Monday, August 28, 2006

La Paz: Valley of the Moon.

Jaguar having lunch.

Today we went to the zoo. Yes, we all have the combined mental age of a toddler. It was good, plenty of Jaguars and Puma´s looking well hard. Bit of pity these amazing hunting beasts being locked up in a titchy cage, but crackin´to see. Some fun monkeys too.

After we were done oggling at the animals we went quad biking. Behind the zoo was a really large area of waste ground in which you could hire and ride around like mad fools, so on we hopped. It all seemed a little below board - zero instruction, next to zero safety measures and a cash in hand job, but it was fantasticly good! Maximum speed for the day was 56km/h which was pretty fast, particulary when you´ve got a screaming girl flapping in your ears. Lovelly-jubbly.

Me cruisin´.

Em looking hard (I jumped out the way in time, just).

After the 4-wheeled fun we when into the Valley of the Moon, named because it looks like your on the moon. Some very strange volcanic rock formations kicking around. As she had done a Geography degree, I asked Marie-T for a explanation of their formation, I got two answers: "Acid rain" and "Giants with picks". Tuition fees well spent then. Looked like giant termite mounds if you ask me.

La Paz: The World´s Most Dangerous Road

After another short bus journey, we hit La Paz. Although not technically Bolivia´s capital (which is Sucre) it may as well be, being the largest city by far. As you approach the city you can´t really see it - you roll along the high Andean plains and then suddenly there´s a huge canyon in which the city is built; a very strange view to see. Some of the houses at the sides of the canyon are nearly built on a vertical, its madness.

One of Bolivia´s most famous tourist attractions is "The World´s Most Dangerous Road". Pretty self-explanatory really. Since Em has been here (a little longer than me) she´s seen in the news about a bus that fell off the side, killing all the occupants. Very sad really. At points, there is a 400 metre vertical drop off the side of it as it drops from 4800 metres to 1100 metres over 64kms. Naturally, we had to ride down it on a bike.

Me saluting at a million miles an hour.

I´ve done a bit of mountain biking before, but I´ve never gone so far downhill on such an expensive bike (worth $2,500). It was totally awesome. We all got suited and booted up in all the gear and just went "Wwweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!" downhill for about 4 hours. Lots of fun. For me, Leon and Em, but Marie-T bottled it 3 seconds in and sat in the van, which was probably more scary. Didn´t look that dangerous to me, but then I was on a skinny bike, not in a truck trying to pass another truck coming the other way. So the journey back in a jeep was more scary - thankfully we were on the inside of the drop and had right of way. Still a little scary mind.

Leon comically dismounting while skidding at speed.

Me and Leon being triumphant at the bottom caked in mud/dust/crap. The bikes had class suspension, but no mud-guards.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Peru: Conclusion

As it is my first international desination of this trip, I don´t really have much knowledge for comparison, but I can safely say that Peru is an excellent country. With massively varying environments and very warm and friendly locals wherever we´re been, it´s had a touch of class.

Emma being eaten by Amazonian wildlife.

The one negative point about this country is that the have a "building completion tax" which means that everyone builds stuff for a couple of stories and then sacks it off so that they don´t have to pay The Man. So you get loads of buildings, the vast majority in most smaller towns, that are unfinished, making the place look a bit shody.

While we were here they´ve had an election, re-electing a president who last time ran off to Japan with several million Soles (the Peruvian currency). So I hope he does better this time. Not often you get a good second shot at something like this. Peru is South America´s third biggest country and if the fella at the top gets it right, Peru could be even more marvellous than present. How delightful.

Lake Titicaca: Copacabana

Bolivia! The only landlocked country of the world to maintain a Navy! The naval base is apparently ran by 3 blokes who tend to play in the sand all day. Busy busy busy.

After the very easy task of the bordor crossing on a bus, we arrived in the town of Copacabana.

Copacabana; famous for music and dancing and all night romancing. Granted the song is about the beach resort in Brazil and not about the delightful but cold town on Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. But it should be! The one in Brazil is named in honour of this little town. As we were now in Bolivia I was expecting Copacabana to be far less developed then the places I´d seen in Peru, but I was thoroughly wrong - compared to Puno this place was Paris. A very picturesque little town.
Sunset from Copacabana.

We arrived on a Sunday - the tradition here is to bless you car every week outside the Cathedral by covering it in multicoloured crap made out of flowers, confetti and stuff, all very crazy. So your motor looks like a float from Mardy Gras afterwards. Hmm.
Us at the top of the Isla del Sol.

We hiked for 3 hours along the bonny coast and eventually got on a boat to the Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) where legend has it the first Inca´s were born out of the lake. All very fun and mystical. We spent a night on the island, exploring it fully the next day. A very beautiful place, with very few other tourist and paths, so there was some hardcore cross-country going down.

Sitting on the dock of the bay....

Lake Titicaca: Puno

After a 7 hour bus ride from Cuzco we arrived in Puno, a small "coastal" town on Lake Titicaca. From here we are to travel to Cobacabana in Bolivia (not the famous beach in Brazil). We had to wait a day for Marie-T and Leon to catch us up, so decided to explore the town. After much anticipation we approach the lake and you can only imagine the disappointment when we found that the lake only lives up to half its name. The distinct smell of raw sewage filled the nostrils around the little port. Shame, I was expecting a greater proportion of breasts to be honest. Can´t win ´em all.

Lake Titicaca is the world´s highest lake, lying at 3,800 metres. Some 290km long and 70km wide, its pretty big. May as well be a sea. Its very chilly, as I did think about unpacking my swimming shorts, can´t be as bad as the north sea in February. Yet to attempt a dip mind.

When the whole party was assembled we took a little boat trip out to some of the local islands. The first stop was at Los Uros after 1 hour, which is a set of floating island that a load of locals have lived on for ages after the Incas chased them off the land. It was totally wierd, the island is made up of layers and layers of reeds that grow in the shallow waters around the lake that the locals chop down and load onto the island quicker than they decay at the moment. It was like walking (and living for them) on a bouncy castle. Tons of fun. Speaking of which, I felt myself sinking in parts. Everything on this island was made out of reeds; boats, beds, houses, children. All very impressive.

Marie-T, Leon and Em on the floating island. I jumped off the bouncey castle ground to take the shot. Really.

The second island we got to was actually an island in the true sense of the word, but compared to the floaters it had nowt. I took about 2 more hours to get too and it ws just a bit of a tourist trap. Lots of locals trying to sell you tat, but still vaguely nice to look at. We were on a local taxi boat, so they hassled the gringo´s in big groups more than us, but a bit disappointing considering the magnificent setting. Only a 3 hour trip back. Yawn.

The ONLY shot of Tequile without the locals selling stuff and getting in the way.

Tomorrow: New horizons in the shape of Bolivia.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

No Hat, No Swim

After a day or two rest in which I surgically re-attached my snapped calfs, we booked a white water rafting trip with our 4 new Irish friends. Being the dry season at the moment, the water in some of the rivers can be dead low and therefore have more of a bumpy ride. The rafting scale is from 1, being pretty much still moving along slowly, to 5 which is proper-hardcore falling over Niagra Falls kind of thing. We were to do a 3 on the scale, so pretty fun but nowt ridiculous.

The Urabamba river starts life as part of a glacial and we joining it not far from its source so it was really really cold. The best way to keep warm was to give it stacks and paddle like a fool, which we all gladly did.

After about 2 and a half hours we finished totally exhausted and freezing, but luckily enough the activity centre where we were based had a sauna in which we thawed very slowly because it was a bit rubbish.

I´d never white water rafted before, but thoroughly enjoyed it. Plus I only vaguely fell in once. But only cos I was pushed. A fun day out for all the family!


Brilliant, awe-inspiring, breath-taking, finger-licking, mind-blowing, body-popping Inca fun. All very impressive. After the horrible touristville endured the previous night, I feared that Machupicchu might have succombed to the same fate. But all was good and was what it was cracked up to be.

This place was abandoned about 500 years ago, but re-discovered by a fella from Yale in 1917 (ish? not so good with the facts). Since then he nicked all the artifacts and the Peruvians are still waiting politely for some of them back. "Finders fee" indeed.

After our tour guide for the day didn´t turn up, we still managed to get in before the majority of the tourists arrived (it takes about 4000 a day), and managed to get in on another tour as well, so all was good.

The big mountain thats next to all the buildings is call Waynupicchu, and it doesn´t look that impressive on all the classic shots that most people see - it seems the perspective is all wrong or something. This things is huge and towers over the majority of the site - so naturally it had to be climbed. It takes about an hour to climb and both your calfs snap from the thousands of sheer steps, but it is well worth it. The view makes Machupicchu look tiny and rubbish. Definately the best part of the day. Lots of people who come don´t bother climbing it. They are all fools.

The view from Waynupicchu. All the grey crap on the picture is the walls and buildings of Machupicchu.

Very Che Guevara.

All in all the trek was spot on, but to finish on the last day with a trip to such a culturally superb place such as this, was awesome in the true sense of the word. It was so good even Mr and Mrs Jonny Loud-mouth and Sandra Talk-a-lot from Speaksville, Texas didn´t manage to ruin it. Bless them.

The Road to Machupicchu...

...or was it Mordor?

Over 4 days we trekked the Salkantay Trail - the most physical exhausting experience of my life. Bearing in mind that when I originally arrived in Cuzco (about 3500 metres) I got knackered walking down the street, on this trail we reached a maximum height of 4650 metres. Every single step at that height for me was a mile at sea-level - someone literally transplanted my legs with some fat tubes of lead overnight. To my disgrace Em was alright with it and shamefully beat me to the top. Damn.

Throughout the scenery was spot one, and it varied dramatically. From mountain glaciers and snowdrifts to tropical jungle to barren grasslands, all very impressive. And when the sun comes out at that altitude its proper George Michael whereas when it goes in, its well brass.

On the second night in jungle conditions myself, Jimmy (our guide) and 2 top Irish lads we met on the way had a match against some locals. Finished Europeans 3 -3 Peruvians at the close which we were happy to take as we were playing at altitude and hadn´t yet "jelled" as a team. Yours truly got 2 including a left foot volley. An absolute screamer.

Mam, close your eyes for the next 2 paragraghs.

At one point on the forth day we had to cross a river. Now in Peru this is no mean feat, even in the dry season. The method of getting across was more like an Alton Towers ride than a legitimate river-crossing. On first seeing the little basket run, I thought I had a better chance swimming, but then saw 2 crosses by the riverside where apparently 2 kids had drowned in the river recently. Hmm. Bit scared. Turned out alright in the end though, in spite of the amount of crap the locals load in there (anything from live chickens in bags to 5 humans at a time).

After our brief brush with death, we endured a further on-edge experience - a truck-ride through Satan´s lair. Basically, we got in a truck with ALL the people who´d spent the last hour coming across the river with us, and all their goods. So I was sat perched 3 metres from the ground on the side of a speeding vehicle with my arse resting souly on a piece of wood 2 inches wide. As we "cruised" through the jungle, you had to duck every now and then so as not to be hit in the face by branches. I seemed to learn this early on but Em got slapped in the face a few times by leaves - was highly amusing. It was a crazy experience, but I think it was worse for 3 french girls who you could only just see under all the aforementioned chickens-in-bags. They love there health and safety here.

Anywho. After walking for 3 more hours along a train line where only one train threatened a fast steely death, we arrived at our final desination, Aguas Caliantes. This town exists souly to house, feed and care for the thousands upon thousands of tourist that visit Machupicchu everyday. From here we were to get the bus up the hill the next morning. It was a shameful place, it looked like Disneyland. All the buildings looked to me constructed out of fibreglass and I fully expected a parade led by Mickey Mouse to pass me by. Not at all the Peru I had previously seen. The roads were paved and the buses were cleaned at least once a day for goodness sake! Madness.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Jungle Boogie

My bag arrived! What luxary. Only took 4 days and arrived 2o minutes before we got on another flight to begin our jungle adventure. We flew to a little town in the middle of the jungle called Puerto Maldonada, the flight took 25 minutes in which time you go from temperatures of about -3 degrees to about 30 degrees and from an altuitude of 3500m to 290m. Massive change of environment then, I instantly started sweating buckets and Em starts to glow (as I´m told that women don´t sweat, apparently).

After a bit of luck and a relatively quick boat ride (3 hours) we arrived at Picaflor, which is basically these huts in the jungle in the middle of nowhere. Laurel´s intention (the PhD lady who ran the place) is to show the locals how to live self-sufficently in the jungle so they don´t have to go hunting all the monkeys/pigs/rats/giraffes/polar bears for there tea. She had a delightful 2 year old who continuely amused us. He literally will grow up to be Tarzan.

Everyday we had to donate 3 hours of our precious time to "volunteer" which basically involved me and Em spending nearly 2 weeks building a rabbit hutch, which I cleverly named "Starsky". The wit roles on. I know what you thinking, my carpentry skills are second-to-none, and yes it kicked ass. As well as carpentry we had to pump water up 25m everyday for ages out of a hole in the ground so that the whole place could live. Hard work in the heat and you could understand why Pico (Laurel´s husband) had the same physique as King Kong. He was proper stacked. And I am too now. Sort of. Well, maybe not.

Apart from high quality woodwork, we spent our time stomping round the rainforest looking in vain for wildlife, swinging on vines, singing songs with "jungle" in the title and macheteing things(is that a word?). I´m a dab hand at machetes now. Anyone need something chopped up indiscreetly? Then I´m your man. We also drank the water you find in bamboo after having given it some good choppin´. That´s what the locals do.

We got on well, the jungle and me.

The boat ride back from Picaflor took 5 hours and we must have picked about 40 locals and about 3,000,000 tons of bananas, as all the locals were taking their crops to town to sell at the weekend market. It was ludicrous. But all them were chirpy - they literally live, drink and poo in this river. One lad was having a wee off the side while another lad was filling his water-bottle up about 3 metres down stream. Haha. So much for hygiene.

So after two weeks of jungle fun, we emerge back to civilisation. Back in Cusco now. It´s chilly. Have met up with Marie-T and Leon, my friends from home who me and Em went vaguely round Europe with last summer. They´ve been scooting round the world for ages (6 months) going in the opposite direction to us, check out their blog if you like: They´re heading kind of in the direction we are so we´ll be together for a few weeks at least.

Next port o´call is the Salkantay Trail which lasts 5 days, finishing with a day at Machu Picchu. Its kinda of like the famous Inca Trail, but more hardcore and less loud tourists. Should be fun. Its only me and Em and a guide hiking at close to 5000 metres across some Peruvian mountains, so will be very hard work - they take oxygen bottles just in case we collapse.