Category Archives: Travel

First time in Sydney

We spent a week in Sydney as we were lucky enough to stay with one of my friends from school who now lives there. Whilst there, we completed a few walks, one included sites like the Circular Quay, Hyde Park and The Rocks. This walk took us through the Botanics where we saw probably a few hundred runners! Sydney is a very active, fit city. Everywhere we looked somebody was working out, it was a bit weird.  We also visited the ANZAC memorial which was built as a memorial to the Australian Imperial Force of World War 1.

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We spent a lot of time at the Sydney Opera House taking a ridiculous amount of photos and even stayed till it got dark to take more photos as there was a light projection show that evening called Bada Gili which was inspired by Aboriginal Art Work which was really beautiful.

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Cheeky dance shot…My leg has never looked so long!

 

 

 

That week we spoke to a tourist information man called James for a few hours about different tours on the East coast and the prices etc. Later in the week we ended up booking our bus tickets with James for our Greyhound bus from Sydney to Cairns (https://www.greyhound.com/) and a Fraser Island tour with Dropbear Adventures (http://www.dropbearadventures.com.au/).

Whilst in Sydney we couldn’t not visit Bondi Beach so although the weather was a tad too windy to be sunbathing, us Scots did not travel all the way to Aus to not get a tan! And typically, later on I realised I actually got a bit burnt! Only me!  We then walked along to Brent beach with some lovely views on the way. I have so much appreciation for Sydney. It’s a massive city but one that incorporates the importance of spending time outdoors so well into everyday life. I’m jealous of it to say the least. I suppose this is a lot easier when you have the climate that Australia does. This is much harder in Britain.

 

One thing we did not expect to happen was whilst away was meeting some of the players from the rugby team the All Blacks from New Zealand whilst in a shopping centre. They were doing a signing in Adidas for a few hours one morning and to be honest, I really don’t know much about them and I never watch rugby but I knew it was a big deal and Peter knew who they were so luckily we just managed to get a photo with them before they left to go back to NZ.

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We were both so keen to visit the Blue Mountains whilst staying in Sydney as it had been recommend to us by a few people. As it was a Saturday, the buses weren’t as regular as we had hoped and we ended up not getting the train until 9:18am which then took two hours so we didn’t arrive at the Blue Mountains until just after 11am. After getting off at Katoomba station we decided to pay for the Hop on Hop off bus which cost about $44 each. Quite expensive but unless you had a car, this was really the only option. We did go for the cheap option which didn’t involve any of the rail rides as this cost more but also because we wanted to walk most of it to see the magnitude of the mountains by ourselves at our own pace. Some of the walks were pretty steep and very much like walking through a jungle. Later on we walked the ‘Echo Point Trail’ which was lovely and peaceful. It involved going right under a overhang of one of the three sisters (one of the rock formations within the Blue Mountains) to a bench which was called the honeymoon spot. So many amazing views. So many mountains. So much vegetation!

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One of our last days in Sydney we went to Manly beach via ferry which was so beautiful, I think I fell in love with it a little. The sea was so blue, with huge crashing waves, a lovely flat sandy beach, tall trees that looked like Christmas trees and a lovely light from the sun. Looking back it was definitely one of my favourite places in Australia!

 

New Zealand – Our journey round the South Island

Once getting onto land again and doing a full day of driving we arrived in Westport and stayed at North Beach for one evening. The sunset was incredible, one I won’t forget.

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Here is a picture of Peter’s washing line. He was so proud of it, I couldn’t not include it in the post.

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After researching what we were going to do on the West coast we drove onward to Punakaiki where we decided to explore one of the caves.

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One thing Peter and I were both keen to see in this area were the famous Pancake Rocks and blowholes. The limestone rocks received their name due to the stack like formation which is created over time by erosion from the wind and sea. What I find really interesting about New Zealand, is the vast range of foliage on this island. It looks like a jungle. I really I didn’t expect that! We managed to time it quite well so we captured the sunset too. It was a really lovely walk and generally, a very relaxing day outdoors.

We decided to drive onto Greymouth  and spend a night there after walking round the Pancake rocks.

One activity we would definitely recommend doing whilst driving along the West coast would be to visit Monteith’s Brewery. We chose to have a tasting session where we tasted three drinks of our choice. We decided on two Ales and a Lager which were all very nice. Unfortunately the tour of the Brewery was out of our price range but the tasting of three drinks only cost $13 and were decent sizes so we were happy with the experience we had. There was some lovely notes written by other tourists at Monteiths, which gave us some ideas of places to visit along our way.

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After the tasting we drove to Hokitika where we treated ourselves to a ‘scoop’ of chips. We didn’t try asking for ‘a poke’ of chips’ (Scottish term) not sure they’d understand what we’d mean. We ate them by the beach and they were glorious!

We knew the freedom camping in this area was quite restricted and after speaking to some locals ended up camping at Sunset Point which was quite a nice setting.

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The next day it was pouring with rain! We’ve only seen rain like that a few times, it was gushing it down! We had planned on doing a gorge walk but it then started to thunder and lightening so we were concerned the weather would stop our plans. We decided to ask the i-site if the walk would be difficult in the rain and they confirmed that the weather was to clear up later in the afternoon so we should be fine.

The walk was actually lovely, although the water wasn’t quite turquoise (like it should have been), instead it was reflecting the very grey sky at that time but it was still quite pleasant. There was a swing bridge which we had a lot of fun on and later drove to Franz Josef town to find somewhere to camp.

We ended up having to pay for a nights stay at a Campervan site in Franz Josef because there are so many restrictions on where you can freedom camp in this area. So many ‘No Camping’ signs, which is understandable but frustrating when it costs an average of $39 for a nights stay! We decided if we had to pay anyways we might as well get a powered site so we wouldn’t have to worry about the battery for the van and could charge all our devices.  There was also a hot tub which we probably spent about 2 hours in….getting our moneys worth!

A few long hot showers later we left the next morning to have a day viewing glaciers. We stopped at Franz Josef first with lovely sunny skies when we arrived but it then proceeded to cloud over and rain once we reached the viewing platform. It was amazing to see and read about how much the glacier has receded, even in ten/twenty years. My mum and dad visited these exact same glaciers, near thirty years ago and they were shocked at what they saw left of the glaciers from my photos compared to theirs.

We then headed over to Lake Matheson which is famous because when the water is completely still it creates a reflective image of the scenery. It’s just beautiful, and such a peaceful place. We walked round the lake, stopped to take some snap shots and then made our way to Fox Glacier.

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The walk to Fox Glacier was about just under an hour and the weather wasn’t great but I personally thought it was a bit more spectacular than Franz Josef because we could see it better and there were signs as you entered to show where the glacier had previously reached which really put things into perspective. For example, the sign at the car park said the glacier had reached that point in 1935. The difference in the distance is insane!

That night we weren’t very successful in finding somewhere to freedom camp. Again, it seems there isn’t much available in this area. We were driving for quite a long time in the dark after quite a long day so it was a bit concerning. We drove through Haast but everywhere had no camping signs and the towns are so small. We actually ended up staying in a large lay-by at the side of the road because we didn’t know how long we would have to keep driving for and it was nearly 10pm. I was quite apprehensive about staying at the side of a main road where people couldn’t see you if you didn’t have any lights on but we didn’t really have any other option. I had a feeling we probably weren’t supposed to camp there and could be fined so was a bit worried about this so the next morning we woke up and literally left at 7am without eating or showering just in case someone from the DOC (Department of Conservation) reported us.

We stopped at Thunder Falls before stopping at Cameron Flat to eat some breakfast.

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Wanaka was one of my favourite places in New Zealand. It was insanely beautiful as you can see from the photos below. We knew we wanted to do a hike so took a while asking around for suggestions and decided on Rocky Mountain which was actually right next to our campsite, bonus. So Peter was pretty certain it was 1.5 hour round trip. Of course that wasn’t the case at all. More like three hours!  The walk up the mountain was quite steep and icy in places but there was plentiful views once the many clouds moved.

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We decided to take the other routine down for a bit of variety…bad decision. The path was practically non-existent because it had obviously been very wet recently.  It was definitely a lot trickier so we took quite a while to get down. Peter was only wearing his trainers so he was sliding on the wet mud. However, he came up with a new technique to basically swing from tree to tree so he didn’t have to move on the ground much and risk getting covered in mud. This was hilarious to watch, he was like an out of touch George of the Jungle!

The views from the top of Rocky Mountain were worth the muddy hike though!

Our drive to Pukaki took quite a long time because the clouds were hanging so low so it was really difficult driving conditions. We were meant to being going to Mount Cook the next day but the weather was so bad we wouldn’t have been able to see anything. Our camping spot that night was called Lake Wardell and it was very quite and calm.

For our Mount Cook trip we decided to walk the trail to Hooker Valley which took about three hours in total. The path was mainly flat and boy was there great views on the walk – such stunning scenery. So many snow covered mountains. When we got to the view point in the valley the lake was mainly frozen apart from the very edges where large chunks had broken off. It was just amazing to see.

We then went on to see the Tasman Glacier which again was spectacular. To see how massive the valley is, the amount of moraine and how much they’re receded. My inner Geography geek was super excited!

Our drive through the snowy mountains of New Zealand was magnificent! It stole our hearts!

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Our last days in New Zealand finished in Christchurch. We went to see a photography exhibition on the restoration of the Arts Centre after the terrible earthquake in 2011 and in the afternoon visited the Canterbury Museum which was great! They had so many exhibitions which suited all ages and were all very informative.

We ended our NZ trip with a few drinks in the only open bar in Lyttelton which was a nice end to our NZ adventure.

New Zealand – North Island

Our flight over the Pacific Ocean was at 5:30 am so we spent the previous night in the airport which is never comfortable. It took us a massive thirteen hours to fly to Auckland from Santiago (longest flight I’ve ever been on!) and we somehow lost a day in the middle too. What was also confusing was that we were previously five hours behind UK time and then we jumped to nine hours ahead of the UK. Thankfully the flight had plenty of decent films to watch and I managed to sleep a little. Hurrah!

Auckland airport is tiny! Well it certainly seems it at 5 am when eyes can barely stay open, you’ve had enough of travelling and just want a bed to kip in. After picking up about a hundred brochures for New Zealand (I can be slightly dramatic at times but in this case there is NO exaggeration!) we headed to Wendekreisen to collect our previously paid for Campervan later named ‘Sharon’.

We were greeted by a really helpful lady who offered us coffee and biscuits while she went through our paperwork and explained and demonstrated how everything in the van worked. The van was well equipped with most utensils, pots and pans you need for cooking, plenty of plates and cutlery for two people as well as dish towels plus bedding and linen.

In total we had three weeks in New Zealand and we had estimated one week in the North Island and two weeks in the South. This was generally because most recommendations had said there was more to see in the South and it was slightly bigger so would take more time to get around. For this post I’ll be mentioning where we visited in the North and what we did/saw and subsequently the next post will be about the South Island.

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So we got in the van and set off. It was as simple as that. We were very aware that it was the two of us in this small vehicle for three weeks. We were about to get very comfortable…or uncomfortable?  Once collecting food from the supermarket and realising that we would not be able to cook any dishes with peppers for the next three weeks with them costing NZ$5 EACH! That’s right, PER PEPPER! Feelings of shock and heartbreak when you reminisce that you can get three peppers for the cost of a pound back home. Anyways, enough about peppers and their ridiculous cost. Peter had discovered this App that tells you where you can and can’t freedom camp in New Zealand. This came in extremely useful as you can read people’s reviews of the sites and where you can refill water and dump your van waste. The App is called Campermate and I could not recommend it more if you were doing a similar type of trip. We used it to find our first stop that evening and for every other evening for the next three weeks.

That first day in Auckland we actually went to see the new movie Dunkirk. I know it seems a bit ridiculous to go the to cinema when we’ve just landed in a new part of the world but it is recommended to not do a lot of driving after a long haul flight and we were quite excited to be in an English speaking country where communication was a lot easier and to be honest we just wanted to relax. The film was really good and the cost was reasonable. I think it was about twelve pounds which isn’t too bad considering it would cost near double that for two adults back home.

Our first night we actually spent just off Lake Waikere. On arrival at the site we were stopped by a firefighter who explained there was a helicopter coming to pick up someone who needed to be evacuated and the area would be free for us to camp shortly. Peter was driving at this point and I could feel he still had his foot on the break without the handbrake on but we were speaking to the woman for a while. At this point we were on a hill and he mentioned whilst we were waiting for the helicopter to leave that the van was rolling backwards when he only had the handbrake on. Basically the handbrake didn’t work on hills. Fabulous news!

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Anyways, as you can imagine a lot of our days in New Zealand involved driving to find new camp spots and planning our trip so I won’t bore you with these details. I’ll just tell you about what we saw.

 

On day two we visited Hobbiton – the set for the films The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Our tour started at 10:30am where we were taken on a bus to the set by our guide Kimberleigh. She showed us round the shire, informing us of inside facts from filming and creation of the set. It was amazing to see in person. Everything looks very realistic and the grass really is that green! The tour was very good because there was plenty photo opportunities and Kimberleigh even stood and took everyone’s photo outside one of the Hobbit holes and we also got given a free drink in the Green Dragon which was a lovely pub. It’s very decorative and cosy! The tour was expensive being £45 per person but it was once in a lifetime opportunity that we were both excited to do when planning our trip.

Our next stop was in Rotorua where we decided to visit a Maori Village. I was really keen to experience the culture here in New Zealand and thought this would be the perfect way to do it. We booked through i-site which is a tourist information centre, that are located all over the country. The village we were recommended and decided to visit was called Whakarewarewa (yeah have a go at pronouncing that!)  https://www.whakarewarewa.com/ The tour cost us about £48 for two people. Not the cheapest but I suppose you have to think about the community. The ticket included a tour around the village by one of the locals, a cultured performance and free corn. The village is home to the Tuhourangi/Ngati Wahiao people who have been around for over two hundred years. We arrived about 1 pm and after having a wander we stopped to watch the hot holes and geysers. The village lies on a geothermal landscape meaning they always have access to hot water and are able to cook their vegetables and fish in the natural hot pools. Our free corn was even cooked in these pools. How cool! If we had these at home it would save so much time!

After our corn snack we watched the traditional Maori performance (Kapa haka) which lasted about thirty minutes and involved a touring Maori group of about nine people who performed numerous traditional songs and dances. The Kapa haka includes the Haka (posture dance), Poi (dance that involves the rhythmic moving of the Poi, a light ball on a string), Waiata -ã̍ -ringa (action songs) and Waiata koroua (traditional chants). I was so impressed when watching a listening to the performance. The voices on the women were incredible. They had lungs! And there was quite a lot of co-ordination needed with the Poi whilst singing which was impressive! We then started our guided tour with Rob who was a character! He is currently the chief of the village. He was a good tour guide because he gave us more of a personal experience as he was very open. However this was also his downfall I’d say. He was a bit too chatty at times and went off course. After explaining the history of the village and the buildings he also explained how the geysers work. He said someone described it to him as a pressure cooker which I think makes complete sense and he explained it so well. Afterwards he admitted he had no idea what a pressure cooker was. I found him quite hilarious because he seemed a little mad. At the end of our tour Rob showed us the natural hot pools they bathe in everyday. Peter and I were very tempted to jump in to one of these as we were feeling the cold in the north a lot more than we expected. Instead Rob suggested we lie on the ground on our backs. The hot springs were running underneath us and because the temperature was so hot it was heating up the ground beneath us. How incredible is that! We just lay there for a while, contemplating never leaving so we didn’t have to feel the cold ever again.

Ok, so we eventually did have to leave the village but I would a definitely recommend visiting Whakarewarewa or another Maori village in New Zealand as the places are so interesting and they try and given you the best experience they can.

One of the things we really wanted to do was swim in natural hot springs, for several reasons. These being it’s a nice natural activity which usually has no charge (all about that free stuff) and the lack of water our van could store meant our showers were lasting a maximum if two minutes each so we were looking forward to a nice soak! We headed to Kerosene Creek as they were recommended online but we had also been warned that a lot of burglaries happen here because the car park is out of view of the creek. We were a bit wary of this but just ensured the van was locked and took our valuables with us. I’m really glad we still went, though it wasn’t as hot as I’d liked it to have been it was very relaxing!

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Huka Falls was our next stop which was lovely. Very powerful and very blue! Then it was on wards to Lake Taupo. One thing to note about New Zealand is all the towns are quite small and there’s not much in between apart from one long road! We arrived to extremely high and cold winds in Taupo and treated ourselves to fish and chips that evening.

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The next morning we were able to see our breaths. The van was covered in frost, including the inside! Apparently it had been minus four that night. That’s seriously cold! We couldn’t even see the lake we were parked right next to because there was a layer of mist hovering over it, it was quite incredible. Just have a look at this beautiful park covered in frost and the morning sun in the sky.

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We visited the Huka Honey Hive because it was free entry but actually I quite enjoyed it! The centre was really clear in their explanation of how the local honey is made and there was free honey and honey wine tasting. Something a didn’t know existed! We bought some honeycomb and headed to another thermal pool which was delightful!

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Next stop was Napier – which is famously known for its Art Deco architecture. We decided to the self guided walking tour which meant we had to buy a guide book. It was more like a leaflet! You would expect after paying $10 you receive a book or something more substantial. So we felt a bit fragile after that spend but we needed the ‘guide’ to complete the tour. The tour was well spread out over the town so you saw a lot of the beautiful buildings. Napier’s history is really interesting as it suffered a drastic earthquake in the early 1930s where most of the town was destroyed. Collectively it has old, restored and old buildings that did survive the earthquake. This night we drove really far to find an acceptable freedom camping spot before Wellington. We finally made it to Masterton where we stopped for the night and it actually turned out to be one of the warmest nights we had so far.

Once making it to Wellington we visited the WETA Museum who are a CGI and prop-making company famous for working with Peter Jackson on the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and The Hobbit. The museum was small but it was free entry! They had a small screening of a film which detailed how WETA works on the films. We found out from the film they had actually also worked on Avatar, District 9, Tin Tin and King Kong.

Another highlight of the North Island was visiting the Te Papa museum in Wellington. It was a fantastic museum! Huge, and there were several very different and innovative exhibitions that were interactive and child friendly. The main exhibition we saw was about the WWI war in Gallipoli between the Australians/New Zealanders and the Turks. It was incredibly well displayed with modern technology and art which I felt helped me retain more information. There were massive models of soldiers as well as nurses who attended to the wounded and sick.

We then proceeded to get the Ferry over to the South Island…

Santiago, Chile

Arriving in Santiago airport we had to catch a bus to the area where our Airbnb was located. The bus cost about £2 each for a thirty minute journey. Obviously our first stop after dropping off the bags was to find a supermarket to feed. Standard!


Me holding a giant crab from the local fish market. 

Our first day in Santiago was quite slow paced. We walked into the centre of town which was about forty-five minutes away. All about the walking we are. The main square, Plaza de Armas (named the same as every other square in South America) was really lovely so we sat and had some lunch and then dribbled across a museum that was holding a football related exhibit. The museum was actually displaying many football tops that were all donated by the players themselves. Some tops were from Maradona, Pelé, Ronaldo and Totti. Have fun matching the top to the mentioned player.

We were recommended by our host to visit a bar called La Piojera which sells a typical Chilean cocktail where lots of locals go. The drink is called a Terremoto and is made up of pineapple ice cream and a sweet fermented wine. The word Terremoto translates as ‘Earthquake’ which is referring to the feeling in your legs after consumption. I can conclude that the cocktail is indeed very strong!


On the way home we stopped in the square as there seemed to be some sort of act going on. Now I’m not exaggerating when I say we weren’t even there for a minute before the Performer pulled us out of the crowd to partake. I blame Peter and his height to be honest. I don’t know how it happened but about an hour later we’re still standing in the middle of a circle surrounding by Spanish speaking strangers basically being made a fool of. I’m still unsure as to what the performer’s act was exactly. He basically separated Peter and I and drew what was a ‘Castle wall’ round me and made Peter and these two other guys ‘compete’ in challenges to rescue me. Very odd. Of course Peter ‘won’ the challenge but we were both more concerned with getting home as it was a forty-five minute walk and we were both starving before getting roped in to this mans show.


The rest of our days in Santiago we spent visiting different parks nearby, for example Park O’Higgins which was a short walk away as well as climbing the Cristobal Hill which is right in the centre of Santiago. Again we had to walk into town before even starting the climb and it was quite hot that day so although it wasn’t a very challenging walk (no steps thank goodness!) the heat made it a tad more challenging than you would expect. The view from the top was pretty spectacular. We were able to see all of the city with the Andes Mountains in the background. The scenery is crazy beautiful. After making our way down we stopped off a Dunkin Donuts for a coffee and a donut…or three. Definitely treat day.

New Zealand here we come!

La Paz, Bolivia 

We arrived back into La Paz from Salar de Uyuni about 4:30am, freezing with no where to stay. We decided to go to the hostel we’d previously stayed at to use their Wifi and try to book some accommodation for the next few days. The hostel was closed for the evening but their Wifi still worked outside, so we did a bit of lingering until we gave in and rang the bell of The Adventure Brew Hostel ( http://www.theadventurebrewhostel.com/the-hotel ). Greeted by a sleepy looking worker who had clearly been napping on a mattress by his desk we were told we wouldn’t be able to check in till 12pm. Thankfully after sleeping a little on a couch in the hall we were told at 10am we were able to check in and finally shower!

For the rest of our time in La Paz we managed to get a room in an Airbnb last minute in the residential area of Sopocachi which is about a forty minute walk from the bus station. It was a lovely house which was well equipped for several travellers staying for long or short periods of time but we were not prepared for the steepness of La Paz and particularly the height of where we were staying. Trips to the markets were enough to question whether we did actually need bread, milk, eggs etc. Could live without it? It was so breathtaking! Literally and in respect to the views.

For the next few days in La Paz we experienced great food and great entertainment. It stated with a trip to the football of course. We saw Bolivar vs LDU Quito at the Estadio Hernandes Siles stadium which involved a lengthy walk over what felt like a mountain…that was just one of La Paz’s parks. We arrived not long before and the tickets cost one hundred and twenty Bolivianos so roughly six pounds each. From what I gathered watching the game, the quality of football wasn’t that great but our experience when we were there was very enjoyable.

 

It felt almost like we were at a fair. There were so many people selling sandwiches, bread rolls, ice cream and jelly, drinks, coffee etc however we decided to wait to eat and picked up a kebab on the way home. Now, don’t freak out but I’m sure that was my first kebab ever! And in Bolivia!

It was delicious!


Pictured above, one of our lovely dinners in La Paz. 

On the way home we spotted several groups practising different dances all over the park. When we moved round the corner however we came across Tinkus Jayas which were a group of about twenty people covered in colourful dress dancing with a live band in a very tribal manner. I got the impression they are a dance community but unable to find much online in English. What was amazing was their energy, talent and enthusiasm. They looked like they were having the best time and it made me so happy to see! The choreography looked quite intricate with the constant change of direction and footing. Everybody in the group was quite close together and with the movement involving a lot of flaring of the arms and whipping of the heads I imagine the dancers have to be very aware of their stepping and spacing. There seemed to always be a leader of the group who counted the dancers in and somehow with a whistle made them aware of the selected sequence about to be performed. What was lovely to see was the leader was continuously changing, being selected by the previous. The whistle was passed on and the group constantly had to be alert and ready for what was coming next. It was exciting to listen and watch the rhythms from the band and vibrant movement of the dancers blend together so well to create such a powerful and positive atmosphere.


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San Pedro prison was on our list of things to visit in La Paz. It’s one of the worlds most famous prisons due to it being a society within itself where inmates have jobs, they have to buy or rent their cells and their families are allowed to stay with them. I didn’t know much about the prison before visiting but was very intrigued as to what it was like. However they no longer run tours to tourists inside the prison and when we tried to get a sneak of what it looked inside we were told to step away and photos were not to be taken. So the best we got was sitting on the opposite side of the road in Plaza San Pedro catching a glimpse of some prisoners being moved and women and children freely entering the high windowless walls. Currently I am reading the book Marching Powder written by Rusty Young, published in 2003 detailing the experiences of a British prisoner at the time Thomas McFadden who was renowned for proving tours of the prison for tourists. This is proving to be a very interesting read which shows the corruption inside San Pedro and in Bolivia.


Other highlights of being in La Paz would have to be when we treated ourselves to some ice cream from Bits and Cream. It was well worth the money which a huge selection of flavours and toppings, therefore well worth the mention in this post!

At the weekend we decided to go visit the city of El Alto which is at the top of the mountain where the airport is and apparently has a massive market every Thursday and Sunday. You can imagine getting there wasn’t the easiest but pretty entertaining at the same time. Firstly we had to take the yellow cable car a few stations up. Then we caught a bus for one Bolivianos each before walking to the blue cable car station where we thought we had to get another cable to El Alto. However whilst we were walking it seemed the market had already started or was this smaller markets before we reached El Alto? We later realised once walking the length of the market, that actually this was El Alto market and it stretched 5km! It was huge! We definitely didn’t cover all of it, it was impossible. They sold everything from food and drink, car parts, clothes, house materials, SIM cards and phones to toilet seats and mattresses. It was crazy. People here buy everything for their houses from these markets. There’s no department stores and only a few people use the small supermarkets available. There was even medical supplies, for example syringes and dentist chairs which was a bit suspicious.



At the market we were able to afford warm homemade bread rolls and biscuits as well as freshly squeezed orange juice for the equivalent of fifteen pence! So we had three!

Our flight from La Paz to Santiago was at a good time, during the middle of the day. We noticed that we could get a taxi to the airport from our Airbnb for about sixty Bolivianos which was roughly six pounds. Bargain, as the journey was about thirty minutes. The journey…well that was something else. The road up to the Airport was directly up the hill to El Alto so this gave me an uneasy feeling to start with. During the journey the driver started swearing in Spanish at the car in front which was clearly struggling with the gradient of the hill, so much so that it just stopped in the middle of the road. He also decided it was a good idea to drive on the wrong side of the road to get ahead of the other cars and there seems to be no right of way in Bolivia. You go when you go and it’s a process of pushing yourself in. I was squealing inside and I could image my mum shrieking in the back if she was present!

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​​Incase anyone is unsure… we did make it to the airport in one piece even though there were some moments in the journey I questioned the outcome myself.

La Paz is a city to visit. Its title of being the highest in the world is enough to draw you in initially but on arrival you notice the stunning snowy topped mountains that overlook the mass of poverty in this country, where families live with holes in their walls as windows and relentlessly climb hundreds of stairs and metres to get to and from the centre selling whatever they can to make what we call pennies. These people have such a high work ethic and I have an incredible amount of respect for them.

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.

Puno, Peru

Whilst in Lima we booked our bus tickets with Bolivia Hop from Cusco, Peru to La Paz, Bolivia (https://www.peruhop.xn--com-to0a/). The organising of the bus times and pick ups/meeting points seemed really well thought out and easy to arrange by yourself on their website.

Our first bus was with Peru Hop and they took us from Cusco to Puno. It was an overnight bus from 10pm to 5am the next morning. As you can guess Peter slept fine but me not so much.

We were dropped off at our hostel called ‘Cozy Hostel’ where we went straight to bed as it was still early in the day and we hadn’t slept much. The hostel was very nice: serving a buffet breakfast, having sofas with blankets, a TV with Netflix and movies and the beds were very comfy. However, the shower was diabolical. Colder than freezing I’d say.

Our main reason for being in Puno was to see the ‘Floating Islands’ which we booked through Peru Hop. This lasted about two hours having started at 4pm. We were picked up from our hostel about 3:30pm and we then boarded a boat which took around twenty minutes to get to the Floating Islands. We got off at one of the many islands near the mainland (I’m sure our guide said there’s around ninety islands) where we were explained how the colonies that live here survive and how the islands are maintained. 


It was a really fascinating tour where we learned that the people of these islands have chosen to live on them since the 1400s after fleeing from the Spanish. The islands are literally made of reeds which they collect from the lake that is their home, Lake Titicaca. Everything is made of the reeds, their houses, boats, decorations and the upkeep is ridiculous. Apparently they have to put new reeds down every fifteen days to keep the islands a float which involves them having to lift their houses and buildings up.

This was such a fantastic tour. It was so interesting and nothing like I’d seen before. To us it is so surreal and almost back in time to choose to live on a floating island with such limitations but perhaps that’s all they are used to.



The people on the island were very welcoming but of course they are selling items. The handmade items are lovely but you feel very pressured to buy something from them as they showed you their home. We also felt a bit pressured to pay for a special ride on their ‘Taxi’, pictured below. This cost and extra ten soles each for a ride around the lake in their boat made out of reeds. 


We weren’t the only ones who decided to pass on this option and later we joined the others on another one of the island to get our passports stamped before heading back and getting dropped off at the hostel again.


Machu Picchu and Machu Picchu mountain 

Firstly we had to get from Cusco to Aguas Calientes to reach Machu Picchu and actually that meant we had to get a 5am taxi to Poroy where we’d then aboard the PeruRail train to Aguas Calientes. A lot of travelling very early in the morning! 
The train with PeruRail was an old fashioned train which had a more modern interior. The journey was quite considerably better than the likes of Scotrail or Virgin trains in the U.K. For example, they simply left on time. PeruRail is meant to be part of your experience and has large windows on the sides and on the ceilings for more views of the beautiful mountains that surround you. They also provide drinks and snacks on the way which obviously went down well with some!
We arrived at our hostel just before 10am and later than day looked around Aguas Calientes and it’s markets. The town is very small with little to offer apart from its surrounding landscape and connection to Machu Picchu. I did purchase a hand made Alpaca wool jumper as I was in need of more layers and i decided it would be my souvenir from my South America trip. Managed to haggle with the lady and purchased the jumper for fifty soles (£12). 


I wouldn’t suggest spending much time in the town to be honest but if you are looking to eat cheap you have to go to the canteen above the market. Here there are many different stalls serving meals for lunch as well fresh sandwiches and juices. It’s full of locals so is a nice experience and you can tell you won’t be ripped off. We spotted a place that sold ‘Garden chicken’ as we translated. We couldn’t believe what was brought to us and for the price. We were served a large bowl of soup as well as the ‘Garden chicken’ which was chicken drumsticks on a plate full of rice and salad. This cost us just under £4 for two people! Along with this our favourite thing about the town was the shower. It was definitely the best in our South American experience to date. We rated it highly in power and temperature as it was properly hot! Well, the town is called ‘Hot Water’ after all. 
On the morning of our Machu Picchu experience we awoke at 4am to get breakfast at 5am so we could leave about 5:30am. We didn’t choose to do any of the treks to Machu Picchu, we were satisfied with the climb up and the mountain tickets we’d purchased. The climb up to the site was difficult because it was all steps and was pretty humid that day. Lots of steep steps for a small person. It roughly took us about an hour to reach the top where we then entered the site. Typically the weather wasn’t great that day. It was very foggy which meant capturing photos was difficult. However I suppose it does give you more appreciation of the height that the Incas worked at. 

When the sky did clear for a few seconds every now and then the site was full of tourists running to get ‘the shot’. This is the one I mean. 


Our entrance for Machu Picchu mountain was between 9-10am so we had a few hours walking round the lower part before starting our climb of the mountain. The a sign in/sign out book which is comforting but possibly concerning at the same time. Wow, was that an experience! This climb took us about an hour and forty minutes and again was all steps but this time they were closer together and less stable so you really had to watch your footing. The closer you get to the summit the more fear you start to have. The stairs lie next to the rock on one side and are met with a few thousand metres drop with no barrier on the other side. It’s incredibly unsafe in British terms but here in South America that’s nothing out of the ordinary. 


From the top it was almost impossible to see anything due to the weather which was a real shame. Apparently that day was the worst in fifteen days. Typical! We did manage to get a glimpse of the ruins from above but the clouds just would allow us enough time for any photos unfortunately. 



The descent down the mountain took about fifty minutes which was longer than we anticipated. And after a further climb down we returned to Aguas Calientes where we treated ourselves to some well deserved pizzas which was highly recommended on TripAdvisor. Definitely worth the pennies. And as expected I could barely walk the next day. Of course, Peter had no pain. Usual story. 

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…