Location: La Paz, Bolivia
Having arrived in Puno in the pouring rain and freezing cold, I booked myself on the first bus in the morning to La Paz. Another 7am start.
We got to the Bolivian border about 9.30am. The scenery along the way was beautiful at times with the deep blue lake Titicaca on the left and the flat lands rising up to red hills on the right. At other time the scenery on the right was just like Ireland- flat boggy land with dry stone walls and sheep. The only difference was that the cottages were made of red earth bricks instead of being whitewashed.
At the border we were all herded off the bus on the Peruvian side to change money and get our exit stamps in our passposrt. There were about 3 buildings on each side of the road; money change, customs, border police and shops. Other buses arrived at the same time so there were huge queues to change money and to get the exit stamp. There was no hassle at all getting the stamp. I don´t even think they looked at my picture, just the entrance stamp.
Then it was a 200m walk up the hill to the Bolivian side. The only barrier was a chain accross the road (very unlike the pictures you had of the Indian Pakistan border Clare!). Handed over my entrance form and it & my passport were stamped in seconds. Then the bus drove up the road and we were all able to get back in.
Arrived in Cocacabana at 11am (hour ahead of Peru). It´s a pretty village built on a hill leading down to Lake Titicaca. The main street has lots of stalls selling sweets and soft drinks and jewellry. There´s plenty of hostels & restaurants. We had about 2 hours here before getting bus to La Paz. It was long enough for me to decide that I´s stay here on way back rather than Puno. Also it´s waaaaaaaaaay cheaper than Peru. A coffe was 40c as opposed to 1.20.
Back on bus. Again fabulous scenery. We climbed up into the red hills and lake Titicaca was down below. It was so blue. Looked like some photos of Greece or Turkey. Then we descended to the lake level and told to get out of the bus. ????? Turned out the bus was crossing the lake on a barge and we all had to get a boat accross. Another unexpected means of transport.
Scenery into La Paz was superb too- flat plains of yellow grass with a range of snow capped mountains in the background
Location: Arequipa, Peru
Arequipa is a beautiful city at 2,500m, surrounded by mountains and snow capped volcanoes. The main plaza is the nicest I´ve seen so far. with lovely arcades on 3 sides and the cathedral on the other. The most impressive thing in Arequipa is the Santa Catalina monastery (it was for nuns though) Built in the 15th century, from the outside, all you see is white stone walls. Once inside there´s an explosion of colour. It´s a huge area, with plazas and little rooms and streets and churches and dining halls. Internal walls are whitewashed but external ones are terracotta or blue or red.
Of, course the main reason people visit here is to go to the Colca canyon (2nd deepest in the world) and see some condors. I was all set to do the 2 day tour by bus but at the last minute opted for the 3 day trekking one.
So I left on Thursday at (surprise, surprise) 6am. My group was me, a Belgian couple in their fifties, a weird Spaniard and our guide Rene. It was a 5 hour bus journey to Cananacode, a village at the top of the canyon (3,200m). The scenery was amazing - deserts, mountains, terraces, valleys & the canyon. The best I´ve seen so far. We had lunch in cabanaconde and then it was a 3 hour trek down 1000m to the bottom of the canyon. It was hard going, steep and slippy. Josh, the Belgian gave me one of his hiking sticks towards the bottom and it helped a lot. We crossed the bridge over the river and then it was a really really steep climb for 20mins. At this point my back started to hurt - carrying my rucksack and climbing was a little too much for it. Luckily was flat for a long time after that but the last 30minutes was a climb to the village and I was wrecked by the time I got there.
We were staying in a hostel of sorts - the rooms were in what looked like outhouses - stone walls, mud floor. metal door and tin roof. The shower (hot water!!) & toilet were outside. The village is not accessible by road and has no electricity. The woman of the house cooked our dinner (vegetable soup, followed by fish, chips & rice) on a fire in the kitchen. We were fascinated just watching her. They all had a great laugh at me at dinner because I produced my Malaria tablets, anti-inflammatories and Valium. This was all washing down with Mate de coco (coco leaf tea) to help with the altitude. It´s palatable with loads of sugar. Needless to say I had a great nights sleep.
We set off at 9am after a breakfast of coffee & pancakes for a 2 hour walk down to cross the canyon again (in a different place). The up for 30 minutes to the Oasis, where we had a 3 hour break and went swimming in the swimming pool. After lunch we had a little siesta and then it was all set for a 3 hour hike up the mountain. I managed about 30 minutes and then hit breaking point. My back was killing me and I´d taken the valium and the anti-inflamatories, so there wasn´t much else I could do. The guide went back down to the Oasis and got his friend who had a mule, so i hired the mule for about 10.50 euros and went up the mountain on a mule! Well it´s another experience. I´ve hired a porter for the Inca trail to carry my bag so I think I should be OK for that. Fingers crossed. I´m a bit stiff now but not sore and walking straight.
Once we got to the hostel in Cabanaconde it was dark. We just had dinner and straight to bed because breakfast was at 6am. At 6.30am we were on the bus to the Condor viewing point (it only left at 7.30am when the driver decided it was time to go) and we stayed there until 9am. We were lucky that we saw 6 or 7 condor and one flew really close over our heads.
Then on to Chivay, another town. We went to the hot springs, had lunch and hopped on the bus back to Arequipa by 4pm. Despite not actually doing all the trekking myself, this been my best experience so far. The scenery was incredible. Most of the people we saw outside the city were wearing the traditional outfits - not for tourists but because that´s how they dress. We met people coming up the mountain with their mules or donkeys carrying supplies. Or women with huge bundles wrapped in colourful shawls on their backs.
Hope you enjoy the photos that go with this. I´m off to have dinner and tomorrow I´m heading to Puno an lake Titicaca - another long bus journey.
Location: Nasca, Peru
Arrived in Nasca and booked by flight over lines before doing anything else. Once again there´s nothing else to do in Nasca so you don´t want to have to spend a second night here. A bit of a lie in this time - tour starts at 7.30am! No flights in the afternoons as the winds are bad.
Next morning (Monday, I think) 5 of us we were picked up at the hotel and taken out to the airport. The plane was a tiny 6 seater and the seats were actually sitting on the floor of it. Being small I was put in the back, with the largest guy getting the seat beside the pilot. The flight was really good - smooth take off and landing and good views of the lines. They wouldn´t give us breakfast in the hotel before the flight because the airplane banks left and right quite steeply so that everyone can see the lines. I was fine, snapping away quite happily but one of the others was sick, so I suppose the hotel was right.
Once back in Nasca, there was not much to do except wait for the bus at 11pm. Found a hostel with a garden and a pool and spend the day there reading. There was a french family there - parents and 2 girls about 6 & 10, originally from St. Malo but thye´ve been living on a boat in Martinique for the last 3 years. They decided to spend a month in Peru and each of them has a tiny schoolbag backpack (15 litres max) and that´s all the luggage they have. And I though I was travelling light!!
Then it was the night bus to Arequipa, an experience in itself, when you wake up at 3am as the bus goes around a series of hairpin bends and you can´t see anything.
Location: Pisco, Peru
I left Lima on Saturday 8th supposedly at 9.15am on a direct bus to Pisco. Of course it never arrived and I got the 10.30 bus. 4 and a half hours later, I found myself dropped off on the Panamerican highway 5km from Pisco, along with a Belgian couple. Their hotel was supposed to pick them up but after 40 minutes and a phone call, we took a taxi into Pisco. There´s nothing in Pisco except hostels and a couple of restaurants. People only sleep here because the tours to the Islas Ballestros leave at 6am. (Anyone noticing a recurring theme of early mornings here?)
So next morning was collected at 6am, herded 10k away to Paracas and loaded into a 25 seater motorboat and off to the Islands, stopping for a look at the Candelabra on the way. No one knows where this came from - some say pirates made it in the 17th century, others think it was built by the same people who built the Nasca lines. Either way, it´s a good photo opportunity!
We then went on for another 20 minutes out to the islands. All the way out there was a constant stream of thousands of birds flying in a straight line about a foot above the water. Photographs don´t do it justice because it continued as far as the eye could see in both directions. I think they may have been cormorants.
Once we arrived at the Islands - really an cluster of rocks, the first thing we saw, other than the fact that everywhere was covered with birds, was about 20 seals through a sea arch. This was quickly followed by a group of penguins, 3 different types of cormorants and then seals, seals and more seals. At this stage of the year there´s 3,000 seals in the colonies. Seeing them lying on the beach in their thousands was a bit disenchanting for me. It looked a bit like a pile of rats! We also woke 3 fishermen who were happily sleeping in their boat, so one posed for a photo.
When we got back to the harbour, there was a group of pelicans on the water. Their beaks are amazing. I wouldn´t like to get into a fight with one of them. Then it was straight back to Pisco, check out of the hostel and down to the bus station for the 1.30pm bus to Nasca.
It was quite funny waiting for the bus. There were about 40 people waiting - all of them tourists, all going to Nasca. Bus pulled in from Lima, mad rush to get on. I was really lucky to be in the first few so I got a seat. About 20 people had to stand for 4 hours to Nasca.
Location: Lima, Peru
My flight from Iquitos was at 8.30am so I got a great view of the Amazon rain forest and rivers - photos will be sent once I can get them reduced to a manageable size! Closer to Lima it grew cloudier and you could see steep snow capped mountains appearing above the clouds.
I arrived in Lima to find it a wonderfully cool 16 degrees and overcast. It has remained like that for the few days I've been here. According to the guide books it's rare to get clear skies here, but it doesn't rain much either. Nice hostel - safe neighbourhood in Miraflores, so have spent a lot of the last three days walking around. Nice to get some exercise again.
Went to see Huaca Pucllana, and archaeological site 2 mins walk from here. Bizarre to see something dating from 400AD smack bang in the middle of high rise buildings. From one side it looks like a huge mound of dirt from someone excavating for foundations. On the other side you can see the pyramid structures an walls. It was build from mud blocks laid on their short sides in courses, resembling library bookshelves, and built in trapezoidal panels. All this was to protect against earthquakes. They also had hairless Peruvian dogs on all national monument sites as they area protected structure. They look so weird - large dark dogs with tufts of orange hair on their heads and tails. Also saw llamas, alpacas & guinea pigs.
Wandered around Miraflores - loads of Parisian style cafes and found plenty of bookshops, all of which I wandered into even if I can't read the books! Also found Inca markets with loads of colorful crafts, but being such a bad consumer, I haven't bought anything.
Went into Lima centre yesterday- another big city. Lots of nice squares/plazas with baroque style buildings. Loads of museums and churches but not much else.
Today I went out to another archaeological site - Pachacamac. I had to take 2 collectivos to get out there. They're little rickety minibuses that fly up and down the streets weaving in and out of traffic. You flag them down and they swerve in to stop for you. No seat belts. It was a bumpy ride. Pacahacamac is a huge complex, walked for 2 hours to see the little you can visit. Climbed the top of the biggest pyramid to find a lovely view over the ocean. (Well, it would have been if it wasn't misty). Passed some shanty town on the hills on the way out too.
Not much else to say about Lima. Off to Pisco, on the coast 270km south of here, tomorrow. First of many bus journeys. Keeping well - hope you all are too.
Hope you all had a good weekend.
Location: Iquitos, Peru
Most peple come to Iquitos for Jungle trips but as I´d only 1 day here I didn´t do one. Can´t cope with the heat either. Will have to come back sometime in the winter when it´s cooler. Saw Eiffel´s steel house on the Main Plaza - rubber baron shipped it here from Paris. Found an internet cafe last night and got wierd stares when I cheered to discover Tyrone had won the All-Ireland (sorry that should be to hear Down beat Mayo in the minor match.....). Today I brought my clothes to the laundry - ahh so nice to have clean clothes again. And I discovered Mad Mick´s trading post and got 2 John Grishams i hadn´t read and a Jules Verne (L-Ile Mysteriouse?) in french so they should keep me in reading for a while- few long bus journeys ahead. Was so happy I skipped down the street. Yes got a few stares at the mad gringa.
So that´s about it so far. Hope you´re all well. Let me know how you all are. Talk to you all in Lima or somewhere further south.
Location: Iquitos, Peru
This boat was a huge step down from the first one. It was what I´d read about in the guide books, bottom 2 decks crammed with people, children & chickens everwhere, horrible toilets.....etc. We went to the top deck which had black taurpaulin roof & orange bache sides which were let down when it rained. We had a great thunderstorm on Sunday and it lashed. One of the Danish girls got really sick so we decided to to eat any of the food just in case so survived on rich tea biscuits & water. Wasn´t too hungry anyway cos of the heat. The peruvian Amazon was more interesting. We kept closer to the shore and the villages were more interesting and there were more of them- open structures made of tree branches and thatched roofs - circular and rectangular. We made loads of stops and women & little girls came on board to sell fruit and drinks. We got good news on teh Sunday - the boat would arrive in Iquitos at 5pm on Monday - less that 2 days. What a relief. We were so glad to get off the boat as we never felt our luggage was safe. The port was another experience. Boys swarmed the boat when we arrived ofering to carry ou luggage. We´d been warned not to let it out of our sight so declined but one of the girls saw the kids stealing a wallet from someone else. We had to climb a really steep timber ramp (building regs - what´s that??) and when we got to the top moto-taxis were waiting to take us to the hostel. These are motorbikes with a 2 seater canopy the back and they fly up & down the streets here. i felt like I was in Shanghai in a rickshaw. Hostel was a dump - no water in the showers. We stayed last night cos too tired to check for somewhere else but moved this morning to a lovely place - same price - 3 euros a night.