Archive for April, 2009

Published by Linda on 22 Apr 2009

Bet Pablo Escobar didn’t have to climb 649 steps…….

….hmmmm anyway we trundled up El Penol, this amazing rock which just juts out of the ground.

It’s likened to Sugarloaf mountain in Rio but I think it’s even more dramatic as there are no other mountains, to speak of, for miles and miles!! It’s got some great colours going on through the rock……

and, as I said, it’s like someone dropped it there outta nowhere. However, with these steps they’ve installed, it’s no the prettiest thing you’ll ever clap your eyes on, unusual yes, pretty, well, not so much! But the rock itself is not really what it’s all about, it’s the most beautiful view once you climb those steps……

…this video captures it a bit better (El Penol view) It’s just masses of tiny islands, some with houses and linked by bridges. Seriously, this was just gorgeous and some where out there was one of Pablo Escobar’s joints!! Weird huh? We spent quite a few hours up there and it was just perfect, weather was great and it’s pretty much undersold by the travel guides but I can say it’s definitely worth the visit.

Back in Medellin, we decided to have some lazy time, interspurced with a look around the city. It’s not an especially pretty place, but there are a few unusual bits here and there…….

 

Columbia is like this though, you get these huge elaborate sculptures every so often, from the smallest towns to the biggest cities and it’s kinda nice to happen across. Wasn’t too sure about this one…..

……but something to ponder on nonetheless!! We eventually found this barefoot park, which was something of a let down after we had heard a bit about it. It  was meant to be a park full of pools where barefooted city walkers could soak their feet. And that’s kin-da what we found…….

…….. it was pretty non-descript though, two pools for bathing, blink and you’d miss it!! We still had a soak there but wondered why the city didn’t promote the Botannical Gardens more, much more to see I reckon. Big social scene in Medellin’s Zona Rosa too but we were there mid week so there wasn’t heaps happening then.

Decided to seek our thrills elsewhere outside the city. So if I was asked “if Stuart jumped off a cliff, would you do the same?” And yes apparently I would!!

Yep, harnessed up, ran off a mountain and did another paraglide. Awesome, really could get used to it!! Not the most graceful take-off but have a look at my video anyway Paraglide Medellin The scenery was not quite as nice as Sucre, Bolivia but pretty good all the same. Told the guy it was my second time out so he spun and dipped us around, great rush, oh my god it was fantastic!!!

It was pretty funny though, as in paragliding you finish where you start (if the winds are with you) but the hill where we took off from was pretty tiny so he had to be quite exact and lowish coming in. I was a bit OH MY GOD WE’RE GOING TO CRASH INTO THE MOUNTAIN!!!!! But he just laughed and landed us in so worries :-) Loved it though and second time over I still reckon it’s definitely got great rushes going on, especially with the little tricks they can do. Bargain too, cost just 23 euro – sweet!!!

So it was here I said goodbye to Stuart, she was a great travel buddy. We’re both in the (ahem – shush!!) twilight of our trips so both very chilled, yet wanting to see as much as possible. She’s off to meet her Dad but we might meet up again on the coast some place.

As for me, I really did debate going to another couple of places but nothing massively appealed so it’s off on a night bus with me. Headed straight for Taganga, a little fishing village just outside Santa Marta. Relaxation begins there (at least that’s the theory, I’ll let you know how it goes!! Am I the only person who gets nervous about relaxation??)

More photos on http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindybear/sets/72157616811537757/  http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindybear/sets/72157616902016750/

Published by Linda on 20 Apr 2009

Bogota & Zona Cafetera

And so, much to the horror of my loved ones at home, I arrived in Columbia. I met an english lady on the plane who has been living here for a year. She freaked the feckin pants off me, I must admit, but 24 hours later I realised that Columbia was as safe (or as unsafe) as pretty much anywhere else in South America. People give South America such a bad name, honestly I’ve never felt restricted or in danger here whatsoever.

Now to be fair, there is a strong military presence here, at ATMs, in the airport and checkpoints throughout the countryside as you travel on the buses. It is a little strange but I guess it leads to a place being safer.

Anyway got into Bogota and my plan was to spend a couple of days there and then head for the coast to do nothing on the beach for my last couple of weeks. Now I was told that I’d probably never be able to sit still that long but that was my plan to make me relax because I’m pretty tired now and apparently look about ten years older than I am – grrrrrrrrrr :-(

Bogota really shocked me. There’s money here in Columbia, much more so than I had expected or experienced anywhere else in South America. Myself and an American girl, Stuart (yes like the boy), I met in the hostel headed off to see the Gold Museum. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a museum like this. The exhibits were displayed like pieces of art but sort of floating in the display case…..

 

…….really beautiful, I was totally impressed with it and it cost just under a euro to get in – sweet. Gold’s cheap it would seem, at least to view it, unfortunately you weren’t allowed take any home :-) Hit Bogota coming into Easter weekend and celebrations were at large on the streets……

…… a real party atmosphere going on with street performers, clowns and stalls selling pretty much everything.

Anyhoo, I fell at the first at the first fence of my relaxation plan and decided to visit the Coffee Plantation (Zona Cafetera) on my way north (it’s totally on my way so it doesn’t count) and Stuart said she’d come with me. All good. Our first stop was Salento, home to Valle de Cocora, this amazing steaming valley which was so green, it kinda reminded me of home, apart from the humming birds and giant palm trees!!

Such an ususual landscape and it was pretty bizarre so see cows grazing under these palm trees!! We did a 10km hike over many scary bridges like this one…….

in what I would call very VERY muddy conditions!!! You know when your foot comes out but not your boot, that kind of muddy!!

Still though we got to do it in our rented wellies, which I grew rather attached to and kept them on the whole time we were in Salento. Nothing like wellies for going to the local pub!!

Oh yeah! Tee hee, hee :-) Well I’m not going to be able to do it at home, now am I??

Easter time was still at large but there was no such thing as everything closing down on Good Friday, god no, the streets were hopping here. It was like a festival, I guess how it’s supposed to be, right? No easter eggs though, boo.

Next morning a bunch of us from the hostel decided to go horse-riding.

There was some great scenery of the region…….

 

……..and unlike the horse-riding I’d done in Brazil and Argentina, we got a good few gallops in so it was good fun.

On to Manizales we headed for some more coffee, which I’m seriously struggling with but trying to appreciate it while I’m here. So another bunch in our hostel decided us to join us for a tour on a coffee farm……….

………which was pretty in depth, we learned a lot (and i mean a lot) about coffee. We finished with a really “holy crap that’s strong” coffee and a lovely lunch, oh and now we’re certified coffee experts!!

Hmmmmm we’ll see, think my coffee drinking days are over now. Phew! It was a nice day and we got back into town standing up on the back of a jeep which was great fun, if not just ever so slightly dangerous but it’s all good when you survive, right :-)

More photos on http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindybear/sets/72157616559766480/   http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindybear/sets/72157616602015881/  http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindybear/sets/72157616733768186/

Published by Linda on 17 Apr 2009

Ladies & Gentlemen, THIS is Machu Picchu……

 

DO NOT adjust your screen, this was it! After trekking for days, blisters, vomiting, burning lungs, getting up at crowfart and running up those giant steps, this-was-the-view. Are you kidding me? Boo to the fog, mist oh and just for good measure some drizzle :-( Soooooo disappointing, I didn’t have to worry about seeing it from the sun gate as the others didn’t see a thing. A couple of us from the Lares trek signed up to climb Waynu Picchu, a mountain that overlooks Machu Piccu, but the weather never cleared enough to make it worthwhile.

Over the course of the morning, the weather did improve so we found ourselves running up and down Machu Picchu like mad men. (Damn those Incas and their steps!!! Thought the hard part was supposed to be over!) It is so impressive though, both up close…….

………but especially from a distance…….

…….. I mean, look at that – WOW!! I strolled over to have a look at the scary Inca bridge…….

……you couldn’t walk over it, due to the risk of plunging to your death(!) but check out my video of it Inca Bridge – it shows how sheer the drop is. There was an breath taking view of the valley from there……

…….and being there all alone (for a few minutes anyway) made me feel tiny. So what started out as really disappointing, ended up being very worthwhile and I just couldn’t stop staring at it.

(yes, yes I know my hair has turned red!!)

Headed back to Cuzco for the last time and we celebrated. Both for completing the treks and as this was the end of the tour!! 

Even stole Phil’s leather jacket, which he wore with his cowboy boats for the entire Inca Trail – legend, just had to mention that. Had a good old night out, finishing off the skittle vodka I brewed earlier in the trip – it’s always good party starter

 

It was sad to say goodbye to everyone, you do get to know people quite well and when you’ve been travelling around for a while, it’s nice when someone just gets you :-) So thanks to the crew, it was great, hopefully might see some of you soon and if not, stay in touch :-)

My first impression of Cuzco was good, a real party town where you could celebrate the end of trek. By my last visit there, I was pretty sick of it. There are so many people on the streets trying to lure you in with their restaurant or bar or nightclub or post trek massage. It just got a bit wearing after a while.

Next day it was off to Lima, which was not recommended by anyone so far on my travels. To be honest it was just a big city to me, which isn’t really my thing anyway. There were some nice plazas……

…..but one street away from them, it turned pretty slum-like. Headed off for dinner in the nicer area of Miraflores and then off to the airport the following day. Next stop….. Bogota, Columbia……

More photos on http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindybear/sets/72157616481520640/   http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindybear/sets/72157616391349555/  http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindybear/sets/72157616468252823/

Published by Linda on 15 Apr 2009

Linca Lindy

Had one more day before the trekking started.  We headed to the Sacred Valley to check out some ruins around Ollantaytambo and Sacsayhuaman. Got a great view of Cuzco on the way, you might be able to see they have a Cristo, like in Rio de Janeiro, overlooking the city.

Apparently there is one in Bolivia too but I didn’t get to see it. Anyhoo we checked out a llama farm on the way to the sacred valley. I think llamas are a bit scary at times…..

Like overgrown sheep!! Okay, okay some of them are pretty cute but this is as close as I was willing to get. The ruins and scenery around Sacsayhuaman were beautiful……..

……..and we got a few short treks in over the course of the day. We headed on to Ollantaytambo where we learned more about the Incas and how they achieved architectural marvels by hand – more or less. Check out this face carved into the mountain…….

……pretty amazing!!!! As the crew were all doing the Inca Trail, I left them in Ollantaytambo, where they would start from the following day. I headed back to Cuzco gazing at a gorgeous sunset against the most amazing backdrop but honestly I couldn’t even concentrate on it because the nerves about the trek were really kicking in!! Went back to Cuzco and packed my duffel bag (which the porters would carry) and the lightest possible day pack.

Okay so I made a decision not to do the Inca Trail just because I heard that it is really packed and I heard about an alternative called the Lares trek. It’s another (less heard of Inca trail) which was said to be just as nice as the Inca trail. It’s about 5km shorter but the altitude is much higher so I heard that it was really tough. All through Bolivia, I didn’t really suffer badly from the altitude so I knew I’d be okay, apart from maybe slight nausea and dizziness. The only thing I was a little sad about was missing seeing Macchu Pichu from the sun gate which can only be seen when you do the original Inca Trail.

Anyway the day arrived and I was picked up at 6am. Met my group and we drove towards the town of Lares. Stopped off at a market to buy little gifts for local kids we might meet along the way. Next stop was Lares which was the last stop in “civilisation” but on the way I started feeling really quesy. I put it down to not much sleep the night before and maybe some nerves. By the time we got to Lares, I was running for the bano (bathroom) and having some serious upchucks!! Boo to that. Tried to convince myself that I felt better as we moved on to meet the porters and cooks to have our first camp lunch but couldn’t manage it and had a sleep on the grass until we were ready to set off for day one of the trek.

Couldn’t believe I was sick from the altitude and we had not even started!! Didn’t really want to let on to the others how horrible I felt because that would be admitting it and I knew I’d feel worse. Literally just put one foot in front of the other and that distracted me pretty well but to be honest that was a hellish walk to first base.

Camp for the night looked pretty much like this……

……and I counted the minutes before I could go to bed. Managed to get some soup into me and headed for bed. (anyone who knows me well will know I’m ill if I can’t stomach food – it’s just never a problem)  Never felt so dreadful and even though it was freezing (and I mean seriously brrrrrrrrrrrrr) I was feverish yet shivering in my thermals and my -20c sleeping bag!!

Day two arrived and this was to be the day of hell by all accounts. Now I start very slow when trekking anyway but the next morning, I couldn’t get it together at all. We spaced out and I was walking alone for the first while. I’ve trekked a bit on my travels but this was soooooo hard. Actually started crying in the first half hour and that did it!! I just snapped with myself and said “come on Linda, you have to do this, there’s no way back so get on with it” Think I scared myself a little but it worked and I picked up my pace.

One of my group, Rachel had caught up with me and we started walking together. The first pass was just under 5000 metres above sea level and we’d just pick a marker, like a rock or something and aim for that so we could take a break to catch our breath. The funny thing is once you stop, you feel fine straight away but then you start again and 20 metres later it feels like your lungs are about to explode!! That damn altitude is a killer and makes you feel so weak. Anyhoo, by picking our markers, taking shorter strides and looking down, we hauled ourselves up that first pass!!

Woooooo hooooo, we’d made it past the worst point!! Yippeeeeeeee :-) OR SO WE THOUGHT!!! Beautiful view of this lake and we bounded down towards it. The scenery up in those clouds was just amazing and as our group was small and we spaced out a bit, myself and Rachel had it all to ourselves. After a few minutes, it began to twig that we were really descending quite far and then we realised that we would be starting even lower for the second pass!! So  unfair!! We almost cried ………… and then the hailstone started :-( Boo to it but honestly it was almost better than rain because it did just bounce off us. Thank god for small mercies – I think?!

So again we had to slap ourselves and start the ascent up to the second pass. It was just as hard as the first one and all that kept us going was that after that we would finally be coming down from the altitude – somewhat anyway. So we made the second pass and then the trail got a little confusing so with my limited spanish I asked a local farmer if we were headed in the right direction. He pointed us on our way and off we headed to third pass.

As soon as we got over the third pass the trail split into four so we were totally confused. We walked on for a bit and realised we were totally lost!!! Sooooo we had to BACKTRACK to find the others that were walking behind us. A bit of a trial to do the pass again but the thought of being lost in the Peruvian mountains kinda spurred us on. So if anyone is interested in doing the Lares because the Inca Trail is too packed, I can guarantee you won’t be bumping into anyone too easily. Plus this really is some of the most beautiful landscape and to see it with no one around is pretty special.

Anyhoo, we eventually found the others and stopped for our lunch. Ended up doing an extra couple of kilometres which was a bit of a struggle but never mind. We were a much happier and healthier bunch reaching base camp that night…..

……..but some folks decided to do the easier walk the following day. Ended up being just four of us (outta nine) finishing the intended trek. We literally ran up the mountain and back down but I have to say it was worth the walk. Saw some great Inca ruins, probably the nicest so far but I guess the sunny weather had a lot to do with that :-)

The high was really kicking in that day……

 

……..dispite 40km, some quite hellish, and many blisters from going down – which is sometimes worse than going up especially on the knees. But nevertheless I had done it, me – very unfit me – had completed an Inca Trail and I felt I’d paid my dues to see Machu Picchu the following day.

We trekked down to Ollantaytambo and met the others. Caught our train to Aguas Calientes and relaxed in the hot springs that evening, pretty damn proud :-)

More photos on http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindybear/sets/72157616471465288/                                                                            http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindybear/sets/72157616382224505/

Published by Linda on 12 Apr 2009

Lake Titicaca, The Islands & The Amazon Jungle

I sadly left Bolivia and crossed the boarder into Peru……..

Headed for Puno, a touristy jump-off town for Lake Titicaca. Had a nice stroll around the local markets before heading to the islands the following day.

Took a cutie rickshaw (or equivalent) to the harbour………

then a boat ride and a visit to the Uros Reed Islands, where we learnt a bit about island life…….

…….and got to dress up in the local fashion…..

….something tells me this ain’t going to catch on at home. By the way those things plaited into my hair were REALLY heavy!!! First impressions of Lake Titicaca were all good……

We floated on to Amantani Island where we would be staying with local families. The altitude is quite high here and so the half hour trek to our houses was a little frightening bearing in mind the upcoming Inca Trail!! Anyway we got there in the end. Myself and Ruth stayed in this house…..

……..which was a few buildings, this was just the kichen and backyard.

Had some lunch cooked by our Island Mammy and Granny in their kitchen…….

which consisted of potato soup, then fried cheese (bleugh) potatoes, potatoes, rice oh and more potatoes!! Now being Irish I can handle my starch but this was insane, myself and Ruth were trying to decide how much we could leave on the plate without it being an insult!!

We headed off in the afternoon to learn life on the island. Farming an weaving are the main activities and we even got a spinning lesson which was much harder than it looks!!! 

See my new hat, my island Mammy knitted it for me – you’ll be able to pick me out of a crowd anyway :-) After work we got to play/watch some football with the locals. As I’m not most coordinated of folk, I settled for spectator status. Have to say it looked pretty challenging at high altitude, as is a walk up to the top of the island to watch sunset.

After dinner (more potatoes – starch overload) our Mammy gave us some traditional costume to dress in for an evening of dancing.

Dancing at 4000 metres above sea level and after eating a ton of potatoes is pretty difficult. Particularly to never-ending Peruvian songs! The costume was a bit of a killer too, top, shawl, petticoats and a sash which our Mammy tied for us – felt like wearing a corset – without the slimming effect!!! Really should have took off my fleece and jeans but it was bloody freezing!

I’m not sure how comfortable I was with the whole experience of staying with a local family, to be honest. It felt a little phoney at times. You know, the western tourist staying for the night. I guess it helps them out a lot but our family seemed to be a little bored of the whole thing. In fact the Dad literally only spoke to say hi and bye but it was interesting to see their way of life.

In the morning we headed off to Taquile island which was just beautiful.

Lots of long hills and steps – again Inca trails haunt me. The men do all the knitting on this island. They knit a hat which their give to their prospective father in law, who in turn pours water into it. If the hat leaks, the “son” has to start again!! He does get three attempts before he’s out though.

Headed back to Puno on the boat.

Sweeeeeeeeet I love boat trips when it’s sunny :-)

Headed to Cuzco which is a serious party town as it is the jump off spot for the Inca Trek so it’s generally full of nervous folks and those celebrating afterwards!! Some great clubs in Cuzco so we went to check out some salsa……..

……..which was all good, well at least for those who can do it – I just muddle along :-) Next morning we took a flight to Puerto Maldonado, and then a boat into the Amazon Jungle. Was seriously debating not going after the 80 mossie bite incident. I really toyed with it but eventually I decided that I couldn’t go to South America and not visit the Amazon.

So armed with two different types of mossie repellent, long sleeves, long pants and a hat with face net, I headed into the battle zone.

Started off with a lovely lunch of chicken, veggies and rice steamed in a banana leaf….

Yum!!! Heading off for a boat trip that night to see if we could find some caimans lurking around in the water. It was a little scary being out on the water at night, listening to the sounds of the Amazon…..

…….but we soon relaxed and watched the stars. Was almost asleep by the time we came back!!!

Next day we headed off into the jungle to see what we could find.

The jungle was hot and humid which was a change from the chilly altitude of late. Our guide was pretty good too and sported this machete………

……..to cut back the greenery, which was pretty unnecessary, I reckon he just had it for effect :-) Anyhoo we saw some interesting things, including this tarantula……

……who was sleeping soundly in a tree until the guide poked him outta there. Very impressed I must say, he was an aggressive little fecker too!! Simon and Julie actually found one in their room that morning!!! That’s a bit close for comfort!!

Anyone who knows me will have heard me talking about my wish to be on Survivor (tv show) so I got a chance to prove I could do the gross eating challenge!! I ate one of those live white grubs (like a slug basically) Didn’t taste too bad to be honest – kinda like very mild coconut milk. He wasn’t too rubbery either and apparently very nutritious :-) Didn’t get a photo because I ate him too quick but he looked pretty much like one of these……..

Climbed up to an observation platform which gave nice views……

……..of the lake here. Took a little boat ride afterwards there too. We trekked on and then took another boat trip to Monkey Island. Those monkeys came straight over looking for bananas….

……they are certainly not shy!! This guy was a little scary too with his fangs!!! He was the boss around these parts too. I was glad I made the decision to see the Amazon, got play Tarzan for a while and stayed in a great place……..

……..saw some wildlife and amazing trees some of which were 500 years old!! Had a good chillax (well as much as I’m capable of).

More photos on http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindybear/sets/72157616343162661/  and  http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindybear/sets/72157616380501967/

Published by Linda on 08 Apr 2009

La Paz: Prison Break (in!) & Death Row – Sorry I mean ROAD!

Warning – Mum and Dad…. don’t read this next blog – trust me!!

And so on to La Paz, capital of Bolivia (according to some!!) Loads to do in La Paz but after weeks of talking and debate, our first stop was San Pedro prison. This is a functioning real prison which apparently is more like a little town, with restaurants, shoe shines, stalls, even hairdressers, situated right in the heart of La Paz.

Doesn’t look like a prison, does it?? It’s a biggie on the backpacker list as it’s just a case of bribing the guards and paying a prisoner some protection money to have a look around inside there. I know, I know, it’s sounds soooooo strange and stupid AND completely tempting fate to pay to get INTO a south american prison but many the traveller has been in and out of there unscathed. Believe it or not, people have paid a little extra to stay the night – now that would be a bit much for me!!!

Anyway myself and Phil decided to head to the plaza right outside the prison. Supposedly you only had to hang around there for a few minutes before being approached and in you go. Unfortunately for us, the governer of the prison changed a few days before we arrived and it was complete lock down. No go.

We furtively hung around and tried to look a bit dodgy yet approachable but nothing was happening. Then we tried the direct approach, went to the gate and attempted to charm the guard a little but other than a quick photo, he was having none of it. 

Nobody got in for the few days we were there. Sooooooooo disappointing. Boo to it :-( Cocaine is allegedly produced in the prison too which might also explain the lock out. If anyone is interested in more info on San Pedro, check out the book Marching Powder which will be a good insight into the workings of this prison.

Decided I couldn’t visit La Paz without cycling down the most dangerous road in the world, thus known due to the cars, bikes, trucks and buses which have gone off the steep cliffs of this narrow meandering road…….

……..hence the name, Death Road. These days there is a new road so there isn’t as much traffic to contend with when you’re plummeting down on a mountain bike. We headed off early in the morning and climbed to just under 5000 metres above sea level into the snow…..

 

Spectacular or what – it almost looks fake!! We got our bikes and started the 4000+ metre BUMPY journey downhill to the jungle. I can honestly say I’ve never been so scared in my entire life!!! That includes the bungee jump, sky dive, etc. This was petrifying!!! My teeth were chattering in my mouth – probably should have clamped them shut but I was too flipping scared!! The road was mainly covered in really rough gravel and was totally uneven so you basically hung on for dear life (literally) and hoped you didn’t end up going over the edge……..

 

SCARED OUT OF MY MIND. I must be mad. This is not for the faint-hearted!! The scenery was amazing on the way down – when I was brave enough to look!

 

By the way I wore leggings which came down to here…..

 

….that’s me on the right. The four inches or so of skin between the leggings and my runners was exposed and I got 80 mossie bites within 5 minutes!!! 80!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Sooooooo unfair!! Didn’t even feel it happen. Bloody mossie bast*rds! The war is on and I’m dreading the Amazon next week. Boo :-(

But as always, I digress. I’m really glad I did the bike ride but I don’t think I’ve ever had so much adrenaline pump through my body!!!! Felt I was well within my rights to wear this cheesy tee-shirt with pride………

Totally knackered after, so much so I couldn’t face the long awaited Indian food we had talked about for weeks. Neither could I accept the vindeloo challenge – damn it!! So would have kicked ass.

Next day I strolled around La Paz, had to buy some girlie things which you couldn’t get for love nor money anywhere else in Bolivia. La Paz isn’t the prettiest of cities, especially if you stay right in the centre, but it does have the odd nice building like this Cathedral…….

……still looks, ahem! Nuff said. That said there are some great views of La Paz as you are coming into the city. Checked out the Witches Market, which was a lot smaller than I had imagined but yes they hadpotions, miracle cures and the shrivelled foetuses of Llamas, etc.

The guide books say that the witches are pretty scary and in fact they kinda were. You wouldn’t be messing with these ladies!! Happened across this great shop/fortune-tellers and asked if I could take a photos of these masks……

……she firmly said ONE PICTURE only, which is all I intended to take, but still I have to admit I gulped, took a quick snap and pretty much legged it!!

Had a couple of folks join the group so we celebrated that night, our last night in La Paz and in Bolivia……

Next stop Peru and the Inca Trek is creeping up very quickly now……. which is possibly more scary than the bike ride!!!!

More photos on http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindybear/sets/72157616429169828/

Published by Linda on 06 Apr 2009

Silver & Salt

Next stop was Potosi, the highest city in the world at 4060 metres above sea level. Again the altitude nausea set in so we all chewed on coca leaves like there was no tomorrow. Potosi has a strange feel to it. The city itself is quite pretty in parts…..

 

…..but is shadowed by Cerro Rico, a stripey mountain where silver was mined for many years. These days miners still work long, long days to extract minerals. I think there is an underlying feeling of hard work and sadness due to the incredible 8 million miners whose lives have been snatched by Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain) since 1545. We got a chance to don our wellies…….

……..and check out the mine itself but first stopped at the miners market along the way……..

 

……….to buy coca leaves (they mush up the coca leaves, put them to side of their mouth and by the time they dissolve they know their working shift is over – neat!!), 97% alcohol (to be explained later), cigarettes and biscuits for the miners families. We also got to buy dynamite to give to the first class minors. Our guide kindly let us blow up a stick of it before we went into the mines!!!! Excellent!! Who in the right mind would give me dynamite????

 

The mines themselves are a death trap…..

 

….. so hard to believe that they are not mapped and it seems that no one knows what going on in different parts of the mine at any one time so it is a catastrophe waiting to happen. We didn’t go that far down, maybe 10 or 15 metres deep but we went a few kilometres in and got to live the experience, for a little while anyway. Such a tough life though, even in the present day the life expectancy for a miner is 35!!

The miners also worship, Tio, the devil, who is said to protect them. Every week they offer coca leaves, cigarettes and 97% alcohol (pure alcohol in exchange for pure minerals) at the shrines of Tio.

 

We did the same and of course the paddy here had to drink some of the alcohol – shudder!! Thankfully the rest I left at the shrine. This mine is only one example of the sadness that exists in Bolivia and of the huge divide between rich and poor.

Had a little explore around Potosi that afternoon and that night we surprised Simon (spent days whispering and convincing him to celebrate his birthday later on in the trip!!) for his big 3-0!!!

Had a great night……..

……..ending with Lindy’s extreme uncontrollable giggles – on the way to the pub, all the way home, brushing my teeth, getting into bed, etc, etc, etc. Not sure why I’ve started with the giggling….hmmmmm.

 

Anyhoo the next stop was Uyuni and the Salt Flats. The Salt Flats and Lake Titicaca are the remains of a sea that existed in this area of Bolivia. I can honestly say I’ve never been somewhere so striking in my life! My day started kinda weirdly with requesting a spin on a unicycle but I had to get up on this guy’s shoulders first…..

 

…….scary or what?! Managed to pedal a little by myself but I think I’m not coordinated enough and felt much safer with my feet back on terra firma!!

Headed off to the Salt Flats after that but first stopped at a train cemetery where we played around for a while……

…….. then it was off to a market and museum. Of course EVERYTHING is made of salt. The buildings, tables, chairs, beds, sculptures, souvenirs, etc, etc. 

Salar de Uyuni are about 12,000 square miles and are the remains of a sea which went all the way up to Lake Titicaca. The flats, Lake Titicaca and Lake Poopo are the remains of this sea. Of course it looks more like snow fields today which makes the scenery spectacular but also makes lots of fun trick shots possible……

……come on Lindy, don’t lag behind :-) Now I have to subject you to some of my favourite photos from here, such as this……

and this…….

and this……. 

AND this……

When we got bored of doing trick shots, we generally just jumped around like kids in the snow….

Such a fun day……

and if you’re not bored to bits already, there are so many more great photos on my flickr site. 

So we finished our day crunchy with salt and recovered in the Salt hotel where we took in a nice sunset…….

…..and also celebrated Ali’s birthday over a nice traditional Bolivian meal…….

After a night in the hotel (with no electricity) I had expected that I’d be itching to get back to civilisation but I was surprisingly calm. We headed off to Fish Island, which is an island in the salt flats shaped like a fish but is in fact covered in enormous cacti……

Climbed to the top of the island and took in the great views of Salar de Uyuni.

Of all I’ve seen so far on my travels, this was one of my highlights.

The landscape here is just amazing and completely mesmerising.

Had a stroll across the flats with some atmospheric Massive Attack on my ipod and found that I was pretty relaxed for the second time in as many weeks.

You know you’ve found somewhere really special when you try to burn the image into your brain and when you don’t want to leave. Had a blast for the two days on the Salt Flats and remained completely impressed with Bolivia as we prepared to leave for Peru.

More photos on http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindybear/sets/72157615907763869/    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindybear/sets/72157616188432796/