Category Archives: Dance

The Bolivian Salt Flats 

The last leg of our journey with Bolivia Hop was from Copacabana to La Paz. I have to mention the details of this journey, you’ll understand why. An hour into the bus ride we had to get off and get on a boat to the mainland in the dark. Meanwhile the bus was also making its way over to the mainland via a raft! One of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen. It felt as if we were being evacuated or something, getting a boat in the dark while watching the bus with all our valuables in it floating over Lake Titicaca on a wooden raft. Surreal! Once getting back on the bus they put a movie on for us to watch as well as giving us a portion of popcorn each to eat. This was a non required extra which I think was a small detail appreciated by all.

We left Copacabana at 6pm arriving into La Paz at our hostel ‘The Adventure Brew Hostel’ ( http://www.theadventurebrewhostel.com/the-hotel) at 10:30pm. Neither of us slept great that night as we weren’t prepared for how cold La Paz gets a night. The signs of snow as we arrived the night before should have been a clear warning.

We booked our tour to Salar de Uyuni by going to the bus station the next morning and finding a bus company that looked half decent. We decided on ‘Cruz del Norte’ which was leaving at 8:30pm arriving in Uyuni at 5am the next morning. It roughly cost us £12 each and the journey was pleasant but cold, but that was nothing compared to the cold waiting for us when we stepped off the bus.

On the bus we met an English girl who was doing a three day tour with the company Red Planet Expedition ( http://redplanetexpedition.com/). We decided to firstly catch some breakfast with her and then head over to the Red Planet offices to see how much they were charging for a day tour to the Salt Flats. We managed to book a day tour with them for £50 each which was about £20 cheaper than advertised online.

We left at 11am with two American girls, our guide and our driver in a 4×4 which firstly took us to the Train Cemetery not far from the town. Uyuni was used as a transportation station, wth the railroad built to carry mineral due to its ideal local between several major cities. Some of the abandoned trains can be dated back to the early 20th century and left to rust because of industry decline and conflicts with neighbouring countries. The train shells sit there slowly being eroded every day by the salt and winds having been stripped by locals of all of their useful parts.


And that was only twenty minutes in. It was only going to get more exciting

The rest of the day was spent driving across the Salt Flats (which is apparently the size of Holland!) and stopping off for several photo opportunities as well as visiting the Salt Hotel and being shown how they make the rough, freshly collected salt into the table salt we use everyday. We bought a small bag for something like two Bolivianos to use whilst cooking. Our salt bag lasted us until the end of our three weeks in New Zealand where we forgot it, leaving it in the van. We were both gutted.


Our guide was so helpful when it came to taking these classic shots below and gave us plenty of time to take in the breathtaking views. However, the best was yet to come. As it was the birthday of one of the American girls, we were taken to the only part of the Salt Flats that had surface water in the dry season. This was extra special as it means packing more sights into the day and a little extra distance for the driver. We felt so grateful for this because the months of December to February the Salt Flats are covered in a layer of reflective water but the rest of the year the tours only experience it without so we really did have our cake and eat it! A salty cake at that!


Towards the end of the day after our personal photo shoot we visited the park Isla Incahuasi which is right in the middle of the Salt Flats and is a Coral Reef island with hundreds of Cacti towering into one of the bluest of blue skies I’ve ever seen. It costs the enter the park but only like £3 and you get a free toilet pass included in this! The joys! We walked up and round the island where you have a 360 degree view of the Salt Flats which is still unbelievable to me now when I look back at these photos. I’ve visited glaciers before and stood once where a mass of moving ice has once been but never have I stood next to some Coral Reef above land. I find it so interesting but also hard to believe that this area was once submerged by the sea!


Our last stop of the most amazing day was driving to the edge of the Salt Flats to see the sunset. It was so colourful and such a beautiful way to end our day. The sunsets in Bolivia have been consistently stunning but the cameras just don’t do them justice. Once the sun goes down, my does it get cold. It was quickly hat and gloves time again.


We really had the most incredible unique, interesting and fun packed day visiting the Bolivian Salt Flats. It was one of the best days of our trip so far and we are so glad we endured the cold and uncomfortable bus journeys to and from and extremely grateful to Red Planet for going above and beyond to ensure we had be best day.

Copacabana, Bolivia

Our pick up by Bolivia Hop (https://www.boliviahop.com) was eight in the morning from our hostel in Puno. We reached the border about two hours later where we got our passports stamped by immigration before continuing to Copacabana. This took a further two to three hours roughly.

The main reason people stop in Copacabana, and the reason we were there was to go to Isla del Sol. Translated as the Island of the Sun. We booked the trip with Bolivia Hop on board the bus the previous day, costing £7 pp and were told to be ready at the meeting point for one o’clock.

Isla del Sol is near the south of Lake Titicaca and is famous for its views of the lake and the lack of vehicles as there are no paved roads on the island.

We boarded the boat around 1:15pm meaning we didn’t arrive on the island until an hour later. We were then told by the driver that we had to collect the boat at the other port at 3:30pm even though the guide on the bus had said we would be able to get the 4:30pm boat back as we were staying another night in Copacabana. However the driver of the boat repeated 3:30pm, thus meaning we only had seventy-five minutes until we had to be back on the boat to return to the mainland. We found this quite unfair as it was an unrealistic amount of time to explore the island and we had been precisely told a later boat was available for us. It was barely even enough time to do the walk from one port to the other along the coast. This walk was literally all we did on the named ‘Day Trip’ to the island. We actually spent double our time on the boat than on the island and were very disappointed with the tour and what was provided by Bolivia Hop, especially as the Floating Islands trip was so good.

After returning to the mainland we decided to get a beer at one of the restaurants on the front as they had a cheap promotion on and our day ended with us watching an amazing sunset over Lake Titicaca.

Rainbow Mountain 🌈

The preset 3am alarm went off trying its best to encourage us to get up. Today we were tackling Rainbow Mountain. 
We booked our tour a few days before with Conde Travel (www.condetraveladventures.com) after asking a few companies in Cusco what they offered. Conde Travel’s price already included the entrance fee to the Mountain, English speaking guide, breakfast and lunch and pick up from our Airbnb and they just seemed a lot more confident and legitimate in what they offered. 
We were told we would be picked up from our Airbnb between 4/4:30am and this wouldn’t be a problem. We were only five minutes from the centre by car and had given them the address and square where we were staying. In the morning, 4:30am came and there was no sign. 5am came and there still was no sign. At 5:15am, after waiting outside in the freezing cold for an hour and fifteen minutes we decided to go inside and watch from our window. Within this time we had already whatsapped the two numbers on our receipt but had received no response. Once inside Peter sent a message on their ‘live’ chat and called them through whatsapp. At 5:30am we received a response from someone saying they would phone the driver to see where they were. We got a message to say the driver would be ten minutes, and right enough they were. Later we asked why there was a hold up and apparently they couldn’t find a few of the addresses.  We’re still unsure whether we would or wouldn’t have been picked up if it wasn’t for us leaving them several messages. 
Anyways, that was our unpleasant part of the tour. It gets better I swear!

We drove about an hour and thirty minutes where we stopped at this local family’s house for breakfast. It was a typical South American breakfast of bread, butter and jam with Coca leaf tea but we also got a pancake each. There were several other nationalities on our trip including French, Italian, Dutch and Bulgarian. We then continued for another forty-five minute roughly where we reached the entrance to Rainbow Mountain. 

To walk the whole way it took us about two hours and twenty minutes. The actual walk is easy but you quickly feel the altitude and that’s what slows you down. You ascent from around 4000m to 5200m which is rather steep. The local people offer their horses to take you up for a fee which several people in our group did but we were determined to not give in. For this trip I would seriously recommend plenty of water, coca leaves to chew on, oxygen canisters and snacks. Oh and suncream! Very important! Even though it freezing at the top you can get badly sunburnt. Believe me, my fair skin will tell you. 

Our tour guide Willy explained to us that the mountain only became a tourist attraction a year ago because it was previously covered in ice and snow. It’s now accessible to tourists due to global warming. Something very bitter sweet about that! 
We were given thirty minutes to go to the summit, take our photos and come back to the meeting point. 
On the way up we noticed a small Peruvian girl, literally no older than five climbing to the summit by herself. She was crying and when we tried to communicate in Spanish with her it was clear that wasn’t her language. She continued to cry whilst still climbing to the top of this mountain. Very puzzling and worrying. I couldn’t understand where her mother was?! Once at the top we comforted her while other tourists offered her some chocolates. She later was taken down to where her mother was selling juices and sweets to climbers. 


The view from the summit is incredible. Not only do you see Rainbow Mountain with its numerous colours but also the surrounding landscape which is breathtaking! 


A must do dance photo at the summit. 


With a few outtakes. How weird does my leg look? I think I’m imitating Peter sized steps! 


It took us around an hour to descend all the way down the mountain to the car park where we waited for the others to arrive. We stopped off at the same place for lunch where we had a lovely meal which included soup, mixed veg, rice, potatoes and ham. This is typical food for Peru and Bolivia from what we’ve heard. 


We then continued back to Cusco where we were dropped of close to Plaza de Armas in the centre. 

Unfortunately in the car journey back one of the other girls was sick. I don’t think her body coped with the climb at all. By what was more unfortunate was Peter was sitting right next to her. 
I think I’ll finish there…

Cusco

Peru is full of places to visit, mountains to hike, markets to see and loads of history to learn about. Unfortunately we’ve not been able to visit some places that we would of liked to. Mainly because we thought stopping off somewhere different every two or so days was inevitably going to cost us more than staying in one area and explore close by surroundings. We would have loved to have seen areas like Nazca and Arequipa but instead we flew from Lima to Cusco with StarPeru and stayed there for nine days in an Airbnb which was located about ten minutes from the centre.  

We didn’t do much the first few days as we had been advised by many to take it easy and acclimatise to the altitude as Cusco city sits 3,399 metres above sea level. A little different from the water of Leith and Portobello! When we actually arrived in Cusco we didn’t feel very affected by the altitude however once you try to climb a hill and very quickly become out of breath you realise then why you have to take the pace a lot slower. My personal tips on dealing with altitude sickness would be: to take your time to adjust, drink plenty of water, having oxygen canisters to hand and chewing on Coca leaves.


Once we both felt reasonably human again we visited the centre to see what was about. The main square of Plaza de Armas is really nice. It just so happened that there was a procession going on with music and dancing.

​​​​​​​​​There’s a few museums to visit in Cusco. Peter managed to sway me away from the chocolate museum and instead into the Inca Museum just off the square. This cost about 10 soles each which isn’t much in pounds (£2.25 roughly). The museum was a lot larger than we thought and provided is with lots of information about the Incas’ and the colonies they overruled.

We spent a lot of time at the local markets buying fresh fruit, veg and fish. Due to being so inland and far from the sea, Cusco mainly sell fresh fish from their lakes, being Salmon or Trout. When we’d calmed down about how cheap the market was we decided to go along to one of the advertised Free Walking Tour. We met at 12:30 but they also hold tours at 10am and 3pm starting just off Plaza de Armas. Our guide Wilson was a local in Cusco and was very knowledgeable when it came to the Inca’s and Peru’s history. A lot of what he said we were able to connect with what we had learnt from the museum the day before which was useful.he showed us how to identify who built which buildings in Peru. Whether it was the Incas or the Spanish. The Spanish architecture was designed with straight walls using bricks and cement whereas the Incas built their walls with a gradient in in case of earthquakes. The Incas also used large rocks which they carved shapes on to or cut holes out of to ensure the rocks fit together just like a jigsaw puzzle. This was also done with earthquakes in mind.

Throughout the tour we were shown many places around the centre and given several tastings. We tried Alpaca meat which tastes a lot like beef as well as Peru’s traditional drink ‘Chicha Morada’ which is made from fermented corn. I thought this was very similar to Mulled Wine, but it was cold so I wasn’t that keen. Along with this we had some puffed corn from this newly opened restaurant called ‘Cultura Parasio’ which has typical Peruvian food with an international twist. I.e. Alpaca Tacos. Round the corner from this we visited a shop called ‘Artesanias Asunta’ which sold different types of Alpaca wool in different forms. Wilson let us feel the different types of wool as explained that the baby Alpaca’s wool is the most expensive because it is the softest. The shop owner gave us all a keyring for free pictured below. Lastly we headed to a bar to taste Peru’s famous Pisco Sour. This consists of Pisco Barsol Quebranta, Lime juice, syrup and a fresh whipped egg white on top. It’s tastes a lot like a Mojito. We enjoyed the tour so much as it had a good balance of history, traditions and tastings so we decided to tip Wilson the equivalent of £5 for his efforts.


We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Cusco. Most people use it just as a starting point for the many tours that they offer and as a stopping point on the way to Machu Picchu but it has a lot of offer in itself. Just taking the time to wander along the narrow streets you are able to see the locals in their everyday lives. It’s so culturally different from back home that it’s fascinating to watch and be apart of.

Lima

Our next stop was Lima but we had to go via Santiago. We decided to fly from Mendoza to Santiago after numerous people telling us that the buses crossing the border can be pretty unpredictable this time of year and they can even close the border for several days, meaning you’d end up having to book a flight anyways. Boy are we glad we did! I don’t even think the weather was even that severe but our host in Mendoza told us it was the right decision as they did indeed close the border whilst we were travelling. Glad we didn’t risk the bus!

Our flight got in about 8pm to Santiago and our flight out to Lima was at 5 am. We decided rather than paying precious money to sleep for a few hours in a bed we’d wait it out in the airport. We ate some dinner and stayed in the cafe until we were almost shoved out the door. Cold, tiled flooring wouldn’t be my first choice of where to sleep but of course Peter slept and I didn’t…shock! 

I was very happy to land in Lima and couldn’t wait to get to our hostel after that long night/day. We choose the Airport bus (approximately £5 each) which dropped us off outside our hostel called Dragonfly Hostels, located in the lovely Miraflores district of Lima. 

The next day we decided to rent some bikes from http://www.biketoursoflima.com to explore the coast of Lima some more. This cost us roughy £10 each for four hours use. It was a beautiful day which made the bike ride even more enjoyable as we could eat our fresh salad from the brilliant supermarket ‘Wong’ in the sun. 


Miraflores has a beautiful coast line and so many public parks and green space it’s really refreshing. We stayed out after handing back the bikes to soak up the last of the rays (typical Scots). 


Unfortunately the weather wasn’t as sunny or warm the next day but at least dry. We headed towards the Huaca Pullanca ruins about a thirty minutes walk away to discover it was closed on Tuesdays. Of course it was. *Unimpressed face*. So instead we walked to Huaca Huallamarca ruins which were open. Hooray! These ruins had been built as a temple and used as a cemetery and inhabited but the Inca people in the mid fifth-teeth century. The ruins are made of ‘Adobes’ which are essentially mud bricks. The entrance to this site which included a small museum cost just over a pound each. The ruins are juxtaposed by the modern city architecture surrounding it. 


In the afternoon we went for the free walking tour which was lead by Cynthia and Hugo. We were the only people on the tour! Intimate. We had to get one of the local buses to the area of Barranco. Cost – 25 pence each. We’d read these buses usually aren’t recommended to tourists and I can understand why. The buses are incredibly cramped and I felt comfort in the fact we were travelling with our tour guides. 


The tour was better than we both thought it would be. Cynthia and Hugo both had great English and vast knowledge of Lima and Peru’s history especially the local area of Barranco. Of course at the end of the tour they ask for our a tip which we ended to give them anyways as they were very informative and it’s a great way to see more of where you’re staying. 

Below is a video of Cynthia explaining where the rhythms found in Peruvian dances came from and the many variations of dance they have. The main dance Cynthia speaks of, the Marinera Norteña is one of the most popular traditional dances of Peru and represents a man courting a woman. The origin is unknown but there are clear Spanish, Andean and Gypsy influences. The dance is performed with handkerchiefs but can also be performed as Cynthia says with a Chalan (a director of the horse) mounted on top shown on the right. 

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Above are ‘Angel Trumpets’. These caught my eye as they’re the only flowers I’ve ever seen where the face of the flower doesn’t look to the sun. Something I thought my mum would like to see 🙂 

Both Peter and I really liked the landscape of Miraflores and enjoyed our two days there but if recommending to anyone else we’d say that was enough time to spend there. Unless of course you’re a surfer! There’s a lot more to do in other areas of Peru which are to follow. 

Argentine Tango in Buenos Aires

Being a professional dancer, it would have been a great disappointment to myself, my past teachers and my education not to try and seek out some Argentine Tango on the streets of Buenos Aires whilst we were there.

A Very Brief History

Now I’m not going to give a detailed description of the dance as far as what beat that it’s performed too. You can find that all out on Wikipedia if you’re interested. I’ve just written an extremely brief explanation of the dance to help overall understanding.
There isn’t much written history of this internationally known social dance, however it is generally thought that the dance came about in the late 19th century. It was founded in working class neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Montevideo, Uruguay but is also influenced by Europe and North America, hence the multiple variations and styles found today.

What Is It Exactly?

Argentine Tango appears as a lot of walking with a partner to some music but it is based heavily on improvisation which is why it is so difficult to deconstruct and master.
The dance is performed only in pairs with a ‘leader’ and a ‘follower’. These named roles help whilst learning the style as the ‘follower’ takes the direction to move only from the ‘leader’. They can provide resistance but it is the ‘leader’ who initiates the movements.

My Experience

I decided to take a weekly class back home in Edinburgh at Dancebase – The National Centre for Dance in Scotland before leaving for this trip. As a performer who is used to dancing as an individual, this ‘follower’ role was hard for me to adapt to at first. That’s basically a diplomatic way of me saying I like to be in control! Anyways, another aspect of Argentine Tango I found challenging was the constant weight change of the feet. It is rare that the dancers have their weight on both feet at the same time. This subsequently means there needs to be unspoken communication between the ‘leader’ and ‘follower’ in order for the dance to run smoothly without tripping on anyone’s toes. Lastly, I found the posture of the ‘follower’ particularly hard to grasp. Coming from a classical ballet background I’ve been trained to have very upright posture involving the ‘tucking’ of the bum, so when I was learning to walk backwards in Tango I had to release this feeling in order to achieve the gliding effect.

Finding Tango In Buenos Aires

I really wanted to witness raw, authentic tango on the streets of Buenos Aires and also partake in a class with Peter. This was the goal. Surprisingly this was harder to achieve than I expected. If you have read my previous post you’ll see we went to many areas in Buenos Aires, including San Telmo. I read online that this was an area where dancers would perform on the streets during the day and night. Now, I don’t know if it was due to the time of year or day but when we searched for it we couldn’t find any. All that seemed to be offered was Tango shows with a sit down meal and we didn’t really want to dig deep into our pockets for something that apparently you can easily witness on the street.

On the Saturday we went to the area of La Boca to see the coloured houses and La Bombanera stadium. Fortunately there was quite a few restaurants in the area with live Tango happening. I was so excited! It was such a nice setting and the performances felt very intimate.

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Argentine Tango Class And Milonga

One of our last nights in Buenos Aires I sought out a free Argentine Tango beginners class as Peter hadn’t done any before on the website hoy-milonga.com. This was actually in the area of San Telmo in Plaza Dorrego. It started about 7:30pm and lasted for about 30 minutes. Of course it was taught in Spanish but the instructions were demonstrated so it was very clear. Both Peter and I had a lot of fun learning and enjoyed the class. Afterwards there was a Milonga where all different ages and types of people asked each other to dance and off they went, improvising to the music. It was lovely to watch and observe numerous people gathering together on a Sunday night to dance.

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It felt very special to me to witness this. I wonder the chances of me persuading Peter to attend more classes in the future…? 🤔