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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.

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. 

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.