Thursday, 2 October 2014

La Paz, Sucre, Potosi and Tupiza

Should probably say first that I travelled southern Peru and Bolivia (So Cusco, Arequipa, Lake Titicaca, and all the places in this post) from mid June until the end of July - I am back in the UK now, just very behind in updating this blog! Sorry...

La Paz

So La Paz is the capital of Bolivia and is the highest capital in the world at about 3,650 m above sea level. By this time we'd become quite used to altitude though because Cusco, Arequipa and Lake Titicaca are all very high up!! So somehow we didn't actually end up doing very much in La Paz but it's just that sort of place where you end up staying way longer than you planned. What we did do though was go up the cable car which goes from the bottom of La Paz right up to the very highest and poorest part called "El Alto". We got some really great views over the whole of La Paz and you could see just how huge it is.

La Paz from the cable car
Amy, Cass and I in the cable car
Central La Paz
We also ended up buying a whole lot of things in the craft market. It's sooo tempting to buy things when they are so cheap there but we had to restrain ourselves, we'd already spent too much already!

We did the free walking tour which was really interesting, we learnt about how every house under La Paz has a llama foetus under the foundations - apparently they use them as a sacrifice to Pachamama (Mother Earth) in order to protect them from harm and danger. We saw them selling the foetuses in the shops too, not a very nice sight... Also apparently in the witches' market you can buy this powder called "come to me" or "follow me" which you're meant to sprinkle on the back of the person you like and they miraculously will like you too! Hahahaa hilarious.
Llama foetuses...

We ended up being in La Paz for the World Cup Final which was just so crazy. I mean La Paz is already known for being a bit loca but with the World Cup everyone just went mad! It literally was a madhouse. So much fun though, there was a really great vibe in our hostel.

While we were in La Paz we took the opportunity to do the "death road" - so this is the world's most dangerous road. I have to say it was one of the scariest things I have ever done in my life! You're riding a bike down this tiny road with a huge cliff face to your right and a massive, goodness knows how many metre drop to your left! And no railings, nothing. No wonder it's called the death road! But, safe to say, I did survive. How else would I be writing this. So it wasn't all that bad. A big rush of adrenaline for sure, but it was really very fun.

Amy, Cass and I ready to go! 
Our wee group with death road in the background

The huge drop!


So we stayed in Sucre (still in Bolivia here) just a couple of nights. Unfortunately I was a little bit ill so we didn't actually see much, but what we did see was soo pretty! Sucre is supposedly Bolivia's "white city", and I could definitely say that's true! Most of the houses are pure white, it's so beautiful.




After Sucre Amy and I separated and I had my first taste of solo travelling!! It was so bizarre not having her by my side all the time and I missed her so much!
So I went to the little mining town of Potosi. Now this is the most freezing place I have ever been. Potosi is the world highest city at 4,090 m above sea level and oh my can you feel it. It is SO unbelievably cold and dry and I had to buy myself woolly gloves and a hat and wear them all day every day, including overnight (as in, they rarely left my body). Apart from the cold though I actually really like Potosi. It's a relatively quiet little town, tourists only really come to visit the mines. So of course I was a tourist too and did the touristy thing and did a mine tour, which was really interesting. I had this cute wee guide and a nice group and we went inside the mines and he told us everything about it. It's so fascinating to see how they still work there deep in the mines doing hard and dangerous work even with the possibility of getting silicone poisoning due to the dangerous gas down there. We were able to meet and talk to some of the miners there, some of whom had been working there for over 25 years!! They said that the trick to staying healthy in the mines is to eat healthy and be healthy outside of the mines. If you eat unhealthy things and then go and spend your days in the mines then yu're more likely to get sick from the silicone gas. Anyway that was really interesting and we had a really lovely tour guide which really made it all the better.

bags of coca leavesfor the miners!
with one of our guides

inside the mines

inside the mines

some of the miners taking a break

our cute wee guide

gorgeous view after coming out of the mines

I also went to the Santa Teresa convent and museum in Potosi, a convent where they used to take in young girls aged 15 and upwards from wealthy families (ones that were able to pay the expensive dowry). There was quite often a waiting list of girls (more likely it was their parents who wanted them to get in) to get into the convent because it was really great privelige to be a nun and also having a relative in the convent was supposed to guarantee you a place in heaven. The waiting list was so long because a new nun can only enter once an old nun has passed away. Once the girls entered the convent at age 15 they hardly ever saw their family again, only very rarely through massive and thick barred windows (not even really windows though) you could barely see through, although they were allowed to exchange some small gifts as time went on.

barred windows through which the girls were able to talk to their family

Some craftwork the girls used to make when inside the convent

Corsets were sometimes used as a form of punishment in the convent
Santa Teresa Convent


Tupiza is right down in the south of Bolivia, pretty close to the borders of Uruguay and Argentina. It was meant to be warmer than in Potosi, and I guess it sort of was, but compared to Potosi anywhere could be warm!! Tupiza is kind of strange and very different to whichever South American image you've got in your mind right now. It's set amongst red canyon country, so picture American Wild West and you're pretty much there! So I spent my time there just kind of relaxing. I was waiting for a trip to go on a horse trek with and there wasn't one for a couple of days so I took a few chill out days, read a book, had slow and enjoyable meals (on my own, it has to be said) and took leisurely afternoon strolls around the town which was wonderful. It's such a beautiful place! I eventually went on my horse trek which was sooo much fun, I've not been horse riding in a long time and I hadn't realised quite how much I missed it.



Horse trekking

The "Devil's Gate"

Monday, 25 August 2014

Cusco, Arequipa and Lake Titicaca


Soo our first bit of travelling started with a very long journey all the way from Trujillo to Cusco - so an overnight bus to Lima and then over 24 hours to Cusco from there. Not very enjoyable, but what can you do! When we got to Cusco we could really feel the altitude (it's at about 3,400 m above sea level) - we were completely out of breath after walking up a flight of stairs!! It didn't help that our hostel was at the top of a very steep hill which half the taxis just didn't bother going up so just left us
at the bottom. Not very fun.

So we stayed a few days in Cusco city to acclimatize to the altitude before we went on our Machu Picchu trip. We weren't doing the actual Inca trail, you need to book that at least 6 months in advance and we didn't know when we would be in Cusco at that time!! So this was a different trip organised by our hostel. It was 4 days long, the first day was biking downhill a looong way (they took us up really high to start, 4,200 m) and then we stopped for lunch and afterwards had a horrible sweaty walk up in the jungle to where we were going to stay for the night.We stayed with a local family who cooked our meals for us - we also had coca tea made with just hot water and coca leaves, really yummy actually. They also had a pet parrot and coati which were hilarious to watch!!

with all the bikes

coca tea!

the parrot landed on Amy's hair...hahaha

The whole group
Day 2 was our first day of walking - we were to walk a part of the authentic Inca trail!! Our guide told us about the Incas and Cusco along the way which was really interesting. He also played pan pipes along the actual Inca Trail which was just so classicly Peruvian haha. Then we went to the thermal baths which were sooo lovely and relaxing, especially after having walked all day to get there.

walking the Inca trail

Day 3 we chose to go ziplining over the valleys which was SO much fun, I would recomment it to anyone it gives you such an adrenaline rush! Going upside down is by far the best. Takes a bit of courage to do it for the first time though!! After that we continued trekking, but this time along the train tracks for about 3 hours that eventually lead us to the town of Aguas Calientes, or Machu Picchu town. After we arrived there we just relaxed, had dinner and went out shopping to buy some souvenirs!

Ziplining upside down with Amy

Walking along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes
Day 4 was the day we went to Machu Picchu. We had timed it to be on Machu Picchu for Amy's birthday, 30 June, so we got the bus up to the entrance instead of walking up through the jungle (which everyone else said was horrible). When we first got there it was really foggy and we literally could not see a thing. Later we realised we had been at the bit everyone gets the famous photo from but we had no idea because we were surrounded by all this fog! Machu Picchu is incredible, once it finally cleared up (which was the most amazing part, realising we'd been so close to it all along) you could really tell how huge it all is. What none of the photos can show either is that there are loads of massive beautiful mountains round about Machu Picchu that are just as stunning in their own right. So obviouly we got our typical photo at Machu Picchu, kept on taking photos until they were all the same haha and then went back down to catch our train back to Cusco.

How the day started out!

Our amazing group we did the trip with

"That" Machu Picchu photo

Machu Picchu in its own glory

Arequipa and Cotahuasi

From Cusco we went to Arequipa - Most people go to Arequipa and see the Colca Canyon, the more famous one, but we decided we wanted to see the Cotahuasi Canyon, which is supposedly the deepest in the world! So we took an overnight bus from Arequipa to Cotahuasi and this must be the worst bus I have ever been on. 10 hours on a non-paved road, bouncing and bumping the whole way. No sleep whatsoever. Nightmare journey. But once we got there it was nice. Cotahuasi is a really small town in the mountains, so beautiful, hardly any tourists. Completely off the beaten track. We had heard about the local bus that goes past the canyon and so we got up at a reasonable time (these buses tend to arrive at totally useless time like 3am so you have to end up paying for a night in a hostel as well) and assumed we'd get it. Turns out the bus left at 6am and that was the only one. So we called up our taxi driver from the night before who'd been friendly and left his number and asked him if he'd kindly take us to the canyon and back. We ended up having the most hilarious day out. Our taxi driver-come-tour guide called Gherard ran ahead of us all the time on the wee path and we had no chance of keeping up, he lay down on the canyon edge to look down into it and was just so hilarious to be with. We had a lot of fun that day. It was also really nice because we were the only people there. Absolutely empty apart from us and Gherard!

Cotahuasi Plaza de Armas

Gherard hilariously leaning into the canyon

Amy in the vast empty landscape

Cotahuasi Canyon

Amy and I

Gherard again...
After we got back to Cotahuasi town we went on a litle walk to find a lake that some people had told us about. When we eventually got there it has to be one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. I think it was the fact that it was so absolutely dead silent - all you could hear was the water, the birds and a far away rush of a canyon waterfall somewhere. Amazingly beautiful place.

Lake Titicaca

From Arequipa we went to Puno, on the edge of the world's highest lake - Lake Titicaca. We took a day trip to visit the lake, the Uros islands and Taquile Island. So the lake itself is so so beautiful and bright and blue and it's so sunny and gorgeous! When we got to the Uros islands it was so weird, they are so strange but so fascinating. They're made completely out of reeds that grow in the lake and they somehow float on top of the water. Each island is absolutely tiny and a small community lives on each one - everyone just walks about in bare feet on the reeds underneath them and there were adorable little kids in traditional dress, even the tiniest ones. Amy was even made to try on the traditional dress, it was hilarious, the woman just kind of came up to her and started dressing her up. So she got the full lot: a little waistcoat, massive yellow skirt, a bowler's hat and hair in pigtails with pom poms tied onto them!

Amy and I on Lake Titicaca

Uros Island
Amy in her traditional gear!

Local guy demonstrating how the islands are built

Uros Islands
After the Uros Islands we went to Taquile Island which is so so beautiful, and a "normal" island instead of the floating Uros! It's so interesting because they have their own Taquile people who don't tend to marry outside of the island and so their culture and traditions have been really well preserved. For example, the type of skirts that the women wear tell you whether or not they are married: brightly coloured skirts are for the single women and married women wear darker colours. The men, too, wear different coloured hats to show their marital status - red hats with a white tip (meaning purity) are for single men whereas fully red ones are for married men. Children wear red hats with a brown tip - meaning fertility and Pachamama (Mother Earth). Taquile's chiefs even wear multi-coloured hats which are really cool haha.

Amy and I on Taquile Island

Taquile Island

Lake Titicaca is split across the border between Peru and Bolivia, so after seeing it from the Peruvian side we crossed the border into Copacabana on the Bolivian side. From there we went to see Isla del Sol (Island of the sun) which was also really pretty.

On Isla del Sol