RSS

Buenos Aires: The City That Never Sleeps

trumpets BA

I’m surrounded by circles of people strumming guitars and charangos, a ukulele-type affair (according to my novice eyes) especially popular with the the porteños of Argentina. There’s a bunch of youngsters juggling, a girl practicing a sort of elegant circus act, and hordes of others sipping on mate tea; Parque Centenario, in the Caballito district of Buenos Aires, is alive with creativity and spirit, and I’m quickly learning that the South American clichés exist for a reason – the whole city seems to emanate a passion that my inner British prude sadly isn’t quite able to appropriate.

That’s not to say I haven’t been trying. I launched into the BA scene with a tango class, only to see my moves overshadowed by the stunning show that followed at La Ventana – a beautifully ornate hall covered in dark wood that seems to breathe the sensuality of the tango itself.

But its opulence is a deceivingly far cry from the origins of the tango – namely working class suburbs in the early 20th century – when an influx of Italians, Spanish and other European immigrants brought with them their own cultures and cuisine that’s still very much evident, not least in the rows of ice cream shops and pizzerias that line the likes of Avenida Corientes, the main theatre district.

It’s at the Archie, an old artist’s studio turned creative space, that I learn the true source of the tango; El Abasto, an edgy, off-beat neighbourhood that’s somehow managed to escape the tourist track despite its central location.

Tango

El Abasto – birthplace of the tango

Donated to anyone looking to practice and showcase their creative talents, from music to circus acts, painting to plays, creative spaces like this provide a much-cherished scene for self-expression in a country where, less than 40 years ago, independent thought was suppressed by totalitarian regime.

It’s a history I’ve been learning about through muted references, mutterings here and there. Every Thursday, elderly women wearing white scarves march around the Plaza de Mayo, the seat of the city’s protests, set in front of the ornate, pink-coloured Government House. Stepping out of a white van, they wander slowly, quietly, thoughtfully, round and round, in quiet protest against their lost grand-children, taken from imprisoned mothers in an operation that still today remains an enigma. No-one knows where the children went; all records that could leave any traces were destroyed. These same women, known internationally as the ‘Madres’, have been taking to the square since 1977, when they became the first members of the public to openly rebel against the regime.

They’re a testament to the spirit of questioning and challenging that can be seen almost every day at the Plaza, where protesters continue to fight for justice in all areas. Political struggles aren’t quite over – Argentinians battle with one of the highest inflation rates in the world – but that doesn’t detract from the sense of life that beats in Buenos Aires; if anything, it adds to it.

The city’s reputation as one of the world’s party capitals is well-earned, with fashionable neighbourhoods like Palermo filled with well-heeled locals and tourists dancing to electro until the sun comes up. If you leave before 6am you probably haven’t had a good night – clubs start getting lively about the time most places here close up. Live music venues across the city play everything from hardcore rock to soft jazz, and weeknights are no less lively. Every Monday, 17-piece percussion band La Bomba de Tiempo takes over the warehouse turned cultural centre Konex, busting out latino beats on conga drums and drawing in a young, cool crowd from across the city and beyond.

paez-pop-up-store-konex-la-bomba-de-tiempo-loqueva-6-880x586

La Bomba de Tiempo at Konex

Then there are the hordes of speakeasies – such as Frank’s, where you have to dial an unknown code into a phone box to enter – and the closed-door restaurants like Casa Felix, where pioneer-of-the-concept Diego invites you into his home (at a secret address) and provides an indulgent five-course tasting menu. Unconventionality has most definitely reached the theatre scene too, with Teatro Ciego playing host to a sense-engaging spectacular which takes place in the pitch black to recreate the feeling of being blind (A Ciagas con Luz). That’s before we even get on to the city’s world-famous steak scene, with restaurants like Siga La Vaca offering a whole experience in themselves.

With all that going on during the the dark hours it’s surprising the city manages to stay awake in the day, but somehow it continues to pulse with the type of energy I saw at the aforementioned Parque Centenario. On weekends there’s Recoleta – an upmarket, marble-studded neighbourhood inspired by French architecture – which comes alive with bands and acoustic singers entertaining crowds. Performers take to a large green space right next to the city’s most famous cemetery, where past presidents, politicians and others (including local hero Evita) are commemorated with ornate crypts.

That energy, passion and creativity seems to unite the city, running through its centre and touching every aspect of life within it – from the traditional, cobbled streets of San Telmo to the brightly coloured streets of La Boca. It’s what draws in travellers from across the world each year and makes Buenos Aires stand out as one of the most vibrant cities on the planet. Whatever influence the country’s political strife may or may not have had on this whole culture, there’s no denying its intoxicating effects, and it’s safe to say I’m well and truly charmed.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on March 30, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Amsterdam – looking beyond the leaf

IMG_1418[1]

Dutch life – souvenirs in Alkmaar

When I thought of Amsterdam before I set off on my EasyJet flight from good old Saafend, I thought of ”coffee shops”, red lights and sex museums. But I wanted to see what else it had to offer (although admittedly we did find ourselves in the latter – purely out of curiosity of course). I’d heard it was pretty, but that was always an after-thought, tagged on the end of a ‘weedmushroomweed’ statement about how totally-awesome-and-liberal-it-all-is-dude. I’d also heard it had canals, bikes and an Anne Frank museum, but that was it.

Turns out it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Alongside all the standard Amsterdam stuff – various vegetables that make you grow webbed feet, etc etc – I also saw quaint cobbled streets, stunning canals and cute, pointed houses touching the sky at three stories high. I explored the Begijnhof neighbourhood – a 15th-century courtyard originally built as a sanctuary for a Catholic sisterhood – and wandered around the Old Centre, where grandiose architecture and al fresco diners come together to create a scene that wouldn’t look out of place in romantic Italia. Dam Square, built in the 13th century and home to the ‘60s hippy movement, remains the city centerpiece with street entertainers vying for space and a constant buzz circling the air. It’s also home to the Royal Palace and the (slightly phallic) National Memorial statue, but it somehow manages to maintain the laid-back, take-it-easy air that defines Amsterdam and its city-dwellers.

IMG_1318[1]

Say cheese

Beyond that I discovered the capital has an insane number of museums – from the national Rijksmuseum to the Van Gogh gallery, the Rembrandt House to the Heineken Experience and many more. In what was perhaps not the most cultured move, we skipped half of them in preference for the aforementioned sex museum, which turned out to be one of the most bizarre (and hilarious) experiences I’ve ever had – I felt a little bit like the giggling girls laughing at boobs at the art exhibition in Love Actually and found myself inadvertently gazing upon 1960s porn. Two hours later we were wandering around the Anne Frank house and reassessing priorities, but both were worthy trips and the latter most definitely deserves an hour or more of any visitor’s time (as does the former, just perhaps not directly before or after.)

I was actually staying outside of the ‘dam in Alkmaar, a small city a half-hour train-ride away that felt like a mini version of it – without all the tourists (although a fair collection of souvenir clogs were present – wouldn’t be Holland without it). It was a lot calmer and arguably just as beautiful, with people milling around outside cafes and cyclists cruising along its peaceful canals. It provided a bit of tranquility away from the more bustling Amsterdam and felt a little more like the Netherlands I’d imagined (i.e. cheese, windmills and kids running around in aforementioned clogs) and I’d definitely recommend it as a short trip for anyone looking to escape the city and its signature weed wafts for a few hours.

We also ventured over to Haarlem, another small city to the east of the capital where historic buildings, traditional restaurants, quiet canals and cobbled paths go together to create a similarly Dutch feel that seems to be missing a bit in the ‘dam (although a hunt for herring was to no avail – shame? I think not). Once again it was a lot more peaceful than the capital – and I somewhat bizarrely found myself on a Friday night sipping cucumber juice on the banks of a beautiful canal before heading to a jazz festival – not quite what you might imagine when someone says they’re hitting up Amsterdam for the weekend but an experience nonetheless…

That gives a bit of a glimpse into the diversity of the country. Sadly we didn’t have time to see more, but after just a few days I’d fallen in love with the place and its people. Amsterdam is most definitely worth checking out and it’s certainly one of the coolest, most anything-goes cities I’ve been to, but the rest of the Netherlands shouldn’t be overlooked – its tiny size makes venturing beyond the capital and seeing the real Dutch way easy, and you’re likely to find hidden gems that most visitors hopping over to the ‘dam for a few days to smoke some mary jane might never discover.

IMG_1460[1]

Sunset over Haarlem

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Colombia; one moving history, one beautiful country

Colourful Colombia - market flowers in Bogotá

Colourful Colombia – market flowers in Bogotá

Colombia wasn’t just about endless deserts and in-the-middle-of-nowhere towns (see post below); it’s a country of contrast and on its other face shines a bunch of incredible cities with amazing nightlife, interesting culture and some of the warmest people I’ve ever met. Behind each lies a fascinating and tumultuous history, and learning about it was both eye-opening and moving.

I felt it most in Medellin, where I spent three days alternating between attempting to show off my limited salsa skills in the tourist-heavy (and rather upmarket) Poplado, and wandering through the rougher-round-the-edges areas like downtown. The former has an amazing atmosphere by night – especially around Parque Lleras, where Colombians and foreigners alike gather outside before hitting the open-air bars that line its busy streets – while downtown offers grittier, market-style streets and more traditional plazas. Downtown is also home to a number of parks dotted with interesting architecture – most notably Plaza Botero, where rows of artsy bronze statues created to help develop the city greet budding visitors.

It’s easy to see how much the city has changed since its notorious days under the violent control of infamous drugs lord Pablo Escobar in the 1980s and early ’90s. Once the most dangerous city in the world – in 1992 it witnessed more than 27,000 tragic deaths – it’s now a place of visible progress, a place where the city’s former crime hotspots have been reimagined into spaces for education, and where modern architectural design stands as a symbol for change. Everywhere around there is a sense of development and hope, and locals greet foreigners with open arms, grateful for a tourist industry which only really started taking off in 2002 following an end to the large-scale drug cartels and efforts to crack down on security. I learnt a whole lot about the city’s changing history through the free walking tour, which is incredibly insightful and well worth the early morning effort.

Among the newer developments is the cable car – which starts at Acevedo and offers pleasant views over the city before arriving at Parque Arvi, where a number of hiking trails await. The Universidad area – a cultural hub where artisanal market stalls make for a foodie heaven – should also be on the list for anyone visiting the city, and it’s all accessible through a modern, clean metro system that rivals some of the best I’ve seen in the world.

Downtown Cali

Downtown Cali

As all of that suggests, Medellin is a diverse, buzzing city and it’s little wonder it’s started to become so popular with backpackers and other tourists. But Colombia’s other cities shouldn’t be overlooked; in Cali, endless bars and clubs open their doors almost every night of the week to party-goers who dance salsa like it’s second nature – which I realise it is, when I speak to locals who tell me it’s just something almost every Caleño learns as a kid. The streets are vibrant and the people are passionate, and it’s easy to see why it’s the country’s salsa capital – and why some people end up never leaving (I met several who’d planned on coming for a few days and were still there years on).

In the day Cali sleeps, but there’s still some things to see; most notably the centro historico, where a quaint park and river run alongside some stunning architecture. There’s also the statue of Cristo Rey and the colonial-style Iglesia de San Antonio, both of which overlook downtown from the top of the city’s steep hills and are well worth the climb for the rewarding views.

Between Cali and Medellin I stayed in Buena Vista, a beautiful little village in the coffee region (near Armenia) firmly off of the beaten track, where locals greeted us with looks of confusion and welcome in equal measure. With just one (newly opened) hostel to its name, it’s a far quieter alternative to the busier town of Salento and the scenery is breathtaking. I took a tour out to some coffee farms in the region of Pijao with the Wake Cup project (one I’d recommend), and did some pretty tough mountain biking up some seriously steep hills – all worth it for the views.

Local coffee farmer near Pijao

Local coffee farmer near Pijao

After that I moved onto Santa Marta, located in the north of the country on the Caribbean coast. It’s a good base for exploring nearby Tayrona national park – which offers a beautiful coastal trek and campsites where backpackers slum it in hammocks – but as a city in itself it didn’t offer all that much. Taganga on the other hand – a smaller beach town a 30 minute bus ride away – is a paradise for diving enthusiasts; I dived there and found myself gliding alongside turtles, lobsters, angel fish, water snakes and a host of other colourful creatures.

After that I moved on to Cartagena – and it was incredible. By night the old town comes alive, with golden swathes illuminating the cobbled streets, colonial architecture and upmarket, alfresco eateries that line its historic plazas – all set among a wall built to protect the city from pirates in the sixteenth century. From Cartagena I took a trip out to El Totumo, a mud volcano offering visitors a pretty weird experience where you float around in slime and get involuntarily massaged by the men working there – worth it for the laughs if nothing else. I also checked out Playa Blanca, located about an hour away – the water was once again crystal clear but the beach was packed and I’d skip it if I were to go again.

Last on the list was Bogotá – I’d been told there wasn’t all that much there for tourists, but exploring the city on a bike tour was an insightful experience and a great way of getting to know the different neighbourhoods and seeing the masses of street art for which the city is getting itself a name. It stands as a testament to the sense of creativity and political interest that buzzes through the Bogotá air – things of little wonder given its violent past, when the plaza (now a calm square characterised by impressive buildings) was the seat of bloody protests and bombings, once again under the indirect control of Escobar in the 1980s. Like Medellin it’s undergone a transformation, and although La Candelaria area (the city’s main tourist hub) isn’t quite as developed as Medellin’s Poplado, it offers some quirky bars and restaurants and a cable car that ascends the green, lush hill of Mount Monserrate.

All in all Colombia has been one of the most diverse countries I’ve visited on my whole trip, and getting to know its people, history and stunning landscapes has been incredible. It’s had a tragic past and its reputation is still tainted, but that’s gradually being replaced by a growing tourism industry and a smile that spreads its way across every visitor’s face after just a few days spent there. Ignore the (misguided) warnings from back home and go; you won’t regret it.

IMG_9501

Diving in the Caribbean sea

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 9, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Touching the tip of South America – La Guajira, Colombia

Empty streets at Cabo de la Vela

Empty streets at Cabo de la Vela

In the past week I have seen a chicken poo on the table next to me mid-lunch and a baby snake being confiscated on a bus. On the same bus the guy sitting next to me was holding a live, squawking chicken. All in all it’s been quite an experience, and it all started when I decided to venture up to the northern most point of South America – Punta Gallinas (literally chicken point, which I guess makes sense), a pretty far-away land in the orange, arid desert landscapes of Colombia. Whenever I mentioned it to others prior to making the voyage I was greeted with a glazed look of I’venever-heard-of-it confusion – I felt like Leo Di Caprio in The Beach circa 1997, and it made me want to go there all the more.

I’d heard about it through recommendations from locals and decided it had to be done, so I set off with a couple of others from Santa Marta (a popular beach city on the Caribbean coast) to Palomino – a nice, fairly backpacker-y place with a strip of hostels and restaurants lining the beach. From there we took a local bus to Riohacha (the capital of La Guajira region that’s for some reason generally left off the tourist trail), and from there hopped in a taxi for around an hour to Uribia – a fairly bustling town and a little out in the sticks.

SAM_1686

After that we took a jeep for about two hours to Cabo de la Vela, a village even farther out in the sticks and home to one of Colombia’s many indigenous communities – the Wayuu people. Cruising through an entirely empty desert in a rattling jeep was slightly reminiscent of some sort of backpackers-go-missing blockbuster, but we eventually made it to Cabo all lives in tow and immediately saw how beautiful the place was – think stretches of empty beaches, vivid turquoise ocean and a dusty row of sleepy hostels and restaurants serving freshly caught seafood (although attempts at finding a lunch spot at 4pm were futile and a trip to the chemist involved waiting an hour for someone to open up – the siesta triumphed). It really did feel like a ghost town, and it made a refreshing change from the more bustling, tourist-heavy Santa Marta.

After eventually convincing a restaurant to cook us some food, we battled against gale-force winds and climbed the Pilon de Azucar – where we were greeted with a stunning panoramic view of the vast coastline and its crashing blue waves. Back in Cabo we jumped on mototaxis (COP $5,000) and enjoyed a scenic and thrilling 20-minute ride through the middle of nowhere to a lighthouse – where we witnessed a yet more beautiful lookout over the whole area and watched the sky take on its pink and purple hues at sunset – all without being surrounded by hoards of other tourists. 

From Cabo de la Vela we booked a jeep tour to Punta Gallinas for the next day, and set off bright and early at 5am (after a rather sleepless night surrounded by cockroaches and my first experience of a bucket shower – not sure we picked the best hostel…) Four hours and a 20-minute speedboat ride later and we’d finally arrived at our destination, where three hostels set among vast, dusty, orange desert-scapes greeted us. I knew then the trek was worth it.

Arid desert at Punta Gallinas

Arid desert at Punta Gallinas

After relaxing on another completely empty beach, swimming with jellyfish (unintentionally) and dining on a lobster lunch (for around $12USD) we took a jeep tour out to the northernmost point of the continent and went on to some nearby sand dunes – famed for letting you run or roll down into the sea, which we happily did for several hours like a bunch of oversized children – great fun. After another fresh fish meal I hit the pillow and made the most of actual running water – Punta Gallinas was weirdly more luxurious than Cabo.

It was certainly interesting learning about the Wayuu way – most notably the fact they have laws entirely separate from the rest of Colombia, and more evidently the fact kids bar the road with a rope demanding sweets from drivers before they can pass through, a tradition that’s hundreds of years old… all in all a pretty fascinating culture.

The next day we set off to return to Santa Marta – a journey that took about 10 hours – and it was then that I found myself on the aforementioned adventurous bus ride… To sum up the trip there was incredible and I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking for some natural beauty that’s so far escaped the mainstream map – only time will tell how that might change over the next few years, so I’d say it’s certainly worth discovering before it’s too late.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 1, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Volunteering in Quito to partying in Montanita – Ecuador

Quito old town by night

Quito old town by night

Yesterday I got asked if I was Chinese, before being told I looked 17 years old. I then proceeded to find myself in the middle of a teenager´s birthday party. This could only mean one thing – I’ve started volunteering in a local junior school (on the outskirts of Quito, Ecuador). And so far it´s been great – I’ve already fallen in love with the kids and am venturing off on a school trip to a swimming pool tomorrow – it’s like regressing twenty years. Given that I find myself repeating the words for various pets, colours and numbers twenty times a day it’s also been pretty good for the old Spanish (and it’s rather humbling (/humiliating) when I realise six year old kids are learning the equivalent of what I learnt back in BA just a few months ago).

I dined on my first Ecuadorian school dinner – consisting of rice and a nondescript meat (a suspected pig skin according to a volunteer, which is admittedly probably not much different to our old school dinners in the pre’Jamie O days), participated in a game of football (something I’m not sure I’ve ever done before) and attempted to navigate my way around some rather complicated bus routes – all fairly worthy achievements in my opinion.

Volunteering on a school trip

Volunteering on a school trip

I’m staying with a host family in the north of the city and the kindness and warmth they’ve shown me after just a couple of days seems a fair testament to the culture here. I’ve already eaten my own body weight in local specialities cooked by my temporary mother (for fear of being rude and turning it down, of course…) and have consumed so much soup I think I might turn into one soon…

It’s somewhat of a contrast to where I was just a few days ago – Montanita, a beach town that some have described as the Magaluf of Ecuador… I had an absolute blast partying on the aptly named ‘cocktail alley’ (with every type of colada imaginable available for a max $3 – heaven), surfing the impressive waves (slash struggling not to drown) and flying over it all on a paragliding trip – which turned out to be one of the most relaxing things I’ve done so far. But given the sheer amount of gringos I found myself surrounded by, I didn’t get too much of a feel for the Ecuadorian culture and being in a local home here has been great (and a fair bit more insightful).

Puerto Lopez, a 40 minute bus ride away from Montanita, was a lot calmer with a quaint harbour and relatively empty beach. I took a whale watching trip out to sea and was lucky enough to see about ten of the mammoth creatures darting in and out of the water. It’s definitely worth the 20 or so dollars (as with everything here, variable depending on how good at bargaining you are…)

Canyoning in Baños

Canyoning in Baños

Prior to Montanita I spent two days Baños, the adventure capital of Ecuador that’s set among lush, emerald green mountains and long, rushing rivers. I found myself scrambling down waterfalls in the form of canyoning at Rio Blanco and it was incredible. We also went white water rafting over some fairly rough rapids – another trip I’d recommend that only takes half a day and is set among some really stunning scenery. I checked out the hot springs, where temperatures reach a scorching 50 degrees, and found myself staring up into the sky and admiring a huge, towering waterfall that overlooks the baths and makes the whole experience a tad more unique than some of the other springs I’ve swum in.

Before Baños I stopped off at Cuenca, a colonial city and UNESCO site in the south of Ecuador with beautiful architecture, a pleasant riverside walk and a viewpoint (Turi) well worth checking out – although one day there seemed enough.

Cuenca

Cuenca

All in all Ecuador so far has been great and I’m looking forward to carrying on with the volunteering and bolstering my portfolio of funny stories. Hopefully I’ll have some more to recount over the coming days – for now it’s time to sample some more home cooked food -hasta lluego.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 12, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Camping traumas around Huaraz, Peru

Now if there’s one thing my friends and family might know about me, it’s that I hate tents. But for some odd reason I’ve now found myself burrowing away into my sleeping bag and internally weeping myself to sleep twice in the space of two and a half weeks – all in the name of trekking. The Salkantay I could just about handle – we had mattresses of a thickness the naked eye could actually detect, (cold) showers and even the odd campfire/bar – it was the Hilton of the camping world. The Santa Cruz trek which I just got back from – a 4 day adventure departing from Huaraz in Peru – was rather a different story and meant a tent in a random, freezing cold field. If Salkantay was the Hilton, this was the Travelodge.

But despite all of that, I had a brilliant time. Every night we found ourselves staring up to a blanket of diamonds covering the sky. Every campsite was surrounded by a skyline of snowy mountains and a stream of glistening, fresh water, and every hike took us into new landscapes, climates and vistas. And so every toss and turn during the minus 10 degree nights was worth it, and I realised that slumming it in the simple way for a few nights is the only way you properly get to experience and enjoy ‘pachamama’ – mother nature, a word I`ve heard floating around here in Peru and Bolivia more than ever before.

Santa Cruz trek from Huaraz, Peru

Santa Cruz trek from Huaraz, Peru

As that suggests I’d definitely recommend the Santa Cruz trek, and for the more hardcore there`s the Huaywash – an eight-day adventure that`s supposed to be amazing (and fairly gruelling). Huaraz as a city itself doesn`t offer that much other than lots of cheap restaurants and ceviche, but the Laguna 69 day trek is tipped to be stunning, and for those short on time the Pastoruri glacier – which I took a daytrip to – is also well worth visiting.

Pastoruri glacier, Huaraz, Peru

Pastoruri glacier, Huaraz, Peru

I`m now on my way to Mancora, the beach haven of northern Peru, where it`s time to enjoy a different side to pachamama – and attempt to improve my fairly limited surfing skills. More on that in the next post – ciao for now!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 27, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

From Machu Picchu to Lake Titicaca

Laguna on the Salkantay trek

Laguna on the Salkantay trek

As mentioned in my last post, last week I set off on the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu and it blew my breath away. Over the course of five days we covered more than 70km and saw everything from cloud-capped, high-altitude mountain peaks to emerald green rainforest, and every day brought with it a new adventure. Day one involved trekking around 15km to our campsite before scrambling up cow-covered, countrified hills to reach a laguna where a kaleidoscope of colours bounced off of the calm, flat, mirror-like water – it was truly stunning. On day two we went from climbing up to 4,600 metres to admire the snow-capped mystical peaks of the Salkantay mountain (where every step felt like a marathon) to descending into an expanse of jungle (and trekking for a total of nearly ten hours).

Cloud-capped mountains at 4,600m

Cloud-capped mountains at 4,600m

The third day involved some much-needed flat walking and an indulgent few hours spent in a natural hot spring, and the fourth saw us hobble along a railway track with all luggage in tow as we approached Aguas Calientes, the nearest town to Machu Picchu. Arriving back into civilisation after several days of nothing but nature was weirdly exciting, although the novelty soon wore off when I saw the army of tourists and extortionately-priced tex-mex joints lining every hilly street.

On the approach to Aguas Calientes...

On the approach to Aguas Calientes…

As expected though, the last day didn´t disappoint. After clambering up 1,700 steps (and almost dying), we eventually reached the lost city of the Incas and were greeted with mesmerising views over the iconic cloud-capped, towering rocks that surround the 500-year-old plus city.

The lost city... Machu Picchu

The lost city… Machu Picchu

Believed to have been the home of Inca leaders, the city managed to escape the prying eyes of the Spanish invaders and wasn´t discovered until 1911 when an American archaeologist stumbled upon it. It was a lot more intact than expected, and after learning about its history we (slightly stupidly) decided to climb Montana Machu Picchu – and so descend another 2,000 steps. The impressive views from the top made every second  worth it, and the whole trek is going down as one of the best things I´ve done on my trip so far.

Finally arrived... Montana Machu Picchu

Finally arrived… Montana Machu Picchu

That wasn´t my first experience of trekking in Peru – from Arequipa, another beautiful city dotted with European influences and impressive architecture – I ventured out on a two-day trek into the Colca Canyon and was rewarded with unique views over the dry, dramatic mountain landscapes – all while witnessing huge, metre-long kondors soar by.

Kondors at the Colca Canyon, Peru

Kondors at the Colca Canyon, Peru

Prior to that I spent time hiking around the islands set on Lake Titicaca. I stayed a couple of nights in Puno, the Peruvian base for exploring the ´highest navigable lake in the world´, and booked a tour through Edgar´s Adventures – one I’d recommend. We set off on a boat to the Uros islands – a group of tiny, man-made blocks of floating land made entirely of stitched-together reed which a number of families call home.

Uros floating islands, Puno

Uros floating islands, Puno

From there we moved on to Amantani, a naturally-formed, larger, hillier island which offered stunning views over the glistening blue lake, and did a homestay with a local family. Amantani has so far managed to avoid the hordes of hotels and restaurants that characterise Isla del Sol, a more developed island on the Bolivian side, and it was filled with natural beauty. After a strenuous sunset hike and a hilarious night spent learning Quechua dances while dressed up in traditional clothing, we set off for Taquile, another natural island located a couple of hours away. Learning about the communities´ age-old traditions that still continue today was fascinating – they include married women all wearing black and red, men throwing stones to chat up women and husbands wearing their wives´ hair on a belt…

Taquile island, Lake Titicaca, Peru

Taquile island, Lake Titicaca, Peru

The Peruvian islands offered a pretty different experience to the Bolivian side of things – Isla del Sol was busier and a lot more touristy, though it offered a charm of its own that I came to love after one day spent trekking from north to south (a hike I´d recommend – it takes about four hours). Copacabana – the Bolivian base for exploring the lake – was a lot more quaint than Puno, with rows of cute, affordable restaurants lining its streets. We hired mopeds to explore it properly and found ourselves surrounded by nothing other than an emptry coastal track, a clear blue sky and sparkling turquoise vistas – pretty idyllic (until I fell off of mine and found myself stranded for a good half hour hopelessly attempting, and failing, to turn the engine back on – thankfully my friends came back to rescue me). All in all Lake Titicaca was stunning from both sides, and it´s definitely worth spending a few days on the islands themselves to enjoy the delicious, fresh trout available and to appreciate the impressive views over the expanse of blue, ocean-like water.

As all of that suggests, I´ve had a pretty amazing time exploring Peru and the north of Bolivia – next on the list is Lima, and from there it´s up into Ecuador and Colombia – only time will tell what adventures both hold in store…

 
2 Comments

Posted by on June 20, 2015 in Uncategorized