From Cusco we drove to Puno where we stayed a night before heading out onto Lake Titicaca. Our first stop on the lake was at the floating islands. These are built of layers of reeds on top of blocks of the roots which is a floating substance. They used to just float anywhere on the lake but now are anchored, and less and less people choose to live on them as they have land as well. After a little trip in a reed boat we got back on our motorised boat and continued to Amantani Island where we met our new mamas for the night. We were split into groups of two or three for the home stay. To get to the village was an uphill walk, very hard work so soon afterthe Inca Trails, and still at 3800m. When we got to our house for the night mama cooked us lunch, soup, rice, potato and a fried squeaky cheese similar to haloumi. Then we headed to the court where some of the guys from our group exhausted themselves playing football against a few of the locals, and won! We headed in to the bar for a hot drink then back to our houses for dinner. After dinner we were dressed up in the local style and went to the town hall for a dance. It was a lot of fun seeing everyone in the different clothes.
The next morning our mamas cooked us breakfast then we said goodbye and hopped back on our boat. The family I stayed with was mum, dad and thirteen year old daughter. We later found out that our 'dad' was the mayor of the town. The whole experience was interesting and fun but quite awkward, mainly because of the language barrier and not knowing what we were meant to be doing a lot of the time. After leaving Amantani we stopped at another island to explore and have lunch. There wasn't much there, just more up hill walking, most of us felt it wasn't worth the stop. We arrived back in Puno mid afternoon and stayed another night before moving on.
Next day was a border crossing, Peru to Bolivia. It went pretty smoothly, they just gave the Americans a bit of a hard time getting their visas, no one else even needed a visa. Then it was on to La Paz. We stayed three nights, giving us two full days to explore, though most people (not me) decided to cycle Death Road, which took up most of the day. I spent my time shopping in the markets and eating. The second night in La Paz we had a costume party in one of our apartments. Everyone picked a name from a hat and bought that person a costume with a 50 Boliviano spending limit. We had a lot of fun dancing all night till 4am when one of the girls had to leave for La Paz. In all we had three people leave there which was quite sad.
From La Paz we moved on to Potosi where today we had the option of a tour of the mines. On the way to the mine we stopped to buy gifts for the miners, coca leaves, cigarettes, drinks, and gloves. We also bought some dynamite. Our tour of the mine was quite long, about three hours, there were some very low tunnels to go through, and it was really hot in some places, and hard to breathe, thin air from the altitude and being underground. It was not the most comfortable tour, claustrophobic at times and hard work just to move down there, but it was a great insight into the conditions the miners work in. The miners own the mines and get paid for what they extract. If they can't get good rock they simply don't get money. The main materials in that mine were silver, zinc, lead and tin. When we finally came out of the mine we got to play with explosives... we rolled the plastic explosive and the guide put it all together with other stuff to make a good explosion. Then he lit the five minute fuses and let us take photos holding the sizzling packages! Before too long he took them far enough away and put them on the ground giving us a countdown to them going off. The noise was huge, a lot louder than I expected, we had heard some go off underground but that must have been muffled.
After returning to the hotel this afternoon a few of us decided to go and have a look at the Mint Museum which is mainly focused on the coins and silver goods that used to be made from the silver mined locally, and the machinery used to make them. It was a great follow up to the mine visit. Tomorrow we move on again to Uyuni to visit the Salt Flats.
Today has been a fun day spent surrounded by salt. On the way out to the Salt Flats we stopped to see a train graveyard, where trains that used to carry salt out of town are now rusting. Next stop was a factory where they process the salt for local distribution. Then we saw where the salt is mined from, a different area in the flats each season. Out in the Salt Flats there's a hotel built of salt blocks which we visited to see what the rooms are like and their little museum of salt sculptures. Lunch was on an island in the salt which is covered in huge cactuses, which the guide said grow about one metre every 100 years, and the tallest, which just got knocked down by the wind, was 12m tall, so 1200 years old! The island also had awesome views out over the salt when we climbed to the top. On the way back in the afternoon we had a chance to try and take some crazy perspective pictures. It was fun trying to line things up and get them looking right. The restaurant at the hotel here has lots of examples of pictures people have taken so we went with plenty of ideas, unfortunately we didn't really have time to muck around and do lots of shots.
Other than the Salt Flats there isn't much to do in Uyuni, but there is a very fun bar. It is in fact called the Extreme Fun Bar and they have all sorts of interesting drinks and shots, some of which come in very...ah...oddly shaped vessels. There were also plenty of records to try and break, most consisting of drinking a lot of alcohol very quickly. None of us tried for any of the records, we just enjoyed the atmosphere and had a good night.
Guess who is the only person to fall out of the raft...same person who managed to fall of the quad bike in Africa. Maybe there's a lesson to be learned here...
After a long bumpy drive day and a free camp we finally arrived at the border to Argentina. This crossing was a bit more complicated than the others, we had to make sure we had no fresh produce, and all our bags and the truck were searched, not very thoroughly but the threat was there. Once we were allowed back on the truck we drove on to a check point where they told us we had missed getting something stamped and had to go back to the border, just to drag it out a bit more.
From there was another long drive but on nice smooth roads. We arrived at our campsite in Salta at about 7pm only to discover it has closed down and we had to find somewhere else to stay. We were going to have to drive out to the white water rafting base camp in the morning anyway so we decided to go the extra two and half hours that night and sleep there. The people who weren't doing the rafting stayed in Salta and got a hostel.
Driving out to the rafting camp turned into a bit of a party with music and snacks and dancing on the truck. We arrived after 10pm and had BBQ dinner and wound down for a while before bed. At least making the drive meant a later start in the morning!
Next morning I went white water rafting for the first time. I decided to do it there because it was only up to grade three and it was 'a nice cruise down the river and almost impossible to fall out'. The scenery was beautiful, it was nice and sunny, perfect weather. Floating down the river was really nice. The parts without the rapids anyway. Going through the rapids we got swamped with freezing water and thrown around. Going over one rock the boat was so slippery I fell into the boat and couldn't get back to my seat. Then at one of the biggest rapids we were told to get into the raft, but it wasn't slippery any more, i couldn't get in fast enough and got thrown right out of the boat.I floated on my own until they got the raft over to rescue me. The guide held his paddle out to me but let go when I got hold of it so I had mine and his trying to hand it back. Eventually I got back in the raft and managed to stay there for the rest of the trip. I did enjoy it but I'm not sure it's something I'll do again, especially on bigger rapids!
After a BBQ lunch our afternoon activity was zip lining. I freaked out a bit when I realised how much control I had, keeping myself steady and stopping at the end, I just learnt how good I am at stuffing these kind of things up. I think I was most scared of going too fast and not being able to stop. Once I did the first of four and realised it wasn't nearly as fast as it seemed I was able to enjoy the scenery of the canyon we were going over. It was an exhausting fun day.
Once the activities were over we drove back in to a different campsite our guide had found close to Salta to meet up with the rest of the group for steak dinner. For those interested in steak anyway. The next day was free to explore Salta. It was pretty much a day spent following people shopping and eating icecream, the icecream here is very good. Today we've driven from Salta to Cafayate. There are a lot of wineries here so I think tomorrow might be spent doing a few tours.