May - July 2017
  • Day39

    06/06/2017-08/06/2017 La Paz

    June 8, 2017 in Bolivia ⋅ 🌬 12 °C

    06/06/2017-08/06/2017 La Paz

    We travelled by bus from Copacabana to La Paz. At one point in our journey we needed to cross part of the lake, which involved taking a “ferry”. The ferry was a wooden barge, which did not look like it would take the weight of a bicycle let alone a coach. Luckily we all got off and took a boat across the 0.5 miles, and so could witness without experiencing.

    We got to La Paz late, and were exhausted, and once I had seen to a hangry Tom with a pizza, were finally able to go to bed.

    The following day we tackled cycling The Death Road, “the worlds most dangerous road”. The road is a 64km gravel track, which is very windy. At points the track is only as wide as 3.5m. The highest point was 4300m high, with sheer drops. Since the building of an alternate highway, it is mainly tourists that use the road for mountain biking, with a small amount of local traffic.

    We were recommended a company called Gravity by some friends from Uni. We did our research before booking and found them to be safe. They are a company run by a guy from New Zealand. On our tour we had 3 guides for 12 of us. The company have 7 full time mechanics to maintain the bikes, which never go out two days in a row. Our main guide was a Scot called Scott who installed regular breaks to ensure we were all ok, and to check our bikes with the mechanic. He gave us regular advice on how to tackle the next section and advised us of any obstacles we may encounter.

    Since getting my foot stuck in a bike wheel, I have had an aversion to bikes, and other than a wobbly cycle around central park two years ago, have not been on a bike since I was about 9 years old. Although Tom cycles to work most days, he hasn't done much mountain biking, and the terrain was slightly different to Southampton, so this was quite a challenge for us both! However, we felt like we could not come to La Paz and not try it. Plus we both love a challenge.

    We both came out the other side unscathed and neither of us fell off and celebrated with a beer at the bottom. We both really enjoyed it, and it's very different to what we have done so far.

    The following day we did a walking tour of La Paz and got to know a bit more about its history. The tour started outside the infamous San Pedro prison (from the book Marching Powder). We were strongly advised against taking a tour inside.

    The tour took us through some of the markets, which La Paz is famous for. Our guides told us about some of Bolivia's traditions and rituals, including the sacrificing of llama foetuses which are placed in the foundations of buildings. The foetuses were hanging up in the market which was a bit disconcerting.

    In the afternoon we took the cable car up to another market at the top of the city. It was huge and covered over 20 blocks. We were told you could buy anything and everything there, which wasn't a lie. We saw everything from soups to toilets to car parts and even whole cars. From the market we got a lovely panoramic view of the city and the surrounding mountains.

    We are currently at the airport ready to move on to our next stop, Uyuni.
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  • Day37

    03/06/2017 -06/06/2017 Lake Titicaca

    June 6, 2017 in Peru ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    03/06/17-06/06/17 Lake Titicaca

    We have spent the past four days visiting Lake Titicaca, the worlds largest high altitude lake, sitting at 3808m above sea level. We started by visiting Puno, on the Peruvian side of the lake.

    From Puno we took a boat to Islas Flotantes De Los Uros, a community of around 50 islands situated on the lake and made entirely of reeds. We were able to get off the boat and walk around the islands, which were surprisingly stable. One of the ladies showed us her home, made from pieces of wood and reeds. It was interesting to see how they manage to live with so little. On one of the islands they have built a shop, restaurants etc and on another is a primary school, villagers and tourists have to go between the islands by boats (also made from reeds), and we had a ride on one of these boats. As they have no engine, someone drives behind in a small boat with an engine pushing it along.

    The following day we said “hasta luego” to Peru, and crossed the border into Bolivia. We spent two nights in Copacabana (not that one), where we got a panoramic view of the lake from our room, and our own private jacuzzi and wood burning stove, for a ridiculously cheap price.

    On our first evening, we walked up a high hill to watch the sun set. Unfortunately the viewing spot was pretty dirty, with lots of graffiti and litter, but the view was worth it. It gave Tom the opportunity to do yet another time lapse on his gopro, so he was happy!

    On one of our days we visited the Isla Del Sol, a boat journey away from Copacabana, on the lake. We spent our day hiking around the island and had some impressive views. We were accompanied by another dog throughout our hike to the top, we don't understand why we keep attracting them!

    The hotel we stayed at had a very good restaurant, the best in Copacabana, for a very reasonable price. We took full advantage of this, and enjoyed a few meals there, including sampling the local delicacy, Lake trout, which was delicious. They also did chocolate fondues, and after a significant lack of chocolate during our trip so far, we enjoyed demolishing one on our last night, accompanied by some very nice Chilean wine.

    Our last day in Copacobana we had a lazy morning packing and getting ready for La Paz as well as a nice walk around the Bay.
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  • Day33

    30/05/17-02/06/17 Arequipa/Colca Canyon

    June 2, 2017 in Peru ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    30/05/17-02/06/17 Arequipa/Colca Canyon

    We took an overnight bus from Cusco to Arequipa. The journey took 10 hours and we both slept the majority of the way. I think it's safe to say all our trekking well and truly wiped us out!

    Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru, although it does not feel like it. It is a colonial city, surrounded by snow topped volcanoes, some of which are still active. The is a large cathedral in their main square and lots of palm trees. It is a pretty city.

    On our first day we decided to try our hands at some Peruvian cooking and attended a cooking class. We learnt to make cerviche, as well as some fried fish in a pisco (the Peruvian's choice of liquor) sauce. The best thing about the class was that we got to sample our food at the end. It was delicious and, if we can find the right kind of fish at home, will definitely try to recreate them at home!

    Some girls we met during our cooking class recommended a Gelateria and so we decided to sample some gelato for pudding. They were right, it was incredible, and we ended up going every day we were in Arequipa. An Italian lady we met agreed it was some of the best gelato she had had before, so it must have been good!

    On our second day we visited one of the museums. In 1996, some archaeologists discovered the frozen body of a girl aged around 12 years old on one of the volcanoes. Amazingly, despite dying 500+ years ago, all of her internal organs had been preserved and scientists have been able to find out more about the Incas in regards to diet, diseases etc as a result. They named her Juanita. She was on display in the museum, kept frozen at -20 degrees. They found bodies of 4 other children nearby, that were not so well preserved. This is all quite controversial, as the other bodies had offerings around them, which has led to the assumption that the Incas used children as human sacrifices to their gods to prevent the volcanoes from erupting. It was all very interesting.

    During our visit the museum, we had to be evacuated for an earthquake drill. Something neither of us have been apart of before!

    In the afternoon we visited a monastery, dating back to the 1500s. It covered 5 acres of land and was like a small gated community within the city. It felt very European, and was again very interesting. A little bit of quiet away from the city. Some of the original nuns belongings were still inside it, and their rooms had been left as they were.

    That evening we walked up to a view point of the city. It was a bit underwhelming. But gave us a chance to appreciate just how large and sprawling Arequipa is.

    The following day, we did a two day hike of the Colca Canyon - because we haven't done enough hiking! The Colca Canyon is the worlds second deepest canyon, and is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon.

    Near to the beginning of our hike we stopped at a point to see some condors. They were very impressive, and it gave Tom the opportunity to partake in one of his favourite past times - attempting to take pictures of moving objects.

    The first day we mainly hiked downhill. The conditions were very different to our Salkantay trek, with dessert landscapes, clear blue skies and temperatures of mid to late 20s. It was hot work!

    We hiked down to an oasis at the bottom of canyon where we were to spend the night. There was a swimming pool there which was much appreciated! The accommodation was pretty basic and we had no lights and a straw roof. The stars were beautiful though and we both slept surprisingly well.

    We started trekking the 1100m back to the top of the canyon at 5am to avoid walking in the sun too much. And watched the sun rise as we trekked. We both felt that our fitness has improved as a result of all our hikes! It was still challenging though.

    On our way back to Arequipa, we stopped off at some more hot springs to ease our aches and pains as well as some viewing points, which gave us some spectacular views.

    On our arrival back to Arequipa we treated ourselves to one last gelato!
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  • Day28

    24/05/2017-28/05/2017 The Salkantay Trek

    May 28, 2017 in Peru ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    24/05/2017-28/05/2017 The Salkantay Trek

    We have returned from 5 days of trekking!

    The Salkantay trek was a beautiful trek, in which we walked for over 60 miles over 5 days (the majority of which were pretty steep uphills and downhills).

    Our group consisted of 11 people. We were joined by two Canadian couples and a group of 5 girls from the USA. We were so lucky with our group - we all got on so well. We called ourselves "the wet llamas" as the first two days were so rainy and we all got drenched. Our spirits remained high throughout though and we all helped each other through the trek!

    On our first day, we trekked to a beautiful lagoon which was overlooked by a glacier. We got to witness an avalanche on the glacier, which was quite spectacular - we were far away enough to not have to worry!

    A few of our group walked up higher to get a better view of the lagoon, which was worth it to see it change colour to a beautiful turquoise colour.

    That night we stayed in glass igloos, which meant we could see the stars in bed, which was pretty cool!

    The following day was one of the hardest. We hiked up to Salkantay Pass, at an elevation of 4630m, it was pretty challenging. Our guide, Ferdinand, promised us spectacular views at its peak - unfortunately it started to hale on our way up, and at the top had a complete white out, so did not get to see this!

    This was one of the few things Ferdinand got wrong. We were extremely lucky to have him as our guide. He has been working as a guide on this tour for 8 years and so really knew his stuff! He was positive and encouraging throughout, and had a great sense of humour. We all adored him.

    Fortunately, the weather cleared up for the last 3 days of our tour. On the Friday we recovered from our hike the previous day by visiting some natural hot springs in the afternoon to ease some of our aches and pains. We were pleasantly surprised at how clean they were, and all felt refreshed after them. The views of the mountains surrounding the pools were amazing.

    The morning of our fourth day we hiked another mountain and at the top there were some inca ruins and Ferdinand taught us some more about the history of the incas. It was from the top of this mountain that we first saw, from a distance, a glimpse of Machu Picchu. In the afternoon we walked along the train line to Aguas Caliente, where we stayed before waking up at 3:30am to walk the 2000 inca steps to Machu Picchu.

    Inca steps are not easy - the heights between each step are very inconsistent, and after four days of trekking, we could really feel the burn!

    It was worth it though, Machu Picchu was amazing. Ferdinand gave us a tour of some of the important parts for a couple of hours. Then we said goodbye to him, which was sad! Tom and I then climbed Waynapicchu, which had some beautiful views over Machu Picchu.

    In our tired state from all our hiking, we stupidly misread the signs when trying to get down. We ended up taking the long route down, which not only took us 200m lower than our starting point, took us back up a lot of stairs. It felt like we had climbed the mountain twice. At the end we took the 2000 inca steps back down to Aguas Caliente and could barely feel our feet!!

    It is safe to say that on the train back to Cusco, we were all exhausted. We had had the foresight to book a nice hotel upon our arrival, and had one of the best nights sleeps we have had in Peru.

    The following day we met up with 4 of the wet llamas for a walking tour of Cusco - the steps were quite difficult but it was really interesting.

    Overall we loved our trek. The group was amazing, the cook made us some incredible meals and we had a lot of fun. It was very challenging at times but the satisfaction when we reached Machu Picchu made it so worthwhile. We would definitely recommend it and it has made us want to do more hikes in the future.
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  • Day23

    20/05/2017-23/05/2017 Cusco

    May 23, 2017 in Peru ⋅ ⛅ 8 °C

    20/05/2017-23/06/2017 Cusco

    We fell asleep in the desert and woke up 4000m above sea level in the mountains. After 14 hours on the coach we finally arrived in Cusco, and treated ourselves to a posh lunch overlooking the central square.

    We spent our first day wandering round Cusco. Something we have loved about Peru is how diverse it is. Cusco is very mountainous and green. People dress traditionally here and there are lots of llamas. It is also very cold!!

    We decided to be adventurous on our second day and do some via ferrata and zip lining. This involved climbing 400m up a cliff face, using ladders and steel girders, and then using 6 zip lines to get down. It was great fun.

    That evening we went and had some more cerviche, and shared a bottle of wine.... we hadn't factored in the altitude and it went straight to our heads!! But was a lovely evening.

    The following morning we got picked up at 3am to climb Rainbow Mountain. Rainbow mountain has its peak at around 5200m above sea level. We were told by lots of people that we were silly for attempting it on our 3rd day at altitude, and the chances of us completing it without the help of a horse were very slim. But, we did it! Although I think we can both agree it is probably the most physically challenging thing we have done. The altitude made it very difficult. It was worth it though. The pictures just don't do it justice, but the different colours of the rocks were spectacular.

    As we reached the top of rainbow mountain, it started to snow. Which made the walk down slightly cold and wet!! But we were both very pleased with ourselves.

    Today, we have been on a tour of the sacred valley. We have seen lots of Inca sites. Some of the sites were very well persevered and clearly showed how they were able to effectively farm at the side of a mountain. We also got to see an active salt mine, which was initiated by the Incas. It was a long day, but very interesting, and finished up with a briefing about our Salkantay Trek, which we are due to start tomorrow. We are both very excited about it!
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  • Day19

    17/05/2017-19/05/2017 Huacachina-Cusco

    May 19, 2017 in Peru ⋅ 🌬 18 °C

    We got to Huacachina after a short, one hour, bus journey from Paracas and jumped straight onto a dune buggy!

    We were given two options from our guide, who spoke limited English, "rapido" or "despacito"... as if he needed to ask!

    The dune buggies were a lot of fun and felt like a rollercoaster. We got taken to some dunes, where we got to experience sand boarding for the first time. Imagine sledging head first on a snowboard, with sand going everywhere.... it was a lot of fun!!

    It was during sandboarding that Tom got to experience Alex's adrenaline junky nature, when he set up his board to go down a dune, and she walked straight past with her board saying "you can go from there if you want but I am going to go as high as possible". Of course he had to join her and go to the top too.

    We walked up a dune ourselves the following day to watch the sunset, this was much easier said than done, but a lovely experience. From here we could see all of Huacacina, a small desert village surrounding a beautiful oasis.

    We wanted to get up the following day to do the same for sunrise, but as the alarm went off realised that this was a silly idea, and went back to sleep. Although did manage to make it up again after breakfast, and were followed the whole way up and down the dune by a stray dog, I think he smelt the bacon from breakfast.

    Speaking of which, our hostel did incredible food, including proper English bacon. I don't think Tom has ever been so excited for breakfast. The evening meals were equally as good, with lots of fresh veg, which is pretty scarce in Peru!

    On our way out of Huacachina we visited the Nazca lines. Which involved climbing a very rickety tower in strong winds.

    Despite singing their praises in the previous post, Peru Hop over booked their bus from Huacachina which meant their was no room for us and 6 other people. However they paid for a VIP bus, which not only got us into Cusco 5 hours earlier than planned, but had very comfortable reclining seats. They also paid for dinner and bar tab for the extra 2 hours we had to wait for the bus. Being a group of 8 Brits, we made sure we got our money's worth with desserts all round and international beers. Overall it all worked out massively in our favour!
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  • Day17

    16/05/2017-17/05/2017 Paracas

    May 17, 2017 in Peru ⋅ 🌫 20 °C

    16/05/2017-17/05/2017 Paracas and The Islas Ballestas: “The Poor Man's Galapagos”

    We have been using a company called Peru Hop to get around via bus. The buses are comfortable and clean with English speaking tour guides, and cover the areas that we want to go, which has made travelling very easy (so far!).

    We got to Paracas on Tuesday, where we visited Paracas National Reserve. This is an area of desert landscape, which has been reserved to protect the extensive wildlife, in particular birds. The beaches have a red sand which is because of the underwater volcanoes, which are still active. The lava causes the sand to be red. The nature reserve also has lots of archaeological significance, with remains found there dating back to 6500BC. We visited the museum and saw some of the human remains found in the site. Some of the skulls had holes drilled into them due to brain surgery, and also in the museum were the original tools used to perform the surgery... it was quite gruesome.

    The following day, we took an early morning boat trip to the Islas Bastellas, otherwise known as “the poor man's Galapagos”. On this trip we saw many more birds, including vast amounts of pelicans, sea lions and one penguin. Unfortunately we didn't see any dolphins. The islands themselves were not particularly attractive, and although we have not been there, not comparable to the Galapagos Islands. The waves were particularly strong and was a little hairy given how close we were to the rocks!
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  • Day15

    14/05/17-15/05/2017 Lima

    May 15, 2017 in Peru ⋅ ☁️ 22 °C

    14/05/2017-15/05/2017 Lima

    We have spent the last two days exploring Lima. Lima is fairly similar to lots of other capital cities… it is very busy, very noisy and very diverse. Like many other capitals, the driving is something else, road markings, traffic lights and indicators mean nothing, and wing mirrors are merely there to add some extra width to your vehicle. The same cannot be said for car horns though, which are pretty much a constant sound.

    We spent our time in Lima wondering round, taking in the sites. We visited the old central district, which included looking around the cathedral and watching the changing of the guard at the presidential palace. During this, the national guard played songs including 'Hey Jude' and the soundtrack from Gladiator, something I think needs to be incorporated into the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.

    For lunch we ventured into the Barranco district of Lima, which has a much more hippy and laid back feel to it. We decided to be adventurous and try one of Peru's traditional dishes, cerviche. This is raw seafood marinated in leche de tigre (tigers milk) – a citrus based marinade that cures the seafood. Although initially neither of us were entirely convinced we were both pleasantly surprised (and it was better than the other traditional food on the menu “passionate Guinea pig”).

    To finish up our day, we did a bar crawl along the beach bars. The beaches in Lima are not picturesque and more of a concrete jungle, but the drinks were good and the weather was sunny.
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  • Day14

    30/04/2017-14/05/2017 Amazon Hope

    May 14, 2017 in Peru ⋅ ☁️ 26 °C

    30/04/2017-14/05/2017 Amazon Hope

    As so many people have been asking us about our trip, and as our internet access has been sporadic, we thought we would start a blog to update everyone on what we have been up to, and hopefully add in a few pictures.
    Our first two weeks have been pretty busy, and so I apologise in advance that I will write a lot! Feel free to read as much or as little as you like.

    We started our adventure in Lima, where we arrived quite late and flew to Iquitos early the following morning.
    Iquitos is a pretty lively town, very hot and humid, but has lots of character. We were there for 24 hours, and got to experience the Belen markets and a couple of museums as well as meet the two medical students (JP and Beth), who were coming with us on the boat.
    We travelled by car to Nauta, where we stayed for one night before catching a “speed boat” at 5am to Amazon Hope. The journey to this boat took 6 hours to get to so was by no means speedy!

    Amazon Hope 2 is an ex navy tender, which was bought by the Vine Trust, a Christian charity based in Edinburgh, and refurbished to allow it to be used to supply medical and dental aid to rural communities along the Amazon river and it's tributaries. We sailed north along the Tigre tributary as far as a town called Intuto.

    The Peruvian government supply an AISPED team, which consisted of 6 people (a doctor, a midwife, a dentist, 2 lab techs and a nurse). The Vine Trust supply everyone else, another doctor, pharmacist, another nurse, several crew members who maintained the upkeep and general running of the boat, the 3 translators and a chef. They also cover the cost for all the food and half of the drugs and medical supplies.

    The crew members stay on the boat for 20 days at a time, and volunteers rotate every 10 days. We were the second group. The crew then get 10 days off before starting for 20 days again. They have a six month contract, but the majority of them extend for years as they enjoy it.

    The majority of the team members spoke very limited English, but were all lovely and welcoming, and all very hard working. We were very lucky that JP is fluent in Spanish and so were able to communicate via him and the translators.

    The boat had three decks and was reasonably large. The cabins were pretty cosy with a small bunk bed in each. The shower was a small hand held shower, with “filtered” Amazon water, which was an interesting shade of brown. We did our clothes washing directly off the back of the boat into Amazon water. It is safe to say we were all far from fragrant by the end of it!

    The chef, Wennie, did an incredible job making three meals a day for 26 people in a kitchen that was smaller than our bathroom in Southampton. We got a mix of British meals, such as burgers and casseroles and Peruvian dishes – such as shredded Chicken in a chilli/Cheese sauce over potatoes (Aji de Gallina). Pretty much every meal came with plantain, unfortunately for Tom, who still hasn't got over his aversion to bananas! It's ok though as every meal had double carbs (Rice with every meal) so he was still well fed!

    Our day followed the same routine of breakfast at 7:30, followed by some free time to explore the villages we were at with one of the translators, Frank. Frank was great, and had a good sense of humour. He took us into some of the local schools to gatecrash their English lessons, where we taught some English and they taught us some Spanish. In one village, where the elders still speak the language of Quechuan, some children in the kindergarten sang us some songs in Quechuan, and we sang them twinkle twinkle and incy wincy spider... I don't think they were impressed!

    Clinics started at 09.00 and typically lasted until 13:00. We would then break for lunch and a siesta in the hammocks on the top deck before resuming clinic at 14:30-16:30. We would sometimes go to different villages in the morning and afternoon, but in larger villages would stay all day. Occasionally the AISPED team would separate from us and take a small boat to villages located down smaller tributaries, that the Amazon Hope was too big to reach.

    The clinics were held on the lower deck, where three went on simultaneously. Tom and I would each see patients with one of the medical students, and one of the Peruvian doctors would also see patients down there. There was a pharmacy, which was reasonably well stocked with a wide variety of medicines, however we ran short on the last couple of days which meant we had to improvise slightly. There was one dental chair, and facilities for tooth extractions and fillings only. The dentist was very busy throughout the trip and always was the last to finish.

    The cases that we saw were standard GP things... Back pain, headaches, coughs and colds etc. There was a lot of patients with diarrhoea too, unsurprisingly. Everyone who presented with fever needed to be tested for malaria, of which there were a large number of cases.

    There were two lab technicians who would take blood samples and analyse them under the microscope and so people got a diagnosis very quickly. Other than testing for malaria, you could only do blood tests for anaemia, HIV and syphilis. You could also do blood sugars and urine samples, but that was it.

    Anyone requiring any other investigations or treatment had to go to their nearest health centre. For some villages that could be up to 6 hours away, but other villages had there own health centres, which were run by nurses. Due to the expense of travelling far distances many people would not end up getting follow up despite us recommending them to do so.
    We had interpreters present in every consultation, who were all very good. However, was also challenging. The hardest consult I think I had was breaking the news to a 15 year old girl that she was pregnant via an interpreter... She wasn't pleased!

    On one afternoon, Frank and Julio, one of the crew members, took us into the jungle a bit deeper to try and spot some wildlife.... We didn't see a lot, but it was a cool experience despite the sweltering heat and all the mosquito's. Poor Beth got so many bites (even through her clothes) that she looked like she had Chicken pox!
    On the last night the crew put on a show for us, there was some karaoke (although Dr Ronald, one of the Peruvian doctors wouldn't let anyone else sing and got a bit mic happy), followed by an interesting dance show with lots of sparkly waste coats and pom poms. There was lots of Incacola (a fluorescent yellow drink that tastes like a mix of cream soda and iron bru). Afterwards there was lots of dancing and we got taught some Latin American moves, which was lots of fun. Tom still dances like he's having a seizure though.

    We arrived back to Iquitos and, following a well needed shower and pizza, went for a night out at the karaoke (which is very big out here!) with some of the team. It was great fun, Tom and I did Summer Nights from Grease and of course totally smashed it.

    All in all it was an incredible experience and we have both said that we would like to do it again. We are currently in Iquitos airport, where we are getting ready for the next part of our adventure. We are going to Lima for a couple of days to explore Peru's capital before heading on to Huacacina for some sand boarding. Despite having a great time, we are both pleased to be moving on, away from the heat, mozzies and living in such an enclosed space with so many people.
    We will try and update this throughout our trip.... I promise they won't all be this long! If you managed to read to the end then thank you!
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