A Travellerspoint blog

UYUNI

The Salar de Uyuni - very impressive !!!

sunny 23 °C

It seems most folk who come to Bolivia and Uyuni in particular come to see the salt plains and I have to say they were incredibly impressive !!

We set out from Uyuni with Victor in 2 4WD's - and after stopping off at the local market to get some food for lunch we headed to the Cementerio de Trenes ( train graveyard) which was more interesting than I thought. The Aussie boys were in their element - took me all my time to climb up onto one of the things for a photograph ( you should've seen the faisco trying to get back down LOL !!)

Wasnt much of a drive before the landscape started to change dramatically ( see my photos - words wont really do it justice !!). Stopped off at a local family's house on the edge of the salt lakes to see how they manage, prepare and pack the salt - and bought the obligatory gifts from the children selling their wares in the back yard. Not sure anyone is going to want a Llama made from salt though, but it was the lightest thing on offer !!! Umm, who's got a birthday coming up in January ??

The Salt plains are over 3600m above sea level ( nothing is low in Bolivia LOL) and stretch for over 1200sq km - far bigger than I'd expected. So, even though there were a few other 4WD's kicking about with backpackers we more or less felt like we had the whole area to ourselves.

We stopped off at one of the 'Salt Hotels' in the middle of the plains - even although all the guide books say they're illegal structures and shouldnt really be frequented (I think theyre actually in the process of moving them both to the edges of the plains - worst toilets Ive come across yet; couldnt even contemplate staying there !!) Whilst we were there one of the Aussies fell into a salt pool outside the hotel, in full view of a million backpackers ( well, okay maybe about 20 of them !!). In typical Aussie fashion all he was bothered about was whether or not someone had captured the moment on film !! His clothes were attached to the roofs of the 4WD to dry out and we were soon off.

We stopped frequently for loads of silly photos and just to take in the amazing surreal views - actually it was so glarey that none of us could actually see anything when we took photos anyway ; Im quiet chuffed that most of mines came out.

Had a great picnic lunch at Isla IncaHuasi ( along with every other tourist group in the area - rows and rows of 4WD's) which Victor and the drivers prepared, then we had a trek around the island and its huge cactus plants before heading off to the north shore and the village of Coquesa, which sits underneath the dormant volcano known as Volcan Tunapa ( we drove up towards it but none of us wanted to trek the further 4 hours to its summit, looked good in the photos though !!).

I stupidly got out to take photos of 3 stray Flamingo's ( most of them are breed near a different island, these ones were young and lost) and as a result think I got bitten yet again by a mass of mosquitos - you should see the mess of my legs. half flea bite snad half mossie bites.

Our final delight of the day was a visist to the Chulpa mummies - mummfied remains of a family in a cave which is supposed to pre date the Inca's. Because of the Altiplano's altitude and atmosphere the mummies are incredibly well preserved - some still have skin and clothes. Agai,like the Catacombs, I found it a bit creepy and couldnt bring myself to photograph them. Was like being in a horror movie. I was even more shocked when Yvonne said her guide book stated that the mummies are brought out of the cave and dressed up once a year by the villagers during festival time. I dont even want to know if thats true or not !!

We had a long but fast drive back to Uyuni and finished the day off with a fantastic pizza at Minuteman Pizza, the only really decent restaurant of any note in Uyuni run by a husband/wife team from Boston/Bolivia. Full of backpackers and easily the best Pizza Ive had in ages - just perfect !!! Anyone staying in Uyuni has to eat there.

Posted by Sparkster 14:20 Archived in Bolivia Comments (1)

UYUNI

Really getting into the slumming it now !!!

sunny 23 °C

[ Sorry, havent been able to post for past few days as no internet conection in Uyuni, but I typed and saved this !! Mobile has totally died so if you're texting me then I wont be replying til I get myself a knock off replacement phone from La Paz market on Thursday !!! Oh, and dont give me the moralistic bit about being a responsible tourist - theres no way I can turn down a new Nokia N96 for under £35 !!!]

Friday 28th November

La Paz to Uyuni

I continue to be as accident and disaster prone as ever – mobile is broken and wont be able to get anything done with it for next few days at least as going deep into Southern Peru ( Uyuni only has 17000 inhabitants and is apparently about the same height as La Paz so Im expecting my breathing problems to continue, worse luck.

Spent the day travelling via bus ( 3 hours to Ororo - where we had a brilliant lunch near the station; everyone scoffed at me not liking Lamb and siad I'll never make it as an Aussie, what a hardship LOL !!) then train onto Uyuni for a further 7 hours. Interesting journey as we were with loads of young backpackers – I loved it, although Im kind of glad Im not with them for their tour as they camp in the desert for 2 nights . The train was crowded, hot and dusty but fairly comfortable ( well, we were driving through the Bolivian desert so it was hardly going to be cold was it ???) Definitely an experience.

The train showed videos, so we were treated to three films shown on a TV at the front of each carriage – all quite bad pirate dvd copies and only the dodgey 'Quantum of Solace' was in English ( even then only for bits of it, as it kept resorting to a badly dubed German copy !! The Aussies with me thought that Bond and M were supposed to be speaking German, think some of the Dutch folk in the carriage couldnt tell the difference LOL!!)

Interestingly, all the scenes which were supposedly shot in Bolivia were actually shot in Northern Chile in the Attacama ; Allessandro was telling me that the people who were filmed there took umbrage at being portrayed as Bolivians in the film. The scenes in The Grand Hotel ( were Agent Fields gets murdered, are supposedly Calama – where Im going next week so I’ll need to do a bit of sleuthing LOL!!).

Also got introduced to Bolivia’s answer to Philomena Begley – an ageing singer called Sulma Yulgar, who was shown in concert on the TV between the films – not sure if I’ll be rushing out to buy the CD though, but she was entertaining – and she’s definitely copied a few of Philly’s dance moves /skirt flashing !!!!

The other singer was an impersonator/comedian from Dominican Republic who was also filmed in concert about 20 years ago doing very very dodgey impersonations of Latin American singers. We all thought it was the cheesiest thing ever, whilst the Spanish contingent on the train all lapped it up

We passed some Flamingo’s and everyone in my group jumped over themselves to try and get some photos – I couldn’t be arsed getting up ( besides Chile’s supposed to be full of them, so whats the rush LOL !!!).

When we got to our hotel ( nice and rustic – plain, simple, but very very comfy bed !!) we basically just crashed after meeting our guide for tomorrow, Victor – who’s taking us out over the Salt Lakes in 4WD’s. Cue lots of daft photos of us jumping about with the landscape in the background like all the other ones you see from there on these kind of blogs – cant wait !!! Promise I wont do anything too cheesy !!

Gee's , Im writing loads here eh ??? I need to stop waffling - dont want to bore my readers !!! Bye for now Mx.

Posted by Sparkster 18:40 Archived in Bolivia Comments (2)

BOLIVIA

La Paz - 26th and 27th November

I'm not really in the mood for doing this but thought I'd better keep at this or I'll end up giving up on it already !!!

I HAVE COMMENTS !!!! Most impressed you can work this mum, and Zandra - might even post a photo of the frogs just to brighten up your day still further. LOL - thanks for the comments though ; might be the only way of keeping in touch with me for a bit cause my mobile wont charge so when it dies I'll be phoneless. Dont know whats happened but basically nothings gone right since we got to Bolivia yesterday ( lost my sunglasses, left my Rough Guide to South America on a bus and Im covered in bites - thinking I may have been attacked by fleas when we visited the locals the other day !!)

Woke up this morning at 5.20am and thought 50 Bolivians were standing on my chest - couldnt breathe at all !!! Was quite scarey ; there just isnt enough Oxygen up here and the air is so dry its hurting my throat big time. La Paz is the highest capital city in the world at way over 3600m above sea level - means damn all to me when I cant breathe I tell you !!!!! Dont mind admitting that all I wanted to do was come home, but the Aussies looked after me (we've all been struggling with the altitude) and feeling soon passed.

In a nut shell - we arrived here yesterday around 6.30pm - swappped guides and buses at the border (that was kind of cool - we all had to walk over this no man's land area and queued all over the place to get forms filled in and passports and visas stamped. Also got stopped twice as we drove through the border area and we had to show our passports to the soldier who jumped on the bus and started shouting at us !! I loved it - felt important !!)

New guide for the rest of the time we're in Bolivia is Alessandro - who's very different to Enrique but seems like a good laugh. We've also had Cynthia for the last two days whilst we've been in La Paz. She's incredibly enthusiastic, something the Aussies are exploiting big time by asking her even more questions than they asked Enrique.

The Hotel is a classic - complete 1970's throwback, like stepping back in time and all I heard all last night was car horns tooting and men wailing - room looks out onto main downtown area !!! Just perfect.

Cant decide what I think of La Paz and Bolivia just yet- the people seem really friendly and its less touristy than Peru but need to see more of it.

We had a city tour first thing today (27th) - pulling up into the main square just as the President arrived. Somehow we were allowed to travel into the square when all the other traffic was being diverted. I thought it was a joke when Cynthia started telling us to hurry up and get out of the bus because the 'President was coming' - me being me took a bit extra time as I thought it was a ruse to make us move faster ( and you know how I hate being rushed !!!) But it was true - the first of the group out of the bus got pounced on by the Presidents bodyguards, whilst another one started shouting at our driver and took all his licence papers of him.

I saw nothing apart from a fancy looking car, and the uniformed soldiers outside the parliament building. I always miss all the excitement.

After a visit to a silver museum ( dont ask !!!) we spent time at Moon Valley - amazing place, looks just like outer space, before doing the famous La Paz market. Now, after Peru Im a bit all Marketed out but this monster market takes over the whole city almost. You can buy anything and everything there - especially stolen contraband stuff, and basic bits and pieces like mobiles are ten a penny at rock bottom prices. It does get a bit bizarre when you see them selling bathroom suites and Llama foetuses in neighbouring stalls.

( The llama foetus is supposedly for luck and fertility - part of the market is known as 'Witches Market' cause these old biddies will sell you anything to cure any ailment and make you feel better - everything that is apart from my bloody light headedness and breathing difficulties !! Coca tea isnt working up here unfortunately.]

I bought 5 pairs of sunglasses to replace my lost ones for a whopping £8.20 - all vey flash, and a lead for my shaver cause I left without it, but apart from that I seriously curtailed my spending.

Heading to Southern Bolivia tomorrow for 6 days and we're expected to keep to a 10kg baggage limit ( yeah I know, Im still laughing at that one too !!!) We have a journey from hell to get to Uyuni ; 3 hours on public bus, 2 hour wait then 7 hour train journey. Apparently our hotel in Uyuni is very basic too, so Im guessing my mood might just take a turn for the worse if the real slumming it is about to start !!!

Not sure if Im taking the Laptop with me but will try and keep in touch somehow !!!

Better get to bed as up in 4 hours, I'll add to this later, and thanks again for the comments. Mark x

P.s. Am very aware of the dodgey taxi situation in Bolivia mum - got your text, so dont worry as I wont be jumping into any taxis unless I know theyre reputable. We';ve already been warned about the scam you mentioned !!

Posted by Sparkster 21:01 Archived in Bolivia Comments (1)

PUNO

Sillustani and Lake Titicaca

sunny

Tuesday 24th November - A really good day today ; we did the ruins at Sillustani first thing - quite impressive and different to anything else we've seen ( basically burial towers made by the Collas, who existed before the Inca's). Quite entertaining cause we were invaded by Peruvian school kids mid way through the visit. Yet again they were all intrigued to see us and even more keen to have their photo taken by us !!

Our guide for today - forgotten his name ( think it was Locho) - then took us to a Peruvian family who lived out in the middle of nowhere so we could see how they lived . I was cringing at the thought of this - expecting it to be quite contrived and set up, but it wasnt. The two sisters who were in the house were happy to show us around and had made a big effort for us with cheese, potatoes and baked bread. I chickened out of eating anything cause there were flies galore over everything. The house was very basic but clean, and we met two of the sisters children (the others were at school/work). Could easily have taken little Maria away with me - possibly the cutest little girl Ive come across so far.

Felt obliged to buy more Tourist Tat after this when the woman brought out their handknits etc. So, I now have 2 lovely pairs of knitted Peruvian gloves (which of you are going to be lucky enough to get them as a Christmas present eh ????) and a handful of necklaces, which actually look a little mass produced. Dont mind really cause the woman were so welcoming and happy to have us in their home

We went back to Puno for lunch (nice little coffee shop close to the hotel) then headed to the harbour via Rickshaws to board our boat for our trip to one of the floating Uros Islands on Lake Titicaca. Uros people have lived here for years on floating islands made from reeds - and the one we visited (Puma Ota Island) was only made about 4 years ago. We were treated like royalty by the Islanders, and given a little presentation by them as to how they made their island float and how they repaired it. Our guide explained how 8 families lived on this particular island and explained how they managed to survive.

Then it all got a bit touristy - we were split in to pairs and taken into the straw huts where we were enticed to buy handmade items that the Uros men and woman had made. Given the set up it wouldve been very difficult to say no to them ( I mean, we were a captive audience really causeI certainly wasnt swimming back to the mainlaind !!), and all of us came away with something.

Enrique tried to marry me off to the 15 year old girl who had made one of the wall hangings I bought. Have to say I was getting worried when all the woman started targeting me for photos at the end of our visit. They also kept positioning Elisabeth next to me so maybe they were taking the joke a bit too seriously.

Imagine me coming back with a 15 year old wife ???????? LOL

Have to say the island was amazing but the whole set up was a little bit contrived - especially when we realised that one of the families had a solar power kit and a TV/Radio - not quite the 'basic' existence they were trying to portray.

It was kind of windy and cold so none of us opted for the trip to another island via reed boat - I was worried I'd end up buying even more ( beginning to think I have "MUG" tattooed on my forehead as I keep getting targeted).

Went to a restaurant tonight which specialised in traditional Peruvian Folklore entertainment. Again a bit touristy, but colourful and interesting just for the night. Bit of excitement when there was a power cut just as we arrived, but they continued on regardless and by the time the dancers were due on normal service had been resumed.

Like I say pleasant without being offensive or too tacky.

Enrique tried to help me sort out my bus in Chile before I headed off to bed - and guess what ??? We cant get it done over the net - looks like Im going to have to brave speaking Spanish to the bus company over the phone !!!!

Im missing the Canadian girls - I really liked them, even if they were both a bit outdoorsy.The group seems so much smaller without them, as well as Graeme and Mary from England.

Also finally checked Froya's travel blog tonight ( she's in Asia ; we're both away at the sme time) - so much better than this one of mines, she has photos and everything ; and nice short entries that folk actually might want to read LOL.

Oh yeah, and she has loads of lovely comments from family and friends ......makes my one little comment seem a bit pathetic ( thanks Tracey - owe you one !!!!)

Nite Nite Mx.

Posted by Sparkster 18:37 Archived in Peru Comments (3)

CUSCO TO PUNO

Travelling South by Bus

sunny 25 °C

Monday 24th November

We left Cusco just after 7am, after a few hicups with the bus taking us to meet the public bus ( it couldnt hold all of us let alone our luggage, leaving poor Enrique to phone around looking for a taxi !!)

Travelled on a commercial Turismo Mer bus with Juan No. 2 as our guide ( we'd already had Juan No.1 during our trip around the Sacred Valley) and a young girl serving us drinks ( non alcoholic of course !!) for a mammoth nine and a half hour journey South. There were only three other pasengers apart from our group so it didnt seem much different to usual, just more comfortable seats and a much bigger bus.

We stopped off at a few places on the way and got lunch thrown in as well, so all in all it was actually quite a pleasant experience.

I continued my gullible buying of Touist Tat when we stopped at Andahuaylillas to visit South America's answer to the Cistine Chapel - I actually really liked the chapel ; some of the group were so disgusted at the OTT wealthy decoration of it that they refused to walk around it. I was more impressed with the artwork, done by local Andean people in the style of 16th century European artists. The Spanish wouldnt even let these guys sign their works, so all of them are anonymous. Pretty impressive to manage to paint the way they did when they were being invaded and taken over by Spanish bully boys LOL!! Anyway, I didnt buy anything from the church - but bought a doll from the Q'Ewar Project across the road. Its a project set up by a Spanish Social Worker and her husband, and basically seems to operate similarly to the one in Pumamarca- supporting local woman. Call me a sucker, but I actually thought it was worth supporting and the work/detail that had gone into each doll was pretty amazing. Going to call my little doll Juan 3 for as long as he's with me ( think he may have to be shipped back home at this rate though, as space in my bag is almost non existent).

A few jokes from the group that I now have a drinking buddy ( they're all such lightweights !!) - umm, Juan No. 3 might be a cheap option when it comes to taking him out but he's not as entertaining as good old Wilma !

The journey continued taking in the ruins of a temple at Raqchi (we also arrived bang smack in the middle of a demonstration against the government by local villagers - felt quite intrusive walking though the square as they all sat watching us), then we stopped briefly at La Raya - the highest point of our journey to date at 4335m above sea level. yet another market set up there - with the locals offering us bread and cheese along with guinea pig ( dont worry, after the other night I had no problems saying No Gracias !!!)

Finlaly we stopped in Pukara - named after one of Peru's oldest civilisations. Quite a grim place really - very poor and lots of beggars as we headed up to the tiny museum. Juan 2 did a great job showing us around - and giving us an honest account of the history attached to the area, including the human sacrifices that took place regularly. Not suprisingly other guides seem to have glossed over that bit a little when showing us around other areas/ruins. Juan 2 even showed us how they human sacrifices would've been beheaded - lovely !!!

I left Pukara to quite a haunting image of a young girl with leprosy begging at our bus ; felt bad because I didnt give her anything. Hit home hard to me that some of Peru is quite definitely Third World in terms of poverty.

We got to Puno by going through Juliaca ; a shocking city that makes Soddom and Gamorrah look classy and sedate. Its apparently quite a corrupt city where lots of blackmarket dealings go on with contraband from Bolivia - a mere 8 hours away by road. With a population of 220,000 its a significant size but most of the roads were dirt tracks and apparently very little money is spent on the city - most people living/working there make their money in business and head back to Cusco/Lima, taking any profits with them. I have never seen a city like it - ugly, run down and depressing. Even our guide books barely pass refrence to it - yet it has the only major airport in the South and all the road traffic heading to Puno has to head through it.

Was dreading what Puno was going to be like after Juliaca, but thankfully it's much more 'normal' and although touristy has a degree of charm and very friendly locals. Hotel best yet - lovely ( Casona Plaza 3*).

Thats about it ; had a decent meal (Alpaca one again- bit tough this time !!) followed by copious amounts of Pisco Sour and Sangria ( lethal combination). Could so easily have carried on if we werent leaving sharp(ish) tomorrow to do Lake Titicaca - just know that Id have been hellish hungover on a bus LOL !!!

Posted by Sparkster 20:50 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

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