the added miles and expense were worth it to see them live again, having done so in London years ago. The only downside was I'd be going solo, and these things are always better with company. Nonetheless, I went ahead a bought a ticket.

Now, in my Iceland blog I wrote about how bizarre it is we come across certain people at certain times. I guess some call it fate, something in which I've never really believed. But as I was in the hostel waiting to set off for the wonderful Mann Center, I overheard an English girl, Jas, talking about the show, and it turned out she was going too. Great, I thought, a drinking buddy (and someone to split the taxi fare with). We got chatting and after a while checked which seats we were in.
Me: BAL-BX - ROW 20 SEAT 12
Jas: BAL-BX - ROW 19 SEAT 12
Seriously. 8,000 odd people and she was directly in front of me. Fortunately we also got on, so like that the one reservation I'd had about going was gone. The Conchords were every bit as brilliant as expected. Possibly more brilliant. Their new material is as good as ever, and their rendition of Foux du FaFa was as hilarious as Bowie's in Space was emotional.

Walking through unknown parts of Philadelphia at night was something I'd been explicitly warned not to do. After the show we decided to walk through an unknown part of Philadelphia at night to find a bar as the crowd died down. It wasn't one of the nicest neighbourhoods but the bar was cool and the beer was cheap, so it was worth it. All-in-all, it was a pretty epic night.

IMG_20160612_151839.jpgIMG_20160613_112921.jpg

I spent the brief time I had in Philly walking around, ticking off the clichés such as the Rocky steps and statue and eating cheese steaks. It's a really cool place that reminded me of Montréal in many ways, and somewhere I'd like to spend more time. As I write this I'm preparing to head back to Miami, my fourth flight in three days, before I start my South American adventure on Wednesday in Quito.

¿Hablas Español? No.

Posted by Daniel.J.B 10:46 Archived in Canada Tagged walking hiking travel quebec quebec_city music usa america canada florida miami philadelphia pennsylvania halifax comedy gig nove_scotia Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 8) Page [1] 2 »