Monthly Archives: April 2013

Bolivia to Chile…

This weeks travels!

This weeks travels!

We started this past week by exploring La Paz, the highest capital city in the world at 3,650m. It is a cool (literally!) city in a valley with its buildings expanding all the way up the sides of the surrounding mountains. We walked all over looking at the sights as well as for replacement items that were stolen back in Peru. We went to the Witches Market (Mercado de las Brujas) which was interesting if not a bit creepy with the baby and even fetus llamas, dried frogs and little soapstone carvings claiming all kinds of things. There are lots of different markets on the streets with most areas specializing in different things, like potato street, citrus avenue and electronic alley.

The witches market (check out the doorway...)

The witches market (check out the things hanging in the doorway…)

Citrus Alley

Citrus Avenue

We left La Paz and headed south east towards the famous Salar de Uyuni (salt flats). We drove all day and made it after dark to Ojo del Inca (eye of the Inca), a natural hot spring. It’s round and about 100m in diameter and close to 30°C.

Driving out of La Paz - where any lane will do apparently!

Driving out of La Paz – where any lane will do apparently!

It's not quite all deserts in Bolivia

It’s not quite all deserts in Bolivia

Our camp next to the natural hot pool

Our camp next to the natural hot pool

We were the only people camping there and went for an early morning dip in the 7°C morning air temperature. Easy getting in but difficult getting the nerve to get out!

Dave enjoying an early morning soak

Dave enjoying an early morning soak

Christine not wanting to get out

Christine not wanting to get out

Next we made it to the jumping off point for the worlds largest salt flats, the dusty town of Uyuni.

The remains of an old church by the road

The remains of an old church by the road

Beautiful views

Beautiful views

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Our first view of the salt flats in the distance

Our first glimpse of the salt flats in the distance

The 'on-footpath' butcher in Uyuni

The ‘on-footpath’ butcher in Uyuni

The salt flats cover an area of 10,582 square kilometers and are the result of prehistoric salt lakes that used to exist here. We prepared for our excursion on the salt flats and took off the next morning, a little bit nervous about what we would find. We were pleasantly surprised with the condition of the salt and how easy it was to drive on it with Ginger. It’s the start of the dry season so there was minimal water and the tracks where the gazillion daily 4WD tours go were fairly clear, abeit a lot of them.

Ginger near the edge of the salt flats

Ginger & Dave near the edge of the salt flats

Salt production

Salt production

The salt highway

The salt highway

Ginger pretending to be a 4WD

Ginger pretending to be a 4WD

We tried to take the cool perspective photos that you see everyone taking (with some success) but were just excited to be on the flats and in awe of the endless vastness and brightness. Super cool place!

Mini-Ginge

Mini-Ginge

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Of course we wanted to camp the night on them to see the sunset so pulled off the ‘road’ and waited for all the 4WD’s to leave so we could enjoy by ourselves. It was a quiet but cold night!

Exploring one of islands in the salt flats

Exploring one of islands in the salt flats

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Watc hing the sun set from our camp

Watching the sun set from our camp

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Rough sections of salt

Rough sections of salt

We had planned to return to Uyuni to re-fuel and resupply before heading to the border, so had left town with only half a tank of gas, but the next day we had a chat with some tour guides who confirmed that we could get off the salt to the South, and would be able to buy fuel in one of the small towns or at the border. So we made our way across and off the salt flats in the direction of Chile. Our GPS was pretty useless except for telling us the general direction we were going and the place we wanted to get to. We followed tire tracks across the salt and desert on some horrible ‘roads’ but eventually made it to the very small and quiet border crossing from Bolivia to Ollagüe, Chile. We were so happy to be there!

Rough roads on the way to the border

Rough roads on the way to the border

It was an easy crossing that we had prepared for, having boiled our eggs and eaten all our fresh fruits and vegetables. Finally, Chile!

Of course there was nowhere to buy any fuel here – and the one lady at the border who had some fuel to sell wanted US$5 a litre for it!! Nothing to do but keep going… Dave’s stress level was pretty high as he watched the fuel gauge keep getting lower and lower.

More rough roads and volcanoes in Chile

More rough roads and volcanoes in Chile

We had some more dirt roads to get through and had to sleep on the side of the road enroute to the main highway. But it wasn’t too bad with the surrounding volcanos and scenery that would impress anyone. The next morning we even managed to hike up the cindercone we had just slept next to. Great views from the top.

Roadside camping

Roadside camping

Dave ready for a quick 'after breakfast' climb up the hill behind...

Dave ready for a quick ‘after breakfast’ climb up the small volcano behind…

Christine on the edge of the volcanoes crater

Christine on the edge of the volcano’s crater

Dave pointing out Ginger far below

Dave pointing out Ginger far below

We eventually made it to the mining town of Calama where we could get some petrol. We had managed to stretch out one tank of petrol to over 850km! And there was still nearly 20 litres in the tank – pretty good going considering the elevation and terrible roads we had been on.

Salt flats, pink flamingoes and volcanoes

Salt flats, pink flamingos and volcanoes

We were rewarded greatly for all our efforts by arriving in Antofagasta and staying with our friends Shauna and Julian. We were so happy to see them for the 3rd time and on a 3rd continent this year. First in Nepal last March at the start of our travels, then when crossing Canada in Lake Louise and now here in Chile! They have a super apartment here right across from the beach and have given us food, lodging, parking and lots of information on Chile and Argentina. We are going on our third night now, but will try to pry ourselves out of their place tomorrow to get back on the road. Thank you guys so much for a much needed break from our travels!

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The best and worst of Peru

This weeks travels

This weeks travels

We have had an interesting week since the last blog. The highlight, obviously, was the surreal and amazing site of Machu Picchu. The low was in the southern town next to Lake Titicaca where our van was broken into and lots of our stuff was stolen.

So let’s start with the positive! From Cusco we got a little collectivo bus to Ollantayambo where we caught the lovely tourist train with panoramic windows up to the town of Aguas Calientes, which sits below the site of Machu Picchu (Would you believe we sat across from a guy from Sydney, Nova Scotia who told us his whole life story on the 2 hour ride!)

Ready to board

Ready to board

We got off the train and successfully found a horrible dive of a hotel. It was only after we paid that we saw all the mold and felt that everything was damp. We asked for a different room with an actual window which seemed to help, so hopefully we haven’t shaved off too much of our life.

We headed directly for the hot springs, which the town is named for and soaked in the fabulous water with all the other tourists.

The hot pools in Aguas Calientes

The hot pools in Aguas Calientes

After we were suitably poached we had dinner at one of the restaurants that are always harassing you as you go by. We tucked in early and managed to get a couple of hours of sleep in our stinky room.

4:30am and we were up and at ’em. We walked out of town to the trail that headed straight up the 400m to Machu Picchu. We waited with loads of others for the gate to open at 5am and then the fun started. It was a difficult way to wake up but we made it up all the way, then made our way to one of the terraces to enjoy the sunrise over Machu Piccu.

Our first view over Machu Picchu in the morning

Our first view over Machu Picchu in the morning

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Mornin' guys! Wachu lookin at?

Mornin’ guys! Wachu lookin at?

However the sun didn’t rise so much as it just got light. But it was still stunning and we tried to enjoy it peacefully despite a lot of not so quiet tourists. Can’t tell you how many times people told us to get out of their photos when we were just innocent bystanders! And they didn’t do it nicely!

After we had fully appreciated the initial view of Machu Picchu we moved on and headed to the Inca Bridge which is a very thin bridge and path running along a cliff face on the mountain. I guess you used to be able to cross it but Madeleine (Christine’s mom) said that someone fell off and that was the end of that. Don’t think I would have been brave enough to try it anyways!

Dave at the Inca Bridge

Dave at the Inca Bridge

The obligatory couple photo at Machu Picchu

The obligatory couple photo at Machu Picchu

Christine enjoying the view

Christine enjoying the view

We also signed up (payed for!) the extra treat of walking up Machu Picchu Mountain which is the forgotten mountain behind all the typical pictures you see. The one you see in the pictures is Huayna Picchu and is much shorter. Both have limits of 400 maximum tourists that can climb them each day. We thought we were lucky but quickly figured out that it was quite a hike and it took us a total of 4 hours! And a climb of another 600m!

Christine climbing the endless steps up Machu Picchu Mountain

Christine climbing the endless steps up Machu Picchu Mountain (a good view though!)

It was definitely worthwhile though, and we enjoyed the quiet and tranquility at the top, especially compared to the hairy main area full of self important tourists. We also got some great views of Machu Picchu.

Looking down onto Machu Picchu

Looking down onto Machu Picchu

Great views from the top

Great views from the top

Exploring the actual site (with the mountain we climbed in the background)

Exploring the actual site

Machu Picchu terraces, with the mountain we climbed in the background

Machu Picchu, with the mountain we climbed in the background

Overall Machu Picchu was excellent and a definite highlight of our entire trip.

We got back to Ginger late on Friday night and were ready to roll early the next day. Our next destination was Tinajani Canyon which was really cool and a great place to camp. We even managed to get a bit of a walk in before the wind and cold came with the night.

Driving through the high plains in Peru

Driving through the high plains in Peru

The view from our camp in the canyon

The view from our camp in the canyon

Looking down into the canyon (can you spot Ginger by the bridge?)

Looking down into the canyon (can you spot Ginger by the bridge?)

Looking along the beautiful canyon

Looking along the beautiful canyon

Now the bad: we made our way to the town of Puno which is the jumping off point to the floating village of Uros.

The floating reed islands of Uros

The floating reed islands of Uros

Outside a typical reed house

Outside a typical reed house

We parked by the ferry terminal in a large busy open carpark with lots of people around. The ferry ride and tour to the floating moss/reed islands was about 3 hours so we were back at Ginger by 3pm. Dave noticed right away that the back door lock was busted and that the door was unlocked. Christine jumped in and immediately checked our safe which thankfully had not been touched, and still had everything in it. We then started to take inventory of what was missing. Some of the big stuff was Christine’s E-book, her awesome big backpack, all of our jackets and the biggest bummer was all our electical cables and chargers! We started asking the people milling around the van if they saw anything but of course no one said anything and avoided us. Next was a trip to the police. Christine grabbed a ride up into the main square where the tourist police are, but the policeman said that it was Sunday and that the bank doesn’t open until Monday at 8am so they couldn’t do anything until then (You have to pay to get a police report apparently….?). Christine asked for them to come down and see but they weren’t interested. Times like these make you want to pack it in and just go home.

We were only supposed to be passing through Puno but now we needed to stick around to make a police report the next day. We talked to some other overlander’s who thankfully were also parked in the same parking lot and they decided that if we all banded together we would be able to stick it out in the car park for the night. So everyone pulled up alongside of us and we then took turns watching the vehicles. It’s times like these that you really appreciate your fellow travellers!

Fellow overlanders 'circling the wagons' after we were broken into

Fellow overlanders ‘circling the wagons’ after we were broken into

Thankfully David was able to pull the door apart to disconnect the lock barrel and get the locking mechanism working again, otherwise we would have had to have slept with the door unlocked.

The next day we took a few hours and got the police report completed and then went on a search for some replacement cables. So far we’ve gotten a laptop one but the tricky one is going to be for our Canon camera which has a funky seperate battery charger that’s not likely going to be found. Oh well, we feel we got away quite lightly and know that it could have been much worse. We are also so glad that we decided to install the safe before leaving Halifax.

Today we got the heck out of Puno, and even right out of Peru! Looking back on Peru we are not sure whether we really liked it or not. There are some amazing sights to see, and some really nice national parks to visit, and we did meet some fantastic and truly friendly people. However, we also found the day to day to be quite difficult, and a lot of the people unfriendly or unhelpful. The van was twice hit with thrown objects (fruit) which has never happened before. The drivers in Peru are truly awful, and put our lives at risk often. Their favourite trick was to pass you with horn blaring and headlights flashing, only to stop right in front of you 15 seconds later to pick up some passengers. Obviously getting robbed puts a big downer on the country, but we’re not sure we’d hurry back, especially now that we’ve seen the famous sights. Maybe we just need to give it some time….

Christine wearing all of her remaining winter clothes... they took the jacket, but not the hood

Christine wearing all of her remaining winter clothes… they took the jacket, but not the hood

We are currently camped in the Bolivia International airport carpark enjoying their security and free wifi.

 

This weeks banner - the view across Lake Titicaca in Bolivia

This weeks banner – the view across Lake Titicaca in Bolivia

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South through Peru

This weeks travels

This weeks travels

We made it through rain, hail and mud to complete the Santa Cruz trek last week. It was a tough 4 days and 3 nights but the scenery and spectacular views made it all worthwhile. Well for the most part! We started out early on Good Friday and took a collectivo (minibus) to the starting point about 1.5 hours away.

Ready to hit the trail

Ready to hit the trail

We then had a full day of climbing with lots of mud and rivers to jump across. Or in Christine’s case – not quite jump across one river and wallow in it with her pack weighing her down and only eventually being able to get up with Dave’s help. No physical harm was done, but she was soaked right through and a lot of her pack was wet too.

Christine demonstrating the 'drowned cat' look

Christine demonstrating the ‘drowned cat’ look

Thankfully it was only a short distance to the first nights campsite which even had a little shelter, which was great because it had started raining again. In one of the rain breaks we managed to get the tent set up and returned to the shelter to do the cooking. An early night to bed!

Drying out and cooking dinner in the shelter

Drying out and cooking dinner in the shelter

The next day started with sunshine and we got a late start because we were enjoying it and trying to get Christine’s stuff dry. Again a lot of uphill with a few rain showers thrown in. We got to our second camp late in the afternoon and had to wait under the cover of a dilapitated pit toilet for a break in the rain. Finally a short break in which we got the tent up and jumped inside with our gear. We continued waiting for another break in the rain to cook our dinner, but it never came. We ended up eating our next days lunch instead, tuna and crackers for dinner while sitting in our sleeping bags in the dryness of the tent.

Our camp on night 2 - not a bad view!

Our camp on night 2 – not a bad view!

A soggy start the next day, which was also the big pass day where we’d climb up to 4750m and over the mountain range. It was exhausting and took us all day.

Looking back down the valley we hiked up

Looking back down the valley we’d hiked up

Getting close to the pass

Getting closer to the pass

Finally - at the pass!

Finally – at the pass!

The view from the top to the next valley was amazing and thankfully the weather was crystal clear (unlike days before and after).

Views into the next valley

Views into the next valley

We headed down the other side and didn’t get quite as far as planned before it started pelting down balls of hail! Ouch. Thankfully Dave found a decent flat, non soggy spot where we could hunker down. The hail was replaced by rain but this time we got our poncho’s and raingear on and toughed it out in the rain to cook dinner.

The fourth and final day started out just plain wet, cold and miserable. We packed up everything soaking wet knowing that we’d be in the comfort of Ginger Lee soon enough! It took us about 6 hours to walk out to the nearest town where we got a bus back to Caraz. The 2 different buses we needed took about 3 hours and went up and over mountains with incredible scenerey. Heck if we had of known that we would have skipped the trek and just gone with the bus ride! Kidding but we have both decided that we want our next trek to be a nice low altitude, warm weather, flat trail!

We recovered from the mountains with our regular post-trek celebratory dinner of pizza and beers.

And a huge stack of pancakes the next morning!

And a huge stack of pancakes the next morning!

On Tuesday we managed to dry all our gear out, washed a load of laundry and prepared for the next few weeks. Wednesday we got on the road early and headed to Lachay National Park, which is about 100km north of the capital, Lima.

Heavy clouds while driving through the mountains

Heavy clouds while driving through the mountains

Typical desert towns of tiny 'cardboard' looking houses

Typical desert towns of tiny ‘cardboard’ looking houses

It was quite a dry and barren place right on the border of the desert. We of course had the place all to ourselves, well except for the rats that came out at night.

Ginger parked up in our very own exclusive campsite

Ginger parked up in our very own exclusive campsite

Watching the sun set over the desert with Jesus

Watching the sun set over the desert with Jesus

Thursday we bypassed Lima and made it south to Paracas National Park, which is about 245km south of Lima. This was a cool, deserty and very windy place right on the ocean.

Where the desert meets the ocean

Where the desert meets the ocean

Boats in the desert

Boats in the desert

We had a nice walk along the water but sadly saw lots of garbage and debris along with dead birds and even a dead seal. The next day we went to the park museum (just to use their toilets) and were pleasantly surprised by how well their exhibitions were done. We think we maybe even learned a few things!

On a not so good note we did have an encounter with a couple of Peruvian Police. We were pulled over and told that we didn’t have our lights on. Apparently Peruvian law requires them to be on all the time when on the highways, and we just happen to have a headlight out at the moment so aren’t using them. The policeman nicely told us this was a serious infraction and we were required to pay a fine. He took all our papers, showed us his book with the price of the infraction and even wrote out a ticket. When we asked where to pay he said a bank, but then suggested that we could pay him directly for half as much. We had decided before starting our travels that we would do all we could not to pay any police bribes, and so far during our travels we’ve managed to talk our way out of other similar situations with minimal trouble, but this day we were tired and were just not on our game or prepared. After a bit of debating we decided to pay him right there and then. Of course he took the money in his little book and let us go without any proof of a ticket or a receipt… We felt awful and knew that we should have insisted on paying at a bank but what can we do now! Sorry to all the other travelers, as we would never intentionally perpetuate this behaviour.

Nazca and the famous Nazca lines were next on our list. We got a taste of them as we drove along the PanAmerican Highway where we stopped to climb a tower for a view over two of the geoglyphs.

Christine with 'The Hands' behind

Christine with ‘The Hands’ behind

The next morning we got up early and walked over to the little airport and signed up for a 30 minute/$85US flight to see the Nazca lines at their best. Christine was nervous as the last small plane flight in Nepal was a disaster for her. However, she was prepared this time and took some prophylactic gravol/anti-nauseant and tried to remain calm.

Dave all ready to go

Dave all ready to go

The flight seats are determined by weight so poor Christine was stuck at the back of the plane all by herself! Perhaps a good thing.

Christine tucked in the back by herself

Christine tucked in the back by herself

After about 20 minutes of criss crossing the desert with the plane often on its side, the drugs gave out and so did Christine’s stomach. She was in quite a bit of distress but once down on the ground recovered quickly. Dave had a stronger stomach but by the end of it was feeling pretty ill too. However he managed to get some great shots and overall we were both happy to have taken the flight to see the nazca lines from above. Scientists know how the lines and geoglyphs were made, but still don’t know why they were made. Offering to the gods? Or to aliens? Apparently the earlier works are the animals, and the more recent symbols are the lines and geometric patterns. Once in the air above the plains you can see that there are literally thousands of lines and patterns created across the desert.

The view across the Nazca plains with thousands of different lines and patterns visible

The view across the Nazca plains with thousands of different lines and patterns visible

The whale

The whale

The astronaut

The astronaut

The monkey (a bit hard to see)

The monkey (a bit hard to see)

The hummingbird

The hummingbird

The spider

The spider

The condor

The condor

Looking down on the tower we had been on the day before

Looking down on the tower we had been on the day before

Coming in to land

Coming back to land

Christine with her little souvenir bag

Christine with her little ‘souvenir’ bag

After a second breakfast and a little recovery nap we decided to hit the road and start the long drive towards Cusco. Machu Picchu was waiting for us! We drove for quite a few hours, climbing above 4,000m elevation again, and then found a little camouflaged spot on the side of the road for the night. We headed out early again the next morning and still only made it to Cusco well after dark. A long drive of non-stop switchbacks up and down mountains.

Beautiful valleys at 4,000+ metres

Beautiful valleys at 4,000+ metres

Peruvian road hazards

Peruvian road hazards

We finally found the campsite and discovered 6 other overlanders here too! This is the most we’ve seen in months!

We had a great day today exploring the cool city of Cusco and planning our trip up to Machu Picchu. Christine has been there before but we are both looking forward to this highlight of Peru and South America!

The town of Cusco

The town of Cusco

The central plaza in Cusco

The central plaza in Cusco

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