I am now 34 years old – how did that happen? When I began my travels back in Oct 2010 I was a spritely 30 year old, naïve to the wonders of the world; where did all that time go?Well f*c k the aging because we are now in Chile and this badboy is loooooooong, 4,300km to be exact, covering half of the length of the South American continent and we will travel down its skinny arse shape taking in Christmas and New Year until we reach the ‘bottom of the world’ – well the most southerly city in the world and maybe a little beyond that.
By the time we left Peru we had completed 38 days, the most time we had spent in one country since Guatemala, 6 countries ago and we both agreed that it was time to move on. However, Peru will go down as a great country to visit and probably the best so far in terms of the sheer amount of activities on offer, diverse geographies to visit and interesting culture and history to boot.
Leaving the ancient Inca capital Cusco and Wonder of the World Machu Picchu behind we began our descent south and moved onto Puno, which sits pretty on the banks of the infamous Lake Titicaca, the highest lake in the world.We were here purely for the lake and had little interest in the town itself which worked out well because it was a completely underwhelming place and had little in terms of tourist attractions – people come here only for the lake.
Feeling a little lazy as well as wanting to be in and out as quickly as possible we organised our 2 day and 1 night tour of the lake through our hostel, something we would never usually do because why pay the middleman for doing nothing?
Given that this trip would leave us little time to sort out our exit bus we also left this to our hostel and he annoyingly took us for an $8 commission and put us on the hottest, smelliest bus known to Peruvian man. Guess who gets a bad TripAdvisor review?
We knew that we had made a mistake letting our hostel book the trip as soon as we boarded the boat. We will always do our best to avoid the ‘tourist’ trips and DIY it because apart from being cheaper the experience will always be a little more authentic and personal.We hadn’t been sitting on the boat for more than 2 minutes when a one man band jumped on board, played/sang 2 songs before taking his hat off for tips. Annoying!
What else was annoying were some of the members of our group. As mentioned in my previous post myself and AJ are now diagnosed sufferers of Misanthrope – a general hatred of people – so imagine our discomfort at finding a boat full of 16 holidaymakers, not backpackers (only 1), holidaymakers!!
Now I try not to generalise when it comes to nationalities because I have been fortunate enough to now meet people from all over the world and can call a lot of them friends but the French people on this tour were too much (sorry Clem and Ludo). We had the 2 old hippies that stunk, smoked, drank (at 10am), refused to say ‘Hola’ solely ‘Bonjour’ and generally dictated how the trip should run and we had the wealthy single child family, who were arrogant and rude and the daughter who was approximately 19yrs old had criminally hairy legs – get some manners, stop traveling on mummy and daddy’s money (actually, why? Free holidays, sweet), shave your legs and smile, it won’t kill you!!
All of the French also insisted on speaking over the guide so that nobody else could hear him – it’s just not cricket.
There were some cool people on the boat as well.
Holidaying couples from the UK and Aus were good guys but the most interesting were an elderly couple from the US who have travelled all over the world and the bloke was a retired Glacial Geologist – now that is a job! He pretty much spent 25 years on a glacier in Alaska and rose to the forefront of glacial study and their current rates of recession.
He was a very interesting man to talk to.
So to the tour, which should have been called, ‘You are a gringo, therefore a cash cow’.Lake Titicaca is an awesome place to visit. It covers 8,400 square kilometres (about half the size of Yorkshire), is the highest in the world at 3,808 metres and is bordered by Peru and Bolivia (of which we could see its string of 6,000 metre plus peaks acting as a natural barrier in the far distance).
There are a number of islands, both natural and man-made within the lake and all are inhabited by the native Indians, the Aymara and Quechua.
First up we visited the floating island of Uros. During the advancement of the warlike Collas and Incas hundreds of years ago the local population to escape persecution fled into the lake and built their own islands made from the cutting and binding together of the reed beds and then covering this floating base with a thick mattress of reeds. Upon this they were then able to build their new homes and community with the islands requiring a fresh bed of reeds only every couple of months as the previous ones rotted and slowly made their way down into the lake from whence they came.
It is rumoured that the people don’t actually live on Uros anymore but don their traditional clothing and take a boat over the island each day in the name of tourism and commercialism. No matter what you may think of these people, they are very astute and very good business people.
This part of the tour consisted of a demonstration of how the island is built, complete with dolls and a thatched dolls house (the French spoke and some just got up and walked off), we got to look inside the ‘homes’, of course there were a few market stalls and then there was the added bonus of taking a ride on a traditional reed boat – at an additional cost of course.
We were already fully committed so we just went with it.
The boat dropped us off on another part of the island (it was quite a large place) and we were gutted to find a small thatched hostel and restaurant with absolutely no other guests. If we’d have known this is what we would’ve done – no people, not commercialism and no financial p*ss taking.F*ck me, have I turned into a 34yr old grump??
Next up was the island of Amanati, located 3 hours away in the wider open part of the lake and home to the Quechua people. Here we left the group and headed to our homestay for the afternoon and night where we lodged with a young married couple and their 3yr old son.This part of the trip was well worth it because we had no choice but to practice our Spanish and were pleasantly surprised that we could hold conversation for long periods at a time. We have definitely come a long way in terms of our language skills but we still have so much more to learn.
There were a couple of things that we didn’t like about the homestay:
1) The family wouldn’t share the dining table with us which was a little uncomfortable. Instead they sat virtually on the floor around a little homemade table and looked up at us
2) During lunch they laid their knitted goods out on the table and looked expectedly at the cash cows to purchase their overpriced handicrafts. Being completely weak and resigned to our roles as rich westerners we parted with some cash and I got some much needed gloves whilst Arancha bought yet another beanie and yet another scarf!
Late afternoon we were once again reunited with the group as we climbed to the pinnacle of the island at 4,300 metres to watch the sunset over the mountains, the islands and the lake and very nice it was indeed. Our ‘mum’ walked us to the meeting point and along the way spun her money making yarn using a traditional spinning top in exactly the same way as her people and Inca’s did hundreds of years ago before her – I found this fascinating and very cool indeed.
The evening was all about dressing up in traditional Quechua clothing and attending a dance at the local community hall.
There was a local band playing (for tips) to accompany the dancing and it was fun, especially watching our host dance with us looking uninspired and fed of doing the same sh*t each week.
It was deemed good manners to offer to buy our host a drink so of course he accepted and chose the most expensive thing on the list!
Our actual bedroom was beautiful compared to many we have had and the views out across the island to the lake waters were topped only by the bedazzled starry night sky.
The next morning after breakfast it was time say our goodbyes to the family and head back to the boat but there was still time for one last financial extraction.The day before our mum gave us a bottle of water each for the walk up to the sunset viewpoint and so when offered a bottle of water as we left on this morning I graciously accepted.
It got a little awkward when I took it and then she stood there with her hand held out and all went silent. It then became apparent that this wasn’t a nice gesture, she wanted paying and of course there was a commission on top – after all why would you buy it and sell it as cost price?
So I handed over the cash and it proceeded to get a little more awkward when she then said “y dos ayer”, “and 2 yesterday”. Now that was sneaky! She literally handed us those bottles and said nothing at all about payment the day before!
We just laughed, shook our heads and paid the woman.
Sensible business people.
|Don't trust those innocent faces|
A 2.5 hour ride later saw up back into Puno, pleased to be back on our own and ready to leave on an early morning bus to Arequipa.
Arequipa is billed as a smaller Cusco, and whilst nowhere near as interesting a place to visit it does have a charm and likeability to it. The central plaza is certainly pleasing to the eye but it is the backdrop of huge 2 volcanoes, lurking a little too close for comfort and viewable above the roof of the cathedral that captures your attention.
As eluded to earlier, our bus trip to Arequipa was not the best but apart from sweating and not wanting to touch anything with your bare hands (and we had another pukey kid near to us – why us?) it was interesting journey.
A) There were the 2 bogan Aussies (Australian for chavvy) who were really nice but one of them (we called her Kath) had the saggiest tits I have ever seen and without a bra on and top that didn’t completely cover her midrift got onto her tiptoes and reached up to open the roof hatch right in front of me – I didn’t want to look but both I and Arancha couldn’t help but stare to see if they really were going to flop out and slap me in the face. I am not sure if it is fortunate or unfortunate that they didn’t.
B) The route we took is known for the smuggling of contraband from Bolivia. We are only talking about clothing etc but the authorities are completely on the ball when it comes to the locals trying to sneak it back through from the border. At the checkpoint I could see the police unloading the bags so I went down to make sure nothing happened to ours. On the way down the stairs a local handed me a couple of bags and asked me to take and put them on my seat – obviously I dropped them immediately and told her to do one; dodgy biatch. She could’ve handed me anything!
It turns out she was a suspected smuggler and I watched with a lot of discomfort as both her and her daughter were roughly manhandled and all of their personal belongings were emptied out onto the floor and tossed about in the dust. It wasn’t so much this that bothered me but the daughter’s screaming and distress. In the end they were allowed back onto the bus but I have no idea what happened to the bags that I was asked to hold!!
We were in Arequipa as a base to travel to the Colca Canyon before returning for a final stopover before heading down to Chile.We really didn’t do a lot with our 2 nights here apart from sort out a route to and a place to stay in the canyon and to relax in our cushdy hostel.
We were staying at our third Flying Dog Hostel (Lima, Cusco & Arequipa) and this particular one was probably the best hostel I have ever stayed in in terms quality. Our private room could have easily been a dorm room for 10, the secure walled building was based around adjoining European style courtyards and as for the attaching bar it was exactly how I would have my bar if I ever settle down and have a house big enough for one.
We were heading to the Colca Canyon for only one reason – to see Andean Condors in the wild. We took a bus out past the volcanoes and into the rocky world of the canyons to the town of Chivay, based at the start of the canyon.
From here we had to kill a couple of hours waiting for our next bus to take us along the length of the Colca Canyon to the village of Cabanaconde.
Whilst waiting for the bus we had a bite to eat at a local café and I ordered a tea with my sandwich which came as a cup of hot water with a teabag on the side. Quite unconsciously I took the teabag, put it into my pocket for later and produced my own sachet of coffee and used that instead, and with that I unwittingly turned into my grandparents!!
It was dark and cold by the time we reached our destination but all was good once we entered the Pachamama Hostel. Opening the door we were hit by the warmth and cosiness of a front room / pizza restaurant that just invited you in. The food here was excellent and we dined heartily on llama every night – stir-fried and on pizza. Yummy!We choose to stay in Cabanaconde because it was a damn sight closer to Cruz Del Condor (the viewpoint) than Chivay. It was either catch a 4:30am bus from Chivay or a 6:30am bus from Cabanaconde – no contest.
Therefore, at 7:30am the next morning we got off the bus in the blazing sun to a view that was spectacular enough even if we did not see a condor. Colca Canyon is 1.3km from top to bottom at its deepest and Cruz Del Condor was sitting at a point close to this looking out over a vertical drop to the valley way below and across to the highest points of the canyon, high enough to hold glaciers!
There were only a few other backpackers when we arrived as the tours groups usually show up between 8pm – 8:30am but I was not surprised to find a friend perched on the side of the cliff. Backpackers whilst not following the same routes do have the same locations on their list so we expect to run into to people now and again and it was very nice to run into Martina who we last saw as we each embarked upon our own Galapagos Island adventures!
We took advantage of our early arrival to join Martina on what we deemed to be the best spot overlooking the canyon and proceeded to wait and wait for a sighting of this bird as more and more tour groups arrived.
Then we waited and waited some more and the same tours groups then left.
After that we waited a little longer because we literally had nothing else to do, so why not wait and see?
Also whilst waiting Arancha turned to me and exclaimed that it is a shame that the Condor plane no longer flies and did I remember them?
I turned to her and said that I didn’t, what were they?
She explained that they were luxurious, long and had a pointy nose that slanted downwards.
Oh, Concorde, why didn’t you say?
General viewing time is deemed to be between 7am and 10am and at approximately 9:30am Arancha spotted the first Condor as it glided about 20 metres below where we were perched. There is no other word than majestic to describe it passing below us so effortlessly on the currents of air.
Soon after another one joined the party and they both drifted below and above us warming themselves up in the morning sun. Unbelievably our faith in seeing a condor and choosing our spot based on feeling paid dividends as 10 metres in front of us both of the condors came in to land onto a rocky outcrop. We couldn’t have chosen a better spot but we were now well aware of a mass of people crowding at our backs and although we weren’t worried about being pushed over the edge, it could’ve happened – especially if some of the French Titicaca crew were there!
Coincidently one of the guys from that trip (Swiss, not French) had turned up and was sat next to Arancha.
For 10 minutes these 2 perfect specimens perched and took in their surroundings, namely a throng of weird creatures standing on 2 legs holding a variety of black boxes and as they took to the air all you could here was click, click, click, click, click……
We decided to walk back to the village we meant we had the added bonus and taking in our surroundings for a further 3 hours as we slowly made our way home. Apart from another English couple there was absolutely nobody else about – we had the canyon, an Andean Fox, a Vascacha (a bit like a rabbit with a long tail) and a further 5 condors all to ourselves.
During both of our nights in Cabanaconde we spent our time with a really nice German couple who both grew up in East Germany and were 30 yrs old when the Wall came down. They were the first (previously) East Germans that we have ever met so we made sure to ask all about how it was and of course what they thought of David Hasselhoff bringing down the Wall singlehandedly. They actually hung their heads in shame at this. Ha ha!
Back to Arequipa for a single night we timed it just right to take the evening tour around the Satan Catalina Monastery, labelled as a ‘city within a city’.
This still functioning monastery is massive and has a museum, restaurant and café within its walls but under the moonlit sky with few other visitors about it was all about the ambience and atmosphere for us.
I have no qualms saying that if I was alive during the 1700’s I would’ve lied and said that I was a believer to ensure that I could have lived here. All of its squares and streets were beautifully built and decorated with frescos and plants, each area was coloured differently from red, to orange to blue and as for the living quarters of each nun they had a bedroom, a room for prayer and reflection as well as a decent open aired kitchen all of which were lit for us with candlelight and fire – it was full on spooky.
Also in the museum there was one piece that could’ve easily saved Peru’s poor – this golden crucifix was set with an uncountable number of diamonds and precious stones.
And that was that, Peru was done. Peru is the perfect country for a holiday if you are thinking of taking one – you could do something completely different every day if you wished and we still missed out the Amazon jungle part!!
Catching the bus to the border town of Tacna was easy enough once we got by the anal security guard who insisted on checking each bag by making everybody untie everything to then only put a hand once in and out of the bag. This was too much for Arancha and she nearly toppled the table as she snatched her bag back at this completely futile exercise. It was funny to watch.Crossing the border was easy as usual and even better was that our first Chilean town was only a 20 minute drive away by bus.
And so we were in Chile.
Our first town of Arica was a sleepy beachside town which absolutely stunk with little to offer other than a place to relax. The reason for the stench was that the bin men had been on strike for over a month and the rotting piles of rubbish were now constantly being circulated by an unnerving amount of vultures.
Our chosen hostel never received our emails but based upon the complete lack of organisation displayed by Roy the Kiwi in our brief time of meeting one another it is quite possible that he deleted them by mistake.
He did give us a catchphrase that we have been scoffing at ever since when we exclaimed surprise at the price of a hostel room. He simply said ‘welcome to the first world’, which we found a little snobby and also amusing because to date Chile might be first world in terms of cost but certainly not in terms of infrastructure, development and litter.
To be fair to Roy though he did sort us out a room to stay at a neighbours place and so we got to stay at the ‘End of the Trail Hostal’ with US / Chilean couple Franklin and Rose.
This felt more like a homestay than a hostel and it was, we were sleeping in the room next to the owners and when the guest bathroom was occupied they let me use their en-suite.
Rose was always singing and amusing herself as she tottered about the house and Franklin was always talking – to us. Once he even came into our room and talked to us for 30 minutes non-stop about this and that.
Franklin was a retired avalanche specialist from Utah (odd that I have met a glacial geologist and avalanche specialist in such a short time) and also a Vietnam vet – so he was racist. He told us how he spent his 21st birthday in Sydney because he couldn’t stand to look at any more slanty eyed women!
“Vietnam, Japan, China, Korea, they’ve all got slanty eyes!”
Apart from the racism he was a nice guy but he was a little intense and looked me right in the eye as he told me with no enthusiasm at all that he had been sober for 22 years. Great achievement Franklin but have a drink mate, you seem like you need it!
My favourite thing about Franklin was that he required a knee transplant so his leg flapped as he walked, hence I named him Flapping Franklin. It takes longer to say but it is worth it because it amuses me.
Arica really didn’t have much to offer us and all we did of note was to look around the small town and walk along the shore line to an outcrop where the much rougher part of the Pacific Ocean came crashing into the rocks with super force.
There were 3 Chilean sisters sharing our hostel with us and 1 of the older sisters was a bit of a character. I haven’t had so many kisses and cuddles since my aunty Chris used to plant big sloppy ones on me as a child and when she started talking about ‘sexo’ and ‘juice’ in the same sentence in Spanish I was glad that I didn’t understand; but it was being compared to a young Jesus Christ that did it for me and then using her thumb to make the sign of a cross on my forehead that took it way too far!
We moved 4 hours down the coast to the beach resort of Iquique and spent precisely 21.5 hours here. It wasn’t that it was a bad place, far from it, the streets were really oldy-worldy and made me feel like I was strutting down the street in a western movie and the place definitely had a vibe to it, I have never seen so many people packed onto a beach before. Check out the pic below of the beach at 6pm on a Sunday evening.
Actually that is a good thing about Chile. Crossing the border from Peru lost us 2 hours with the time difference but this loss in time means that we can now enjoy later and lighter nights as the sun now sets at approx 8:30pm.
The journey to the town of San Pedro De Atacama was a long one and served in confirming that there really isn’t a lot to the north of Chile, it is dry and dusty and not that pretty. What it lacks for in aesthetically pleasing views it does make up for in drama as we drove down the coastline for 3 hours before heading inland and for these entire 3 hours the road was flanked on one side by mountains and the ocean on the other – there were no beaches and towns, only rocks and sea.Once we had travelled inland for a further 3 hours the environment began to change and for the better. Although only on its fringes we were now entering the land of the Atacama Desert, the driest place on the planet where it is believed that some areas have not seen the rain for over 1 million years. The Atacama is so hostile that in some parts there is no life at all, not even bacteria can survive.
Unfortunately we were not going into the heart of the desert, where we would be going there would be no shortage of life – tourists, and a lot of them. Queue the cold shivers.
For an hour approaching San Pedro the landscape altered from rocky canyons to flat, long stretches of nothingness before rising up out of the earth to form huge volcanos that straddled the border with Bolivia, whilst ever changing in colour and form as the sun set over the altiplanaca. From the luxury of the bus window we even got to see our first mirage as the shadows cast under the long light of the now disappearing sun created what appeared to be a vast shimmering lake when in reality it was still the barren sandy ground.
San Pedro De Atacama was a little dusty but green oasis in the desert and it was packed full of people hoping to experience their own piece of the aether.
We found ourselves a little hostel close to the town centre (that being one main street and a small shaded plaza) and were immediately not very keen on our ‘landlord’. In short, he was a knob.
He had broken his leg so spent all of his time in a wheelchair and so declared that usually we would get breakfast with the price of our room but as he needed to rest we wouldn’t be at this time. Also when I was leaving the kitchen he watched me leave and then stopped me to point out I had left the light on. Obviously I returned to turn it off and then watched him wheel to the kitchen door, stand up, walk in and turn the light on!!
2 days later I asked him for a roll of toilet paper and he got a little edgy that we had used 1 whole roll in 2.5 days between the 2 of us and exclaimed that if we wanted anymore we would need to pay for it! I tried to tell him in Spanish that this was ridiculous but my growing annoyance saw me stutter and splutter like a flid.
The room was $36 per night with no breakfast – I expect free toilet paper!!
We left earlier than we planned to and found another place to stay so his frugality bit him back on his fat and lazy arse.
As this was my birthday week we decided to make sure that we had plenty on and to leave this place having done it justice. So this is how our 6 days in San Pedro De Atacama and the surrounding areas panned out:
· Astronomy tour – my aim had been to always attend an observation session of the night sky in the Atacama Desert, after all this area is the best in the world when it comes to astronomy. Unfortunately for us we didn’t get to experience the best. We were on some dude’s roof on the outskirts of town where the lights of a passing car would temporarily blind us and the neighbours outdoor light was on – obviously light pollution is just what we are after when viewing the stars! Also those pesky tourists were all around us so we actually had to queue to use each of the 2 telescopes! Tut tut.
On top of all of this we didn’t even really see that much. We only saw Venus, a star cluster and a nebula on the belt of Orion – stuff we have seen before when we did it in much more impressive style in Western Australia.
The highlight of the evening was looking up into the sky and seeing a shooting star. Unbelievably we were the only 2 people to see it as the rest were engrossed in what the guide had to say even though what he did say was all scripted on his i-pad.
· Altiplacanas tour – this trip was about exploring the lakes and vast planes of this region. First up were the toxic saline Laguna de Chaxa, home to 3 species of flamingo and here we had our early morning breakfast as we watched scores of flamingos do the same.
Next up was the town of Socaire, a small place relying on agriculture and where the churches were built with the steeple as a separate entity because according to Catholicism the steeple representing a penis and the church hall representing a vagina could not be locked in unison – it would be a sin. Aaaggghhh, stupid idiots!
After this we visited the stunning twin lakes of Miscanti and Miniques which were simply delicious. The pics can show what I can’t explain – simple raw beauty at its best.
· It was now my birthday and so we had the day planned out to ensure that it would be a good one and it would begin at 4:30am with a trip out to the highest Geysers in the world.
With a start I woke up at 6:15am because like a dick I have forgotten to set the alarm! Happy Birthday to me!!
I won’t lie, I was not in the best mood for the first 2 hours of my ‘special’ day but Arancha’s pressies and postcard for a card did cheer me up; thanks again. It was also nice to open my parent’s card which I had been carrying around for 10 months and even nicer to find some cash in it. Cheers!
Anyway, it all turned out for the best in the end and probably better than it otherwise would have.
After visiting the agent and explaining that we were divs we rearranged the Geyser tour and brought forward the Salar De Atacama tour to that afternoon and so at 4pm on my birthday began our exploration of the salt lakes.
The scenery here was breath-taking, a world set in pastel shades and the salt flats lent themselves perfectly to perspective photos and our sense of acting the fool.
Following a short swim in a natural waterhole we then got to try out the salt lakes which ensured that my birthday would be remembered. The Cejar Laguna was the same as the Dead Sea ie. we could lie in the water and float. The buoyancy was so great that I was able to lie back with my hands in my pockets and relaxingly take in my surroundings and contemplate life. The result was that life is good!
We rinsed ourselves off with fresh water and then were treated to sunset snacks and Pisco Sours as the guide played some traditional Andean music which all added to the atmospheric nature of the evening. AJ graciously told the guide that it was my birthday so I got to drink more Pisco than the rest which obviously was not an issue.
The rest of my birthday evening was spent with Arancha and Christian, our friend from the Quilotoa Loop trek and fateful and superb Mama Negra Festival in Ecuador when we got ourselves completely annihilated. He just happened to be in town so along with an American random we drank a lot and to then just top it off we walked out into the desert to ‘La Playa’ (The Beach) to enjoy a late night drink with the locals in their secret meeting place.
Christian also introduced us to his new friend that he brought with him from Bolivia – a llama foetus. Apparently if you bury it under your house it will bring you good luck but all I could see and smell is that it will ensure you always get a hostel dormitory to yourself.
All in all my birthday may not have started as planned but it turned out to be a brilliant day and I would not have changed anything about it – therefore, it was a success. Roll on 35!
· Finally we made it to the Tatio Geysers, a hotbed of steaming volcanic activity located 2 hours from the town out in the desert. In order to witness the highest concentration eruptions and activity we needed to get there by 6:30am which meant fighting the -10 degree temperatures and of course making the 4:30am alarm call!
I honestly do not know what we have done wrong but for the third time we had the vomiting traveller next to us. This time it was a fat loser who tried to control his sickness by chanting “Oy, oy, oy, oy, oy” over and over until it was too much and he spewed into a carrier bag! Why us?????
The geysers were interesting to see and standing as close as possible to the huge clouds of steaming spewing into the air, not unlike the fat tourist, was a fab way to alleviate some of the cold that was threatening to take my toes from me.
Breakfast was somewhat of a disappointment though; surely with all of that boiling water why not boil us some eggs??
So that was our time in San Pedro De Atacama and the Atacama Desert and it was now time to return to the coast and keep heading south and south some more.