Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Chile (Plan B)


Due to strikes and violent protests on the Bolivian border, against Canadian mining companies, we were unable to get a bus as planned over the border, with a stayover on Lake Titicaca. We decided it would be safer to go into Chile for a week, while things calm down and then head up into Bolivia.
We headed further south in Peru to Tacna near the border, where we spent the night. We then made the smoothest border crossing yet, into Arica, Chile. Arica is on the coast and is a really nice town which we were surprised about. Its actually more similar to a European town than the South American towns we have experienced so far. Greater wealth has been evident in Chile so far.
We spent the afternoon visting the work of Sir Eiffel. Before he became famous for the Eiffel tower, he built in his workshop in Paris the church and custom house in Arica, which were then shipped around the world and assembled here. A major feet of engineering for 1875, and pretty cool to visit today. Rick was pleased to end the afternoon with a ´rocket' of beer (a tower of six pints).

The cast iron church


We arrived from Arica in the afternoon. Iquique has many reminders of the nitrate boom from the 19th century. The pedestrian street is like steeping into a western film set. The wooden walkways remain, loads of the original Georgian wooden buildings, and even the tram and tram lines. We were just waiting for a tumble weed to come by. In the central plaza is the original wooden clock tower, and the beautifully preserved theatre house. We were able to soak up some rays on one of the surrounding beaches, and enjoyed watching the many surfers out in the massive waves (we have missed being by the sea!).  Aswell as its interesting history Iquique is also known to be one of the best places (due to year round good conditions) for paragliding. So we spent one afternoon throwing ourselves off a cliff. It was amazing!!!! The views over the sand dunes, sea and city were really cool. It was great trying to gain height in the air thermals, along with the gliding vultures. The closest anyone can get to being a bird.

 The pedestrian street

 The start of the jump

 In the air

San Pedro

Cosy little town near the Bolivian border. The main street was very touristy but it has managed to maintain its charm. We did a tour to a geyser field. The tour pick up was 4am (awful!!!), so that we could get to the geysers for sunrise. It was absolutely freezing when we arrived, minus 6. The first geyser only blew out steam so it was safe to stand close too, we even warmed our hands in the steam. The landscape was other wordly, dotted with geyser craters. Sadly most were only steam, and even the ones that shot water were small. We were expecting lots of really high water to be shot out. Apparently they do on some days. It was still really cool to see with the sun coming up. We had breakfast there, which included hot chocolate cartoons that were put in the geysers to heat up! We went to another site where there was a natural thermal pool, which we swam in. It was so bizzare the contrast between the freezing air and the hot water.
On the way back from the geysers we stopped at the coldest lake in chile, frozen on the surface and coverd in Giant Coots and Andean geese. The final stop on the tour was to a small hamlet, where we brought the best cheese empanadas from one of the houses.

San Pedro town

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Southern Peru


Arequipa a city known for its white stone buildings. We spent the afternoon after we arrived from a very long bus, wandering around the city. The weather was noticably hotter than Huaraz. The next day we went to the museum of Juanita the Ice Princess. The Incas sacrificed her on El Misti, the volcano that looms over the city, and due to the top being coverd by snow she was really well preserved until another volcano close by errupted reveiling her, to be found in 1995. The exhibition was really interesting and had lots of artefacts from her burial site and that of several other child sacrifices found in the area. Bags and wooden tools so well preserved for over 500 years. The Incas sacrificed the children to the mountain Gods to prevent natural disasters. Sounds gorery but it really wasn´t. We took a walk up to a view point over the city and surrounding mountains.

 The main square with its white stone cathedral

El Misti and the city from the mirador

Colca Canyon

After deciding to go into the canyon region on our own and not on a tour, we got a bus to Chivay a small town at the start of the canyon. The higher altitude meant we spent the eveing wishing for a fire. We were treated to a precession of local schools  in traditional dress, which drew in the crowds.
In the morning we got an early bus across the top of the canyon to the condor look out point. Andean Condors like to fly on the thernal currents in the early mornings and late afternoons. We were lucky enough to arrive before the tour group buses. We saw our first couple of condors lower down, in the canyon. The first that flew close got the adreniline pumping. We had to wait a little while until more came out, it was totally worth the wait when they did! About ten came out and they were circling over head in the currents and swooping soo close. We couldn´t believe how big they are. They apparently can get up to 3 metres in length. Despite their size they are so graceful. It was wonderful to watch them up close. Luckily we caught a passing bus onto Cabanaconde a town on the end of the canyon. In the afternoon we trekked down onto the canyon. We foolishly didn´t think about how far down to the bottom it would be, and believe us it was far! It took about 3 hours. The colours of the rock were really pretty, and despite the hard slog the views were great. At the bottom there were swimming pools (they say its an oasis, but sadly it is all man made) where we thankfully cooled off, before the challenge of going back up!!! On the way up a couple informed us as we were struggling to breath that we had chosen to do the hardest trek in the whole canyon (foolishly).
We got the bus back to Arequipa the next day, where we met with friends from our trek in Huaraz, for drinks.

The Condors

 Going into the Canyon

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Northern Peru

Spent a day in Lima on the way up to break up the journey. We are not overly big fans of Lima but we got to spend a great day with a couple we met. Arrived in Huaraz early in the morning. We spent the first day sorting out a trek to start the next day.

We booked on to do a four day trek in the Cordillera Blanca, a national park known for the many glacial mountains. The first day we only walked for about three hours as it took six hours to get there in the minibus. On the drive out we passed two glacial lakes, which were bright turquoise. We also got to see many of the snow topped peaks, it was a drive to wet the appetite for what was to come. The first days walk took us through a small mountain village and through a rugged valley. The camp the first night was freezing, it was at 3800m.

 Emerald lakes

 Us at the top of the pass we drove over


 The group

 The valley

The second day was the hardest. We trekked up to 4750, where we passed through a mountain pass. When we came through the pass the views over the glacier and another glacial lake were amazing. A couple of hours trekking down to the second nights camp, which was in the open valley surrounded by glacial mountains, including the one used by paramount pictures (the one with the stars around)! The full moon made the snow peaks glow... beautiful!

 The way up

 The donkeys

 Us at the top of the highest pass (sadly in shadow)

 The view to the right of the pass

Day three was the longest. We trekked up to another, the most remote, glacial lake. It was so peaceful and the colours were stunning. We then walked trough the valley and a variety of different landscapes, to the final nights camp.

 The mountain used by Paramount pictures (imagine it with stars around!)

 The Lake we trekked up to

 In the valley

 In the valley at camp on the last night

On the last day it was just a mornings walk out of the national park, to a small village where we were picked up and taken back to Huaraz. We had had a great four days! The scenery and weather was amazing!

Coast of Peru


Bone dry and baking hot Nazca doesn't have alot to offer, but we went to do a fly over of the famous (and mysterious) Nazca Lines. The town is literally in the desert. We were lucky that our hostel had a cold pool and shaded roof top patio, to escape the very hot weather (a real shock after being in the cooler climate of the highlands). We had a couple of great and cheap set meals, although the South American tendancy to serve rice and chips on the same plate is bizzare! On the second day we had an early morning flight. The plane was so small, it only held four of us and two pilots. The flight was really cool, it was about 40 minutes and we got to fly pretty close to the ground to see the lines, and circle each drawing twice. We saw ten of the drawings, sadly some were not as clear as we were expecting, but it didn't ruin the majestic beauty of them. The best were the condor and the hummingbird.

 The hummingbird (we really needed a better camera)

The Condor

Ica and Hucacachina

Short bus journey from Nazca to Ica, and a taxi to the desert oasis that is Huacachina. A small lake surrounded by guesthouses and palm trees, with sand dunes stretching up behind (its the place thats featured on the 50 sole notes and there is a reason for it!) Its a great place to chill out. On the first afternoon we went on a joint sandbuggy and sandboarding tour into the dunes. The sandbuggies seat nine includng the driver, Rick and I were lucky enough to be seated at the front. The driver drove so fast over, down and round the massive dunes. It was like a sand rollercoaster ride, so much fun. We stopped four times to sandboard, each dune higher or steeper then the last. We had opted to do the traditional boarding which you lie on the board for. The first was nerve racking, but the others were completely awesomme. Rick managed to deck it on the last, he got cocky and tried to go faster by closing his legs, result was a mouthful of sand! lol! We drove to the top of a dune to watch the sunset over the desert, a nice end to a great trip.

 The dunes

Looking down on Huacachina

The second day we went to a winery in Ica, with two Australian girls we met. Its the largest and oldest winery in Peru, 154 years old. It produces 9 varrieties of wine, and three different piscos. The tour was fairly short but really interesting. We got to try 6 of them, most were quite sweet which apparently Peruvians prefer, and the pisco was so strong...we left with slightly wobbly legs.

Outside the bodega

The third day we went on a tour to the Ballestas Islands (the poor mans Galapagos). The boat trip took about two hours. Sadly the weather wasn´t great. The rain had stopped by the time we got in the boat but it was fairly overcast. We got to see dolphins, sea lions, penguins, pelicans, and so many birds! It was pretty cool when the boat came away from the islands as many birds were flying out to sea, it felt like we were flying with them, as we sped alond side the black mass. That afternoon we hired sandboards and went boarding on our own. It wasn´t as much as the tour because walking back up the dunes, was bloody hard work! Hilarious when rick tried to go down standing up and totally wiped out, again!

 The bird filled islands

 The penguins

 The sealions

The birds in flight

Friday, 6 May 2011

Central Peru


Four days in Cusco to acclimatize for the Inca Trek. A great place to do that. Crammed with historic buildings, cobbled streets and yummy cafes. We mainly chilled out, wondered the city and got stuff for the trek. It was wierd having to adjust again to the high altitude, cusco being at 3360m above sea level, which left us feeling pretty rough for a couple of days. We watched two parades on seperate days, one of the local schools and the other of the armed forces, both of which brought out the crowds. Had another spanish lesson, and couldn´t work out if we were more confused before or after!

 Plaza San Blas

 Central Plaza


View over the city

Four day Inca Trek

Day one: Got picked up early and taken by coach to Ollyantambo, where we got to know our group of 16 people over breakfast. It was then another 30 minutes to the start of the trail. The first day was explained to us by our guide as ´flat, not gringo flat though, thats highway flat`. It was abit up and down but really rather easy, a nice way to get used to our boots and heavy packs. The weather was glorious. The trek followed the river, passed pretty flora and we got the chance to see two hummingbirds. We stopped at our first Inca site, a small inca town which we looked down on from the fort on the mountain side. When the group stopped for lunch we were shocked by the five star service! Tables with tableclothes on, and three courses. We all wondered how the porters brought it all, then we remembered the size of the packs they were carrying! Just before we reached the first camp, we stopped at a house selling Chicha, a local brew made from corn, the group toasted to a good trip on dirt cheap beer, and pretty dirt tasting too. At camp that evening we had more amazing food, and were treated to the stariest of nights!

 The gang at the start

 The valley pass

 The first Inca town from above

Chicha cheers

Day two: Another early start for what was to be the hardest of the four days. The climb up to Dead womens pass, the highest point at 4200m, was broken into three parts. The first wasn´t too testing, however the second and third parts were. Many steps! When we got to the top it was such an amazing feeling! We have to be thankful for our zanny guide and his supply of coca leaves. The views back down the valley with the glacier on the horizon was worth the sweat and slog! The second nights camp was half way down the otherside. The descent was all steps, luckily our knees held out well!

 Half way snap

The highest point of the trek (Dead Womens Pass 4200m)

Day three: The longest day walking, but also the most beautiful, with many Inca sites, interesting flora and surrounded the whole time by mountains and glaciers. From the highest point of the day, in accordance to custom we did a ceremony to the Inca Gods for safe passage through. Which involved carrying a stone up from the bottom and coca leaves as offerings. We were on the top of a mountain pass where the views either side were second to none! We descended to a small Inca site and up again to have lunch on top of another mountain. Then 2000 steps down to the third nights camp, where we were able to get our first shower and a cold beer.

Day four: 4am start inorder to catch the first sun come over Machu Picchu. It was a fairly easy 2 hour trek to the sun gate, where we sat and waited for the morning fog to clear to reveal the Inca city. It was so exciting as it cleared! We then walked down the path as the Incas did to the city. The weather was amazing, it really couldn´t have been any better! We had a short tour of the city and then went exploring by ourselves. Everywhere we turned was a great photo! It was interesting learning about how the city was built in accordance to their belief in four Gods; the earth, sun, water and wind. The places of worship were even more beautifully constructed, with no gaps at all in the stone work. Many of the buildings were built arround and using the rocks already there, so houses would often have a wall which was one rock! We got a sense of how clever the Incas were aswell; they had buildings on small stone balls and triangular door frames, to protect against earthquakes, and terraces all around to prevent errosion, also water ducts to stop buildings subsiding. So interesting and truely breathtaking!!!

The whole four days were a real highlight for Rick and I. The group, guide and trek were fantastic. We couldn´t have asked for anything more!!!

 The route

Temporary until we add our even sunnier photos!