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 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)
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:
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…
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…
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.
‘The late Ben Childs’ turning up in plenty of time to see us off. Good to see you bruvlar ;)