POTOSI TO UYUNI AND THE SALT FLATS

August 6, 2012

A day’s bus ride across the altiplano to Uyuni – dry, dusty and windy – and cold.  (We were still above 12000ft).  Uyuni is the home of a famous ‘train cemetery’.  The British built a railway here and established a communication centre but there are no coal reserves in the country and trains were too expensive to run!  So all these old derelict engines and carriages lie  here in a huge area of waste land. 

From here we headed away for three days in four-wheel drive vehicles for an enthralling trip across the salt plains, the largest in the world.  The scenery was surreal.  It was really weird believing that the salt was not actually snow.  The locals harvest it, but in a really primitive way – shovels and wheel barrows.  We watched a guy sitting beside a pile of salt pouring it by hand into plastic bags and then sealing them with a flame-thrower!  That’s what it looked like anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are ‘salt hotels’ on the plain – we stayed in two.  Again surreal – even the tables and chairs were made of salt blocks.  Hot showers though, in proper bathrooms.  Guess dissolving would be a problem otherwise…..

Our first lunch stop was at Fish Island – covered in huge cactus plants. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The plains are surrounded by volcanoes – on our second day we climbed about halfway up one.  Some are still active, and after we left the plains on the third day there was a lot of thermal activity in the mountain area we passed through.  It snowed on our last night, and was pretty cold, but the scenery next day was incredible.  We passed several lakes, one red with an algae – very photogenic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And almost to the end.  From the salt plains, through the mountains, across the border into Chile and then down and down to San Pedro and the Atacama Desert, again a huge contrast in scenery. The preciousness of water and how it makes the difference between life and death has never come home to me so much.  Never have I been anywhere so arid.  Wind-blown streets and adobe buildings, with next to no colour at all.

It has its own beauty though, with amazing rock formations, and the sunsets over the mountains utterly beautiful.

 

And so home.  It was a magnificent trip – challenging, packed with experiences I thought were beyond me, and with good companions who appreciated the same things as myself.  What more could one ask?

RURRENABAQUE, CHALALAN JUNGLE LODGE AND POTOSI

August 5, 2012

An hour by air from La Paz to Rurrenabaque – again a swift descent to lovely oxygen.  Hard to know what to pack and what to leave – it was good not having to cart all our gear everywhere, but easy to mis-calculate. The La Paz hotel was beginning to feel a bit like home – the staff were great, accommodating our left luggage, holding laundry etc.  A different room each time though – I think I slept in four.  A bit confusing, especially when rolling home after a late dinner  (my room mate usually didn’t join us – she was a non-drinker).  She was also paranoid about security, so I had to hammer on the door to be let in several times.  No such thing as two keys for a room!  Relations between the two of us became a bit strained at times.  I think I’m pretty easy to get on with am I not?  And I wasn’t the only one staying out late!

Rurrenabaque is a small pleasant town on the banks of – oops, I’ve forgotten which river.  A hard case airport – the officials wandered out onto the runway when the plane was due, sporting unbrellas for shade from the sun (which was very hot). One guy went by bicycle.  

Anyway, the river eventually flows into the Amazon somewhere a long way down stream.  We went up-stream, in a long-boat powered by an outboard motoer – five hours, and an enthralling trip. 

It was quite exciting, with lots of rapids to traverse, and plenty to see on the banks – birds of all sorts, and a weird animal called a capybara – sort of a rodent but quite large.

We stayed at the Chalan Jungle lodge, in the Madidi National Park – quite primitive – cold showers, although that didn’t matter as it was pretty hot and steamy anyway.  A lovely lake, with piranahs and caiman (they said it was safe for swimming, but nobody was game to try).  We went fishing for piranah – got lots of bites but nobody actually caught one.  The night expeditions were magic – on the lake in a canoe, still and quiet, then fleshing out tarantulas from their nests on the way home.  We saw a huge flock? herd? of howler monkeys swinging through the trees just on sunset, as well as wonderful flashes of colour from macaws. 

And then it was back down the river, a night at Rurrenabaque (karaoke!) and back to La Paz.  Again.

 

 

 

 

Next morning we flew to Sucre, the actual capital of Bolivia.  Didn’t see much of the city, as we were met at the airport and whisked away for a day tramp along ANOTHER Inca trail.  These tracks are quite marvellous – beautifully formed (although the steps are high and hard on the knees).  Marvellous geological formations seen here.  We crawled inside an amazing cave formation way above a river gorge – exciting stuff.

From Sucre it was a bus ride to Potosi, and the silver mountain.  More like a silver honeycomb.  The mountain is just riddled with tunnels and if ever a disaster was waiting to happen, this is it.  It’s all privatised and there are few controls.  Big companies take the profits. The miners work under appalling conditions.  Life expectancy is short – if they don’t die in an accident they rapidly develop lung diseases.  They expect at least one accident a day.

We were kitted out in overalls and helmets, and were taken inside one of the tunnels.  I didn’t enjoy it at all.  Sooner or later the whole shemozzle will collapse and kill hundreds.

LA PAZ AND THE EL CHORO TREK

August 5, 2012

We came and went from La Paz several times, and I loved exploring this city and getting to know it better.  The markets were extensive, and more for the people than for tourists.  Not much English spoken, so getting around was a challenge.  Also there were a lot of ups and downs, and at that altitude it took a lot of puff.  Still, I was improving all the time!

After a couple of day tramps we headed off for 3 days on the El Choro trek, which I thoroughly enjoyed (it was mostly down hill!)  We started at about 5000m and descended an old Inca trail through spectacular mountain landscape into cloud forest and then jungle – hot and steamy but with plenty of lovely oxygen.  We stayed at a jungle refuge/resort where there were rescued animals – macaws, toucans, a couple of specatacled bears, heaps of monkeys and even an ocelot – a large pussy cat with beautiful markings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three of us took up the challenge of zip-lining.  This involved three separate rides at top speed on high wires – like a flying fox, but higher, longer and faster!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We came back to La Paz on the so-called “Death Road” – mainly used by suicidal cyclists now, since a new highway was recently built.  It was here that 100 people were killed when a flat-bed truck left the road and fell into the canyon in 1986.  (We didn’t know this until later).  Someone commented that they had noticed the bald tyres on our bus, but didn’t like to say anything at the time…..

Back to La Paz, and three intrepid souls attempted to climb Huayna Potosi (6088m) and supposedly a straight forward climb for fit trampers. It isn’t.  They were kitted out in full climbing gear, with crampons and ice axes, and roped to a guide each.  With all the extra weight they found it hard to walk, let alone climb, and all gave up within a few hours of leaving the last hut.  It was brave of them to even try – I think I would have managed the climbing technicalities okay, but the altitude had me beat before we even thought of starting.  Three of us opted out immediately, and spent a pleasant couple of days back at Copacabana, on Lake Titicaca.  We visited Isla Del Sol and did some nice gentle walks.

 Next – the Amazon Basin and the jungle  trip..

LAKE TITICACA AND LA PAZ

August 4, 2012

Still having trouble with this blog site!  I feel pretty dumb. can anyone suggest a more simple site to operate?

Not to worry – on we go.  After Ausungate we had time for some more conventional site-seeing – not so strenuous although equally amazing.  Our base for lake Titicaca was Puno – quite a laid-back town, very touristy but in a pleasant way.  We had a full day on the lake, visiting the floating reed islands,  Taquile Island, and Santa Maria on the peninsula.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The reed islands were fascinating.  People still live there but today their living is mostly from tourism.  However, they did display life as it was for the early inhabitants who were forced off-shore by invaders.  The reeds have to be constantly renewed and it seems a very precarious existence!

 

Taquile Island was a couple of hour’s boat ride, with a climb to the village near the top, where there was a religious festival in progress, everyone in colourful costumes with all the whistles and bells.  It is interesting to see how the Indians have embraced christianity while still retaining their own beliefs, customs and rituals.  The weaving and textile arts of this island were fascinatng.

At Santa Maria we were entertained with a pachamanca meal – cooked in an underground oven, very like a Maori hangi at home (but not as good – the food was very dry).

At Puno we said goodbye to three of our members who had to return to work, leaving five of us with guide Eileen, to carry on to Bolivia.  The border crossing was hectic with tousands of people milling everywhere, but we were lucky to have our local guide find us quickly and get us through with no bother.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bus ride to La Paz was fascinating, crossing the alteplano with a stop halfway to view more pre Inca ruins.  La Paz (at 3660m) is dizzying.  It is a massive city, dry as dust with buildings basically all the same colour – but when you get into the streets it is quite different.  I managed to get lost one afternoon – it was a bit scary for a while but I eventually found my way back to the hotel, in time to stop them sending out a search party.

The surrounding mountains are spectacular.

 

Our hotel was right in the middle of town, and the day after our arrival there was a massive parade – religous again – where I think the whole population turned out.  There were endless colourfully dressed groups, all dancing their way to the accompaniment of VERY loud music provided by more colourfully dressed musicians.  Scaffolding seats lined the streets and the crowds were enormous.  They continued all night, and until midday the next day, when I think most must have collapsed from exhaustion.  The mess they left behind was also enormous, but was cleaned up amazingly quickly.

 

We had a day trek to the Valley of Souls – incredible landscape sculptured in the rocks by the annual rains (Nov, Dec).  For the rest of the year it is totally arid and the dryness has to be seen to be believed.

Next time – more of La Paz, and the El Choro trek.

LAKE TITICACA AND LA PAZ

August 4, 2012

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MT AUSUNGATE TREK

July 31, 2012

Some of you have had trouble viewing photos on last post – not sure what the problem is, but I don’t like this site much – the drafts never look like the finished post!   Captions get lost or misplaced – maybe I’m just not very good at this. However, here goes again.

The Ausungate (pronounced Ow-sun-gart-ay) trek was the most challenging but also the most rewarding thing I have ever done.  It involved 5 days of high altitude tramping, right round the mountain with 4 passes up to and over 5000m (over 16000ft).  The mountain itself is 6384m (almost 21000ft).  The camps were also high, and VERY cold at night.  My sleeping bag was barely adequate and I slept with all my clothes on, plus my down jacket one night (minus 20, they told us.)  But the scenery was just magnificent, and the bonus was, hardly any other tourists.  Lots of local Indian families, subsistence living at its most raw.  Lots of Llamas and alpacas, and we also saw vicunas and,viscachas (a bit like rabbits).

We also had the benefit of a local guide, horses and horsemen to carry our main packs, as well as a first class cook (same one as on the Inca trail). And a spare horse, which some us us slower walkers took advantage of.  His name was Colin, and I have to admit I appreciated his strength when it came to my turn on some of the harder uphill bits!

There was even a toilet tent this time – a vast improvement on the Inca Trail toilets.  It all sounds very luxurious, but I can tell you, it wasn’t easy!  On the last night we luxuriated in a hot pool, temperatures well below freezing when we emerged!

So here is a selection of the pics – hope you can access them!  Next, Lake Titicaca and Bolivia. 

 

   

  

   

HOME AT LAST!

July 30, 2012

Well, it’s been a while – sorry about that!  One week at home after South America and then straight off to a cruise around Australia – what a contrast.  I  arrived home last Saturday and am not relishing the cold weather much.  However Spring must be just around the corner…..

I think we were in Cuzco when I gave up – and no pics posted, so here are a few to recap.  First, penguins at Paracas, where there were more birds than I have ever seen before – the rocks were just covered, and the sky full (needed to keep our hats on).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then the Chauchilla cemetery, with mumified figures from pre-Inca civilisations.  It’s so dry in these parts that preservation is pretty well eternal. 

And so to Arequipa and white water rafting – never tried it before and what an awesome sxperience.  I emerged intact, including teeth and specs, so all was well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were advised to chew coca leaves and     drink coca tea to help adjust to the altitude  – you can see I didn’t find them very palatable and didn’t repeat the exercise…

The tame eagle was another interesting experience – he was incredibly heavy too.

On the way to start of the Inca Trail we viewed several Inca sites, as well as a valley where salt is processed from deposits from a natural spring.  Each family has its own small pond and all the work is done by hand, as it has been since pre-Inca times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so to the Inca Trail. It was a real challenge – very demanding physically, but more so because there were  just too many people.  Toilet facilities were stretched to beyond capacity and hygiene was questionable, with most of us catching lurgies – but the scenery was marvellous.  The altitude slowed us all down, especially on the grind up to Dead Woman’s Pass – named because it’s supposed to look like a dead woman from a distance – depends on one’s imagination.  I felt like a dead woman on top – the trail is well made, but the stone steps are high and it was a real effort pushing up each one.  Just as bad coming down, as the height of the steps meant the knees took a lot of strain.  Most of us had two walking poles – something I would highly recommend.  I’ve never used two before but they were certainly a big help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

                            First camp                                                                                                                Steps up to Dead Woman’s Pass

                                                                                                    Descending to Macchu Pichu

 

Exhausted woman on Dead Woman’s Pass!

 

 

 

 

 

                    Descending to Macchu Pichu                                                                                    Sun Gate, above Macchu Pichu

 

 

 

 

 

 

                             View of Macchu Puchu                                                                                                                   Macchu Pichu

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                        Macchu Pichu                                                                                                                         Macchu Pichu

Hope you enjoy the pictures – I’ve got heaps more!  Next Blog – the best trek of the whole trip – the Asungate Trail!

Giving Up!

May 18, 2012

Friday 18th May

Sorry everyone, but writing blogs is virtually impossible!  I keep losing drafts, and can’t manage to upload photos.  Plus which I just don’t have time to really get into it.  We are having a fabulous time, it’s full on.  So much to see and do, and just exhausted at night, especially at this altitude (In Cuzco at the moment, higther than Mt Cook).  We start the Inca Trail tomorrow.  I am in good form, and managing to keep up  in spite of being the granny of the group.

Fabulous food – will probably come home tons heavier.  Have been white water rafting, swimming in hot pools, hiked into the deepest canyon in the world….no time to describe it all but am loving the country and the people.   Have decided that the best thing to do is keep my journal in WORD and then transfer it to the blog with pics when I get home to the bigger computer.  So that’s the plan for the moment.  Might manage the odd message but don’t count on it.

Cheersand love to all,

j

GRRRRRR

May 14, 2012

Sorry – I just typed a whole page and then lost it!  Am now running out of time so better luck next time – might be a few days as we are hiking into a canyon tomorrow and out the next day –  looking for condors.

Watch this space. 

PERU

May 13, 2012

Well, this is my third attempt in the last three days and I keep losing the drafts each time.   Maybe if I publish quickly I´ll do better.

To recap – we had a good flight, long and boring but made bearable by good food, good service and good movies.  I met up with the rest of the crew as we progressed – three men, all about my vintage (Chris, Leo and Robert), and four other women, younger and all single (Yvonne, Jo, Sharon and Nikki).  All nice folks and I think we´ll get along okay.

Lima is a huge city (10 million people), drab, noisy and somewhat seedy.  Mad drivers everywhere.  We did a tour of the highlights on Friday morning – cathedral and catacombs and ´love park´)  principally. The latter so named for it´s evocative statue…. better than Dunedin´s teeth I must say.

After lunch it was a long bus drive through desert along the Pacific coast to Paracas.  Saturday morning was amazing – a tour to the World Heritage site of the islands off Paracas, teeming with birds, pelicans, boobies, cormarants, tern and penguins.  The islands are volcanic and I´ve never seen so many birds.  Quite an outstanding tour.

The afternoon drive included a tour of the winery where pisco used for the famed pisco sour drink is made – including sampling, so the rest of the drive was painless!

And so to Nazca, and this morning an early flight over the famous Nazca Lines – acres and acres of amazing line drawings on the desert floor – pretty much unexplained.

I´m using the hotel computer at the moment as I only have one power adapter and it´s in use charging my camera battery at the moment.  Can´t upload any photos yet and not sure if I´ll be able to – it didn´t work yesterday.  My cell phone doesn´t work here either so not having much luck with electronics.  Things can only improve.

Weather is marvellous – temps in the mid twenties, dry and sunny.  Tonight we go by night bus up into the mountains.  Am running out of time so will try and publish this.  Fingers crossed!