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Chilling at Estancia, return to BA

A long drive, with of course the extra 80km shortfall from yesterday, and the last 70km on a dirt drive barely big enough for Ithaca. We did manage to scrape one post which did some minor damage to the truck corner trim but we think it was the camels straw from the repeated thumps that particular corner had received. When we finally arrived at the Estancia the accommodation was in shared rooms – ours had a double bed and 3 singles so sharing with Kirsten, Jeanne and Francois. Lovely and comfortable the only issue being the incredibly noisy toilet door making it impossible to make a quiet trip to the loo in the night!

Our dinner that evening, was barbecued beef ribs from the farm, absolutely melt in the mouth and cooked to perfection. Accompanied by a bottle of local Malbec – for us carnivores it’s good to be back in Argentina!The next day was Karen’s birthday which was greeted by balloons on the door but as we were in a shared room we thought it best we postpone our normal birthday celebrations for another time………..

Setting Off

Congratulations over breakfast from the entire group and a gift of chocolate & wine from Tony and Geoff. Jeanne wanted to do some washing and the advice was to go to the river so Karen joined her and had a fun time doing so. Suggestions that she shouldn’t be doing washing on her birthday let alone in the river and that perhaps I should do it were given short shrift.

Later that day Karen and I wandered back down to the river, a truly lovely spot, a pleasant couple of hours scrambling over the rocks and playing grown up “pooh sticks” with 2m tree trunks caught in the rocks. Back for lunch, another pasta / tomato non-starter for me but a convivial gathering nonetheless. Dinner a much more satisfying beef casserole accompanied by the bottle of Syrah from Geoff & Tony. Kirsten had found some gluten free cookies in lieu of a cake. All in all a great day for Karen apart from not being able to pick up the messages from the family as we are in a very remote spot without wi-fi.

After breakfast, the next day, we had another pleasant walk around the farm and down to the river, meeting up with Tony & Vanessa who had also spent the morning scrambling over rocks too. Karen had horse riding booked for the afternoon along with Francois & Lisa and accompanied by Daniel, the gaucho, a very pleasant 2 hour ride around the farm in the sunshine. A number of the group anticipating overfull bags home donated their ferry hammocks to the staff at the Estancia which were very welcome.

L to R, Kare, Francois, Lisa and Guide

When the horse riders were back we played Perudo – a great dice bluff game which is helped by drinking in fact is very similar to an old drinking game of my knowledge called spoof. Appearing at a family gathering near you soon. Dinner was barbecued steak, excellent quality and beautifully prepared followed by homemade tiramisu & fruit salad for Karen. It was a very relaxing few days enabling us to recharge our batteries after a very debilitating week of being ill.

Next morning we were all ready for the 500km drive to Rosario after our few days of R&R. It was slow going until we hit the tarmac at around 10.45, and a pleasure to be back in a land of well stocked and clean service stations. Rosario is the birth place of Che Guevara, Marxist revolutionary and Lionel Messi – world footballer of the year since 2010 and now alleged tax dodger. We stayed at the municipal campsite as it was getting dark. Kirsten and I made a beer run – kindly getting a lift from one of the staff to an ATM and a taxi back from the supermarket with copious amounts of beer, wine and nibbles for our last night camping. Greeted with loud cheers from the thirsty crowd who promptly set to in demolishing the newly acquired stock and a fine job they did too. Dinner was an excellent chicken curry followed by toasted marshmallows around the fire.

It was an early start, after a welcome porridge breakfast, and a final inventory and clean of the tents as we packed them up for the last time. Then a relatively easy 250km run to Buenos Aries and back to the Bohemia hotel. We settled the bar with most of the group en-route, after 6 months it was around $220 in profit which we gave back to people based on the amount they had spent. We were joint highest spenders as a couple, Ken easily the highest individual spend.

Of course being the end of the trip we had to unload everything from the truck – thankfully being Sunday we were able to park outside the hotel for an hour or so before it was moved to a truck park – this included both our main bags, tripod, camera case, laptop and associated cables, our hammocks and other souvenirs. We had packed a collapsible bag in our luggage as we are allowed a generous 32kg luggage in 2 bags each with our TAM flights. Their policy of 23kg out and 32kg on the return journey made a great deal of sense for tourists. A brutal clearout of worn out t- and unwanted bits such a extra tent blanket meant we were comfortably under the weight limit with only 3 bags to check in, Karen taking the laptop and myself the camera as carry on luggage.

As it was Sunday there is a major craft / antiques street market close to the hotel so we went for a mooch with Colin and Jane, after coffees we went our separate ways as we wanted to do some shopping including a mate cup and supplies of mate for Michael. That just left us to concentrate on our final group dinner and a terrific night it was too at the excellent “Gran Parilla Del Plato” restaurant otherwise known by the group as Butchers Shop as it is in a former butcher shop. Complete with tiled walls and meat hanging racks, however also great food, wine and service.

A fun night topped off with a glass of bubbly courtesy of the restaurant, we had asked for separate bills for basically 3 tables, what we got was the bill randomly split into three, this took some sorting but eventually we got there thanks to the maths skills of the relatively sober Lisa. Stressed by the effort involved we then found Lisa & Heather in the Gibraltar pub, next door to the hotel, ordering chocolate brownies and cake at well past mid-night. After more chatting and general hilarity we finally got to bed well after 2 am. A great last night.

There were emotional goodbyes next morning as a couple of the group were leaving for the airport and home – Mikkel heading for work the day after he lands in Denmark – and then the rest of the group leaving for their Uruguay extension. Having seen them off we had a few jobs to do including checking in for our flights the following day. A shock to see our connecting flight had been changed to 6am meaning a 15 hour stopover in Sao Paulo waiting for our transatlantic flight. No thanks, so we decided to go the TAM offices and were rewarded with a no quibble change to a 7pm flight meaning a mere 1 hour stopover in Sao Paulo and then on to London. Result.

Karen and I had a good 2 hour walk to the TAM office, lunch in an excellent Italian bistro and then a wander around the Floralis Genérica – a famous huge flower sculpture. Then the bus back to the hotel where we had an example of the friendly locals, as we had insufficient change a stranger paid our fare and made sure we got off at the right stop.

The changed flight meant we effectively had an extra day in Buenos Aries and after saying goodbye to Terry, Leslie, Jeanne and Neale who were leaving for the airport at 10am for their 1pm flights, we had another walk around the city and then a final lazy lunch. We treated ourselves to a fantastic steak, red wine and champagne ice cream lunch at the Butchers Restaurant before leaving for the airport – slightly squiffy! It was a great farewell to Argentina and South America.

Arrived at the airport at 4.29pm checked in and bags gone by 4.37pm fastest check in ever, irritatingly I left my “I love boobies” Galapagos cap in the taxi but hopefully Tony can retrieve it. I bought some skull candy headphones for the flight home, uneventful flights, brilliant welcome home from Steph and Graham – banners, hugs and kisses and that’s it we are done.

I will think about a final word.

 

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Tupiza and back to Argentina

Valley Scenery

Departure at 8.30am for a longish drive, in time but not distance, to Tupiza, (Photos here.) I was back at 8.15am from my visit to the train cemetery but Karen wasn’t where we had agreed to meet – at the restaurant where we had our breakfast the day before. Turned out she had gone on a mission to find bread and tomatoes for lunch with Geoff we were just about to send out a search party when they appeared with said supplies.

We had a choice of routes – 400km of boring motorway or 200km of scenic dirt road – we opted for the dirt road for the truly spectacular scenery but talk about shake rattle and roll, no dozing on the truck today!  After 4 ½ hours we had only gone 100km so slow going but worth it for the views. With about an hour to go and the light fading we came across a Bolivian bus that had broken down – multiple punctures. Stuck ! Two hours later having not just changed the wheels but the tyres as well due to the odd assortment of rims on the bus (and borrowing Ithaca’s tools to do it) they were eventually able to move the bus enough for us to get past. Now pitch black, the already challenging drive was now serious, with headlights on plus the roof mounted rally lights Rogan did a sterling job of getting us down the winding mountain route and together with Kirsten navigating the incomprehensible route into town. We grabbed a quick bite of chicken & chips at a tiny cafe that was closing around us for the princely sum of 80p each and headed to bed after a long and tiring day.

Us plus Sue

There are lots of tours and activities in and around Tupiza but most opted to chill after our fairly hectic program of the previous week. Some were going walking but we opted for a more sedate Jeep tour, joined at the last minute by Sue, and once I solved the issue of cash. The ATM wouldn’t play ball the previous night (the only other ATM in town being out of order) and then inspiration struck and I used the Spanish rather than English menus and money popped out. Confirmation it wasn’t a fluke when Sue tried the same thing – no cash when using the English menu no problem in Spanish.

We had a great day – firstly seeing some of the valley we had missed in the dark the previous night – absolutely stunning and then visiting some of the other gems including “Valley Los Machos” where the rock formations look like a certain part of male anatomy and where we met Francois, Heather, Lisa and Jean walking, also “Canon del Duende” a hidden valley that you enter literally via a hole in the wall. It was very Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid.

Hole in the Wall

Incidentally Tupiza is where the famous robbers made their last robbery – the payroll of the Aramayo Mining Company on Nov 3rd 1908. This resulted in the standoff with their pursuers about 120km from Tupiza, not as romantic as the film supposedly Sundance was fatally injured and realising there was no escape Butch shot Sundance and then committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. However there are endless conspiracy theories that they did actually escape and the bodies never found……………

Sure it’s all good for the tourist industry J Lunch was a hit with Karen as we had explained the gluten free issue and the tour company had gone overboard to compensate, fruit, yogurt and Tameles – corn dough stuffed with Llama meat – proved much more popular than the stand ham and cheese sandwiches for the rest of us. On the way back we passed a local lady carrying a heavy load in the middle of nowhere and Sue suggested we offer her a lift which she gratefully accepted for the 5 or so miles to town and the market, where we think she was headed. to sell whatever it was she was carrying.

Back about 4pm and did some blog preparation before heading out to El Alamo for a drink with about half the group. El Alamo is a strange place with multiple rooms – one a disco and the decor a sort of 50’s diner meets soft porn set with some fairly suggestive posters of Marilyn Monroe, Wonder Woman and bikini clad girls with cars.

How the valley Los Machos
got its name ……………

We went for dinner with Geoff, Tony and Vanessa for more chicken. After a couple of us ordered a ½ chicken and chips plus rice they wouldn’t let us order any more as said it was too much as they expected us to share and indeed the portions were huge. Tony and I went back to El Alamo for a night cap and spent a pleasant hour putting the world to rights. Early start next morning with a 6am departure as although only 3 hours to the border but with a total drive to next stop of about 8 hours and because you simply never know how long a border crossing will take. As it happened it was probably our fastest crossing of the trip with all of us plus truck and formalities completed in an hour!

One odd thing about the border was the sheer number of porters ferrying goods across to Bolivia. It’s obviously cheaper / faster to employ the porters than take the trucks across. Slight

Porters at work

chaos ensued when one of the porters spilled her load of apples, Bolivia imports apples from Chile as they don’t grow well in Bolivia and hence they are by far the most expensive fruit, causing a traffic jam on the narrow, fenced path reserved for the porters to the displeasure of those behind. Time is clearly money as the porters push the heavy loads one way and then run back the other for the next pick up.

We were heading for a campsite that was also a rafting and zip lining centre, it was a bit of a detour but it had been arranged for them to provide a “surprise bbq”  this plus the location next to the river justifying the detour. The surprise turned out to be no bbq as despite Kirsten having a confirmation email from their office the people on site had no knowledge of our booking and certainly no food for 25.

Plan B was a quick emergency pasta dinner off the truck however as it was basically pasta with tomato sauce I made do with a chocolate bar and to bed in our tent as no upgrade available, still an excellent location and good facilities including a nice hot shower.

Next day no one went zip lining which was just as well as drive was longer than expected due to slow roads, en route we stopped at Calyate a pleasant place but we only had 30 mins and Karen and I needed to get drinks for the bar – we were slightly late back but to loud cheers when they realised we had some drinks.

We ended up 80km short of our intended camp-site but found a reasonable alternative in Rio Horno. A beef stir fry for dinner which was our last cook group – a bit of a result as we only did breakfast and a relatively simple dinner. We stayed up late with most of the group which decimated the bar supplies meaning we will have to do another stop for our last night camping in order to avoid a riot ! Tupiza Photos Here

Onward next day towards Cordoba and a 3 night stop at a working Estancia (farm).

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Uyuni Salt Flats Bolivia

A relatively short run to Uyuni (Photos here.) which is on the edge of the world’s largest – over 4,000 square miles – and highest – 3,656 metres above sea level – salt flats. We arrived at the  Tonito Hotel – allegedly home of the best pizzas in Bolivia – some claim as there must be 50 pizza restaurants in tiny Uyuni alone.

British Influence

Train Graveyard

A complete contrast to the mine this was Bolivia under bright blue skies and a truly fantastic experience. Starting with a visit to the train cemetery just outside town which has trains abandoned when the mining industry collapsed in the 1940’s a truly spectacular location for photography. In fact so good I didn’t think we had long enough there so sneaked back on my own the next morning for a brilliant 45 minutes with the place to myself. I had agreed $15 soles (£1,50) with the taxi driver for the ride out, waiting the hour and the ride back – I was so pleased with the visit gave him $20 to make his day too !

Then onward onto the salt flats a truly amazing place, first to the area where the salt is dug by hand for processing we were given a demonstration of the process and bought a small bag of the salt for the princely sum of $1 or 10p. The guide explained they can produce as much salt as they want, the issue is distribution and marketing is so limited. The salt “factory” was in a building behind the street market which also advertised a public toilet – there was a dispute as to wether we had paid to use the facility or not (we had) and Tony and Heather ended up locked in the toilet block for ten minutes until we found the guide we had paid to let them out. Bizarre.

This was followed by a visit to the market and we started our collection of hats for the family finding the perfect multi-coloured sun hat for Jim to go with his eccentric choice of shirts.

Map of the Isla Incahauasi

Then an hour long drive out in Land Cruisers at 80 km per hour to the Isla Incahuasi a rocky outcrop that pokes through the 27 metres deep salt bed and supports the only vegetation for hundreds of Km in the form of giant cactus which grow to 10-12m high all over the island. It looks featureless but clearly the drivers know their way, at one point we passed two small crosses in the otherwise empty desert our driver crossed himself and explained it was the scene of an accident when two land cruisers had crashed head on resulting in a number deaths.

Quite unbelievable considering the absolutely vast open space and difficult to conceive how the collision had occurred even if one of the drivers was asleep at the wheel. Shortly after this our driver was definitely a bit sleepy ( it’s hard to concentrate across miles of featureless salt plain) so we kept up a running stream of questions in Spanglish to keep him awake !

The island is well worth a visit although there is a slight surprise to find there is an additional entry fee for the island which includes the otherwise not accessible toilet. Although in reality people did use it as like a lot of things in Bolivia control is extremely random and its luck of the draw whether tickets will be inspected. It’s not the amount as a mere £3 it just should be included in the tour price and no-one would have blinked. There a couple of shops and a restaurant selling basic snacks – this is the middle of truly nowhere.  Lunch was a mini feast of chicken with pasta and vegetables conjured out of the back of the Toyota, whilst the ceoliac’s got steak and potatoes – we are still not sure why Bolivian chicken wasn’t considered gluten free! Probably something lost in translation………….

After lunch and a great walk around the island we drove back towards Uyuni and stopped en-route to take advantage of the natural infinity effect of the salt plain to take some optical illusion photographs – some with greater success than others. I got a couple that are OK – or will be with some editing, Tony had some better results and there are some fun ones at his blog http://tonyhays50.blogspot.co.uk. For me the funniest moment was when Anthony did a streak right past Karen, Jane and Colin busy taking photos and none of them noticed…………………evidence on the odyssey bl0g post “Breathtaking Bolivia” http://odysseyexplorer2012.blogspot.co.uk/

A last stop at the salt hotel (yes built from salt blocks) but otherwise have no idea why you would stay there and a view of the spectacular sunset behind us coupled with an equally impressive moon rise in front of us.

All in all another brilliant day topped off by dinner with Vanessa and Heather as most of the group were trying the Pizza’s in the hotel at a birthday celebration for Leslie but the Pizza only menu no good for Karen or Vanessa. We toasted Leslie in absentia! One thing the Bolivians can do is brew and serve ice cold beer. Lots of Photo’s here.

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The Mountain that eats men.

Potosi and Cerro Rico Photos Here

Mon 20th May. An early start at 6.15am – this to avoid the road blocks which were expected to be in place for normal working hours. Our strategy worked as far as getting out of La Paz but by midday we were stuck in the town Oruru with multiple road blocks set by protesting taxi drivers who had gridlocked the town. We were stuck for around 6 hours and as a result didn’t make our intended destination Potosi instead bush camping in a quarry – not the greatest site but we were tired and slightly fed up plus Rogan discovered the truck had a fuel leak so more work for him before bed. It turned out to be a damaged fuel filter but he had plenty of spares.

Churchillian Pose …. with Dynamite!

Arrving in Potosi a day late wasn’t a problem – one of the advantages of such long trips is flexibility, when away for a few short weeks a days delay would be a major problem in 6 months it can be accommodated comfortably. We were staying at the La Casona Hostel which advertised itself as being “Newly restored 18th century colonial house” this was partly true apart from the ongoing building and the lack of hot water in the shared facilities – solved by those with en-suite rooms (luck of the draw) kindly sharing the facilities. It will be gorgeous if ever finished having several linked courtyards with the rooms overlooking them, the finished rooms being to a good standard but apparently it has been a work in progress for years, another quirk being the room numbering with the higher room numbers on the ground floor. Still a great location minutes from the main attractions and comfortable beds.

Cerro Rico

Potosi is at the base of the Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain) which has been mined for some 400 years and at the time of the Spanish occupation this single mine funded the spendthrift Spanish monarchy (effectively Spain) for some 200+ plus years. The cost in human terms was staggering with estimates of up to 8 million deaths of those that laboured here.  Both the local indigenous Quencha Indians forced into slavery by the Spanish and the majority of African slaves brought here to make up the numbers. It is estimated that for every African slave that went to North America 12 went to South America.

During the time of the Spanish empire, Potosi was one of the richest cities in the world. It was said that a bridge could have been built with the silver from Cerro Rico all the way to Madrid. But now Potosi, with its stunning colonial haciendas, churches and royal mint, is struggling as the entire economy is dependent on the declining mining –   now a shadow of its heyday glory. If ever the annual treasure fleet – due to weather or piracy – didn’t reach Spain it was a national disaster.

Today the mountain is managed by descendants of the Quenchua Indians and around 15,000 miners in small co-operatives continue to eke a living in brutal conditions that tend towards a short career and an early grave as those that survive the hard work and accidents succumb to almost inevitable silicosis. The risks are known however there is simply no alternative work to feed a family, e.g. miners can get a pension of about $20 a month when they have lost 50% of their lung capacity, an appalling disability when you already live at 4,000 meters.

It is little wonder the miners call it “The Mountain that eats men” as generation after generation of Potosi male inhabitants are consumed by the mine. Women are considered unlucky underground. Nowadays you can visit of the mine but its definitely not a cosy tourist experience and not for the faint hearted, the claustrophobic spaces, the ever present fine dust and the apparent complete absence of any semblance of a health and safety regime making it a dangerous place for anybody let alone working down there for 12 hours a day 6 days a week.

Doing some subsequent research I learned there are 600 mines, many abandoned and consisting of about 60 miles of shafts that have left it with more holes than a swiss cheese, and the whole mountain is considered in danger of collapse – the summit is already doing so and mining in that area is officially banned but apparently still happens illicitly. I am not surprised, it is clear when you arrive that this is not the normal tourist attraction and the piles of slag, discarded equipment and piles of scrap metal do not give the impression of a safe workplace.

It was a fascinating insight into the miners life, the tour began with donning our overalls, helmets and wellingtons so we at least looked the part. En-route we make a stop at the miners market as its traditional to buy the miners gifts. Gifts consist of alcohol, and not branded drinks but raw alcohol diluted 50/50 with soft drinks, coca leaves which are chewed incessantly or dynamite.

Looking the Part

Yes in Potosi you can buy dynamite on the street, to the utter amazement of Tony the former security police specialist, for about £2.20 you get a stick of dynamite, detonator cord, detonator and a small quantity of ammonium nitrate more of which later.

In we go …..

Suitably armed (no pun intended) with a selection of all the gifts, you then go to the mine entrance, literally a hole in the side of the mountain with small tracks coming out for the hand pushed trucks that bring the ore out. The tours are led by ex-miners – it seemed to me the smarter ones who realise that the mine is not a healthy life – and following him in you are immediately wading in ankle deep water, ducking under low and frequently broken pit props and stepping over holes big enough to fall through into the gallery below. Which was an indication of the lack of any overall co-ordination of mining activity and lack of maintenance or safety.

Climbing up a steep and narrow gallery, I needed a hand up from the guide as couldn’t get a grip on the steep slope, we met a group of miners. The mining technology is primitive the most advanced tool being the drill to place the explosives otherwise it’s just hard manual labour to dig the ore out.

Their working space was the size of a small bedroom and was also home to a shrine to Tio Jorge — “Uncle George” — the devilish deity who oversees this subterranean universe. These figures are ¾ life size mannequins who all feature a monstrously out of scale erect penis – for virility and power – and who is the recipient of many gifts which are considered essential for successful and accident free mining. There is much ritual associated with mining and for example on the first Friday of the month a llama will be sacrificed to Pachamama (Mother Earth) at the mine entrance and the blood spread on the mine entrance – I guess in preference to  anyone else’s blood being spilt.

There then followed a lengthy discussion via the guide on our respective lives and careers, freely populated with samples of the alcohol mix. I had 2 small shots and I was feeling the effect, drinking it all day coupled with coca leaves would require practice! which the miners and our guide certainly got plenty of. There is ritual to the drinking, drinks must be taken in the right hand and a few drops sprinkled on Uncle, the head, shoulders and of course penis. A drop for the miners, tourists and Pachamama must not be forgotten either.

Uncle

As the atmosphere became more convivial we were treated to a rant from the guide about all of Bolivia neighbours, “arrogant” Argentines, worthless Peruvians, Chileans and Paraguayans he didn’t have a good word for anyone. He didn’t even approve of the way Chileans and Pervuians chewed cocoa leaves – apparently they have no idea !

This dislike of the neighbours could be traced to a series of wars Bolivia fought in the last century disastrously losing all of them and losing about 50% of the country’s geographical area including vital access to the sea which is now part of Chile. As a result the Bolivian navy exists only on Lake Titikaka.

So having had sufficient cocoa leaves and alcohol one miner then built what can only be described as a small bomb using the empty plastic bottle of alcohol packed with ammonium nitrate and a quarter of dynamite. He crimped the detonator with his teeth – a highly dangerous method as if it was to go off he would be a head shorter. This all to the astonishment of Tony who at least added to his rogue’s gallery of photos for his security lectures.

We were then backed up into a side tunnel when it was detonated to demonstrate the concussive force – you certainly felt the shock wave and that was only a quarter the normal force.  This was purely for us – the normal proceedings are to drill a hole in a strategic place and then detonate a full charge leaving the rock fall (and dust!) to settle overnight for the next day’s digging.

The group then moved on to another area and group of miners up another gallery, however 3 of us including me had had enough of the mine and opted to wait outside in the sunshine – a blessed relief. Pleased to have had the experience but the thought of having to it every day makes you understand the need for the cocoa and alcohol to get you through the day.

Karen had sensibly (because she would have hated it) had opted to stay behind and  accompanied by a few of the other girls took Kirsten for a birthday lunch. At £1.50 for a bowl of soup and 60p for a water Karen reckons she is a cheap date 🙂 Pete probably thinks otherwise and has the bills to prove it 🙂  We all surprised her in the afternoon when returning from  the mine by hiding in the kitchen downstairs while Tony went and fetched her with a tale of the traffic police wanting to move Icatha, she appeared with her serious face on and then we all came out singing happy birthday.  Done up like a kipper!  Its that authoritative presence of Tony  – you would believe anything he said.

An interesting and fun day capped off with a group birthday dinner at Pub4060 – about the only place we ever found in Bolivia that could serve more than 2 meals at the same time and the food (and beer) was excellent. A great end to a fascinating day. More Photos Here.

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La Paz, Bolivia

Las Paz Photos Here.

The next few days a bit of a blur as neither of us well, taking it in turns to relapse. We crossed the border into Bolivia, probably one of the easier crossing of the trip all of us and Icatha in about 1.5 hours, we were staying two nights in Copacabana but barely stepped out of the room. We did see enough to realise that whilst it may share a name with the famous beach in Rio it has none of the glitz or glamour. Its all about the lake.

Karen did manage to lose a pair of my trousers which fell off the window ledge after being washed. I hope some Bolivian is happy with his find, as clearly it’s a country that needs all the help it can get, the grinding poverty for large numbers of the population pretty obvious to all. Feeling very sorry for myself holed up in the room watching the exceedingly limited English TV channels I did catch Chelsea’s victory over Benfica whilst Karen went out with Vanessa, Heather, Robin and Geoff. On the 17th May we moved on to La Paz and as we were only marginally improving I bought a course of antibiotics for both of us and this eventually seemed to do the trick although Karen was not really well for a good week.

La Paz Panorama

Going into La Paz we did have to abandon the truck under a bridge on the ring road due to protests over pay & pensions and associated road closures which, we were to learn, are a standard form of protest in Bolivia. Kirsten and Rogan had to go back after 6pm when the protests ended to move the truck to a safer parking area. The Milton Hotel was truly funky in that the decoration could best be described as bizarre, clashing colours and sticky backed plastic wallpaper. Apparently is been like it for years, however lovely comfy bed but no heating in rooms meant for frosty mornings as La Paz is at 4,000 meters plus.

Having not eaten well, or at all, for a couple of days we went to Cafe del Mundo for a late lunch of eggs and bacon on toast for me and porridge for Karen. We then headed back to the hotel and bed for Karen as still not feeling too good. Saturday we took a guided walking tour of La Paz including the famous witches market where such delicacies as whole llama foetuses re for sale. tempting as this might sound we preferred to stick to modern medicine………..

No thanks.

Karen had a nice chicken broth lunch which we had with Colin & Jane at the beautiful Cafe Luna and then Karen went back to bed for the afternoon to watch a film as her temperature had returned, feeling much better I went out for dinner with Colin, Jane, Terry and Lesley to a steak restaurant and thoroughly enjoyed my first proper meal in 5 days.

On Sunday finally feeling better Karen joined the gang for breakfast, our first choice Cafe del Mundo not open but found a perfectly acceptable alternative a few doors down. We split up for a mooch around but first booked to go and see the Cholita Wrestling in the evening, Chola are the women who wear the traditional dress and the addition of “lita” means girl, frankly a somewhat optimistic description of some competitors.

This was the day about 10 of the group had signed up to do the Death Road cycle trip, 70Km downhill on some of the most twisty and dangerous gravel road in the world. Most motorized traffic now uses the new road and the Death Road is very much a tourist attraction but still needs to be treated with the utmost respect as accidents do occasionally occur and if you do go over the, unfenced, edge that’s it – you are toast.

The group all seemed to enjoy it – particularly the party bus back complete with copious quantities of alcohol and a stripper pole. Sadly the only topless “stripping” was done by the men, so I didn’t feel too bad about not going :-).You will need  to Go look at the blogs of  Odyssey, Tony Hays or Lisa Shinwick for the details and photographic evidence.

Karen and I had a light lunch in the most amazing cafe, Angelo Colonial, inside a courtyard on the first floor and stuffed with interesting objects and furniture, collections of old locks, keys, cameras and irons being just a small selection. Bolivia are celebrating the year of Quinoa but it was proving very difficult to find a restaurant that had any – success this time as Karen had Quinoa con Leche, ideal for a recovering tummy.

We had a wander in the main shopping area but everything seemed shut on Sunday so we headed over to the electronics area which we were told was a 7 day a week operation. Primarily to replace Karen’s camera which we believe was left in the back of a taxi during one the transfers and when neither of us was fully compis mentis.

On your marks

We never made it, as we encountered marching bands and dancers en-route. Turned out it was the “La Festividad de Nuestro Senor Jesus del Gran Poder” and groups from all over the city were taking part. Drinking is a big part of Bolivian festivals and beer stalls were everywhere. There were thousands taking part and it turned out this was only a rehearsal as the actual

Our Guide

event takes place the following week.

We spent a very pleasant, if slightly chilly, couple of hours watching the parade and taking photos – definitely a few camera club contenders amongst the photos.

Then back to the hotel to be picked up for the wrestling, met by a beautifully dressed Chola girl who turned out to be one of the competitors. The wrestling was so staged and badly performed it was hilarious. It really took me back to those afternoons as a child when dad was an avid watcher of the Saturday afternoon wrestling. Men versus women bouts were peculiar to watch but once it became clear nobody was in any real danger of being hurt it was alright. The women invariably won, having been apparently wracked in pain mere seconds earlier. The ref was a villain and there were dubious decisions, illegal moves and the inevitable crowd favourites.

There were a few idiot tourists in the crowd – German students I think – who threw eggs to the complete displeasure of the locals but otherwise it all went OK. Our “VIP” tickets included a snack and a drink; we passed on the extremely dubious looking hot dogs – mindful of our still delicate tums – and opted for tea and popcorn instead. All good fun but the semi open arena was paralysing cold so Karen and I skipped the last bout and retired to the relative warmth of the bus. A bonus on the way back to La Paz was an

Dancing Shoes

interesting commentary in excellent English from the guide.

We dropped our stuff off at the hotel and headed straight for The Steak House which was deserted when we arrived but heaving half an hour later which helped to warm us up. Great timing on our part as service and availability of food and wine seems extremely variable in Bolivian restaurants. Menus apparently being more of an expression of ambition than actually what is available thus the later arrivals being limited to burgers and bin ends rather than the glorious steaks and drinks we had. More Photos Here.

All Action

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Silustani Rings and Uros Islands

More Photos Here

First thing, 7.30am, we piled into taxis back to Ithaca for a longish drive south for our first glimpse of Lake Titikaka, a truly vast body of water that has to be seen to appreciate the scale. However our first stop was Silustani, which is famous for its curious burial towers. The towers are in a beautiful setting overlooking a lake with glorious panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.

Lake Backdrop

We were camping in the grounds / car park of the museum which is open 6am to dusk, the curator of the museum said we could camp inside the museum, for 15 soles a person (about £1,50) which a number did, which meant sleeping with some of the preserved mummies from the site.

Not for us we were quite happy to sleep outside and just have access to the toilet facilities! Those that did said they were amazed at the lack of security as there was irreplaceable objects such as ancient ceramics in the museum literally just stuffed in cupboards. I guess ancient history is a long way down the list of priorities for a country like Peru still trying to recover from a damaging civil war.

Early start to visit the floating islands of Uros on Lake Titikaka, en-route we crossed a narrow part of the lake to avoid a long detour. Ithaca was loaded separately onto a “barge”, powered by a small outboard motor and made what looked a fairly precarious crossing rocking and rolling all the way.

We followed in small ferry boats and it was a choppy and very cold 10 minutes with a fierce cross wind that was whipping up the waves on the lake. Anyway we all made it safely across and continued south to Puno where we were picked up after checking into hotel, and taken to the lake for our visit. The Uros Islands give a glimpse of a lifestyle that is rapidly disappearing, mainly as the children have the opportunity for a proper education on the mainland and invariably choose to stay on the mainland rather than the islands.

The islands are completely artificial being cut out of blocks of reed as a base and then constantly refreshed by new layers of reeds that are placed on top several times a year. Once moved into position they are then anchored with ropes and stones to stop them just drifting off into the lake.

Uros Islander

The island we visited has about 60 inhabitants, all interrelated families, living in simple reed huts. We were greeted by the “president” and the ladies of the island in their colourful indigenous dress and given a talk,  on how to build an island and then a description of life including typical foods and lifestyles, which originally was a subsistence existence, you ate  only what you caught mainly fish, ducks and eggs.

Vegetables have to be brought in from the mainland and are still sometimes paid for on a barter basis although money is increasingly required and the islanders generate income by catering to the tourists and selling their handicrafts. They drive a hard bargain and although all related are very competitive with each other but considering the time and effort required to produce some of the work it’s still an absolute bargain.

We crossed to another island for some refreshments in a reed catamaran, these are based on the traditional style of reed boat but the catamarans are purely for the tourists. It was a truly excellent experience and a glimpse into a fast disappearing culture. Back in Puno we had lunch and I started to feel unwell and retired to bed about 4.30 skipping dinner and feeling very sorry for myself.

Next day Karen developed similar symptoms – a few others had had a bug too – and so we stayed in the hotel and did some blogging / photo preparation. As a result we missed the trip out to the Sun & Moon islands as neither of us was up to it.

View Photos Here.

 

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Fond memories at Machu Picchu

Cusco and Machu Picchu Photos Here

We were on the road at 7.30 which proved entirely fruitless as by 9.30 we were back were we started. 🙂 This because the direct route out of town towards Cusco was ultimately unsuitable for Ithaca. A 57 kilometre detour later we were on the main highway, the bit out of town helped by hiring a taxi to get around the impossibly small (for Ithaca) roads in Arequipa.

Stunning scenery en-route and climbing ever higher we lunched at 4,100 metres. At this altitude and despite clear blue skies it’s deceptively cold so digging out our cold weather fleeces from the early part of the trip.

Karen had an extremely near miss, going to find a discrete place for a pee, slipped and fell heavily on her ankle – having just warned one of the other girls “be careful it’s slippery” – there was a distinct crack and Karen was convinced she had broken something. Carried back to the truck and examination by first aiders nothing broken but extremely painful and couldn’t put weight on it. Visit to Machu Picchu – one of the absolute highlights of the trip looking doubtful. 🙁

We bush camped overnight in a quarry, Karen hobbling into tent and out in the night, and we woke to blue skies and frost covered tents followed by a breakfast of slightly burnt porridge, this courtesy of Heather whose only previous porridge making experience was apparently courtesy of a microwave, rather than stove and a stirring spoon.

Away at 7.30 and hopefully to Cusco else will be another bush camp. Karen’s ankle much better in she can put weight on foot we suspect ligament damage. Helped by lots of pain killers, ankle strapping and sympathy from the group.

The other incident that threatened our visit was a problem with my camera, it seemed to be the battery pack was not connecting to the camera so camera dead, attempting to remove it to re-attach it ended up jammed – neither removable or re-connectable – after much fiddling had no option but to thread a hacksaw blade into the gap and saw through the jammed tripod screw to remove battery pack. Deep breath taking a hacksaw to a £2 grand plus camera………..

Still a result as camera now functional and loss of additional battery power is manageable.

We are in Cusco for a few days to allow those trekking  to catch up with those of us taking the sensible train option ;-). Having made sterling time to Cusco we arrived in time for a stroll down to the main square “Plaza de Armas” – seems most towns in Peru have a square so named, literally Place of Weapons but more accurately Parade Square. Anyway this one is truly lovely with an imposing central fountain and surrounded by well preserved buildings most of which have ground floor shops and first floor restaurants.

Sexy Woman

Next day we had a mooch around the town markets and the chocolate museum actually its not much of a museum buts it’s a stunning cafe. Great views from the balcony and everything chocolate to eat, Karen particularly liked the fruit dipped in chocolate accompanied by Argentina Submarine, a chocolate lollypop to dip into hot milk.

In the afternoon we went to the Inca ruins known as Saqsayhuaman pronounced “Sexy Woman” – yes really – with Colin and Jane. Saqsayhuaman was an Inca fortress and the stone work has to be seen to be believed, huge multi-ton rocks carved and fitted together.

The Spaniards removed many stones to build their churches in Cusco and up until the 1930s citizens from Cusco used stones from the site as building material for their own houses. Only around 20% of Saqsayhuaman remains today, but it’s still a very huge and impressive place.

It is estimated that 20,000 -30,000 men was involved in the construction, and the work with cutting the blocks, transporting the blocks to the site, and fitting the blocks together took around 60 years. What an incredible work with the tools they had at the time.

We had a  great relaxed afternoon, Llamas and Alpacas wandering around, great weather and fantastic views. Colin met an English lad who was teaching English / learning Spanish and he said in four months it was the first view he had of the volcano down the valley. We were definitely fortunate with the weather.

The standard Machu Picchu option is a transfer to Aqua Caliente (Hot Water) for an overnight stay, bus transfer to Machu Picchu to visit the site and return to Cusco. However Karen and I had opted to have an extra day at Machu Picchu as 5 days in a city seemed a little long, not particularly cheap at $300 but, as it turned out, well worth it.

As the rest of the train group were not leaving until next day we had a taxi for the two of us to Ollantaytambo where you board the train to Aqua Caliente. The drive and the train journey takes you through stunning volcanic scenery and valleys, we arrived in a nice hotel – Le Pequera Casita – 2 mins from the station. We took a gentle stroll up to the Hot Springs that give Aqua Caliente its name through the myriad of restaurants and souvenir stands vying for your business.

Llamas Grazing

Another of our issues was I had the mother and father of nose bleeds – I think due to the altitude as not normally susceptible, it lasted a couple hours and I was on the point of thinking I will need to go to A&E when it finally stopped.

A minor panic next morning whilst queuing for the bus with a small re-occurrence and needing to buy tissues with a 100 soles note – not popular! Karen’s ankle holding up, plus her putting an extremely brave face on things, we caught the 5.30 am bus to be at Machu Picchu for 6am opening of the park. We took the walk up to the Sun Gate where those trekking the traditional Inca Trail get their first site of Machu Picchu. It’s a strenuous walk but worth it, the sun is aligned with the sun gate only at the Summer Solstice – December 21, our winter solstice – the rest of the time you get a stunning view of the sun slowly illuminating Machu Picchu below.

You couldn’t script it but as we sat on the grass, admiring the view, thinking about life in general when a party of about 40 McMillan Nurse Organisation walkers on a sponsored trek appeared from the Inca Trail, a number of them were quite emotional as they all have a story to tell and let’s just say it got a bit damp around us. Ei, all our love and eternal thanks for the opportunity to undertake this amazing adventure.

 

Power to their arm the group had raised £170,000 pounds for the extremely deserving McMillan nurses. I had a brief chat to the tour leader and it was his 17th Inca Trail trek, each better than the last in his view.

View from the Sun Gate

Our trekking group was not following the traditional Inca trail but the much less frequented Lares route, any trek has to booked well in advance as there strict limits on the daily numbers allowed to Machu Picchu.

Lares trail starts in the heart of the Urubamba Valley following an ancient Inca trail, passing snow capped mountains and glacial peaks, it is a well kept secret and off the main tourist track, offering a chance to interact with the small village communities and giving a real insight into traditional Peruvian life. The highpoint is the 4,800m Ancascocha Pass – a seriously tough walk at this altitude the trekkers all said it was a fantastic experience and judging by their photo’s you could only agree.

We met up with them at Aqua Caliante with the rest of the train party and we repeated our early morning start on the bus but this time with a guide so a different view of the ruins than our self guided meandering from the day before. We also had tickets for the optional Huayna Picchu the seriously steep mountain behind Machu Picchu. Only 400 people a day are allowed on the trail and it has to be booked well in advance, we saw a number of people turned away.

With Karen’s ankle and our general fitness it seemed doubtful we would make it but decided to go as far as we could as seemed a shame to waste the limited opportunity, anyway we made it ! Even undeterred when halfway up meeting Anthony coming down…………… We had surprised ourselves and I think a number of the group as we received many congratulations, Karen a real trooper but subsequently paying the price of hammering her sore ankle for a few days.

All set for the journey back to Cusco our single carriage commuter style train broke down, after half an hour we were transferred to another train, problem was this had 6 fewer seats. A few (not our group) people got quite agitated but eventually all resolved when they repaired the original train and transferred us back; We departed to loud cheers and applause albeit one and a half hours late.

Back in Cusco we had a quick shower and out by 9.30 to a highly recommended Curry Restaurant – Korma Sutra – it was our last opportunity as it closed on Sundays- only to find it closed at 10pm on Saturday. It was one of the very few disappointments of the week. Luckily Paddy’s Pub was still serving food at 11pm so we didn’t starve.

Paddy’s Pub – the highest Irish owned bar in the world – had become a sort of unofficial base for the group and we had several excellent meals there- and a few beers.

On our first visit we met a group of American students who were volunteers for a charity ‘Engineers without Borders’ and they were in Peru building a water plant in a village north of Cusco plus having a weeks holiday. They were all from the University of Alabama and as I had visited the area whilst working for Intergraph many years ago we had plenty to talk about. Photos were taken and a few beers shared.

Sunday we had a lazy day, primarily to give Karen some rest, initially watching Liverpool’s excellent 1-3 victory over Fulham and then a quiet mooch around including a last visit to the chocolate museum cafe and more lazing in the afternoon watching a quite forgettable film.

Dinner at Paddy’s slightly curtailed as whilst talking to Kirsten I had another nose bleed and walked back to the hotel early looking like an accident victim. Stopped by a couple of police officers but once satisfied I wasn’t a drunk/troublemaker gave us some advice on altitude and sent us on our way.

So in conclusion despite our personal issues a truly magnificent week that I suspect will prove to be THE highlight of the trip – not lightly said amongst the many other high points.

Photos here (lots of them.)

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Puerta Inka and Arequipa

It was a beautiful drive along the coast to Peurta Inka, we had lunch on arrival prepared by our cook group, Karen & I plus Tony and Neil. We chilled after lunch reading whilst watching Heather & Anthony out in kayaks, the local fishermen setting up their nets and the boobies diving just off shore. Seemed like hard work a good hour and a half for a fairly meagre, at least to my eyes, 30 or so sardine sized fish.

Later in the afternoon we walked along the cliffs for an hour meeting up with Tony and Geoff who were running about like school kids and the much more sensible Colin and Jane. Back to camp to help with the dinner, sausage casserole, whilst singing along to music from Karen’s ipod – all golden oldies- which went down well especially with the older members of the group.

As we had set up our tent close to and facing the sea we once again had a fantastic view of the surf, a fitting finale as this was our last beach camp this trip. Karen and I camping was to the amazement of the bag team as they did not bother to unload our camping gear automatically assuming we would upgrade …………

Beach Front Location

Arequipa. We had an early departure, 7.30am, and a beautiful drive along the coast to Arequipa, finally leaving the sea views moving inland to desert and volcanoes – both spectacular.

A timely arrival at our hotel El Peral, meant we could pop out for a drink and a look around the main square, Plaza del Armas and admire some of the beautiful colonial buildings around the square and immediate surroundings. We had dinner at a restaurant off the square and a pleasant evening with Terry & Lesley and Jane & Colin. Karen tried the Alpaca which she found delicious, moist & tender. I went for the fish which was equally delicious.

Next day we took a tour of one of the major attractions the “Monasterio Santa Catalina” although a monastery actually contains a Nunnery. It is called a a “city within a city” as it is completely self contained over some 80 hectares. It has stunning architecture and was a fascinating insight to a very different lifestyle.

Thirty young Nuns still live there and lead a life very similar to their predecessors of the last 500 years with some subtle differences; they have mobile phones and are no longer allowed servants. As it used to be that daughters of rich families – typically 2nd daughters not required to marry well as that was the first daughter’s responsibility – could “employ” poorer nuns as house maids and general servants.  Entry was open to everyone, hence the poor nuns, but they could never ascend to high office in the order such as Mother Superior.

The families of the richer nuns made generous donations to the church and their daughters to ensure their place and good favour with the church. Donations included ornate tile work, tea sets and religious artwork from Spain. Our evening was complete with a delayed “birthday celebration” meal with Tony and Geoff. Geoff sprung for a bottle of wine at the pre-dinner bar which was absolutely delicious – Cheers Geoff- followed by another in the great restaurant down the road “grande steaks” for the boys and Andean Pork for Karen. It was a superb night all round. Thanks Guys.

Typical Family Gift

Long Truck day to come heading to Cusco and Machu Picchu.

 

More Photos Here.

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Paracas, Huacachina and Nazca

Continuing south from Lima en route to Machu Picchu we stayed overnight in Paracas National Park, it’s a coastal desert region – which in itself seems unusual – we toured the various beaches looking for a campsite,  and also stopped at some fantastic viewpoints – including the spectacular “El Cathedral” a glorious natural arch, or at least it was until the 2007 earthquake, it’s now an island.  We eventually bush camped overnight at Yuquema beach.

El Cathedral

Easy set up for camp and a driftwood beach fire soon made it cosy and provided the heat for the BBQ chicken which along with a salad was a perfect beach dinner  – we had passed miles of chicken farms en-route so guess it’s the staple meat in this area.

Karen and I had placed our tent near high tide facing the sea, the complete absence of any light pollution meant the view of the stars and milky way was stunning, so we left the tent flaps open for a great view of the surf crashing in and the stars above – it’s just not possible to photograph such a scene but it will live long in the memory.

Fried egg sandwiches for breakfast meant for a hearty start and onward to the port of Paracas for our boat trip to the Islas Ballestas. Previously famous for its guano exports – Spain even went to war over it at one point it was such a valued commodity. Now a nature reserve, in particular a stunning bird colony with estimates of up half a million boobies, cormorants and fantails making it their base, this in addition to the Humboldt penguins, sea lions, turtles and dolphins in the area. Stunning scenery and teeming wildlife made for a very pleasant couple of hours.

We had an hour before departure and opted to have lunch off the truck so we joined Terry, Lesley, Colin and Jane at a little restaurant shack. I ordered the small mixed seafood and Karen grilled fish – we could have comfortably shared either dish they were enormous and delicious. Slightly slow cooking of the fresh food made us 5 mins late back to the truck, to stern looks from some but hey, get a life.

Pelicans Roosting

After lunch it was onward to Huacachina, famous as an oasis in the midst of the sand dunes. An optional overnight stay in the dunes proved a brilliant experience. Departure was delayed as Rogan had a minor bump parking the truck for the night, Ithaca has rear wheel steer which makes her highly manoeuvrable but also means the last 3 metres swings surprisingly quickly and has previously caught out Pete and now Rogan. The bus he clipped definitely came off 2nd best as the scrape on Ithaca was a wrecked door, wing mirror and the driver’s side window on the bus.

It caused a minor stir with the locals but was eventually amicably resolved – cash apparently being the answer to most problems in South America even the policeman was apparently glad to avoid the paperwork involved with an overseas driver.

Ready to go

Out in 10 seat V8 dune buggies, two options the rapido! and the more sedately driven one but actually both were exhilarating. You then get the option to sand board at increasingly steeper & higher dunes.  Snow boarders could opt for standing up but we went sledging style – fantastic fun and the last dune being a good 100 metres high with at least a 45 degree slope.

Tony, a Man United fan, issued a challenge after the first couple of slopes  – final score Liverpool 2 Man United 0 on the challenge for distance. Also unbeknownst to me Vanessa had decided she would do whatever ones I tried and was becoming ever more anxious as I continued with the seriously steep ones. Turns out all those years of riding roller coasters with Jim paid off!

Beating Man U and impressing young ladies – all in a day’s work for an old dog, however biggest laugh and last word to Vanessa as she rocketed 30 metres past those of us already at the bottom on the final descent screaming “F###ing Hell” in her Bolton accent for the longest slide of the day.

Karen was a bit wary of the sand boarding but looking at the dune buggies coming down the same slopes to pick us up I am not sure who had the scariest ride.

The trip included dinner, Chicken, salad and chips brought up from the village. The food was stone cold but nonetheless tasty, the buggy that delivered it also happily brought Kirsten and Rogan after sorting out the truck misadventure to complete the party. They also provided a sound system and a 5 gallon jar of pisco sours which some were to regret next day.

I gave my last beer to Rogan as he had had a rough day and we all settled round the campfire to chat and drink as people slowly drifted off to bed – just an open sleeping bag under stars, the view being just as good as the night before. A few hard core drinkers decided to practice further on the sand boards in the pitch black – a decidedly dodgy undertaking not least for those already sleeping at the bottom of the dune, we chose a safer spot out of the line of fire.

Up early and a trek in the mist to find (dig!) a suitable toilet spot, one final slide on the “ultimate dune” and then a rapid ride back to town which certainly got your attention as the buggy drove along and over the dune ridges at speed.

Breakfast at a hostel all part of the deal and then, having dug Ithaca out of the soft sand where she was parked overnight (Rogan claimed it was an anti-theft measure) we were on our way for the easy 2 hour drive to Nazca and the mysterious desert markings which we were due to take a flight over.

Nazca town is frankly nothing special and really exists just to service the tourists visiting the lines. As you approach the town it is dominated by the Serro Blanco –  a 2078 metre high sand dune that is supposedly the world’s highest.

After 2 days bush camping we are in serious need of hot shower and change of clothes so the usual suspects including us upgraded at the La Maison hotel / campsite. Refreshed and relaxed I opted to chill for the afternoon but Karen went with the group to visit a burial site, Chauchilla, from pre-inca times that had been ransacked by grave robbing Huaqueros. Today some of the mummies have been reassembled and put on display but the desert is still scattered with bones, skulls and pottery shards. Fascinating but gruesome.

 

We volunteered for the 6am departure over the Nazca Lines which turned out to be a good choice as we were back in an hour and a quarter compared to the 3 hours for the 6.45’ers the difference was only the time they spent waiting at the airport as the queues built up. Whereas we were straight onto our 4 seat plane with Tony and Kirsten for the 30 minute flight over the main sites, flight was excellent with the pilot making turns to ensure good views of the amazing geometric patterns in the sand from both sides and considering taken through he plane windows I am pleased with the photos. Also recommend – the travel sickness pills which helped make the flight far more enjoyable than the one taken over Angel Falls.

Nazca Monkey

There is a small viewing tower, which we had stopped at en route, but you can only clearly see the lines from the air. So apart from how, as they are complicated and precise, the other mystery is why? As, presumably, the people who made them could never have seen them in their full glory and hence the speculation about aliens or human flight thousands of years before the brothers Montgolfier or Wright.

Photos Here

We left at 11.00 for another short run to Puerta Inka, a beach campsite.

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Huarez and Lima

Lovely scenic drive to Huarez through first deserts and then mountains up to 4,200 metres offering stunning views as we rolled around the hairpin curves. Icatha is highly manoeuvrable thanks to the rear steer system – in fact a bit too manoeuvrable on occasion.

Our destination was “Joe’s Place”  the Joe in question still around but frankly I think he fried his brains sometime ago, either too much sun or possibly too much of the produce Colombia is infamous for. Although the plan was to camp there physically wasn’t room for all of our tents on the minute lawn so reluctantly we upgraded to help out our fellow travellers………

Market Goer

We had a mooch around town, enjoying the markets (not everything on sale!) and the colourfully dressed locals, although most reluctant to have their photo taken unless paid. My backup hard drive – purchased for the trip – has ceased to work and I managed to buy a 1 tb Toshiba replacement for around £80 – not too bad as definitely needed a replacement. Hopefully ebuyer will honour the warranty on the original.

For the evening we wandered into town with the usual suspects (Colin, Jane, Tony and Geoff) to El Horno with Anchovy Pizza for me and chicken for Karen.

Joe had talked us out of our planned excursion to a lake describing it as too touristy and mosquito ridden ……. but the alternatives were either too strenuous for our liking or not appealing in the sense of being rock climbing, mountain biking or the 11 hour walk at altitude undertaken by Francois and Mikkel, no doubt stunning views but seriously hard work.

So we opted for a walk around town, there was some sort of children’s event which seemed to consist of various marching bands and walking groups showing their stuff.  We watched for a while, meeting Colin and Jane, and then went to the supermarket buying drink stocks for the bar and took a tuk tuk back to the hostel.

Marching Band

The evening was Pete’s official farewell dinner and the entire group retired back to El Horno where I had a repeat of the excellent Anchovy Pizza and a few of the Pisco sours Pete had ordered – one of the better group dinners in our opinion.

We had a full English at Joe’s and then loaded up the truck for the 8 hour drive to Lima. More stunning scenery as we passed through the Andes constantly descending back to sea level through crops of rice, sugar cane and at one point fields of chillies drying in the sun.

Lima is a huge bustling place, having doubled in population in the space of 10 years up to 2002 at the height of the civil war / unrest. The outskirts amongst the worst of the shanty towns we have seen – the centre a stunning Unesco World Heritage site full of immaculate colonial buildings around the central square.

Dinner with Terry, Leslie, Colin and Jane at a place called Gourmet Peru which lived up to its name serving delicious local dishes of llama, steak and chicken.

Next day there was a protest – we think restaurant workers striking for better pay – but then there always seems to be a protest about something. There were riot police outside our hotel but frankly they looked bored with the whole thing.

We wandered along to the main square (Plaza des Armas) to watch the elaborate changing of the guard, unfortunately there was a large metal fence which you were not allowed to approach by the armed guards so no decent photographs of the event – I did manage a reasonable one later but just of the guards at their post.

Presidential Guard

We did visit the bizarre and quite spooky catacombs at the church of San Francisco which in times past was the main graveyard of the city and it’s estimated up to 25,000 people are buried in each of the burial pits beneath the church. The wealthy could purchase private mausoleums but the poor simply disappeared following their funeral to end up in one of the mass graves.

We made an unexpectedly pleasurable visit to the mineral museum which has a stunning array of the magnificent mineral wealth of Peru coupled with some archaeological examples of earlier cultures.

The warden – 10 photos  no more! – had spent a lot of time in Germany and so he was able to tell some of his story in German which was close enough to Dutch for us to have a “conversation”. He had spent 30 years in Germany and had 6 grandchildren as his daughters had married Germans but he had come back to Peru on his retirement. It seemed a little sad to me to be separated at that that stage of life.

Back to the hotel for Pete’s unofficial farewell which basically meant lots of beers all round before he departed for the airport. Some carried on well past his departure but our group went to dinner in the restaurant area for fish and chips for Karen and chicken for me. Delicious.

 

More Photos Here.

 

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Mancora / Huanchaco or …

Go Vanessa

…… Beach and Culture. Stunning drive through rocky passes and sand dunes to our coastal destination of Mancora, actually we are staying a couple of miles down the road at the lovely relaxed Punta del Sol as Mancora is a bit of an 18-35 party town in the evenings. We are here for 3 nights, there are plenty of touristy activities in Mancora but we are happy to spend the time chilling on the beach and relaxing after a hectic period. Most of the group are camping on the beach but the usual suspects including us have opted for an en-suite room – bliss.

A number of the group took surf lessons in Mancora and we went along to watch via tuk-tuk to the main road and then taxi to the centre. We met up with Pete, Kirsten and Rogan for a drink on the beach whilst the surfing group donned wet suits. We then spent a pleasant half hour watching them fall off their surf boards; in fairness all managed respectable rides by the end of the session. We had only brought Karens camera but managed to get one decent shot of Vanessa in action which she was delighted with.

There were some seriously good surfers at play weaving in and out of the numerous learners. We felt exhausted after all this exercise so retired to a local hostelry for some refreshment.

The rest of the time we just chilled, wathed the locals go about their business including the fihermen some of who use hand built rafts and some use the Aladdin slipper shaped reed boats as they have done for centuries.

Tuk Tuk’s waiting for customers.

The taxis in South America are interesting varying from country to country but nonetheless similar. Peru for example has the tuk tuk’s little motor cycle based trikes. Then there are taxis and “collectivo’s”, taxis are as we know them and collectivo’s are basically mini-buse’s that tout for business on the street. So we were the first passengers and then we went up and down the street till we had 10 passengers. The advantage Taxi 25 Soles versus Collectivo 5 soles per person.

Karen had a slightly upset tummy but was feeling much better so ready for Pete’s farewell bbq on the beach for which we were cook group, have to say the man does an excellent bbq – at least for carnivores. I had collected photos of Pete from everyone and put them together with music – Africa by Toto as he is South African which went down well.

Rogan organised some beach games, Limbo which was hilarious as people hammed it up, I reckon the winner – Keith – managed 4 feet, I subsequently googled the world record – 9 inches ! The other game was picking up a box with your teeth without touching the ground with knees, arms or hands.

The box is trimmed a couple of inches each round, Karen did really well until her effort ended by spectacularly planting her nose in the sand when losing her balance. Game eventually won by Sue picking up what was now a flat piece of cardboard from 2 inches below ground level.  It was a fun game which we will try with the family when back home. Rogan says he has seen previous winners, all female and much younger than our group, pick them up from 6 inches below ground level.

After the beach chilling time for some more culture and on to Huanchaco the site of the largest ancient adobe built city in the world; Chan Chan.

Hat and a half.

We had a guided tour with Eduardo who had the most spectacular sombrero and a passion for his subject as he had been doing it for 15 years.

Chan Chan was built by pre-Inca Chimu civilisation as an imperial city, constructed over 20 sq km and housed approximately 30,000 people. It was built around AD 850 and lasted until its conquest by the Inca Empire in AD 1470, it is also the largest adobe city in the world. They Chimu had no written records so there is no certainty of the purpose of many of the buildings but is believed the Chimu is a civilization which grew out of the remnants of the previous Moche civilization.

Tiled Walls

We then visited the temple of the Moon built by the Moche in 300 AD. When a king died a new temple was built on top of the old, at least 7 generations of temple have been discovered. It was buried under the sand for centuries so is well preserved and some of the tile work and decoration is stunning. Work has ceased at the moment but more layers were unearthed in the last five years.

 

 

Next stop Huarez. More Moncora and Huanchaco Photos here.

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Celebrations and Commiserations

We had a fairly quiet night after arriving back in Quito, a lovely city but not one we have seen this trip instead quietly remembering our previous visit. Nonetheless we did enjoy the various restaurants, a coffee shop serving delicious Yucca cakes and hot chocolate on the way back from the ATM and a Lebanese restaurant called El Arabe – a Rough Guide recommendation – the scenery en route was interesting as although “in a nice part of town” there were plenty of scantily clad young ladies on each street corner who seemed to be attracting lots of attention from the traffic which seemed to slow especially to be able to check on their well being.

An excellent dinner with Geoff, Tony, Terry, Leslie, Jane and Colin followed by a gentle walk home including a cheery “Welcome to Equador” from the street walkers opposite our hotel.

We did make re-acquaintance with one old haunt The Magic Bean restaurant where we had a somewhat confused breakfast; in fact one member of the party didn’t get her breakfast at all, although the food we did get was excellent.

It was an easy journey to Banos, stunning scenery including numerous waterfalls. We were staying outside of the town as it dominated by an active volcano which is currently on alert and there is only one way out of town. We were full of good intentions to camp but the persistent rain and cheap rooms persuaded us to upgrade.

Lunch en-route was at a “trabitta” site basically a “homemade” cable car which crosses the valley, a couple of cables for the car to be suspended from and a drive cable – in this case driven by an old truck engine / axle mounted on a wooden frame. Not for me but a number of the group enjoyed the ride across the valley. I preferred to take the photograph

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Market Stall

A chilled afternoon writing the Galapagos blog and making a start on the photo editing and a few cold ones in the evening to accompany the bbq provided by the campsite owners Sue and Mark along with homemade brownies.

There are seven waterfalls in the immediate vicinity of the campsite so next day with Jane and Colin we set off, firstly for a 10 minute bus ride which stops on request anywhere along the road and for $.50 will take you miles. Then a walk into the village and onto the scenic walk to the waterfall – having somehow missed the main entrance – but the gardens and views were terrific although health and safety distinctly lacking so slightly treacherous in places but spectacular views of the falls.

Lunch was grilled trout, out of a tank and onto the grill, the slight pangs of guilt outweighed by the delicious fish, Colin opted not to have any but 50 yards further on there was a recommended empanada shop (small filled pastries a la Cornish pasty) where he had a meat and a chicken one and Jane and I shared a chocolate and banana one which was simply gorgeous.

Having explored one side of the falls we were going to explore the other but the weather deterred us and we went back for another lazy few hours.

Thursday 18th April, my 59th Birthday. We went into the town of Banos, the bus being an easy  option now, and was treated to a delicious lunch by Colin and Jane at a balcony restaurant where we also met some more of the group for a drink, including Pete and Rogan back from an hour quad biking.

Banos has one of the most strangely decorated churches, it is full of paintings depicting “miracles”,  survivors of disasters such as collapse of aforementioned trabitta. Generally survival due to last second appeal to the church, although it’s never explained how they ended up in that mess in the first place :-).

Another cable failure…….

Back to base where Karen made some chocolate crispies and coconut macaroons to accompany birthday dinner which was complete with cake & candles and a rum punch, courtesy of Pete. The deal on the punch was I had to drink whatever was left, so whilst having my fair share I made sure it was consumed. Retired to bed, happy and relaxed as a newt. Birthday greetings from all the family reminded us of missing them, but all in all probably the best birthday celebrations in years.

7am start – ouch – for long drive to Cuenca in somewhat gloomy & rainy weather but with glimpses on stunning scenery en-route. Icatha struggling with the high altitude her cpu being programmed for European climbes – add need to get re-programmed to list of truck jobs.

Arriving at 5.30 pm quick shower and the unfortunate news that Uncle Alex had passed away – no one wanted to tell me on my birthday. Alex was a truly great character, witty despite his profound deafness and above all an old school scouse scallywag with stories to turn your hair white, I will miss him telling them. He was royally toasted at the micro brewery in Cuenco in Red Ale (what else) the 3.5 LITRES I consumed in short order did lead to me calling it an evening early and was seen back to the hotel by the equally relaxed Terry.

I hope Alex would be amused by the thought of being toasted half a world away in Peruvian ale. All the best mate, you were one of a kind.

Karen went onto the Eucalyptus Asian restaurant with half a dozen others for a pleasant meal and evening but said she missed me, I do love that girl. Terry was part of this group and after the meal 5 of them (Tony, Geoff, Francois, Terry and Lesley) jumped a cab – then realised no-one knew the name or address of the Hostel. Inspiration struck and they managed to get back to the microbrewery from where they were able to find their way back to the Hostal. Tony then decided he didn’t want to share with the other guys in his room so decided to sleep in the lounge only to find door locked, undeterred he then climbed in through the kitchen serving hatch to discover the reason the lounge was locked was the somewhat startled, female, nightporter asleep on the sofa. Exit one highly embarrased Tony. A year ago a he was a responsible member of society – a 30 year veteran policeman. Now ?

Woke up ravenous and remarkably hangover free, unlike some 🙂 , and so had an excellent eggs and bacon breakfast at the cafe next door with the health option of yogurt and (mountain of) fruit for Karen.

Cuenca is a lovely city to meander through, a combination of art and culture plus real street life in the form of markets, shops cafes and of course the associated people watching. There is a particularly impressive cathedral and we lit a candle for Alex and other departed loved ones, not because of the religious connotations simply because I like the idea of remembering them in this way and if it’s left burning in a nice setting to boot then why not?

Courtesy of fellow celiac Vanessa Karen discovered Quimbioto, maize based cake which is widely available at bakeries and street vendors. Lunch was in the market at one of many stalls selling fresh roast pork off the bone sucked in by the free sample, lunch for 2 $3.

A Thai dinner with Jane, Colin, Tony and Geoff finished our varied day of varied gastronomic delights, although Karen got something wrong as upside tummy next morning.

An easy run to the border next morning but unbelievably, considering she must have the most scrutinised foreign passport in Ecuador more problems for Karen. It was a small consolation but actually affected 6 of us. The problem being the stamp in the passport didn’t match the details entered on the computer which said we had entered at a different point a few miles away.

Although officials accepted it wasn’t our fault it was definitely our problem, the initial advice being to go back to the border to correct it – the equivalent of being in John O’Groats and told you need to go to Lands End. The irony for Karen being that having been refused entry initially  they now didn’t want to let her out of Ecuador………

Pete to the rescue and a couple of hours at the main border post down the road was able to get hold of someone with sufficient authority to correct the records. A mere 3 hours later we were on our way.

It was a beautiful drive through rocky passes and sand duned beaches to Mancora for some beach time. Gave into temptation once more and opted for a room upgrade – camping is becoming a thing of the past……….

Photo’s Here

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Galapagos

There is little to write about the Galapagos as it is truly awe inspiring but it has to be experienced to understand it.  If you get the chance you should go, we feel amazingly privileged to have made our 2nd visit.

Having said that go for the right reasons, the wildlife, the scenery the historical importance to the world and not merely to sunbathe and swim – more appropriate to Acapulco or a dozen other beach resorts than the Galapagos.

Darwin viewed from shore.

The format of these days is as previously, boat is a hotel and sails between the islands over night and there is an itinerary for the day typically a morning and afternoon visit, on this trip there was also daily snorkelling which was great and Karen was delighted with her investment in prescription goggles as she could actually see below water!

A particular highlight was snorkelling Devils Crown, a jagged volcanic caldera poking out of the water and the shoals of surgeon fish, sharks – yes sharks – turtles and rays just below the surface is literally like opening a window on another world. Fantastic.

This trip was shorter than the last so only covered the southern islands so we didn’t get the chance to see red footed boobies or tortoises outside of the breeding centre, none the less if anything we enjoyed this trip even more than the last.

 

Jacque Cousteau and friend ?

16 took over the good ship Darwin, the service, food and organisation superb, the naturist guide Omar particularly good. Francois had a separate trip on another boat (as we had filled Darwin) and did get to the more northern isles to the animals above as well. He had particularly good snorkelling and saw hammer head sharks to make some of the keener divers envious.

Another fantastic few days and 900 photos to sort (after ditching the technically poor).

Next stops Banos and Cuenca.

Many thanks to Tony Hays (even though he’s currently a gloating manc) for the underwater shots.

Galapagos photos here.

 

 

 

Galapagos Itinerary

Thu. AM Arrival in Baltra and transfer to boat
PM Santa Cruz: Bachas Beach
Fri. AM South Plazas Island
PM Santa Fe Island
Sat. AM Española: Gardner Bay
PM Española: Suarez Point
Sun. AM Floreana: Baroness Viewing Point / Post Office Bay
PM Floreana: Cormorant Point / Devil’s Crown
Mon. AM Santa Cruz: Charles Darwin Station
Transfer to the Baltra airport

 

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Otavalo and The Equator

In the daylight we could see the delightful campsite that is Rose Cottage about 3km outside the city. Otavalo is in the beautiful “Valley of Sunrise” (Valle de Amanecer) and dominated by the Imbabura volcano.

There has been a market at Otavalo for hundreds of years and whilst it has now evolved to cater to the tourists that flock here for the Saturday market, it has managed to keep firm touch with its heritage and thus has a particularly authentic feel.

The crafts, particularly the textiles are known the world over, and make the indigenous people – Otavalenos –  the most successful and wealthy indigenous group in Ecuador They are instantly recognisable being short and stocky with swarthy complexions.

Textile Stall

Despite all the trappings of 21st century such as 4WD and mobile phones they still dress traditionally and the women will use a small blanket / shawl as a backpack carrying everything from babies to the weekly shopping.

Saturday is the big market day with an associated animal market from sunrise to about 9am but there are plenty of stalls in the Plaza del Ponchos everyday selling quality crafts, textiles, art and unfortunately the inevitable tourist junk but in fairness this is minimal.

Haggling is expected but trust me they are better at it than you having much more experience. For example we bought three T-shirts at $7 paying with $30 dollars, after much consultation with adjacent stall holders the lady was able to produce $8 change with a smile and a shrug. So 3 x 7 = 22 in Ecuador. The option of just giving me a dollar discount and $10 change didn’t seem to exist!

Taking photographs of people is OK either with a purchase or a donation, one old lady peeling beans haggled me up to a dollar when I proffered 50 cents for a photo. It’s all very good natured and friendly but it is strange taking photos of the inhabitants, I do confess we took a few candid shots on the street to try and get away from posed photographs. The children in particular are extremely photogenic and the older ones unfailingly polite as you often see them in groups in their school uniforms.

Peeling Beans

Apart from the textile markets there is a fantastic daily food market, primarily fruit and veg but also meat and chicken plus dozens of stalls to get fresh food and drink. It’s a great place to spend an hour or two mooching about watching people go about their business.

Pete ran the truck into the city with a pick up at 2pm which allowed us to see the market and most importantly visit “Pie Shop Shenandoah” where they sold the most delicious apple and cinnamon pie with ice cream for a bargain $4, absolutely to die for.

Back to Rose Cottage to prepare for Duncan and Angela’s farewell bash, as having been on the road for almost 10 months they were heading home to Australia. Don’t think Duncan has quite forgiven me for when, acting as Kirsten’s admin assistant and collecting peoples options for Machu Picchu, I asked them first, genuinely forgetting they were leaving.

Dunc it was a genuine error. Although it did become a bit of a running joke for the next week for people to ask them, it’s a tough crowd. The bash was fun, I put together a slide show from many photographic donations to the musical accompaniment from “Men Down Under” as particularly Duncan has provided many moments of entertainment over the months and will be missed.

 

We had a reprise of his famed Gangnam Style dancing complete with backing group and the expected level of serious drinking from the usual quarters. Farewell with our best wishes.

Onward to Quito (and the Galapagos!) we passed the equator – although Pete had some trouble finding the monument he remembered from last time – turns out there is a new monument as the last one wasn’t quite in the right place due to the limitations of the then measuring equipment.

Anyway we spent a fun hour taking photographs standing in both hemispheres, a group photo in Odyssey shirts and then Karen and I in our latitude zero shirts purchased in Otavalo the day before.

At the middle of the world.

We rolled into our Hotel in Quito around 4pm having spent a tedious hour in the rush hour traffic. Too late / tired to go into the lovely old town we did reacquaint ourselves with a previous favourite spot “ The Magic Bean”  we had found during our 2005 visit.

We had a brief walk to the Galapagos tour operator – Happy Gringo – to complete some formalities where there was good and bad news. The good being a $59 dollar per person refund as flights cheaper than expected and the bad being the 4.15 am departure to the airport next morning.

More of which on next post, Galapagos.

Otavalo Photos Here.

 

 

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Richard saves the day

Arrived in Popayan, another well preserved colonial town, known as ‘The White City’ as it is famous for its white buildings, around 3pm and checked into our Scottish owned Hostel, it’s truly amazing the number of expats who own and run tourist businesses throughout South America.

Popayan is also renowned for its Easter Parades, we of course are slightly late but in the weeks following they have mini parades with the local children. I guess practice for later and lots of “aah” moments for parents.

All dressed up

The buildings are impressive but the overall white makes it seem quite clinical, personally preferred Cartagena and Salento as more colourful and atmospheric.

Out to dinner with Tony, Geoff, Terry and Lesley we stopped for a pre dinner drink and in one of our more bizarre incidents we were served by a dwarf in convict outfit complete with pink bicycle. Still the beer was cold and we got all the popcorn you could want. Dinner was Chinese but not as you know it – a distinct Colombian flavoured twist. Interesting and perfectly edible just not what you expect in a Chinese.

We were due to meet others in a bar but when Kirsten (in her mid-thirties) reported she had doubled the average age of the clientele by going in we had a change of plan and ended up in El Iguana a local Salsa bar. It was great fun to watch the locals strut their stuff to the deafening salsa music whilst drinking Cuba Libras.

Next day the Hostel arranged for us to have Salsa lessons, much more physically tiring than you would think, the trainer was a professional and he could definitely move. The secret seeming to be move your feet whist your upper body appears to remain still. It was great to take part but I think the locals start at around 5 years of age so think we may have left it a little late.

Pause for rest

Some of the group did go back that night and were heartily welcomed by the locals for giving it a go, we opted for dinner at the Italian with Francois, Terry and Lesley. Excellent food and friendly service. Pete and Kirsten found it so good they went for a late lunch – cheese fondue – at 7pm and came back for dinner – cheese fondue – at 8pm ! Yes back to back fondues.

Popayan Photos Here

Our next stop was a brief overnight at the border town of Ipiales, after a long drive. Local speciality was chicken as there must have been 20 chicken places. 6 of us had a soup, a quarter chicken with potatoes and soft drinks for a total price of 24,000 pesos or under £10 for dinner for 6. Bargain.

First thing Karen went with a number of the group at 6.30 am to visit the Las Lajas Sanctuary, a still working monastery in a spectacular setting across the valley. Sorry I didn’t join her. One of the quirks is that people still post plaques and dedications for the fortunate events in their life.  Photos here

An 8.30 departure, the idea was to get to the border early and hopefully on our way promptly. Little did we know? At the border all the rest of the group and the truck processed in under an hour, then Karen and I presented our passports, mine no problem but there is an issue with Karen’s. Turns out they had no record of her leaving Ecuador in 2005 and so officialdom think she has been an illegal immigrant for 8 years. Another member of the group had also been there 2 years earlier and had a similar issue but they were able to check the computer records and he got an entry stamp.

No such joy for Karen. The immigration people completely accepted that we haven’t been in Ecuador e.g. other passport stamps dating back to 2008 when current passport was issued but without the evidence of an exit for 2005 visit were not “able” to issue entry stamp. The fact they had no record of me either arriving or leaving wasn’t a problem because that balanced, it was an “in” without an “out” that was at issue. Talk about the bureaucratic mindset.

After 2 hours the rest of the group departed for Otavalo whilst we, along with Kirsten, a complete star as it was nothing to do with Odyssey, tried to sort things out. We were sent to the Ecuadorian Consulate back in Ipiales – making an illegal entry back into Colombia as Kirsten and I exiting Ecuador and re-entering Colombia would have added another hour to the process – as it happened consulate was closed for lunch so we went and had an excellent steak  lunch, a wise choice as dinner seemed a long way off, then returned to wait for consulate re-opening which eventually happened 20 minutes after the advertised time.

Staff basically said “not a consular problem but an immigration one” would not talk to immigration officer or even write down why they couldn’t help. Complete jobsworths and not prepared to take any responsibility whatsoever.

Kirsten now on phone to British Embassy in Quito who said “happens all the time, we can sort it”.  Taxi back to border to wait. At 5.30 exasperated Embassy call to say Ecuadorians wont listen to reason and unless we can provide the evidence of exit then no entry is possible.

So I rang Richard at home (gone 11pm UK time) get him to go the house, find old passport and scan exit stamp and email to immigration officer. Smiles all round as “system” now allows issue of entry stamp. Phew. Officer did kindly give us a print of the scans in case we have problems leaving……..

Having arrived at the border at 9am we were on our way at 6pm for a $100 2hr 45 mins taxi ride to catch the rest of the group up, as it happened they hadn’t had the best of days and were late arriving so we arrived in time for dinner. On the way it was raining and I was thinking it was late and dark and we have to set up the tent – thankfully an upgrade available and so we blissfully sank into a comfy bed.

So Karen got into Ecuador by the skin of her teeth as thankfully Richard was at home, we had kept the old passport and knew where it was and he was able to gain access else our Galapagos trip was down the tubes. We definitely owe Richard a sizeable drink when we get back in June.

So if you have been to Ecuador in the past 10 years and are planning to go back make sure you can prove you left!

Popayan Photos Here

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