Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Colca Canyon

Yesterday, after arriving at 8:30am we went to the hostel to drop off our stuff. We went on a bus tour of Arequipa... Most boring thing I've ever done I think. It's like driving around Ipswich by bus... There's not a lot to see and it was chilly with the roof open. We were possibly the biggest western tourists known to man kind. We had McDonald's breakfast, Pizza Hut for lunch and Burger King for dinner. I'm going to put on one hundred stone.


Grand plaza. 

Mount misty in the background.

Alpaca wool shop...


Today we had to be up at 2:30am for a day tour to Colca Canyon. It's 70 soles (£14) for entrance as its a national park. The bus trip was 85 soles (£17), we booked it through our hostel Arequpia Backpackers (I recommend the hostel, very friendly staff and good location). It took 4 hours to get there and we just stopped at a few view points. At one of them you had a chance to spot Kondors, one of the worlds largest flying birds, in their natural habit. Whilst Matt was in the toilet I saw 5 at once, he was jealous obviously. It was very impressive. The canyon is the third largest in the world. Though the USA Grand Canyon is most famous, this is three times deeper!










We sat on the coach whilst some people spent an hour in the hot springs. We couldn't go because I had lost my bikini at the other one. Besides, we heard rubbish things about it being a glorified swimming pool really. Lunch was a buffet, rather expensive so I skipped it due to a lack of things I liked. When we got back we walked back to try checking back into the hostel we stayed in but it was full. We moved round the corner and ended up playing pool and watching TV relaxing for the rest of the night.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Education abroad

Last night Matt and I ended up having our first proper argument, it was over a really trivial thing, but it was just the final straw. He was forcing me to go into the bar and order with him when I wanted to sit in the less populated area as I still had wet hair and was wearing tracksuit bottoms and a sweater. He had felt uncomfortable the other day when he went in there wearing socks, let alone socks, wet hair and tracksuit bottoms with no make up looking a mess. It just irritated me that he couldn't do it by himself, as usual, he wanted me there to hold his hand. Anyway, he grabbed my wrist and wouldn't let me leave the bar, till I told him we were making a scene and he relented. He ended up getting food alone whilst I walked into the centre instead. 

This morning I didn't really want to talk to him, but I have little choice. I did make him book some tickets by himself though as I want him to be more independent and not rely on me to check everything over for him - he only then moans when I do anyway! 

We ended up just walking round the city and seeing what we bumped into. We went to the Irish bar for brunch and then to the coca museum. I really enjoyed the coca museum (5 out of 5). Though it was small, it was £1 entrance for students, the lady who worked there was really passionate about it. She sat us down at the start and gave us a talk, and a free piece of coca toffee. I'm going to write a post about what I learnt there. For me, it was particularly interesting because I'm doing a module next year on the Drug Policy in the Americas. A lot of it focuses on the relationship between Bolivia, Peru and Mexico v the USA. The museum gave a great insight into how culturally important coca was before the Germans turned it into a drug.

After some more walking, we went to the Machu Picchu museum. Again, I hope to write a post about that too. A rating of 5 out of 5 too. 10 soles entrance for students (£2). We then headed back the hostel to chill before getting a taxi to the bus station. We paid 88 soles (£17) for a bus to Arequipa. Though we could have got it much cheaper, the bus was really nice and even served us dinner. It was the best sleep I've had on a bus yet. Money pays hey!

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Finally, Machu Picchu! Historic ruins of Peru.


We had to wake up at 4am! 4!!!! This is because Machu Picchu opens at 6am and we wanted to be there for sunrise. Matt was taking the hour and a half walk up whilst I opted for the bus - it's expensive at $12 each way, but because we also had to walk Machu Picchu mountain, which has over 2000 steps, I decided I probably ought to save my legs as I knew I'd struggle anyway. There were 3 others getting the bus with me. You have to start queuing at ideally 4:30 to get on the first bus at 5:30. We got there at 4:40 and there was already a big queue. 

*Update*

So much for saving my legs lol. I didn't end up hiking Machu Picchu mountain. The weather got so hot, around 25 degrees, and the altitude was doing me no favours. I decided I wouldn't enjoy it so what was the point? Firstly our guide gave us a two hour tour of the area, informing us of the history as we stopped to take far too many photos. It's interesting that they will probably never know the real truth as to its purpose, it's all speculation. Also, so weird that the rulers legal wife was their sister - this was because they didn't want succession to escape from the family. 

Whilst Matt set off with others from the tour group to hike, I decided to go to the sun gate - however, on the walk there I began to melt. I cannot walk up hill to save my life. So... I gave up, and decided to visit the Inca Bridge instead. I really really enjoyed the walk there as it was relatively flat, in the shade, and best of all, very few tourists. The path reminded me of death road in that it was very narrow (far more so than death road as it was designed just for pedestrians), and it had no safety barriers to stop you falling/ jumping off the edge into the valley.








Afterwards I found a beautiful spot of the whole area and just laid down, listened to music and sun bathed - soaking in the surreal scenery. There was a group in front of me clearly on a meditation holiday, about 20 in a line with an instructor telling them what to do. Very weird to watch! At one point they all cried and hugged one another,.. I didn't understand why though as they were all talking in another language.

I re-met with a very very shattered and in pain Matthew. He did he mountain up in 1 hour 10 min, and down in 45 mins. He was already tired from his morning hike though up a million steps. I'm just so glad I decided not to do it because I really enjoyed my day and I know I wouldn't have liked that. We were in a rush to make it back to the town to catch the train so left straight away.

This time, instead of getting the bus (super long queues btw), I walked down. It made my calves ache by the end, but it was nice to do some walking at least- even if my legs were shaking. We also had to walk back to the town - that was more difficult as it was slightly up hill, but we made up with 40 minutes to spare before our train came.

The train journey was beautiful, weaving through the mountains and valleys. The train itself was great too, free drink and snack on board. It took 1 hr 35 mins to get to Ollytambo where we then had to wait an hour for our Loki bus driver to leave the town! Very frustrating when we were all shattered and just wanting a shower. It felt like it took forever to get back to Cusco. There was lots of traffic and it took over 2.5 hours.

Overall, I didn't think Loki travel was particularly good. I didn't enjoy the food as there were no options, just had to have things like avocado in mustard... Yuck!  Also, the guide wasn't great in terms of he wasn't that organised, and he didn't even make it to breakfast or Ziplining because he got so plastered in the club with his friends - highly unprofessional. I also didn't like how Loki guides just left people behind whilst trekking. We didn't stop every 30 minutes and wait for the group like other tours, we just kept going and that meant if you got injured, it would be hours before he noticed/ found you.

Although it seems very expensive on face value (we paid $270), when you break it down it wasn't TOO bad. It was $75 for train & $50 for entry = $120. $270 - $120 = $150 for the rest of it. For $150 we got - 3 breakfasts, 2 lunch, 2 dinner, 2 hostel nights, Mountain biking, Ziplining, Hiking, Hot springs entrance and a few bus rides. 

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Jungle 'trek' to Machu Picchu: Day 2.

6:30am start for breakfast at 7am, however, the guide was out clubbing last night so was too hungover to make it to breakfast or tell us where the hell to go - much like Matthew. Matt missed breakfast as 3 times people tried to wake him up but he rolled over back to sleep. Half way through breakfast I went and woke him up and told him to get his shit together. He still didn't get to eat though. 

We went over to our zip lining place and got on our harnesses. After much confusion, we finally took a 10 minute ride to the location we started. After a quick safety lesson on how to stop yourself, we began. It was entertaining, however, one of our group members couldn't stop himself in time going backwards and slammed hard into a wooden pillar and cut open the back of his neck/ shoulder so had to go to hospital. You had the option of going upside down but I didn't like the sound of that after what happened to the other guy. Matt gave it a try though and said it wasn't that great because you couldn't then see the scenery. Lastly
there was a suspension bridge, this was my favourite because it was the only thing that made my heart beat lots as the harness didn't seem very safe if you fell haha. Also, you had to attach and unattached yourself. After, we went back to the town, we got some ice creams and set off on the next bus to the site of our hike.

Overall, including lunch, it took us about 4.5 hours. Although it was all flat along a railway line, it was pretty draining by the end and my bag was killing my neck. I was glad to finally get to the end point (which was a walk up hill through the town). There were some really beautiful sites though. It's weird that it's a live train line yet everyone walks along it.






As soon as we got to the new hostel we all just fell into bed for a bit. I ended up skipping group dinner and getting a fire pizza wood oven pizza.... It was so good but pretty pricey at £8 including a drink. English prices... But you'd never get that quality that good.

By 9:30pm we were all asleep. My bites were annoying me so much it took me a while to fall asleep. Because we were walking through a jungle area, there were so many bugs and they just love me. Overall I have about 30 bites, many of them from sand flies - I've come to learn these are more itchy and long-lasting than Mosquitos and they love me more. Nightmare.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Jungle 'Trek' to Machu Picchu: Day 1

Waking up at 5:45am is not my idea of fun. Too many early mornings and not enough partying! Anyway, we hopped in a cab to Loki hostel and I ran up some steps to get some snacks (yes me, steps, impressive I know!). We left at 6:30 and got to the sacred valley a few hours later. By 11am we were finally on our bikes and on the road after a lengthy safety discussion. We rode for 3 hours, about 60km. Along the way I got stung by a wasp and it was attached to me. Since the gloves were fingerless I couldn't get rid of it from my jeans and was in agony. Despite having been at the front practically the whole way, I had to pull over and stop to remove it. This meant I got left behind and it took a lot of hard work to catch back up again. Eventually I did, and managed to overtake those in front of me. Call me Mrs. Badass. My bottom was still in pain from death road though, so it was particularly difficult for me.







After a while of chilling in the sun, we got a bus to our next stop where we had the option of white water rafting for $30 USD extra. I went in Thailand, and matts going in Scotland next month so we decided against it. Luckily a lot of the group had too, so we chilled out with them, drank a lot of beers and all got merry watching locals v westerners football. The group we were travelling with were great, and I found a lot in common with them. So many people here travelling work/ just quit finance related jobs haha. Three people also worked in football - one girl worked for the Irish FA cup, and another did corporate football packages etc. there was a girl who studies history & politics at Oxford and she was the first person to share my huge excitement for LBJs presidential library - it was an awesome moment. 

Once the others had returned from rafting, it was time to leave our group behind because we were going in a taxi with 5 others who were doing the three day tour, whereas the rest were hiking there / doing the 4 day tour. Once at the new place we hung around for a while before meeting at 8pm for dinner. I didn't like the new group anywhere near as much and it was a lot smaller which was a shame. I was sharing a bedroom with a very annoying primary school teacher who has a very high pitched voice and irritating mannerisms. She taught in Thailand for 3 years, now Brazil, then Barcelona in September. 

At dinner we all made small chit chat. All of us on the three day tour were desperate to do the hot springs, but Loki were super unorganised and the guide was ready to let us miss it. Luckily I asked what time last admission was, and it was 9:45pm, with the current time being 9. So, we skipped our main and dessert and ran back to get changed. Our guide put us into the cab and told us it was 10 soles for the whole car, but once we drove the 10 minutes there, he demanded 10 each! We kept trying to argue but he wouldn't give up. 

The hot springs were nice, not that warm though, like a luke warm bath really. Still, it was relaxing anyway. We only had an hour before we had to leave. The taxi driver was super pissy so although I couldn't find my swimsuit, we had to leave. So, I lost it! I'm gutted because it was my favourite :(. Boooooo. Once back, some of the group went to this tiny shitty disco, but I decided to sleep instead.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Beautiful City of Cusco, Peru.

We annoyingly arrived in Cusco at 5am. We didn't want to head to the hostel straight away as its a big inconvenience for them, instead we went to an Internet cafe and killed a while, before getting to the hostel at 7am. The reception staff were pretty useless and didn't register us properly. Checkin was at 2pm, but you were allowed to hang around the lobby though if you wanted. We decided to venture to the main square in search of a McDonalds, where I proceeded to eat two ham and cheese toasties - oops.

Cusco is by far the most beautiful city we have visited. Though, as in every city, it has its rough parts, the main area was very old-school/ stylish and has an evident (and understandable), historic air to the place. (Far) Behind Rome, it's the prettiest historic city I have visited in my opinion - maybe though that's just because I wasn't expecting it.

Whilst killing time, we ended up getting a quote for a trip to Machu Picchu. This travel agent quoted $150USD for 2 nights, 3 days, without Ziplining or water rafting. Also, it didn't include a train - instead, after hiking Machu Picchu, you had to hike 3 hours back to Hydroelectric to get a bus, thus cutting your visit short. Though it seemed cheap at first, we decided against it and spent a few hours searching the city for prices.

Eventually we gave up and settled on Loki travel. It's a huge hostel name out here and so we hopped that would mean there would be nice people on the trip. It ended up costing us way more than we wanted to - but I'll explain that at the end of the trip post.

We got a quick cab back to the Center to join the 'Free Walking Cusco' tour. It started at 11am (though meeting point was at 10;30am). Weirdly, there were four recent Warwick female graduates who all basically studied History or Politics on the tour too! Talk about small world. Firstly we visited a coco museum to learn about the history of chocolate. We also went to a few view points, watched a man play local instruments/ tell us about Andean music, and went to a museum on the history of plants in South America. It sounds boring, but some of it was interesting. It ended in a bar with a free cocktail. Of course they work for free, so you´re supposed to tip - which we did. Overall, I found it was too much uphill walking haha. It was good though, Matt really enjoyed it.








Arriving back at the hostel (Kokopelli Backpackers - 30 soles a night (6 pounds) at 1:30pm we hoped to check-in. However, hugely infuriating - they wouldn´t let us check in till precisely 2pm, so we had to sit and wait (not backpacker friendly!). When we finally did check in though and rushed to the shower, it was delightfully warm and powerful, I just wanted to stay there all day. 

Eventually, I did get out... We walked around Cusco for a bit and got dinner - McDonalds again for myself and KFC for Matt. We couldn't look more tourist if we tried. We had lama jumpers on, eating classic Western junk food and Matt was wearing a Death Road t-shirt too. Talk about cringe hey!



After a few drinks at our hostel with 2 English girls, we had a session to inform us about the trip at Loki at 7:30pm so got a taxi there and listened to this man go on for an hour about what we were going to do. Totally pointless and highly irritating. I almost fell asleep! We got a taxi back to the hostel and swiftly fell asleep, ready for the day ahead.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Copacabana Town/ Lake Titicaca.

The bus was super long and just slow/ delayed. We had to do a little ferry crossing (20p) over the Tequina Straits before getting back onto the bus. The views were incredible, the lake was stunning. Copacabana itself wasn't anything special, in fact, it was hugely mediocre. Unfortunately, due to Matts stupidity yesterday, we weren't able to do the tour of Isle de Sol as we missed it - it only runs at 8:30am and 1:30pm.

Instead, we booked our onwards ticket to Cusco. We were originally going to go to Puno then change as we heard if you book it as one trip, when you get to Puno they transfer you onto an awful bus. However, we were told of potential strikes across the country that could delay our trip, so we booked straight to Cusco at 120 BOB (£12). 

We just spent the rest of the day eating and drinking, killing time. The border crossing took two hours as there were huge queues, very frustrating. But the bus was nice and we arrived in Cusco at 5:30am.








Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Time to move on.

This morning I stayed in bed catching up on my blog (sorry, I've been dying so... it's been slacking haha), whilst Matt went to the tour company to get the t-shirts and DVD from our trip yesterday and some present for some of the boys back home. He came back without the DVD though as he stupidly got lost and thus went when they were closed for siesta. This meant we had to delay getting the bus to Copacabana as we had to go back there when it opened at 3pm to get it. We spent the start of the afternoon on the computers just updating everything. Exciting....

We decided to go for a walk and find some lunch. We settled on this really posh looking western owned stake house. It was empty (probably because nobody can afford it)! Matt wanted a lama burger but decided against it last minute. The burgers we both got were so big I couldn't fit it in my mouth, I had to tear it apart first. It came to £8 each overall - outrage eh?

Finally we could go pick up our t shirts and photos, then wandered back to the hotel where we got ready to get a bus to Copacabana. We got to the bus station at 4:35pm, only to learn that the last bus left at 4:30pm. Great! Another day wasted doing sod all, honestly felt like crying, I was one sassy girl that evening. We booked tickets for 8am tomorrow morning at 30 BOB (£3) each.

We checked into the Adventure Brew hostel (not B&B this time), had a quick drink, and decided we were too lazy to move and so whilst matt watched batman, I just slept from 6pm onwards. How uneventful.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Dance with Death - Worlds Most Dangerous Road, Bolivia.

Overview
Overall, I'd really recommend our company - Adventure on Wheels (4.75 out of 5). They lose 0.25 for not having more stops. Our guide, Octavo, was amazing the whole day, really helpful, supporting and spoke perfect English thus could tell us stories. Food wasn't brilliant, but it sufficed. Also, by far the best equipment for the price! The whole day cost us 450 BOB (£45) - we got £5 off for being students, and everyone gets a t-shirt and a DVD with movie clips and photos on. I thought by comprising on price, we might get awful service since the top rated on trip advisor, and the one we could book through the hostel, Gravity, was £70 for the same thing, but this really wasn't the case.

Main section

Starting the morning at 6:45am was just not my idea of fun... After dragging myself out of bed to all-you-can-eat pancakes, where I woefully had one with a cup of milk, we sorted out our bags with the check list they provided and headed for the lobby. We waited 30 minutes and finally the company turned up and we joined four Belgium girls. I was glad they were female as I hoped this would deter testosterone filled competition from Matt that could result in an injury (cocky shit). 

We drove an hour to our start point and got geared up. Knee and elbow pads, thick jacket and trousers, and a biking helmet. This was a lot more than other groups. Some (like Bermuda company), were just given a high vis vest and snowboard helmet/ goggles that I doubt would have done anything to protect them if they fell. Our bikes were amazing quality too compared to others. They had full suspension and hydrologic brakes.


Once we tested out our bikes we were good to go. I was hesitant at first as the seat was at an odd angle, but sure enough, as promised, when zooming downhill the angle made a lot more sense. The first part of the day was on proper tarmac. This is what they replaced Death Road with due to how dangerous it was. As of 2006 regular cars aren't allowed to use it any more. Along the way we were told some information about its history.


In the 1980's a load of men had gone to play a football match down in the valley and had all drank a lot, acting rowdy. 100 of them squeezed into one bus (classic Bolivian style). 3 of them got off part of the way up because they were sober and felt it was too dangerous. As the bus set off again, the rowdy men inside were causing the bus to sway, and the three that got off then watched the bus tip off the edge and all 100 of them tumble to their death in the valley.

In 2003 a family were thought to have braked too late round a corner and slipped off, again crashing to their death. They were only found 3 months later when locals wondered why vultures kept circling the area and decided to go down to check it out. It's thought one of them was alive for a short while before dying because they had made some attempt to climb out the car. Of course, because of the vultures all that was left was bones really.

In terms of bike deaths, last year for example there were  2 local tour guides (one run off the road by a car, and the other lost his footing taking a photo), and a French girl who had been trying to taking a selfie so had one hand off her handlebars when she hit a rock, couldn't gain control, and plummeted 80m down the cliff edge. Gruesome. 

Anyway... Back to my story. I just absolutely loved the Tarmac road speeding along. I think I'd say it was one of the best feelings I've had in my life - and that's a bold statement from me! It takes a lot to wow me these days. The scenery was amazing, it is how I imagine cycling through the Grand Canyon would be if that were possible haha. It was freezing cold to start with, I had a thermal vest, micro fleece, t shirt and long sleeved top on with a scarf, thermal leggings, jeans and all their equipment on too. There was snow on the mountains though. It was difficult to move! Thankfully you didn't really need too as this was all down hill.

After an hour and a half we hopped in the car again for 15 minutes to get to the point where you pay 25 BOB for a ticket to a 'protected area'. Here we had lunch (stale ham and cheese sandwich, banana, chocolate bar and coke). 

I also chatted to the guide a bit about the history of Bolivia. He told me about how their tourism is suffering due to the lack of American tourists. It's unsurprising when they have to pay $135 for a visa! This is because in early 2000, the man who came to rule the country moved to be a coca leaf farmer. He grew irritated with American presence who tried to control the plantations. In Bolivia coca is a huge part of their culture and has been for centuries. They use it to cure every ailment, and chew it religiously. Of course the aggressiveness of the Americans angered locals and eventually this forced them reluctantly to withdraw from the country. (They were placed their to try stopping the export of cocaine.) Eventually the U.S. rose the visa price to try deterring them from bringing it in, and Bolivia retaliated too.
Next, we hopped in the car again and we came to the top of death road. There was a memorial stone there for 5 individuals in the mid 1900s who were pushed off the edge by a dictator for trying to incite democracy. Therefore the name death road not only refers to traffic accidents.

It started off intimidating, and very painful for my bottom. Even sitting on the mini bus right now writing this, my bottom is in the most agonising pain from how rocky the road was.


I wouldn't say I feared death... Sometimes I was heart stoppingly close to the edge to allow minibuses to pass that carried our bikes, or locals who lived there. I was aware however, the entire time, that one wrong move/ lapse in concentration could be fatal. If I hit a rock at a dodgy angle and slightly slipped, I would tumble down the side. There was nothing to stop you falling apart from on corners. 

We rode through some waterfalls which was cool, and some small rivers. Towards the end I was at the very back. My whole body was aching as there were a few parts that were slightly uphill - by this point it was easily over 20 degrees and I refused to take off any of my gear as I knew how much it'd help if I fell off. 

That's what is often left unmentioned, the amount of injuries outside of death. Both locals and tourists  are injured ALL the time on route, lots of scraped faces and broken arms/ legs. They even have a dedicated ambulance for the area. 


I liked that one guide always stayed at the back. There was no pressure to go fast, they allowed you to go at your own pace. One minibus followed behind us too so if you wanted to give up you could just stop and they would put your bike up and you could just enjoy the view from the car. I won't lie, I was so so so tempted at one point. We did an hour long stretch with no break, the main uphill part. I was miserable, and as far as I'm concerned, when something stops becoming fun, you should stop - in a way I wish I had because it tainted my view of the day - on the other hand, I wanted to prove to myself I could cycle the whole 60 km for a personal sense of pride. We rode all the way to the Amazon basin. 

Anyway, once we finally finished, we stopped for drinks and to use a hotels swimming pool/ eat there and got back in the car for the 3 hour drive back on the new road. When I got back, I had a good rest, went and got a hot dog and chips for 90p and watched some odd but amusing dancing by locals in the Univeristy opposite our hostel before settling down to watch the final batman - Matt went to the bar to meet Mark, this lovely guy we met in Santa Cruz, for a few beers.

So, if you're debating whether to do it or not - 110% go for it! If like me you're not the fittest fiddle about, the company still look after you and worst comes to worst, you can get back on the bus if you're that tired! It'll still be the most amazing experience. We were very very lucky with the weather, I don't know how well I would have faired if it were rainy or foggy as it sometimes is.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Alto-market

La Paz is my favorite South American city thus far. I like the hustle here, yet how much safer it feels than Rio for example. It's also beautifully set in the mountains, gorgeous scenery all around.

Today, after some pancakes for breakfast, we walked to the cable cart to catch it up to the alto-market. It cost 3 BOB each way and the queues were HUGE. Stupidly we didn't get 4 tickets, we got 2 - which meant we had to re-queue again at the top of the mountain to get back down. Oops.

Luckily, the weather was rather lovely and I even got to take my jumper and thermals off! The market was HUGE. I'm not sure if we walked about in circles or what - it was very confusing. At first, it seemed as if there was some kind of order - rows and rows of car parts greet you at the entrance, and then it looks as if you might be walking into the clothing section. Soon, stationary stalls, car parts, headphones, computer games, childrens clothes, coca leafs etc. all muddle into one huge sprawling mess. We wandered around aimlessly for hours, just looking for new clothes to keep us warm. I bought a pair of tracksuit bottoms for 25 BOB, and a pair of headphones for 10 BOB - yep, they turned out to be the worst things ever.

We went back and watched Dark Knight before going out to find dinner - I ended up settling for a street hot dog for 4 BOB. Again, due to the early start needed, we called it a night and curled up back to sleep.

We tried finding this panaorama restaurant but failed miserably. I was bored and hungry by this point so we caught the cart back down and went on a trek to find the pizzeria written on the map. After some good food, we walked around the more tourist market filled with lama jumpers and bags. Matt and I now have matching lama jumpers haha. 100 BOB each. I also got my mum a little present. We also booked a tour on Death Road for tomorrow - early start!






Glass bottled coke!! Exciting...