A Travellerspoint blog

Copacabana & La Paz

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After leaving Cusco we headed for Lake Titicaca where we crossed the border into Bolivia. We decided to miss visiting the floating islands from Puno as we had heard poor reviews so we headed straight for Copacabana. The town is on the edge of the lake which is one of the highest navigational lakes in the world at over 3,000m. It looks more like the sea though as it is 230km long and 97km wide. It is a busy wee town as many tourists come here to visit Isla De La Sol and Isla de la Luna (the Islands of the Sun & Moon). These were sacred Inca islands being the birthplace of the Sun and first Inca King in Inca Mythology. Unfortunatley, we didn´t have time to visit the islands as we needed to get to La Paz to meet friends, however, we did witness the "benediciones de moviliadads" which is the blessing of the cars that occurs daily in front of the Cathedral. The locals decorate their cars, vans and lorries with bright coloured flowers, ribbons and confetti before spraying them with beer and wine. This daily event was really bizzare (especially since it wasn´t DB9s they were blessing!) and it seemed like a total waste of alcohol although we could imagine Linda´s dad taking his Honda round to join in! Linda also managed to befriend a baby alpapca on the beach which she fell in love with.

We arranged to meet Chris, Leah, Paula and Linda (our Auzzie and English friends who we travelled with in Chile & Argentina) in La Paz the following night. It was great to meet up with them all again. Over the next few days we also met up with Luke (out friend from NI who we first met in Peru), Ewan and Amy from Aberdeen (who were the first Scots we met travelling back in the Torres Del Paine), Danny and Riona (the Irish couple who we did the Inca trail with) and Damien and Kim (a couple from Belfast who we met back home at our friends wedding last summer). As there was such a big group of us the inevitable happened and we ended up having a good few nights out with everyone which was a great laugh.

One of the days myself, Chris and Luke decided to join four English boys to take on a group of seven local boys at football. At this altitude of 3600-3800m everyone seems to get out of breath just walking along corridors or up stairs so I cannot begin to describe how tough it was trying to run for an hour! It was a good laugh and home nations came out on top although I think that may be due to us being a bit bigger than most of them and not the actual skill on the pitch.

A group of us decided to sign up to cycle "The Death Road" which was shown on the Top Gear Boliva special last Christmas. It is renouned for being the world´s most dangerous road with some parts being only 3.2m wide and with vertical drops of up to 600m high. We decided to choose our tour company carefully as we spoke to some Dutch guys who had just done it but said that their bike brakes broke as they were going down. We were a bit nervous when starting especially when we were told you have to cycle on the cliff side of the road if any vehicle is coming up the road. Thankfully, there is now an alternative highway so not many vehicles actually use this road anymore.

It was a great day and one of the best adrenaline experiences we have ever had. A good few of our group had falls at high speed but the saftey equipment provided by the company was first class so no-one got anything worse than a couple of grazes. Thankfully my crash involved me going round a corner into the mountain side and not going off the other way! At one point though when we had stopped to take photos we witnessed a girl (who was actually cycling fairly slowly) fall off her bike and her bike went tumbling over the edge. She stopped well before the edge though so she was okay albeit she looked a bit shaken by what had happened.

Another day myself and Ewan decided to go and play golf at the highest golf course in the world. It was really expensive (by Bolivia standards) and unbelievably stuck up so we were in two minds whether to play or not. We decided we should since we would probably never be back but just before playing we checked the clubs we were hiring and they were the worst set of clubs either if us had ever seen. We just left it as we knew we would not enjoy it playing with these aweful clubs. Luckily we were ony a short walk away from the Moon Valley so Linda and Amy joined us for a walk round this amazing place. This valley is a series of walkways through canyons and pinnacles of volcanic rock. The morning worked out well as the landscape was unlike anything we have ever seen before.

Posted by Del-Linda 08:33 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

The Inca Trail To Machu Picchu

sunny 20 °C
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The night before leaving for the 4 day Inca Trail we went for the pre-trip meeting where we met our group. There were eight of us. An Irish couple (Danny & Riona), a Finnish couple (Aleksi & Tina) and an American Couple (Jake & Mariah). Things didn´t look too good for the 4.30am departure the next morning since Riona was lying in the next room with food poisoning, Jake had left his passport (which you need for strict Inca Trail regulations) with friends in a village 100k away and Aleksi´s bag was still in Madrid so he needed to go and buy new gear, which wasn´t going to be easy in Peru as he is 6 foot 5 inches and the average Peruvian man seems to be about 5 foot!

The following morning we were releived to see that everyone had made it and we were ready to start the trip. We had a two hour bus journey to Ollantaytambo which is close to the starting point of the trail, at km 82. The first day trekking was relatively easy, a 14km hike starting at 2720m to the campsite which was at 3300m. Our previous trekking in the Torres Del Paine and our good few days in Arequipa and Cusco acclimatising to the altitude must have prepared us well.

Before leaving the UK we chose our tour company, Llama Path, carefully after reading reviews about the services different companies offer and the treatment of their porters. We read many times that with LLama Path the food was good but we didn´t think that we would get the level of service that we did, especially the 3 & 4 courses we got for lunch and dinner everyday! They were definately the best company for the treatment of porters too as many companies take advantage of the locals and pay them pennies. We saw many without proper shoes and clothes whereas Llama Path´s porters all had proper footwear and uniforms, got paid a proper salary and got given a home in Cusco. It was incredible how small all the porters were (Linda was even taller than them all!) and the sizes of the bags they were carrying. The bags were about 25kg which was within the maximum weight regulations.

Day two was the most difficult day by far. The path became very steep from the campsite which lead to the section of the trail called "Dead Womens Pass" which was a climb up to 4200m. It was a tough morning especially for Del who had decided not to use a porter and carry all his own stuff. However, it was a good feeling getting up to the highest point of the trail. The rest of the day involved decending back down to 3,580, then hiking up a second pass to 4,000m, before decending again to 3,600m where we camped that night. We were all pretty tired after the 16km we hiked that day so everyone went straight to bed after dinner.

The third day was easy compared to day two. We did 10kms decending almost 1,000m to the third campsite beside the Inca ruins at Wiñay Wayna. We did the hike in the morning and got our first rain of the trek. It was light though and only lasted a couple of hours. We had the full afternoon to relax and explore the ruins which was great as there was nobody else there apart from our group. These were the best ruins we visited since starting the trail. Our guide, Alex, explained all the various areas of the sites and the history and culture of the Incas. Alex was very knowlegeable, helpful & funny and taught us many things about the Incas which amazed us all.

It was Linda´s birthday on the third day so it was good to spend a few hours relaxing at these impressive ruins. When we returned to camp Alex and Del had arranged for the chef to cook a birthday cake. The freshly baked cake was brilliant but we are still unsure how he managed to bake a sponge cake in this remote location without an oven.

The following morning we had a 3.30am rise, ready to start the final 5km hike at 4.30am. The sun-gate is located half-way along where you see your first view of Machu Picchu. It was at this point that Jake had previously told us he was going to propose to Mariah. We all had our cameras ready so we could film and take photos of the moment for them. It was a great start to an amazing day. The final 2.5km down to Machu Picchu were great seing the city getting closer and closer. When we finally arrived it was absolutely amazing looking down over the city with the mountains located behind. Alex gave us a two-hour tour of the main sights within the city, before we had a few hours to explore the rest of it ourselves. Although we were there off-season there was a rediculous number of tourists there, so we cannot imagine how busy it is in high season. However, busy or not it truely is remarkable and is easy to understand why it is one of the seven modern day wonders of the world.

With it now being rainy season we were expecting it to pour at least once every day. We were unbelievably lucky with the weather only getting light rain once. We were also very lucky with our group as we all got on so well and always had a laugh along the way. We went for a final meal after finishing and a few beers at night to celebrate a brilliant trip. We plan to meet Danny and Riona in La Paz, and hope to meet the others again in the future - maybe at Jake and Mariah´s wedding??? This was definately one of the main highlights of the trip so far and something we will always remember.

Posted by Del-Linda 09:43 Archived in Peru Comments (2)

New Year In Cusco

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Following our previous bad bus journey to Arequipa, we decided to book on the best bus possible overnight to Cusco. The journey was going fine until we woke at 2am after the bus had hit something, swerving across the road, and then coming off the road to a halt. Nobody knew what had happened and for a while we thought we were getting high-jacked. Thankfully this wasn´t the case but we soon found out what happened. Unfortunately the bus hit a man which killed him. Everyone on the bus was okay though, but the front windscreen was smashed so another bus was to be sent from Arequipa to complete the journey. We had a long wait (about six hours) for the bus to arrive, and we felt like sitting-ducks since we appeared to be in the middle of nowhere. We were locked on the bus until the next one arrived, but thankfully nothing else happened before the new bus arrived. We finally arrived safely in Cusco albeit seven hours late and with the unfortunate death of this man.

On a brighter note, Cusco is a beautiful city with much Inca and Spanish influence. There is a lot of interesting history here between the Incas and the Spanish, and the Inca walls and buildings are really impressive. The only downside is that the city is ridiculously touristy, but that is to be expected with its history and it being the base for trips to Machu Picchu and the other amazing Inca sites within the Sacred Valley.

A long time back in Buenos Aires, we arranged to spend New Year with Easton and Fay, English friends we met. We also met up again with Luke and Cassie, the brother and sister from N.I. who we spent Christmas day with. We had a great couple of nights out catching up with everyone and meeting more friends as we partied. New Year was brilliant fun and everyone dresses in yellow which is meant to be good luck for the New Year. We didn´t know this before going out so had to improvise when out. The fireworks in the main plaza were a bit crazy, as everyone just sets off their own so they are being fired from all angles! After a few more bars after the main plaza, we ended up in an old couple’s house which they had turned into a nightclub. It was a bit random but pretty funny the way they had done it.

We were hoping to get this posted before leaving for the Inca Trail (separate blog to follow soon) so apologies for the late message. We hope you all had a great Christmas and New Year, and all the best for 2011!!!

Posted by Del-Linda 05:27 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Arequipa & Colca Canyon

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Arequipa is certainly different to other cities we have visited, as although it has a Spanish influence the culture is very Peruvian. The buildings around the main plaza and old town were impressive. These dated back to Spanish colonial times and many were built from white volcanic rock. From the city you can see three volcano’s on a clear day, the largest being well over 6000m. The region around Arequipa is volcano and canyon country with there being 167 volcanos and the deepest canyon in the world, which is twice a deep as the Grand Canyon. The altitude of the city is about 2500m which will hopefully help us to acclimatize for Cuzco and the Inca Trail.

On Christmas Eve we went to see Juanita “The Ice Maiden”. We were lucky to see her as she is only exhibited at certain times of the year. Juanita is a girl of between 12-14 years old who was discovered in 1995 after being frozen for about 500 years or more. She was sacrificed by the Incas at the top of the Ampato volcano (6380m above sea level!) as an offering to the gods. She is the best preserved of the fourteen bodies of the child sacrifices that have been found in the Andes, and she is currently kept in a capsule at extremely low temperatures to keep her preserved. The whole story is pretty amazing, but unfortunately cameras were not allowed so we have no photos.

That night we had a traditional Christmas dinner with the family who own the hostel and all of the canyon tour guides who work for the hostel owner’s tour company. Traditionally they eat dinner at midnight on the 24th then set off fireworks throughout the night. Dinner was pretty similar to back home as we had turkey, chicken and vegetables, but we also had sweet bread with it then cinnamon hot-chocolate which was good. After the eating and drinking ended we went up to the roof terrace to watch the fireworks. The whole of the city seemed to be setting them off which was great to see.

On Christmas morning we met a brother and sister from Portrush, Northern Ireland. We agreed to go out for a traditional Peruvian meal for our Christmas dinner, and obviously have a few drinks too. Del decided to try an Alpaca steak (sorry Jane!) which he enjoyed since he has ate Alpaca almost every day since. We had a good day out and we have arranged to meet Luke and Cassie for New Year in Cuzco. We ended up out in town that night with a couple of tour guides who are based at our hostel, which was good going to the non-tourist bars.

One of the guys, Roy, was going to be our guide for the two-day trip to the Colca Canyon. We got on really well with him which was good as it just ended up being the two of us and Roy in our group. The first day involved a 13km trek down into the canyon and through three small villages at the bottom of the canyon. Within the first couple of hours we were lucky enough to see a huge condor, an eagle, a baby snake and some lizards. It was a tough days hiking and made us appreciate the effort these villagers have to go to for supplies on a weekly basis. There are no roads so they have to walk these paths with their mules.

The canyon was very impressive and we were surprised to find we were staying in a beautiful oasis at the bottom. It had a swimming pool but the rest of it was very basic with no electricity. We were staying in a small hut in the grounds which was nice enough but not exactly luxury! The following morning (at 5am!) we started our 5km hike back up to the top of the canyon. This was really tough going but we managed the 1200m climb in about 2.5 hours. On the way home we stopped at a couple of villages where we got some pictures taken with llamas, alpacas and large birds of prey. Linda even got a kiss from the llama! It was a cracking couple of days and hopefully it will prepare us well for the Inca Trail next week.

Posted by Del-Linda 10:19 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Arica

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We had a quick stop in Santiago where we spent a full day and a night before flying to Arica. We just spent the day wandering around town seeing the sights. We will return here in February so will maybe spend more time here then.

Arica is located in the north of Chile close to the border with Peru. It lies to the north of the Atacama Desert and the locals claim it is the driest city in the world, as it only gets on average less than 1mm of rain per year. It is a very patriotic city as the area has been the centre of many disputes between Chile, Bolivia and Peru. It was good to get off the tourist trail, as we only met a few travellers.

We enjoyed our few days here and some unbelievably hot weather. We spent a day at the beach and also visited an archaeological museum which had the oldest mummies in the world on display. These were up to 7000 years old, and we were surprised by how small these adult mummies actually were. The museum also had an interesting Inca section which included Inca mummies too. We also bumped into a Scottish guy working in a tour agency who somehow hardly spoke a word of Spanish. In the nine months of being there he had only met two other Scots who are priests, brothers from Greenock, who work in Arica. He pointed us in the direction of the docks where we saw pelicans and sea-lions.

Our hostel was good and the owner, Roberto, kept us entertained for a few days. He made us a Chilean bbq on our last night which was great, although a few too many pisco sours were consumed which was not the best idea for travelling to Peru the next morning.

We took the train from Arica to Tacna in Peru, which was the smallest and maybe the oldest train we have been on. Once we reached Tacna we had no choice but to take a seven hour local bus to Arequipa, which was an eye opener. When getting on the bus everyone´s faces were filmed and there was a metal detector. This must be due to the number of bus high-jacks in Peru. It was a long journey with loads of small things happening throughout. At one point some kind of customs / traffic police came onto the bus and started throwing bundles and bags of clothes out of the window in the middle of nowhere. Thankfully we survived the trip and made it to our hostel in one piece.

Posted by Del-Linda 05:28 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

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