Monthly Archives: November 2013

When The Going Gets Tough…

Bee Says: One thing that Peru has pegged over the rest of South America… is long-haul buses. As we slummed it on junkyard rust buckets in Venezuela and Bolivia we heard travel-talk of a wonderous glimmer of hope in our future: Cruz Del Sur. Peru´s luxury bus company where apparently there were aeroplane-style TVs on every seat, blankets, PILLOWS, food, snacks and seats that reclined into beds. After enviously hearing about them for so long, it was finally our moment to experience the joy for ourselves as we boarded the 20 hour bus from Cusco to Lima. Whilst the bus lived up to all expectations (and the movies on offer were a) in English and b) really modern releases!) unfortunately we didnt know in advance that this journey was at least half spent negotiating hairpin switchbacks on the peaks of the Andes. All I can describe it as, is being on the waltzers and never being able to get off! Safe to say the bathroom was perma-occupied and we both groaned along in our luxury seats, not even being able to manage a mouthful of our fancy dinner! In Lima there are two main districts that tourists stay: Miraflores and Barranco. We opted for Barranco as we had heard it was the “arts” area and a bit less backpacked out that Miraflores.

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Any weather-homesickness was waylaid by Lima’s grey fuzzy climate. We were pleasantly suprised by Lima in alot of ways. It felt reasonably safe (although our hostel had electric fences and a 24 hour paid security guide watching it from a little hut over the road. I couldn’t decide if this was scary or reassuring. Maybe both in equal measures?), it was walkable, easy to navigate and very VERY cool. In fact, if you love Williamsburg and Berlin, you need to visit Lima soon, as Barranco particularly is the next big Hipster haven. All the usual East London trappings could be found here: coffee culture, mega music scene, red skinny jeans, Edward Scissorhands-esque hair, Liberty print nikes and generally achingly hip youths roaming about the place. We weren´t expecting it at all, and whilst it was nice to have a few home comforts (eg I didnt have to miss out on a festive Red Cup at Starbucks!) and I tried to first Pinkberry fro-yo, it was strange to be somewhere that felt so well.. like the UK or US.

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Lima felt like somewhere more that you would go on holiday to, than somewhere that has much to offer from a cultural perspective. Although we did hunt out an amazing local restaruant to sample a heaving plate of Ceviche (raw fish marinated in lemon juice & spiced with chilli). I would highly recommend the walk from Barranco to Miraflores too; it took about an hour each way but takes you along a quaint costal path and is a great way to explore the city. Our walk had an aim, and that was to go to the cinema to see Thor 2! After trekking all the way there, sadly we received the news that it was in Spanish, so although entertaining it wouldn’t have been quite as enjoyable. Nick, aka mr Marvel, took the news very hard. As a booby prize they were showing Gravity in English (with Spanish subtitles) so we hit the popcorn stand and saw that instead. It was novel to go the cinema in Peru and Gravity was showing from a proper film reel, the whirring and ticking of which you could hear over the space noises throughout! We spent a lovely last evening in a converted train carriage (that was British like us) and playing scrabble, which has a whole host of new letters in the Spanish version.

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Nick Says: I didn’t expect to spend the day of our two month travel anniversary sat on the toilet with a bad bout of traveller’s diarrhoea, alternating turns on it with the similarly affected Bee. I hadn’t even had time to enjoy recovering from being ill in Cusco, so this felt particularly cruel.

We had left Lima in good spirits, getting another Cruz del Sur to the town of Trujillo, in the north of Peru. From there we strolled 5 minutes into town and hopped on a collectivo (mini-bus) to the beach town of Huanchaco, about 20 minutes away. While still grey, the weather felt a bit warmer, our hostel had a very relaxed vibe, and we were gearing up to make it to Ecuador. Due to the bus time tables we had a few days to kill, but where better to do that than on the beach? I even rewarded myself with a big beer the first night we were there, savouring the taste. Huanchaco seemed laid back, and we enjoyed taking a walk around, visiting the pier where all the locals spent Sunday fishing from it, and planned a trip to visit some pre-Inca ancient ruins nearby.

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But oh dear. The next few days were not pleasant. We’ve no idea what struck us down, but it was agony. Knowing this was a bad bout, Bee heroically set off to the pharmacy to get us antibiotics (ciprofloxacin in this case, which acted quickly). All thoughts of the delicious looking chocolate cake in the hostel’s restaurant were forgotten as the absolute misery of being unwell took hold again. It was desperate stuff, and we needed to make sure we kept hydrated. Ever since I ended up in hospital in Australia not knowing my name or where I lived I’ve always had a healthy respect for the need to keep hydrated when sick abroad. Anyone travelling themselves ignores this at their peril.

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A few days later, and seemingly on the mend we boarded what we hoped would be one of our last long bus journeys. This one would be an 20 hour beast to Guayaquil in Ecuador, from where we would set off to the fabled Galapagos Islands. After much toing and froing, we had decided to make the trip there. When else in our lives would we be this close to the islands? A very welcome tax return (yes, they do exist) also eased the financial concerns we had (the islands were unaffordable on our original budget) as did talking to several backpackers who had travelled the Galapagos independently, and told us you definitely didn’t need to spend thousands on the trip – you could visit very reasonably. So now we were set fair to get to the islands, and we couldn’t wait.

We also couldn’t wait to be shot of Peru. It obviously didn’t help that we’d been sick there, but Peru was definitely both mine and Bee’s least favourite place we’d been to. It’s difficult to explain, but it didn’t quite spark to life the way every other country. Travelling is very much an emotional trip as well as a sensory one, and it was hard to make the connection with Peru. Perhaps its due to the fact that its currently racing towards embracing a western way of life, and therefore felt too much like home? But then I’ve been places that are just like the UK and loved them. For me Peru felt a bit flat, and that’s to take nothing away from all the amazing things I saw there, and I absolutely adored the few days we spent in Ollantaytambo especially. I just wasn’t that sorry to leave, and I probably wouldn’t hurry to come back…

Bee Says: Finally it was time to leave our Huanchaco “prison”, but not before I had locked our keys in the room meaning I had to then break back in through the window. We caught the bus from Trujillo, right up to Guayaquil in Ecuador. If you are crossing from Peru to Ecuador, it is worth either flying or taking a decent international bus like we did, because it is a notoriously bad border crossing and it helps to be travelling with Spanish speaking locals. Whilst the stamping in and our process was easy enough, our bus was stopped four times and had its contents spilled out onto roads/car parks as suitcases and bags were searched. On our final stop, we had to get out and the bus drove through a giant x-ray machine! One nice addition to a long journey, was that spookily the couple sat in the seats in front of us happened to be the Swiss couple we had been for a meal with on the Isla Del Sol, the night we got caught in a hail storm! They are heading up to Central America next, so I’m hoping we bump into them again in Mexico.

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Arriving in Guayquil we both mentioned that we felt a burst of having our travel mojo back! Nick’s already touched on our thoughts, and I felt almost relieved to leave Peru behind. Although Guayaquil is rough around the edges and a hustling bustling city, it felt exciting and welcoming and we couldn´t wait to explore. We had one day to do this, as we planned to fly out to Galapagos ASAP, but sadly… one day turned into, well, seven! Our Ecuador optimism was short lived, as at 6am the next day I woke up and my insides were on FIRE! I had surgery last year so am currently quite pain-aware. I know the pains that can be grumbled and slept off, and I know the pains that mean get-me-to-A&E, and sadly this was the latter. We had a really helpful hotel receptionist who recommended a hospital with an English speaking doctor. Within ten minutes I was in hospital, on a drip and being treated by the Ecuadorian version of Zach Braff in Scrubs, a dashing chap with perfect English who all the nurses were openly swooning over (and me, a little bit, but he was called Nick too so thats allowed… right?). The diagnosis was that the nasty infection in Peru, followed by 20 hours on a bus (where I confess, I didnt drink enough water) had left me dehydrated with intenstine cramps… as painful as they sound! I spent a day on a drip getting pumped with various different potions, and was discharged that night, with a bundle of drugs to take for the next week and instructions to REST and stick to a liquid diet for a day or so. Needing Emergency Hospital treatment in a foreign country is up there with the scariest things that can happen. I was very fortunate to be in a big city (imagine if this had happened on the Amazon boat?!) and a country with great medical care available. But, hopefully this is reassuring that it doesnt need to be the end of the world (or your trip). If you find yourself needing medical attention whilst travelling, its a good idea to get yourself to the nearest major town or city, and then to Google for the list of hospitals with English speaking staff, as this will help reduce the trauma and any mis-translation, which I suffered from briefly when the doctor doing my ultrasound got yes and no muddled and told me I had appendicitis…. then no, no I didnt. Agh. I have a whole new respect for hydration too. Travelling puts your body under a fair amount of stress, and the main thing you can do to support it is keeping drinking. And then drink some more. Rehydration sachets are also my new best friend, even if its like drinking the ocean. In general make sure you are never far from a bottle of water and that you pack a wogde of electrolytes for your trip.

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There is a silver lining to everything in my world, and although I wouldnt want to repeat being poorly, it was interesting to spend a day in my own medical telenovella! I also have really enjoyed recovering in Guayaquil and spending some quality time in this wonderful city. We are staying Downtown, where the “Malecon 2000” is a renovated riverfront that London would be jealous of. Beautiful views, modern architecture and lucious gardens have been a lovely place to sit and recover (and eat ice cream under the giant Christmas tree… totally a liquid!) Our pre-sick-plan meant the only bit of Ecuador we would have seen would be the Galapagos. It will be nice to wrap up South America having really experienced mainland Ecuador too.

Nick Says: One of the unexpected benefits of having a LOT more time in Guayaquil is taking our time to explore the city, and uncover some of the little secrets that you may miss if you’re dashing through. In this case, it was Parque Simon Bolivar. A really nicely maintained city centre park, it’s elevated into greatness by the fact it’s home to a large population of giant iguanas! They’re absolutely incredible, and absolutely massive too. They roam around the place dinosaur-like, clambering over all the lawns and benches (and us as well when we got in their way). They also scale up the trees to a great height, and then seem to delight in weeing off the top. So watch out for iguana wee falling on your head. Not pleasant! I’ve also now had the privilege of seeing a pigeon sat on an iguana’s head. Beautiful.

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Iguanas aside, we’ve also become devotees of Guayaquil’s favourite coffee chain, the mighty Sweet & Coffee. While the coffee’s could probably be a little better, they make up for this with a dizzying array of cakes. Whatever you fancy, they’ve got it. In fact, we’re going to celebrate writing this blog post and feeling healthy again by going to the nearest branch and ordering a mocha-frappelatte and a caramel apple cheesecake. I’ve, umm, got weight to put back on after all the sicking and pooing…

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And that´s about all for now. Guayaquil has been brilliant, even if I don’t suggest you spend 7 days here. But well worth at least a few, if you’re ever in this part of the world. It even has an amazing IMAX cinema on the Malecon, which me and Bee visited last night to watch Thor 2 (finally! and in 3D!). Being as it was the original English version (not dubbed) and on at 10.15pm on a Tuesday, we were unsurprisingly the only patrons. Sat alone with our popcorn in a giant auditorium. Anyway, tomorrow we fly to the Galapagos and we are buzzing with excitement. November may have been a bit tough, but we are ready for more adventure.

Bee Says: November has been a lesson in when things go wrong! Up until this point we spent our first two months completley in control of our itinerary. We stuck to plans, we had time on our side and we probably got a little too comfortable. The reality of travelling is that things happen that you can’t control, and these seven days eating cake have thrown our budget massively off (Guayaquil accomodation, even budget stuff, is super pricey, as its basically the gateway to Galapagos) and we are now running out of time to spend in Colombia – where we had once allowed for spending a month there, we have now shrunken that down to about 10 days. But, what else can we do except suck it up and roll with the punches. We will now have to opt for flights, over our beloved epic bus journies, and slice off non-priority plans from the rest of South America. Whatever happens… I think the next two weeks in Galapagos will make the tough-stuff worthwhile.

Machu Picchu and Other Majestic Marvels

Bee Says: I know this blog promises a whistlestop tour of Peruvian marvels, but first cast your mind back to where we last left you… loitering in the Lake Titicaca town of Copacabana, Bolivia. Our last meal in Bolivia, an early pre-bus breakfast, turned out to be one of the best ever. El Condor & The Eagle Cafe is owned by an Irish chap and his Bolivian wife, and if (like us) you are in dire need of a few home comforts… you will find them all here! We tucked into a feast of foods very absent from our lives lately including peanut butter, poached eggs, baked beans and SODA bread… a welcome change from Bolivian bread which is generally white sliced packed with so much sugar and chemicals, to keep it from going off, that it crumbles into dust under the knife/in your mouth. They also had BARRYS TEA! For any Irish readers, you will understand the importance of this. It’s the equal to Yorkshire Tea in my heart, and my beloved friend Chloe never fails to bring me back a box from her trips home to the Emerald Isle. It was a special moment as I slurped my first brew in seven LONG weeks!

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From Copacabana we hopped on an international bus to take us the 3 hour drive around Lake Titicaca into Peru. The border crossing was unbelievably lax, not even a vague look at our backpacks, and off we zoomed into Puno, where we had very excitingly timed our visit to take in their annual PUNO DAY festival. Listed in the Lonely Planet as one of the top´must-see events in South America, our brains were filled with dreams of street parties, late night Pisco Sour sessions, fireworks over the lake, parades, fiestas, costumes, music, dancing, lights…..

Nick Says: How can we ever sum up Puno Day? The day dawned bright and clear. We´d been told to go down to the lake early to see a recreation of the legendary first inca, Manco Kapac, emerge from Lake Titicaca. So off we set down the road. Our first indication that something was wrong was the road itself. What should have been a parade route decked out in colour was actually a smelly and trash filled route which was only home to a giant, stinking pig rooting through all the rotting garbage, and who growled at us loudly as we passed. Getting onto the waterfront wasn´t much better. A few people milled around (what we thought was a crowd… was only people going to the bus station) and some woman tried to sell us Ceviche from a cart. Declining her raw fish which had been sitting in the morning sun for hours, we turned away defeated. Puno Day was a poo day.

Later on we eventually found the parade, and it was much tamer than anticipated. Basically, the people of Puno had dressed their children up in various costumes and forced them to march through the town dancing to brass band music. We stayed for a while and clapped at the infants to dance for us before turning away. Puno had disappointed our expectations and it was time to leave.

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Our method for this was a bus service called Inka Express. About 10 times as expensive as a regular bus, it tackles the 6 hour route from Puno to Cusco in 10 hours instead. But what a 10 hours it is. And so worth the extra money. Rather than just a regular boring bus, Inka Express is instead an amazing tour of all the Inka sites between the two cities, MC´d by an amazing guide called Ronald. Ronald endeared himself to me within the first 10 minutes by theatrically intoning over the microphone that when using the toilet, ´ooo-ree-iny only. NO PO PO!´ A friendly, knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide, he took us first to Pukara, the home of ceramic bulls famous throughout Peru.You put a pair on top of your house to bring harmony and balance to your family, so me & Bee got a couple of mini ones for our future Brighton house. I opted not to match it with a statue depicting a ritual decapitation also on offer, but I’m already regretting the decision. The Inka Express zoomed through the gorgeous natural scenery and we passed from the arid Alti-Plano into the more luscious Sacred Valley, where abundant agriculture fed the Inka Empire. But most importantly, we stopped at a high mountain pass where Bee got to hold a baby Alpaca, who proceeded to try and eat her. Heart melting.

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What was obvious from only a short time in Peru is a) how much more developed (in a Westernised sense) the place and people were than Bolivia, and b) how much more geared to tourism they were. Take for instance the scenic mountain pass. We had seen several such beautiful locations in Bolivia, with nothing more than the shepherds for company. Here there was an entire world of shopping possibilities, and eating options too. This is something that seems prevalent all over Peru. Enter a shop and they´ll be falling over themselves to see if you want to buy their goods. A lot of the time in Bolivia it seemed a mission to even find out who was running the shop (they were usually found glued to a telly novella), and if they wanted to sell anything to you. Tourism in Peru is big business, and just another example of how far this country has come from 20 years ago – as a local guy explained to us, the country was on its knees from terrorist attacks.

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Bee Says: The Inka Express dropped us in Cusco, which is basically the York of South America. Quaint, pretty, tourist tastic and jampacked full of foreigners on their way too or from Machu Picchu (it’s the closest big town with airport to it) – in fact people come here on week holidays from all over the world, so it’s less backpackers and more tourists. There is alot to like about Cusco, it is safe, friendly, and a novelty to be somewhere basically English speaking for a bit. We did some perusing of the artesan markets (both ending up with Inca Cola tee-shirts), had some wonderful meals and visited the Pisco Museum!

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Pisco is the national drink of Peru, a really strong grape brandy. Very excited at a museum based solely around an alcoholic drink, we arrived to discover that it is basically… just a bar! It notched up another cultural fail at visiting museums, considering that the only museums we have been to so far are:
1. The one in Sucre full of scary horror masks
2. The one in Isla del Sol which was meant to be about a giant frog but ended up just being a room with human bones in
3. The one Inka Express Ronald took us to, which was entirely dedicated to Incan babies being born with elongated skulls in Inca times and maybe being extra terrestials?
Anyway this was our 4th museum and then it turned out not to even BE a museum, just basically a Pisco bar.

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We really did need the alcohol though, as we made a horrific error in our hostel choice. We decided to save money by booking a dorm (which we did in Manaus and really enjoyed) but this one was a “party hostel” and full of 18 year old gap students raving all night, doing shots and running around our dorm at all hours. Every night was a different activity like “drinking games” and “karaoke” and there was a bar with photos of people being zany next to guides on how to say phrases like “mashed up” in spanish. They played “pumping ibiza anthems” all day long, until 4am with the speaker right outside our dorm, although that still didnt drown out the drunk teens yelling AAW MAHH GAWWWD at a million decibles at our door. Dont get me wrong, there is a huge target audience for this type of accomdation (and I would have loved it as a student traveller) but it certainly wasnt for us, and we set off from Cusco as bedraggled, sleep deprived wretches.

One thing to probably mention here, is that by this stage we had decided not to trek to Machu Picchu. We had both really fancied doing one of the 4 day hikes there, but my asthma was still being irritated by the altitude, and all the hikes took in mountains of 4500masl+. With only a certain pot of trek pennies to our name, we decided to save the dollars to instead do the Lost City trek in Colombia… which is nicely back on the ground and takes in some crazy jungle passes. Not hiking also gave us the opportunity to visit Ollantaytambo, an often-overlooked “taster” dish to Machu Picchu itself.

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Nick Says: If you ever find yourself in this part of the world, make sure you take the time to visit the village of Ollantaytambo. One of the few places where the Incans defeated the Spanish, Ollantay consists of a incredible Incan fortress on a hill overlooking a Inca town. History truly feels alive here, with tiny cobbled alleys spilling into tradesman yards, trickling streams, or crazy bars like the one we ended up at. Called Gansos, it was set up like a tree-house attacked by a multi-coloured streamers, and as we sat around sipping drinks on the swing streets, we figured life was pretty good. Ollantay was a tranquil oasis after the party hostel, and one of my favourite places I´ve visited. It also helped that I ate the best steak of my life at a restaurant not far from the main square. Considering I´ve not really felt like food recently (vomiting incident), I was so happy I had a huge appetite that night. The Incan Terraces create high walled alleyways, so after our beef and booze we had to scuttle through pitch black cobbled passageways to our hostel, lots of fun and a relief to be somewhere safe enough to do this without getting set upon.

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The next day (we wished we could have spent longer) we walked down to one of the most picturesque train stations in the world and awaited our locomotive. The setting was just a teaser for what was in store. Unable to do the trek, we thought the train was the booby prize. How wrong we were. For anyone who enjoys train travel, this is one of the best. Mile after mile of soaring peaks, tangled jungle, and glimpsed ruins kept our faces pressed to the window. We went the cheapest ‘expedition´ class, but didn’t feel we were short changed in anyway. A panoramic view enabled us to see everything next to and above us. Glorious. If you get the train, make sure you sit on the right hand side on the way there for the best view. But then all too soon we were there at our destination, Aguas Calientes (also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo).

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Bee Says: Aguas Caliente has a bad reputatution for being a rubbish place you have stay pre Machu Picchu (if you want to get on site early you have to sleep here and then catch a bus at 5am, as you can’t stay at Machu Picchu itself) and accordingly we had pretty low hopes, so the town was such a pleasant surprise! Aguas Caliente has a really different look and vibe to anywhere else we’ve been in South America, with everything built on stilts and stacked up over the river that runs through it, very much like places in Asia. Sure it’s touristy, but we had a nice day pottering aroud and opted to visit the natural hot springs with the locals (Aguas Caliente means hot water! So it would be rude not to) but it started storming after 30 mins so we had to jump out. Lightening + hot spring = muy peligroso. Our alarm went off at 4.30am on the most important day of the year… nicks BDAY! We visited a bakery for pan au chocolate and present giving, trickier to organise than it sounds when we have spent about 5 minutes apart in the past two months.

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Nick Says: Birthday and Machu Picchu? What a combo. Leaping in the expensive bus there (you can walk, but it´s a beast of a trek uphill), the anticipation startled to tingle. I couldn’t believe I was about to visit one of the world´s greatest man-made wonders, and a place I´d been dreaming about since I was 18. And boy did it live up to the hype. The site itself is massive, far bigger than I ever thought. You could easily spend days there. In fact we spent hours circling the main site just soaking up the views. It’s iconic and you’ve seen it a hundred times, but nothing compares to actually seeing the place in reality. The photos will do it more justice than we ever could in words, so enjoy them. A little tip though, if you are unable to climb Huayna Picchu (the mountain in all the pictures) as only 400 tickets are allocated a day, then Machu Picchu mountain is a brilliant, and maybe even better alternative. It’s on the north side of the site, and offers you an incredible view of the Machu Picchu and the landscape it inhabits, as well as being a pretty tough and rewarding climb on its own. You need to buy tickets in advance, and its existance isnt mentioned in the Lonely Planet or …. well anywhere, except word of travel-mouth, so you will find it a tranquil spot to escape the crowds too. We were numbers 1 and 2 onto the mountain, what a birthday present.

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Bee Says: We spent 8 hours on site and were hiking or walking the whole time, I actually doubt we would have got the most out of it if we had arrived tired straight from a gruelling trek. I cannot stress enough the importance of arriving early doors – as by 9am thousands of people were milling aroud everywhere and it was almost unbearable. I recommend taking the extra hike to the “sun gate”, a testing hour each way with another breath-taking view on arrival and it meant we could walk part of the original “inca trail”. Machu Picchu lives up to every bit of hype, it has a truly other-worldy magnetic magical feeling, and it’s certainly a wonder of the world in my eyes. If it isn’t on your bucket list, zoom it right up to the top… especially as we are already hearing rumours that visitor numbers will be capped soon, as the site cannot maintain the physical strain of thousands of tour groups rambling through. If that happens, the whole experience may well become prohibitively expensive.

After a dreamy day, it was back to Cusco to celebrate Nick’s birthday night. Except… he had contracted the Inca Death and spent the night vomitting. Poor guy, he was really really sick and feverish and all I could do was keep him dosed up on rehydration sachets. Luckily for a birthday suprise I had booked us into a swanky 5* hotel Aranwa (imagining romance, flowers etc) so Nick could spend the next day in a king size bed, watching movies on the giant telly and ordering chicken soup on room service. It aided a speedy recovery, enough to even eat a slice of the amazing surprise birthday cake that was wheeled out at breakfast – the whole staff singing Happy Birthday in English AND Spanish. The staff couldnt have made us feel more special, and generously overlooked our scraggy stinky appearences and treated us like royalty! To add to the special moment, due to the fact I booked the room there was a name mix-up and Nick will forever be known as Mr Barker.

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Hello, Goodbye

Nick Says: When Bee leant over to tell me she felt sick, my first reaction wasn’t to make sure she was ok. Actually, it was to wish I’d said it first – damn her quickness. I felt just as queasy! The reason for our mutual poorliness was due to the fact that we had gone from sea-level to 5000m in the space of two hours. We’d avoided altitude sickness so far, but our luck had run out.

Re-wind a few days and you find us in Arica, a beach city on the border of Chile and Peru. Accompanied by our Canadian bear friend Beau, we had come for a few days R&R, and plan our next moves – he to Peru, and us back to Bolivia. While we didn’t hold out much hope for Arica, we’d heard good things about the beach. Which sadly turned out to be completely wrong. A dirty strip of sand littered with broken glass and with cars parked along it, it didn’t ignite an instant love affair. Borrowing a couple of beach towels from our hostel (Hostal Sunny Days, a friendly place about 5 mins walk from the bus terminals if you’re ever here), we tried our best to catch some rays, but in the end we gave up and headed back to our room. Teaming up with Beau, we instead headed out to a seafood place our host Ross had recommended. Walking along the sea-front towards the port, it struck me what Arica reminded me of. It was Southampton with a beach. It even had the rowdy locals too – a car racing past bellowed ‘GRINGO!’ at Beau, much to our delight. I guess that’s what you get for walking around shirtless down here.

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Entering the busy port, we wondered if this supposedly amazing seafood place really existed amongst the belching smoke of trucks entering and leaving. But there it was, Maracuya. We walked in and were transported elsewhere. Built literally on the water (you can see it under your feet as you eat), Maracuya is a ramshackle place which serves up absolutely huge portions of delicious seafood. We started with a chowder which had every single shell-fish I could imagine, and then some more. While enough on it’s own for a main, we then got dozens of tiny fried fish to eat. However, as tasty as it was, the food wasn’t the highlight of the meal. Instead, that honour went to the family of sea-lions that played in the dock outside. Me & Bee had never seen sea-lions before, so to have several giant specimens swimming around close to us was a dream come true. But the animal spotting wasn’t finished then. Walking along the dirty beach, we looked into the water and saw dozens of TURTLES! It was their feeding time, and they lay among the waves bobbing their mighty heads out of the water to breathe and to catch the flying fish that were leaping out of the sea. In amongst these amazing creatures lay pelicans, also trying to muscle in on the action.

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So while on the surface it didn’t look a particularly promising place, scratch hard enough and Arica reveals its charms – even more if you’re a surfer. But after a few days it was time to leave once again, bidding farewell to Chile, the country that we were never meant to visit. The bus and the mountains beckoned, and with it our brush with altitude sickness. Luckily for us though, it only lasted around 30mins. We’d heard of fellow backpackers whose entire trip had been blighted with it. As our sickness subsided, as if by magic the bus crew brought round free ice cold, glass bottled soft drinks for us. Unexpected and much welcomed. It was then at the seeming roof of the world, we left Chile and said hello to an old friend, welcome back to Bolivia. Next stop La Paz.

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Bee Says: Let’s not deny facts here. La Paz has a terrible reputation. In fact in the latest South America Lonely Planet, published in Sept 2013, there is a whole page dedicated to its dangers and full of warnings! It sounded so dire we honestly gave some thought to skipping it altogether but we desperately wanted to see this unique city built into the side of the snow-capped mountains. As our bus crept closer, we knew we have made the right decision. Words can’t describe how stunning La Paz is, it looks well… impossible. Buildings stacked liked jenga blocks amongst the purple Andes. A Mexican wave of stunned silence swept the bus, even the locals, as we descended into the chaos.

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We decided to splash the cash a little more here and stay in a hotel. It was definitely worth the hit, as we felt very safe tucked up in our 5th floor room with amazing views of the twinkly mountain houses. One of the main tourist warnings is bogus taxis that kidnap people and force them to withdraw money at an ATM. (Yeah, nasty)! Add to this on our first night we had a facebook message from marvellous Mark (who we did the Amazon boat with) to say HE was kidnapped in a taxi in La Paz!!!! But that he escaped unscathed and will tell us all when we meet back up with him in a couple of weeks. This did nothing to ease our anxiety about the city, but we purposely chose a central location to avoid using any taxis, until the last day when but we got our hotel to ring a legit radio taxi. The other tourist warning came to us as we checked into the hotel, in fact it was the first words out of the consierge’s mouth (!) apparently in Bolivia you can buy authentic Police uniforms in the market. Yup, the market! As a result La Paz is rife with fake policemen who approach backpackers and request passports/money/you to follow them etc. The advice, if this happens, is to take them back to your hotel for the staff to deal with. We say TONS of policemen and various other military types, but no one gave us the slightest second look.

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Given all this fear mongering and terror talk, we embarked on our La Paz adventuring with trepidation… But, we loved it! We we had a wonderful two days exploring the famous witches market (complete with llama fetuses strung over every shop door and mounds of curious lotions and potions), pounding the streets and enjoying this quirky chaotic city. As you’d expect in a city up a mountain at 4000m above sea level, the cobbled streets take you up and down vertical climbs and everything has a jaunty, gnarled look… as the streets and buildings seem to literally grip to the mountain for dear life! It is definitely one of the most amazing places and sights that our trip has taken us to so far, and I’m SO relieved we didn’t skip on the opportunity. We had lunch at Club La Paz, a favourite cafe back in 1940s with Nazis who had escaped to Bolivia, and later where many prolific literary, political and cultural figures would meet to chat over Saltenas and coffee… so we did the same! Although we maybe talked more about what jazzy bolivian knitwear to purchase next than the solution to world peace. I know it isn’t everyones experience, but we couldn’t have had a better time in La Paz. Everyone was super friendly to us, I think it always helps that we are speaking Spanish as I guess most tourists visiting might not be able to.

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On our last night there we went to “the highest British curry restaurant in the world”. We have both had such big curry cravings and haven’t eaten anywhere but budget pollo frito joints for ages. The restaraunt was amazing, like walking into one of Bradford’s finest, so I felt instantly at home – the Indian music, the mango lassi, onion bhajis, popadoms. Nick even sampled llama curry. I opted for a spicy little number made using special chillies farmed from the Bolivian foothills, which I can report literally take the roof of your mouth off! This is a must-do if you find yourself in La Paz. Although once safely back in our hotel, we heard what we tried to convince ourselves were “fireworks” but were definitely gunshots judging from the sirens after. This isn’t an unusual noise in London so didn’t tarnish our mega La Paz good vibes but I wouldn’t be being honest if I didn’t mention it.

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Nick Says: After a few hectic days in La Paz, we set off for our holiday. Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking, ‘you guys are travelling, why the hell do you need a holiday?´. Well it’s a pretty fast paced 7 weeks crossing a continent. Added to this is the pressure of always making sure we’re safe/not getting ripped off/on the right bus and place, and we’re starting to feel it a bit. So what we needed was a few days of doing nothing and relaxing. And what better place to head towards then Isla del Sol, legendary Inca birthplace of the Sun, and muy tranquilo (I’m basically fluent in Spanish now). But to get there we first had to hop on a bus to Copacabana, a town on the shores of Lake Titicaca. We missed the main tourist bus, so we took a locals only one there. This time the locals included a pasty ginger Bolivian guy, which was unexpected. Even unexpected for the Bolivian police, who stopped us and this guy to check our passports, to which he replied with a locally accented Spanish, ‘I’m Bolivian!’. This passport checking came just after our second bus/boat barge of the trip. Having never had it happen to me before, in the space of the last month I’ve now been kicked off two buses while they cross water on a precarious barge. I didn’t even bother to excitedly take pictures this time, I’m so used to it.

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Copacabana is a pretty touristy place to go. Great if you want to meet other backpackers, pick up cheap presents, and drink microbrewed Bolivian beer, not so great if you want to soak up traditional culture… unless like us you accidentally gatecrash the yearly school fete and spend 30 minutes having magnetic electric motors explained to you in muy rapido spanish by a gaggle of Bolivian teenage girls!

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It’s definitely a fun place to spend a few days and have touts try and get you in their restaurants. We rejected the restaurants, opting instead for the line of identical shacks along the lakefront that serve trucha (wild trout from the lake) with an array of sauces; tomato, garlic, lemon or… devil? Yum!

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The one MAIN thing that no other backpacker or guidebook had told us about was the vast fleet of swan and duck PEDALOS which line the beach. They were magnificent. And for 1 pound fifty per half hour, a bargain to set sail on. If there was one thing I didn’t expect on this trip, it was to riding a jaunty yellow swan pedalo around Lake Titicaca. I even let Bee steer – much to the pedalo boss’s delight!

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Bee Says: From Copacabana we took one of the twice-daily boats to Isla Del Sol, a two hour trip over the (surprisingly choppy) lake. We were dropped at the North of the island and from here we would walk over 10k to the south of the island where we would have our much deserved holiday. This was to be the first real test of turning into tortugas (turtles) as we trekked with our backpacks, daypacks and water on – about 12kg each of kit. Check out my snazzy Bolivian water holder. I mocked them for about a week before succumbing and now it is our most prized possesion!

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The first happening on Isla Del Sol was… with a heavy heart we decided to part ways with our faithful friend cloud bear blanket. Ever since buying him he has cursed our bus travel, with A/C not working on a single vehicle since! We also couldn’t face the prospect of carrying him the 10k walk in blazing sunshine. So with a heavy heart I gave him to a couple of local women selling their artisan goods, and the SMILE on their faces was our highlight of the trip so far. Our captain and a few local men also gave us thumbs up and thanks, ahh. We now like to sit back and imagine cloud bear happily living his new life keeping the locals warm on the island. Before we started the epic journey, we took a 45 minute walk to some impressive intact Inca ruins and an amazing sacrificial table which was used for sacrificing actual HUMANS.

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We ate a small snack of biscuits and water off it instead. We were also meant to go to a museum I had been told was all about a giant frog (amazing right!) but when we got there it just had some dusty old human bones… The mission over the island was slightly more ambitious than we expected, let alone carrying our lives on our backs. At 4000m the altitude leaves you pretty huffy and puffy (although my asthma has stopped being a total bane which is good) and the 10k takes you constantly up and down mountains, to the point where every downhill hike feels cruel as you know another, bigger peak awaits you! The trek was beautiful though, the glistening water below, the pink tinged snowy mountains alongside, the cacti, the bright blue sky and the stunning scenery. We had the route to ourselves for pretty much the whole time too, just meeting the odd local to pay island tax to and one glorious mirage-like cafe where I could slurp on a much needed coca tea – coca leaves are the best natural cure for altitude sickness/breathlessness so Im constantly chewing them or drinking them.

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It was very satisying to arrive in the village of Yumani on the south, where our next mission was to find a hostel (preferably with a suitable holiday-like view) on a tiny budget of 30BS (3 quid) a night. The first place we asked wanted 80, then we tried another place who had a room for 30 but then pointed us off in the direction of another hostel. As we approach, a cheeky 10 year old girl informed us it was actually 100 (!) but with some negotiation we got it back to 30 AND only went and got the best room in the place, with this dream view on a daily basis. It shows that it pays to shop around and stand your ground in these tourist trap locations.

On our second day of “rest” we accidentally hiked to the dock, taking in the hanging gardens and waterfall en route. Neither of us stopped to think that the verticle steep downhill stroll would be pure tortue on the way back up. It was so hard going we had to collapse in a cafe half way that had llama in the garden. I tried to sit too close to one and it hissed in my face! We had heard about a gourmet chef who ran a restaraunt deep in the euclyptis forests called Las Velas, so that night we ventured there. The restaraunt was in the middle of the woods, with no electricity, so once the sun set we were in total darkness bar romantic candlelight. The husband and wife chef team have no set menu, so from the brief list of options we chose wild giant trout in wine sauce and a llama canneloni. We sat back patiently, taking in the isolated restaraunt vibes and spooky darkness outside. We waited… and we waited… and we WAITED until we were nearly driven to mouth-frothing hunger rage black outs. It was 3 hours before our food finally arrived! To be honest, it could have been a Big Mac and it would have tasted like heaven. The food was amazing, but it was definitely ruined by the crazy waiting time. The best part was actually leaving (!) as by now it there was only a blanket of stars to light our way home through the dense woods. My nifty head torch got its first outing (thanks meg and christina!) and we walked for about ten minutes (and before Nick says, I got spooked by a mule braying, jumping about ten foot in the air!) before realising we might have taken the wrong path. Another ten minutes of Blair Witch Project style marching around and we managed to find our way again and safely back to do some star gazing.

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Nick Says: The next day dawned bright and clear, a relief after the MASSIVE storm that had hit the island the first night. I’ve never seen anything like it, with giant peals of thunder crashing overhead, and lightning strieks so bright they lit up the island like daytime. We had to run for cover as giant hail stones attacked us. Not quite the tropical island paradise we expected, but we did enjoy sitting in our room watching the storm sit for hours overhead. The flashes , sometimes 4 or 5 forks at onces, were so bright they left imprints of the window frame on our eyes afterwards.

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Anyway, after two days of hiking Bee went on strike and declared all she would do that day would be to nap and read. I on the other hand wanted to explore some more. One of the best things about the island is the ability to off-road on your own hikes, despite it’s small size. After abandoning a trip to more ruins in the south (couldn’t find a way which wouldn’t involve a near vertical climb or boat trip) I decided to hike to the beach across the bay which we could see from our bedroom. Although a small hike (3 hours there and back) it really helped me clear my mind and focus on the next part of the trip. The scenery was of course stunning, with small waterfalls cascading down the cliffs. Once I finally reached my destination I went for a chilly but refreshing dip in Lake Titicaca. Returning to my rock where I’d put my clothes, I quickly became the target for two enraged gulls. I was obvously in their territory and they made sure I knew this as they divebomed and shrieked at me. Half-naked I felt especially vulnerable, and it was only after I threw a few rocks at them they left me alone! As a final adventure in Bolivia, it seemed fitting.

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And so now we find ourselves back in Copacabana, with one night left in this amazing country. By the time you read this we will be in Peru, and all the excitement and challenges that will bring.

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