May 2016 - April 2019
  • Day729

    No Salt in Salta (Argentina)

    May 15, 2018 in Argentina ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    After short hop to the boarder and minimal fuss we were in Argentina, country number 13. Almost immediately you feel like you are back in the modern world, with good roads and clear signage its a big change from the past 18 months - you could even be driving in America.

    We found an entry on the iOverlander app claiming to have the best empanadas (mini cornish pasties) in the country, so obviously we had to stop and we weren't disappointed. A few hours later we were in the city of Salta, staying at a municipal country on the edge of town. It's a bit of a revelation to have multiple camp sites to choose from, let alone municipal ones.

    We spent a few days enjoying the town and its wonderful restaurants. The highlight was definitely Viejo (Old) Jack's for Sam's birthday where the waiter cut our steak with a spoon!! Honourable mention goes to the real ale house where happy hour ran from 7 until 9pm so a decent american style IPA only cost 2 bucks, and they served incredible loaded chips. We even visited Barny Gómez, a legendary bar we got drunk at 13 years ago although frustratingly I couldn't replace my long since disintegrated t-shirt.

    At this point I should probably explain the Argentinan schedule, as its quite unlike anything we've come across. The day starts at 9am as usual, but runs until 12 when everything bar the restaurants shut down. The siesta time lasts until 4 or 5 when the day resumes and continues until 7, 8 or 9. Prime eating time is around 10pm and some bars don't even open until midnight. It's all very strange and we become slightly nocturnal (this is helped by the fact we're on a Buenos Aires timezone so it doesn't get light until 8am) but it's actually a bit of nightmare for overlanding life when you lose the afternoon and it's chilly in the morning so you stay in bed until the sun warms things up. Still Argentina has a lot of things going for it so I think we're going to enjoy our time here.

    Unfortunately I came down with a bad bout of man flu, which laid me low for a few days. When we came to leave Jo even drove for the first time since America, and it was one of the nicest drives we've ever done!
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  • Day726

    Butch & The Kid Country

    May 12, 2018 in Bolivia ⋅ 🌙 3 °C

    From Uyuni it was a gorgeous drive first over the antiplano, then finally (and happily) down through some gorgeous multi coloured mountains, and eventually through winding valleys of dusty red rock. This was made all the better by the fact this road was under construction, so for some of it we were diverted down dry river beds or through undulating twisty roads cut through increbile scenary than normally you would blow past at high speed.

    There wasn't much going on in the sleepy town to Tupiza, and we spent an uneventful night at the seemingly never open train station. The next day we relocated to the yard of a small hotel, and got the bikes out to go explore Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid territory. We'd watched the classic film a few days before, and have to admit we weren't on the edge of our seats during it, but it sure was beautiful dry landscapes they were always galloping around in.

    We cycled up to Canyon Del Inca, which was much harder work than the 6km would indicate as it went from soft to uber-soft under tyre. At the end the canyon quickly tightened to rock scrambling, and we had to stop when I realised Maya was trying to follow me! Still it was yet another glorious day (I don't think we've seen rain all of Bolivia, and beyond) and it was a nice afternoon out on the bikes.
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  • Day723

    The Great White...

    May 9, 2018 in Bolivia ⋅ 🌙 6 °C

    After never having driven in the dark for 2 years we seem to be making a bit of a habit of it, and we got to Uyuni late. It was a dusty and deary place as we remembered from last time! We had friends camping at the train graveyard so we headed there, but in the pitch black and rough ground so it took some finding. It was a bloody cold night, but when I let Maya out for a midnight pee the view of the stars and silhouettes of the trains was amazing.

    We stocked up and headed out onto the Salar (salt flats) with Don and Sam. We were expecting some water when we entered and weren't sure how deep it was, but after a little paddle we went for it and fortunately got out the other side. From there we were faced with a few hundred square miles of flat salt.
    We didn't really have a plan so we found a bit of a track and just followed it. After a hour or two of identical views we figured there wasn't a lot of point driving all the way across, so we pulled over for the night.

    Within a few minutes I'd put my foot through a soft spot, which was more than a little disconcerting, particularly after hearing about some fellow overlanders who managed to sink their rig and had to hike 20 miles for help! After a bit of investigation we found a bunch of these holes with a thin crust over them - they appeared to be small vertical holes through the thick salt (well over a metre) and everything else was pretty solid so and figured the vans would still be there in the morning!

    I had the forethought to take some firewood (very hard to come by on the altiplano) and we had a lovely evening cooking stew on the expanse, accompanied by a few bottles of lovely wine. It was a slightly surreal but highly enjoyable experience.

    We woke to a bright white landscape as far as the eye could see. There wasn't much point exploring as it was all the same so out came the golf clubs and an impromptu game of pitch and putt! We then spent a couple of hours experimenting with some fun photos as the lack of discernable features means your perspective is easily distorted. Obviously most of these activities were done with a beer in hand, and we had a wonderful day just messing about.

    The next morning was more of the same, and after a couple of hours we figured we should probably venture back to civilisation, and ended up back at the train graveyard.
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  • Day719

    Stuck in Sucre!

    May 5, 2018 in Bolivia ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    It was a long drive from Sajama NP so we found a mirador to spend the night, and in the morning we headed into Potosí. This was once the richest city in the world, but there is a little sign of that now. The famous mountain that is riddled with mines still towers over the town, but after the nerve racking tour last time (with individual miners randomly setting off dynamite with no warning) we decided not to chance our luck again. In fact there wasn't a lot to keep us in the city so we headed along the road towards Sucre.

    We had just set up camp and had a brew on when we got a message warning us of protests in Sucre and that they were blocking all roads in the morning, so we broke the overlanding rule of not driving at night and after a few hours arrived at the only camp spot in town and fortunately we could just about squeeze in. The protests were due to el Presidente Evo Morales deciding to change the ownership of a huge gas field from this state to a neighbouring one - almost definitely due to his fight to remove the presidential term limit - and so we didn't blame the city for taking a stand.

    Its a lovely city full of delicious places to eat and a fantastic food market so we had no problems whiling away a few days, although it was frustrating we couldn't do a tour with Condortrekkers, the sister organisation to the one we volunteered at, or visit the famous dinosaur footprints. In fact we would have happily stayed a few more days but on Sunday we were told it was our best chance of getting out of the city otherwise we could be stuck for another week or more, and we only had about 10 days left on our visa.

    So a convoy of 5 different shaped rigs tried to work our way out of town. Fortunately there was a French couple who spoke really good Spanish at the front, and they got us through 5 major roadblocks via a variety of techniques (bumping over major curbs, buying chicken from a drunk truck owners wife, sweet talking, and bribing with a bottle of wine). In fact the blockaders and the supporting people were not at all aggressive to us and knew that a bunch of gringos caught up in this did little to help their cause, but finding the truck drivers to move their vehicles took some effort and it took us over 2 hours to get 10km out of the city. Our little convoy then group camped on a mirador and it ended up being quite a fun experience.

    The next day we were back in Potosí getting a vet certificate for Maya so we could get papers to 'export' her - bloody ridiculous when we just drove over the border without any questions when we came into the country.
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  • Day714

    Sajama National Park

    April 30, 2018 in Bolivia ⋅ ☀️ 10 °C

    On the second attempt we got our jerrycans filled halfway between gringo rate and local rate, and drove across the high altiplano to almost the Chilean border, never dipping below 3,800m. All the time we could see 2 amazing snow covered volcano cones and the beast of Sajama Mountain rising up to 6,500m although it was topped in clouds.

    We parked up by a small river and set up, before noticing the ground didn't drain very well so wisely moved a hundred metres back up the road. We were in a wide plain and in every direction there were awesome peaks. The sunset between the 2 volcanoes was quite unlike anything I've ever seen before. When I let the dog out last thing at night the sky was crystal clear and we could see every peak and possibly the brightest milky way ever.

    The morning was chilly, and we set a new record low inside the van of just under 5c, but we were snug under our duvet, llama blanket (and sleeping bag for the first time). It was still super clear and the whole scene looked really different in the morning light. Fortunately it soon warmed up, thanks to the altitude, and we set off on our bikes to find the geysers. They themselves weren't so impressive, but they fed into a river and we made ourselves an amazing hot tub where we whiled away most of the day.
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    ooh wish I could join you right there!

    5/14/18Reply
     
  • Day710

    WMDR (World's Most Dangerous Road)

    April 26, 2018 in Bolivia ⋅ ⛅ 8 °C

    So 13 years ago I spent an anxious day with Phil's brother Ed in La Paz after sending Phil off to cycle down the worlds most dangerous road. As you all know he made it back unscathed (just....)

    Of course he wanted to do it again this time and in a crazy moment (I don't know what came over me) I decided I should give it a go and signed up as well.

    We had to get up and leave our camping place in the longterm parking at the airport at 6:30am to make it into town (keeping Maya in a bag on the buses!). I was very quiet on the drive up to 4700m where we got togged up with full helmet, gloves, elbow and knee pads - I was just hoping I wouldn't need them but also didn't think they would do a lot if I went over the 800m sheer drop...

    Off we whizzed the first part of the ride was on asphalt and I don't think I've ever gone so fast on a bike - it was completely exhilarating and, when we got the chance to stop and look at the scenary it was just spectacular. Having gained confidence on the first bit we then got to the dirt road which is officially the WMDR. It was slower going and very very bumpy but great fun splashing through streams and under waterfalls all with a huge sheer drop off to the left.

    Phil declared it more fun than last time as in the intervening 13 years they have built another asphalt road which all the traffic uses so there is little danger of coming round a corner to come face to face with a truck or bus anymore. It also meant on the flatter part of road towards the bottom we could let Maya out of the support vehicle so she could run along beside us.

    I was pretty pleased with myself for cycling the whole thing (which not all of our group managed) and we rewarded ourselves with a few cold ones and a bit of soaking up some sun by the pool at a very balmy altitude of 1200m.
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    Good on you both. Liza & Eion

    5/11/18Reply
     
  • Day707

    La Paz

    April 23, 2018 in Bolivia ⋅ ⛅ 11 °C

    We drove around Lake Titicaca until we hit the point of a peninsula and the only way across was a small wooden ferry. It creaked scarily as we drove on and the thing twisted as the waves lapped into the side of it. I was pretty relieved when we drove off the other side and shortly afterwards we stopped for a delicious trout lunch at a deserted lakeside hotel.

    We knew petrol was going to be interesting in Bolivia, as the locals can buy it super cheap (under half a buck a litre) but the gringo price is nearly 3 times that, if you can buy it at all. Then there's the whole jerrycan vervus direct to the tank conundrum, so the whole thing is a bit of a lottery. The first place I'd tried with my jerrycans said there was no gasoline, but promptly filled a local when I was leaving. The next place's pumps were broken and the third really didn't have any petrol. Eventually I found a place 'mannned' by 3 local women, who giggled a lot when I asked but did fill my jerrycans at a midway price, pocketing the difference. I then had to decant them into our small jerrycans so we could get it into our tank without spilling lots of it. The giggly women did refill my two big jerrycans one more time so we were good for a while, but we have to find an easier way than this!

    A couple of hours later we hit the outskirts of the capital, La Paz. Its a sprawling place but with the city centre constrained within a deep bowl with narrow streets and we didn't fancy driving in. Rather bizarrely we camped in the long stay section of the airport, which was much better than it sounds. The car park was pretty small and it was only a minutes walk from the terminal, with clean toilets, wifi and lots of reasonably priced eateries.

    The following morning we took a microbus into town and went straight to the tourist area around the Witches Market. They still have the llama foetuses for sale (used in building foundations for good luck) and lots and lots of tourists shops selling all things llama. We hunted out some of the places we visited last time around. We even found the home of the legendary Oreo Cheesecake, but were very disappointed they didn't have any. We did find an English pub showing the unbelievably entertaining Liverpool vs Roma game (5-2!) but the full English breakfast we ordered had to be sent back FOUR times as it was cold.

    The next day we left Maya with our friends Sam & Don so we could ride the brand new cable cars into town. We spent hours exploring the Mercado Negro, a vast locals markets that must have covered a few square kilometres. It was much more enjoyable than the tourist shops that basically all sell the same thing.

    We were very excited to see the 'safety zebras' of John Oliver fame so of course had to get our photo taken with them (nearly getting run over in the process....!)

    Although the airport wasn't a bad place we were in need of showers so decamped to a lovely campsite on the other side of town where we met our friends Sam & Don again, ate some good food, wandered around the nearby valley of the moon and most importantly had hot showers!
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  • Day703

    Titicaca-ca-ca

    April 19, 2018 in Bolivia ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    Viva me patria Bolivia, como la quiero yo. We loved Bolivia so much last we learnt their national anthem at the footy game against Brazil.

    From Arequipa we drove back up up up onto the altiplano - high & flat land at over 4,000m. Every so often you would come across a pack of alpacas or vicuñas mooching around the road. It really is other worldy landscape up here and I think we're going to be up here for a while now.

    After a long but pleasant 6 hour drive we arrived at our designated camp spot, but were a little disappointed the grassy field had been turned into a bit of a building site. It was fine for an overnight stop but we definitely didn't feel like hanging around. We drove a couple more hours to the border, and it wasn't quite like any border we'd been to before. Firstly the little old lady doing the currency exchange didn't have a rigged calculator and completely threw me by offering me the official rate! Checking out of Perú took about 5 minutes and even more bizarrely getting into Bolivia only took 20 minutes. There wasn't a queue in sight!

    Half an hour later we were parked up on the shores of Lake Titicaca in the town of Copacabana and we felt so peaceful. The town is a lovely chilled place, and hasn't changed a jot from 13 years ago. We climbed the big rock jutting out into the lake crowned with the stations of the cross, and tried to find the spot where we took a pic of my brother sucking on a maté (argentinan tea through a straw!) last time around. Later that evening we found the same fancy restaurant where we ate, and a filet mignon cost me a fiver - I think we're going to like Bolivia :)

    The next day we were both feeling a bit under the weather - not sure if it's the altitude, a tummy bug, or (more likely) the beers/wine from last night. But the beauty of overlanding means you do what you feel like so we had a lazy morning looking out over the lake, which is so vast you can't see the other side. In the afternoon I went for a fantastic bike ride, with Maya pegging along behind me. The climbs were tough and I was soon panting for breath, but the descents down rough hillsides was awesome (although I'm not sure Maya agreed). A quick dip in the lake and drip drying in the sun rounded off what ended up being a nice day.

    In the morning we hopped onto one of boats and headed out to Isla Del Luna (Moon Island). Except for the fairly delapidated moon temple there wasn't much to see and an hour later we were hopping across to the larger Isla Del Sol. We had great memories of this place but unfortunately a dispute meant that the northern side of the island with the coolest stuff was closed off. Still a beer in the sun in the middle of the largest high altitude lake in the world, in the middle of a continent, and views across to Perú one side and snow covered peaks in the other was pretty awesome.

    The next day there was the Titicaca triathlon, and we watched the poor souls emerge freezing from the water and struggle to even balance on their bikes. Our mates Sam & Don turned up and we ended up back in our fav restaurant.

    The next day was Earth Day so we took part in the Overlanders Trash Pick Up, and collected 18 bags of rubbish in under half a Km. The lake side where we were camping was so gorgeous it's a shame the locals don't take better care of it, and we got a lot of funny looks but one old guy thanking us made it worthwhile. In the afternoon we went for another cycle ride along the peninsula, and stumbled across the ancient Incan road leading to the island, and great views across the water.

    That evening Nick & Megan (coincidentally the organisers of the pickup) rocked up and we all ended up getting drunk on the beach, until the wind suddenly picked up and drove us inside.

    After nearly a week we finally decided to move on, but Copacabana and Titicaca definitely had a place in our hearts.
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    What a lovely setting for a picnic!

    5/7/18Reply
     
  • Day699

    Rice Pudding

    April 15, 2018 in Peru ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    Apparently Arequipa means rice pudding but fortunately the town isn't as stodgy as its namesake.

    We found a lovely hotel garden with dedicated toilet and HOT shower block (courtesy of iOverlander). This coupled with sunny days, great WiFi, a lounge we could use and finally catching up with our Canadian friends Sam and Don, who we first met in the beach in El Salvador probably a year ago, and the last time we saw them was demolishing a street burger after all day drinking in León. We spent a few days here doing admin; for those I've not told yet I have booked mine and Maya's flights home for the end of July - very excited. Phil's going to wait to book until Elvis is sold, and he is now on the market.

    We did manage to tear ourselves away from the WiFi and wandered around the charming town of Arequipa famed for it's beautiful buildings made from the local white volcanic stone, with said snow capped volcanos towering over the town, it really is a stunning place. I also visited the Monasterio de Santa Catalina where there have been an order of nuns since it was founded in 1580. It was supposed to be a life of chaste poverty but for some nuns from rich families they had servants or slaves and made grand purchases such as shipping pianos from London! There are still nuns living there today but without the slaves or servants. It was a very tranquil place where they piped 16th and 17th century choral music and I enjoyed wandering through the streets peering into the nuns cells and soaking up the atmosphere in the cloisters.

    Sam and Don treated us to some delicious homemade bbq ribs and we spent several nights out enjoying the local food and drink, especially in the Red Lion pub which bizarrely had amazing paintings of iconic mainly British artists (unfortunately out of our price range) and an incredible Indian restaurant.
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  • Day694

    Condor Canyon

    April 10, 2018 in Peru ⋅ ☀️ 16 °C

    It was a loooong day drive down to Chivay, the gateway to the Colca Canyon, at over 9 hours. This is double what we would normally do, but we were way above 4,000m for almost all of it and we didn't fancy sleeping that high and exposed if we didn't need to. Actually when we reached the wild camp spot we had in mind the snow was coming down so thick there was no way we weren't going to drive the extra hour to drop down into the town.

    We squeezed into a small hostel driveway and had our first shower for 5 days. The following morning we stocked up in the local market and headed to yet another mechanic for a new noise that bizarrely started only as we pulled into the hostel the night before. First they found that the guys who did our alignment hadn't put things back together right, and our steering arms weren't secured. Everyone thought that was the noise started but within a few blocks it was obvious it wasn't. We headed back and completely stripped out the suspension one of the front wheels and found that the spring was rubbing on the housing which was making the racket. Apparently this spring was a different size to the other one, but it's bizarre we'd managed 30,000 miles without it causing an issue. Replacement parts were all the way back in Lima, so we used a lump hammer to buy us some breathing room so hopefully that's the end of our weird noises from the front end for a while (he says unconfidently).

    That had ruined our plan of a lazy day in the sun on the canyon edge, but actually he afternoon was thick fog so we tentatively found our camp spot on the canyon rim and settled down for the night.

    In the morning we woke to sun rise over the canyon, and took our morning brews to look out for the famous condors. We spent a couple of hours just sitting there watching the massive creatures (3m+ wingspan) cruising on the thermals.

    We parked up in the main square of the next small town and were delighted to bump into our friends we'd first met on the beach in El Salvador over a year ago. The last time we'd seen them involved all day drinking and a street burger in our home town of Leon, Nicaragua and we'd been chasing them down for the last couple of months. They'd just finished hike we were about to start so we made plans to meet in Arequipa and parted ways again.

    Surprisingly it only took us a couple of hours to descend down into the canyon floor 1,200m below. This time we were travelling light we found an 'Oasis' at the bottom with a nice swimming pool which we spent the afternoon lounging around. Maya lived it here especially as she had 2 amigos to play with who had followed us all tge way down from the top! After an early night in our private dorm we then headed back up which took considerably more time - just over 3 hours, still with our little band of doggies. Exhausted we headed back to Chivay and the wonderful thermal pools for an afternoon of soaking.
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