A Travellerspoint blog

Bamboozled in Bolivia with SALAR DE UYUNI!!!

Salt deserts...spurting geysers....and coloured lagoons

all seasons in one day

Well well ,tell ya what, after 2 days we’d had enough of stinky La Paz. Watery eyes, sneezing, sore throats, we’d turned into freaks! Plus Steve was coming down with some weird bug…..
La Paz has a very large bus terminal near the city centre with many companies under the same roof to choose from. Its easy to leave and arrive via bus, although watch your bags in this terminal. We get the directo to Uyuni, 13 hrs SW of the capital, and what an overnight bus!!! Bumpy and very cold, Jess gets a chill off the frosted window, Steve at best is half delirious mumbling gibber as the bug takes hold, AND we get a crusty ol mullet Jan Claude Van Dam 80’s action movie dubbed in Spanish with VERY bad sound quality. Mum and Grenine loved the action scenes when van dam got his gear off!! Anyway after a night of action we arrive Uyuni 5am, its freezing, and we are bombarded by Boliviano men hard selling their tours to the famous salt flats….its 5am!! UN MOMENTO POR FAVOUR!!!!!!!!! We manage to shrug off the tour salesmen and head straight to the nearest cafe that offers breakfast with a fire. But then, Steve in his weird bug hangover misplaces the South America Lonely Planet, NO NOT THE TRAVEL BIBLE, sheeeesh there was some downtime when we realised it was gone……what a casualty.....

After a few hrs of cursing we had settled into a hostel, booked our 4WD tour across the Bolivian altiplano desert into the largest salt flats in the world, and were laser baking (the one and only way to say you are sunbaking!) on the main street trying to thaw out. Yep we just found the sunniest seat and went to sleep…...

Next day we piled into a ‘Leyland brothers’ style land cruiser and gassed it out into the Bolivian altiplano desert. The company Andes Sal Expeditions offer friendly English speaking tour guides and competitive prices. The next 3 days were ALL TIME! The next 2 nights MUY ‘-15’ FRIO! The scenery amazing. The worlds largest salt flat sits 3650m above sea level and covers 12,000 sq kms. Salar de Uyuni was part of a prehistoric salt lake, Lago Minchin. When it dried up it left salt flats as far as the eye can see.
In the middle of this blindingly white desert sits Isla de los Pescadores, covered in giant cacti.
We also visited the bright adobe red lake - Laguna Colorado, a geyser basin 4950m above sea level, and the splendid aquamarine lake - Laguna Verde, but unfortunately it was not green and just looked like a normal lake surrounded by gigantic volcanoes....
At the end of the trip you have the option to go back to Uyuni, or be dropped off at the Chilean border - we did the latter and rolled down the hill into the northern Chilean town of San Pedro de Atacama. But more on this in our next blog…….Our south American journey coming close to an end....

Posted by jessnsteve 18:59 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (3)

PERU pt3, the Intrepid Tour - 'Sacred Land of the Incas'

Amazon jungle!! Cusco!! Inca trail!! Machu Picchu!! And LAKE TITICACAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!

all seasons in one day

So, after a quick pick up trip to the airport, we’re now travelling as an awesome foursome with the additions of Julie and her work colleague Genine, or Grenine as the Peruvian tour leaders would have her named, OR sister Gezza as Steve would call her for the whole trip…and its time for the greatly anticipated 15 day Intrepid Trip. But first we have a little bite to eat, and a little to drink, to celebrate Steve’s (31st!) and Julie’s (62nd!!!!!!!!!) birthdays…..
Intrepid is an Australian travel company that provides responsible and sustainable travel tours across the world. Todays special - The Sacred Valley of the Incas!! Prior to meeting up with the group and our fearless leader Ollie for an induction we cruised Lima Centro for an afternoon checking out the Plaza Da Armas and the Larco Museum which contains a great array of Inca exotic pottery. And I mean EXOTIC! Go on see for yourself!! (Dad please close grandma’s eyes for this sextion….)
OK, ON TOUR YO! First stop is Puerto Maldonado in the Peruvian Amazon Jungle. FACT: Peru’s Amazonas take up approximately 50% of the nations land area. We kicked off with a 3hr motorised canoe ride upstream to our eco friendly jungle lodge 'Refugio Amazonas'. On the way we spotted Capybaras (the worlds largest rodent - looks like a guinea pig on steroids crossed with a wombat) and Caimans (mini white crocs).
We arrive at the lodge and are pleasantly surprised. We were all expecting something pretty basic but we're greeted with the opposite. The main building was a huge open construction of raw wood, the interior was decorated with wooden and jungle nut chandeliers, a fully stocked bar with jungle fruit cocktails (that mum and Genine got wasted on every night!), it had a fabulous all you can eat buffet restaurant (Steve continuously returned for 3rds and 4ths), and the BEST coffee on tap (which little miss Jrae got ridiculously hypo on!).
Our 2 day visit in the jungle consisted of river canoe cruising, forest canopy viewing, rainforest walking and a visit to a local farm. We experienced everything from piranhas, black and white caimans, 3 diff monkey sp, many birds and butterflies, Brasil (Peru!) nut trees, a 1000yr OLD TREE, AND A HOLLOW TREE, TASTED DRAGONS BLOOD AND GOT SPASTIC ON SUGER CANE STICKS!! WOOOOOOWWW
With enough jungle time clocked up we take a short flight to Cuzco (or Cusco??), the heart and soul of Peru. The city itself is the continent’s oldest continuously inhabited city and was home to the Incas for over 2 centuries before the Spanish stormed in and built their first capital here. Massive Inca built walls line steep narrow cobblestone streets which are filled with more tourists than you can poke a stick at.
On our way to Ollantaytambo and the Sacred Valley we visit the markets at Pisac for some light goods (anything we buy will need to be lugged 42km along the Inca Trail!).
Ollantaytambo is one of the most popular towns in the Sacred Valley and one of the few places the Incas defeated the Spanish. While the group visited an entry fee Inca site, we climbed the opposite mountain which overshadows the town for free entry Inca site viewing, minus the tourists…..
OK, the long awaited INCA TRAIL!! So excited! HERE IT IS!!
Starting point : Village of Chilca. Km82 where you can buy walking sticks and bags of Coca leaves.
Tour guides: Wilber and Rolando - if you do the inca trail with intrepid you got to get these 2 very funny characters. THANKS AGAIN GUYS!!….ESPECIES!!!!!!!!! hahahahaha
Hike Distance: 42km
Duration: 4 days.
Highest Point: 4200m “Dead Women’s Pass“.
Finish: Machu Picchu.
Highest moment: chewing coca leaves on top of dead womans pass
Lowest moment: Jess assisting a very sick (AND broken toed) Julie in her hr of need….no need to include any more detail.

The most famous trek in South America laid by the Incas winds its way up, down and around the mountains snaking over three high passes on the way. The views of snowy peaked andes and cloud forest are stupendous, and walking from one cliff hugging ruin to the next was an unforgettable experience. The trail is part of a series of Inca highways that linked the Incas from Quito in Ecuador to Santiago in Chile.
Machu Picchu was thought to be built around 1440AD for Inca nobility but there is evidence that it has been a sacred Inca site for much longer. Day 4, we arrive at the Sun Gate and watch the sunrise over the majestic ruins…..
After some “relaxation” in Cusco we make an unplanned flight to Puno due to protests blocking the roads. Puno is the hopping off point to explore Lake Titicaca, the largest, highest, navigable lake in the world sitting at 3820m above sea level stretching 230km long and 97km wide. From the shoreline the water stretches out as far as the eye can see. We visit the indigenous populated island, Taquile, via SLOW boat for a lake caught fish (trout) lunch and a demonstration of local culture through dance and music.
After lunch its back on the boat for top deck sunset lounging while we travel to the Uros (Floating Islands). These floating islands are made up of many layers of Totora reeds, originally built to isolate the indigenous population from rival tribes. The inhabitants eat fish and reeds, the same Totora reeds which are used to built their beds, houses and boats.
WOW what a day, we hit Puno on dark and sharpen up for a cracking dinner session complete with Peruvian music and traditional dancers.
Next day we cross the border into Bolivia, hitting La Paz after dark due to waiting for another protest to clear from the road. In our 'irritated' eyes, La Paz is stinky from pollution and not all that exciting. Constantly peak hour traffic 24/7, the highest capital in the world (3660m) is impossible to get around quickly. On a clear day the snowy Mt Illimani (6402m) stands proud in the background. We had a last hooraah with the intrepid group and Ollie at a couple of smashing restaurants and bars, which included a gruelling pool comp, and said our goodbyes.

The intrepid tour ‘Sacred Land of the Incas’ comes highly recommended. Walking where the Inca people once walked, faught and farmed.....

More about Bolivia next blog, yes Yes YES we go leyland brothers style across the Atacama desert and visit the ALTIPLANO SALT FLATS!

Posted by jessnsteve 14:16 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

PERU pt2, AG 'After Ging Gang' - the Cordillera Blanca

Huaraz and the Cordillera blanca 07/06/09-13/06/09

semi-overcast 10 °C

It was great surfing up north and playing in the sun at Lobitos and Pacasmayo, but now it was time to start more adventures! Before we enter the outskirts of Lima our bus winds around oceanic sand cliffs, the tires only inches away from the edge. We arrive safely back in Lima after a 17hr overnight bus trip from far north and choose hostel Inkawasi in Miraflores as our temporary home. And what a score, free internet, breaky included!!! The owner, Fabio, is a mad keen surfer and top bloke with a lovely family, Nicole and Ailani. His assistant Alberto is a champ and keeps the place spotless! We dump our bags and head to the airport to pick up Steve’s mum - Ging Gang has landed!!!!!!!!! After travelling for 5 months it was great to see a familiar/family face. HOLA MI MADRE!!!!!!!!!
After a few days acclimatising in Peru, recovering from 2days worth of jet lag, Ging Gang was ready to explore - and a trip to Huaraz and the Cordillera Blanca it is! An overnight 8hr bus from Lima saw us arrive up in the Andes, in a town called Huaraz.
Huaraz is the jumping off point for some of South America’s best trecking. The mountainous region of the Cordillera Blanca and Huayhuash has an awesome jaw dropping natural beauty. This is the 2nd highest mountain range in the world with over 20 peaks above 6000m. Huascaran is the king of the peaks at 6768m.
We settle into Albergue Churup and admire the mountains. OK, which one are we going to climb???
With not a great deal of time up our sleeves, nor the experience, we decide to do a recommended 1 day hike up to Lake Llanganuco and Lake 69 as apposed to other hikes that last up to 10 days. Our hike involved lugging a days worth of supplies starting from 3900m, reaching 4600m and then back by sunset. Without a guide and just a cartoon sketch map provided by our hostel we encounted a few ‘which way are we going‘ moments at the cross roads of poorly marked routes. Some of the steeper higher altitude sections tore a new sphanktor or 2 in you. However, the pain is quickly replaced by pleasure as you look around at the glaciated peaks, pristine emerald lakes and brightly coloured Andean wildflowers. After the hike we spent another 2 days in Huaraz relaxing our sore muscles (walking around as if we had carrots up our coits), shopping at artesania mercados (the girls went sick!), eating VERY cheap vegetarian fare (3 course meal $2AUD), and getting friendly with the locals………

Lake Llanganuco........

Walking through the Andes.....

Andean wildflowers

And then there was Lake 69....


Stay tuned as next we have the Intrepid tour with the inca trail and MACHU PICCHU!!!!!!!

Posted by jessnsteve 15:16 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

PERU pt1, 'BG' (before Ging Gang - Steve's mum)

Bienvenidos a Lima y Peru norte!!!! 24/05/09-07/06/09

semi-overcast 23 °C

OK, so we hung around in Panama for about a wk longer than expected whilst Steve was recovering, cheeseburger after cheeseburger. Time to get outa there we booked ourselves a ridiculously overpriced one way ticket to Lima to make up time. This unfortunately resulted in us missing out on Columbia and Ecuador.
After a brief 3hr flight we land safely on the tarmac in Lima and immediately head for the Ormeno terminal to get a bus north. Next day we arrive in Trujillo and stay at Casa de Clara. After a few days of stretching out Steve was ready to hit the water. YIIPPAAHHH Jess says, he’s been a painfull creature since the injury. A short collectivo ride took us an hr north and we arrive at Pacasmayo, a small fishing village well known to the global surfing community for having one of the longest lefts in the world.
Whilst staying with Senor Otto at Hostal Duke in Pacasmayo (for the first time) the surf was smallish, we visited a lesser know left just south called Poemape, and found not one but many coffee plungers which we have been searching for since Costa Rica!!!!! That’d be right ey, we just ordered a plunger on eBay and asked mum to lug it over in a wk. Once the swell had dropped out it was time to move onto the next city north - Chiclayo - where we visited museums, attracted alot of attention jogging through the streets, and cranked out our own spin class at the gym on not so OH&S standard bikes.
We’d seen enough gold, and got enough stares. Another swell was due so we cruzed back to Pacasmayo for our 2nd visit to see if this world class left would light up…Nope still not enough swell for Steve. So we get the overnight bus much further north to the swell magnet Lobitos. The Lobitos area is home to no less than 9 LEFT HANDERS and when we arrived it was on fire.
YEEESSSSSSSSS!!! While in Lobitos we stayed at Nachos accom but before we could see the first day out disaster struck again. Nope, Steve didn’t hit the reef, Jess was struck down with an intestinal parasite and spent the first night in the toilet with dual end fury. The following 2 days Jess layed in bed asleep, going to the toilet in the adjacent desert, while Steve got his fare share of lefts at breaks El Hueco, Lobitos and Piscinas. Finally regaining her appetite and enough strength to walk for more than 10m we bail out of Lobitos (much to Steve’s disappointment as the waves were still pumping) and get the 16hr bus back to Lima to pick up Ging Gang. And that brings us to Peru pt2, 'AG' (after Ging Gang) and the Cordillas Blancas!!!

But while we write part2, here are a few more pics!!!!!!!MORE PICS I SAY STOP WITH THE SMALL TALK...

Cruising altitude

Sneaky beer at a mens bar in Lima....

Trujillo main square - plaza de armas

Heading north....

COFFEE PLUNGERS AND HEAPS OF THEM!!!! There was more across the road the mercado where you can also buy the daily seafood catch, some eggs, fruit n veg, AND COFFEE PLUNGERS!!!!!

The long walk out to el faro, Pacasmayo

Tuk Tuks - a means to get around in Pacasmayo

On our way to Poemape

Poemape - Jess and the tuk tuk driver

Poemape, wraping, slightly onshore, but wraping 4-6ft (steves 2nd surf since
reef wrestle)

The peir, Pacasmayo

Traditional fishing boats, used for 1000s yrs

Jess and the ocean, perfect Pacasmayo.....

Dawn patrol transit, 5:30am, Talara, 1hr from Lobitos

Our shack at nachos, Lobitos

Lobitos rock pools, sunset and late one......

Lobitos midday, still pumping, half the crowd, its lunch time!!!

Lobitos, early and an unidentified from the water

El hueco from the water.....so many kegs......so round......so uncrowded....

Posted by jessnsteve 06:40 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Surviving Panama

Surf, ouch reef, the canal, and kickin back and healing in Panama City.

sunny 28 °C

Border crossing was sweet as a nut, after vowing in writing we were not infected swine’s. We pile into a collectivo bound for the closest big city, David. Arriving on dusk and with help from a friendly citizen, accommodation is found. Right on the main square Hotel Iris is a time warp of classic 70’s style. A little wander of the streets we realise that we are the only white fellas in sight and that we are getting curious looks, ok lets head for cover to restaurant 24 for dinner.

Buenos dias. Cheap internet found and we spend all morning organising our lives on the net followed by an arvo bus to Santiago then another to Sona. From Sona we share a cab with a friendly Frenchman the remaining 1.5 hours to the isolated Santa Catalina to arrive in the dark. Santa Catalina is a small fishing village in NW Panama that attracts 2 types of tourists - keen surfers for the rocky right hand reef break and scuba divers for the myriad of diving spots off the national park islands.
Rolo Cabins provide a good budget option with cheap rooms, communal kitchen access (a must for shoe stringin travellers) and a 5 minute rock scramble away from the break.
Steve, frothing harder than a shaken up VB, surfed 3 times in the first day. The early was 2-3ft, clean and fun but got a little crowded as the morning went on. Midday session picked up to 4-5ft and swung off shore, kegs a plenty and heavy with no one out but a few rocks sticking out here and there. The arvo session saw solid 5ft sets, bit onshore, and crowded again, but the lines were longer!

We met 3 Aussie lads from the snowy mountains region that were staying at Rolo and talked about plans to get to Panama City, turns out we were all heading the next day. Despite yearning to remain in isolated paradise we needed to make a move if we were to make it through Columbia and Ecuador and then through Peru to meet Ging Gang (Steve’s mum Julie) in Lima on 7th June. During the day a cracking budget bakery was discovered up the road and a small chunk of Kevin’s Economy booster was spent on croissants, fresh rolls and brownies. We were loaded after a dollar each!

Next morning Steve’s alarm went off at some ungodly hour and he bolted out to the surf to cram in one last early before the 8am bus to Panama City. Surf was epic, Steve was out solo, indo perfection glassy 4ft rights, he knew it was going to be on from the previous arvos conditions. Then disaster struck half hr into the session. Rushing and sleepy Steve muffed a drop, didn’t penetrate, and went over the falls and plummeted through the shallow water to be back slammed into the reef WWF Hulk Hogan style. A quick check of the skull with a hand wipe revealed not just blood but flesh chunks. Back was scratched and bruised up too. Another couple of painfully stiff tin man style waves and concussion kicked in, time to paddle in and limp back to the cabin.

Jess was wondering why Steve was late for the bus and started to worry a little. There he is, in the shower. Looking pale he muttered “there’s been a slight change of plans honey”. Rashie removed to reveal bark off and streams of blood, other streams running down his neck from the head wounds - wish we weren’t so freaked out and took a before treatment photo. Jess applied iodine and antiseptic powder to the back wounds with no issues but when it came to the head gashes and fishing out reef chunks she felt the blood rush from her head and nearly passed out. Steve was now attending a passed out Jess! Steve had his head patched up by one of the Aussie boys. It probably needed a stitch or two but considering we were in the middle of no where sterilisation and a hat to hold it together to clot had to do.
Next came a hideously uncomfortable 6 hour bus journey to Panama City. Steve was heavily concussed and dosed to the eye balls on ibuprofen (6!), his shirt sticking to his wounds. The bus driver insisted on playing rank music super loud all the way. Turned up in Panama City to check out a few accommodations, Steve’s back had seized up and climbed in and out of the car like a 96 yr old. We settled for something a little luxury to help with the recuperation process.
Top floor of the Hotel Acapulco, our room had all the luxuries, AC, cable tellie and lux bathroom plus nice touches like wooden furnishings, French doors and a balcony. On the bottom floor of the hotel was a cheap and sometimes cheerful 24hr restaurant and bar which was frequented rather often for brekkie and cheeseburgers (essential for back injury recovery).

We met up with the Aussie boys for a drink and while we were waiting on the street we met a local guy called Freedom. Freedom described himself as a “poet from the upper west side”, he then recited a pretty impressive rap/poem for us in exchange for a dollar. He had talent. He worked the street out the front of our hotel, directing parking and washing cars, his home was the side walk next to his washing buckets. Watching his erratic behaviour from the balcony became one of Steve’s favourite recovery pass times. At night time Jess doused Steve’s wounds in iodine as he screamed like a beeyartch describing the iodine as evil acidic alien spit.
The next day we discovered a major casualty, Steve in his concussed ibuprofen state the day before on the bus had managed to disappear Jess’s prescription sunnies. Shite!!!!!!!!!!! Thinking about the cost we remembered travel insurance and that a police report is necessary. Out on the street Freedom showed us where a tourist police officer was posted. He called for a police van to pick us up and take us to the station to file a report. Once the van pulled up we piled in and watched the events unfold. A security guard from the 24hr restaurant complained to the cops about something Freedom had supposedly done, Freedom was slapped by the cop, cuffed and thrown in the van with us. WTF?

We then drove through the slums of Panama City, not feeling safe at all despite being in police company. Freedom was thrown in a cell, we got our report and got the fark outta there. Freedom was back on the streets that night looking a little worse for wear. They couldn’t pin him for anything so he got off.

Our time in Panama City was spent recovering, shopping, sight seeing and organising future travel plans. We visited two main shopping malls on the search for sunnies suitable for script lenses, an optometrist that could understand spanglish and a laptop because the costs of using internet cafes were adding up to be unviable. The first centre we visited was Albrook Mall. It was absolutely massive, swimming with humans and could be generally described as a shit fight. All the notebook laptops were really cheap and perfect except that they were all loaded with Windows XP Spanish, which could not be changed to English without being uninstalled and reloaded with the English version with an external disk drive - not worth the bother.
The next day we visited the Multi Plaza Mall in the shiny arse business district of Panama City. Unlike the day before shopping experience the Multi Plaza could very well be described as shopping heaven. Except for the fact that we turned up at 9 and the shops didn’t open til 11. Once they were open sunnies were found, optometrist lined up to produce lenses in 4 days and a kick arse Swiss pocket knife bought for $16.
Reality set in that we would be staying in Panama city longer than first planned we had to move from our luxury room to something a little more affordable. Freedom told us about a place just round the corner, Hotel Monarco, that was good and affordable. He would stay there a night if he earnt enough for a comfy bed and hot shower. Lonely Planet obviously missed this budget gem, nice room even if we did share the hotel with a few hourly rate customers.
With Steve still getting around like an old geriatric we still had a few days to fill so we explored the city. Panama city is a place of contrasts. Skyscrapers meet the ocean reminiscent of Miami and money flows into the city from internationals using the canal at US$75000 a passage. The central business district is a mass of flashy glass and steel, the rich and the famous park their million dollar yachts at the marina and hit the casinos and clubs. At the other end of town lies Casco Viejo, the old colonial centre of town built in the 1600‘s. Mostly abandoned in the early 1900’s for the newer part of town, grand buildings lay decaying until a recent movement to restore and rejuvenate the area.
Between Casco Viejo and the business district lies a sprawling ghetto, a significant reminder that not everyone benefits from the millions of dollars revenue the canal provides.
Our hotel was between the business district and Casco Viejo a couple of blocks back from the ocean. We decided to walk along the ocean to Casco Viejo for some sight seeing on our way to the boardwalk. We had a plan to stick to the main roads for safety. Somehow we strayed off the main roads and found ourselves in the middle of the ghetto, the only tourists in sight we started to attract a little attention. Can of beer in one hand thumb out on the other - TAXI!

Once out on the boardwalk, which was made by the material excavated from the panama canal, we wondered around like lost puppies. It provided great views back onto the city and also a good drop of wine.
After a week of cable tv, sight seeing, shopping, and fast food, Steve had recovered to about 80% and it was time to say goodbye to Panama. We booked ourselves a flight to Lima, Peru, which unfortunately meant we missed Columbia and Ecuador. Never mind, next time, it was just good to see Steve with a smile on his face and jumping around like a lunatic again :)
Adios Panama...

Posted by jessnsteve 14:42 Archived in Panama Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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