Hi everyone. So as ever, the past few weeks have been jam packed from swimming in the river with pink dolphins (and possibly alligators!!) in the Amazon, cycling down death road, going deep into the silver mines in Bolivia, snow on the salt flats crossing into Chile and now we´ve made it into Argentina (with a quick trip home for a wedding) where we´re eating steak and drinking wine to excess with plenty of football as well!
So Sam left you last when we were just about to start our Pampus tour. This started with a 3 hour journey with 8 of us crammed into the back of a 4x4 along one of the worst roads ever. It was more like a dirt track with plenty of bumps and dust to the point where you could barely see a metre ahead of you and the driver was just putting his foot down regardless, we did well to survive! We eventually got out and all had changed to a nice orange colour from all the dust. We got on a long narrow boat with just one engine at the back and set off through the wetlands. We saw alligators, monkeys, plenty of different types of birds and even some pink dolphins at the end. We arrived at our accommodation in the middle of nowhere, had a quick clean and then went to the ´sunset bar´. it wasn't really much of a bar, a little shack selling a few drinks with a big field at the front. The sunset wasn´t really much either, too many clouds about and rain threatening!
After dinner we went back out on the boat in the dark and rain to go looking for alligators as they apparently come out more at night and the light from the torch catches their eye so they´re easier to spot. We only managed to see a couple but we were able to get so close to them. It was then back to bed, we opened the door to our room, switched the light on and it was as if we´d walked into a bat cave with them flying everywhere! We were completely in the middle of nowhere though so what did we expect!
The next morning we went on an anaconda hunt. Luckily they had some wellies for us to borrow as it was just the end of the wet season so there was a lot of water about. We also had to cover up in mosquito spray and even then you got attacked constantly by them, it kind of ruined the fun a bit! We had a great start and came across a baby anaconda, the bigger ones live further into the wetlands. Apart from that though we didn't see too much else, an owl and a big spider and that's about all!
In the afternoon we went swimming with the pink dolphins. I didn't stay in the water long though, it was a bit scary as the water was so brown that you couldn't see anything in it so who knows what was in there! Sam stayed in longer and managed to touch one, a Dutch guy started to try and lift one out of the water, not quite sure what he was planning on doing with it! We then went piranha fishing, lets just say we went be taking up fishing any time soon, we were pretty useless! The other guys caught a fair few although they had to put them back in the water which was harder than it sounds! We often had a piranha flapping about the bottom of the boat and seeing the size of their teeth I really wouldn't have liked to of been bitten by one!
On our final day we went further into the wetlands and got to see more wildlife, a sloth hanging from the tree, more monkeys and some blue macaws flying about. Then it was back to the dreaded jeep. We clambered back in, the road a bit different to last time as there had been a lot of rain so instead of dust everywhere the road was extremely muddy and it wasn't long before we came across a lorry that had become stuck. We tried to go around and then became stuck ourselves. Luckily there were seven guys and then me in our group so I got away with just standing at the side watching whilst everyone else tried pushing us out in their flip flops! We had no luck though and so eventually another jeep came and pulled us out, we were all a bit nervous then for the rest of the journey!
The following morning we had an early flight back to La Paz. We then did the free walking tour that had been highly recommended to us and took us to see some of the interesting parts of La Paz, including the infamous San Pedro prison which is one of the most corrupt prisons. Once the prisoners pay their entrance fee to get into prison they then have to pay for a room, food and many of them have jobs within the prison to support themselves. We both read a great book called ´Marching Powder´written by Rusty Young and it is a true life story about an English guy who got locked up there and became known for offering tourists guided tours around the prison, it´s definitely worth a read! At the end of the tour the guide mentioned how there was a massive football game in La Paz that night, the South American Champions League Quarter Finals, Bolivar (Bolivia) v Lanus (Argentina). It was a sell out game but they had tickets available. We had nothing else planned so thought why not! Tickets were only about £15.
The game started at 6.30pm but as we didn't have allocated seats everyone gets there about two hours early. There was a big group of us going as well so we all met at a pub and then walked down together. We got our seats and sat tight for a couple of hours. All the Bolivar fans were singing constantly though, never seen an atmosphere quite like it. When the players came onto the pitch everyone just went crazy with paper rolls being thrown everywhere, it was just insane! The quality of football wasn´t quite as good with some unbelievable misses but thankfully Bolivar eventually scored and won the game! Everyone went out to celebrate later however we were cycling death road in the morning so thought it best not to!
Death Road, its official name is Yungas Road, is a 64 kilometre road descending over 3,600 metres into the village Coroico and was previously known as ´The World´s Most Dangerous Road´. The first 30 km were pretty easy, it was a nice paved road and the drops down the road weren't too horrific, however after lunch this soon changed. It was onto the gravely bit and a slight overdoing on the brakes would send you flying, hopefully not down the massive, near vertical drop at the side of the road down the mountain! Luckily our group all made it down safely with only one guy falling off but escaping with just a few grazes!
The following day was FA Cup final day, we found an English Pub to watch it in with plenty of Arsenal supporters before getting the bus to Sucre later in the day. Sucre was a really nice city and good to have a walk around whilst the sun was out. We also made a trip to the dinosaur museum where there were some actual footprints (or so they say) on the side of the mountain. They would of used to of been flat on the ground however because of the tectonic movement over millions of years it is now near vertical and the footprints had been hidden under of layers of rocks until the cement factory next door recently found them.
Next stop was Potosi, one of the highest cities in the world at 4,090m above sea level. Our main purpose here was to see the working silver mines. We´d heard mixed reviews but thought it was worth a visit. You obviously had to go by a tour and ex miners were the ones taking you. We stopped at the miners market to buy some presents such as juice, dynamite and coca leaves then it was into the mines dressed in all our mining gear. I can´t say I enjoyed the experience but I´m glad that we did it. The mines were extremely dusty and ceilings were low so it wasn't nice to walk about.
We then moved on to Uyuni where we would visit the salt flats from. We booked on to a three day tour leaving the next day as there was nothing else in Uyuni to do. On the tour we first visited the train graveyard, lots of old abandoned trains, it was a bit weird really. We then moved on to the salt flats, they were pretty amazing although it was extremely windy and hence so cold which made it harder to enjoy them. We stopped at an island in the middle of them and had a walk around before going further onto the salt flats to take the standard pictures although ours didn't come out completely perfect! That night we stayed in a hotel completely made of salt, no heating though so it was freezing!
The following day the weather really wasn´t looking great and the guide was looking a bit concerned. The sky was full of snow and the wind was so strong. We stopped at some lagoons, one with lots of flamingos in, but it wasn't enjoyable being out of the car so we were always as quick as possible! At lunch our guide told us that we couldn´t go any further south, the weather was too bad and the border crossing into Chile was closed. All groups were in the same situation so it was a race to a hostel further north to hope they had space for us to stay. Luckily they did and so that night we played a lot of cards and drank wine to keep warm!
The next morning couldn't of been any different, completely blue skies and the sun was shining. We were quite far north now though so we went to visit Rocks Valley, it was absolutely amazing with some great views so the trip hadn't been a complete failure! We then went to the Chile border further north, it took us a good 5 hours to get through and once we were through it was another 5 hours to get to San Pedro de Atacama.
San Pedro is in the Atacama Desert, supposedly the driest desert in the world however whilst we were there, there was snow! It was a really nice town. We visited a meteorite museum and one evening went on an astronomy tour as its meant to be one of the best places to do it. She first pointed out all the different constellations and planets and then we moved on to using the massive telescopes. The guy then helped us to take one of the photos of the trip! He just took Sams camera, messed about with a load of settings, placed it on the table so it was completely still then told us to go stand in the picture. We had to stand still for 30 seconds but the result was amazing. A picture of us with the Milky Way in the background, most of which you couldn't see with the naked eye.
We then moved down to Santiago, the capital. We again did a free walking tour and generally just had a wander about the city. We had an apartment with a kitchen so were able to cook some meals and enjoy the cheap wine! We also went to Valparaiso for one night, a city which was mainly built for the port. We did the walking tour there and saw all the different street art on lots of the buildings and then for dinner we tried a traditional Chilean dish, Chorillana. This consisted of a lot of chips, some steak, sausage, fried onions topped off with a fried egg. It was really good but absolutely enormous and I don´t want to know how unhealthy it is for you!
The next morning we were moving on to Argentina with the first stop being Mendoza, famous for its wine. One of the first things we had to do was change some money. I don´t quite understand it but basically the Argentinian Pesos is very unstable, the official rate is about 1 USD = 8 Pesos however because of it being unstable there is the ´blue dollar´where 1 USD = 12 Pesos. It has something to do with the Argentinians wanting their savings to be in dollars as it is much more stable. It´s technically illegal however it goes on everywhere and the police turn a blind eye to it.
Mendoza was a nice city with a big park that we had a wander around. We went wine tasting one day, you hire a bike and cycle in between the vineyards, a bit of a bad combination if you drink too much as the roads are relatively busy! We went to 3 different vineyards but we didn't thinking the tasting was that good as they gave you a white, a red, a sparkling and one more expensive one so it was hard to taste the differences. The last one was good though as he gave us the same wine but from different years so you could clearly see the difference that time makes.
After Mendoza we moved on to Buenos Aires. We first stayed in the downtown area and had an apartment. We did the walking tour and then on the Sunday went to a Matador Festival. This was great, lots of Parillas (big BBQ´s) with a ridiculous amount of meat on, there was a stage with different dances on and then a horse show where they would canter down the street and the rides would have to try and get his little pole through a tiny ring, harder than it sounds!
We then made an unscheduled trip home for just 5 days, my Uncle Mart and Jane were getting married and I simply couldn´t miss it!! It was an absolutely great day, despite the disappointing England score that evening! So now we´re back in Buenos Aires and with the World Cup so close and it is on at reasonable times, we don´t need an excuse to watch as much of it as possible with the football crazy Argentinians. There´s a big screen in one of the squares where we´ll go this afternoon and hope for the best against Uruguay, COME ON ENGLAND!!