Thursday, August 02, 2007

A visit from Jen's Mum and Dad

Originally uploaded by theslaad
We've been living in Hastings for about 2 months now and my Mum and Dad thought it was about time that they paid us a visit. We had a lovely couple of days showing them the local sights. We walked around the old town and had some lunch at the Pump House, then took the funicular up the west hill to admire the views across town, the beach and onto the Channel. We then walked along the pebble beach. Mum wanted to dip her toes in the sea so we ventured down to the waters edge where she tentatively stuck her shoeless foot out. A few waves didn't quite reach her but then one came in much further and soaked both feet! There was a little shrieking!
After some tasty dinner back here we went out for a round of Crazy Golf! It's great! Chris won by quite a margin but Mum, Dad and I were all quite close.

On the second and final day of their visit Chris had to work, but I went with them to Battle Abbey. We did the whole audio tour of the battle field which was pretty and interesting, and looked around the ruins a bit before heading back to Hastings. Mum bought some rock for Dan & Amy and then they headed back to Norfolk feeling relaxed and refreshed by their visit.

Mr & Mrs Jones

Originally uploaded by theslaad
We were lucky enough to witness another wedding this summer, this time it was our friends Mike and Rachel who tied the knot. We had a fantastic day in the sun at Hales Hall sipping Pimms, playing games and then dancing in the evening. It's always great to meet up with all your friends, but it makes it even more special when you're gathered for such a momentous occassion, so thank you to Mike and Rachel for a wonderful day.
Congratulations guys, hope you have a great honeymoon and a very happy life together!

Mr & Mrs Wise

Originally uploaded by theslaad
Huge congratulations to our sis Hannah and ger new husband Jimmy who got married in Leighton Buzzard on the 21st July. It was a lovely ceremony with both Bride and Groom looking fabulous. Hannah did have slight hysterics in the middle of her vows, but the words were heartfelt and well thought out by them both. We had a wonderful afternoon witnessing their marriage and then helping them to celebrate back at their house. The food was yummy, the cake gorgeous and the champagne free flowing!
We hope that they will have a very long and happy life together!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Time to come home - Fun Facts!

Originally uploaded by theslaad.
We can't believe it's time to come home! It doesn't seems like very long ago that we were saying goodbye to our parents at the airport, but I suppose it does feel like a long time ago since things like overnight trains in China and learning to dive in Vietnam.

So, here are some interesting facts about our travels....

We've visited twelve countries and ten capital cities. We don't really have a favourite country, but Mexico City was by far the best capital city.
We've been speaking quite a lot of Spanish over the last three months but have also learnt some words in Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Maori. Usually how to say 'Cheers!'.
We've been to 23 airports and have taken 18 flights (but it's okay because we bought energy efficient lightbulbs for Jamaicans). We've been on 5 trains, 2 campervans and god knows how many buses and taxis!

We've had good and bad weather. The hottest place was King's Canyon in Australia, at about 47 degrees, and the coldest place was the desert in Bolivia before sunrise, at about minus 5 degrees. This was also the highest place we went to at over 5000m. The lowest place was next to an octupus in Koh Phi Phi, at 19m below sea level!

The longest time that we spent travelling was the 27 hour train journey from Shanghai to Guilin, after which we had to take a bus for a couple of hours to get to Yangshou.

The worst thing that we did on the whole trip was early on, in China. We cycled to Moon Hill and then climbed it. It was ridiculously hard work in the blistering heat and not at all worth it, as the nice moon shape of the hill was perfectly visible from the bottom, and the view from the top was rubbish.

We don't really have one best thing, but some contenders would be (in order of doing them): The Great Wall of China, Angkor Wat complex, Mui Ne beach, staying with Stuart & Wiccha in Chaing Dao, Sydney, driving around in our van in Australia, glow worms, sperm whales, staying in the Mezkalito hostel in Oaxaca, Chichen Itza, Nazca lines, Machu Picchu and the Uyuni salt flats.

We've eaten well, but more often not so well. The best food we've had was at the Friends restaurant in Phonm Penh, Wiccha's cooking in Chiang Dao and the Hangi in New Zealand. Of course, our campervan-cooked food in Australia and New Zealand was pretty yummy.
We've eaten at some truly diabolical places (as proven by the nice food poisoning). The worst place is hard to pin down, but generally nowhere in Vietnam or Peru was very good.

We've been very lucky and have met some really nice people along the way. Most of group in China were fun to be with, Vicky our dive instructor was cool, it was nice to see Stuart and meet Wiccha and Joseph in Chiang Dao, we had fun with a group of people in Oaxaca, we met a couple from Wymondham whilst we were in Nazca, we loved staying at the Frankenstein Hostal in Cusco with Ludwig, Maritta and little Fiona and the people on our Uyuni trip were very nice too.

So this adventure is over, but we plan to have many more. We're really loking forward to coming home and seeing everyone, being able to eat good food, flush paper down the toilet and catch up on pop culture (all the TV we've missed!).

We've missed you all and look forward to seeing you very soon!

Buenos Aires

Originally uploaded by theslaad.
Buenos Aires seems like quite a nice city. There are lots of cafes and restaurants around, and lots of shops. It seemed pretty wealthy too until we were sat outside a cafe in the evening and a constant stream of children came over asking for money.
On our first day here we looked around the central part of the city including the main plaza where the palace is situated. It is from the balcony of that palace that lots of people have given various rousing speeches, including Eva Peron. We also looked up and down the shopping streets and went to the cinema to watch Spidey 3.
That evening we went to an old tango cafe to have dinner and see a Tango show. It was quite fun. The band consisted of three old men - one with a keyboard, one with an accordian and the other with a double bass. There were two singers and two dancers. We thought it might be a bit more steamy, but it was quite good anyway.

Yesterday was a typical autumn day, with grey skies and plenty of drizzle, so we didn't really do very much. Today we ventured out from the centre to one of the barrios - Recoleta. We went to a cool cemetery with row upon row of above ground tombs. It was a goth's paradise. Lots of eerie statues and cool twenties font on the tombs. It's all mostly the tombs of generals and doctors from the late 19th century and early 20th century, when Agentina was rich. Lots of people go to the cemetery because that is where the Peron mauseleum is, but that one wasn't very interesting compared to a lot of the others.

All around the cemetery there were craft stalls. Proper caft stals too, which was nice, rather than the craft stalls you get in Peru and Bolivia, which all sell exactly the same stuff. We bought a couple of final souvenirs and then headed across to the National Art Musuem. There was a good display of work by one artist who painted form the 60s until now, but the rest of the art was a bit dreary.

This evening we'll pack our rucksacks for the final time (hooray!), and then we'll catch a flight home tomorrow to arrive back in the UK on Monday morning.

Friday, May 04, 2007


Originally uploaded by theslaad.
So we did go to see the Giant Mary, but we didn't like her as much as The Jesus in Cusco. He was much cooler, with wild scary eyes, and had less people worshipping him. It was Labor day on Tuesday so Santiago was like a ghost town. There was hardly anyone around and most of the shops were closed. Unfortunately the art museum that we wanted to go to was closed too, so after we walked back from the Mary hill we went to the cinema (twice).

Chile was an okay place to visit. We liked the telescopes a lot, and it was quite nice to be in a more developed place, but in the North, there's not a huge amount to see. It's quite a scuzzy place in parts too, lots of graffitti and stray dogs everywhere.

We flew to Buenos Aires yesterday and will mostly be eating steak and drinking red wine for the rest of the trip.

Chile and Buenos Aires were kind of bonus places that we came to because thats the way the flight home goes, so we're not really doing that much that's exciting at the end of our trip. So appologies for the lack of blog and photos.

Going to see some Tango this evening!

One more blog, and then we'll be home!

Monday, April 30, 2007

La Serena and Valparaiso

Originally uploaded by theslaad.
Our bus journey to La Serena was nice and comfortable. Lots of leg room and the luxury of tarmac roads, meant that the 12 hours went by quite quickly. We didn't arrive in La Serena until nearly midnight though, so we were glad that the hotel we'd chosen was still open and that they had a room. La Punto Hostel, is the nicest place we've stayed in ages. The room had actually been thought about and it was really pretty with our own little outside area. They also included a good breakfast in the price.
La Serena itself was quite a nice town, some interesting old style buildings mixed in with some very modern shops. Chile is far more developed than Peru and Bolivia. We had a look around a little craft market and went to visit the archeological museum. We mostly wanted to go there so that we could see their Moai, it's too expensive to fly to Easter Island, so that was quite a good find. They also had more dead people, which seems to be obligatory in Chilean museums, and a couple of completely disgusting shrunken heads! We also went for a walk around their pretty Japanese garden, which had some tranquil water features and some nice ducks.
For our second day in La Serena we took a walk to the coast. Unfortunately we are approaching winter time, and the weather wasn't really conducive to sunbathing. But it was a nice walk and made a change from all the high up places we've been recently. There wasn't much to see along the seaside, except for a lighthouse (which was quite tacky).

On Saturday we took another long bus ride, this time to Valparaiso. Chile is a long country and that makes for long bus rides, but it was another comfy journey. Valparaiso is by the coast but most of it's houses are up on the hills and as such it has 15 acensors or funicular railways, to get people up and down. We stayed the night in a rubbish hostel and then spent Sunday (or funicular fun day sunday, as we liked to call it) going up and down the ascensors. Again, it was a grey day, but it was still fun. Although, we weren't really convinced of the structural security of the railways.
Valparaiso is a funny town. It had some really beautiful buildings, but also a lot of horrible areas that had never been cleaned up or fixed. There were lots of tramps and stray dogs but also cool murals and interesting funiculars. Once we'd had enough of the funiculars we took a shortish bus ride to Santiago.

Santiago seems like an okay kind of capital city. It's pretty modern, but also has interesting old stuff to look at. We're spending today having a look around and then going up a hill to see the giant Mary tomorrow (it's very catholic around here!).

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Into Chile

Originally uploaded by theslaad.
We spent quite a long time waiting in our bus at immigration, but then went through smoothly and drove to San Pedro de Atacama, a village on the edge of the Atacma desert - the driest place in the world! We had some lunch with Stu and Mark and then found ourselves a hotel. The prices were a bit high after Bolivia, but we were expecting it.

Yesterday we had a look around some nice artisan shops, and I got a cool copper necklace. We also went to the museum. Because the desert is so dry, it preserves everything really well, so there were some gross skeletons to look at, with bits of skin and hair still attached. It was really disgusting.

Last night we had a very exciting time looking through a Frenchman's large telescopes. The Atacama is one of the best places in the world for looking at the night sky, so this Frenchman has set up a good business letting tourists use his telescopes. We looked at the moon, and were able to take a photo through the telescope. He explained lots of things to us and we looked at some other stars and nebulae. The coolest thing was looking at Saturn. It was as though someone had stuck one of those glow-in-the-dark stickers onto the end of the telescope. It was unbelievable.

We caught a bus today to Antofagasta, which is a bit of a dump, but has a decent internet connection. We've got a 12 hour bus journey tomorrow to La Serena, where we'll be on the coast again.

Salar De Uyuni Trip - Days Two & Three

Originally uploaded by theslaad.
We had a surprisingly good night's sleep in our salt bed. It was quite comfy and we were snug in our sleeping bags with blankets on top. We got up at 5am for breakfast before driving back out to the salt flats to see the sunrise. It was really quite cold, but worth it for the array of colours. The sky around the sun was oranges and yellows, and opposite, the mountains were pinks, reds and purples. We also had a lot of fun with our unbelievably long shadows!
Unfortunately from that point the trip went significantly downhill. We'd read some bad things about the trip, but they mostly involved the cold and bad, irresponsible drivers. They didn't mention the very long drives on very bumpy ground. Luckily we'd done our stint on the back seat on the day of the smooth salt flats so were a bit more comfortable than those on the back seat, but even so, it was dusty and quite boring. We had a look at a volcano and then drove to various lakes where flamingos like to hang out. It's quite cool, because they're not that pink because there's not so much of the algae in those waters that makes them go pink.
Sometime after lunch we had our second flat tyre. Fortunately, the jeep carries two spares, so we were quickly on our way to the weird rocks. They have been shaped by the wind and sand into some odd shapes.The most famous of which is supposed to look like a tree. Our last sight of the day was the Laguna Colorada. The Laguna was a quite impressive reddish brown colour, but by that time of the day it was freezing cold so we didn't want to look at it for long.
Our hotel for that night wasn't great. We were in a dorm room together and you had to leave the relative warmth of the building to got to the bathroom. We played more cards until we thought the electricity was going to be turned off (9pm) and then were warm in our sleeping bags with balnkets again.

It was another early start so that we could get to the geysers for sunrise. It was horrible though because there was no electricity, so we had to do everything by torch light.
Our driver had done his best to fix the tyre that had gone the day before so we had a spare to put on when a tyre fell off as we were driving along. Luckily we weren't going very fast because our clutch wasn't working and we couldn't get above 2nd gear!!
The geysers were nice and steamy but it was stupidly cold at almost 5000 metres. The plan was to go on to the natural hot baths but our car just wasn't road worthy. We lost another tyre about 500 metres after the geysers, and with no spares left we were stuck in the freezing cold desert until someone else drove past. We were just about to drive on the rim when another jeep came along and kindly lent us their spare. It was hilarious because their tyre had tread, so it almost didn't fit our crappy jeep.
Not much further along, another tyre went and we were starting to worry that we wouldn't reach the border in time, as the buses only go between 10am and 11am. After that there's no way across. Luckily another jeep lent us a tyre and rather than visiting the hot baths we drove straight to the border with a quick stop off at the Laguna Verde, which wasn't very green but did have nice mountain reflections in it.

We made it to the border without losing any more tyres and caught a bus to Chile. Tom, Vicky and Peter were headed back to Uyuni so went in some different jeeps, but we couldn't believe it when our driver managed to 'fix' the tyres and put a new load of people in the jeep for a tour back in the other direction! We hope they made it, but doubt they did.
On that note, there were some crosses in the salt flats where a group of Argentinians had got lost during the rainy season and then when they broke down had tried to walk out but never made it. The crosses were really close to the edge.

So all in all we wouldn't recommend the salar trip to anyone past the first day, which was great. The companies in Uyuni have lowered their prices so much that they can't keep their vehicles maintained properly, and their drivers get two pounds a day. We tipped him big because we felt so bad for him having to drive such a rubbish vehicle and get on his hands and knees constantly to keep it running.

Salar De Uyuni Trip - Day One

Originally uploaded by theslaad.
Last Thursday we took a bus from Potosi to Uyuni. Bolivia is such a barren country. There was some spectacular rock formations and colours, but no people for almost the entire 6 hour journey. There were lots of animals though - llamas, donkeys, etc. It was quite a bumpy journey as there wasn't any tarmac on the roads, but we got to Uyuni on time and in one piece.
There are a huge number of companies in Uyuni who offer the same salt flats tour so we went to a place run by a gringo, who ranks them all from customer feedback forms. Having got a list of six or so good companies (in theory), we booked up a three day, two night trip to take us across the salt flats, into the national park and then into Chile.
Friday morning, filled up with a nice breakfast of American pancakes, we arrived at the company to find a man arguing a lot with the owner. A while later a jeep finally arrived to take us on our trip. We found out that the arguing man was a photographer on government business and had been put onto our trip because of a cock up organising him a private trip. So instead of an almost comfortable six people in the jeep, we were to have seven. It was quite a tight squeeze on the back row.
We had some nice people to share the jeep with. Tom and Vicky from England, Stu and Mark from Oz, but living in Edinburgh, and Peter the photographer from Bolivia and Chile and Germany and Canada!
Our first day was amazing. The first site was the train graveyard, just outside of the town. Lots of rusting old trains to look at. After that we came to a small village. The people who live there are the only people allowed to mine the salt from the flats. They dig it up into little piles and then put their initials on the top so that they know which family it belongs to. The village wasn't very interesting, but a llama did spit at Chris, which was very mean.
Next stop was the salt hotel. It's no longer allowed for people to stay on the salt flats in this hotel, but you can look at the tables etc made from salt. On the way to the Isla Incahuasi, we had to stop so that the driver could change our tyre. We were actually quite pleased because the salt flats are so beautiful, and in that particular area there were lots of hexagonal formations covering the surface. We had to keep reminding ourselves throughout the trip that it was salt, and not snow or ice.
The Incahuasi island was extremely cool, with giant cacti growing all over it. Apparently the tallest one is 12metres. We had some llama steaks and quinoa for lunch and then played around with the camera trying to get good pictures due to the lack of perspective. It almost worked!
That was the end of our sightseeing for the day and we drove along the lovely smooth salt to our hotel. We were very lucky (probably beacuse of our govenment photographer) and were the only people staying in the salt hotel just beyond the salt flats. It was fun. Everything was made from blocks of salt, beds, tables, seats, walls etc.
Whilst we were having a cup of tea and biscuits or a beer the young girl that lived in the hotel hinted heavily that she wanted up to play basketball, so a few of us went outside and played with them. It was good fun. I was on the Chica team, who won! We had a small advantage of not having beers in our hands and the little girls did employ some tickling and grabbing tactics. Basketball is quite hard work at 3800m. After dinner we played some cards and then went outside to look at the amazing sky. With very little light pollution we could see heaps of stars and an Incan Giant Llama in the milky way.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Originally uploaded by theslaad.
We are currently in the highest city in the world - Potosi! It's at 4100m, making it pretty short on oxygen, which combined with the lovely fumes from all the old buses, makes it quite tricky to breathe. Potosi used to be the third richest city in the world, but is now just another poor Bolivian city with some pretty colonial buildings. The reason for all the wealth was the Cerro Ricco (Rich Mountain). One day, back in the early 1500s a llama farmer was a bit chilly and lit a fire on the side of the mountain. Imagine his surprise when molten silver came out! After this the city's population swelled to 160,000 and around nine million miners were killed over the three centuries that silver was mined here.

Many tourists visit the mines, which are now tin mines, but I really didn't fancy spending a couple of hours stuck in small tunnels, surorunded by arsenic fumes and watching young people working. It's a sad city.

The Cerro Rico dominates the sky line of Potosi and is a formidable presence. We wanted to vist the old mint, but it had strange opening hours and weird rules about being in tour groups, so we didn't bother. We did climb up an old, beautiful tower though, which gave us good views acros the city.

Tommorow we will get a bus to Uyuni. From there we will hopefully be going on a four day salt flats trip and ending up in Chile.

Monday, April 16, 2007


Originally uploaded by theslaad.
This morning we left the fake capital of Bolivia and flew to the real capital – Sucre. It was only a 45 minute flight but we didn’t really fancy the 16 hour bus ride that was the alternative. Bolivians aren’t the best drivers in the world, and the buses are quite small. We not only flew, but flew first class! The plane was full for days, with the only seats available being nice first class ones so we paid ten quid extra and had a comfy fast flight. We are mostly following the tourist route in Bolivia. Starting in La Paz and ending up at the salt flats, with Sucre and Potosi in between to break up the journey.

Sucre is a pretty little city with lots of nice white buildings, but the main attraction is the dinosaur footprints. Ten years ago or so, in a limestone quarry/cement factory the workers found some footprints which palaeontologists later identified as being over 5000 dinosaur prints. It was lucky that in that area of the quarry they had found magnesium so hadn’t excavated it and destroyed the footprints which are all the way along a one and half kilometre long wall.
To get to see them we took the Dino Truck, a glorified taxi with a plastic dinosaur on the front! It used to be the case that the truck drove you past the footprints, but nowadays there’s a visitor centre which keeps you a fair distance away in order to preserve them. The visitor centre, Cretaceous Park, was quite fun. We had a guide to tell us about all the different dinosaurs that used to live in the area and so left footprints. There were also some nice life sized fibreglass models.
It was quite cheesy, but fun to see the world’s largest collection of dinosaur footprints!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The World´s Most Dangerous Road

Originally uploaded by theslaad.
On Thursday we got the bus from Puno to La Paz. This interesting journey involved first travelling to the Peru/Bolivia border where we had to get out of the bus, go though immigration and then walk 300m up the road. Very smooth and well organised though. Back on the bus to Copacabana in Boliva, where I had a delicious chilli con carne. Then we had to get onto a different and altogether inferior bus, where our luggage was thrown onto the roof and then we were packed into tiny seats. About an hour or so later, the bus stopped and the driver informed us that we´d have to get off the bus and onto a boat, while the bus would get on a bigger boat. Well, this worked well enough and we watched the bus come in to the other side on it´s barge. Another couple of hours later and we were in La Paz and being ripped off by taxi drivers (it happens).

Yesterday I rode a mountain bike down the World´s Most Dangerous Road (WMDR), previously called the Death Road. The WMDR decends from 4700m to 1200m over the course of 64km. It hugs the side of the mountains with drops of up to a kilometer to one side, and no safety barriers.
Apparently only 12 cyclists have been killed there in the last 4.5 years, which isn´t bad as it´s one of the top things to do in Bolivia. I´ve no idea how many cars/busses have gone over the edge. The road is no longer used by motor vehicles as a new road with tarmac and safety barriers has been built to replace the existing one.
We arrived at the top of the pass at 4700m and got sorted out with our bikes and kit. I´ve never ridden such an expensive bike. It had nifty things like full supension and hydraulic disc brakes and stuff. Needless to say, at 8:30am at that altitude it was pretty chilly. The first 27ks of our ride were a gentle downhill on proper road past the cocaine smuggling checkpoint and the toll booths for the WMDR (3$ per bike). Got up some pretty good speed on this section. We then, at about 3400m, had a couple of uphill sections, which at that altitude are no fun at all. After a rest and a snack we got on to the gravel section. This is where the WMDR starts properly. We then got to cycle downhill for 42km on rough gravelly paths by the side of the cliff, through streams, under waterfalls and down into the blistering heat of the rainforest. It was pretty hairy at times trying to keep up with the guides, but I only locked the back wheel once, and that was round a left hand bend so I wouldn´t have died anyway...
There was only one real crash, and that was when Matt our Kiwi guide went over his handlebars trying (unsucessfully) to avoid a four year old kid running out in front of him. He´d only just been telling us how he hadn´t had a crash on this route. He won´t be able to tell anyone else that...
At the bottom we had hot showers and beer in a little rainforest resort place with monkeys and macaws and gibbons, before getting the bus back up the new road to La Paz, which took about as long as riding down did.

Today, we´ve been looking around the markets in La Paz. In theory you never need to go into a shop as everything you might want to buy is available on the street. Particularly interesting was the Witches Market where you could buy such delights as dead Llama foetuses. Nice.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Lake Titicaca

Originally uploaded by theslaad.
We said adios to our lovely hostel owners and caught a train on Monday from Cusco to Puno. It was another Perurail affair, and wasn't too bad a journey. The rails were a bit bumpy at times and very bumpy at others but we didn't have any delays or anything and arrived in Puno on schedule at six in the evening. Peru is very sparsley populated from Cusco to Puno. We saw a few mud houses, the odd donkey, llama, pig and cow and lots of dogs. There are loads of stray dogs in Peru. Chris & I got a bit sad about it the other day when we realised it's because the children who walk around in traditional dress so that tourists can take their photos, carry puppies with them, but when they get too big they just let them go stray. Poor little fellas.

We were quite lazy when we arrived in Puno and went with one of the people who was hanging around outside the train station. The hostel that she was advertising was one that we'd thought about going to, and was quite nice and cheap, so we did okay. We also booked a Lake tour and our bus tickets to La Paz, so she did quite well out of us!

Yesterday we got up early and caught a boat with 12 other people for our two day/one night tour of Lake Titicaca. Our first stop was one of the Uros Islands - Chumi. The Uros Islands are extremely cool as they are artificial and made from the totora reeds that grow on the lake. Whilst we were there, one of the locals told us about how they make and maintain their islands by piling more layers of reeds on top when needed. Chumi was seven years old and about a metre and a half thick. The people live on about 40 different islands and they have a mayor, a school and a health centre. Usually the people make their living from fishing but the women also make things to sell to the tourists. Our guide book was quite negative about them, but we thought they were great, and that if the people didn't try to sell things then they'd be crazy. We bought a little reed boat, and also went for a ride on one.

Our next stop was Amantini Island, which was a 3 hour boat ride away. We arrived at around one o'clock and were met by some members of local families that we would be staying with. Our host was a little old lady called Isedora and we followed her up the very steep and long path to her family's house. The walk was very tiring as we were at about 3,900m.
The house was, as we were expecting, pretty basic; no electricity, running water or inside toilet. We were served some lunch and then taken up to the island's stadium. There are six separate villages on the island and they had come together for a big Easter celebration. There were brass bands from all six villages playing different music at the same time whilst the locals danced in amazingly elaborate costumes and drank beer. We sat and watched for a while and then decided to try to find the main plaza. We'd got about half way when the little girl from our family came running after us and took us back to the festivities. We didn't have enough Spanish to explain what we were doing and that we weren't lost, so we followed her back. She kept a close eye on us until it was time to go back to the house for dinner.

When the sun went down the temperature plummeted and we were very cold in our little room. We wore all our clothes and sat around our one candle playing cards. At around 9 o'clock we ventured out to the toilet and were taken aback by the beautiful sky. We could see so many stars that it was difficult to make out the constellations!
As it was so cold that our bones hurt, we decided to go to bed and get warm under the six blankets. The rain pounded down on our tin roof all night and we were awoken early by a sheep.

After breakfast we took a few photos of our family. The little girl is so beautiful, but unfortunately not used to having her photo taken. I took two polaroids and gave them one as a present before we walked back down the hill to get our boat.

The last island on our tour was Taquile, an hour's boat ride from Amantini. Like Amantini, it was a real island with hills, so we had another long walk to the main plaza. Taquile has a cooperative system in place with regards to their handicrafts. They are all sold in the same place and they take turns in manning the shop. Like on Amantini the people dress in a very traditional way. On Taquile, if you are a married man you wear a red hat, if you are single, you wear a red and white hat. Married women wear red skirts, whereas unmarried women can wear more colours.
There was a festival going on here too, so we saw some more great costumes, including a little boy in a gorilla suit. In the main plaza there were lots of children trying to sell braclets. We had brought our pencils with us so gave them out to them, for which they were very grateful. Another member of our group had brought balloons and made them all balloon animals, they loved it. It's a great idea.

On our way back down to the boat there were various stalls. The last one that we came to was manned by a cheeky little boy. Chris was trying to take a photo through an arch, but the little boy kept sneaking in and asking for a tip to take his picture. We gave him a pencil!

The boat trip back was fine, we passed the Uros Islands again and then got back into Puno as it started to hail. Tomorrow we say adios to Peru as we get our bus across the border to La Paz.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Machu PIcchu

Originally uploaded by theslaad.
On Friday evening we caught a train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes. We’d spent the afternoon using the internet a bit and having dinner and got to the station a little early. That turned out to be a mistake as they didn’t let anyone past the station gates until about quarter of an hour before the train was due to leave. We then stood around in the cold for another hour waiting for an engine to pull the carriages. We could see our train, but we weren’t allowed on it. We finally got going at about nine o’clock and arrived in Aguas Calientes at 11pm. It was an odd train as only two carriages were designated backpacker carriages, all the rest were for locals. It seems to us that it’s not a very good way to organise your transport system especially since the only way from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes is by train. Peru rail have a huge monopoly over the tourists and so charge about 100 times what a bus would cost for the same distance.

We quickly found a hotel for the night in Aguas Calientes. It’s a funny village that seems to exist purely for tourists to catch the train. There are some hot springs around and a few shops, but it’s mostly hotels and restaurants. We paid 40 soles for our room for the night. The bus in the morning up to Machu Picchu cost 40 soles each! Nice bit of profiteering, as again your only other option is to walk up the mountain for three hours!

When we arrived at Machu Picchu we had a steep climb up to the watchman’s hut. Unfortunately we were a bit disappointed as we couldn’t see the ruins through all of the cloud that was surrounding us. But it turned out to be perfect. As we waited around the cloud slowly lifted to reveal the beautiful site that is Machu Picchu. The cloud stayed around for a bit longer on the mountain behind the ruins, but soon the sun came out and it was spectacular. We got some very cool photos and then walked down to the ruins themselves.

The craftsmanship on a lot of the buildings wasn’t quite as impressive as the Temple of the Sun at Pisac, but you could tell the important buildings as they had the straight edged large blocks and looked pretty amazing. The Incas were a hard working bunch of fellas, lifting all that rock around. We were wondering whether there was some kind of prestige involved in how big a piece of rock you got to work on.

There were some nice llamas hanging around the watchman’s hut, which gave the area a particularly Peruvian feel. We also met a chinchilla. He was a funny guy with a long tail who likes to live in the gaps in the rocks.

It’s a very expensive place to go but worth every penny. The ruins themselves are impressive, the sheer number of remaining buildings and the block work. But it’s the scenery that really makes it. The beautiful imposing mountains and the roaring Urubamba River make it a truly fantastic place to visit.

We spent most of the morning at the ruins and then headed back to the village where we had pizza at one of the many pizzerias and cooled off with a beer. The train back to Cusco was full days in advance so we could only go back as far as Ollantaytambo. The train left on time this time but did stop for forty minutes due to technical difficulties. When we arrived in Ollantaytambo we got a taxi with a Finnish girl who wanted to be back in Cusco quickly to catch a bus. At the last minute a Peruvian tour guide hopped in too, making it a cheap journey. It was quite good having him in the car as he told the driver to slow down a few times when the Finnish girl wanted to go quickly to catch her bus.

We arrived back in Cusco just after 8pm and headed back to our great hostel. The owners, Ludwig and Marita had cooked us a German roast dinner to come home to. It was delicious. Roast beef and elderberry sauce with potato dumplings and red cabbage and gravy. Yum! They are a lovely family and have looked after us very well. Their little two and a half year old Fiona is very cute. We played with her for a while too, but she’s not sure if she likes Chris and is sometimes a bit mean to him in Spanish.

Today is Easter Sunday and we hope everyone is having a good bank holiday weekend. They don’t do Easter Eggs around here but we do plan on buying some chocolate later.

Tomorrow we catch a train to Puno and Lake Titicaca – the highest navigable lake in the world!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Our own Inca Trail

Originally uploaded by theslaad.
As we were unable to walk the Inca trail in the end we decided to get to Machu Picchu via our own Inca ruins trail. The majority of people get there via the train from Cusco, and head back on the same day, but if you do that then you are arriving with hundreds of other people, and we fancied getting there a bit before the train. So we started our journey on Wednesday.
We got up in the morning, left the majority of our stuff in our nice hostel and caught the local bus to Pisac. The journey was quite nice down from Cusco into the Sacred Valley along the Urubamba River. It took us about an hour and we arrived in Pisac in the late morning. It was a bit hard to find somewhere to stay as we didn’t have a map of the village, but we eventually found somewhere on the main plaza, which was rather overpriced but nice enough. If you take a sacred valley day tour from Cusco they bring you on a Pisac market day, Wednesday not being one of these days, we were surprised to find a huge market in the main plaza. We spent quite a long time having a look around at the nice crafts and fabrics and then had some lunch before making our way to the Incan ruins.
We had decided to get a taxi up to the ruins and then walk back down again. Pisac only gets a paragraph in our guide book, so we weren’t really sure what this would entail, but it seemed like a fun plan. The taxi took us up the mountain to the highest part of ruins where we could see a few huts and things. We walked around to where we could see some nice terracing and a small ruined area of houses. We then walked along a ridge to the next part of ruins which was a military area. It was really beautiful walking around as we were up in the mountains and there was a Peruvian man playing his flute, the sound from which carried all across the valley. It was quite haunting.
The walk to the next area was a little dangerous, with huge drops to the sides of the steps that we had to climb. Apparently a German fell and died four months ago. We also squeezed ourselves through a tunnel in the rock before coming to the Temple of the Sun. This was an incredible collection of buildings which had been constructed with very large blocks of stone. It was all very straight and well crafted. It was very impressive and looked a bit like a mini Machu Picchu. After this we looked down on another set of ruins before making our way down the mountain back to Pisac.
If you ask Chris, this was a cool walk with lots of fun steps to go down and rocks to hop on, but I on the other hand thought that it was a bit scary and quite dangerous! My legs hurt quite a lot the next day from going down all the steps, but it was quite cool to make our own way back. At one point we could hear voices, and as we came around a corner there was a group of Peruvian ladies who wanted to sell us water and woven belts. We gave them a bit of change so that we could take a photo and then carried on with our walk. A while later one of them came zooming past us, obviously more used to the terrain than us.
Pisac is a far cry from Cusco, with hardly any tourists there in the evening. When we were trying to find somewhere to eat, all the restaurants were full of locals watching a football match. We attempted to use the internet, but it was the first place we’ve come across on our whole journey that didn’t have broadband, so we didn’t bother doing very much.
The next morning (an advertised market day) the market had grown and there were bus loads of tourists walking around bargaining for alpaca wool hats and the like. Chris bought a poncho for his new gathering character and then we caught a taxi to our next destination – Ollantaytambo.

Ollantaytambo is another small village that gets taken in on the day tour from Cusco. It is nestled between the mountains and has some very cool ruins to explore. On one side of the village are some old grain houses quite high up on the mountainside, next to which is a giant face that has been carved out of the rock. The Incas were quite amazing.
On the other side of the village is the fortress, which we decided to leave until today to explore as yesterday there were too many tourists and the light wasn’t very good for photos.

Unfortunately this morning it was pretty cloudy and rainy, so we waited around looking at the craft stalls for a little while. When it didn’t really show any sign of clearing we decided just to go in to the ruins. It was a steep climb up the steps next to the terraces before we reached the cool walls and doorways that we have began to recognize as being typically Incan. The fortress was one of the last Incan strongholds against the conquistadors and was very nice to visit.

For lunch we went to a café recommended to us by a Dutch couple that we met in our hostel. It is run by a 76 year old English lady who moved to Peru four years ago and lives out in one of the small villages nearby. The café has only been open for three weeks and she is giving all of her profits to the women and children of the village she lives in and five other villages. She has set up a kindergarten and a home for abused women and children. A very commendable and cool thing to do with ones retirement.

This evening we are catching the extortionate train to Aguas Calientes where we can get an extortionate bus early in the morning tomorrow to Machu Picchu.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Inca ruins around Cusco

Originally uploaded by theslaad.
For the first time in forever, I actually felt quite well today, so Chris & I decided to explore a bit further afield and take a look at some of the Inca ruins that are close to Cusco.
We walked to get a bus but were stopped by some collectivo people before we got there, so took that instead. It's a weird way to travel though, you have to sit and wait in the taxi until there are 5 passengers, making it quite cosy on the backseat. The taxi dropped us at Tambo Machay, a spring shrine with ceremonial water fountains. It was quite pretty, with some nice arches.

After there we walked across the road to Puka Pukara (The Red Fort). This ruin was probably a kind of post house where travellers stayed temporarily. It was pretty cool, with lots of levels to explore and the odd alpaca wandering around.
The next site was a 6km walk across country. We could have taken a bus or walked along the road, but as I was feeling quite well we thought it would be nice to have a walk. It wasn't very clear where to go, but we did a good job of following horse hoof prints. We passed through some nice fields containing cows and pigs and sheep, jumped over a few streams and eventually found our way to Q'enqo.

Q'enqo is a weird carved rock. The Incas used to sacrifice llamas there to predict the next year's fortune at the Winter solstice. From Q'enqo we walked along to the Cristo Blanco (The Jesus). You can see him from in town and the views from him were really good. He had mad starring eyes though, which were a bit scary. There was a nice alpaca hanging around near him that we managed to get a photo of before a little girl in traditional costume came to get him and ask the tourists for money for photographs.

Our final ruin was Sacsayhuaman. We had just arrived at the site and climbed over a ditch as the rain started. It got heavier and heavier, and turned to hail so we took shelter under a rock and waited for it to stop. But it didn't, so we decided not to look around and to get a taxi back down to Cusco instead of walking.

We warmed up in a nice cafe where we had some late lunch and then went back to the hostal.

Friday, March 30, 2007


Originally uploaded by theslaad.
OK, so it´s been a week since the last blog, but honestly we haven´t done that much...
Cusco is a really nice place literally built right on top of an old Incan town. A number of the buildings have the original Incan stone work for the first few feet, and the bricks they used were not uniform. There are also lots of impressive old collonial buildings, and houses built up the sides of the hills.
Unfortunaltely, Jen at some point contracted salmonella. We visited the doctor on our 2nd day here and he prescribed some drugs to fight it. When Jen was feeling worse 4 days later and we went back to the clinic they decided to keep her in and administer the antibiotics intravenously. She´s still there now, 3 days on, but she should be able to go home tomorrow. She´s feeling pretty much better except for a bit of a stomach ache.
The hospital is actually not that bad. All the needles and things come from steralised bags, her private room has a spare bed that I can sleep in, the room has cable TV, there´s a great view from the window and they´ve sorted all our insurance stuff out for us.
The owner of our Hostel´s wife and 3 year old daughter came to the hospital last night to visit Jen wich was an unexpected and lovely surprise.

We were due to walk the Inca trail tomorrow, so obviously that´s out, but we´ll still be able to take the train to Machu Picchu in a few days when Jen´s fit and well again. We´d allowed plenty of time in Cusco, and we´ve gained 3 days from not doing the trek so aside from the walk (which Jen was never that keen on) we´re not missing out on anything.

Fingers crossed that they let Jen home tomorrow!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Road to Cusco

Originally uploaded by theslaad.
Our bus to Cusco from Nasca was supposed to be a 14 hour journey, leaving at 11pm and arriving at 1pm the following day. We booked some comfy seats and hoped that we would have a relatively hassle free journey. The guide book recommends not to take night buses as there are high instances of theft while you sleep, but we knew from when we caught the bus from Lima that the Cruz de Sur company films everyone getting on, and we knew there'd only be 9 people in our section.

It was not, however, a very hassle free journey!
The seats were comfy enough, but the road was very windy and uphill so there were lots of gear changing jerks. We managed to get some sleep but did feel quite motion sick. That turned out to be the least of our worries!
We woke up at about 9am to find that we were stationary. There had been a lot of rain and it looked as though a river had burst it's banks, turning the road into a bit of a river. It was okay though, as we manged to cross the water eventually.
A couple of hours later we came around a corner to find lorries parked along the side of the road. The bus driver kept going, but soon we were reversing to join the quene of staionary traffic. There was an announcement, but our spanish isn't yet good enough to understand what was said, but we did catch the word mañana (tomorrow), which is never a good sign. We sat around a bit, a few people got off the bus, and there were quite a few locals milling around.
After half an hour or so of waiting we went to find out what was going on. It turned out that there had been a huge rockfall which had completely blocked the road, and at best it would be cleared by the next day.
The concept of spending that long on the bus without any food didn't really appeal so we took the offer of a taxi from a local guy by the bus. The guys carried our rucksacks down past all of the parked traffic and over the rockfall where we gave them a few soles for their trouble and got into a taxi which we thought would take us to Cusco - another 3 or 4 hours away.

Around 3 or 4 minutes down the road we were stopped by the police who were in the process of retrieving a lorry from a ditch with a worn out rope and another truck. They told the passengers in the boot to get out and we squeezed past that little mishap. Once we were out of sight of hte police, the guys jumped back into the boot and we were on our way.

Until, 5 minutes later we encountered a mudslide, which was blocking the road. We had to abandon our taxi and take our things around the road, over a kind of verge to the other side of the slide where there were more taxis waiting. As you might expect, the verge was very slippery and we both fell over. I went down on my butt, and Chris broke his fall nicely on his rucksack.
We piled a lot of people into the car, three in the boot with our muddy rucksacks, and carried on with our journey.

This time we managed around half an hour before we had to get another taxi. We had thought that we were being taken all of the way to Cusco, but the driver just wanted to go to the next village where we were dropping off most people. We then had to wait around for our next taxi to fill up with passengers. Despite the obvious illegality, the car isn't full until there's someone in the boot!

Luckily, this taxi did take us all the way to Cusco. There were many more rockfalls to negotiate, but they only took up half the road, so we could still pass. The driver was a maniac though, and we occassionally feared for our lives when on the wrong side of the road going around a corner at 60kmph.

We arrived in Cusco at about 5pm, with very sore legs from being squashed into the back of the taxi, but glad to finally be at our destination. The git of a taxi driver wouldn't take us all the way into town though and ushered us into yet another taxi for our hotel. We were quite cross when we found out that it was in easy walking distance, but too tired and thirsty to care.

We stayed our first night in a charity hotel called Hotel Niños. It was nice, buit we didn't have our own bathroom, so this morning we moved ot a lovelly place for 40% of the price called Hotel Frankenstein, which is also nearer town. It's a very homely hotel, you can use their kitchen and living room, where there'a a nice wood burning fire. We have to negotiate our way around their pet Iguana - Martin in the mornings as he sits at the top of the stairs where there is the most sun.

Cusco seems very nice. We've spent today wandering around a bit. Have already bought a few things, and we're thinking that we are going to buy an extra bag! I've got a nice hat to keep my ears warm, as it gets pretty chilly up hear at an altitude of 3500m, it also makes it a bit tricky to breathe. But we should acclimatise in a few days.