Degustaciones at Vineyard Murgo near Etna (15 euro) and Vineyard Planeta near Modica (12 euro), both worth a visit. Best sandwich ever at Bottega de Italia in Modica (try the chicken, sun dried tomatoes in spicy pink mayo).
Stayed in Hotel Etna near Etna (and Toarmina), U Marchisi near Scicly and Casa Talia overlooking Modica. All nice, especially Etna Hotel and Casa Talia.
What a way to finish the trip. Tul and me now both have our open water certifications and officially have the diving bug.
The rest of our time on the island was spent pottering around on our scooter, getting massages, eating (a lot of) good Thai food and drinking cocktails. An amazing ending to a trip of a lifetime which we’re lucky to have had and will never ever forget.
It’s taken me a while to get these videos online but here they are (there will be 1 more to follow soon).
We used Big Blue Diving. It’s certainly not the only diving school on the island, but we found it safe, fun and cheap. Would definitely recommend it. If you use their free accommodation while you’re there then just ask to have a look around because some of it is awful and some of it is not bad. Make sure you check in Big Blue 1 & 2 (there are 2 centres on Sairee beach).
We used RPM in Mae Haad which were not bad. However they did catch us out with a scratch which we’re unsure was there to start off with which cost us £10. Just make sure you take photos of the entire bike and you should be fine. The island is notorious for motorbike scams so make sure you’re careful when renting on Koh Tao. It’s normal for them to keep your passport as deposit.
Charm Churee, where we spent our last few days of the trip. Not the cheapest place we’ve stayed but just what we needed. We also made use of our shiny new open water certifications and did a beach dive right from where we were staying.
Our cottage also had one of the biggest geckos I’ve seen in my life which Tul hated almost as much I loved.
We did a fair bit of research on elephant sanctuaries to visit in Thailand and we’re very please we discovered the Elephant Nature Park. If you care about elephants and want to spend time with them then this is the place. The lady who started it (Lek) is incredible and not only let’s you spend time with them, but teaches you about the torture they go through to be ‘trained’ for riding. That’s why here, you can not ride them, but you feed them, bathe them and enjoy being around them. I personally would not recommend any elephant park where they allow tourists to ride the elephants. Lek also teaches mahoots in Thailand new ways to train elephants without any physical abuse, but by using positive reinforcement.
While we were there, there were also almost 1000 dogs which had just been adopted by the park after losing their homes last year due to floods in Bangkok.
There are volunteer opportunities at the park if you’re interested, but if not then the money from your day trip is going towards funding for a great cause.
Here we are with our favourites. Two of a family of three elephants which were the friendliest family in the park. Elephant families are not necessarily related (and in this case none of them are), they just decide who they want to stay with.
After a short but fairly terrifying flight from Chiang Mai in a giant chicken, we ended up having some of the most fun we’ve had in Asia in Mae Hong Son.
Gims Resort must have given us some kind of deal because for the price, this place was amazing to stay in. The town of Mae Hong Son itself is fairly small, with some nice temples and street markets to visit, as well as good food (like pretty much everywhere in Thailand).
We also rented a motorbike from PJ’s motorcycle rental (ask someone in town where it is). PJ was a sound bloke, the bike was in very good condition and cost only £2 p/day (half of what you would pay in other places in town). Then we did a portion of the Mae Hong Son ‘loop’ which I would suggest doing for anyone in the area. The province is renowned for it’s scenery and it takes you well off the beaten path to some breathtaking places and beautiful, authentic small villages. We just did a day trip, but it’s possible to stay in one of the many guest houses in one of the little villages near the border of Myunmar where there is strong Burmese and Chinese influences.
We stayed at www.happyangkorguesthouse.com and would recommend it to anyone. Cheap, friendly, helpful, clean, fun and good food!
We also visited my old high school friend Pete at the Warehouse bar that he manages in town which is a great place with good live music.
2 full days is probably plenty of temple seeing in that heat. We did 2 and half days and you really don’t need to see all those temples. We would recommend seeing Angkor Wat at dawn and would not recommend fighting the crowds in the heat and waiting around for the sunset at the temple on the hill though, there are plenty of amazing sunsets in Cambodia and this one is a massive tourist trap. We hired a tuk tuk driver from our hostel for the full 2.5 days for a total of $30 which is definitely the nicest way to see temples.
After just over a month in Australia and the UK, Bangkok has been a shock to the system. There’s no mistake that we’re travelling again now and the hustle and bustle of this city has been as difficult for me as it has been exciting.
I have a constant feeling of anxiousness whenever we’re in a taxi because we’re never 100% sure if they’re taking us to the correct place or trying to get us to take a look in one of their sponsors shops for a suit fitting. The intensity of the lifestyle here is as extreme as the temperature which has also taken some getting used to.
There are of course some upsides. Firstly, the food has been amazing and is sold on every street corner. Prices of everything are a fraction of what we have been spending in Australia. The people here also seem generally very friendly.
We’ve had to hit the ground running, but Bangkok has been a good kick up the ass to get us back into the swing of things.
We’re off to Cambodia this evening which we’re both very excited about. A Facebook post from Tul has also lead to a random comment from my old mate Pete Franks and us meeting him for a drink tonight in his bar in Siem Reap!
This Book Is About Travel – Andrew Hyde
The Facility – Simon Lelic
Trick – Sean Hancock
Before I Go To Sleep – S J Watson
Zero Day – David Baldacci
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson
Escape From Camp 14 – Blaine Harden
First They Killed My Father
360 panoramic of the Villarrica Volcano in Pucon
Click here or on the image above to view the interactive 360.
Since we’ve become a group of six instead of a team of two it’s given us the opportunity to rent cabanas rather than to book hostels. Apart from working out cheaper, it’s a really nice way to live. At our first lakeside cabin in Trufal (near Bariloche), we cooked parilla outside using local wood and kept warm in the evening with the log burner. Its remote location and green forestry was reminiscent of the farm and made me feel as though I could live in a similar surroundings again one day.
After scaring the girls at the window whilst getting firewood in the dark, the boys found themselves locked out long enough to smoke a cigar and drunkenly cover topics including the Ottoman empire and possible ways of breaking back into the cabana.
The place we have here in San Martin, although still lakeside, is in a much bigger place. Even so, San Martin is a perfectly kept town which like Barilohe seems to have a very Swiss influence. The cabin itself is the size of a toy house and the entire thing squeaks when we walk upstairs, but it’s fun and is still less expensive than the cheapest hostel we’ve found. Last night we had a homemade empanada bake-off which made for an unforgettable evening as well as some recipes we’ll definitely bring back home with us.
Argentinians will happily ask where we’re from and strike up a conversation in shops, cafes or on the street. Here in San Martin if they tell us they are from this part of the world then they’re happy to admit that they’re very lucky. As I’m writing this I’m lying next to Tul on the beach of the lake, watching random dogs play with random beach-goers, listening to a group of locals playing the guitar and singing Spanish songs who are responding well to our claps and cheers. The sun is beating down and it has to be said that today feels as though a standard of living doesn’t get much better than this.
Parillas (Argentina’s equivalent to barbecues) are everywhere here, so tonight the boys will cook while the girls take care of sides and drinks :)
We’ve spent a great amount of time exploring Patagonia. Over the past three weeks we’ve travelled from Mendoza, across to the east coast of Argentina to Puerto Madryn, Ushuaia, El Calafate, El Chalten, Bariloche, Villa Trufal and further up the west to San Martin de Los Andes. Despite the colder climate, both Sam and I have to agree that Patagonia is somewhere we want to return to and somewhere we really love.
Puerto Madryn & Gaiman (the Welsh town)
Puerto Madryn is famous for its sea life. Our few days here we’ve seen penguin colonies (our favourite), southern right whales (which appeared just a few metres from the boat because of their naturally curious personalities), dolphins, sea lions, sea birds and elephant seals. One small regret we have is that we didn’t manage to find time to go sea kayaking with a local sea lion colony which looked like a once on a life time opportunity. A great excuse to revisit though…
One thing which both Sam and I were keen to see was a little welsh town called Gaiman. There was nothing too special about this quiet little town in Patagonia apart from the fact that locals speak in Welsh and Spanish and the schools make it mandatory for children to learn both languages. We wanted to see this with our own eyes, plus I was dying to sample some
of the goodies on offer at one of the abundant tea houses!
We found a little place called Ty Nain (which translates to ‘grandma’s house’) where we not only drank several cups of tea, but also gorged ourselves on a mammoth platter of selected cakes, scones and jams (see pics!). The owner was delighted when Sam surprised her with ‘good afternoon’, ‘thank you’ and ‘where are the toilets please?’ (which he then admitted was the only Welsh he knew!).
Ushuaia or Fin del mundo (the end of the world), as it’s otherwise known is the southern most town in the world. It sounds like a magical place and it really is. Snow blankets the surrounding Andes mountain ranges which are peppered with fur trees and beautiful forests and lakes. Whilst we didn’t have the luxury of setting sail to explore Antarctica, we still had a wonderful few days enjoying the gorgeous Tierra del Fuego national parks and my birthday.
Along the way to Ushuaia (a 31 hour bus journey weaving in and out of Chile) we befriended a lovely irish couple, Erlend & Nuala who we got on with like a house on fire. On the eve of my birthday all four of us booked to go husky sledding followed by an open fire in the forest with a guitar sing along. It was an amazing night and we feasted on traditional Fuegian food and mulled wine. At the end of the night we walked back through the snow and forest under the moonlight in snow shoes swigging whisky to keep us warm. It was such a memorable night and a great way to see my birthday in. We were in such good spirits we continued our celebrations at our friends hostel with cigars, beer and more wine until 4.30am!
To recover from such an indulgent evening sam and I spent my birthday exploring the national park and enjoying the mesmerising beauty of the lakes and lagoons. That evening we treated ourselves to a delicious mountain of fresh crab and bubbly! I couldn’t have imagined a more special way to spend my birthday other than at the end of the world with our new friends!
El Calafate & El Chalten
From Ushuaia, we decided to fly to our next destination, El Calafate, because of the constant hassle of having to go in and out of Chile and Argentina’s border control.
Erlend & Nuala were also travelling up the same route along the western border of Argentina and so it was in El Calafate that we all decided to travel the remainder of Patagonia together.
Our first excursion was Perito Moreno, one of Patagonia’s famous glaciers. We went on a mini trek on the glacier wearing crampons to walk on the ice followed by a boat trip to get close to the crumbling south face! The walk was surreal and full of ice blue crevices which you had to carefully dodge! As a little treat at the end the guides hacked off some of the ice from the glacier and gave each of us a large glass of whisky to accompany it with. Erlend and Sam were particularly giddy with excitement at the substantial measures and I was mainly just delighted knowing that the ice cubes had been aged far longer than the whisky!
That evening we celebrated Erlend’s birthday (which was the following day) with a home made Parilla (BBQ of various meats) and copious amounts
of wine! It was this evening that we met another American couple travelling our route, Mike an Alicia. 6 people meant more trouble and we ended up staying up until 6am…
Two days later we all travelled further north to the pueblo of El Chalten which is famous for its treks around the Fitzroy range. Despite the misty, miserable and blustery weather with poor visibility we managed a 30km round trip hike but unfortunately none of us got as much as a glimpse of Fitzroy or Cerro Torre which is known to be the most difficult mountain In the world to climb!
The Lake District road-trip
Bariloche is Argentina’s Swiss capital and it was here that Erlend, Nuala, Mike, Alicia, Sam and I decided to hire a car and hit the road to explore the beautiful lakeside villages around Argentina’s famous lake district.
We’d heard that there was a little gem of a village nestled by a gorgeous lake called Lago Trufal which had cabanas (wood cabins) dotted around it which would offer us the tranquility and remoteness that we were all after. That’s where we headed and it was everything we hoped for including dozens of roaming wild horses dancing through the trees.
After having a ball in Latin America’s Paris (BA), we headed on to Mendoza – the land where wine is cheaper than water!
It was the perfect weekend to arrive into Mendoza as it was Chile’s 450 birthday and so there was a huge street party in their plaza de Chile the whole weekend with cheap wine (with fresh strawberries, cheap parilla, huge empenadas (we’re going to become empenadas if we’re not carful).
Mendoza itself was a little disappointing because to get to any of the great vineyards and bodegas you have to hire a car or driver to get a round because most great places are about 25km away. And that’s not cheap! We settled for a wines and bikes tour around maipu which was great and managed to find a lovely boutique vineyard (Bodega Carinae) and a olive farm amongst others!
There were a few other areas we was keen to explore (Valle de Uco) but we saved them for when we return when we’ve retired and can afford it! Luckily however on our last evening there we found ‘Vines of Mendoza’. A great (and surprisingly only) wine bar in Mendoza! It served amazing young, Reserva and Gran Reserva wines by the glass (very rare in Argentina as you usually have to buy bottles of the good stuff) and to top it off they had a happy hour from 7-10pm where you can enjoy some of the best wines from the region for 50% of the normal price for large glasses! We tried about 5 glasses each which may have been a little excessive but we know what we like now…
Laureano Gomez 2010 – Malbec Reserva (Valle de Uco)
Recuerdo 2011 – Malbec (Valle de Uco)
Qaramy Finca 2005- Malbec, Cab Sav, Syrah blend
Postales Del Fin Del Mundo 2011- Malbec (Patagonia)
Carinae Prestige 2008 – Malbec, Cab Sauv, Syrah (Maipu)
Alamos 2011- Malbec (Mendoza)
Chato’s 2009 – Malbec Reserva (Calchaqui Valley)
Bodega Nanni 2011 – Torrontes Tardio (Valle de Cafayate)
Quara 2012 – Torrentes Dulce Natural (Valle de Cafayate)
Norton – Extra Brut sparkling wine
Ventus Fin Del Mundo – chardonnay, Sav Blanc blend (Patagonia)
Buenos Aires is a unique and extremely fun place. Argentina is the 8th largest country in the world and 75% of it’s population live in greater Buenos Aires. Add that to the turbulent political history with governments being overthrown and the country being swung from left to right, plus it’s strong political figures like President Peron (and wife Evita) and strong rebellious heroes like Che, then you end up with an extremely clued up and opinionated group of people. There is apparently always a march of some kind going on in BA and the few days we were there was no exception. There was a ‘middle class protest’ about the government restricting how people spend their money outside of the country and we soon discovered that if you’re not afraid to ask the locals what they think then they’re certainly not afraid to tell you (even if you don’t ask sometimes). This particular topic seemed to split people down the middle and we spoke to people from both sides of the fence. All very open and really fun and interesting to talk to.
Buenos Aires has cemented Argentina as our favourite country so far. Bolivia’s salt flats are probably my highlight, but the people here have made the country stand out for us. On the way home from dinner one night (where we’d had an extensive chat to the restaurant owner about the topic above), we got on the bus to realise you can only use coins and cards (which we didn’t have) so 2 boys in front of us paid for our journey without thinking about it twice. How often would that happen in London and would I have done the same? I certainly would from now on.
The street markets and street food have been amazing (and relatively cheap). Things in general though have been very expensive here compared to the other countries we’ve visited. Our budget means we can now only afford separate beds in dorm rooms, which Tul says “feels like being divorced”. We’ve splurged on some nice romantic dinners to make up for it though, as well as taken a Tango class! Tango is everywhere in this city and one of our best nights was watching a free street tango show with live music from a wine bar (NOT free!) balcony.
Oh, we also had a few nights in a swanky hotel for Tul’s early surprise Birthday present which was also a welcome break from usual dorm rooms :)
Mendoza and wine region next!
Pronounced by locals ‘Caff-a-shatty’. Bigger than Samaipata but still a relatively small town and we both loved it there not least because it’s officially wine country, but the temperature is also scorching hot.
We rented bikes to ride to the different vineyards and bodegas, the best of which was Bodega Nanni where we had our favourite wine and an amazing steak which I can now see why Argentina is famous for. A lot of the wines so far have been fairly disappointing but the white made from the local grape Torrontes Dulce is delicious (and inexpensive).
Also, and this is probably the best part – Tul is really beginning to love dogs! One of the street dogs attached itself to us for two days, lying at our feet during dinner and even waiting outside while I went to the loo. We named it Cusquena (independently of each other) after our favourite dark beer and Tul insisted we buy it an empanada each night.
The few days we had there didn’t seem enough, but we can rest easy knowing that we managed to consume over 50 empanadas during that time (Casa de las Empanadas are some of the best we’ve had) :-|
We’ve now just started a 21hr bus journey to Iguazu falls after already completing the first 6hr leg and a quick stop-over in Tucuman. Let’s hope the falls are worth it…
Grrr, we’ve discovered that one of our memory cards has contracted a virus and therefore possibly infected all of them. A little digging on Google told us that this is becoming more and more common. It also looks like there’s not a lot you can do apart from formatting the card (unless any of my geek family and friends has any advice?!).
So this isn’t a post about what I’d like to do to the people who created it (Tul is here for me to rant at), but it is a warning that it’s quite easy unless you’re on a machine that you know is correctly protected against viruses (not your average Internet cafe PC over here).
For the rest of the trip we’ll only be saving our photos directly onto our new memory cards and the photos for the blog will just be from our phones.
I am giddy like a school girl. I have been wanting to visit this country famous for its abundance of steak and wine since as long as I can remember. We’re finally here. I can barely contain myself and Sam thinks I’ve gone slightly loco. He’s not wrong.
Our first stop is Humahuaca in the northwest region of Jujuy. It’s a beautiful little place with cobbled stones paving the streets, houses with wooden shutters and shops and restaurants with cute signs jutting out. It’s a beautiful picture really and i’m dying to sample what the local bodegas have to offer but we’re really feeling the pinch compared to Bolivia so resort to surviving on empanadas and calimuchos! We only stayed for a couple of days because as gorgeous as it is, there’s little to do there and we wanted the option of cheap eats that only a city can offer….We head south to the colonial city of Salta.
Salta was amazing and we welcomed an Argentinean city after two months of travelling, not only to top up on depleting toiletry supplies etc but also so Sam could go to the dentist to get his cracked tooth tended too! A temporary filling in place (a necessity when surrounded by such amazing food), we enjoyed our first amazing steak dinner courtesy of Mike & Kim (thanks for the early birthday present guys!) and befriended the locals including the little biagle, Luna, who we will both miss terribly.
We’re now in Cafayate and I never thought I would feel so in love with a place after Samaipata in Bolivia but I have to say, I am in love, maybe more so and I don’t want to leave – ever. It has bodegas (wine bars) everywhere, steak, empanadas, 28 degree weather (it’s their winter!!) and waterfalls. I have persuaded Sam to stay another night (like he needed much persuasion!) and tomorrow we hire bikes to sample yet more of the local tipple at the surrounding vineyards…
Looking for a good dentist in Salta? Pablo Minetti is his name and fixing teeth is his game. He doesn’t speak any English but his son speaks a bit. Part of a tooth removed and a temporary filling all for £14. Jobs a good’un!
Having enjoyed a tiring but rewarding 10 days in Sucre we headed south to Tupiza.
I’d done lots of research on the Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia’s famous salt flats) and it seemed that the best way to see them was travelling south to Tupiza and working your way back up the country over a 4 day trip so that you can enjoy the changing landscapes and end on the pinnacle: watching the sunrise on the Salar on the fourth day.
Tupiza itself was very cool. It reminded me of some of the North American deserts around monument valley because of the red rock and giant cacti which surrounds the city. It really felt like we were in the middle of a wild west set and so we thought it fitting to go horse riding to see the surrounding canyons nearby. It was one of the coolest things we’d done so far (not least because I fell in love with my horse Tallia). The terrain was dry and dusty. You could see whirlwinds of sand circling afar and the canyons we passed were incredible and reminiscent of the rocks at Yosemite national park. They were tall, almost needle shaped pillars that had been weathered away by strong winds. Sam and I felt incredible to be out there. It was a taste of what was to come on our Salar de Uyuni tour…
There were 6 of us in the 4×4 (we went with Los Salares): Moses (the guide and driver), Augustina (the cook), Jack, Jenna, Sam and I. We really lucked out and had a great group. Augustina was an amazing cook, Moses was a great driver, and Jack & Jenna were a lovely couple who both Sam and I instantly hit it off with and ended up sharing plenty of wine and singani with during our four days!
Calling the trip the Salar de Uyuni tour is a little bit misleading and doesn’t do it justice. It’s really a tour of south west Bolivia and there is no better way to really see what this land locked country has to offer. One minute you’re driving through the backdrop to Salvador Dali’s famous desert painting of the melting clock, and the next you’re surrounded by incredibly beautiful lagunas in a variety of colours -pink, green, white. There are elegant flamingos dotted all over the lakes and hanging in the background are dormant volcanoes (or on one occasion an active one) covered in snow.
It’s not until the final day that we set out sights on the Salar de Uyuni. We got up at 5.30am to make sure we’re on the salt flat for sunrise at 6.30am. It was everything it’s promised to be – surreal, breathtaking, magical, stunning and bright white!
As the sun creeps up, we’re slowly engulfed by a white glow that illuminates everything. Every direction we look in we can see blankets of white and a mirage on the horizon where sky meets salt. We’re told the salt is 120m deep which accounts for its pure white colour. It’s almost too bright to even look at the ground by the time the sun is high in the sky. We’ve been blown away by the last four days and whilst there is no way to fully describe what we saw, we hope some of our pictures will relay Bolivia’s charm, even if it is only a fraction of it.
(Pics from iPhone, camera pics to follow…)
I’m sad to be saying goodbye to Bolivia. Sam and I have fallen for it in a big way. The landscapes have been breathtaking, some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen and I feel like we really got to know Bolivia and Bolivians staying in Sucre in a way we didn’t with Peru.
That said it’s not all sad, we’re just about to set foot into steak and wine country. This could just be heaven for me.
View some of the 360’s:
We’ve been busy in Sucre. In the mornings we volunteer at a nursery which is a short bus ride out of town, in the afternoons we have Spanish lessons and in the evenings we teach conversational English to locals (yeah that’s right, I’VE been teaching English).
The nursery is a tiring but amazing experience. The moment we walked in the door the kids were flinging themselves at us as if they’d known us forever. This nursery is run by a few of the kids mothers. It’s basic (the place itself doesn’t even have an address) and mostly funded by organisations like our language school (The Fox Institute). The kids on the whole are great and some of them are from very difficult backgrounds. Our Spanish is still quite basic and the kids speak a mix of Spanish and Quechua so our verbal communication is extremely simple, although it hasn’t seemed to matter much. They’re physical and boisterous, but friendly and fun.
Lunchtime is hilarious. The portions they give the kids are massive and we have about 30 minutes to feed as many of them as possible before we leave for our Spanish lessons. Starters is a bowl of soup with chips or potatoes in it and their second course is a decent sized plate of meat, rice and chips or potatoes (and this is even for Rosa Maria the one year old). The younger ones then usually begin falling asleep at the table and in their food, in which case they’ll have cold water splashed on their faces and be ready for round two. It sounds quite rough on the kids but apparently a lot of them may not get much to eat at home, so these meal times are very important and you can see how much the nanny’s care about them.
Spanish is more difficult than we thought and I’m certainly struggling with the verbs especially (much more difficult than English). Edith, our teacher is great though and good fun. On Friday, the second half of our lesson was spent in the kitchen with her, cooking a traditional Bolivian dish called Saice which we we’ve made for ourselves since (kind of like a Bolivian bolognese made with sweet chilli instead of tomatoes).
For our English students in the evening, we normally ask questions about Bolivian politics, education, etc and then correct their English as we discuss. Otherwise, if they have questions on gramma, we’ll get to the nearest Internet cafe and download a lesson plan to go through with them the next time we see them. All the students have been great and it’s been interesting for us to find out about life in Bolivia and about the English language!
Sucre as a city has also been really nice and reminded us both of Arequipa in Peru. It’s been hard work for us here but we’ll definitely miss the people, especially the kids.
An £8 trip on horseback from Tupiza proved to be much better than we expected (who knew Tul would be such a fan of the wild west). A half day trek past devils rock to the Inca canyon (not far from the place where Butch Cassidy & Sundance supposedly met their demise) turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip.
The last stretch of our 48hr journey, a fun and chilled 2.5hr trufi (shared taxi) ride to Samaipata put us in the right mood for the place itself. Sat in the back of a minivan with a couple and their toddler, two other girls and two boys. When the vehicle stopped at any point along the way there would be a swarm of people to mob us and try and sell us tamales, fruit, sweets, meat, etc and all of them for a few ‘Bolivianitos’ (the local’s romantic way of saying it’s just a few “little Bolivianos”). It felt as much like travelling as any of the trip yet, and Samaipata felt as much ‘off the beaten track’ as any of the places we’ve been.
Samaipata is apparently becoming popular with Bolvians as a holiday destination. However, it is extremely quiet when we arrive. It’s as much like South America as I’d imagined (more than Peru was) and a bit like a town from a wild west film. We both love it from the second we step foot outside the car.
Places open when they want to and close when they feel like it. If you ask what time they close you’re normally answered with a shrug accompanied with “la noche”.
Like any decent holiday destination they have an amusement arcade (a room with 5 Sony Playstations). There’s a random room on a street near the market which has a pool table and table football which we have no idea who owns or who is allowed to use, although it has people playing pool most days. There’s a saltenaria (saltenas are like South American pasties), that didn’t have any saltenas for sale whenever we asked.
There are Inka ruins and plenty of treks surrounding the town and we’re off to the rain forest in a few days for one night.
There’s one bus everyday out of town to Sucre (12hrs, B/60-80).
There’s the usual amount of friendly dogs milling around and the place is small enough that you begin to recognise most of them after a short while.
All in all this could be one of our favourite places yet. One of the restaurant owners here told us there are 26 nationalities in this tiny town and we can see why. People come out here to visit and never leave. Unfortunately our stay here will come to an end soon, but we’ll both have extremely fond memories of this place and who knows, maybe we’ll be here again…
Unfortunately our last impression of Peru was Puno (Peru’s side of Lake Titicaca) which frankly neither of us were impressed by in any way. It was dusty, dirty and touristy. I wish there was something endearing about it so we could have had a fond farewell but all it left us with was the flu and altitude sickness.
Copacabana was our first stop in Bolivia and a welcome respite! Although we were both ill we quickly fell in love with the relaxed and generally calm pace of the town and despite it’s geographically proximity to Puno (3 hours along the coast of Lake Titicaca) it was a far cry from it’s Peruvian counterpart.
We spent one of our three nights on Isla del Sol (sun island) but because we were so sick we spent most of the time in bed and enjoyed the views the island had to offer from the sanctuary of our quaint little hostel.
Next stop after Copacabana was La Paz. We were ill for a lot of out time in La Paz – both altitude sickness coupled with the flu made it hard to breathe let alone climb a flight of stairs. La Paz being built in a valley – and our room being on the four floor- we were easily exhausted and succumbed our bodies to rest and spent our days in bed watching Spanish dubbed films.
Not feeling ourselves, we were feeling homesick and seeked home comforts so found a good ol’ British pub (Oliver’s Tavern) were we treated ourselves to fish & chips and shepherds. We also managed to catch the latest Batman flick and it seemed both worked! We felt better for our last night in La Paz. We celebrated by enjoying some Bolivian wine washed down with some amazing Bolivian music complete with a couple of renditions of Buena Vista Social Club’s Chan Chan.
La Paz ended up being a little sanctuary regardless of it’s chaotic heart and made us miss London in so many ways. Luckily for us Oliver’s Tavern was showing the Olympic opening ceremony complete with a pint of english breakfast tea (impossible to find anywhere!) so we could pretend to feel like we were in the midst of all the fanfare in London and surrounded by other fellow Brits in a home away from home.
SAMAIPATA: A LITTLE SLICE OF HEAVEN
Our plan from La Paz was to head towards the central valleys and the eastern lowlands to enjoy some of the warmer climates and green tropical lowlands. Our first stop was Cochabamba where we planned to stop for a couple of nights as we’d heard wonderful things about its vibrant and youthful atmosphere and because it was known as the ‘city of eternal spring’. However we arrived at 6am after 10 hours on a bus and with nowhere to stay. The previous night it was the Olympics opening ceremony and instead of sleeping off the shots of rum we were doing we decided it would be a much better idea to catch an overnight bus to Cochabamba the same evening. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, upon our arrival the balmy draw of Cochabamba was suddenly lost on us.
We found a cheap hostel (I’m still dubious it was a hostel) and slept for a few hours until lunchtime before walking around and deciding that it was just not what we were looking for. We needed to find a route out and we needed to get to our next destination, Samaipata, as soon as possible. That ended up being the 9pm bus.
A 12 hour overnight journey to Santa Cruz that night followed by a 3 hour trufis (shared taxi with 7 other passengers) to Samaipata, we found ourselves at midday standing with our backpacks in only what we can describe as a little slice of heaven. It was everything we had imagined South America to be and look like. It was beautifully quiet (the daily siesta means a temporary midday closure for 2 hours except for the town’s market which is always full of life).
Our hostel was perfect. A little two tiered cabin with our bed on the top and living quarters at the bottom, complete with balcony and hammocks to relax in. £14 a night for us both including breakfast.
Samaipata is nestled in a valley and is surrounded by rugged, forest covered mountains and somewhere we’re planning on staying for 4-5 days. Our balcony views are breathtaking and for the first time in our trip we’re just going to enjoying reading, writing, listening to music and immersing ourselves in the town’s daily pattern of doing very little other than watching people that pass by. It’s strange how we’ve not done more of that until now but there’s plenty of time to make up for it here.
Next stop will be 10 days in Sucre (Bolivia’s white city which has banned neon signs, much to my delight!) for Spanish classes and volunteering at a children’s nursery…
A post about this place to come soon, but here´s a panoramic of possibly our favourite place in the world, Samaipta.
We were lucky enough to spend 2 amazing days at Refuge Los Volcanes in Bolivia. See the 360 view here.
Peru and South America as a whole was not 100% what I envisioned, but not in a bad way.
People are generally friendly and a lot of them don’t speak English, which means we’ve had to use a little Spanish which is good.
The cities are dusty and we’ve both developed a cough (chill out Mum and Nisha, it’s nothing serious!). The soles of my feet cracked in Arequipa and Tuls hands look like “old ladies hands”. They’re also mostly layed out in the same way thanks to the Spanish which can sometimes make them look very similar, but the grid system also makes them easy to navigate.
My favourite so far has probably been Cuzco because it seems to have kept its historical importance and character in tact (in the centre at least), as appose to Puno which you would only ever visit for the floating islands (which themselves are quite a tourist trap). Tul’s favourite (and a close second for me) has been Arequipa, mainly for its climate, but also because of the monastery there. The hostel we stayed in was also nice and the owner was amazing.
There are dogs everywhere in Peru which on the whole look dirty but healthy and happy. It seems to be a dog loving place, which I like.
Cost of living is slightly more than we expected but we’ve learnt to live very cheaply. The price of a Snickers is on average about 8 or 10 times more expensive (about £1) than a non-imported chocolate bar. The food here is not great. Lots of alpaca and other meats, and lots of carbs (potatoes, rice, etc). You can find nice street food (empanadas especially) none of which have made us sick (yet!). ‘Menu completo’s’ which are usually a huge bowl of soup with veg and the main course with rice and chips can be found in markets for about 3.50 soles (less than £1). Peru is very proud of it’s many varieties of potatoes and the chips are delicious.
Time slips away from you as the days are hot but the sun goes down early and quickly. If there’s mountain near by which it can hide behind you can notice the sun go down almost in seconds. The nights are cold and if you get caught out at sunset with no warm clothes on it can be an uncomfortable walk home.
People are out to make money everywhere but it’s quite easy after a while to say no. Most of the buskers you see in restaurants (and anywhere else you can think of) assume tourists want to hear pan pipe versions of Hey Jude and Lady Madonna (haven’t heard any Stones versions yet unfortunately).
Standard of living seems to drop drastically when you’re out of city centres and beggars are in every town and city. Shoe shiners are very common and sometimes use the shine box to start a conversation and then ask for money. We made a rule not to give to beggars, but both of us have caved once or twice as it’s sometimes too difficult to say no because some people here are clearly struggling.
The kids are cute and seem quite happy, confident and often boisterous.
The buses are very varied in levels of comfort and expense, but the drivers are invariably mental.
All in all I think we will both think very fondly of Peru. Highlights would have to be the Amazon trip and of course the Inca trail. Also, Cusquena malta is our new favourite beer :)
What was meant to be a 10hr bus journey turned into 17hrs due to a mud slide on the road, plus we were both dubious about going to the jungle at all (mainly because of spiders and snakes), but once we set off up the river in the long boat towards the lodges we were both excited.
The jungle lodges were awesome. I’d never seen anything like them (thy were a bit like massive tree houses) and they reminded Tul of the ones she stayed at in Kenya on safari. The rooms were all sealed off from the inside with mosquito nets which meant we were safe at night (except for the bats apparently sleeping in our porch and the rest of the sounds from the jungle around us). In the lodges gardens we also saw a tarantula in one of the palm trees each night, plus there were always toucans and macaws (one of which took a shine to Tul) around the place.
Was a nice break after the Inca trail (our longest trek through the jungle was a few hours max), and relaxing by the pool and chilling in the hammocks felt amazing.
We were shown around the jungle close to us and taught how all the different plants can be used for medicine and cooking and ate termites which tasted like bark.
We visited Monkey Island which does exactly what it says on the tin. We went on night safari to see caiman and an early morning jaunt to view wild parrots feed on clay which provides essential minerals for their digestion.
What took us both most by surprise though was a small boat trip on lake Sandovale. This place felt like being on a cloud. We were lucky enough to see a family of giant otters pop their heads out of the water around our boat before disappearing and reappearing on the other side of the lake. We also saw a spider monkey which the tour guide tempted out of the jungle with a banana (so much so that I thought it was going to jump into the boat). And then from being blistering hot sunshine we could hear the rain storm getting closer before we were in the middle of it. Still on the other side of the lake you could see the sun shining, while we were getting drenched, it felt incredible. We also saw the head of a 4 metre long caimen sticking out of the water.
We were sad to leave the jungle behind and both wished we’d stayed longer, but maybe we’ll see what Bolivia has to offer in the way of Amazon jungle…
Panoramic view from the floating islands in Peru.
We came to Arequipa only as a means to get out to do a 3 day trek of the Cola Canyon but we’ve fallen in love and have ended up staying for an extra week.
Known as the ‘White City’ because of the white sillar stone in which most of the buildings have been built, Arequipa could be my favourite city in Peru. There’s a very relaxed and tranquil feel here (unlike in Lima and Cusco) and with lots going on back at home it’s been a great place to reflect on everything.
Out hostel has a great little roof terrace which is higher than any of the other buildings around us so we’ve been able to enjoy some breathtaking and dramatic views of the city and its dozen churches! We’re also surrounded by amazing snowcapped mountains and El Misti, a dormant volcano, which seem to glow each evening as the sun sets. There are some lovely little secret courtyards dotted all over the city which are hiding in between the streets and buildings. They’re so quaint – as is the impressive, working Monasterio de Santa Catalina – and both give Arequipa a European feel to it.
The canyon itself was tough (not sure why I suggested it to Sam so soon after the Inca trail!!) but it was an amazing experience and we had the chance to stay at a homestay in a little village in the Colca valley. We’ve put some pictures up of our little mud hut which was quite an experience – particularly once I’d spotted a little scorpion that was sheltering in with us for the night…
The weather here is hot which is a welcome change from Cusco and we’ve been basking in the sunshine at every opportunity because we’re off to Bolivia in a week which will be highs of 10 and lows of -4…
Now though – with our limbs rested, our skin tanned and Sam’s mohican in place (video of my butchering skills to follow soon) – we’re off to Lake Titicaca tomorrow in search of the floating islands…
One of our luxuries have been the laundry service that every hostel offers here in Peru. You can drop off your washing in the morning and for £1 a kilo, everything is returned to your room that same afternoon – washed and smelling of roses! What’s more it comes vacuum packed so it’s perfect for when you’re trying to cram everything back into your backpack for the next place. Sam thinks I’m crazy at how excited I get whenever I see the beautiful compact parcel of clothes waiting for us in the evenings but just look…
There’s a mud slide on the road and our 10hr bus journey has been stationary for almost 5hrs.
We’re about 2.5 hours out of Puerto Maldonado in the middle of the Amazon and despite it being the dry season it is bucketing down. We were meant to be meeting our Amazon tour guide over 3 hours ago to take us for a welcome cocktail in our Amazonian lodge.
We’ve adopted a saying from our Inca tour guide though – “such is the adventure”. We’ve been in good spirits since the bus stopped and have a deck of cards, music and our Kindles.
However, we haven’t eaten in over 12hrs and I’m pretty sure I’m going to need the loo soon and the toilets are rank.
Let’s hope our mood keeps up.
Things I like about Tul:
1. She’s insisting on calling our trip our ‘honey sunny’ as its happening before the wedding as opposed to after it.
2. Last week she asked a Spanish speaking Peruvian tour operator “Hablas Espaniol?”.
3. She’s putting up with the smell of my feet on this bus in which we’ve now been stationary for 6.5hrs.
Things I don’t like about Tul:
1. I haven’t beaten her at cards since last week.
One week in and we’re already getting stuck in! The inca trail pilgrimage in search of Machu Picchu was our first adventure (and my own personal challenge).
We set off by bus at 5am from Cusco, and having already battled with altitude sickness the two days prior, the early start was tough and did nothing to settle my nausea.
We began the trek by about 9am by which point my nerves had turned into excitement and I was ready for the challenge ahead – 45km trek in the brown Andes and Amazon jungle.
The first day if the trail is described as ‘easy’, the second as ‘a challenge’, the third as ‘unforgettable’ and the fourth as ‘unique’. For me however, I found the first day the toughest both mentally and physically! I was definitely out of my comfort zone and the prospect of 3 more days of inca steps was not something I had prepared myself for. The excitement I had quickly turned into fear and I began questioning why hadn’t we just got the train up?!
It was the amazing breath-taking views of the snow capped mountains and Rio de Urubamba that kept me going. And of course Sam’s patience and encouragement. After my first day of moaning and being a general grump, the second day was much more bearable and fun – despite the 1000m climb to Dead Woman’s pass! Sam kindly walked at my snail’s pace (despite him being able to go four times my speed!) and bit by bit we conquered the trail. I am grateful to our guide Isaac who stayed back with me and made sure I was ok! He was a character and always full of positive energy. We learnt a lot from him about the Incas, Pachamama (mother earth) and coca leaves.
Day three was the best day all round. It was a tough 16km trek but it offered us the most incredible views of the Amazon and the mountain vistas that surrounded us. We were quite literally in the clouds and feeling jubilant!
Our group was great. There were 8 of us- Erin & Michelle (the girls from Calgary), Simon & Kendi (the boys from New York) and Andy & Naomi (the couple from Southampton). We bonded very quickly – we couldn’t stop discussing how horrendous the toilets were. Like people talk about the weather, we talked about toilets – at breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was an obsession and in a way more of a conquest overcoming them than the Inca Trail itself! I still shudder writing this…
The site of Machu Picchu from Intipunku (the sun gate) on day 4 at 7am was magic. It was one of the most amazing and breathtaking views I’ve seen and you quickly realise how worth the previous 3 days are just to see the lost city highlighted by the sun’s rays, emerging from the morning’s marshmallow clouds.
We did it!
And that’s the main thing. At the end of day one, due to our tour guide giving us “an extra hour” of hiking, Tul was struggling and neither of us were sure if we’d be able to carry on the next day.
In the morning though, once we were above the forest and dead woman’s pass (the highest point of the trail) was in sight, it was obvious we were both going to manage the entire trek and I’m really proud of her for persevering with it because I could see how difficult she was finding it (she wouldn’t even let me carry her day pack).
Day 3 was incredible and we could both see the hard work paid off. The Brown Andes turned into the Green Andes and most of the day was spent in the high Amazon jungle walking a path of about a metre wide often with a shear cliff face on one side. It was also the first day that the whole group managed to keep together. I also developed a taste for coca leaves which was keeping my energy levels up.
We were lucky to have a great group of people. 1 other couple (Andy and Naomi), 2 lads from New York (Simon and Kendi) and 2 girls from Canada (Erin and Michelle, who were hilarious and left us a note and some goodies for us in Aguas Calientes).
In the evenings we played the card game ‘shithead’, but when our guide played with us he insisted on calling it ‘Chilean head’ (very PC).
Day 4 was a short 5k hike up to the Sun Gate where we saw Machu Picchu for the first time which was awesome. When we arrived in Machu Picchu we had a 2 hour tour which after everything else was actually quite tiring, but it was amazing just to be there.
Day 5, Tul was my wingman for Huanya Picchu, the small mountain overlooking Machu Picchu. She negotiated our bus tickets in Spanish, made sure I was at the foot of the mountain in time for my ticketed time slot and was there to meet me when I’d finished. If she’d have been with me she could have made sure I didn’t take a wrong turn at the first junction on the mountain but I don’t suppose I can blame her for that. I did it in good time, climbing it in 35mins and coming down in less than 20.
We were sorry to leave Machu Picchu but both felt good coming back into Cuzco as I think we both now have a soft spot for it. The heavy Peruvian food is starting to get a bit much now though.
The Inca trail was everything I hoped for and I’m really glad we both made it. However, I think Tul might use the fact that we successfully completed it as a reason to celebrate for the next week…
The company we booked through is www.sastravelperu.com and is not the cheapest around but would recommend them for the Inca trail and/or the Amazon expedition in Corto Maltes lodges.