Travelling South America By Bus

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Apart from one flight from Manaus to Sao Paulo where we didn’t have a choice but to fly due to lack of road, we travelled around Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia solely by buses. We seemed to be the only people we spoke to that weren’t flying at all and people found it strange that we weren’t. We did so for three reasons – 1. It was so much cheaper than flying or getting the train. 2. Most of the time it saved on overnight accommodation  3. You actually get to see some of the country rather than flying through clouds. Seems pretty logical right?!

After taking 38 buses and a total of 372 hours on the road (a whole 15 days!) here is a guide to travelling in South America by bus. Duration and costs are estimates based on what we noted down at the time! Prices and currency conversions correct at time of writing. Prices shown in local currencies, US dollars and British Sterling.

Brazil

Sao Paulo to Belo Horizonte – 8 hours – 109 Brazilian Real/$34/£22

Belo Horizonte to Rio De Janeiro – 8 hours – 120 Brazilian Real/$36/£24

Rio De Janeiro to Paraty – 4/5 hours – 65 Brazilian Real/$20/£13

Paraty to São Paulo – 6 hours – 57 Brazilian Real/$17/£11

São Paulo to Foz Do Iguazu – 18 hours – 150 Brazilian Real/$47/£30

Tips on travelling by bus in Brazil:

– Most reputable bus companies are Itapemirim, Reunidas Paulista, Cometa, Expresso Brasileiro, Pluma

– Use buscaonibus.com.br for bus times, schedules and prices

– Always bring a jumper/blanket no matter how cold it is outside the air conditioning is always on and it can get very cold on overnight journeys (that’s the same for all countries)

– Bring a pen as you have to fill out your ticket with your details – Passport number, address etc

– Arrive early or book in advance as some journeys can get filled up pretty quickly

Argentina

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Waffles and Beer – A Weekend In Brussels

Our next trip to Brussels was a bit closer to home and shorter than we’d been used to but with bargain flights for the weekend it was a perfect place to spend our 10 year anniversary!

We had a nice early flight at 6am (never too early for pre-flight beers!). We arrived in Brussels before we could check in so we sampled some Belgian beers and waffles before heading over to our hotel. We splashed out a little for once and stayed at the 5 star Metropole Hotel. Pretty rare for us, it didn’t even have bunk beds or a shared bathroom!

The hotel was a little outdated but still really nice and they provided a bottle of wine for when we arrived (they kindly swapped this for beers for us!).

It rained consistently for the full day, which is pretty common for Brussels! So we did what we came to Brussles to do… Drink beer! We spent most of the afternoon in the Delirium Cafe and sampled their many beers.

Delirium cafe

The menu of beers…

That evening we had a lovely meal in the restaurant in Hotel Metropole. It was a perfect anniversary meal followed by a stroll around Grand Place once the rain had finally stopped!

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A Trip to Ireland, Italy and Slovenia

Dorsoduro, venice

Most of our travel trips these days revolve around England football games, so our random trip to three different countries in 10 days was planned around football. England were playing a friendly against Ireland in Dublin and then in Slovenia a week later. Cheap flights (£20!) from Dublin to Rome led us to Italy so that’s why Italy cropped into the itenairy – and why not?!

Ireland, Dublin

We spent two nights in Dublin. After doing all the touristy things last time we were there, the time was pretty much all spent on Temple Bar – like all the other England Fans.

The game itself was really disappointing. The kick off was a 12pm kick off with none of the bars opening before so the atmosphere wasn’t great. Funny that’s what happens when you don’t give the English or Irish beer…

Italy – Rome, Venice and Trieste

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Guide to Doing A Ski Season at Whistler Blackcomb

Whistler Inukshuk, Roundhouse Lodge

Doing a ski season at Whistler Blackcomb is without a doubt the best decision we’ve ever made. But it did take a bit of planning to get there and was a little frustrating at times. So here is a little guide to doing a ski season in Whistler.

Visas

First things first, before even thinking about booking flights, you’ll need to get a Canadian work visa. Different countries have different requirements so check http://www.cic.gc.ca/iec-eic for all the info you need. If you’re from the UK, like me, you’ll get a one-year working holiday visa but spaces are limited and demand is high so you need to be quick to get your place.

Decide to go independently or use a jobs support program

When it comes to the logistics of finding work, accommodation etc. You’ve got two options:

  1. Go independently – Arrange your own job, find your own accommodation
  2. Use a supported program – They’ll help you get a job & accommodation

If you go independently you’ll generally need to arrive in Whistler earlier (September / early October) to hit the job fairs before the jobs are taken. A supported program – such as The Working Holiday who we used, get you an interview in your home country before you leave then if you’re accepted set you up with staff accommodations but there is a cost of doing this

The pros and cons of each are listed here

Jobs

Whistler isn’t like the rest of Europe where the only type of job available is chalet hosts, ski instructors. There are more types of jobs available but the demand is high. The two main options are to either work for ‘the mountain’ or find work in the non-mountain owned hotels, shops, restaurants or bars.

Jobs working for Whistler Blackcomb mean you get a lift pass, the choice of living in staff housing (if you work full time) and staff perks. But working independently means you usually have to fork out on your own lift pass and housing.

Whistler Blackcomb has a range of jobs available – customer services, lifties, restaurant/bar work, sales, marketing, ski/snowboard instructing. Visit the official site for more info – http://www.whistlerblackcomb.com/employment/jobs-at-whistler-blackcomb/index.aspx. But I wouldn’t get your hopes up too much on a certain job, as most people don’t get their first choice.

Non Whistler Blackcomb jobs can be a bit harder to find so it’s generally a case of dropping your CV around the hotels, shops, bars and restaurants and again turn up early if you haven’t secured anything before leaving for Canada. Experience varies for these jobs. In general if you’re looking at bar/restaurant work you’ll need at least a years experience behind you and a serving it right certificate.

Peak to Peak Gondola, Whistler Blackcomb

Your mode of transport to work…

Whistler Inukshuk, Roundhouse Lodge

This could be your new view from the ‘office’

Accommodation

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Top 10 Travel Moments

We’ve now been home for a month and are already back into our normal routines so needed to write this post before I forget all about our incredible trip. We did so many things that I could never have dreamt of but here is our top 10 travel moments (not in any particular order as it’s too difficult!):

Fresh Tracks on a Powder Day in Whistler
Picture this – it’s 5.30am, you’ve just woken up & checked the snow report and you see 50 whole cm has fallen overnight. You’ll soon be in the queue to be one of the first people up the mountain for the day to enjoy a big buffet breakfast. You’re full from bacon, sausages, hash browns etc (and have filled the tupperware you brought) then at 8 a bell rings, you and your friends rush out to be literally the first to experience fresh runs in 50cm of powder! And if you know the mountain you can keep getting fresh tracks all day long!

Seeing the Glaciers Melt in Patagonia
This was never something we planned but was absolutely incredible. From buenos aires down to El Calafate, Patagonia was a 48 hour bus ride but believe me it was worth every minute. The views of the glacier were stunning but the sounds were just as impressive. We were on a boat ride for literally 5 minutes before we witnessed a huge piece of ice fall off and explode into the water.

Visiting the Amazon Rainforest
Thanks to England getting drawn in Manaus for their World Cup group, we were in the perfect place for a trip into the amazon. We did a three day tour of the jungle which included – alligator spotting, trekking through the jungle, canoeing down the river, piranha fishing and watching an amazing sunrise. Something we will never forget!

Seeing Machu Picchu
Who doesn’t want to visit one of the greatest wonders of the world?! We opted to do a 4 day/3 night jungle tour as our way to get to Machu Picchu – highly recommended. Despite not being able to walk on the day we got there, it didn’t put us off and the views from the top were like nothing else.

Salt Flats Tour
For miles and miles all you can see is well, salt. I’ll admit it doesn’t sound the best but it was one of the best 3 days we had in South America. We drove around the desert stopping at incredible places and eating surprisingly good food that our driver made on the road. We even got a stint at driving the jeep through the desert!

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A Flying Visit to Ecuador & Colombia

Our last two stops in our South America travels was Ecuador & Colombia. They both needed to be quick visits due to time, but we definitely made the most of it!

Our journey (bus ride of course) to Ecuador from Mancora, Peru was one of the most frustrating journeys we’d had. First off the bus was late and the guys at the agency were pretty sketchy, so we were sat at the side of the road thinking we’d been conned. Finally a mini bus turned up (not the semi cama/bed coach we paid for) and we didn’t really know what was going on. We eventually found out that the mini bus was taking us to a town just before the border and from there we would catch another bus and then another once we got to Ecuador. Not quite the direct bus as we were told! Getting through immigration took an hour and half which was so much longer than in any other country. Anyway, we got our stamps and finally got to our destination, Cuenca just 10 hours after setting off (we thought it would only take 4!).

Cuenca was a bit of a disappointment after reading lots of people rave about it. The town was okay but nothing special. I’m not sure if after all the places we’ve seen we are getting harder to please or if it genuinely wasn’t all that great.

After Cuenca it was onto Banos, a town famous for its hotsprings and outdoor activities (kayaking, canyoning etc). Banos was really similar to Pucon in Chile, though Kyle described it as a poor mans version as the town itself wasn’t quite as nice. One of the top rated things to do in Banos is rent bikes and cycle along the ‘Ruta Del Escades’ / route of the waterfalls. So that’s what we did, the bikes cost $5 for the day. The cycle was a little scary as it was on main roads most of the way and we were passed by lots of crazy truck drivers. It wasn’t quite as downhill as it was sold to us but we had a fun day. The waterfalls themselves weren’t amazing, but after seeing Iguazu Falls we are not as easily pleased! The final one we saw was quite impressive and you can walk right next to it. After visiting this one we had lunch in the town and called it a day with the cycling. There was a man in a van waiting to take people back so we paid him and got in the back with two other English guys (one from Halifax – small world!) and went to town to take the bikes back.

We had a few hours the next day before getting our next bus, so we thought we’d go to the hotsprings. It was Saturday morning but thought as it was early it wouldn’t be too busy yet…. We were wrong! We made the mistake of paying to go in before seeing how busy it was and all three pools were rammed. There wasn’t a single other gringo there so we decided not to bother getting in. A shame but we didn’t really feel like we were missing out.

After our failed hot springs attempt it was onto to our next stop, Latacunga. Latacunga is a small ish city which is in a good location for going to the Cotopaxi volcano and the Quilotoa Crater lake. Cotopaxi is for hard core / expert hikers to climb so we didn’t go there but instead took a day trip to Quilotoa.

The crater lake of the Quilotoa volcano was a great experience. The views were stunning (see below). You can walk right down to the bottom of the crater and even kayak on it. We didn’t rent a kayak as it was ridiculously windy. We (I) had enough trouble not letting the wind blow me off the edge, let alone trying to stop it controlling the kayak!

Next stop was Quito, the capital of Ecuador. We didn’t have much time in Quito due to getting in late and just staying two nights. The main thing we wanted to do was visit the equator line, not something we’d be likely to be near again!

The Mitad Del Mundo / Middle of the Earth is an hour or so outside of Quito. There is a big monument in a park, but they measured the equator wrong all those years ago so the real equator line is 200 metres away within a little museum. The museum was pretty cool, you get a free tour as part of the entrance fee. They give you a history into Ecuadorian tribes then do some demonstrations on the equator line. We were shown how water flows through a plug hole on each side (clockwise on the North hemisphere and anti clockwise on the southern) and tried to balance an egg on a nail (didn’t succeed). It was a strange experience and didn’t think we’d be able to say we stood on both hemispheres at the same time!

Going to the Equator took longer than we thought due to going to the second museum so we didn’t have enough time in the day to do more sightseeing around Quito before heading to the Ecuador/Colombian border.

We had planned to get a bus from Quito to Tulcan (the town nearest the border) then pop over the border in one day, but the bus took longer due to picking up every man and his dog and letting anyone selling something on to pitch to us! At one point there were 8 sellers on the bus at one time and three of them were selling the same bags of oranges! So, it was night by the time we reached Tulcan and didn’t fancy crossing the border at night (it can be pretty dodgy). We found a cheap hotel opposite the bus station then did the border hop to Colombia first thing in the morning.

The border crossing was our quickest yet, not a single question asked or bags checked. We took a taxi to the bus station in Ipiales and got a bus to Bogota. We were already missing the cheap prices in Ecuador after having to pay a lot of money for the bus. Not quite the $1 an hour prices that Ecuador had.

Bogota properly wasn’t worth the overnight bus or the money paid as we were pretty underwhelmed with Bogota. Maybe we’ve just seen too many of the same big South American cities now but we just didn’t get a buzz about the place, like other people do. It didn’t help that the hostel we booked to stay in palmed us off to their other location, it wasn’t far away but the street felt much dodgier and I didn’t feel very safe there. It’s probably the only time I haven’t felt safe in the whole of South America. It didn’t help a creepy guy trying to get us to buy coke and following us for longer than I was comfortable with. So we didn’t make the most of what is meant to be a great party scene in Bogota.

Next stop was Medellin which was much better. We didn’t spend enough time there to fully appreciate and explore it but we had a good couple of days. We went to the botanic gardens, the famous Botero sculpture park, took a cable car to get a good view of the city and we timed our stay perfectly to see a football game. It was a local derby of the two Medellin teams. The rivalry is so intense that the away team weren’t allowed in the ground so it was only one set of fans there. We were told that it would still be pretty dangerous and I was even told to change my top as I was wearing the opposition colours! The game had a brilliant atmosphere (even with just one set of fans) and there was no trouble just lots of crazy fans literally standing/hanging on the edge of the upper tier!

Our time in Ecuador and Colombia was rushed a little so that we could quickly get to the coast to enjoy the Caribbean Sea for our last week of travelling (boo!). In fact we endured 3 overnight buses in 6 days so we could give ourselves enough time to relax on the coast and it was definitely worth it!

Stepping off the bus on our first stop on the coast Santa Marta, we were hit by the heat (probably because the aircon on the bus was ridiculously high) so knew we were in the right place.

Tayrona National Park

As soon as we read about Tayrona national park we were excited about it and thought it would be a great place to spend a bit of time before leaving. We weren’t disappointed! Cars can only get to a certain point in the park so we had to walk for an hour and half in 30 degree heat. Literally never been so hot! We walked up and down through the jungle and came out to some great views of the beaches.

We found the campsite 15 minutes away from the beach within the jungle that we were recommended and hired a tent for the night. We were going to get hammocks but they didn’t have mosquito nets as it’s apparently not necessary so instead opted for a tent. We dumped our bags and strolled along the beach. By this point, the sun had gone in and the clouds were brewing a thunderstorm. It held out for just long enough for us to have a wander to a couple of the beaches which were amazing. But we’d spend more time on them the next day.

The next morning the sun was out so we wanted to make the most of it & headed out straight after breakfast. Unfortunately it clouded over pretty quickly but was still really hot and the sea was the perfect temperature for swimming. We swam in the first beach we got to where swimming was allowed. The waves are huge in Tayrona so it’s pretty dangerous to swim in a lot of places. We walked to a couple more beaches and set up camp for the rest of the day on a quieter beach.

After 2 nights camping in the jungle we headed out of the national park. Had to make the dreaded walk back in the scorching sun (it decided to make an appearance for this). We were very glad to get to the end and onto an air conditioned bus back to Santa Marta. We had wanted to have a chilled afternoon by the pool at the hostel but who’d have guessed as soon as we got back it started to rain! Santa Marta hadn’t had rain for a year previously and had severe drought warnings issued as rain wasn’t forecast until 2015… We saw heavy rain twice! If any countries are in drought they should just have me and Kyle sent over!

We did get a really nice sunny day the next day (and obviously we complained it was too hot) before heading to our final stop in Colombia and South America – Cartagena.

As soon as we arrived in Cartagena I instantly knew I was going to like it. I haven’t had that instant ‘love at first site’ too many times travelling but this was definitely one of them… Even though it was dark when we arrived. As it was Friday night the streets were packed and there was a real buzz about the place.

Seeing the place in daylight the next morning didn’t disappoint. The city is filled with history and has a walled city around the old town from when they tried to protect themselves from the invasion from Spain. Inside the walls the streets are stunning. Aside from the harassment of sellers the place was perfect.

It’s a shame we didn’t have more time to spend in Cartagena (and all of Colombia) but it was a great end to our South America travels.

A 4 Day Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu

The time had finally arrived for us to visit Machu Picchu – the main reason we decided to travel around South America. We decided to do a four day trek of the jungle as our way to enter Machu Picchu, as the cost of this was pretty much the same as just getting the train/bus there for the day. The Jungle Trek involved downhill mountain biking, rafting, hot springs, ziplining and not too much walking (despite the name), so this was a great option for us.

We booked our tour whilst in Cusco. There are an overwhelming number of agencies in Cusco all offering the exact same itinerary for the 4 day Jungle Trek. We knew there were a few really reputable agencies but couldn’t afford their prices so we looked around in search of a slightly cheaper tour operator but hopefully just as reputable. After visiting a few we didn’t get a good vibe, particularly with the hard salesman type people who asked us how much we were willing to pay. Finally we found an agency that we got a good feeling about and was cheaper, but not too cheap like some of the others. We were swayed by them showing us a video and the guy in before us actually booking the tour.

Day 1
We were told to wait at a plaza at 8.20 and someone would pick us up, we were a bit skeptical about this as most agencies would pick you up from your hostel. 8.20 came and a guy did turn up, not in a mini bus as we were told, but we got a lift from his friend to take us to the agency. Got there and again no mini buses but were told to get in another car and they would take us to the starting point of the biking. We were feeling very skeptical about the whole thing until a guide who spoke English got in the car and said the mini bus was full and that’s why we had to get a lift in car. We drew a sigh of relief and relaxed until an hour into the drive we started to go up a mountain on some very steep, tight roads and the car didn’t sound like it would make it (pretty sure it was older than me). A couple of hours later we arrived at the starting point of the downhill mountain biking. There were loads of other big groups there about to start too and we thought we might meet our group up there but were told we’d cycle alone with our guide and would meet our group later. A little bit of a shame as it’s always nice to do things in a group on tours like this.

I was pretty nervous about the cycling as we were very high up a mountain with some very steep drops. I took it very steady around the corners whilst Kyle and our guide flew down the hill. I started to get more confident and tried to keep up. We cycled 50km and both loved it. The views were incredible when we actually could look! A great start to the four days.

We then drove a little further to the next town, Santa Maria and finally met the group for lunch. We would stay here for the night. The hostel was actually okay (we were told to expect very basic accommodation on the first two nights). It just lacked hot water. We were told we would be picked up in 10 minutes to go river rafting, but literally a minute later the guy was here to take us. Getting used to getting rushed for things! The rafting was great, we wasn’t expecting too much after doing the Hydrospeed in Chile but the river flowed pretty fast and we hit some big rapids. Kyle and the other guy at the front took the brunt of them but we still felt them in the back. The tour guides were great splashing each raft and making us spin around. No photos, but should have a decent Go Pro video when I can upload them finally.

We got a pretty good meal and a good nights sleep before an early start for lots of walking the next day.

Day 2
The alarm went off at 6 for breakfast at 6.30. We were treated to pancakes and fruit for breakfast which made a nice change from stale bread at hostels. We needed a good breakfast with 8 hours walking ahead of us. I’m not a hiker by any means (it was pretty obvious when everyone else had proper hiking boots and I had my converse on) but as we liked the sound of the tour I manned up.

The mornings walking was fine and we had a few stops. The first was a ‘monkey house’. The monkey was tied up which wasn’t very nice to see, unsurprisingly the monkey went after anyone close enough and would take anything it could. After a quick sit down we carried on until we reached the second monkey house, which was lacking a monkey! It did however have hammocks, which was a nice treat after 4 hours walking. Lunch couldn’t come quick enough after eating so early. From 11 onwards all the walking seemed to be uphill and after we reached the highest point we had another hour before heading to the village for lunch.

Lunch was good food again, soup as always followed by Spaghetti Bolognese – a nice change! After I had a little siesta in a hammock, so really didn’t want to set off again! The afternoon was a big of a struggle (just for me) but 3 more hours later we got to our next destination – the hot springs! They were so relaxing and in such a nice setting within the mountains. Shame it was filled by some many other tourists doing the same tour. It was time to get out when there were Mosquitos everywhere.

 

Forgot to take a photo myself so this is courtesy of Google

Forgot to take a photo myself so this is courtesy of Google

It was onto our next hostel in Santa Teresa, which again was pretty nice. We got another double room this time with an en suite. The tour worked out well for us as we have just been getting the cheapest dorm rooms we can. After dinner (more soup and rice/meat) we had a few drinks and headed to a club. Everyone in our group had got drunk very quickly on what seemed to be very little alcohol, so me and Kyle were far too sober in the club but did enjoy watching the group and our guide hit on every girl! Definitely getting old now!

Day 3

We were enjoying our breakfast of chocolate pancakes then our very rough guide told us the women outside was waiting for us to take us ziplining and we had to leave now. Didn’t even have time to drink my tea (I drink tea now Mum!). All very rushed and split up from the group again. The ziplining was good, though not as good/fast as the one I’d done in Whistler. Kyle managed to get told off for going too fast and not breaking enough causing him to almost knock over the guide at the other side and do a backflip. I almost did the same when one of the jokey guides didn’t tell me to slow down until the last minute so I came in really fast and flipped up much to his amusement! We did 5 zip lines then walked along a suspension bridge which I did not enjoy. Even though you’re attached to the bridge it didn’t feel very safe. Thanks for shaking it Kyle! As per, GoPro videos to come!

We then had a 3 hour drive to get to Hydro Electric and an hour wait there. We had to wait until the rest of our group arrived until we could eat lunch so we had to watch all the order groups enjoy theirs!

After lunch it was a 3 hour walk along train track to get to Aguas Calientes where we spent the night. The walk was pretty long for me as due to all the mosquito bites I’d gotten in the last few days my ankles on both feet had swollen up and made it pretty painful to walk (they were to get much worse and still not gone down 3 days later). We made it and got to our hostel, the nicest one yet with hot water and wifi! Though, the water decided not to be hot when I had mine but everyone else told me how nice it was! Dinner time came around and this time we got a menu to choose what we wanted…what a treat – not meant to sound sarcastic, it really was!

After dinner we had an early night for our 4am start! By this point I was really struggling to walk and decided that I’d have to get the bus up to Machu Picchu.

Day 4
When the alarm went off at 4am I was feeling determined and even though I could still barely walk I knew I’d be disappointed with myself for getting the bus. I’d said to myself even if It took me 3 hours to walk up and I missed the guided tour at 6.30am, it would be better than arriving by bus. It was the best and worst thing I could have done but I definitely made the right choice.

We set off a bit earlier than the rest of the group and when they all passed us they couldn’t believe I was walking ‘oh my god Laura you’re walking’ – yes, I’m a hero! We actually made good time and we got to the top in just under an hour, just as the main gates were opening. There was a huge queue at that point from the walkers and people who’d got the bus.

About 10 minutes later we were entering and to be honest didn’t feel particularly wow’d (that would come about an hour later). Our tour guide waited for us at the top and started the tour just in time for the sun rising over Machu Picchu.

 

The tour was interesting but we were very impatient to go explore ourselves. As we had decided to get the bus back instead of the train (it saved quite a lot of money) we only had a few hours in Machu Picchu and a 3 hour walk to get the bus but with hobbling we needed to give ourselves more time. A big shame as we felt a little rushed. We really wanted to walk up the the Sun Gate to get views from high up. After walking quite high up the views were incredible and we felt we didn’t need to go any higher. We sat looking down on Machu Picchu and had a snack (we are rebels as you’re not meant to eat in MP). That moment made it all worthwhile.

We had paid to climb the Machu Picchu mountain but our tour operator forgot to order the tickets and they sold out! It actually worked out well as I couldn’t have walked any further and we were rushed for time but they did give us our money back.

By the time we’d got back down to near the entrance it had got really busy with tourists to the point you had to wait to get a photo. No wonder people doing the Inca Trail get annoyed that everyone else beats them there after spending days walking!

After a long walk back to our bus in hydro electric we finally made it and got back to the hostel at 8pm.

The Jungle Trek was a great alternative to the Inca Trek or some of the others. An amazing experience that we won’t forget!

Peru Adventures – An Anniversary on a Floating Island, Police Escorts, a World Wonder, a Desert Oasis & Beach Time

Our first stop in Peru was Puno which is the town a few hours from Bolivia and Lake Titicaca. We had visited the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca with our visit to Isla Del Sol. Puno is the nearest town to the floating islands of Oros, which was the main reason of our visit and something we had been looking forward to since the start of planning our travels. Oros is home to 2,000 inhabitants with 500 families.

We booked a half day tour through our hostel but hadn’t realised the tour was leaving at 9 o’clock so had just 5 minutes from booking to leaving! We were taken to the port to board our boat. On arrival to the floating island – Oros we were greeted by some locals who were waiting for us. Our guide then gave us an insight into the history of the island and showed us how it was built and is maintained. The floor is made up of a metre of bamboo shoots. It felt very spongey but at the same time very secure. They have to keep topping it as it obviously wears away easily. We found it fascinating learning about how it started and were given a demonstration on how it was built. We were then shown around one of the houses. They were pretty cosy and had solar panel outside for light. Some of them even have electricity and tvs.

The only bit I didn’t like was been made to feel guilty not buying anything from them. The stuff they were selling was good but we literally didn’t have money on us and no room in our bags for anything anyway. But that’s how they now make their living so you can understand why they are pushy for tourists to buy things. We were then sung some songs from the local women in 4 different languages – Quechua, Spanish, English and the local language on the floating islands which I forgot what it was called! The English song was a version of ‘row row your boat’.

We did pay for a separate gondola ride which the money went directly to the families. The gondola or Mercedes Benz as the locals call them took us further down the island. It was a good experience sitting on top of the boat.

That day was mine and Kyles 9 years anniversary! Who’d have thought that long ago we’d be celebrating it on a floating island in Peru?!

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3 Day Salt Flat Tour, Uyuni Bolivia

Uyuni salt flats

The tour of the Salt a Flats / Salar De Uyuni was the second thing we most wanted to do in South America (after Machu Picchu) and had built our trip around these. After four months of travelling, the time had finally come to go on the three day tour of the salt flats and surrounding areas.

As soon as we got to the hostel we got chatting to a couple from Huddersfield and Gernany (it’s always great to hear a Yorkshire accent!) and quickly decided to join the tour together, along with two other girls from Germany. We had heard some horror stories about tour companies. The worst was a group that had to literally pin their drunk driver to the floor to stop him driving and another that had crashed due to the brakes failing. So it was hard picking a reputable company, but we managed to narrow it down to two that we got a good vibe about and actually flipped a coin to decide. The coin made a very good decision of Quechua connections.

Day 1
Bags attached to the roof, introduced to the driver and all 7 of us in the jeep, we were ready to go. The first stop was a train cemetery which has become somewhat of a tourist attraction and is where all the tour companies go at the same time.

A little further up the road we reached a little town where the salt is manufactured and the Salt Museum lies. After another hour or so drive we reached the salt flats. Although it was a three day tour is was only the first day that you visit the salt flats. The salt flats were an impressive size and is the largest in the world. Our tour guide told us someone once got lost there and it took 4 days for them to be found!

After a few pictures and a walk around the Salt Hotel it was dinner time (sorry lunch) and our driver had prepared our meal for us and set out a nice cosy little table by the car whilst everyone else was sat inside. The food was pretty good and we had an amazing apple pie that his aunt had made. We had had to stare at it the whole morning so glad it didn’t disappoint!

After lunch it was photo time. The salt flats are literally a blank canvas for ‘crazy photos’ as our drivers called them. However, it wasn’t as easy as we thought to get the perspective right to create good photos. Our driver was an expert at them. He got lots of props out for us and spent ages perfecting photos. In fact all the other groups had left and he kept saying one more, one more.

The next stop was ‘fish island’ which didn’t contain any fish but lots of huge cacti! The views from the top of the island were great.

Our final stop of the day was a cave which I can’t remember the name but it was really cool. We climbed on top of the mountain above the cave, I almost gave up as my little legs were struggling but the guide helped me up and took me round an easier way. We then watched the sunset and took more crazy photos. Again our driver loved it and spent a lot of time perfecting photos for us.

We had heard that the accommodation wasn’t great on the tours but we were all pleasantly surprised with ours. We arrived in a tiny little town and our hotel for the night was a little mud hut and was actually pretty warm to say we were in the middle of the desert in winter. After another good meal, we headed outside for a bonfire from the wood we had collected from on top of the cave. A perfect end to one of the best days of our travels.

Uyuni salt flats tour

Day 2
We had a 7am start with our first stop being a viewpoint to the Ollague Volcano. we got a great view of the snow capped mountain and climbed some rocks.

Our next few stops were two islands filled with flamingos, a blue and red lagoons and a place filled with rocks…

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The places we visited on the second day weren’t all that great but the journey to them was much better. What do the say it’s not about the destination but the journey? We did all get a stint at driving the jeep through the desert though which was fun. I had sat in the drivers seat as a joke then a bit later on he stopped the car suddenly got out and told me I was driving then gave us all a turn!

We had one quick stop to buy our national park tickets for the next day then it was onto our hotel for the night. The hotel for the second night was where all the other groups were staying and it now made sense what people said before about it being basic accommodation and VERY cold. We enjoyed our last evening meal and went out to look at the stars and the moon rising. It was very impressive but far too cold to stand out longer to say ‘ooo’ and ‘wow’ for!

After eating it was literally lights out as we only had two hours of the electricity generator. With a 5am start the next day it wasn’t a problem. However the cold was! It was -15 and without heating and just blankets and a sleeping bag it was pretty cold. We had a basic room with 7 beds closely packed together, but that didn’t generate anymore heat. Annoyingly Kyle slept fine in just shorts and a t-shirt whereas I had all my themals on plus lots of other layers and was still cold!

Day 3
After not much sleep, the alarm went off at 5am and had breakfast at 5.30. We had a long day of driving ahead of us to get back to Uyuni and still lots of stops to make.

I think we set off slightly later than intended as we didn’t quite reach the geysers for sunrise which I think was the plan, instead we sort of saw it on the drive but the windows had iced up so no photo evidence!

Our next stop was meant to be the natural hot springs but as all tour companies have the same itinerary they were packed so we came back to them later and first went to the green lagoon.

Back to the hot springs and it had quietened down a lot, however as it was still only 10am it was cold outside – don’t let all the sunny pictures deceive you!) I decided I didn’t want to take off my 50 layers of clothes off to lay in a hot spring for half an hour and be freezing when got out. The boys all got in and said it was nice but we will have to take their word for it!

Next up was a stop to see a rock shaped like a tree. Can’t really say much more than that!

We drove for a few more hours and stopped in a little village for our last lunch. After many more hours driving we reached a really peaceful place filled with rocks and after a short walk there was a lake at the other side which you’d have no idea it was there. One of my favourite spots from the three days.

The whole three days and experience was perfect. We were lucky with weather as it had snowed a lot the previous week, picked a great company (Quechua Connections) with amazing tour guides and had a great two groups.

Beautiful Bolivia

Everything about La Paz gave me a headache – the sound of cars beeping, the colourfulness of the markets, the crazy traffic, the protesting, the drums & bells from all of the parades and of course the altitude… But I loved it! La Paz is one of the most interesting cities we’ve visited yet. There is so much culture, history and a unpredictableness that makes it such a diverse city.

After the change of arrival destination from bus station to middle of a street that we had no idea where we were, we arrived at our hostel in La Paz much later than planned. We walked around for a while in search for a restaurant/cafe/fast food place with no luck. The only place with food was a lonely elderly women cooking something at the side of the street. We asked for two of whatever she was making, without really knowing what it was, sat on a bench with her and ate our food with our fingers. It was amazing – beef with potatoes and some hot sauce. A bargain for less than £1. Street-food was the way forward.

We took another free walking tour to see the city which was starting just down the road from out hostel. I was still suffering from the altitude so we opted for the afternoon tour so I could have a rare lie in. Turns out our hostel is on the same road as the San Pedro Prison which is self ran by the inmates and only has a few guards outside (who every time we’ve seen them they’ve been on their phones or reading a paper!). The book Marching Powder is based on the prison and up until recently you could do a tour around the prison. Now there is just a guy who walks around the prison trying to con tourists into paying for him to take him round – he will either just run and take you round the prison and leave you in there! He actually came up to us to ‘chat’ – a nice guy!

The walking tour gave us a good insight into the culture here particularly around the Chaulita women who work at the markets and the people who still believe in witch craft.

We spent a lot of time walking around the markets, which have pretty much everything you’d need to buy and at the food stalls. Food at restaurants is cheap (£4-6 a meal generally) but you can spend £1 on just as good quality food from a street seller. We’ve just had to guess a little with what we’ve ordered and hope for the best but it’s working out well!

No matter what time of day it is, there is always something going on in La Paz. When we arrived it was a university dance parade that blocked the roads then for the other days there were very colourful parades in preparation for Bolivian Independence Day. We were woken at 8am by the sound of a parade going right past our hostel.

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