- Day 170, Fri 26th Jul
Overnight bus to Puno from Cusco & then straight onto a boat out to visit the floating Uros islands. Amazing islands built completely from reeds & that float on Lake Titikaka. They were a little bit touristic but we dropped our stuff off & headed off to the Taquile, on the slowest boat possible.
Very steep climb up to the village but fortunately I don’t seem to be affected by the altitude. We were greeted by beautiful views across the lake while we watched local dancing.
We returned to the Uros island of H’Anan Pacha for the night – no running water & about 7 woollen blankets to keep us warm… alongside all our thermals!
Oops, I had forgotten that we were going to arrive in Puno sans shower and then spend a night on a floating island… lucky we have baby wipes.
Uncertain what our island lodging would hold, I had been unable to book the one I wanted for our revised dates, we decided to do a Uros and Taquile tour, including a short ride on one of the reed boats, cool.
The actual lodging was cute and they had very kindly given us 7 blankets – well needed, but so heavy I could barely move all night – unfortunately this merely augmented the trauma getting up in the morning before the sun had warmed up.
Day 171, Sat 27th Jul
A lovely sunrise after an absolutely freezing night – a great idea of Tracey’s to do this (majestic, stunning views) but that’s one experience I won’t be repeating!
A bit of misunderstanding at breakfast meant that I got 4 slices of bread and no eggs, rather than the reverse. My second attempt at communication resulted in the removal of said bread and the cook starting to attend to his other morning duties – while Keir made exaggerated sounds of enjoyment eating his fried egg sandwiches. Persistence and hunger forced me into a 3rd try, finally winning 2 extremely crispy eggs, hooray (ish).
Managed to get off the island about 9 and spent a bit of time at hanging around a nice café in Puno before our bus to Copacabana, Bolivia, and a nice fondue (one can only cope with local fare for so long) in the conveniently close, and highly rated La Cupola restaurant – though sadly their fabled book swap selection was pitifully low on Spanish books, I may be destined to cart my massive hardback book around for a while longer…
Day 172, Sun 28th Jul
Headed off to Isla del Sol, visited & hiked one end of the island to another. It does feel like standing on the top of the world – the island felt very Greek in look & feel.
However, whilst warm in the day, yet again it was freezing at night – T & I had to share a single bed to keep her warm (& me conversely awake!)
Took the boat roof-top transfer to Isla del Sol, another Titicaca island, today. Lovely journey, where we managed to chat to half the boat, followed by an interesting tour of the ruins on the island and a 2 hour trek to the other side – I am deeply glad that we left our big bags at the Hotel, but wish I had managed to pack slightly lighter nonetheless – the tried and tested combination of high altitude (3,800m), burning sun, and uphill walking is still not feeling any better for me. Keir, as usual, is fine.
Found our hotel – beautiful view, very romantic, but sadly with twin beds – this is why I hate booking on the phone, I always forget something – never mind, it was so bloody cold, we had to share a single bed just to keep warm.
Day 173, Mon 29th Jul
Sunrise was nice, though we have still to beat Stone Island in Suriname. Managed sunset in the same day, from the top of the hill in Copacabana, I particularly liked the possibly suicidal dog considering whether or not to jump…
Day 174, Tues 30th Jul
Another early breakfast, and off to La Paz today – an entertaining journey entailing us getting off the bus to catch a small boat across the lake, while the bus drove onto a barge for its own crossing, fortunately there were no mishaps with said journey as I was not keen to try diving for any potentially waterlogged suitcases; the water is bloody cold!
Arrived in a very polluted, but sunny, La Paz. Our new hotel is very central, but possibly with the most bizarre décor I have ever seen – lino on the walls and in the shower? – Still, it is cheap, clean, well-equipped and we have an amazing view from the 4th floor window in our room.
Day 175, Wed 31st Jul
Off to Tiwanaku today, more pyramids(!), though these pre-date the Incans by 1,000 years. Unfortunately, we decided to do a tour – based on the fact that it was cheap, convenient, and would save us taking 2 buses – it took almost 2 hours to pick people up from around La Paz and get out of the city. I was in a bad mood before we arrived – I mean, for Christ’s sake, why not have ONE or even TWO set meeting places for everyone to get to, this is not fun for anyone – but the site was interesting enough, despite conservation giving way to reconstruction…
Sadly the site was not the end of the tour though; first up, lunch in a shockingly cold restaurant (still high up), which we decided to forgo in the attempt to find a café with seating in the sun; followed by the site museum, which whilst small, seemed to unduly fascinate the tour guide; it took us 10 minutes to look around and she was still going for another 45 minutes, also freezing…
Finally got back to La Paz for a very necessary, hot, pre-prandial, soup to warm us up.
Tiwanaku was on my ‘must see’ list so v pleased to have seen it. Ignored the painful tour, the grumbling going on alongside me, & just enjoyed the view. The interesting thing about this place is that the stone is almost diamond hard & it was cut & shaped with laser like precision when they only had stone chisels to cut it… go figure…?!
Some of it had been suspiciously reconstructed in a ‘perfect’ manner, but there were enough of the original ruins to be suitably impressed.
Day 176, Thu 1st Aug
T was a little put off by the Llama foetuses
La Paz was ok; nothing to write home about though… so I won’t!
Day 177, Fri 2nd Aug
Day bus to Arica, 8 hours, hmm. Nice view of Lake Chungara when we got to the border, and some pretty scenery, but I have to say that 8 hours are best done at night; sleeping, preferably.
Quiet reading time, watching the view… I, on the other hand, quite like day buses…
Oh, yes, and I am starving, this being one of those great buses that serves food on board and that does not stop to let you buy any. Of course it is like airline food, apart from it all contains meat, or bread, or both
Day 178, Sat 3rd Aug
We had a lovely walk along the coast, booking a restaurant, ascending the bluff and looking for the somewhat difficult to find, Chinchorro mummies museum; the reason we are here. Finally found the museum, but it was disappointingly similar to Chauchilla and they have sent the clay masks to a different museum; damn.
Free yoga lesson in the hostel, and then we leave, suited and booted (or in a dress and new earrings in my case), for dinner at Maracuya – a restaurant that has fantastic reviews online. The staff were great, friendly, helpful, and had even put a special floral garland on our table, unfortunately the wine was terrible… At first we thought it a little sharp, but it seemed to get worse as we drank it, yuck; we questioned the waiter about the wine, he replaced it. I am sure the second bottle was corked. So, we left after one tasty, but not very hot, course, and returned to the hotel with the thought of changing into something more suitable for the salsa club; it was 10pm and closed…
After wandering around wondering where everyone was, we eventually we found the shopping mall food court seemed to be the place du jour, so we decided to have some cocktails instead. The salsa club was open at 1am, but sadly I was too tipsy to dance :).
It was actually a nice day for me, despite the meal. Keir seemed more upset than I was.
The best laid plans of mice & men….
Day 179, Sun 4th Aug
A day wandering around Arica before our overnight to Calama. It is COLD and grey today and I liked it much better in the sun…
Day 180, Mon 5th Aug
Huge breakfast in Calama, the only choice being 4(!) eggs or chicken, then a bus to San Pedro de Atacama. It is nice and hot here, but we are high up again, so it is freezing at night again!
Supposed to go on a star tour tonight, but there are clouds. Unfortunately we both managed to fall asleep one minute before they told us it would go ahead, oops. We did try to make a dash for it, but after the time it took to wrap up super warm, we missed the office closing time… will have to try again tomorrow. Decided to book a trip to El Tatio geysers as 4am tomorrow before finding a ridiculously expensive place to have a drink in – London prices – and all because they lured us in with a fire.
San Pedro is nice, but painfully overpriced… takes the gloss off of it. To add to the bad taste, my rucksack’s wheel broke again; this time losing the bearing….
Day 181, Tues 6th Aug
Up at 3, regretting the tour decision. A sentiment reinforced when the bus didn’t turn up until 5 – one hour of waiting outside in the pre-dawn freeze – and we had just been considering going back to bed…
After a mini nap in the bus, we made it to the geysers. Beautiful, but excruciatingly cold – and this even after our hostel landlord took pity on me and lent me a jacket – the steam from the volcanic fissures looked amazing against the sunrise. After a fair bit of viewing and shivering, we paused for a coca tea and chocolate bar (nice breakfast :)), before nipping off to the thermal baths; which were unfortunately not quite thermal enough!
When T says cold – we’re talking painfully cold… & then we decided to strip off & hop in the luke-warm thermal springs…. Madness! If it was cold getting in, imagine what it was like getting out!
Day 182, Wed 7th Aug
Up early again for our trip back to Bolivia via the National Parque Alvaroa and Salar de Uyuni, a huge salt flat in Bolivia. Typically, as we were in the middle of breakfast, this transport arrived on time, but our landlord kindly sent them off to pick up everyone else first :). 17 people on the minibus, but we were split into 3 groups at the border, we are with the family Mars – luckily we have already bonded, albeit in a frequently misunderstood French/English/Spanish amalgamation of words – Keir is happy he gets to practise his French.
A few nice stop offs, including a natural thermal bath substantially warmer than yesterday’s, and then it is time for lunch – this is where things went a bit wrong, as apparently Colque Tours ‘forgot’ to send a complete lunch. We had cold rice, potatoes (they count as a vegetable in the Americas) and carrots, but the remainder of the meal failed to materialise. There were some harsh words – in many languages – especially when one of the other guides managed to ‘find’ some chicken for his guests. Obviously chicken was not going to work for me, but I altruistically argued for some for the table anyway (to the detriment of the volume of avocado & tomato we were about to receive), food eventually arrived, but in the main not the parts of the chicken that any Westerner would choose to eat…
We visited a few more sites and then arrived at the ‘basic’ hostel. As in, bring your own loo roll, no showers and hire a sleeping bag for added warmth. Soup for dinner for me – apparently the veggie request had not filtered through either – and then froze all night in the dorm, despite the sleeping bag. Had fun playing cards with Los Mars though.
Lucked in with the Family Mars; but the 1st day was a little bit of a let-down organisationally… food poor, car sick (had to use another battery to jump start it after lunch) & hotel was basic… & I mean basic… T managed to nab the only available sleeping bags which kept me warm at least!
At least we got to swim in a warm thermal spring overlooking one of the lakes in glorious sunshine.
Day 183, Thurs 8th Aug
Another day in the National Park, saw vicuña, some more lagoons, had a 45 minute stop to dig out one of the other jeeps… (entailing Keir taking charge again) & a salt hotel for the night. Much more comfortable, though this may be related to the 2 shared bottles of slightly sweet Bolivian wine and Keir warming my bed up for me.
You would think if you were driving off into the wilderness (desert & snow drifts) that at least one of the 4×4’s would have a tow rope & all would have gear to dig themselves out of said desert & snow drifts…. Nope… & they didn’t seem to know what to do…
So, after snapping our bit of rope (we had for skipping – don’t ask?!) trying a tow, I ended up under the vehicle digging out the snow after I got them to jack up each wheel. After putting rocks under each tyre & laying a path a tow using the luggage straps eventually worked…
Hotel was cool though & view over the salt flats in the morning quite splendid.
Day 184, Fri 9th Aug
Unfortunately the information regarding the showers being warm only at night failed to filter through to us. I believe our driver/guide is slightly useless… Narrowly avoiding pneumonia, we set off for the last day across the salt flats to Uyuni – a lunar landscape of saline whiteness.
Dropped off in Uyuni at lunchtime to try to buy a bus ticket and have some lunch with the Mars family. Saw some Rhea (emu like birds) too
One the way back we also saw the graveyard of the steam trains…. All that ingenuity & construction gently mouldering away majestically in the desert.
Day 185, Sat 10th Aug
Arrived at the border a 5:30, with a nice British couple we met on the bus.
Vainly attempted to find coffee in a nice warm place before giving up and waiting at the border for Bolivian immigration to open – I kind of like the way, that even though they are late, they refuse to open up before finishing their breakfast… An interesting morning involving the casa de cambio favourably miscalculating my Boliviano to Peso money change, and a sharp, swiftly resolved, interchange with the man overcharging me 25% of the ticket price to get to Tilcara on the grounds that he had to pay the man bringing me from directly outside the ticket booth to buy a ticket. I don’t think so, amigo.
Chilled afternoon in Tilcara.
Another overnight bus & early border crossing – we are getting quite good at these now. Hostel is quite nice although room needs some DIY – it’s freezing inside.
Day 186, Sun 11th Aug
Decided to go for a nice walk through the Quebrada de Humahuaca, after the usual failed attempt to start out at a self-imposed early hour, we ended up walking in the midday sun again instead… Lovely walk, though of course I huffed and puffed my way up, we might be lower than Lake Titicaca, but all of this travelling up and down has left me no better accustomed to the height…
Nice walk up to a waterfall with Tracey huffing & puffing alongside me
Day 187, Mon 12th Aug
A morning walk to Pucará – fortuitously with free entrance this morning – to see the ‘fort’. Except, it was not really a fort, more an ex-village. Nice short walk, this one. Then off to get the bus to Salta so that we can figure out whether or not we can do the very expensive (though possibly with tourist leaflet discounts) train through the clouds.
A bit of a Disney style reconstruction but nice views & interesting architecture. Tilcara was a nice little town but had fun finding restaurants for T again… they like their meat in Argentina!
Reached Salta about 7, just in time to check in and go out for dinner. The manager was playing The Cure, a good sign, and it seems warmer here, though Tren a las Nubes is apparently only running on Saturdays now – I guess that settles that then – we shall have to spend the money elsewhere
Liked Salta; T got us a great room in the Hostel, & town looks really quite nice at night… feels like we are back in civilisation again….
Day 188, Tues 13th Aug
Cold and grey today, so binned the cable car for now and decided to do the church and museum things instead – inside definitely best. Fascinating, if macabre, exhibition at the MAAM covering Incan child sacrifices found at the top of a 5,000m+ mountain, it included one of the 3 child mummies found. Because of the cold and preservation the scientists have been able to ascertain all manner of information about the Incans, the health of the children and how they were sacrificed, a bit grim, but they seem to have had an interesting relationship where people were not really ‘dead’ and that the most precious people and possessions were sent to the gods.
Interesting belief system; the children were alive when they were mummified after drinking a sleeping draught of chicha….
Day 189, Wed 14th Aug
Sunny again, cable car, hooray! Well, this was after Keir had spent 2 hours on the phone trying to sort out his Nan’s bank account and I had practically frozen to death in the kitchen at the hostel. Had a nice view of the city, walked back down the mountain and had a nice lunch before the very long 5pm bus to Resistencia…
Get her on a cable car & she’s happy for the day… Not sure if she mistook it for a fair ground ride…?!
Day 190, Thurs 15th Aug
5:30am Resistencia, excellent. Freezing and dark, but figured we may as well hang around the bus station until we can book the bus to Paraguay tomorrow – another 5 hour bus during the day, nice.
Traipsed around the centre trying desperately to find a café that offered something other than coffee and croissants for breakfast, before finally locating a rather expensive, but excellent Italian café with omelettes – still probably cheaper than the Starbucks breakfast we were forced to have in Lima – then off to see the some of the 500 sculptures scattered around the city. A nice walk, with nice weather, but most of these sculptures are not exactly exciting, perhaps we should have gone to the park outside of town instead…?
Gentle walk in the sun; great idea to cover your town with statues… note to organiser; next time have some quality control…!
Day 191, Fri 16th Aug
Next bus Asuncion. It is of course a shame, that the one thing we thought might be fun here – another train ride, but with actors playing out a farce – is no longer running, but never mind; we are only here until Sunday morning, it is hot again, and the hotel is a nice place with a tiny pool to sit around. At least this is what I do. Keir seems more intent on catching up on every episode of CSI he may ever have missed.
Nice hotel & the ability to kick back, catch up on CSI/NCIS whilst T uploads photos…. Sounds like a plan to me!
Day 192, Sat 17th Aug
Quick look around town and then pool lounging and more CSI for Keir…
JJJ (I know she’ll make me pay at some point…!)
Day 193, Sun 18th Aug
Up early, luckily breakfast is just about open, to make the 7:30am bus to Foz de Iguazu. Another 5 hour bus during the day, I am very much looking forward to NOT being on a bus for a while… Our hotel in Foz, Pousada Caroline, is one of the best we have stayed in during the entire trip; we have a kettle and a JACUZZI bath, which I immediately take advantage of while Keir watches yet more TV. I practically have to drag him out of the door to get some dinner, and this is despite the prospect of steak.
NCIS actually! Paraguay looked a beautiful country from the windows of a bus. Shame we couldn’t see more of it.
Day 194, Mon 19th Aug
Up early to go to Iguazu Falls today, very excited. The waterfalls are incredible, and I have taken far too many pictures again. This is exacerbated when we decide to visit the Parque de Aves afterwards – also very good, lots of parrots, flamingos and strange birds that I have never seen before – I recommend it highly. Then back to the hotel to grab our cases and get the bus across the border to Puerto Iguazu in Argentina – very quick border crossing despite the need to catch a second bus after Brazilian immigration.
The falls were impressive – a definite high for us both. The bird park was also fantastic, although full of too many tourists (often Brazilian) who don’t know how to treat animals… kept bugging & trying to touch the birds in the open cages.
Day 195, Tues 20th Aug
OK. So the Argentinian side of the Falls is better, MUCH better. If you are going to do both sides, you should definitely do Brazil first, but really, you could just do the Argentine side. Amazing!
Agreed, you get above the falls & under them as well. The camera can’t really take in the full width & splendour of the falls.
Day 196, Wed 21st Aug
Flight to Buenos Aires went smoothly and we arrived at Gavin (George’s dad) & Amber’s flat in San Telmo around 3pm. The lovely Mirian showed us around, gave us the keys and all the info, and finally we could just relax, make tea and go shopping for some food – it has been a while since we cooked and eating out every night does get a little dull after a while – especially when you are not eating meat or wheat and thus have a choice of 1 or 2 dishes – unfortunately our first cooking experiment was not 100% successful… we may have forgotten how. I guess the apple crumble was not bad, but a finer ground cornmeal would have been preferable to the polenta topping we wound up with.
The flat is wonderful; his bedroom has a beautiful red ‘rose’ stained glass window – it’s delightful & the whole place is done out in a very modern manner (white walls/ furniture). Finding restaurants that can cope with T ‘s diet has been the bane of our lives over the last 6 months (there’s nothing that poor T can do about it unfortunately), so it was very nice to have a go at cooking ourselves & then sit & watch ‘Mad Men’ series 1 curled up on the sofa together – sheer bliss.
Day 197, Thurs 22nd Aug
Down to the main issue we have to resolve, our visas for China, difficult to obtain apparently and necessitating flights out, booked hotels and potential letters from Chinese friends inviting you in. By the time we had booked some cancellable hotels on Booking.com – I mean really, I am organised, but having to plan exactly where we are going to stay 2 months before arrival is a bit much – we realised that we would never make it to the embassy before the 12pm closing time shown on the internet. Tried calling, no answer, and have already had all attempted emails returned as the addresses are wrong. Damn, we will have to get up early and go tomorrow.
Decided we should go out to eat Indian tonight instead of another failed cooking attempt. Nice cocktail, then wine in the café bar, where I managed to get drunk on 1 glass again, but drank 3. Hmm
Right, we are ready for the Chinese embassy – a morning spent printing all the necessary flight & hotel bookings. I started planning China nearly 3 months ago, so will be pleased when we can get the visa nailed down. Lot’s of domestics done today but the first look at BA is that we like it. The area we are in (San Telmo) is very bohemian.
Day 198, Fri 23rd Aug
Up at 6:45 and on the tube at 8:15, just like going to work. Apart from we made it to the Chinese embassy only to find that the internet had lied, they are open 9-12:30 Monday to Thursday and not open to the public at all on Friday. Not happy. Fortunately there was a very nice man at the embassy who gave us a telephone number that did answer; it was good to learn that all internet info is correct in Chinese, sadly not a language I am able to speak, and I am sure there are many Chinese people requiring visas from Argentina… The lady seemed unkeen that we apply in Argentina, but relented to the point of telling us we could try on Monday and advising us to get a letter from a friend as well as all of the hotels etc…
Not happy was an understatement from T – spitting mad is nearer the truth!
Particularly after we’ve walked for about 45 mins from the supposed nearest tube station to get there.
Still, after a long walk back, & seeing some of Buenos Aires, T had managed to stop spitting feathers. We resign ourselves to having another go on Mon.
Day 199, Sat 24th Aug
Very lazy, lovely lie in with breakfast in bed, cooked by the lovely Keir, this morning :). Unfortunately this meant we did not leave the house until after 2 and the sunny start to the day had morphed into a slightly cold and overcast one – our planned walk was quickly halted for a coffee shop break and warm up – but we eventually managed to pull ourselves together for a small bit of sightseeing!
Met Gavin & Amber’s friend Mercedes for some tango tonight, we have not yet managed a lesson unfortunately, but we went to an amazing Bodegon, Los Laureles, a little out of town and met some more of her friends Mirta, Lissandro, Cheryl and Gabriela – a lovely evening, despite no tango skills we were able to take advantage of a couple of jives they played.
Thought that I’d earn a few brownie points with breakky in bed for T as she wasn’t feeling too great – I can only lose them later on!
Lovely chilled day & great evening at the Bodegon. Slight shame that we couldn’t remember any of the Argentinian Tango we learnt in London, so just had to sit & watch, until of course, a bit of rock’n’roll came on & T & I had the dance floor to ourselves. We left to a round of applause… which is always nice!
Day 200, Sun 25th Aug
San Telmo market today – another lie in and then we had a wander, lots of beautiful old soda siphons plus the kind of vintage clothes and crafts you would find in Brick Lane. Disappointed that I cannot buy anything, though I did buy Keir an early birthday hat.
Moroccan food tonight. Out, not in
Market was very cool; but not as cool as my Indiana Jones hat!
Day 201, Mon 26th Aug
Fingers crossed – Chinese embassy – round 2!
…and we are off to the Chinese embassy again… a shaky start when the girl told me she could not give me a visa if I was not Argentinian or resident in Argentina, but my reference to a phone call on Friday seemed to instantly make her reconsider and hand the matter over to a second member of staff, who after asking many questions and searching every stamp in our passports seemed satisfied. We were told to pay ARP 525 for both of us and come back tomorrow, we are relieved but still keeping our fingers crossed….
Coffee and amazing chocolate mousse cake to celebrate. Yum. Then off for a quick look around Palermo and Recoleta cemetery (very cool), and check out the possibility of a day trip to Colonia tomorrow.
Cooked, drank wine and watched some Mad Men DVDs that were conveniently supplied with the flat.
Day 202, Tues 27th Aug
Up early again, embassy trip number 3, super-quick collection of passports, plus thank you’s to our new friend the embassy man – I am sure the only reason we even got seen was that phone call we made on Friday (though it may be Rod’s very kind letter of invitation too!), then a mad dash across town to buy our ferry ticket before 10:45. Just made the deadline, to be told that they had sold out today; deeply annoying.
Figured we would try Buquebus just in case, but since their prices were double(?), decided we would book for tomorrow instead – potentially stressful due to the 19:15 bus we have booked to Mendoza, but this is the last chance to see any of Uruguay – fingers crossed we get back in time…
We hey; visa’s sorted – well done T for her perseverance!
B#gger, we rushed across town to make the ferry only to be told it was sold out – another afternoon of sight seeing.
Day 203, Wed 28th Aug
More sea time on the ferry across to Colonia – a lovely, sleepy little town that’s fairy unchanged over the last 100 years. Just mooched around the cobbled streets & had a nice lunch in a cool café.
And then another night bus; this time to Mendoza – wine country!
Colonia was pretty, and we had a lovely warm day today – despite the sudden onset of a heavy cold – we obviously mis-timed our visit to BA as it was also about 10 degrees warmer there, and we are leaving tonight, damn. Spent a lovely day wandering around, having coffees in café’s and visiting the lighthouse. There is not a lot to do here, but on a sunny day it is glorious, plus it gave us the chance to replenish our dwindling dollar supply :).
Back to flat to finish the clean up before our bus to Mendoza this evening.