Peaks & Plains (53 Days) Quito to Buenos Aires
Days 1 to 6 - 20th to 25th June 2012
Starting our South America tour at 7.30am in Quito first overnight stop is in the town of Otavalo famous for its colourful craft market. Hostel is good, we have a double room with shared bathroom. There seems to be a woo theme going on. We arrive in time for lunch and head for the market, we eat fried fish and rice. We wander round the market for some last minute shopping and bargains before heading back to the hostel to get to know our tour mates and chill in the hammocks. We are a mixed bunch of 16 people coming from Australia, USA, Canada , Ireland and then the English contingent, which includes us. Everyone seems very interesting and fun.
Second day we stop at the Equator for a photo opportunity and learn about the stars in both the Northern hemisphere and the Southern and at the equator you can some of both. The rest of the day is spent driving on the truck on the Panamerican highway through mountains. I am feeling a little apprehensive as tonight it is our first Bush camp and I am in the first cook group, this is going to be difficult because we don't know where everything is yet on the truck and how it works etc. Cook group are responsible for all the cooking of the evening meal and breakfast the next day, washing up, getting equipment out and putting away. We arrive at camp just before dark and the heavens open - not a good sign. We cook Chicken in a white sauce with rice, it seems to go down well. Just breakfast in the morning and then thank goodness that is over for the next couple of weeks. Camp is very basic with no toilets or showers and we quickly learn how to put up the tents and how to dismantle and fold them away again.
Next day is an early start, we have to be up, fed and packed away ready to be on the road for 6.30am. Heading east on narrow, tortuous roads to the steamy edge of the Amazon basin and our gateway into the Amazon jungle. Here accompanied by experienced guides, we spend the next 3 days with the Huaorani community. The camp site is situated in the Yasuni Biosphere Reserve and has a spectacular setting on the banks of the Shiripuno River and it's the perfect base to discover the Nenkepare Waterfall, one of the Ecuadorian Amazon's most breathtaking wild sites. The camp is located close to the community, Nenkepare, and around a three-hour drive and boat ride from Coca in one of the borders of the Waorani Territory.
The accommodation consists of tents set on four individual raised platforms, one meter above the ground. Each tent protects you from the mosquitoes but is open to the fresh air and the sounds of the forest. The camp site has shared bathroom with running water (non heated).
Meals are taken in the dining area located on the banks of the Shiripuno River. In the evening there is an open fire where guests congregate and chat over the day's events.
The camp site has no electricity and candles provide light. A generator is turned on once a day to pump water from the river.
A rich cultural canoe and walking program will expose you to various facets of the Huaorani life: blowgun demonstrations, fire making, hammock weaving, food preparation and home construction are some of the many different experiences you will share. During the evenings, you will chat with your Huaorani guides on the local culture and spiritual beliefs, as the tell you ancient stories passed down from their ancestors who also occupied the same forests you will visit.http://www.huaorani.com/
This was an amazing experience which we all thoroughly enjoyed and learnt from, although one that left me feeling a little sad as I wonder how much of the tribe's daily life was actually put on just for tourist groups. How much does there existence depend upon tourist intervention and money.
Days 7 to 12 - 26th June to 1st July 2012
Further south, perched high in the mountains of Ecuador, lies the outdoors mecca of Banos. This spa town, where Ecuadorians go to relax in the thermal baths is ideal to hike the various trails to one of the surrounding waterfalls or the impressive nearby rocky canyon.
Here we stayed at Piqueno Paridiso Hostal, we chose to upgrade to a double ensuite while others chose to camp. Over the next 3 days we explored the pretty town of Banos, including trying out the Thermal Baths and massages. We walked to several waterfalls, through canyons and took in the beautiful, dramatic scenery that is centred around an active volcano called Tungurahua. Hannah and Mark enjoyed canyoning (abseiling down waterfalls). Mark was especially daring as he completed a bridge swing .
We hit the road again and drive south along the spine of the Andes towards Peru visiting Ingapirca Ruins en route to Cuenca .The Ingapirca ruins are among the best archaeological ruins in Ecuador, an Incan ruin site located outside of a town by the same name,.The most significant building at the Ingapirca ruins is the Temple of the Sun. This elliptical shaped building was constructed in the traditional Incan way—without mortar. This fact makes the archaeological site even more impressive. Ingapirca Ecuador is a great example of the skill the Incas possessed. Each stone was chiselled by hand and perfectly fit together. The Temple of the Sun also showed the knowledge of the Incan people. The temple was built so that on the solstices, sunlight would permeate the centre of a doorway at the top of a chamber. Most of this part of the temple has since fallen down. During a visit to the Ingapirca ruins, you will also learn about Inti Raymi. The Festival of the Sun, Inti Raymi, was an Incan religious ceremony in honour of one of their gods, Inti. This festival took place on the day of the winter solstice. Today, in certain parts of South America the Inti Raymi festival is recreated to the delight of locals and tourists on June 24 each year. Undoubtedly, this festival would have been celebrated at the Temple of the Sun at the Ingapirca ruins. Here we spend the night under canvas in the car park grounds, it is a very eerie and cold experience.
We arrive in Cuenca in time for lunch and stay overnight. It has cobblestone streets, old world Cathedral, colonial parks and urban rivers all this because of this it is listed as a UNESCO world Heritage site. We wander through the streets discovering the market and another opportunity to pick up some bargain winter clothes for later on in the journey. In the evening we experience the diverse night-life, eating out at a good restaurant and visiting a few cocktail bars.
Days 13 to 18 - 2nd to 7th July 2012
A days drive on the Pan-American highway brings us to the border with Peru. We notice an amazing transition in one day, from the good farming country of highland Ecuador, through sub-tropical forest and immense banana plantations, to dry barren desert in Peru. We are rewarded with a couple of days and three nights camping on the beach at Punta Sol . We are approx 1165Km north of Lima and 120km south of the border from Ecuador As I am not feeling too well we choose to upgrade to a double ensuite room, this proves to be a good move but also an expensive option. The beach is small semi circle fringed by sand dunes and Carob trees. The sea is warm and the waves are gentle, making this a paradise for a few days.
The next morning we visit the small laid back fishing village of Mancora to get Peruvian Sols (money) and food supplies. Back to the beach for a swim. Lunch and catch some rays. Andy & I took a walk along the beach there are some very posh beach houses, there is obviously money around the area. In the late afternoon we compete as team England against the Rest of the World in beach Olympics, whilst drinking a very alcoholic punch. Lots of fun had by all and there are certainly some completive spirits amongst the group. We sit by the camp fire, watch Percy Pig spit roast and the sun set. There will be some hangovers in the morning.
Andy, Hannah and Mark take to the water on a fishing boat trip the next morning, unfortunately Mark gets sea sick and they catch just small fish which are not worth eating. In the afternoon Andy and I take a horse riding trip along the beach, cantering along the beach amongst the waves as the sun starts to set, bliss and something I have always wanted to do.
This was followed by another long day driving in the truck only stopping to pitch the tents just outside Chiclayo.
Our next stops on our South America travel experience are the Chan Chan ruins, imperial citadel of the pre-Inca Chimu kings which the Incas later conquered. It claims to be the largest mud brick city in the world. Chan Chan covers an area of approximately 20km² and had a dense urban center of about 6km². It is a triangular city surrounded by walls 50-60 feet high. A distinguishable aspect of Chan Chan is that there are no enclosures which open to the north. The tallest walls shelter against south-westerly winds from Peru's coast. Northern-facing walls gain the greatest exposure to the sun, serving both to block the wind and absorb sunlight where fog is frequent. The numerous walls throughout the city create a labyrinth of passages.
The onto Huanca de la Luna y Sol.
The Huacas del Sol y de la Luna are located in the lower to mid valley, on the left bank of the Moche river on a plain below the imposing Cerro Blanco. Today the Huacas are surrounded by farmland in the province of Trujillo, department of La Libertad, five kilometers south of the city of Trujillo and 6 kilometers inland.
Huanca de la Luna is The Huaca is composed of an enormous platform on the southwestern corner of the complex built of solid adobe; a smaller platform on the southeastern corner of the complex; and a third and higher platform, larger than the second one but not as large as the first one, on the northeastern corner.
These three platforms, which dominate the complex, are connected to four plazas located at various levels
The platforms as well as the plazas were defined with very high and thick adobe walls. Notable among these walls is the perimeter wall which closed off the southern side of the complex, forming a 180 meter long, 18 meter wide corridor that projected to the east, reaching the base of Cerro Blanco
The Huacas del Sol This monumental structure is composed of several terraces built on the slightly inclined plain along the fringes of Moche valley farmland. The Huaca is vera eroded, thanks in part to sporadic yet intense rains. Looting also took its toll in Colonial times, when treasure hunters diverted the Moche river and washed away two-thirds of the Huaca.
Today only the southern and eastern sides of the Huaca stand, but the evidence suggests that it had a somewhat cross-shaped plan and that it was aligned northeast-southwest, with short, central wings.
archaeologists estimate that only one-third of the original Huaca remains and that it once measured 345 by 160 meters and towered 30 meters above the valley floor. The entire Huaca was built of an estimated 140 million mold-made adobe bricks, many arranged in column like segments. It was the largest adobe structure in the Americas.
This day of ruins was followed by a bush camp outside Chopote. A windy but impressive bay with mountains flowing into the sea. Again a chance to watch a very impressive sunset.
Continuing with the Andes close to our left and the sea on our right, the capital city of Lima is our next stop. Here we encounter both abundant wealth and grinding poverty, modern skyscrapers
next to some of the finest museums and historical monuments in Latin America. We stay here for two nights at Hotel Bonbini in a four bed dorm with it's own bathroom.
On the journey into the city we pass a suburb called Ancon, this has steep sand dunes down to the sea wth houses perched precariously on the edge. We arrive in Lima about 2pm which gives time to wander into the nearby main square and get our bearings. Tonight we eat at a Tapas bar in Barranco a very up market district of Lima and close to the sea.
We had a late breakfast this morning and then went into the main square to watch the changing of the guard, we were in for a surprise as today Lima was presenting a special event in honour of Cusco and along with the changing of the guard were lots of traditional dancers and dignitaries. Very interesting and certainly more than we bargained for. Several hours later we visited Convento de San Fransciso The church and monastery were consecrated in 1673 and completed in 1774. Though it survived several earthquakes intact in 1687 and 1746, it suffered extensive damage in an earthquake in 1970. The church is noted for its architecture, a high example of Spanish Baroque. The Catacoombs are Lima's first cemetery were below the monastery contain an ossuary and some secrete passageways are said to connect to the cathedral and the Tribunal of the Inquisition. The catacombs remained in use until 1808 when a city cemetery outside of Lima was founded. The catacombs were discovered in 1943. It is estimated to contain 70,000 burials. Bones line up along narrow hallways underneath the church, and one area contains several large and deep holes, filled with bones and skulls arranged above each other in circular patterns.
Later we visited the Museo de Inquistion - Located on Plaza Bolívar, which is also home to the Peruvian Congress building, the Museo de la Inquisición is housed in the building that was home to the Inquisition from 1570 to 1820. The museum has exhibits that explain the impact and importance of the Inquisition in Peru's history. Imported from Spain in the late 16th century, the Inquisition was responsible for eliminating heresy and blasphemy in the New World. Some of their targets included Spanish Jews and their descendants, who were often accused of maintaining their practices in secret. In this museum, you can visit the lightless dungeon cells where those accused awaited judgement or punishment. It was also from this location that the public burning of heretics was ordered.
This evening we went to Miraflores for Parque de Magic de Aqua, The Magic Water Tour is currently the world record holder for the largest fountain complex in the world, consisting of 13 distinct fountains, many of which are interactive All of the fountains are lighted at night, many with continuously changing color schemes.
The largest fountain in the Park of the Reserve, named "Magic Fountain" (Fuente Mágica) contains a jet which forces water to a height of over 80 m . Additional attractions are the Tunnel Fountain of Surprises (Fuente Túnel de las Sorpresas), a 35 m walk-thru tunnel of water; the Children's Fountain (Fuente de los Ninos), a walk-in automated fountain; and a tunnel connecting the two sections of the park which contains an exhibition highlighting recent public works projects in Lima. The Fantasia Fountain (Fuente de la Fantasia), site of a regularly scheduled laser and picture show, is 120 m in length and contains jets that are synchronized to music.
Today has to be one of my highlights so far this trip as we were able to see culture, history and modern Lima, a real treat.
Days 19 to 26 - 8th to 15th July 2012
Departing Lima our next stop is the Paracas National Reserve were we arrived late afternoon in time for a hot chocolate at a café overlooking the harbour. Then a short drive into the National Park to our camp site. Here we climbed sand dunes and watched the sunset, who would believe there was so much sand in Peru, it's certainly something that I had never even thought of before this trip. At night we could look up into the sky and see the Milky Way and numerous stars that I had never seen before.
The following morning we took a boat trip to the Ballestas Islands in the Paracas National Reserve. We visit the rare and exotic sea birds and mammals that inhabit these islands. Similar to the Galapagus Islands but on a much smaller scale, also has similar warm temperature all year round to. Before lunch we visit a local Winery, which makes Pisco wines and liqueurs, we learn about the process from grape to bottle and how it is still done mostly by hand. I purchase a couple of bottles to enjoy later.
For lunch we arrive at a natural oasis amidst the sand dunes called Huacachina and our next overnight activity, a Dune buggy ride and sand boarding including a night under canvas in the desert with a BBQ. Little did we know that the camp was 75km away and to get there we would traverse some enormous sand dunes both in the buggies and by board. The Sand Buggies held 10 people and the driver with limited overnight luggage secured in the back. This was an absolutely fabulous experience that will be remembered forever. Sand boarding was a little scary to start with but we soon got the hang of it. The scenery was incredible - Wow! Wow! Wow!. That night we had a BBQ round the camp fire with plenty of Pisco wine. This was also the first night of a Truck romance for two occupants.
Back at home Serena Williams becomes women's champion and Federer beats Andy Murray in the men's finals at Wimbledon. Mark Webber wins the British Grand Prix.
Next morning we made the journey back with more sand boarding along the way. Back on the truck and we visit Cahuachi Pyramids and an ancient aqueduct.
Cahuachi was a major ceremonial center of the Nasca civilization in Peru, occupied from between AD 1-500, and it was important among the Nazca people as a ceremonial center during that time. The site is located near the Nazca lines, and evidence clearly connects Cahuachi with the construction of the lines. Cahuachi is an enormous site, including some 370 acres in area, dominated by a central pyramid and plaza. We were able to watch the sunset over the ancient ruins, which was very eerie.
Tonight we stay in the grounds of a hotel near the Nasca Lines, no chance to upgrade because too expensive but we were able to use the showers and toilets, which were warm and clean.
The next morning we visit the Chauchilla Cemetery. This was discovered in the 1920s, but had not been used since the 9th century AD. The cemetery includes many important burials over a period of 600 to 700 years. The start of the interments was in about 200 AD. In 1997, the majority of the scattered bones and plundered pottery were restored to the tombs. The bodies are so remarkably preserved due mainly to the dry climate in the Peruvian Desert but the funeral rites were also a contributing factor. The bodies were clothed in embroidered cotton and then painted with a resin and kept in purposely built tombs made from mud bricks. The resin is thought to have kept out insects and slowed bacteria trying to feed on the bodies. The high degree of preservation seen in the thousand-year-old bodies means that some still have hair and the remains of soft tissue, such as skin.
We now make our way to one of the world's great archaeological mysteries The Nazca Lines. These huge figures and shapes, carved into the desert floor are best viewed from the air, so we take to a small plane in groups of 4 for a 30 minute flight over the desert. We saw each sign in turn on both the left and right side of the plane.
The lines form numerous individual figures, ranging in complexity from simple lines to stylized hummingbirds, spiders, monkeys, fish, sharks, llamas, and lizards. The area encompassing the lines is nearly 500 square kilometres (193 square miles), and the largest figures can be nearly 270meters (890ft) long, although the dimensions of each figure varies. The Hummingbird is 93meters (310ft) long, the Condor is 134meters (440ft), the Monkey is 93meters (310ft) by 58meters (190ft), and the Spider is 47meters (150ft).
The flight was very interesting but made me feel slightly sick as we weaved back and forth to see the signs in turn.
Back to the truck for an afternoon of driving and another bush camp, this time in a quarry - not good and not very safe either.
The next two nights are spent in Arequipa at 2325m, giving us time to acclimatise, and enjoy this beautiful colonial city with its impressive El Misti Volcano in the background. Here we check into a party hostal called Wild Rover and stay in a dorm room for 6 people.
On the first day we visit a Museum which houses the Ice Maiden called Juanita. She was discovered on the top of Mount Ampato near Arequipa, Peru, on September 8, 1995 by Johan Reinhard and his assistant, Miguel Zarate. She was 12 to 14 years old when she was sacrificed and is believed to have died about 500 years ago.
Although she was frozen in the frigid temperatures on Mount Ampato, her body was discovered because a nearby volcano had caused Ampato's snowcap to melt. Her burial site, which had collapsed and cascaded down the mountain slope, also revealed many items left as offerings to the gods. She was very well-preserved when she was discovered. At the time, she was the best preserved of all Inca mummies found in the Andes.
Next we take a Reality Tour of the area, which looked beyond what the tourist usually sees and visits
a local shanty town where single mothers struggle with employment and childcare;
a quarry to see men working in the heat of the day to dig out and chisel blocks of stone, they are paid by the block produced;
a cemetery where there is an obvious divide between the classes and how they are buried.
Although this tour was very interesting and informative it was also quite depressing. To cheer us up we made our way to a café overlooking the Plaza de Armas, where we enjoyed a cup of tea in the sunshine people watching.
Later that evening Andy and I go for a massage performed by visual sighted masseuse, this was very good and just what was needed after a day of walking in the heat.
Arequipa is also the gateway to one of the deepest canyons in the world. Twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, Colca Canyon is an awesome sight. To get to the Canyon we travelled over mountain roads stopping to look at packs of Llamas, Alpacas and Vicuña.
We pass beautiful views of snowcapped volcanoes, cross the river Duro and have photos taken with it's source which is nothing but a frozen trickle. In the distance we see Mount Ampato, where the Ice Maiden was found. We stop overnight in a hotel in village of Chavay, where we visit the thermal baths and experience a typical Peruvian meal with dancing and music.
The next morning we get up early and make our way to Colca Canyon, passing through pretty villages, a tunnel and viewing terraces dating back to the Incas. Condors can be seen circling lazily on the thermals rising from the canyon floor, we had to wait 30 minutes to see them, but it was well worth it. We make our way back to Chavay where we have lunch at a stall in the market. There are lots of local people in traditional dress with llamas waiting for a photo opportunity.
We meet back up with the Truck and spend the afternoon travelling to yet another bush camp in a quarry; this was a very cold night with very little sleep. The next morning our water bottle is frozen and the tent has frost on the inside, which proves how cold it has been.
Days 27 to 33 - 16th to 22nd July
We now have to face one of the most arduous and punishing dirt roads on the tour. An hour into the journey we come to a standstill due to protesters in the road, at first it seems peaceful with rocks being placed in the road to stop the traffic, but then it turns ugly when rocks get thrown at a lorry and the windscreen gets broken. We pull over and wait for it to pass. The police arrive and everything is returned to normal. We are informed that the protest is about teachers having to pay back some of their salaries from the last 3 years, if they do not they will not be allowed to teach. This has been going on for several months now and children aren't being educated. We are back on our way, but not for long as we are stopped again by a similar protest, although much more peaceful just outside the town of Juilianca. This time it is more organised and we are stuck for most of the day. We eventually get on our way about 4pm and arrive in Cusco just after 10pm. We are all very weary. We check into our hotel, we have a twin ensuite room.
Cusco is widely considered to be the most interesting city for South America travel; it is surrounded by the Sacred Valley of the Incas and offers a wide range of activities to explore the region. We will base ourselves here for 6 days giving us enough time for the Inca Trail trip. Besides seeing Machu Picchu, you're able to enjoy the architectural uniqueness of Cusco and explore some of the colourful surrounding markets.
Our first day in Cusco Andy is feeling unwell and unable to keep any food down so we do not go far. In the morning we are visited by our tour guides for Machu Pichu to give us the run down on what to expect and what to pack etc.We have a wander later in the afternoon around the shops and pick up last minute equipment and supplies, Andy has a massage, whilst I sit in the main square and take in the atmosphere.
Meanwhile back at home London is getting ready to host the Olympics and Dan has been called up to do security at the events as G4s do not have enough manpower - good old army to the rescue as usual. He is not happy about it as all leave has been cancelled, but on the plus side he may get to see some of the events.
Day 1: Cusco (3,350m) - Km82 (2,800m) - Wayllabamba (3,000m)
Early morning rise at 5am. Our guide picked us up from our hotel and we drive to the start of the trail in private transport (approx. 2 hours) taking you through the Sacred Valley to Ollantaytambo where we stop to have breakfast. We continue onwards to Km82 - the start of the trail. Here we enjoy the view of Veronica Snow Mountain (5,720m). We then commence walking for about 3 hours, whereafter we take lunch close to Llactapata Ruins and then continue our trek through lush farmland and woodlands to our first camp at Wayllabamba. Today was a fairly steady pace and we managed to keep up with the group without any difficulty. Arrived at the campsite at about 4pm to find the porters had already arrived and the tents were up. We then watched the porters play a game of football which some of our group joined it until the sunset, then we made our way to the dinner tent for a cup of tea and biscuits. Dinner was served at 7.30pm it was three courses of typical Peruvian food, nicely decorated with folded napkins on the table and everything. It is amazing what the porters do- carry all the stuff all day the same route as us and then prepare meals.
Day 2: Wayllabamba - Warmiwañusca (4,200m) - Pacaymayo (3,600m)
Early morning start with Tea brought to the tent. After breakfast, we begin to walk the toughest part of the trail. Andy not feeling well at all to day, still not able to keep any food down, so has no energy. We stay at the back of the group today and it is very slow going, all uphill and mostly steps, some very steep. After 4 hours walking we reach the highest point in the Inca Trail, Warmiwañusca, or more commonly known as Dead Woman's Pass (4,200m), where we have a beautiful panoramic view of the area. This was quite an emotional point as the day had been really hard. We were about an hour behind schedule. Now for the downhill steps to the camp which took another 2 hours to Pacaymayo where we set up camp and have lunch a rest then dinner. After the walk I go straight to the tent for a rest and miss lunch.
Day 3: Pacaymayo - Phuya Patamarka (3,600m) - Wiñay Huayna (2,700m)
Today should be easier, we have a longer journey to trek but not so much steep up and down.Hannah has strained a muscle in her pelvis so is struggling, she remains at the back. Andy is determined to set the pace to start with while his has the energy to do so. He is still ill, although he has some anti-emetics, which should stop him being sick in theory. We ascend towards the second most important pass on the trail which lies at 4,000m. We reach the Inca Ruins of Runkurakay and the Inca citadel of Sayacmarca. We continue trekking towards Puya Patamarka (Cloudlevel town), another important archaeological monument, where lunch will be served. Here we see Condors flying over the hills, a very good and lucky sign. After a short break we continue walking to Wiñay Huayna (Forever Young), a beautiful Inca construction. We camp near to the ruins and have well deserved nutritious dinner. I am so excited tonight that I don't sleep well, the thought that tomorrow I will fulfil a lifetime's ambition and Machu Pichu is just over a mountain of the same name in front of us.
Day 4: Wiñay Huayna - Machupicchu (2,500m) - Cusco
A very early start i.e. up at 3.45am, after breakfast in order that we can arrive in time for sunrise at Machu Picchu and the porters have to time to pack everything away and get to catch the first train off the Trail. We walk for about an hour through the forest before arriving at the Inti Punku (the Sun Gate), where we will have our first inspiring view of Machu Picchu. It looks very small in the distance, but Wow Wow we made it. We admire the view before setting off for the short walk into the ruins. We have a 2 hour fully guided tour around the ruins, visiting the main sites and monuments as well as extra time to take a look round ourselves. We catch the bus down the mountain to Aquas Calientes, a small very tourist town, where we have late lunch and enjoy the sights.
We then catch the train back to Foroy, a four hours journey passing many of the mountains we had climbed and watching the river tumble away. We eventually arrive back in Cusco at 9.15pm, very weary but having thoroughly enjoyed our experience.
The next day we call the doctor for Andy as he is no better in fact probably worse. We have to go to a nearby private hospital to have tests completed. Diagnosis is He has a parasite, medication given and sent on our way.
Hannah and Mark go paragliding over the Sacred Valley today, they had a great day.
We have a late lunch of English Breakfast at Paddy's Bar, the highest 100% Irish owned pub in the universe, it was very good and just what was needed. Rang home and spoke to family, which made me feel homesick. Natalie goes on holiday tomorrow with friends and suddenly I miss her loads.
Days 34 to 37 = 23rd to26th July
So back to traveling on the Truck today, it is very subdued group with several people feeling ill and homesick. We arrive at Puno at 5.30pm and check into the hostal. It is very dirty, not secure and currently has no running water. Not what is needed when you are travelling with several people who need clean toilet facilities? A small group of us decide to change hostal down the road, with a double ensuite room running water and heating for the same price.
Bordering Peru and Bolivia at 3800m lies Lake Titicaca, the home of the Uros Indians who have made their dwellings on floating reed islands. By boat we visit the floating islands am hour away. This was very touristy and the whole reason they exist is because of tourism, I was very disappointed. Then we go that one step beyond the average tourist and spend the night with one of the Indian families on the lesser known islands Isla Amantani. We are introduced to our host families and taken to their house for lunch. The couple we are staying with are older and have no children staying with them; conversation is difficult because of our lack of Spanish and theirs as they speak Quechua, native language of Peru. Spending some time in these local communities will provide a unique opportunity to learn more about the traditional lifestyle of the Andean people and their customs. After lunch we are taken for a trip round part of the island, we enjoy a hot chocolate in the main square, which is tiny compared to some of the cities e have been to. Andy really not well, he just wants to sleep all the time and goes hot and cold. I am very concerned about him now.
After dimmer we are taken to the village hall in traditional costume and taught local dances. This was a very enjoyable evening.
The next day we say goodbye to our host families and set off in the boat to Tranquilla Island. We trek up the hill to reach the main town, where the villages put on music and a procession for us. We are told this is a special day, but we are not convinced as it appears to happen most days. Our guide tells us all about customs and rituals of the people of the island. We then catch the boat back to Puno, which takes 3 hours. Once back we call a doctor out to Andy. He is given oxygen as his stats are low and is put on a drip. More tests taken The Dr will return tomorrow to let us know test results and if he is allowed to travel.
In the morning, Andy is given more oxygen, fluids and diagnosed as having parasite and Salmonella poisoning. He must find a doctor in La Paz when we arrive and they will continue to treat.
From here it is a days drive to the capital of Bolivia - La Paz. Once we arrive at Hotel Continental in the historic part of the city we contact a doctor and Andy is taken to hospital where he remains for the next 3 days. The parasite has not been treated correctly and the Salmonella has not responded to meds given. They want to put him on a strict diet and monitor his progress; he will remain on IV fluids for the duration too. Back at the hotel I am checked into a large double room ensuite, two floors down from the rest of the group, who are in an apartment at the top of the hotel. I spend the next few days at the hospital in the daytime and returning to the hotel and the group in the late afternoon.
On day 39 - 28th July we choose to leave the tour as they need to continue to Potosi and we have to remain in La Paz to complete treatment and get some rest. We hope to catch up with them in Salta, Argentina but this is dependent on how Andy feels and public transport. Hannah and Mark remain with the tour.
Meanwhile back at home the Olympics begin - we manage to watch the Opening Ceremony, which made me proud to be British. Well Done London. Good Luck team GB.
South America Continued.
Wednesday 1st August
Andy given the all clear from hospital but told to take it easy for the next couple of weeks. So we can continue our travels. So we go straight to a travel agent and book the overnight bus to Uyuni and a Salt Flats tour.
We take the overnight bus to Uyuni. We book semi-recliner seats right at the back of the bus. We leave La Paz at 7pm. It is a long journey on some very bumpy roads. The bus is warm and the seats quite comfortable, although neither of us sleeps much. We understand now why people choose to take the train instead.
Thursday 2nd August
Arrive in Uyuni at 7am. It is very cold and windy, but the sun is shining. It is also very dusty. We check into Hostal Marith. A very basic double ensuite, but a welcome warm bed for a few hours sleep.
Uyuni is a city in the southwest of Bolivia. It primarily serves as a gateway for tourists visiting the world's largest salt flats, the nearby Salar de Uyuni.
Founded in 1890 as a trading post, the town has a population of 21,400 (2010 official estimate). The town has an extensive street-market. It lies at the edge of a plain at an elevation of 3,700m (12,139ft) above sea level, with more mountainous country to the east.
When we awake at 12ish we take a look round the town and market. Beyond the market there is a main square with restaurants, shops and tour operators, other than that not much else. The town reminds us of the set of an old western movie that has been deserted. You just need to add the rolling weed balls and it would be complete.
Whilst eating lunch we meet a couple of Irish girls, who have a similar hospital tale to tell.
In the evening we bump into one of the tour group and go back to there hotel to say hello. They have many tales to tell even though it has only been a few days since we left them. They continue their journey to Argentina tomorrow, we will always be a few days behind now we think.
Friday 3rd August
Today we take our one day Salt Flat Tour with Andrea Tours. We set off at 10.30am and who do we meet - the two Irish girls, who are also taking the tour, so this gives us a chance to get to know them better.
First stop on the tour is:
One of the major tourist attractions of the area is an antique train cemetery. It is located 3km outside Uyuni and is connected to it by the old train tracks. The town served in the past as a distribution hub for the trains carrying minerals on their way to the Pacific Ocean ports. The train lines were built by British engineers who arrived near the end of the 19th century and formed a sizable community in Uyuni. The engineers were invited by British-sponsored Antofagasta and Bolivia Railway Companies, which is now Ferrocarril de Antofagasta a Bolivia. The rail construction started in 1888 and ended in 1892. It was encouraged by the then Bolivian President Aniceto Arce, who believed Bolivia would flourish with a good transport system, but it was also constantly sabotaged by the local Aymara indigenous Indians who saw it as an intrusion into their lives. The trains were mostly used by the mining companies. In the 1940s, the mining industry collapsed, partly due to the mineral depletion. Many trains were abandoned thereby producing the train cemetery. It is very intersting but also a little sad.
Salar de Uyuni (or Salar de Tunupa) is the world's largest salt flat at 10,582 square kilometers (4,086sqmi). It is located in the Potosí and Oruro departments, near the crest of the Andes, and is elevated 3,656 meters (11,995ft) above mean sea level. The Salar was formed as a result of transformations between several prehistoric lakes. It is covered by a few meters of salt crust, which has an extraordinary flatness with the average altitude variations within one meter over the entire area of the Salar. The crust serves as a source of salt and covers a pool of brine, which is exceptionally rich in lithium. It contains 50 to 70% of the world's lithium reserves, which is in the process of being extracted. The large area, clear skies and exceptional surface flatness make the Salar an ideal object for calibrating the altimeters of Earth observation satellites. The Salar serves as the major transport route across the Bolivian Altiplano, but has no distinct roads.
The views are truly amazing, Mother Nature at it's best.From a distance it appears like an enormous ocean, still and white. The tiles on the flats stretch on as if to infinity - and beyond. This in itself if simply awesome to behold. It looks like something out of a science-fiction film - one half expects to see, at any minute, Captain Kirk appear being chased by a couple of Klingons..
I could not get over how vast it was,j ust to amazing for words see the photo's, although even they do not do it full justice.
We have lunch at:
Isla Incahuasi is a hilly and rocky outcrop of land and former island in the middle of Salar de Uyuni. Isla Incahuasi is the Spanish name where isla means island, Inca stands for Inca, and huasi is derived from the Quechua word wasi meaning house. The total area is 24.62 hectares (61acres). The island has gigantic cacti (Trichocereus pasacana) and a tourist center. There are unusual and fragile coral-like structures and deposits that often consist of fossils and algae. The island is actually the top of the remains of an ancient volcano, which was submerged when the area was part of a giant prehistoric lake, roughly 40,000 years ago. We are able to explore the island and climb to the top for yet more amzing photos. Ther is is cactus that is 9meters high and is approx 900 years old.
On the return journey we stop at The Salt Eyes, little pools of bubblig water that smell of iron.
We arrive back at Uyuni about 5.30. What an exceptional day!
Tonight we catch the sleeper train to Villazon, the border town before crossing into Argentina. The train has recliner seats, pillows and blankets and is very warm & comfortable.