A Travellerspoint blog

Arequipa

Peru's Whitewashed Volcanic City

sunny 22 °C

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Well our guests arrived early this morning after a long series of flights! They claim it wasn't all that bad but not sleeping for 30 hours tends to wear a body down. Unfortunately our rooms weren't ready for check in at 7am so we got a little chance to show them around Cusco before returning to the hotel @ noon so they can catch a few hours rest. It's awesome to once again have another set of travel companions!!!

In many ways Arequipa and Cusco seem similar and to be honest both are absolutely beautiful cities. Both have loads of colonial architecture and churches filling each and every town square or plaza, but in ways many ways they are different. For starters most of Arequipa's old downtown is all built out of volcanic whitewashed rock that gives the city a very distinct look to it. And the second most notable difference is the massive peaks towering above Arequipa's skyline... it's hard to miss El Misti volcano (5822 M - last eruption 1985) touring behind the city.

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We arrived in Arequipa late at night after a long day of bus rides and border crossings but had pre-booked a hostel ahead of time close to the heart of downtown.

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After a morning of Skyping with family and friends we set off out to explore the old downtown and to see what all this "whitewashed" hype was about.

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Side view of the Monastery of Santa Catalina... you can take tours be we opted to just explore the city on our own.

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The centre of Arequipa's old downtown or more specifically the Plaza de Armas has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site (someone messaged me on here asking me how many of those we've seen this trip. Beats me?? A lot. Not sure how many there are in the world.) Covering one side of the Plaza de Armas is the Basilica Cathedral... one of the most beautiful churches (exterior) we have seen yet!

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By far not the only old church around town as almost every block/corner seemed to feature it's own. It definitely gives the city a distinctive look to it... one which we both really enjoyed. Here are a few pictures of the Church Of The Jesuits.

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One thing we noticed right away being in Peru's second biggest city is how much more 'western' it is then Bolivia. Chain stores, ATM's, signage in english and an over abundance of western food. Can you believe Peru has Scotia Banks??

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Thought that was completely a Canadian thing... guess the banks have their noses everywhere these days don't they. Along with western culture comes of course your Starbucks and McDonalds... I don't hate on 'em... I'm just damn glad to not be drinking Nescafe!

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How they spelt my name at Starbucks...

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It's funny... some countries have the hardest time pronouncing "Stacey" (mainly Asia - Cee-cee) and some places can't get my name right for the life of them (Bolivia, Brazil, and Peru). The touring around continued for the day and we actually made a stopover at a fantastic museum (not allowed to take pictures though) which featured several mummies that were found on the tops of Arequipa's surrounding peaks. I think more then 3 have been found around Arequipa and most have been in very good shape. All of them were young virgin children used for sacrifice by the Incas. Really interesting stuff and a way different take on mummies from the ones we saw in Egypt.

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Walking back to the hostel with El Misti looming in the background...

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That night we shared a bottle of Peruvian wine on the roof of our hotel... love the snow covered peaks in the background... snow always makes me feel closer to home.

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The plan for our following day in Arequipa was to take in quite a lot but there's just something about the city that gives you this relaxed feeling. You never (us anyways) feeling like doing too much but just strolling around, drinking coffee and people watching. The first thing we did was take a quick visit to a close by park. Unfortunately it happened to feature some very poorly cared for monkeys.... we both HATE zoos (besides maybe western ones).

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Besides the monkeys the rest of the park was quite lovely and had great views of the mountains and city.

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The best lawnmower ever!! And when they're done with the grass you can make yourself a nice Xmas sweater lol...

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After the park we toured a bit more of the downtown and made a quick pitstop at an old colonial spanish manor... Casa del Moral.

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The manor needed quite a bit of restoration work after an earthquake (can't remember the year) but was beautifully restored and featured some amazing old furniture and wood work.

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View from on top of the roof....

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It also had a pretty good display of Peruvian currency. I still can't believe how many times the currency had to be changed due to inflation and hyper-inflation.

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A few more different views of the Plaza and city shot from my iPhone.

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This will be us very very soon!!

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I purposefully rearranged the blog post order here because after 2 days we left to go hike the Colca Canyon (the deepest canyon in the world... technically second as it's sister canyon is a 100m deeper) and left town at 3am to start the hiking... you'll have to wait for the next post. But upon returning to Arequipa after 2 days of hiking we were dead tired and decided to spend an extra day in town to relax our weary muscles and bones. That evening however we had to catch a night bus that would take us to Nazca to view the legendary Nazca lines. The Plaza de Armas looks so amazing at night...

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Unfortunately our travel agent got us to the bus station a little too early so we had some time to kill... no biggie... bus stations in different countries can be kind of interesting...

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Finally!!! Luxury buses!!! One hell of a big step up from Bolivia lol.

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And that sums up Arequipa. Great city and by far one of my favourites in South America for obvious reasons of course (the usual good food, scenery etc etc). Not only is the city enjoyable but the surrounding area is just superb (as you will soon see). So stay tuned for the hardest thing either of us has had to do in our entire lives!! (and that's saying a lot)... makes me sore just remembering it.

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Posted by ttbwarren 10:10 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Lake Titicaca

The Highest Lake In The World & The Inca Island Of Creation

sunny 10 °C

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Following a full day of recovery from a night out on the town in La Paz, we bought bus tickets in the early morning and headed 3 hours west towards Lake Titicaca's coastal town called Copacabana. Once again the scenery along the bus route did not disappoint... beautiful Andean views!

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Seeing is how this was our last Bolivia stop let me update you with a map of our 3 week tour throughout the country:

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As you can see we covered quite a lot of ground throughout Bolivia (yes this means many terrible bus rides) but it was well worth it! The diversity of this country's landscape still amazes us... jungle, mountains, desert, salt flats, volcanoes, lagoons, and now as you will soon see high altitude lakes. To give you a better idea of the scope of Lake Titicaca here is a more detailed map:

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You can see the lake is actually divided between both Peru and Bolivia and sits at an average altitude of around 3800 M and has a total area of around 8372 km2. Our bus arrived at San Pedro and we had to take a ferry to cross to the other side.

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Obviously our bus had to do the same...

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Arriving on the other side...

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After re-boarding the bus and another 45 minute drive we arrived in lakeside community of Copacabana. Other tourists we spoke with didn't have really all that many great things to say about it, but we found the place to be very decent. After grabbing a quick lunch I left Stacey with the packs and set off to find us a hotel for the night.

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There were plenty of great options and I decided to say screw it and book a really nice lakefront hotel with a great balcony and view of the harbour... sometimes you gotta splurge lol.

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After settling into our hotel we headed back out on the town to explore a little bit and to check out all the local markets. Pretty much the same swag as in La Paz (roughly the same price) but it's still always fun to look.

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Stacey in a 'Cholita' hat...

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Met a street dog on our walkabout with the most beautiful eyes... so I bought him a saltina (meat filled street pastry) and we became fast friends.

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Back on our balcony with a bottle of wine to bask in another amazing sunset...

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The following morning we booked ourselves ferry tickets for the day to the Isla Del Sol which is one of the main islands of Lake Titicaca but which also features several ancient sets of ruins and also the site where the Incas believe creation took place. So after a 2 hour + long ferry ride of being trapped in a cab engulfed in gasoline fumes we arrived.... lungs and eyes burning lol.

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A pig on the beach...

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The island itself was quite beautiful and we couldn't have picked a nicer sunnier day to see it (although I did not use sunscreen and received the most horrible burn to the back of my neck... my worst of the trip thus far!). That being said it is still a pretty desolate place with really no trees or major villages. Hotel pickings were pretty slim as well as restaurants so we decided to just spend the day on the island rather then overnighting it.

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Our 2 hour hike to the ruins...

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A stone table used for human sacrifice.... you could still see blood on it.

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There are no shortages of these folks in Peru (even though yes I know we are still in Bolivia at this point)...

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At first we both couldn't believe the quantity of tourists mainly in Peru (Bolivia is not as busy of course). It is the busy season I suppose (North American and European holidays) but I still can't believe the numbers. And everyone shows up with their brand new North Face or Jack Wolfskin gear all decked out to the nines like there going to be living in the wild like Bear Grylls lol. And what's with the short pants? I mean your on vacation for 2 weeks and you don't have enough room to pack both a pair of shorts and pants? People must think their pretty clever lol but to me it just makes you stand out like a tourist mark that much more. I mean your already a gringo... you don't need to add to the tourist stereotype any more by dressing like a wanker... sorry... I just think it looks silly... I don't care if it's "practical"... your walking... not climbing Everest. Its like a tour group of Asians coming to Canada decked out in full Roots gear with Beavers on their sweaters or something lol.

Finally arriving at the ruins... hot, sunburnt and out of breath from the altitude.

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To be honest we weren't overly that impressed with the Ilsa Del Sol. Maybe it's because we've been spoiled with so many great sights this year, but to be honest nothing was labelled, there were no maps or explanations at any of the ruins and to boot they weren't all that impressive or even old (most date to the 15 century). Apparently there has been some evidence found that indicts there was civilization living on the island as early as 2200 BC but nothing we found on the island even mentioned it.

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Always lots of friendly local animals around in Bolivia!

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A brief pitstop at the museum...

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One of several small villages on the island and also the point where we caught the ferry back to Copacabana.

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That night we celebrated our island hopping and sunburns with a visit to a local Mexican restaurant in town. Probably the best burritos and chilli con carne we've had all year!!

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The following morning we packed up our bags for the last time in Bolivia and boarded a bus which would cross the border into Peru (our second last country!!). That morning we said good-bye to our trusty old global bed sheets lol. You saved our asses and bodies many of nights from terribly filthy beds. For the record, if you ever backpack the world bring yourself a set of sheets! At this point we just couldn't take the weight anymore... and because bedding throughout Bolivia was more then acceptable... we just assumed Peru would be the same.

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Crossing at the Peru border...

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At a first glance not a heck of a lot changes crossing the border into Peru. For the most part people look and dress very similar and obviously both countries speak spanish. At the bus station in Puno (where we would change buses for our onward travel to Arequipa) however you could notice how Peru definitely caters more towards tourism (announcements were actually translated into English!!).

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And that finishes off Bolivia guys! Really enjoyed our time there. For the most part things were always cheap, the people were a lot more friendly then in Brazil, the food was way better (both in terms of quality and ethnicity) and the sights were fantastic. Would I recommend Bolivia as a travel destination? Absolutely!! But make sure to spend at least a couple of weeks there to get a good sense of what it has to offer. Looking back I feel as though we did a pretty good job covering most of the sights. My one regret... missing out on the Amazon. North of La Paz there are some great places to take tours of the infamous jungle. Snakes, swimming with pink dolphins and fishing for piranhas are all part of the itinerary. But do yourself a HUGE favour.... don't be a cheapskate, skip the bus rides and book yourself some flights! Both your ass and travel partner will thank you!

Posted by ttbwarren 16:52 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

La Paz

Our 100th Blog Post & The Highest Capital City In The World!!

sunny 5 °C

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La Paz... Bolivia's capital city and the highest capital city in the world. Not really sure where they measure that from because if you look at the title pic you can easily tell that La Paz sits in a river valley. This gives the city an amazingly unique look from both up top and down in the valley, but makes it a hell of a place to huff around with the inclines and high altitude. A casual stroll around the city can leave you breathless within a few blocks... and we were somewhat acclimatized. Technically speaking, because of La Paz's height (3650 M) the city also features the highest skyscrapers in the world (take that stupid ass Dubai and your bullshit Canadian VISA requirements... no one wants to come to your crappy desert anyways... ya I'm bitter still lol).

From Coroico we took another mini-bus back to La Paz only this time we were a little more careful of our choice of vehicle lol. This time things worked out fine but it was still interesting to be in a van struggling to make it back up that tremendous incline. We did however arrive safe and sound and hailed a taxi at the bus stop.

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We had pre-booked our hostel ahead of time (you see the joys of WIFI can pay off in many ways) so needn't worry about lugging our packs around in the high altitude trying to sort out a place to sleep. The area we chose was right in the heart of things and we quickly found ourselves a great Thai lunch deal...

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We both still love our Asian food! Like I said our area was right in the heart of it all. This included the usual array of bars, restaurants and market stalls, but this time it featured something just a little unusual... a witches market.

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The witch market stalls featured all sorts of weird shit... candles, voodoo dolls, effigies, and even llama fetus' (apparently these are considered good luck and if you ever build a new home your supposed to bless your house by burying one underneath your porch... we so should have bought one but like come on! How the hell would you explain that one to customs lol).

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The market stalls in La Paz were amazing!! Trust us... we know our deals and La Paz was just full of 'em. Alpaca gear was dirt cheap and there was no shortage of wicked jewellery either (all because of that cheap Potosi ore I suppose).

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Our hotel was situated only about 3 blocks downhill from the main plaza and Cathedral...

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For our second day in town we decided to check out the rest of the downtown strip which is essentially one main drag that runs along the bottom of the valley...

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A quick rest stop (believe it or not I caught another bad cold and fever less then a week after my salt flat experience.... my immune system is at an all time low because of this trip).

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At the end of our downtown tour was a quick stop at San Pedro Plaza. San Pedro Plaza sits directly beside the notorious San Pedro prison and after hearing some of the stories we couldn't resist seeing it with our own eyes. You see San Pedro prison is like no other prison on the planet. Inside are no guards and basically the prisoners run the show. If you don't believe me Google it. You used to be able to take tours of the inside but apparently because Brad Pitt showed up with some film crew trying to research/make a movie it is now shut down. Not sure if I would have had the balls to do it anyways. Inside are coke laboratories (this is where most of the prisoners source of income comes from), regular stores, a hotel for visitors, and even Coca Cola has the rights to exclusively sell its products in exchange for a plethora of chairs, tables and umbrellas. Even certain prisoners cells are arranged on a class basis (the wealthy prisoners can buy suites that have all amenities like a kitchen, bathroom and even internet or cable TV). We hung out in the Plaza for a while and watched family members line up for their daily visits (how do they get the drugs out? Hmmm....).

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View of the plaza beside the prison...

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Best street ever!!!

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Best truck ever!!!

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Our walk back to our hotel...

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We also made a brief stop at the local Coca/Cocaine Museum. Pretty interesting stuff but we weren't allowed to take any pictures. It dealt a lot with how it was traditionally used (leaf chewing mainly) until it was discovered that it could be a useful anesthetic. And yes the legend is true!! Coca Cola actually was first created with Cocaine in it mainly because at the time alcohol prohibition was taking place and people were looking for alternative stimulative drinks. The museum also gave a pretty good outlook into how pharmaceutical companies basically have free reign to manufacture legal cocaine (Novocain, Lidocaine, Xylocaine etc etc) while Bolivia is granted no such privileges and instead is constantly being pressured by the US to support it's war on drugs. Typical... attack the poor farmers cause their the problem and not the actual drug addicts themselves. Gotta love capitalism sometimes... I f@#king hate pharmaceutical companies.

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To finish off our trip to Bolivia's capital we decided to take in its party scene which it is actually pretty renowned for. To set the party train in motion we decided to take in an event that is probably featured no where else in the world... but more on this in a bit. Here are some of La Paz's spectacular views from up on the ridge. Valley, city and mountain peaks...

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Pretty unique city landscape huh? Ok so the 'party train' lol, well its first stop was at what is called Cholitas Wrestling which takes place every Sunday in a local gymnasium.

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Technically "Cholita" is a word for a Hispanic women who dresses a certain ghetto way (a Cholo is a Hispanic male who dresses in Khaki long shorts with white socks, flannel shirt and maybe a bandana... my description is very general and vague... Wikipedia it). In Bolivia wrestling terms it refers to the stereotypical Bolivian women's attire which is sported in the wrestling ring.... as they're taking on male opponents lol.

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There was male versus male wrestling also...

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And it wasn't all that bad. Pretty entertaining in fact. But the men beating on the poor Cholitas! My God lol. It was funny yes but still you just couldn't believe what you were seeing...

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Those poor little Cholitas lol. Of course it was fake and rigged and you just had to cheer for the Cholita (who would end up winning of course). The match would contain all the elements of good wrestling though: one sided referee (how would often stomp the Cholita when she was down to stir up the crowd, crowd taunting, and even the occasional chair to the head).

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And the costumes were great... cheesy but great lol.

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This little Cholita even got tossed into the foreigner section after she was dosed with a 2L pop bottle lol...

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Needless to say the whole event was quite the experience and one I'm glad we got to see lol. Just what I needed to lift my spirits... we were basically laughing our asses off the entire time!

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To end off the the night, half-way through a match a guy dressed as a mummy runs out of the back of the gymnasium wiping a chain around, flipping over all the barricades and scarring all the little kids in attendance... and that's literally how it all ended. Pretty fricking sweet!

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The rest of the night is censored and I'll just leave it at that. La Paz was awesome and I would recommend a stopover there to anyone! Great shopping, cheap delicious eats and even better entertainment and nightlife. Stay tuned cause next up is our stop at the highest navigable lake in the world... Lake Titicaca. Ciao.

Posted by ttbwarren 16:32 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Coroico

The Death Road Into The Yungas

sunny 25 °C

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Let the catch up game continue! I am writing today from Cusco Peru (pretty much our final destination) as we arrived a day or two early after travelling via night buses back to back nights (super fun stuff but guess what? We officially took our last "real" bus ride last night!!!! Now all that's left is one from Santo Domingo in the DR to Punta Cana... and that's no big deal at all). Yesterday we arrived in Nazca bright and early, boarded a small prop plane and flew over the famous Nazca Lines! What a sight to behold. And definitely the smallest plane either of us has flew in before.

But now for the Yungas. The Yungas are a famous area just north of Bolivia's capital city La Paz, which is basically half Amazon and half Andes. It is also renowned as one of the best Coca growing areas in the country. Our bus for Uyuni arrived in La Paz early in the AM and we quickly hopped a cab and headed towards a mini bus terminal that wisked us away towards Coroico which is a sleepy little resort town that lies in the heart of Yungas. Quite the temperature difference... and that was exactly what I needed to help heal up my sickness.

The issue is, to get to Coroico you have to travel via 'The Worlds Most Dangerous Road' lol. I'm not even joking. Ok... this is only partly true because most of the road has been redone. Still, even with the improvements it was by far the scariest road I've ever travelled!

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Why is it so scary? Well because La Paz sits at around 3650 M and to get to Coroico you go down, down, down a very windy road with literally no shoulder or safety barriers. So we boarded a mini bus which was basically a 5-6 seater converted into a 8-10 seater and which was also an automatic. So... we're riding in this questionable rig to begin with and what happens? The brakes start smoking and overheating!! Go figure? No down-shifting in a over weighted vehicle that has to ride the brakes. Anyways we pulled over in just the nick of time (scared shitless lol) and the driver gets out his 'toolbox', pulls the tires off and starts to bleed the brake lines. As you can probably imagine we're thinking that there is no way in hell that we're getting back on this bus!!

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This kind of gives you an idea of the drop offs I'm talking about. At some spots on the road it must have been a sheer 2000 M drop straight down!

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One of the funnier things I seen: You know when you drive mountain roads how they have emergency semi-truck runaways that ramp up and have all sorts of barricades to help them stop incase of a loss of brakes? Well on the 'Death Road' they sort of attempted to build these. Except they were about 10-15 feet long ramps with a few boulders down the middle. Just a tease really lol. Trucker - Is it gonna save me? Nope. Aaaggrrrh!!" Lol it was such a half ass attempt. Had to see it. So the breakdown... after bleeding the brake lines the driver decided to take one last stab at it. We said a quick pray and jumped back in. Ya well we made it a total of 100 metres as the brakes were completely fubar'ed. So then what happened? Well we were stuck by the side of the death road without transportation for 2 hours until we finally flagged down a van to ferry us the rest of the way. Looking back at it now it makes me laugh, but at the time we were both very tired and cranky. But we eventually made it to Coroico and checked into paradise on the mountainside.

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So for around $25 a night we got a big comfy room, swimming pool, sauna, buffet breakfast and solid WIFI.... just what we needed after the long tour of the salt flats. It was hard to grasp that just a few hours drive from La Paz and the weather does a complete 180. Our first day wasn't the sunniest, but the days following were just glorious.

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You see what I mean? Part Amazon, part Andes....

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For our second day in the Yungas we did a little bit of hiking around to check out the town (our hotel was about a 10 minutes walk uphill and out of town) and surrounding area.

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The mountain views were nothing less than stunning. One of the most unique places we've been. Usually it's pretty easy to compare one place we've travelled to the next but here was something else. Tropical forest surrounded by snow covered peaks.

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Coroico's main plaza/square...

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We found a little bar along the cliffs to sit back and enjoy happy hour at...

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Next we headed back up towards our hotel's area and found ourselves a great little cafe to enjoy some dinner. Along the way Stacey was immersed in her flowers...

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Some tasty local cuisine...

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The top of our hotel which overlooked the entire valley...

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Another cool thing about our hotel was all the friendly company...

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We actually took them for a few walks up by the hotel. Still can't believe this poor old girl could walk with her busted up legs! She walked just fine so it must have happened ages ago.

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We couldn't believe just how lush everything was in the Yungas especially since we had just come from the salt flats which was anything but. They even had Mandarin Orange Trees flourishing all over their grounds.

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The only downside to all the lushness and fruit was the abundance of sand flies that were around the pool. We had been lucky enough up to this point on our tour to have never experienced them before. But we got our taste this time around!

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If your unfamiliar with sand flies let me tell you... they are HORRIFIC little creatures! Basically they're like fruit flies but they bite, draw blood and immediately you swell up and itch. And the swelling is unreal! I had welts the size of golf balls all over my legs! And you can't even feel the little buggers biting you. Antihistamines don't really work either so your pretty much forced to just deal with it. Glad they don't live in Canada!

That's it for the Yungas guys. Not much else to show you of our time there. It was just the R&R we required after some long hard travels throughout magnificent Bolivia.

Posted by ttbwarren 10:33 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Salar de Uyuni

Three Day Tour Of Salt Flats, Volcanoes & Flamingos

sunny 5 °C

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Man am I behind on this thing again! We've honestly just been so busy lately as we jam pack each and everyday with activities to end off this amazing journey. We're down to the wire now!! Only 11 more days till we arrive in the Dominican Republic. It's hard not to get reflective and sad about all the great moments and memories of past but to be honest as sad as that all is we're both pretty damn excited to finally be reunited with our family and friends... and to get married of course! And I'm not gonna lie... we're tired. This has been such a long journey and I know some of you may think 'a year off boo hoo' but remember for every blog post you read that's like 10+ hours of bus rides, hotel hunts, bad food, communication issues etc etc. We just got back from a 2 day tour of the world's deepest canyon and it was definitively the hardest thing I've ever done in my life! I'll just leave it at that for now cause it's time for me to dive back into the past and into our great Bolivian adventure of the World's Largest Salt Flats - Salar de Uyuni.

From Potosi we took a 6 hour bus ride south (you see... buses, buses, buses) which wasn't too bad although I did have to persuade the bus driver to stop once for a bathroom break... this time without resorting to threats of urination in the bus lol.

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That was our scenic lunch stop. We ordered lunch cause we needed some hot food and ended up getting served lama intestine and rice. The smell was horrific but luckily it tasted better then it smelt lol. We arrived in Uyuni (the southern town where most tours start from) and were immediately put off by how dry and desolate it was. This small little town is completely isolated, dirty and probably only survives because of tourism. No internet, no heat and no hot water... good times (see this is why I'm behind on this blog). But we found a hotel claiming to have hot water and checked in.

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To our surprise we arrived in town at the beginning of a 3-4 day festival... because our spanish is basically non-exsistent we still don't really no what the celebration was for but either way it was cool to watch.

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You probably can't see in these pictures but everyone was hammered lol. Yep beer cans in hand while they're dancing in the street!

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There were also lots of kids/adults dressed up as polar bears (how very Canadian of them lol).

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Some old train tracks run through town which now features a great street market....

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So after watching some of the parade we set off in search of a tour company to help us arrange a 3 day tour stretching from the salt flats all the way to the Chilean border. We had met quite a few other travellers that raved about the tour so we had pretty high hopes and were both really excited. Long story short, we found ourselves a reputable company that already had several other foreigners booked (we always look to see what other nationalities are booked onto our tours... nothing worse then being trapped in a vehicle for 3 days with people you can't talk to or have nothing in common with). We narrowed it down to two companies and we made the right choice (the other company had all Korean nuns booked... no joke... nuns... my construction mouth and nuns don't mix very well lol). And that's it! We were off! Our first stop was at the "train graveyard" just outside of town...

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Uyuni does have a train station (2 separate lines) that has trains running every other day. It would have been nice to take one but our times didn't quite match up.

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Then we made a quick stop at a local market to buy crafts... believe it or not they sold salt there... and people actually bought it lol.

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Then we hit the flats... and man are they ever impressive! During different times of the year they can be quite wet. We showed up during the dry season. I still don't get how the Landcruisers aren't rusted to shit??

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White as far as the eye can see. Looks a lot like snow back home doesn't it? Of course we had to partake in the classic picture illusions. This is something that MUST and WILL be done back home in winter time.

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It takes some getting used to and tinkering to get it right... our group wasn't too enthusiastic about picture taking... we would have liked to take a lot more. Our friends Dan and Gen from England (met in Tibet) took some great ones which are on their blog (sorry not sure if they want me sharing the address) and they had a plastic dinosaur which made for some great quirky pics. After our photo shoot we stopped briefly for lunch at a hotel out on the flats (this is very controversial because their sewage is damaging the flats). Our driver already had the meal prepared and we ate out of the back of the truck... alpaca steaks...Mmmmm good.

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Where's the Canadian flag??

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Science/history lesson anyone??: So Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat in the world at 10,582 square kilometres. The Salar was formed as a result of transformations between several prehistoric lakes. Apparently what happened was when the Andes were colliding with South America they trapped these inland lakes or seas and over time this led to the creation of the flats. Quick interesting fact: The Salar de Uyuni contain 50-70% of the world's lithium deposits.

Next stop was at Incahuasi Island or Cactus Island as us anglophones referred to it as...

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It was pretty damn remarkable to basically be smack right in the middle of the salt flats on this island of cacti (is that plural for cactus?). They actually even used the cactus to build things... yeah like wood. Never knew you could do that.

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A tasty lama head offering to the Gods. I put a straw in his mouth to make him look more like a hick lol.

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We hiked to the top of the island and back down which was no easy challenge. Yes by this point we were getting fairly used to the altitude but it's still hard to breath at 3650 M (12,000 ft). And then we were off again.

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We made a few more stops along the way... look at these cool formations.

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There are differences between lamas, alpacas and this other species (ya ya I'm no zoologist)... but I can't remember which one this is.

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Just before dusk we arrived at our accommodations. We were warned by others that the accommodations throughout the tour were lacking (just the basics like heat, water etc lol) but we had no idea our first hotel would be made of SALT!!! How freakin' cool is that! Everything was made of salt! And it was gorgeous.

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Even the tables and chairs... salt...

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Walls... yep... salt lol.

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The hotel was situated just at the edge of the flats in a tiny little village. We managed to find ourselves a store and bought some wine to celebrate a terrific Day 1.

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The next morning we were off bright and early and heading south towards the Chilean border. No roads where we were going... not a great time to get sick Blair!!

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Ya well for whatever reason that's exactly what happened. I caught the flu or something and was puking all day. Combine that with bumpy rough roads, dust galore and the worst heartburn of my life... ya good times! Still hard not to enjoy the spectacular scenery.

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One of many volcanoes on the tour...

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Still feelin' it...

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Okay so to be honest with you pretty much the rest of the trip I was completely incapacitated. Sickness took hold of me and combine that with cold weather and I was in the truck most of the time (aka big sick baby). Stacey enjoyed the hell out of it though (should get her to write the rest). Our sightings of flamingos at our first lagoon stop.

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Why they live here is beyond me. But I guess there are no predators (most are near extinction) and the algae is abundant. That's what they eat in the water and it's also what gives them their pink colour.

Pictures of our second lagoon stop....

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And the flamingos that inhabited it...

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On the road again...

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The rock formations all along the tour were crazy! Not sure how they were all formed but my scientific hypothesis is that the volcanos had something to do with it. This one is referred to as 'stone tree'.

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For our second evening we drove all the way to the 'Red Lagoon' which had quite a hefty entrance/conservation fee (150 B's or about $22). Never seen anything like it in my life though. Stacey and the others in our group hiked around the edge (winded of course because of the altitude).

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It's actual name is Laguna Colorada and it's also a salt lake but gets it's pink colour from the algae. Inhabiting Laguna Colorada once again are flamingos but the ones in this lagoon are pretty rare and unique and are called the James's Flamingos. The James flamingo was thought to have been extinct until a remote population was discovered in 1956.

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No pictures of our last hotel but trust me it was pretty rough and ready. Stacey stole me some extra blankets and I bypassed dinner and went straight to bed. It sure was cold that night and not a very fun time to be sick... but I survived. To boot the high altitude makes even sleeping a challenge during the best of times.

The next morning we left the hotel at 5am and made way for the Chilean border (most of our group was heading onward into Chile and not back to Uyuni like us... we really wanted to go with them but didn't have enough time left in our itinerary to tackle another country... well properly at least). Our first stop that morning was at some geysers... pretty surreal stuff!

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It saddens me to say that I couldn't even leave the vehicle for even a quick peak... they sure looked amazing and Stacey says it was one of the coolest things she has ever seen! (Way to ham it up honey!!)

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Just past the geysers was a natural hot spring... only the adventurous braved the 0 degree weather, stripped down and jumped in. Sure looked like fun.

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By this point we were only about a 10 minute drive away from Chile...

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I can't remember the name of this volcano but half of it sits in Bolivia while the other half is in Chile. There were even a group of climbers summiting it.

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Pretty much the only time I left the car that day was to walk over the border and into Chile just to say that I was there lol. Don't have a passport stamp but I do have these pics as proof. Chile... I had an amazingly short stay there lol.

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What a unique first glimpse of a country. A plateau covered with volcanos and arid desert.

Another one bites the dust! That's it. Most of our last day was driving, well more like backtracking the entire way back to Uyuni. The roads were just as rough on the way back but at least this time around I could stretch out across the bench seat in the back. To sum up the experience... by far one of the most unique places we've ever been/seen. The terrain is out of this world the entire journey and it's extremely harsh and very unforgiving... not a place you'd ever want to be stranded... or sick... trust me. We actually got two flat tires on our way back to Uyuni! The roads are that rough. This is why most of the tour companies follow the same route as break downs are not uncommon and maintenance on the vehicles is questionable at best (example: what's antifreeze? Water is what goes in a rad lol). We ended up spending an extra day/night in Uyuni just so I could recover and heal (the alternative was to take a night bus for 10-12 hours to La Paz... no thanks... not yet). But that's just what we had to do the following evening since only night buses are offered... great! We heard nothing but horror stories about this one too as apparently there is literally no road for the first 7 hours. Yep and that wasn't far from the truth. Picture a big tall bus vibrating and rattling like hell for 7 hours while driving on the worst road in the world (pretty much the equivalent to the roads in the Serengeti... pure gravel/dirt washboard). If you can believe it we actually slept pretty good on it lol. At first we both kind of just looked at each other in disbelieve... it was so rough even with headphones in and music cranked all you could hear was the bus rattling. I brought along some of our leftover pizza for the ride and we both couldn't stop laughing because you couldn't even direct the pizza into your mouth without getting it all over your face lol. That rough!! But we both just smiled and said this is a once in a life time experience... unless Greyhound starts offering a Saskatoon to Churchill Manitoba service (lol that probably would't even be that bad lol... trust me I tried hard to think of a Canadian equivalent and I keep coming up highway! God I miss the Western world lol!)

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Posted by ttbwarren 10:25 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

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