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South American Highlights and Summary

A quick round up of our amazing trip to South America, before we start on South East Asia.


View South America 2013 on Roaming Rolts's travel map.

Number of days in South America:81

Countries Visited:
Peru: 21 days
Bolivia: 11 days
Chile: 13 days
Paraguay: 3 days
Brazil: 20 days
Uruguay: 4 days
Argentina: 9 days

Accommodation
34 different accommodations
+2 revisits
+3 nights camping (Inca Trail)
+7 night buses
+1 airport (São Paulo)
+1 night flight

48 different places gives an average stay of 1.7 nights.

Most frequent change: 7 nights, 7 different accommodations when
travelling from Chile - Paraguay - Iguassu Falls

Top 3 Accommodation
1. Apartment in Rio de Janeiro - just generally good, reasonably
priced accommodation.
2. Hostel in Foz Do Iguazu - good room, really helpful, friendly owner
and the best breakfast we had all trip.
3. Pousada in Paraty - nice room, 2 gorgeous friendly cats, lovely
outdoor courtyard with hamocks and swinging bench.

(Turns out they were all in Brazil, yet one of our worst was Alameda
Park Hotel in São Paulo, unless the payment for that never goes
through....The bed was literally solid and the whole place was
incredibly dated.)

Worst Accommodation
1. Calama, Chile - really skanky thread bare sheets, paper thin walls
and disgusting shared bathrooms. Seemed to just be lone men staying
there.
2. Uyuni Salt flats hostel - no electric, no heating (even though it
drops below zero at night), no showers, no hot water. Dorm room for 6.
We didn't get a choice on this one.

In our whole time in South America, we accidently booked bunk beds for
the twin room once (hehe!) And had to share a dorm room only twice. We
had ensuite the rest of the time on all but 2 other occasions.

Travelling Times

Time spent on buses: 141.5 hours
Time spent on flights (excluding connection times): 37 hours
Time spent on ferries: 13.5 hours

Total time travelling: 192 hours (8 days)

Stuff stolen

Robbed 3 times :-( + 1 hotel dishonestly taking $75

3 kindles
2 rucksacks
2 tablets
2 cameras
2 iPods
2 driver's licences
2 passports (amazingly handed in!)
1 mobile phone
Various amounts of various different currencies
Various tops

Highlights

We started this list on paper and it almost became a list of everything we did, so we've tried to condense it to our top 3 choices for each country.

Peru
The Inca Trail and Machu Picchu were a given for Peru, and so cheated by coming up with three more. (And even then we've got plenty more to add.)

Huacachina - Sand buggies and running down sand dunes
Lake Titicaca - Uros floating islands and Isla del Sol (I know this is Bolivia, but was more to save on our list!)
Cusco - Saqsaywaman Inca ruins and pony trek

Bolivia
La Paz - Mountain biking down death road and pedestrian day.
Sucre - Dinosaur prints park
Uyuni - 3 day excursion to the Uyuni Salt Flats

Chile
Iquique - Ghost towns of Humberstone and Santa Laura
Chiquimata - Copper mine tour
Santiago - Bella Vista Patio - restaurants and quirky little shops in a hidden courtyard.

Paraguay
Asunción - Train museum
Asunción - Regenerated neighbourhood by night

Puerto Iguassu - Argentina
Iguassu Falls and wildlife
Speedboat trip through the waterfalls

Foz Do Iguazu - Brazil
Iguassu Falls - We preferred the Brazilian side as you could see all the falls and get a greater impression as to their size and magnitude.
Bird park - good collection of toucans.
Churrascarrías - Eat as much as you like for about £8, which included about 15 different types of meat served to you from skewers.

Brazil
Paraty - Colonial coastal town with narrow cobbled streets and cute buildings plus relaxing boat trip to surrounding islands and beaches.
Ilha Grande - Car-less beach island on the way to Rio de Janeiro with white sand beaches (Lopez Mendes), jungle walk and colourfully lit beach bars by night.
Rio de Janeiro - Sugar Loaf Mountain, Christ the Redeemer and favela tour around the largest favela Rocinha.

Uruguay
Montevideo - Wandering around the town and the best steak ever from the barbeque market.
Colonia de Sacremernto - Colonial port town
Colonia - Bike ride along the coast to the former bullring and a train museum, stopping at picturesque and deserted white sand beaches.

Argentina
Buenos Aires - Tango show and dinner - one of the highlights of our trip.
Buenos Aires - bi-century museum showing Argentina's history since 1810 to the present day and the MALBA contemporary art gallery.
San Antonio de Areco and Tigre - Excursion into Las Pampas and the Paraná Delta.

Overall our favourite country was Peru, as we felt this offered the greatest variety of attractions and you could easily spend a fortnight to 3 weeks visiting here as a normal holiday and would have the best experiences.

We thought Brazil was a very close second; however felt this was less culturally different to a lot of other more western cities. If you were to spend a week in Buenos Aires, you must add on an extra 3-4 days and take the boat to Uruguay to visit Montevideo and Colonia as they are such a contrast to the massive capital of Argentina.

Now for 26 hours flying on 4 different flights across a 10 hour time zone and 4 days to South East Asia to start the next part of our big adventure. Bangkok here we come!

Posted by Roaming Rolts 19:47 Archived in Argentina Tagged waterfalls boats rain travel bus chile plane highlights border bolivia isla_del_sol summary pedestrian_day itaipu Comments (4)

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

overcast 18 °C
View South America 2013 on Roaming Rolts's travel map.

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)

Huacachina and Nasca Lines

Sunday 11th August - Monday 12th August

sunny 25 °C

Today was supposed to be a relaxing day, chilling by the pool and the lagoon; however it appears Chris and I do not know how to relax. We started off well, having a picnic by the hotel pool, but Chris wanted to walk up the sand dunes, saying people seemed to make good progress in not much time.

And so we set off up the dunes, with every step we took up, we fell half a step back down as the sand did not offer any stability. In the end it took us a good half an hour to hike up this dune, stopping for a drink along the way. By this point, the sun was shining and it was about as hot as the day was going to be. When we finally made it to the top, the view across the lagoon was stunning; however not as good as the tourist photos we had seen of the same view. We spent about half an hour at the top, and watched one man run down to the bottom in under a minute. We set off running down the dunes and it is the most fun I think we´ve ever had for free! You feel like you´re really bouncing and you do actually cover quite a distance with each jump. I would completely recommend to anyone running down your local sand dune! I wish we´d known that it was more fun to run down the dune than to board, particularly Mums as that is covered by the insurance.

As Chris got towards the bottom, he became a little too ambitious in his leaps and let out a little yelp, which alerted the Peruvian family at the bottom to turn around just in time to see him land flat on his face, doing a little roll as well. Afterwards, his face was completely covered in sand.

large_1005819_10..803314272_n.jpg

Chris´ sandy face, not a beard growing!

We headed back to the hotel and went for a swim in the freezing cold pool and laid in the sun for about an hour, before deciding to walk up the sand dune again, just for the fun of running back down. It was just as difficult the second time round walking up, but once again well worth it.

Today, (Monday) we caught the bus to Nasca and headed out to see the Nasca lines. A lot of the tour operators offer flights over the lines for about $100 per person, but apart from them not having a great safety reputation, we had heard that most of the lines are too small to see from the height the plane goes to, and so we headed out to the Mirador viewing platform, which as you´ll see on facebook once I´ve downloaded the pictures is actually just a scaffolding tower in the middle of nowhere.

The lines themselves just looked like someone had driven over a muddy field with a motorbike. I was glad we had at least gone to the viewing platform, but Chris would have happily skipped them.

We caught a public bus to this platform, and planned to do the same going back; however the first bus which went past said it had no seats. The next bus was due in 20 minutes, although a French tourist bus had spare seats and offered us a lift back to Nasca. Does this count as hitchiking?

Tonight, we´re getting the bus to Arequipa at 10pm. It takes about 10 hours to get to Arequipa so here´s to hoping for a good night´s sleep. We got the last couple of seats on the bus, unsuprisingly next to the toilets. Yay..... Must book the next bus a little earlier next time!

Posted by Roaming Rolts 16:54 Archived in Peru Tagged bus sand dunes nasca huacachina nasca_lines Comments (0)

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