A Travellerspoint blog

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Pass the salt please!

sunny 5 °C

Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia

The Salar de Uyuni is the world's largest salt flat at 12,106 km² and sits at 3653m. The reason for the salt flats is there used to be a sea there; however due to movement is the tectonic plates, the sea is fine and there's only water metres below.

Day One

Train cemetery

Our first stop was just outside Uyuni, where there are a load of trains just dumped. There are not too many carriages, but a lot of old fashioned engines. They are 40 years old and have since become a tourist attraction and playground for adults.

Salt Flats

After a quick stop at a market set up for tourists, where we bought a T-Rex, we drove out onto the salt flats. After about 20 minutes driving, we got a puncture and so stopped for lunch while our driver put on a boiler suit and changed the tyre. While we waited for lunch to be prepared, we took some pictures on the flats, taking advantage of the lack of depth perception.

Once again, our internet connection is awful, so I will try and upload photos when we have a better connection, until then, if you're our frown on Facebook, you can already enjoy then there. :-)

Cactus Island

After lunch, we visited cactus island, which is a rock formation in the middle of the flats, which has hundreds of massive cactuses growing amongst the rocks. As you look down from the island, you expect to see the sea, and the salt does almost look like the sea, with what looks like wave lines in black towards the base of the rock.

Salt Hotel

We headed out of the salt flats and found a small hotel, which nobody else was staying at. There were little huts made out of salt, with thatched roofs. The floor is covered in large salt granules and the bed is made out of salt. It got very cold at night, but we managed to stay warm with a few blankets, a couple of sleeping bags and I wore my thermals and a fleece.

Day Two

The next morning, we got up just after 6 and got dressed quickly as it was freezing cold. We left just after 7 and had about a 3½hour drive to our first stop, an active volcano.

Ollague Volcano

This volcano has not erupted for 120 years. The last time it erupted the lava only went as far as the foot of the volcano.

Las Lagunas

We visited 4 similar lagoons, each with flamingoes. The first lake was very blue, whereas the second was more of a frosty colour and had a lot more salt around it. The first lake was half frozen, and so it made it look like the flamingoes were walking on water.

Mountain of seven colours

We drove to 4550m where we could see a beautiful mountain, which had seven different colours in its rocks. It was really impressive but so cold and windy!

Stone Trees

In the middle of this dessert are some rock formations which they have named 'stone trees'. They were formed by lava from the volcanoes, but are interesting due to them being in the middle of nowhere and very neat and tidy. There was snow on the ground around the base of these rocks, but they sheltered you from the worst of the wind.

Laguna Colorada

The final lagoon for today is a large red lagoon, which is red from marine algae. It is a deep opaque red the whole way across, with the odd salt island in the middle. It was absolutely stunning and like nothing else we had ever seen before. This lake made the pink flamingoes look white.

After this we headed to our hostel, where we are sharing a room with the other four people on our trip. The hostel we were taken to was supposedly the best hostel out of all the hostels for that overnight stop; however there were at least 4 dorms, yet we were the only group to stay at the 'best' hostel.

This hostel was freezing cold, with no heating, and only an hour and a half's electricity, so come 8pm, it was pitch black. There were no showers, but there were at least proper toilets.

We had been warned that this was the cold night and so wore thermals and a fleece to bed, inside a fleece lined sleeping bag with two blankets. Apart from when my hat came off of my ears, I wasn't cold at all and slept pretty well.

Day 3

Geysers

We set off at about 6am to see the geysers. These were amazing as we were at the top of the mountain and it was freezing cold at about -10 yet there was stream everywhere with various outlets shooting high up into the sky. There were mud pools which were bumbling furiously. There was one geyser which our guide said was artificial, and so was nowhere near as hot and so you could run through it, which kind of felt like running through a tumble dryer.

Thermal baths

After the geysers, we went for a soak in the naturally occurring thermal baths. It was absolutely freezing as you stripped off all your thermals and layers, but the water was the perfect temperature. They had built a pool out of rocks at the edge of the lake and it was the most beautiful setting ever for a thermal bath.

Laguna Verde and Laguna Blanca

Our final stop was to some green and white lagoons. They change colour and look better when it's windy, which unfortunately it was not for us. They were still pretty spectacular, reflecting the mountains perfectly in the water.

After this, Chris and I took a one hour transfer to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, which was lovely and hot (too hot for Chris) when we arrived. At 27 degrees in the non-existent shade, it was a huge contrast to the -10 we'd started at!

Salt Flat Tours

If you're planning to go to Bolivia, you must do the Salt Flats tour and should really find the time to do the 3 day tour but must do at least 2 days. Our tour company was 'Bettotours' who we were actually quite disappointed with; however still feel that the £95 we paid for everything on the 3 day tour (meals, accommodation, 4x4 vehicle, entry fees to 2 national reserves plus a fairly lousy guide - other companies sounded better) was definitely worth it for the unforgettable landscapes we saw.

reasons to potentially avoid Bettotours

Our driver, who is also the guide seemed to put in the bare minimum effort. He offered us very little information to the point where we had to ask all the right questions to find anything out. How do you know what to ask sometimes?

He didn't even introduce himself, but another couple seemed to be calling him Herbert?

He was completely oblivious to the fact that Chris and I were not returning to Uyuni but transferring to San Pedro de Atacama until at the end of the second day he told us we had a 9 hour drive back to Uyuni and I made a joke about how we didn't have to.

He tried to ditch us at the Chilean border at 9.30, when the transfer should have been 11am. This would have meant missing the last few places. I asked if we could get the 11am bus and he claimed 9.30 was the last one. He eventually left us at 10.30.

On the last night, he said we had to be up at 5 for breakfast at 5.30 and that we wanted to leave by 6 at the latest if not earlier. He suggested it would be better to have breakfast at 5.15, so we did, bags all packed. We were ready by half 5 and had to wait for him for 15 minutes before he even started packing the car!

The second night, we were told there would be a rush for the best hostels and that we would want to get there first to secure the best hostel. Our hostel had at least 4 dorms, yet despite it being 'the best' no one else stayed there. One group came and left. This 'best' hostel had no heating and no electric after 7.30pm. There was no hot water, no showers, the toilets weren't great and it was freezing cold.

Although it was freezing cold out on the flats, the sun was still incredibly hot, particularly on the car. We were all absolutely baking in the car and stripped right down to shorts and t-shirts. The company advertised that they had air-con but it turned out it needed new gas so didn't work. We weren't allowed the windows open because of the dust. It was not comfortable in there at all, and rather annoying having to constantly strip off and layer up.

The advertised heating didn't appear to work either in the morning when it was still dark, we were at an altitude of 4950m, the stream had frozen and there was snow on the ground.

At one point, the car stopped randomly, we thought potentially another puncture. The driver gets out, walks behind the car, stretches a bit before getting back in and announcing 'me dormí' - I fell asleep...

Finally, we were supposed to get lunch on the final day, but because we were going to San Pedro de Atacama, despite paying for the lunch, we were not going to get it.

Although the rubbish guide could be a one off, he's still representing the company and they clearly allow him to work like this. The poor maintenance of the heating and air-con is obviously a company decision to miss-sell you comfort. Had we been going back to Uyuni, we'd have complained. Instead, we'll try and send an email which will no doubt be ignored.

Thankfully, the scenery more than made up for any negatives of the tour company.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 15:52 Archived in Bolivia Tagged lakes salt lagoons bettotours puncture Comments (0)

Sucre and Potosí, Bolivia

sunny 25 °C

We arrived at about 8am in Sucre after the 13 hour bus ride from La Paz. It felt a lot later and after dropping our bags off at the hostel, we attempted to head out for some breakfast. Firstly, most places were still shut. We found one place which had virtually nothing available from the menu. We managed to get a chicken roll and some coffee, but as the lady poured out the coffee, it looked incredibly syrupy and in fact tasted burnt. We quickly moved on and went for attempt number two on the breakfast front.

We found a very nice French crêperie just off the main square called la pâtisserie, which did the most amazing pancakes, cakes and chocolate mousse with pretty good coffee and delicious freshly squeezed juices.

After this, we set of for a stroll around town, which although Sucre is the capital of Bolivia, it is very small and by day, fairly quiet. We tried to visit the Merced church a few times, but as with a lot of things in Bolivia, it did not stick to it's opening times. We went past quite a few times and it was never open.

For dinner, we found a restaurant which served the best and tastiest food we have yet to have in South America, other than while doing the Inca trail. We were so pleased to have a change from fried chicken, plain white rice and cold chips that we went back a couple of times. If you're looking for different food in Sucre, definitely head to Abis Patio. We both had burritos, which were more like fajitas, but incredibly tasty.

The next day we headed to the Dino-park (see previous post) where we saw dinosaur footprints.

In the afternoon, we went to a museum which didn't open (would you believe it?) But did have a very nice lunch overlooking Sucre from the top of the hill.

After trying la Merced one last time, we headed back to Abis Patio for dinner.

The following day, we had an early lunch before catching the bus to Potosí at midday.

Potosí is quite cold as it's 4060m above sea level. Thankfully as we've acclimatised, we didn't find it difficult wandering up and down the hills. We visited the Bolivian Royal Mint museum, which shows the history of coin making in Bolivia from the 16th to the mid-20th century. It was interesting to see how technology improved, meaning the quality and lifetime of the coins became greater along with production time. Potosí was the coin making capital of the world, with most countries retaining a line through their currency symbol, which is believed to represent the strength of the currency, but is actually the í in Potosí.

We plan to have a wander around town after lunch before catching the bus to Uyuni at 17.30. Tomorrow morning we are doing a 3 day, 2 night tour of the Salar de Uyuni, before crossing the border into Chile on Sunday evening.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 09:22 Archived in Bolivia Tagged food museum potosí money mint sucre Comments (1)

Dinosaur Prints, Sucre

sunny 20 °C

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Today we visited the dinosaur park in Sucre, which has dinosaur prints, which they found when excavating a cement quarry back in the 1990s. We took the Dino-bus from the main square, which was basically a double-decker truck with some old office chairs screwed to the floor. It was a very uncomfortable 20 minute journey!

At the moment, this dinosaur park is fairly under developed as it is currently waiting for approval to become a UNESCO world heritage site, with which they will receive funding to preserve the prints with silicone before building a walkway a few metres away from the prints. Currently, partly due to the possibility of landslides, the viewpoint is situated some 300m away. The wall with the prints on is 1200m long and 150m high. It is vertical rather than horizontal due to plate activity millions of years ago. You can see the tracks clearly with the naked eye, but they've got binoculars to make them clearer.

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Dinosaur prints

There is a small museum which has information and diagrams off the dinosaur prints, telling you about which dinosaurs created which prints. Throughout the park there are lifesized models of various different dinosaurs.

It would be interesting to go back here in the future, once it has received funding and see how different it is.

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In afternoon, were walked up a hill which had a mirador which overlooked the city where we had lunch and planned our trip to Chile. We tried to visit a museum, but as it seems with most things in Bolivia, opening hours are irrelevant, they may open if they feel like it.

Tomorrow we're heading back up to 4060m (brrr) to freeze in Potosí.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 18:12 Archived in Bolivia Tagged museum unesco dinosaur prints Comments (1)

La Paz, Bolivia

29th August - 1st September

sunny 20 °C

As stated in an earlier blog entry, we arrived in La Paz after a 5 hour bus journey from Copacabana, including an hour across bumpy fields due to a road block by miners on the ruta nacional. After our unsuccessful trip into town in the evening, we headed back the next day and realised we'd gone to completely the wrong part of town the night before.

Friday 30th August - La Paz

First of all we went to the street with all the outdoor shops as Chris needed a new day bag. He'd already found an Osprey bag he liked, but as it was £100, we decided to look at other bags. We found a North Face bag, which was nearly half the price and probably a better bag. Unfortunately from our research over lunch, it transpired that there are no official stockists of North Face in Bolivia, which meant all the bags were very expensive fakes. We therefore opted for the Osprey bag as the shop is an official stockist.

We ventured to the witches' market, which along with selling a lot of llama feotuses and baby llamas which are traditionally put under your floorboards for luck when you build a new house, they also sold herbal remedies for most problems.

Afterwards we visited a musical instrument museum, which in the balcony to the courtyard included a hands on section which I'm sure drives the staff crazy. There was a triangle, accordion, horn, didgeridoo, xylophone, keyboard and various other instruments for you to play.

The musical instrument museum is on calle Jaen, which is a very pretty and traditional street with colorful buildings.

We had a general wander around La Paz, before having dinner and heading back to the hotel.

Saturday 31st August - Mountain biking down Death Road

See previous blog entry for this trip

Sunday 1st September - Día de Peatones

This morning we got up and there was an eery silence. Today is pedestrian day, which means all transport is banned from the roads, other than emergency vehicles and those with special permits, which seems to be a few taxis. It is so strange being in a city which is one day filled with 3 lanes of traffic in each direction going through the centre of town, with the constant revving of engines struggling on the hills and relentless tooting of horns amd then for it to be silent the next. Children are playing football on the flat horizontal streets and using the vertical roads to ride down the slopes on their skateboards. There were stalls and organized activities going in the streets. Come 5 o'clock, the roads reopened and the traffic returned almost instantly, as if it had been queuing to get into the city.

We headed back to our hotel to collect our bags and caught the 12 hour night bus to Sucre. The receptionist informed us that día de peaton is every 6 months and is to help reduce the pollution in La Paz.

The night bus spent the first few hours on various diversions from the main road so half the time we were on unmade roads. This wasn't too bad though as we had very comfortable bed seats. We arrived in Sucre 13 hours later, ready for breakfast at 8am.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 14:41 Archived in Bolivia Tagged bus pedestrian pedestrian_day Comments (0)

World's Most Dangerous Road - mountain biking on Death Road

Saturday 31st August

Today Chris and I decided to take on the challenge of mountain biking down 63km stretch of the death road, which is the world's most dangerous road, due to the narrow sections which are often not wide enough for 2 vehicles to pass and if it is wide enough, it's a tough squeeze with a sheer drop vertical cliff edge.

In Bolivia, they drive on the right; however to increase visibility of the cliff edge, for the whole section of the old road, you drive on the left so that the driver can see exactly how close to the edge they are. This also meant as we were driving downhill, the mountains were to be on our right and we had to cycle along the cliff edge.

The first 20 km were on the new section of tarmac road, which was more than wide enough and had plenty of crash barriers. This was a good section to get to know our bikes and more importantly how to work the brakes! We started our descent in the mountains at 4800m. There was snow on the ground and the air was incredibly thin. The first section was great fun and easy, and we were able to let the bikes roll to top speed without applying the brakes.

There was then an uphill section for 8km, which we did in the support bus which followed behind us the whole day. When we got out the bus, we were at the beginning of the old road. Looking down the mountain, it looked incredibly long and narrow. We were both a little nervous, as we were very high up.

We set off slowly on the first section, very aware of the vertical cliff a matter of inches to our left. The surface is exceedingly bumpy, made up of fairly well compacted gravel and rocks. Your arms did not stop vibrating as you went over all the bumps. After about 10-15 minutes cycling, you became more comfortable and less aware of the drop, realising that you were a lot more likely to fall of your bike into the middle of the path at some speed and that was actually a far greater danger.

During the descent, there were a few waterfalls which were nice and cooling, but did mean you got covered in mud. In one waterfall which went round the corner, I lost my grip and very nearly fell off. Surprisingly, apart from a couple of moments where we were shocked to find ourselves still on our bikes and not in a heap in the gravel, neither of us fell off throughout the whole trip.

Some of you might have heard of this death road as it featured on Top Gear a couple of years ago and they were challenged to travel along this stretch and pass another truck at the narrowest point. Their truck was on the outside edge and you could see the wheels hanging over the edge. We went past this spot, which is also where the worst accident in Bolivian history took place with a bus full of 108 people plummeting over the edge after the bus driver had to reverse back up to allow another vehicle to pass.

Our journey went pretty much without incident with just one girl falling off her bike, but she was fine once one of the guides had finished tweezing out bits of gravel from her bum.

Were made it to the bottom, prized open our now claw shape hands and had a nice refreshing beer before a quick dip in the river. We enjoyed the warmer climate as we were now down to 1200m, the lowest we've been in at least a fortnight, the rest of the time we've stayed above 3300m. While eating lunch, the most gorgeous parrot came to pose for us, knowing full well he'd probably be fed. He hung around for a good half an hour even after the food had finished.

Now this is where I had planned to finish off the blog by saying and the bus drove us back along the new road back to La Paz, a journey which should have taken 2½-3 hours....

The two of us took the minibus back to La Paz, which was able to go more quickly than the bus. After about an hour and a half, the bus stopped and the driver got out. We asked is everything was OK, which he claimed it was. After about 10 minutes, we realised we weren't going anywhere soon and got out to stand on the roadside as we were not stopped that far from a bend and it was very dark and the cars don't leave much time or space to either stop or overtake. About 5 minute after we got out, the bus filled with what we initially thought was smoke but turned out to just be steam from the overheating engine. About 30 minutes after we broke down, the other bus caught up and we go back on. We set of to a petrol station about a mile up the road and have the other guy some water for his bus. Our original bus had now become the party bus, and even the guides were getting quite drunk.

We carried on for about 20 minutes before stopping at a police checkpoint to help the other bus that had stopped again and also to stock up on more alcohol, right on front of the police. For some reason, the police did not like the fact foreigners had been buying alcohol, and also the guides were not supposed to be drunk. They breathalysed the guides who somehow managed to pass and then decided to breathalyse the poor very patient and tolerant of the party in his bus, bus driver. (He passed.)

Eventually it was decided we'd leave the the other bus on the mountain and carried on the party for the last hour home. We were very glad be back and are rapidly going off Bolivian buses. We're literally just about to catch a 12 hour bus to Sucre.

Update: the reason for the cross field journey instead of main road the other day turns out because the miners had blocked the road.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 15:28 Archived in Bolivia Tagged bus bolivia death_road Comments (0)

Lake Titicaca

Peruvian and Bolivian side

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Puno, Peru
Sunday 25th August

We arrived in Puno, which is the main town on Lake Titicaca on the Peruvian side of the lake at around 3pm. We hung up our damp and still soaked clothes from the Inca trail and headed out for some lunch in Puno. Afterwards we headed down to the port to find out about trips to the islands.

Monday 26th August

The next day we took a boat at half 7 to las islas Uros, which are the famous floating islands on Lake Titicaca. These islands are built on square feet blocks of roots which float in the water. They put a wooden pole through the middle and then tie each block together to make a platform. On top of these floats, they lay reeds across once a fortnight in opposite directions to build the islands up. The roots last 20-25 years, but the reeds need topping up every 2 weeks. The houses are made of the same reeds tied together. Each island is about 250m². There are loads of these little islands, each with about 5 houses and then there is an island in the middle with a school on which all the children attend. You can if you wish do a homestay on these islands, but it gets very cold by the lake at night and there is no electricity other than the odd solar powered lightbulb in the houses and so would be pitch black after dark. Chris and I were more than happy in our hostel!

The island's men spend their days fishing and trade the fish for other produce at the market back on dry land. The women make tapestries showing Uros life on cushion covers and small table covers to sell to the passing tourists.

After taking a traditional boat also made from these reeds across the lake to another island, we headed off on the boat for another 2 hours to Taquile island.

Taquile island is a proper island about 3 hours by boat from Puno. This island had great views of Lake Titicaca and if you climbed up past the main square, it was so peaceful and quiet. We sat for about an hour, enjoying the sun before deciding to head back down to port for the return boat.

We started heading back the way we came, when we heard a young child going in the opposite direction ask his Dad why they were heading that way to the boat and not the way they had come. (The way we were going.) The Dad explained that the boats picked you up from the other side of the island. Chris and I suddenly had a minor panic as we realised the chances are we needed to be on the other side of the island as well. We had 25 minutes to work our where we were going and get to the port before the last boat left for the day. Fortunately, we had not started the downhill section to the original port and were only a few minutes from the main square. We had the name of the port and so asked the locals which way. I checked to see how far it was, and one man said 15-20 minutes. We picked up the pace, which is not easy when you're at 3800m above sea level and heading uphill. Knowing we didn't have any spare time, we checked a few times along the way that we were going the right way as it was not signposted and as we were still heading uphill, we could not yet see the port. We made it in the end with 5 minutes to spare, which allowed for us to realise how close we were to missing the last boat. Never have we been so grateful for inquisitive children!

We arrived back at 5pm and headed into town for dinner before heading back to the hostel.

The next day, we caught the bus to Copacabana, Bolivia.

Copacabana, Bolivia

Tuesday 27th August

We caught the bus at 7.30am and it took about 2½ hours to reach the border and 30 minutes for the whole bus to clear immigration. Bolivia is an hour ahead of Peru and we arrived shortly before midday local time. We were unexpectedly greeted at the bus by a free transfer to the hotel, which was a matter of minutes away on foot, but being up a hill we were very grateful.

We dumped our stuff and went out for some lunch. The food in Bolivia cost the same as in Peru; however their currency is a lot weaker which therefore meant the main course for 35Bs was not £8 as it would have been in Peru, but just over £3. We found what looked like a nice restaurant and ordered a couple of burgers and drinks. The food came very quickly and while I was busy putting sauce on mine, Chris got started on his. He took his second mouthful and said is it alright to eat raw burgers? I said no and he spat out a mouthful of completely raw burger. These burgers were incredibly thin, so thin that they barely stayed together. I cut into the middle of mine, and it was bright red. It was completely raw. I didn't think to take a picture in time but it looked as raw as mince in the supermarket. As you can't eat raw mince unless it's chopped there and then, which we doubted very much we decided to send them back and head off.

When I told the waiter the burger was raw, he just stood there staring at the almost still moo-ing burger and before questioning me as to whether it was cooked our not. If that wasn't proof we didn't want to eat there then I don't know what is. Commence trying to explain to the waiter that the burger had put us off our food and we just wanted to go. He disappeared off, I assume to check with the manager as he returned with the bill for the drinks. These came to £2.80 and I tried to pay with the equivalent of a £4.50 note, which was too big to him! Eventually he found some change and once we'd finished our drinks we found somewhere safer to eat. We think....

Isla del Sol

Wednesday 28th August

This morning, we checked out of our hotel and caught a boat to Isla del Sol which is an hour and a half from Copacabana. We trekked up the mountain and spent about an hour looking for accommodation until we finally found one with a great view of the lake for the princely sum of £11 including breakfast and a private bathroom. I have noticed that whenever discussing with people how much something costs, when I go to translate the options to Chris, I think they seem to think we're backing out because the price has often dropped before I finish even telling Chris. This was the case here as the man dropped his price by £2.

We set off walking to Challa, a village which according to 'good old never one to exaggerate, Lonely Planet, ' it had a 'white sand beach straight or of a Greek holiday brochure'. We arrived at this beach after an hour and a half's walk and unsurprisingly it was not picturesque by anyone's imagination. We sat on the wall for about half an hour with school children staring at us as they went past before we headed slowly back up to our hotel.

We went out for dinner, remembering to take a torch for the journey back. Our restaurant only had lights at the front to light it up from the street and so we ate our dinner by candlelight before walking 10 minutes in pitch black down the mountain to our hotel.

Thursday 29th August

The next morning we woke up in our unheated, single glazed room to a substantial covering of frost on the ground outside. We had breakfast and headed off down the mountain to the port to get the boat back to Copacabana. Today was to be the day of no seats as despite being one of the first down to the port to buy a ticket for the boat, we initially ended up with no seat until some people shuffled along reluctantly on the bench. The boat ride back to Copacabana was quite funny (for me) as most people on the boat looked ready to chuck at any moment as it was incredibly choppy today. Unfortunately Chris was made to eat his words as yesterday he'd questioned how anyone could feel seasick on one of these boats. Luckily he and everyone else survived and there was no potential chain reaction.

We bought a bus ticket to La Paz and had an hour to get lunch. We arrived at the bus 30 minutes before its departure time, as advised to find there were no seats left. It was OK though, the angry bus man has a solution; there was one seat at the back and the other person could sit on the jump seat at the front. We declined his great offer for the 4 hour bus journey and he got annoyed. He said there wasn't another bus until much later and just got angrier when I tried to ask what time. We knew we still had time to buy another ticket with another company, but I'm guessing as he already had our money, he was not to fussed about sorting us out. Eventually another lady offered us a seat on a different bus. We were reluctant, as we have heard Bolivian buses race and overtake crazily to beat each other to fares. They also have a tenancy to end up in ditches. This bus didn't look battered and so we went with it. We were the only foreigners on the bus.

All was fine for the first couple of hours until for some unknown reason, the bus turned off the ruta nacional and onto dry, incredibly bumpy fields, which was to be our route for the next half an hour. We eventually arrived in the centre of town where we sat in traffic for about 15 minutes. We soon headed out to the middle of virtually nowhere which it turned out was where our bus was to terminate. We finally managed to flag down a taxi to our hotel.

We went into town for dinner, but managed to go to the one part of town which had nothing but a load of market stalls. We found an awful restaurant to eat at and left most of it and got a hotdog on our way back to the hotel.

Here's to tomorrow being a more successful day in Bolivia. At least our hotel is warm!

Posted by Roaming Rolts 18:12 Archived in Bolivia Tagged boat beach bus lake island floating uros isla_del_sol Comments (0)

Llama! Llama! Sexy Llama! - The Inca Trail

El Camino de Inca - Km 82 to Machu Picchu

all seasons in one day
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El Camino de Inca - The Inca Trail

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Map showing our route over the four days. Our campsites are marked on in red

Day 1: Inca flats - 10 miles

The night before the Inca trail, we had a briefing with our tour company Llama Path, where we were able to meet the other 8 people in our group, our guides, Marco and Flavio, and to find out a little more about the route we were about to take.

Our group was made up of two friends on holiday together, a French couple who were coming to the end of their 8 month trip, two honeymooners and a slightly older American couple, who turned out to be the kindest and most well prepared for trekking couple you could ever meet. They had everything!

We met with our group, guides, and porters at 4.30am the following morning. We were greeted by a round of applause from the porters and a cup of coca tea. This turned out to be the standard greeting when arriving at the lunch spot or camp for the night.

We set off, stopping after 2 hours for breakfast in Ollyantaytambo before carrying on for another hour or so to the start of the Inca trail at km 82. We all got off the bus and the porters started repacking their bags. There were 10 people in our group as 2 had dropped out. Three of the couples had hired an extra porter, who took sleeping bags, sleeping mats and changes of clothes plus anything else you would need at camp. There were 14 porters in total, and Chris and I were supposed to be carrying our own sleeping equipment; however I think as we had lost 2 people, the Porters decided they would help us out as the guide told us to leave our stuff for now and see what happened. The sleeping stuff weighed 3 kg so Chris and I were incredibly grateful as our bags were not the lightest. They probably weighed about 10kg with the 2 litres of water we needed to carry. The porters were carrying between 20-25 kg each! And they moved a lot faster than we did!

While this frantic packing and repacking took place, a truck which looked like an open top small cattle truck pulled up and unloaded about 18 men, who it turned out were the porters and cooks for the company Gap. Unsurprisingly, the cattle truck left quickly before their tourist group arrived by bus. We could not believe this company transported their porters in such a way on a 3 hour journey from Cusco, in the mountains at night when temperatures were if you were lucky around freezing. Marco (second guide) explained that this company did not treat their porters very well and to top it off, Gap charge a lot more for their trip than Llama Path did for theirs, which meant there is a rich Canadian man somewhere who knows nothing of how hard his porters have to work.

Once packed, We passed through the checkpoint, got our passports stamped and headed off for a group photo at the start point.

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Our group at the start of the Inca Trail

Our first guide, Flavio, explained as we stood in the now fairly warm sun that we would pass through 3 micro-climates over the next four days, which would mean we would see very different vegetation. Currently, it was hot and dry, so only the strongest of plants grew here. It was very dusty. We were hot walking in shorts and t-shirts (and our big packs). Along this stretch, we stopped and looked at the various different plants and had some of the Inca history explained to us.

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Hikers!

After about half an hour, our porters came past, and we applauded them for their efforts. All our porters wore red uniforms and are referred to as 'the Red Army'. Our porters were the only ones who all walked together just as llamas would. They seemed to look out for each other more, and definitely looked good when you saw them coming up or down the hill all together in a group. In the same way they would clap us, it was tradition for us to stop and clap them whenever they went past in order to show our appreciation.

We carried on along the 'Inca flats' which had some fairly uphill sections, which were not as easy as we had hoped, bearing in mind that on day 2 we would be climbing 1000m to 4250m over only about 2 miles/3km. Shortly before lunch we saw some Inca ruins, which was just really a small house.

After 5 hours walking, we arrived at our lunch point, where the porters had already set up a cooking tent and an eating tent for shade, which had tables, tablecloths, stools, cutlery and serviettes. We were all very impressed! They had even heated some water and poured it out into individual bowls for us to wash our hands with their anti-bac soap. There were even individual towels!

We sat for lunch, which was ceviche (local cold fish dish), homemade pumpkin soup and then trout, rice and vegetables for main. The food was so delicious, you could not believe it had just been prepared on the side of the mountain. After lunch they gave us more water, which they had boiled for 5 minutes in order for it to be alright for us to drink. Later on we saw other companies just filling up big 25 litre bottles from the tap and filtering the water through a piece of cloth..... That well known method of catching invisible bacteria in water.

After lunch, we had an uphill section which took about 2 hours and passed the first campsite about an hour before arriving at ours. In the 2 hours it took us to walk this section, the porters had managed to pack up, walk it themselves, set up camp, including the 5 tents we were to sleep in and get started on food. It was so nice to arrive at camp knowing everything was all ready for us.

Each evening, we had 'happy hour' which was hot drinks, snacks and popcorn, while a four course dinner was prepared for us. Annoyingly, because of the altitude, you don't have much of an appetite, and can't overeat because your body can't digest the food as quickly and so you end up with an upset stomach. This meant we were having the smallest portions for dinner when really you just wanted to eat it all. For dessert, we had flambé bananas, which were lit in front of us.

Day 2: Dead Woman's Pass

Day 2 was our hardest day as I've already mentioned, we had a steep 1000m (3000ft) climb, followed by down hill by 700m, (2000ft) back up by 400m (1500ft) before coming down 400m to a campsite at 3600m, all only over the distance of 12km/7.5 miles.

The first climb was to the appropriately named Dead Woman's Pass at 4250m (13779ft). This stretch seemed to go on forever and took about 3 hours to climb. As we got higher, we really slowed down because there was just no air. As the pass came into sight, the path steepened and seemed to go on forever. Today was warm, but as you got to the last 300m climb, the air turned very cold and thin. We made it to the top exhausted, cold but pleased we had made it. We then had a half hour wait on this windy summit for the rest of the group to make it.

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Freezing cold but pleased we have made it to Dead Woman's Pass in our matching reversible llama hats.

The next section was downhill on some big steps made of fairly flat rocks. We were told it would take about 1½-2 hours to get down this section. It tuned out sand dunes are not the only fun thing to run down and so we ran down the first half. The second half was a bit more uneven so had to walk, but it was still a lot easier than up. We made it to the bottom with the French couple in 50 minutes, arriving at our lunch spot. The rest if the group arrived an hour later. This lunch spot was also one of the campsites for the second night, which most groups stopped at.

After lunch we had our next uphill section, which wasn't quite as hard but still difficult as we neared the top. This section also had 2 false passes, and so you couldn't really tell how far you had to go until the final stretch. We headed down to camp, arriving after about 3 hours walking. This camp was really cold as we were 3600m (11800ft) high.

That night we woke to rain at 2 am and just before we got up at 6 there was thunder and lightening. At least we were not going to have carried our waterproof rucksack covers and jackets around for nothing!

Day 3: Gringo Killer - 5.5 miles/9km

We had a short day today with only about 6 hours of walking. The first section was fairly flat, which was a good thing as it continued to rain until about 9am. We arrived at the final summit at about 8.30am, which was also the first campsite for night 3. We also heard that it had snowed overnight on the two +4000m passes. We were very glad we didn't have to climb up to those in the snow and ice

We began the affectionately named Gringo Killer, which was a horribly uneven downhill section which dragged on for 2 hours. Our reward was seeing Intipata Inca ruins, which were massive with terraces going right the way down the hillside. We headed off the path for 10 minutes to the site, where we sat with the French, one of the English guys from our group and a very fast walking German man who had come over the second pass in the snow and rain, leaving his group hours behind him. The rest of our group arrived after an hour or so, and we were given a tour of the ruins before doing the last 20 minutes to our final and incredibly smelly campsite.

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Spectacular Inca Ruins

As this campsite was 5 minutes walk from the Machu Picchu gate, there were 250 people camping there, and not enough (squat) toilets to cater for that number, as well as it being the last toilets before Machu Picchu, for those walking further on day 4. It was already not pleasant when we arrived at 2pm.

As it was our final night, the chef baked a cake, which was more than big enough for about 20 slices. They had carried an oven along the trek. We also asked how they keep the meat fresh, to which the response came across as if that were a silly question as one of them was carrying a freezer. (Obviously!)

Day 4: Machu Picchu - 3.5 miles/5.5km

We got up at 3.30am and left shortly after 4am to queue for the gate to open at 5.30am. We did the five minute walk to the gate by torch light and were the third group to arrive and so got a seat on the last bench undercover. Minutes before the gate opened, it began to rain.

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Waiting at the gate

The gate opened promptly and we were through by 5.35 and had an hour's walk by torchlight along a narrow rocky path with a sheer drop to your right. By 7 am we got to the sun gate and had our first glimpse of Machu Picchu. It was absolutely amazing and suddenly made the last 3 days completely worth it. We stopped for some pictures before walking the last 30 minutes to Machu Picchu, stopping at a couple of viewpoints along the way.

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First glimpse of Machu Picchu at the Sun Gate

Entering Machu Picchu this way along the Inca trail is breathtaking as you are arriving at Machu Picchu from above, therefore being able to see the whole city at once. If you arrive by bus, you enter at the bottom of the city and cannot really see much above you and gradually as you walk higher you get to see the whole place, but by the time you reach the top, the wow factor and overall image has been ruined through the snippets you saw on the way up. Also, once in Machu Picchu, unlike a lot of other Inca sites where you can see most of it from within, if you're in the middle of Machu Picchu, you can only really see the place where you're standing.

We enjoyed doing the Inca Trail a lot more than we had anticipated, and although there were times when it was really difficult, particularly on the final uphill sections, you soon forgot about those when you got to the top. The views and scenery were stunning, and I could not believe how quickly you could change climate and landscape. We walked through dry dessert like areas one minute and then on to lush green jungles the next. I would completely recommend the Inca Trail to anyone who is travelling in South America as it truly is an unforgettable experience.

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We made it! Marco is on the left and Flavio is standing on the right.

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Us at Machu Picchu

The rain had stopped and we were able to walk around the terraces used for farming which overlooked Machu Picchu city. We had our photos taken overlooking the city, including group pictures. We then headed down to the main entrance to have a snack and put our bags in the luggage storage. As we arrived at the picnic area, the heavens opened and the clouds and mist descended over Machu Picchu. This was 8am and we planned to head back in at 9. It became really cold and 9 o'clock came and went and the weather still showed no signs of improving. You could no longer see the mountains. We were supposed to be having a 3 hour tour. We sat it out another 1½ hours before deciding to go for a shortened tour, seeing the key parts.

We headed out and were instantly drenched. Chris and I were wearing water repellent trousers and within 5 minutes we could feel the water dripping down the inside of our legs. Our tour guide, Flavio told us this was only the second time in 12 years that it had rained this badly. Our 'waterproof' shoes lasted another 15 minutes, (what can you expect if they're £25 from Sports Direct?) And I'm not sure at what point my anorak gave up. Maybe 30 minutes? After our 90 minute abridged tour, we headed for lunch in Aguas Calientes, which is a tourist town out the bottom of the mountain, purpose built for Machu Picchu.

In the restaurant, we changed into dry clothes and enjoyed a nice lunch, but it was nowhere near as tasty as the food we had had during our trek.

As we left to catch our train at 3.30pm, it finally stopped raining; however it did start again while we were on the train. This train was naturally a lot nicer than a First Capital Connect train but drove at similar speeds, although this was actually good because although it took 40 to do the 20km back to the start of the Inca trail, the scenery was beautiful. We got back to Cusco at 8.30, showered and fell into our lovely comfortable beds.

Tomorrow we are catching the bus to Puno, which is the town on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. We plan to spend a day here, 2 at most before crossing the border into Bolivia.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 18:11 Archived in Peru Tagged inca_ruins machu_picchu inca inca_trail Comments (5)

Inca Ruins - Cusco

sunny 23 °C

Having read in the guidebook that the Inca ruins were best seen at dawn, we got up at 6.30 and set of a little after 7. We climbed up a massive hill in the general direction, before realising you couldn't get across to where we wanted to get to and so headed back down and set of again at half 7.

We arrived at Saqsaywaman, the first and most impressive ruin (the reason you buy the tourist ticket) just after 8am. The sun was already quite strong and from the 250m hike we were both quite hot and just in shorts and a T-shirt; however all the locals were still wrapped up for winter.

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Saqsaywaman is a fortress made up of hundreds of huge stones weighing a couple of hundred tons, the largest weighing 300 tons and 12m high. You have good views over the town of Cusco from the top of the site. In the middle of this site there was a large flat area between the two halves where there were some cute llama grazing. There's also a large rock which over hundreds of years had been worn smooth to create a 15m long slide, which was so much fun to slide down, and you gained quite a bit of speed!

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We spent an hour wandering around here before heading off to Qenqo, the next ruin on our ticket.

Qenqo was a lot smaller than Saqsaywaman, but had some nice crevices and arch ways to walk through. After this, we were approached by a woman offering a horse trek to the next ruin and a couple of other places, and so we decided to give our legs a break (we had been walking for nearly 4 hours by this point) and headed off by horse.

They selected two horses, one considerably bigger than the other, which we'd assumed to be Chris' but turned out to be mine. Chris looked quite funny on the horse as I'm pretty sure it was to small for him!

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We headed off at a very slow pace, with Chris' horse regularly refusing to walk (so would you if you had a heffa like Chris on your back while trekking up a mountain). We visited two other Inca ruin sites, Tambomachay and Puca Pucara, both of which were very small. Tambomnachay had a wall with what looked like blocked up door ways and a small waterfall. Puca Pucara was small ruins, which looked as though it had different rooms.

We saw a couple more ruins on our horses, before catching the bus back to Cusco at 2pm.

Tomorrow we will be having an actual relaxing day as Wednesday we are doing the Inca Trail. There may be no blogs for a few days!!! (Sorry Sarah!)

Posted by Roaming Rolts 18:12 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

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