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Monthly Archives: June 2015

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!

 
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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…

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Peruvian delights – Paracas, Huacachina and Cusco

Salkantay mountain, Peru

Salkantay mountain, Peru

To put it in one word, Peru so far has been amazing. From floating along the stunning Lake Titicaca to embarking on a five day trek to Machu Picchu, from discovering the hidden gems of Cusco to exploring the arid desert-scapes, I’ve had a brilliant time and learnt a whole lot about the country’s fascinating history.

Today was a highlight – a new-found friend and I cycled through the National Reserve of Paracas, a chilled-out beachy town where I´m currently sitting, and (once again) found ourselves properly lost. Thankfully some sort of security guard speeding through on a motorbike stumbled upon our confused selves, laughed in our faces and told us we’d gone about 10km too far. Essentially we were headed for the middle of an open, empty, sand-dune dotted desert with absolutely no-one else around and nothing but a swig of water/half-eaten muesli bar left to our names – pretty good job Mr knight-in-shining-armour arrived when he did.

Empty road... Paracas Reserve

Empty road… Paracas Reserve

The reserve itself was beautiful – think miles of golden sloping desert, craggy coastlines with rough-and-ready seas and hardly any sign of life in sight apart from our own gleaming selves. Paracas as a town is small, quaint and traditionally beachy town with a row of inviting fish restaurants serving ceviche – raw fish in lime juice – and other local dishes, alongside a peaceful strip of sandy beach and a beautiful sunset by night. The Ballestas Islands – aka the ‘poor man´s Galapagos’, dotted with seals and penguins (although *warning*, named the poor man´s version for a reason) – are just a boat-hop away. I came here from Huacachina, a tiny place a few kilometres away from the city of Ica with a beautiful oasis in the desert, where sand-buggying down the steep dunes and praying for one´s life is the main attraction – and one that´s definitely worth it.

Huacachina

Huacachina

A few days relaxing in the Peruvian desert was in call after several days spent exploring the streets and clubs of the bustling, tourist-ready city of Cusco. I did a chocolate workshop at the ChocoMuseo, a heavenly cafe/shop just off the Main Square (Plaza de Armas) which offers free tours and tasters for the cocoa-obsessed. Cusco is a foodie heaven for anyone – Aji de Gallina, a curry-type chicken dish prepared with peanuts, spices and bready sauce – was a personal favourite.

Anyone for guinea pig? Cusco market

Anyone for guinea pig? Cusco market

Every corner and alleyway in the city offers something different and after a few days wandering the cobbled, historic streets I still hadn´t seen everything it had to offer, though I´d definitely recommend a climb up to Cusco´s version of Christ the Redeemer – Cristo Blanco – which offers stunning views over the whole city.

Plaza de Amas, Cusco

Plaza de Amas, Cusco

Outside of Cusco it got even better – I decided on a whim to embark on the five-day Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu, supposedly one of the harder routes, and found myself camping in sub-zero temperatures, trekking over 70km and dangling off a zip-line (/screaming for my life) 300m above the jungle. More on that in the next post – stay tuned…

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

In and around Argentina

Coloured rocks in Purmamarca

Coloured rocks in Purmamarca

Getting out into nature and the wilderness has been the best part of my trip so far, and it all started in Argentina when I left Buenos Aires for Iguazu, reputed as one of the most spectacular waterfalls on the planet – and for good reason. Nothing had quite prepared me for the sheer expanse of the falls and the incredible power of the water plumetting down them. While the Brazilian side gave a stunning panoramic view, it was the Argentine side that impressed the most, with the final viewpoint at the Devil’s Throat literally almost taking my breath away – even while it was chucking it down with rain (GB-style).

Iguazu Falls, Brazil

Iguazu Falls, Brazil

From Puerto Iguazu I ventured to Cuidad del Este in Paraguay – full of dusty roads, cheap-looking electrical stores and dodgy characters – where I got chatted up by a 60-year-old Brazilian man who paid for my bus ticket, bought me a bottle of water and asked if I wanted to go for lunch. Who said romance was dead?

Next stop from Iguazu was Salta in the north of Argentina, a pleasant colonial city with a beautiful viewpoint (with a cable car for the less actively-inclined), a market devoted entirely to empanadas (a pasty-type affair that seems to be the South American snack of choice), and an archeological museum housing Inca child sacrifices frozen from hundreds of years ago and displayed behind glass – as disturbing and odd as it sounds.

Other than that Salta didn’t offer all that much in the way of attractions, but it was the surrounding area I fell in love with – including Cachi, a traditional, pretty mountain village a few hours south of the city and Humahuaca, a slightly larger town with a quaint plaza at its heart and a friendly, everyone-knows-everyone feel. From there I took a fairly treacherous three-hour bus ride along bumpy, about-to-fall-off-the-edge mountain roads to Iruya, a tiny village set among stunning mountain vistas with a population of just 1,000 that, happily, seems to have been left off the beaten gringo track.

Village of San Isidro

Village of San Isidro

The next village along, San Isidro – accessible by a 16km round trip trek wading through streams – was even more remote – and yet more beautiful. After that I found myself in Purmamarca, home to the infamous seven-coloured rock, also well worth a visit. From there I moved onto San Pedro de Atacama in the north of Chile – after a fairly perilous border crossing at 5,000m (with a fair few on my bus needing oxygen hits…) we made it to the quaint little town where tourist shops and good restaurants/bars line the streets. I’d especially recommend Barro’s, which serves great (and cheap) food with a good atmosphere and live music at the weekend.

From there we booked the Piedras Rojos (Red Rocks) tour and found ourselves amid stunning, brightly coloured lagoons and an expanse of dry, rocky desert – unfortunately it was about zero degrees and we were wearing shorts and flip flops (not an entirely illogical clothing choice given we were in the desert, but it turns out altitude means cold…). We hired bikes to explore the Moon Valley and its unique, crater-like formations, and took another tour up to the impressive geysers, where jets of steam pump out from the volcanic ground (though seemingly fail to create sufficient heat – it was still minus 10 degrees…)

Quebrada del Diablo, San Pedro de Atacama

Quebrada del Diablo, San Pedro de Atacama

All in all the desert was stunning (though more dry rocky-type landscapes than the sand I’d pictured), as was the north of Argentina, and I left both with an element of regret – and excitement for what was to come. More on that on the next post – for now the intermittent wifi seems to be on its last legs. Adios amigos.

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Bolivian adventures

Laguna near Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia

Laguna near Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia

My Amazonian adventures (see post below) are the icing on the cake to what’s been a pretty memorable few weeks. Among the most notable experiences was a fairly gruelling 50km bikeride up and down the green, stunning hills surrounding Sucre, Bolivia’s official capital – where we got royally lost in the middle of nowhere and found ourselves getting chased by frankly terrifying dogs. Despite the odd near-death moment (and serious saddle pains for the following week), it was an epic trip over to and around Yotala, a quaint village a drive away from the city where we got burgers for 3 bolivianos (less than 30p) – and well worth a visit for anyone budding to get off the beaten gringo track.

Sucre itself – aptly nicknamed ‘white city’ for its rows of blanco buildings which tell of its colonial history – was a pleasant place with a town-like, almost Mediterranean, feel. That was especially true at the Mirador, a cocktail bar/cafe surrounded by palm trees with stunning views over the whole city.

View from the Mirador, Sucre

View from the Mirador, Sucre

I brushed up on my Spanish with some private lessons and explored cultural gems like the Casa del Libertad and the Central Mercado – a market showing off delicacies like furry cow heads and tails, an experience I’d rather not repeat any time soon. The combined wafts of raw meat and fruit smoothies certainly awoke the senses, and it’s the place to head for street food-type comida. I also visited some beautiful waterfalls nearby – not quite Iguazu but worth the trek for the peaceful scenery in the surrounding area – and witnessed the ‘world’s longest trail of dinosaur footprints’ at Parque Cretácio.

Prior to Sucre I checked out Potosí, once the wealthiest city in South America for its silver mines. Zinc mining is now the base of its economy, and a tour 40m down one of them was an experience I won’t be forgetting any time soon (for claustrophobes and the vertigo-prone it’s a worst nightmare come true – think several ladders and lots of crawling). Tradition has you buy the miners gifts – including 96 percent alcohol, which literally left my tongue burnt for days after attempting a tenth of a sip. Somehow the tour guide managed to swig away merrily as if it were a glass of chilled milk.

La Paz, where I’m sitting as I type now, is a pretty stark contrast to both of those – and it’s a lot more like the Bolivia I’d imagined, with a grittier feel, a louder voice, and a more hectic, lively atmosphere. Its steep hills are dotted with endless rows of outdoor market stands and street food stalls – mainly selling fried chicken, hamburguesas and traditional rice dishes/soups – which seem at odds with the peaceful, misty, snow-capped mountain peaks and weirdly jagged rocks among which it’s set. People seem to either love or hate the place, and I’m somewhere in the middle. My main complaint is that it’s bloody cold at night – not surprising since it’s the highest capital in the world, at over 3500m above sea level.

Highest capital in the world... La Paz

Highest capital in the world… La Paz

That brings me onto the world-famous salt flats of Uyuni in the south of Bolivia, which – aside from almost freezing to death in a ‘salt hostel’, where everything from the bed base to the floor was literally made of salt – was an amazing experience. We spent three days exploring the area in a 4-wheel drive, admiring brightly coloured, flamingo-dotted blue and red lagoons, swimming in steaming hot springs, and, eventually, watching sunrise over the huge expanse of snowy-white salt flats. We then spent a good few hours taking odd, optical-illusion type pictures that for some reason just seems to be a thing there (see below…)

Fighting dinosaurs at Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Fighting dinosaurs at Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

It really was as spectacular as everyone makes out, and it’s apparently even better earlier in the year when the flats are covered in water and swathes of light bounce off it in perfect reflections – another trip awaits. That’s as far as my Bolivia trip has taken me so far – next stop is Copacabana on Lake Titicaca and after that it’s Peru time, where more adventure and intriguing Inca history awaits – stay tuned for updates.

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2015 in Uncategorized