Thursday, 30 September 2010

Arequipa and the Colca Canyon (our last hike in South America!)

Arequipa was our last stop in Peru (unfortunately - we would have liked to spend more time in Peru but we`ve got a flight booked on the 5th for New Zealand).  Most people go to Arequipa to do a bit of hiking in the Colca Canyon, which I think is the 2nd deepest canyon in the world (and twice as deep as the Grand Canyon - thanks Wikipedia!).  

Arequipa itself is quite a pretty city, and the second biggest in Peru after Lima.  We didn't see loads of it, other than the Plaza de Armas (all the main squares in Peru are called that!) and a few streets around.  One thing we did do whilst we were there was go to a museum to see "Juanita" - the completely mummified frozen girl they found in the Andes on Ampato Mountain, near Arequipa.  The museum had a load of artifacts from the excavations, and it was pretty interesting.  Juanita herself was so tiny, apparently she was around 13/14 when sacrificed.  We weren`t allowed to take photos, but she was enclosed in a chamber in minus 20 degrees so it didn`t matter anyway.

Arequipa`s cathedral
We chose to do a 3 day/2 night tour with Land Adventures to the Colca Canyon.  I`m actually quite glad we did, as i`m not sure I would have been motivated to go by myself! (You can hike it without guides as the paths are well worn).  I am pretty over hiking, for now. The first day you get up super early (3am) to get picked up to be taken to "Cruz del Condor".  This is where you get to see loads of Condors flying over head really really close, as they use the thermals to gain height before heading off to find food for the day.  We got there a little but late and only saw them for about 2 minutes, but it was amazing - they were literally flying over your head 3 metres away!  And Condors are huuuge! There were male, female and young Condors flying together, which apparently is really rare.

Condor number 2
Andean Condor
Women in traditional dress selling souvenirs
After that we started the hike downhill to the small village of Cosñihua, where we would be spending the night.  Our guide, Honorio, was really cool and explained about loads of medicinal plants and gave us info about the area.  So many plants he pointed out had not just one medicinal use but many - we were surprised to learn about the one below, which had a white, acidic juice come from inside.  He said apparently some tourists thought it would be good to use as sun cream (!?) and didn`t realise it burned your skin, and just put it all over their face!  

Erizo - the popular name for the plant

 When we reached Cosñihua, we were surprised to learn that there were only about 80 people living in the village!  The people who live in the canyon live a really simple life, they grow their own veg, trade veg with meat in the nearest village over the mountain, have their water come from the River`s crazy to think that ways of life like that still exist - there`s no way of reaching these places by modern forms of transport, it`s either walking, mules or donkeys!  

On the second day we had to walk to the Oasis (Sangalle) and then up for 3 hours to our final destination - Cabanaconde.  On the way to the Oasis we stopped at a "museum" run by a husband and wife team.  It was just one room with traditional tools and dress of the people who live in the valley.  It was really interesting how the wife explained everything, and many of the items they used hundreds of years ago they still use today.  We also got to try Chicha, this fermented corn drink which is slightly alcoholic.  It was pretty weird, definitely an acquired taste!  The wife was also wearing traditional dress, which she told us not many young people wear nowadays because it`s actually very expensive!  Don`t her and Tone look cute?!  Oh yeah, and those are Tone´s "happy pants"....

Tony in a silly hat (and trousers)

The Oasis -  you can see the way up on the hill on the left hand side.
We stopped at the Oasis and got to relax by a pool for a couple of hours before tackling the 3 hours uphill.  It was quite hard work, but finally at the top we were greeted by a lovely sunset over the Canyon.  I was so happy as the next day we didn`t have to do any walking at all!  Only go to some hot springs and eat a massive lunch, yay!!

We also came across this cute little Alpaca on the last day before our lunch. How sweet is he?!

A baby Alpaca in front of the Canyon
That reminds me, on the second day we actually ate Alpaca steak, and it was really good!  Like a cross between pork and beef...yum!

This last photo is of the terraces at the start of the Canyon.  Honorio told us that the upper terraces are about 1500 years old, the the lower ones were built by the Incas just over 500 years ago.  
Inca and pre-inca terraces
We are currently in Chile, in San Pedro de Atacama.  Tonight we get our last long haul bus to Santiago (24 hours!) but I think we have a pretty pimped out bus. We have managed to bag ourselves 2 "full cama" seats (i.e. fully reclining) which includes meals and hopefully not too dodgy dvds! And then in 5 days we fly to New Zealand, mental!!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Into the Jungle - Manu National Park, Peru

This one's quite wordy but the stuff we did in the jungle really needs some explaining so bare with me please.

When we got back from Machu Picchu we had a day to recover before being picked up again at 4:30am to catch a local bus to a town on the edge of Manu National Park, called Pilcopata. 'Local bus' means no creature comforts, not that we expect much anymore. It was packed full of people as usual, picking up more and more passengers along the way and jamming them in the middle isle, screaming, pooing children included - at least it meant the bus stopped more often than usual for toilet breaks, although most of the pooing had already happened on the bus. By now we were just about used to it, but anyone who hadn't experienced The World's Most Dangerous Road in Bolivia already might join the crying, pooing babies - the roads inside the reserve were MENTAL.

We spent about 12 hours on the bus with a short breakfast break in between, and arrived at Pilcopata around 4:30pm where were met by Oliver from Manu Peru Amazon (his wife Carolina traveled from Cusco with us and gave us lots of info along the way which was a nice surprise). Lunch was served up in Pilcopata, a traditional fish dish. I was unlucky and got given the head. I wasn't really up for sucking out the eyes and scraping out it's brain so I had to pick at it and made it look like I'd eaten some. Luckily I'd had some bread and cheese on the bus an hour or so before.

Oliver had a rag tied around his hand and didn't seem to be 100%. We asked what had happened and he took off the rag to show us an extremely infected hand, literally about three times the size of his other one with a big piece of flesh bursting out of a hole in his thumb... he'd been bitten by a spider. He told us it'd happened in Cusco and not the jungle but I'm still not 100% sure whether he was just saying that to put us at ease. It was a shocking sight, but it was actually healed significantly after one of Tomasz's Tobacco ceremonies (read on and I will explain).

We reached our camp after a ride in Oliver's 4x4, him driving one handed, and a boat journey. The camp was three tents pitched on the shore of the river. The toilet was a spade which you had to take into the designated toilet area, dig a hole 20cm deep and do your business - watching out for snakes. Oliver assured us that this was the most eco friendly way of doing it, in a matter of days it would decompose and go into the ground naturally. The shower / bath was the river, and all food was cooked on the fire. There was no fresh drinking water, or so we thought, until we drank from the natural spring, which probably caused the landslide in the first place. I expected to get ill because you can't even drink out of the tap in S.America, but it was completely fine even though the water often had small stones and bits of twig in it.

View of the river. Bang smack in the middle of the photo is the bushier part of the landslide where we camped.

Oliver and Carolina were really nice and we had a good feeling about the trip as soon as they started telling us about the project. At first we'd suspected we'd be clearing a bit of forest for a commercial project where some foreigners would be making loads of money, at the locals' expense, out of rich tourists who don't give a shit about the environment and throw sticks at animals to make them move for a decent photo - this wasn't what we'd signed up for but you never know what you're going to get in South America.

It turned out Oliver had been living in the jungle and learning to work with nature and local tribes for the last 20 years. There was a recent landslide in an area an hour or so up river from Pilcopata, which the government had given to him after some other work he'd done in the reserve. We arrived two months after the project began - the goal is to reforest the area, grow a botanical garden to preserve rare local plants, orchids and fruit, grow vegetables to eliminate the need for anyone at the camp to bring products from outside (which mean litter and more fuel for transporting them by boat), and to give to local villages who only grow bananas. And in terms of the camp, to create an environment where people who really want to experience life in the jungle and learn how to survive in the wild can come and do just that, with minimal impact to Manu National Park. Cool. So far so good. We were actually doing something good with our time. After all we'd paid $200 each to go there and volunteer for half of each full day (which turned out to be only 3 half days of work). We saw it more as a donation to help with the project. If we'd have been asked to chop a huge gash in the rain forest with chainsaws to clear space for an "eco-lodge" I don't know what we'd have done.

We slept surprisingly easily that night. It got dark at 6pm and the only source of light apart from our head-torches was a single candle under the palm shelter. Oliver took us from the tents on the shore up through the landslide in the dark, which was very slippery and had only two steps at that point (one of our projects for the time we were there), to the top camp. There was a small bamboo kitchen area, a shelter made of palm leaves, and a ripped up old canvass tent for the dining room. It was as basic as it gets and that's what made it such a good experience. Just walking between the tents and the top camp was amazing, we saw loads of night-time insects, including "click bugs", these small beetles with two luminescent spots that look like car headlights. They were a bit like toy cars, apparently the local kids play "Volkswagens" with them.

The camp
The top camp

After a really early night, we were up early for breakfast before getting to work. We were really motivated and still very naive to the humidity so we were very productive. It didn't take long for the heat to start dehydrating us, and the mosquito bites to really make things hard. Oliver and Carolina didn't really mind how much or how little work we did, they were really chilled, but we wanted to leave something visible behind us so me and JC decided to build steps up the worst part of the landslide, with the help of the girls to lay the stones towards the end, while they planted lots of orchids and jungle fruit in specially made bamboo troughs so they can grow safely and be replanted when they're bigger.

For the steps Oliver selected one Bolsa tree to cut down (all other wood is brought to the camp by the river naturally so there's no need to chop anything down that won't regrow very quickly, the Bolsa is quick growing and is split very easily so in this one case he made an exception). We did this with an axe and machete which was fun, and we made sure when it fell it didn't bring down any other trees. JC split the wood to make planks and I made the pegs and we ended up with some pretty sweet looking steps which worked well. All the stones were carried up from the river, very tiring in the blistering heat.

The men hard at work
Me and JC with the Bolsa for the steps

The steps after some hard work

We were rewarded every day with some of the tastiest food of any tour we'd done so far, who'd have thought it in the jungle. We spent the afternoons either wandering around the camp looking at all the different types of butterflies and insects, or going on walks through the jungle with Oliver's crew, all working long term with him on the project, either local or from the surrounding areas, and really good guides. We went on a morning boat trip to see Parrots and Macaws lick clay down river (sounds weird but it makes sense), they do this every day to neutralise toxins in the fruit that they eat. We did a hike through the bush seeing all kinds of insects and plants along the way, ending up at a lagoon with lots of amazonian birds. And we went hiking into the forest to see The Big Tree - a 200 year old beast of a tree that shamans go to to carry out rituals and talk to the spirits. We walked for a couple of hours to get to it and it was the only one anywhere close to that size that we came across so you can see why it's special to the local people.

Caterpillar that looked like a firework display
Caterpillar that looks like a firework display

As well as the friendly bugs there are nasty ones. There are two types of solitary ant, the ones we saw were about 5cm long and live entirely by themselves. If you get bitten by one apparently the pain is comparable with a Cobra bite, your vision goes red, the area that was bitten swells up for days and you get a terrible fever. No thanks.

Solitary ant
Solitary Ant

Cool Moth

One of about a dozen types of butterfly that swarmed around the riverside

Reflection on a lagoon
Reflections on the lagoon

Stick insect
One of my favourites - A real life wild stick insect!

Us at The Big Tree

We were late finishing the lagoon trip and it was already getting dark, it didn't take long to get pitch black and walking back through the jungle for nearly an hour was an experience and a half. It was even better (or worse depending on how I think of it) by the fact there was a huge thunder storm as soon as the sun went down that lasted all night. When we got back to the tents both ours and JC and Manu's had fallen down. Shit! We were then told the river was likely to flood and if we didn't move everything up to the top camp we'd get washed away. Great. Oliver and the others were really helpful, somehow fixing all the broken tent poles with other broken bits melted on the fire and got the tents back up. We were sat having dinner in the "dining area" when everyone started shouting and swearing and telling us to get out... a tree was about to fall on us! We were all fine and the storm cleared up in the morning. In hindsight it was good fun and part of the adventure.

Then, the other notable experience of the 5 days... Tomasz's cleansing ritual with natural tobacco... Tomasz was also volunteering at the camp with us, he'd been there a week before us and was, probably what is best described as a trainee shaman. He wasn't a complete amateur pretending he knew stuff about the jungle's medicinal plants, he knew tonnes, he just wasn't quite experienced enough to carry out some of the more "in-depth", shall we say, ceremonies yet. He'd treated Oliver's poisoned hand with obvious effects the day before using tobacco leaves - it's really surprising how strong the medicinal effects of plants in the jungle can actually be, if I'd have heard this and not witnessed it I'd be very skeptical but it's powerful stuff, especially if you saw his hand in the first place and it'd been swollen up like a balloon for a good week beforehand.

Tomasz explained that wild tobacco leaves picked from the jungle can be boiled up into a concentrated tea and then drunk to get rid of toxins and unwanted nasties from your body, especially good for people with a European lifestyle who maybe go to the pub a bit too often... So we followed his instructions and ate very lightly the day before (we just ate fresh fish from the river that one of the guys had caught that morning and smoked them in leaves over the fire, amazing) and got up early in the morning with empty stomachs. Tobacco is one of 70 Vomit inducing plants in the jungle, each with special uses. Sounds like something you'd avoid back home - "alright guys, wanna drink some horrible tea that makes you puke your guts up violently and then leaves you feeling weak for the rest of the day?"..."Um, no not really"... but we were in the jungle and curious about it's effects and you don't get to experience these things every day.

Tobacco leaves drying in the sun

We drank the first cup of tobacco tea at about 7am, it tasted BLOODY DISGUSTING! Like a very spicy beer that's been left on the side at a party with someone's cigarette butt in it. It kind of burned your throat as it went down. We started with one cup, followed by forcing down cup after cup of warm water to "fill yourself up until you go over" (Tomasz's words).. important to make the vomiting less unpleasant and to help you get so full you probably puke anyway. JC seemed to puke really effortlessly, and Victor, one of the locals who also did the ceremony. Me and Fia did not find it so easy. It's not often you really WANT to puke, you could feel this stuff churning away inside and knew that puking was inevitable so just wanted to get it out but it wasn't easy.

The tobacco made us very relaxed and made our heads clear, we sat and listened to the insects making no noise ourselves (except maybe the odd chundering noise, while forcing down more water and drinking another cup or two of tobacco tea). It was quite relaxing and felt like a kind of meditation, eventually we all vomitted... sat in a circle next to each other!!!! And for a while after we felt good - the relief of a good puke when you know it's been coming for a while!

We took it easy the rest of the day and decided we did feel a bit cleaner inside, if a bit weak from the lack of food. And it'd clearly gotten rid of a lot of crap from us... a bit of a natural enema too, not just the puking... So a clean, empty stomach and colon cannot be bad, especially after 3 months in South America.

On the last day we got up at 5am to watch the sun come up and saw loads of colourful birds flying about to wherever they go in the day, this included a pair of toucans who nested in the tree above our tents. It was a really nice way to finish the trip. And we managed to get a close up look at a Macaw in Pilcopata on our way back which was cool.

Sunrise at the camp


We returned to Cusco for a couple of days to finally chill out and arrived in Arequipa yesterday morning. Unfortunately that meant parting with JC and Manu which was quite sad, but we will see you again some time in the future we promise :o)

Tomorrow we're getting up at 3am to start a 3 day trek in the Colca Canyon which should be awesome but very tiring, AGAIN, but also the last hike we do in South America. In two weeks we'll be in New Zealand living in a van - crazy!

And your reward for reading this all the way to the end - I got bitten on the cock by an ant. It wasn't a solitary ant but it did sting. And it took a few bites before I realised what it was. There you go. Well done you.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Machu Picchu and the Inca Jungle Trail

Seeing as though i'm hungover, it seems right that I should write a blog now.  I don't know why it always happens that way....Anyway, we recently completed the Inca Jungle trail to Machu Picchu.  This is not to be confused with the Inca trail, which you have to book like 6 months in advance and costs a bomb.  It was a 4 day/3 night trek and we did it with a company called Reserv Cusco Ltda, who were actually really good.  It's always touch and go as to whether you choose a good company, and whether the guide is any good.  Luckily this time we had an amazing guide and can't really fault the service and tour!

Day 1 - The Mountain Biking

The first day consisted of a mini van ride to about 2 hours away to just past Ollantaytambo and to an altitude of around 4300 metres (just over 14,000 feet), where we got kitted up with mountain bikes to start a decent to Santa Maria.  It was a bit like the death road, although not as beautiful and it was pretty much all tarmac roads.  Luckily the weather held up, as apparently a couple of days before it had been chucking it down.  I'm not sure I would have enjoyed the bike ride so much if that were the case...

A mountain which we can't remember the name of...
Abra Malaga Mountain (4700m)

Us with the group and our guide, Herver
Our group before the bike ride, with our guide (known as "Herby") on the right. Check out the size difference!
The Sacred Valley
The Sacred Valley
We cycled downhill for about 3 hours, stopping of for packed lunch on the way and seeing loads of cool butterflies.  All in all it was a pretty easy first day, I had no idea at the amount of walking we would have to do the following days...

Day 2 - The walk to Santa Teresa

We got up at about 6am to start our trek to Santa Teresa.  The walk was through various types of vegetation such as coffee plants, coca, bananas etc.  It was pretty hard, mostly because we had to carry our backpacks and it was boiling hot!  I hadn't really thought about the fact that we would be walking with our backpacks on, I think I would have packed a bit less!  We stopped along the way for Herby to paint all of our faces with this red fruit, and then carried on to this place called the "Monkey House" to have something to drink and get dressed up in traditional Cusco clothing.  We had a yummy drink called Chicha Morada, which is made from fermented purple maize - it sounds gross but it was actually amazing, and refreshing!

Us with our faces painted
Us with our faces painted
Us in traditional Cusquenian dress
Us in traditional Cusco clothes.  With a doll...don't ask
For some reason there was a weird doll in the pile of clothes as well, so they thought it would be funny to stick it in the photo with us... Tony's dressed as an Ukuku, that represents the role of tricksters.  They speak in a high-pitched voice, play pranks and keep order among pilgrimsIn Quechua mythology, ukukus are the offspring of a woman and a bear, feared by everyone
because of their supernatural strength. 

The dodgey cable car across the river
Going over the rapids in a dodgy cable car
We also had to cross a river in a cable car, which was quite funny.  When Herby said we would be going on a cable car earlier that day, I had envisioned this amazing modern cable car like the ones they have in Rio going up to Pao de Aç wrong I was!  We walked a bit further (I think we walked about 16km that day in almost unbearable humidity) and were rewarded at the end with about an hour in some thermal baths, before heading to Santa Teresa and to our next lodge. 

Day 3 - The "Adventure" Walk

The night before, Herby had asked whether we wanted to do the adventure walk or the easy walk.  The thing with the adventure walk was that you had to get up at 5am and then go for 2 and a half hours up hill, where the reward is a view of Machu Picchu from a distance.  It was also about 18km instead of 13km.  Obviously we all chose the adventure walk.  I found it pretty hard, the hill was relentless and it was already getting hot, even though it was only about 8am.  When we got to the top we reached a recently investigated Inca site called Llactapata (2700m) perched high up on the side of the Vilcanota River Valley.  From there we saw Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu in the distance.  It was really beautiful, even in the morning haze.

Me at the Inca ruins
Llactapata Inca ruins
Machu Picchu (and Huayna Picchu, the triagular mountain) seen from the other side of the vally on day three
Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu in the distance
We continued to walk back down into the valley to join the train tracks and river that wind around Huayna Picchu (a very long way!) on to our next stop, a crappy town called Aguas Calientes.

Day 4 - Machu Picchu!

Aguas Calientes is probably the most touristy town i've ever seen.  Everything is overpriced and there doesn't seem to be one shop that isn't dedicated to trying to sell you crap tourist stuff.  In any case, we weren't there for that long.  We had to get up at half 3 (ouch!) so that we could get to the bridge that goes over the river below Machu Picchu.  Basically there are only 400 people a day allowed onto the Huayna Picchu hill (the hill you see in all the photos of Machu Picchu) so people get up super early to climb the stairs that go up to Machu Picchu in order to be part of the 400.  It's pretty crazy, and looking back I can't believe I didn't burst a lung or something (Tony obviously wasn't even out of breath - dick).  We had to go for almost an hour and a half up stairs to get to the top.  And we didn't stop once!  Luckily Herby had told us to bring a spare top as we would be sweaty at the top, and he was so right! Both of us were soaked though, and when we got up there it was still only half 5.   

What is amazing about getting up so early though is the fact that you are in Machu Picchu with hardly any other tourists.  When it gets to mid morning, all the other people start arriving in buses - when we were there we got to take photos of it with almost no people there.  

Tony and the llama (fixed)
A llama trying to eat Tony's breakfast
Inca architecture
Inca architecture in Machu Picchu
The ruins were really spectacular, not just for the setting but also the way the houses and walls were built.  There are 14 different types of architecture in Machu Picchu, the most of any Inca city/ruins ever found.  I think they reckon this is because of Machu Picchu's importance as a sacred Inca retreat.  Machu Picchu is divided into three great districts: the Sacred District, the Popular District to the south, and the District of the Priests and the Nobility.
Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu
The view of Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu
We climbed the steps to Huayna Picchu just before lunch - another hour of walking up hill!  At this point my legs were really hurting but after having to get up at half 3 for it I wasn't going to miss it.  The Inca's seemed to like their steps!!  The Incas worshipped the Condor, as it was seen as the symbol of the upper world, and the messenger between the upper and middle worlds. (The middle world was represented by a puma, and the lower by a snake).  Machu Picchu is also the most important Inca site because it is said to be in the shape of a Condor when seen from Huayna Picchu (it's hard to tell in our photo, and you need a bit of imagination to really see it!)

Machu Picchu from the upper terraces
Machu Picchu at about 6am. 
What is easier to see is the face of Pachamama in the mountains behind the ruins.  What they say is that the 2 small hills to the left of Huayna Picchu are in the shape of a condor, the face of the puma is in Huayna Picchu and the snake is symbolised by the Urubamba river running in the valley below.  All these combine to create the face of Pachamama, which you can see if you turn your head to the right and look at the photo above.  (Huayna Picchu makes the nose - quite a large nose - and the 2 hills next to it on the left are the lips and chin.  To the right is the forehead.)

Machu Picchu really didn't disappoint - I was worried that after having seen so many photos, heard so much about it and things that it would be a bit of an anti climax.  But both Tone and I were stunned.  The 3 day hike before with quick glimpses of it in the distance also made it all the more satisfying to get there.  

The day after we got back from Machu Picchu we were picked up at 4.30am to go to the jungle, which Tone is going to blog about next.  We are off to Arequipa on Monday night (for more bloody hiking! arrghh!) and then onwards to Chile! 

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Salar de Uyuni - Geysers, birds, geysers, birds, and a whole load of everything else amazing.

This one's been a while coming. Most of you have probably heard us whining about our lost photos and the camera not working properly, so this is a rather image heavy post - partly because we've been waiting so long to post these photos, but mostly because Uyuni is a place to be seen to be believed.

The landscape changes so rapidly you can't really imagine it until you get there. The scale of the area is enormous too. We did a 3 day tour with Expeditions Alkaya, we were two of six people and it was a breath taking 3 days, if a little chilly and dusty at times (a bit of an undestatement).

We arrived in Uyuni after doing the night bus after finally checking out of the Wild Rover Hostel. We had a surprisingly good sleep on a surprisingly good Bolivian bus... we opted for the local bus which was half the price of the tourist bus and it had comfy seats that reclined, films to watch (Prince of Persia, originally dubbed in Russian, with Spanish subtitles... a terrible film anyway). And, a toilet! Apart from the very bumpy road near Uyuni it was easily the best bus journey we did in all of Bolivia.

We got to Uyuni at 6am, pitch black still, and nothing open. We found, what is best described as 3 public toilets with a side room that served tea, and sat for a while until Gladys the tour company owner came to find us. We had a quick breakfast in Uyuni and by 10am we were in the Jeep and off on day one of the tour. We actually did ours the wrong way round to get the driving out of the way first and finished on the Salar on the final day, which we weren't too sure about to begin with, but actually it worked out very nicely.

Day one:

We started out at the train graveyard, not quite as big as we imagined it to be but a fun first stop for a bit of childish exploring and climbing around dead trains. We got our first impressions of the size of the nothingness in Uyuni, but we really didn't have a clue at that point.

Train graveyard from inside an err, train

The train graveyard

After a long drive through lots of different types of scenery, via a Llama farm, rivers, desert and mountains we arrived at Laguna Colorada, a huge pink lagoon that gets it's pink colour from the same photoplankton that feeds the hundreds of Flamingos that flock there and gives them their pink pigment. Martin stitched this panoramic for us, along with all the others in our blog, we're not lazy we just don't know how he does it... I'm not sure but I think if you click on the photo it'll load in a new page full size. I may also be wrong about that.

Laguna Colorada

After an hour or so trying to get close up shots of Flamingos and walking along the edge of the lagoon, which is massive by the way, we visited a mirador (viewpoint) took more photos and then headed to our accomodation.

Freezing my tits off

Outside the lodge, freezing my kahunas off

We stayed in some very basic brick lodgings with no heating, half the windows missing, and no mains electricity. At 8pm the generator switched off and there wasn't mush else to do (and it was far too cold... minus 4) but go to bed. We got a free bottle of wine with dinner and had to be up at 5am the next day so sleeping was easy enough once we wrapped up.

Day two:

We drove for about an hour through a new landscape to get to our first stop, the volcanic area and the geysers. The sun rose over the mountains and the ground lit up orange, it looked like the surface of mars.

Sunrise around the volcanic area we visited, it looked like Mars

Sunrise on mars...

The geysers were amazing, there were lots of signs saying the area was dangerous and plenty of boiling pools to back it up. The first day was amazing, and this was just getting better and better. We had a jam packed day ahead of us so we had half an hour there and moved on.

Sunrise at the Geysers

The sun creeping over the site of the geysers

The next stop was the hot springs, a very welcome experience seeing as we hadn't showered for two days... those who know me will know how much I hate not having a shower in the morning!

A nice reflective view from the springs

Reflections at the hot springs

Sunrise over the hot springs
Hot bath before breakfast

After a refreshing bath and some breakfast, and the most expensive, disgusting toilet stop on of tour (5 Bolivianos for a poo covered "eco toilet" with no seat and an amount of toilet roll that only a vegan could cope with), we headed for some more lagoons, Laguna Verde being one of the highlights.

Laguna Verde

The landscape turned to sandy desert surrounded by volcanos of different shapes and sizes, and we headed for the Tree Rock.

Driving through the desert

Fia under the Rock tree

Fia at the Tree Rock

We were lucky enough to see Vicuñas drinking from one of the lagoons, the rarest of the four animals in the Llama family and quite endangered. You couldn't walk within 500m metres of one of them but they didn't take much notice of the jeep as we pulled alongside them.


Then at last we could get close to Flamingos and get some decent photos of them... This was at the "smelly lagoon", highly sulphuric. I got a bit too close. I was stalking them like some kind of idiot nature photographer and ended up trying to jump across a small pool surrounded by salt, the salt broke off just as I jumped and I ended up covered in stinky sulphur mud. Hilarious for the others, quite embarrassing for me, and that was my only pair of jeans. Luckily it was hot enough for shorts and I'd brought a 'technical base layer' with me for extra warmth (man leggings). Still it was worth it.

The Flamingo shot that left me stinky and wet

Day three:

We finished on the Salar, the World's biggest salt flat. We drove and drove and drove across the flats and it just carried on and on. Miles and miles of white salt with nothing on the horizon in most places, apart from the odd rocky island and volcano in the background - the perfect scenery for silly photos of us being attacked by King Kong and playing around with giant household objects (check out our Flickr set for the others when we've finished uploading them. We found a King Kong toy in the market in La Paz the day before and it proved to be a good buy after all.

Me drinking beer from Fia's hand...

Me taking on Kong

The salt formed hexagonal shapes literally everywhere you looked. We don't quite understand why, but it looked cool.

We finished on a cactus island, with 200+ year old cacti, some over 12 metres high. The rock the island is made of is actually ancient coral. Considering we were 4,000m or more above sea level you wonder how a sea could exist so high up. I guess that and the thousands of square miles of salt point to only one thing... a very high up ancient sea. Still hard to believe if you think about it.

Fia in front of a giant cactus

We left Uyuni and headed for Cusco via Copacabana and Isla del Sol. We've been in Cusco now for about a week and start a four day trek to Machu Picchu tomorrow. We're back with JC and Manu and look forward to 5 days in the Peruvian amazon (Manu National Park, a bit of a coincidence) the day after we get back to Cusco, partial tour, partial voluntary work. Tiring, but we're looking forward to it. I'd better pack now...