A Travellerspoint blog

December 2017

The Wonders of Bolivia....

Discovering incredible Bolivia - La Paz, Salar de Uyuni (Salt Flats), Potosí, Sucre and Santa Cruz.

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Bolivia....

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I spent just over a month in Bolivia and had an incredible time.
The terrain here is varied, extreme and nothing short of spectacular, especially at high altitudes.

La Paz

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La Paz is an enormous, sprawling city in the heavens and full of surprises.
La Paz's airport is at an elevated point even higher than the city itself. My flight arrived at 2am and my taxi driver zoomed down through the windy, narrow streets until we reached the hotel.
The journey from the airport in to town isn't the prettiest, but give it a chance... La Paz is a really nice city.

Graduation Day

During my stay, the entire city was celebrating graduation across their many tertiary institutions. They all set tp the same date, so students and their friends and families all over the city can celebrate together.
I visited the parades, and got talking to some newly graduated nurses and medical assistants. They had never met or spoken with a foreigner before, so there was a lot of intrigue on both sides.
They explained the whole graduation celebration to me and about the many places I should visit in La Paz, and other festivals around the country.

High Altitudes and Cable Cars

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Exploring the city is great exercise. Almost every street has a steep incline.
La Paz has the biggest, most comprehensive cable car system I've ever seen. It looks like an amazing feat, and Bolivians are justifiably very proud of it.
I travelled to all of the far reaches of the city this way, which offered some great photo opportunities!
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Uyuni

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I flew from La Paz to what felt like a lunar base, Uyuni. We arrived at night, to something like -5 degrees! As the shared cab left the airport we had a very clear view of the enormous moon, and many of the star systems.
When I arrived at my hostel, I was warmly greeted and taken to my dorm where I met my new roomies from the Netherlands. They suggested that I'd be able to book my trip for the following morning, and head out to Salar de Uyuni straight away. Bonus.

I hunted around the very quiet flat, lunar base for some dinner. The pizzas in Uyuni are really good regardless of which restaurant you choose.
Note, that the tyranny of distance means that everything in Uyuni is much more expensive, even water.

When I got back to the hostel, I made a pre-emptive pack for a four day desert adventure.

Salar de Uyuni

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I got up extra early and headed over to my target trip company....
Red Planet gets universally good reviews on Tripadvisor....
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They had space for the same day, so I was in luck. Bag packed, I stored my big backpack, got some supplies and joined my group.
Our group spanning Netherlands, Canada, Ireland and Australia were split across into two Landcruisers with three rows of seats.
We had a nice briefing about the trip and set off.... first to the train wreck...
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Basically a graveyard for old trains that once connected Uyuni to the world, and amazing photo opportunities to get us started.
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The desert is enormous and stretches far and wide, connecting Atacama in Chile for example.
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We drove for a good couple of hours before stopping for the mandatory trick photos!!!
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Words can't really describe the feeling of being within this place. It feels a million miles away from anything, and there's no 3G or wifi out there, so you really are isolated!

This part of Bolivia was once under the sea (yet it is now elevated at 5000 metres above sea level). So, occasionally you see bommie like formations of coral. We stopped at this beauty for a hike, and seriously amazing views!!
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There are several enormous lakes within the desert, most notably a big red one, coloured by a strange algae.
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Many kinds of birds live up here, especially pelicans and flamingos!
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We stopped at many gurgling geysers and truly boiling springs
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The rock formations here are truly unique too.
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Night Swimming

On the second night, we stopped at an accomodation centre with a naturally heated pool, staying at a consistent 40 degrees or so. At night the air temperature is -15 degrees, so the contrast is a bit of a shock to the system, both getting in an out. but oh so worth out.

Our group, plus groups from other companies congregated to the hot pool after dinner and enjoyed a swim and the incredible unobstructed view of the stars.
One of the guides treated us to a planetarium style explanation and guide to the star systems, with a bit of history related to naming ,etc. It was really fascinating.

The Salar de Uyuni trip was one of my favourites of all time. If you get the chance, don't miss it!
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Potosí

This town is known for being one of the highest on earth, and also for it's enormous mine. The Spanish knew of huge silver deposits here. Over 8million African and Indigenous slaves died pulling it out.
Today locals are still mining here, extracting whatever they can find, and send it down for refining.
I employed a local taxi driver to take me up and show me around. It's a courtesy to take gifts for the workers - stuff they need to get the job done - dynamite to blow up the walls, and coca leaves to keep them going throughout the day.
If you think you've seen hard yakka, wait until you see these guys at work. They graft in danger and dust all day for a pittance.
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Santa Cruz

This city is unique in Bolivia in so many ways. So much so, that many locals would prefer to secede.
The city sits closer to the Brazilian border and over many years attracted immigration from all over Latin America, Asia and Europe. It's truly a sub amazonian multicultural hub. I stayed here for 10 days and had a great time.

The main square is truly gorgeous and a nice place to be at any time of day or night. Police constantly patrol so it's very safe. Uniformed coffee sellers also roam the park so you're never far away from a cup.

I had the good fortune of meeting nice friends here to show me around.
We went to a great Caribbean disco playing Salsa and Bachata and visited many of the great cafes here.
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Sucre

I had a really nice time here. It's a fairly progressive, tranquil and safe city, with great weather and a ton of restaurants.
Many people choose to stay here and learn Spanish.

The city was in the midst of preparing for a huge national festival when I visited. The main park was filled with different dance groups rehearsing. It was really nice to see.
My hostel was the departure point for a really terrific walking tour. We got to visit and know about all of the historic sites, plus commentary on historical and current politics of the country.

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I had a great time in Bolivia. It was full of amazing surprises!!
On to Brazil....

Posted by SkinnyFists 13:56 Archived in Bolivia Tagged travel trekking deserts bolivia la_paz sucre salar_de_uyuni Comments (0)

How to spend a month in Peru!

My action packed month in Peru; Lima, Cusco, Machu Picchu (via Inca Jungle Trek), Vinucuna, Manu (Amazon), Nazca Lines, and Huacachina

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Arrival Lima

I arrived in Lima late on a very brisk evening. It was stark contrast to tropical Curaçao where I had spent the previous, balmy two weeks.
Passing through the aiport is pretty straight forward. It seems getting a SIM card as a foreigner isn't though.
I rented a SIM card from Claro with a good amount of data for the month ahead.

Lima is enormous! The cab traversed struggling chaos and opulent suburbs before sailing along the sweeping cliff line and finally reaching my hotel.
The English speaking hotel staff were very polite yet curt, a seemingly common vibe for Lima.

Cool Threads

Peruvians are pretty funky, and very world aware when it comes to trends.
I browsed the incredible Larcomar Mall, built into the high cliffs, looking over the sea. It's really a must see, even if you just stop for a coffee to enjoy the views! I stopped at M.Bö. They make locally made high fashion from wool and alpaca.
I bought this jacket...
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City Roaming

I caught up with my local buddy Juan José and his girlfriend, who were kind enough to show me around.
We visited many of the squares, parks, bustling laneways and streets. It's a great city to explore by foot!!
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Cusco

I flew to Cusco in just under 45 minues.
It's a truly gorgeous city, and was the original Inca capital. It's also tourist mecca. Everything is easy here for mochileros; plenty of great food options, places to buy alpaca clothes, Spanish schools, etc.

I used Cusco as a base for all of my trips, and had a wonderful, hassle free experience...
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except for....

Aclimatisation

Almost everyone has the same experience when they arrive in Cusco. A sharp rise in altitude almost always results in some form of illness.
As extreme nausea and fatigue set in, the pharmacy next to my hotel were readily helpful. I took the medication they provided and felt better almost straight away.
I spent the next two days booking my trips, buying essentials and observing the unique and tranquil society go through a period of protest.

Protests

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In modern society, protests usually involve loud drums, loudspeakers, booming music, some degree of anger, etc.
Here, it's the polar opposite. Almost the entire workforce of Cusco took orderly turns in groups to march, take the stage and speak their case (largely over pay) as their peer groups sat attentively and cheered at the end. It was like the utopian view of conflict resolution. The world could really learn from Peru!!
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Sacsayhuamàn

Huge cascading walls that once formed an enormous fortress with huge silver blocks. Of course the Spanish took all the silver, but parts of the great walls remain. The area also provides amazing views of the city!!
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Nightlife

Peruvians love to dance and have fun. They produce a lot of cumbia music. Though it was invented in northern Colombia, made it's way south and found a home in Peru, Bolivia and parts of Argentina. They also have great timba bands which found it's way from Cuba.
In discos you will also hear a lot of music from other parts of the region:

  • Colombia / Carribean - salsa, bachata and reggaeton
  • Brazil - axè and samba
  • Argentina - rock and punk.

I had a great time at Mama Africa, which also has useful dance classes earlier in the evening!

Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu

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For me, the Jungle Trek seemed like the most fun and varied option for reaching Machu Picchu, and I wasn't disappointed.
It was a super fun, at times challenging and very memorable four days!

Cycle

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On the first day, I was picked up from my hotel at roughly 4am, and we gradually picked up comrades.
As a group we represented Australia, Argentina, USA, Canada, Israel, Denmark, Germany and The Netherlands.

We then drove through the gorgeous mountains to the peak of one,where we would begin our cycle.
We got into protective gear, adjusted our seats, had a prelimary chat, then launched for a 40 kilometre gradual descend through the mountains.
It was really great fun and a nice, peaceful way to see the scenery!!

Raft

The next stage was rafting. We split into boats, got our bearings, sdid afety/rescue rehearsals then set off through the rapids. I think the fiercest we passed through were level 6... fast and bumpy.

It was a lot of fun, and the boats worked well together as a team.
The valleys in the region are immense.

Trek

During our trek day we ascended to great mountainous heights over 10 leg-testing kilometres.
We passed through several small settlements where we drank coca tea, and learned about Incan traditions and history.
The views at the top were incredible!!

The day ended with a swim in some thermal pools, bringing welcome relief to sore muscles.
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Zipline

This was a highlight, and a great test for any fear of heights. The zip lines criss cross the enormously high valley, so looking down isn't really recommended. Each line is up to one kilometre long, which gives ample opportunity to build up a lot of speed.
For the final line, the guys offered an opportunity to go in "superman pose", face down, fist forward. I felt like Henry Cavil/Christopher Reeve. It was really amazing!!

As a final challenge, there is an elevated walking bridge where each step lands on a thin pole. It requires a decent amount of concentration and zen to finish.

Aguas Calientes

The walk to Aguas Calientes runs along an old train line through the jungle.
Because the whole region was in protest, some teachers had created blockades as a sign of solidarity. It was a little strange and they simply stood silently. The military police eventually negotiated with the group to let us pass.
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Aguas Calientes is a lovely, bustling little town, perfect for launching to Machu Picchu.
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Machu Picchu

We awoke at 4am, and walked down to the gates leading to the path up to site. There are two options, hike up the steep gradient or take the bus. We had come so far, why take the bus? My muay-thai trainers would have mocked me forever...
The walk up is pretty steep, we used it as a bit of a fitness test, reaching the top in just over an hour, a but sweaty, full of endorphins, and in perfect time to enter the park, just as sunrise was about to begin.

Watching the sun climb up behind the mountains and then gradually illuminate Machu Picchu was simply marvellous.
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Our guide then took us through Machu Picchu and explained the history, impetus, designs and significance of the site. Sadly, it wasn't inhabited for long as the Spanish soon came crashing in.

I climbed up to the Sun Gate for extra high views, a worthwhile climb!!
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Machu Picchu, didn't disappoint. It lived up to the hype for me!!
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Mountain of Seven Colours

Roughly 6 hours by bus from Cusco is the amazing geological anomaly, Vinucuna, otherwise known as the Mountain of Seven Colours.
It's a fairly short but challenging hike to the top, but definitely worth it!! The air is very thin at 5200 metres.
The views are nothing short of spectacular!!
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There are options to go by guided horse. With jelly legs at the top, a young lady and her trusty steed brought me back to the bus.
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Amazon Trek - Manu

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I spent three nights and four days on a trip through Manu National Park.
We hiked through the jungle, seeing many wild animals, flocks of incredible looking birds amongst the immense and dense mountainous jungle.
We also explored by raft through tranquil river systems, stopping occasionally to swim.
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Though we didn't see any jaguars or gorillas, it was still a worthwhile trip.

Nazca Lines

My bus from Cusco to Huacachina stopped here so we could see the lines. They are something of an anomaly, and testament to Incan intelligence and mapping.
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Huacachina

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Huacachina is an adventurers oasis in the middle of the dessert. Surrounding the small lake are a myriad of hostels, restaurants, cafes, travel agencies and discoteques. This is all dwarfed by the enormous, mountainous dunes that nearly every visitor will traverse in Mad Max style dune buggie, and return back surfing the dunes on a sandboard.
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I spent three days here, riding buggies, sandboarding, trekking and enjoying the awesome food and nightlife here. Plenty of vegan cafes with Thai spicy offerings and delicious coffee.
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It was a great way to say farewell to Peru.
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On to Bolivia.....

Posted by SkinnyFists 14:43 Archived in Peru Tagged peru trekking machu_picchu lima rafting cycling cusco huacachina alpaca zip_line aguas_calientes vinacuna mountain_seven_colours inca_jungle_trek aclimatising Comments (1)

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