Home now so I guess that's the end!
Arrived home early due to tail wind, arrived 1:30pm UK time although my brain is very confused about what time it is. The airline really don't help, according to my watch I went to sleep at 3am, got woken up at 10 and was given dinner. After more sleep I had breakfast, very strange. I will have jet lag for a few days I suspect. England is not the arctic cold place we expected, it's having a warm spell and is a toasty 11°C. Not sure I like being home, it's good to see Mum and Dad though.
Up at 6am as taxi arrived at 7. Got to the airport OK, remembered to change the Soles into real money this time. Flight to Caracas was fine, Taca are a good airline. Caracas airport wasn't very good, not many shops and a bit run down. They don't have a transit lounge either and we had to ask a few times to get checked onto the BA flight, the people were very helpful though. The 3½ hours we had to wait seemed to go quickly, probably due to check-in hassle. The BA plane was on time but not that good, too cramped, no games on the TV, rubbish programmes. Due to the unrest in Venezuela the flights route had been changed. We went Caracas-Bogota (1½ hr stop and change passengers)-Barbados (1hr stop, new crew, fuel + more people)-Gatwick. In Bogota we had to get off and go through transit, security was a bit OTT. 1st we went through the normal x-ray/metal scan, then through a police check where they physically went through the bags and patted us down, then 50m later through another x-ray/metal scan to get into the transit lounge.
Checked into hotel by 7:45, breakfast by 8, on a sunbed by 10, hurrah! We seem to be the only non business guests in the hotel so we have the place to ourselves. Walked down to Larco Mar shopping mall about 4 ish, brings back memories. Brought some Chilean wine from the supermarket, £1.20/bottle fab! Went to the hotel restaurant for dinner, nice but the same wine was US$15, had a JD instead. S had a pisco sour, it was very large. Bit wobbly at the end, the last thing she said was "I feel awake now" then she passed out.
Saw some of the sites of the city. Started in the Plaza de Armas which was very impressive. Big arched shopping arcades and the cathedral which has been rebuilt since the earthquake in 2001. Went to the Museo Santuarios Andinos to see the frozen mummies of the sacrificed children, Jaunita the main attraction wasn't there as they put her in storage Jan-May. It was very interesting though. Next we walked around Convento de Santa Catalina, the convent is a city within a city. It takes up a whole city block and it has 5km of streets within it. It is very nice, well restored, lots of nice lanes, quiet courtyards and paintings. Didn't see any nuns though. Laid by the pool for a bit but it was late and the clouds came over.
Hung around all morning and packed. Got bus to Araquipa at 3pm. We over paid for our tickets, that's what you get for booking through the hotel, still, the transfer service was very good. Booked our Lima bus tickets as soon as we got off the bus. Our hotel seems Ok, big room, small TV, nice garden and pool. Will have a better look tomorrow as it's dark. Resaurant is nice, built of sillar, the local white volcanic stone, a bit like Tocanoa in the Atacama.
Left Copa by bus to Puno. Uneventful trip, customs was a joke again. Bus was Peruvian so back to luxury. Changed some money in Copa, as it turned out he gave me a forged 5 Sol coin. Got met by a tout for our hotel at the bus station so didn't get hassled by anyone. Puno looks OK once you get to the pedestrianised part. Booked posh hotel for Araquipa.
Up early to get the 8:15 tour boat to Isla del Sol, although it didn't leave until 8:30. The boat was really slow, I could have got out and pushed and we would have gone faster, it took 2 hours to reach the northern most point of the island which was our 1st stop. There is a small village there called Cha'llapampa, from there we walked 1st to an Inca sacrificial altar with a calendar stone in the middle of a corn field, then onto Chincane ruins and the site of the Sacred Rock where the 1st Inca, Manco Capec, was supposed to have emerged. It took about 40 mins to walk there up an Inca road, from a view point we could see 3 small islands just off the coast. They form a triangle shape, in the middle, now underwater, is a Tiwanaku city. The creation rock is just that, a big rock, it has a shiny new marble plaque on it telling you what it is. Next to it is Puma rock which looks like a Puma head if someone points out the features and you have a really good imagination. Chincane is the sacred village next to the rock, it's been quite well restored and is like a mini labyrinth. There is a sacred (everything around here has sacred before it) well that has clean water in it. They're not sure where the water comes from, probably as we're at the top of a mountain. After the guide had finished doing his blurb we had to run back to the boat as he had forgotten that we weren't doing the island walk. We made it OK, good job it was all downhill. The next stop, after a 45 min ride, was Isla de la luna. It's a very small island and has one historical site on it, the Temple of the Virgins of the Sun. The whole complex is about the size of a football pitch. As you walk up to it you can see some of the original boundary terrace walls, some bits have been badly rebuilt but a couple of sections are original and you can see how good they where. The temple itself is fairly ruined. They have restored one end well, including the adobe covering, it's a good contrast to the other end which is a pile of bricks. Back on the boat for another 45 min trip to the southern end of Isla del Sol, this time to see Fuente del Inca, a spring with a 3 headed fountain. It wasn't actually very impressive, just 3 pipes coming out of a wall into a square basin that then let the water flow downhill, the most interesting bit was the 200 or so step stairway leading up to it. We had run out of small change by this time so had to buy an alpaca jumper and woolly hat to get change for the toilet. After a quick ride around the headland we reached the final site for the day, Pilcocaina. It turned out to be the most impressive. It's a 2 storey building that's been well restored, well the downstairs has, so you can see what an Inca building with rooms really looked like, minus the solid gold wall coverings obviously. The views were excellent as well. On the way home we spotted a wooded area on a hill that had been cut to look like figures we think. It started off looking like a man but turned into a llama as we got level with a condor attacking it, maybe it had been too long a day.
We had planned to get up early and go to Isla del Sol by ourselves but I had a bad nights sleep and we decided not to get up. Had a lazy day in Copa again, did some e-mail and booked ourselves a tour for tomorrow.
Did more shopping and went to the museum to see more Tiwanaku bits. It wasn't that good, all the major bits have been moved to the museums we saw yesterday.
Went to Tiwanaku today. Didn't really feel up to it as had bad stomach cramps but also didn't want to miss it. 1st stop was a look out over a valley next to the Tiwanaku one, good view not a lot else. After that we went to the site. It's not actually that big compared to some of the other historical sites we've visited. Apart from the ruins themselves there are two museums. We started with one that showed the history of the area and the rise and fall of the various cultures. After that we walked around the ruins with our guide starting with the pyramid, it has a big hole in it where it was dug out by the Spaniards looking for gold. Next was the Pachamama temple with lots of carved stone heads in the wall, they included a few Chinese and some that looked alien. Finally was the Temple of the Sun, the biggest, including the Gateway of the Sun which they're not sure if they've put in the right place. The whole area has been ransacked since the fall of the empire in the 14th century and I don't think it's been put back together too well. The Incas, which was one of the tribes that emerged from the collapse, inherited there wall building skills from the Aymara and the walls don't look anywhere near as good where they have been rebuilt. After an hours stop for lunch we went to the 2nd museum which had some of the statue and bits they had excavated from the site. It was actually very modern and very good which was a surprise. A good day despite the stomach cramps.
Lazy day, went shopping for gifts. Tummy feels a bit funny.
Rode down the "Most Dangerous road in the World" on a mountain bike. Excellent fun although a little painful towards the end. The road lives up to it's reputation. We started from a car park at 4600m and the 1st 30km or so is paved normal road, although winding and with a large cliff to one side. The views are spectacular, mountains and valleys at this point. The road is steep and you can get up some speed, we were overtaking lorries on some bits. We had to do a short uphill section which was a killer, I ended up walking up keeping a girl called Pia company. After a quick snack stop and an easier uphill section we came to the start of the fun part of the road. At this point it becomes a single track gravel/mud road with a 1000m cliff to your left. Visibility at the top was very poor as we were at cloud level. We were given a safety briefing by Marcello, our guide, basically ride on the left (the cliff side) and stop to let any cars, buses or trucks past, then we were off. For the next couple of hours we bumped our way down the twisty road avoiding the edge and the trucks. We went under several waterfalls, one we stopped at for some lunch, right next to the marker stone where an Israeli girl had died doing the ride. It was a spectacular ride, rainforested valleys, mountains, waterfalls and the ever present cliff. As we got lower the road got dustier so that when something did pass us it covered us in dust. Towards the end of the ride we had to go through a couple of streams and over a landslide. The bulldozer clearing it up looked enormous as we past right next to it's tracks. We ended up in a small village 20km from Coroico after having ridden 70km, then we caught the minibus back up the road to La Paz. I think the ride back was more hairy than the ride down. Excellent day but my legs ache and my hands are throbbing.
Sort of a lazy day. Got up for breakfast which was included, it wasn't very nice. Checked out but left our luggage and went to find somewhere cheaper to stay. Having looked at the map properly we were able to find Calle Santa Cruz and Hostel Blanquita which a couple of guys we met on Easter Island recommended to us. It's v pink, but also nice so we went back and collected our things and moved in. The room wasn't quite ready so they gave us a free coffee, v nice of them. After that we went for a wonder in the streets around the hostel. They're excellent, full of craft stalls and shops selling local bits and pieces, we may end up spending a fortune even though it's really cheap here. We also booked the 2 tours, that we wanted to do. 1st for tomorrow is the mountain bike ride down the most dangerous road in the world to Coroico, the 2nd for Thursday is for Tiwanaku. Persuaded S to come on the bike ride even though she wasn't sure at 1st, I think it helped that we met an Austrian girl in the agents who was also umming and ahhing, they sort of convinced each other. It's a bit expensive, US$45 each, it had better be good, we do get a free T-shirt. The Tiwanaku tour is only 55 Bolivianos each though. Went and found the cinema after that and saw Lord of the Rings 2, good film but it was a bit noisy in the cinema.
Arrived in Arica @ 7am, waited around in the bus station for the ticket booths to open so we could book the trip to La Paz. Had to wait until after 8 but managed in the end, not with the company we wanted though as they were fully booked, hope it's OK. We have to go tomorrow, the next available were on Wednesday. Met a French guy called Vladimir who was touting for his guest house. Went with him as it's near the bus station, Maison de France is quite nice. It's near the good beach @ the north of end of town, about a 20min walk to the centre. It's run by a French couple as well as Vlad, we can have dinner with them for $2500, Christian is going to cook us some French food. Walked into the city centre to have a look around. It was quite small but full of locals selling stuff. We had a wonder round, found a square with an old steam train and were going to go back and lie on the beach, we needed to phone a hotel in La Paz but the phone shops we passed on the way in were closed or closing so we went back into the centre. It was a good job we did because down the main street came a procession for something or other. There were dancers, people in costumes and bands. We hadn't brought our cameras out with us (der!) so we ran down the street and brought a disposable then sat in a cafe, had some lunch and watched them all troop passed. They were all themed for the different Spanish speaking S American countries. 1st was the Arica group, then Chile, Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, Columbia, Ecuador and Mexico, I think that was all. They all wore different costumes and did a slightly different dance, quite a few of them were very Spanish. The final group went passes as we finished lunch so we followed them through the town. The were all headed for the square in front of the old church, we cut a few corners and got there in time to see the 1st group arrive and do their show piece. It was all very good, very colourful and the costumes were excellent. After they had all finished we walked back and sent some e-mail before having and excellent dinner.
Lazy day waiting for 4pm and our tour. 1st stop was Broken Hill with a good view over San Pedro and the Salar, then we went to Death Valley. We walked down through it for about an hour. This is what I imagined desert to be like, not a living thing in sight. There were some large sand dunes but mostly it was broken rocks and cliffs where the earth has been bent and shattered, and a few gullies where the little rain that falls each year is slowly wearing a path down to the Salar. Apparently the dunes are good for sandboarding. Next was Salt Canyon, another eroded by the yearly rains, there's obviously quite a lot of water as you can see the erosion patterns in the walls and on the harder rocks, it rises to over a meter. There is a very high salt content and when it rains it's forced out of the porous rocks and sits as crystals on the surface, there's some strange patterns on the walls. To get into the canyon we had to run down a steep dune, good fun but I tripped over my own feet trying to stop @ the bottom and graised my leg, it stings a bit! Next stop was to see some eroded rocks called the 3 Marias, although they don't look anything like women, this is mainly due to erosion caused by stupid tourists climbing all over them. The other was called the fish head and it is. Also there was an old salt mine and the remains of a few workers huts. Finally on to the last stop, La Valle de Luna, Valley of the Moon. It's actually more like a Martian landscape, a bit like some of the photos from the Mars rover but the guy who named it would never have seen those. It's a circular shaped valley bordered by a really large sand dune to the south and cliffs for the rest. There are passes to the east and west in the gaps where the land has been pushed up in different directions. The valley floor is a flat salt plain and it's white contrasts with the red, yellow and brown of the surrounds. We sat on a cliff top at the end of the sand dune and watched the sunset do it's magical colour show on the valley, the Salar and the mountains in the distance. Dinner wasn't that good this evening, ordered steak but it came out so rare it was still mooing, sent it back but they still didn't do it enough. Got the meal for free so it was OK I suppose.
Spent our last day in Lima by the pool. Over did it a little as we got a bit burnt.
Left our room at 11:30. Walked around town and checked our e-mail and had some lunch. Came back to the hotel and collected our bags. Got a taxi to the bus station where we got our bus to Lima.
Walked into town and had some breakfast. Looks very nice. In the afternoon we sat by the pool. Pool is quite small and a little chilly but the gardens are lovely.
Visited the floating islands this morning. The Uros peoples lives are totally interwoven with the totura reed which grows in the lake. They use them to build everything from canoes and houses to the islands themselves. The islands are made from layers of the reeds which rot away at the bottom and are replaced at the top. They are very springy to walk on and you can feel them moving with the water. After lunch we checked our e-mail's.
Up early again as the boat left at 8:15 for our tour to Isla del Sol. 1st we arrived a Cha'llapampa where we walked to to the Chincane ruins. This is the site of the sacred rock where the Inca creation legend began. From here we walked back to the boat where we were taken to the Isla de la luna. Here we visited the convent which housed the virgins of the sun. Back to the boat once again to return to Isla del Sol to see the Inca stairway at Yumani. Also we visited Pilko Kaina ruins before returning to Copacobana.
Up early for our bus to Copacobana. Waited over half an our for the bus, could have stayed in bed longer. We arrived about 3pm. Found some accommodation OK not too far from where the bus goes. Popped out for a walk and sat and had a snack by the lake. Strolled around the stalls and brought a few things. Had a look at the cathedral which was quite nice then came back to the hotel.
Visited Tiwanaku today. The ruins were not as impressive as some we have seen but the museums were good.
Went on a tour from La Cumbre to Coroico. We were taken to La Cumbre by mini bus and then from here we cycled to Coroico. The tour was called "Downhill madness" as we had to go down the worlds most dangerous road. It was really good fun and the scenery was beautiful. Although the 70km ride was mostly downhill it was still tiring. The scariest part was having to go back up the same road in a mini bus to get home.
Left our accommodation at 11am to catch our bus to La Paz, Bolivia. The bus ride was not too bad and the border crossings were quite quick. Arrived about 7pm. Had already booked a hotel, it was nice but a little expensive. We went out looking for a hotel which had been recommended but could not find it. Had some dinner before returning to the hotel.
After breakfast we packed and at 12 went for a a walk around town. After lunch we visited the museum which was interesting, showing how people have lived in San Pedro and the area since 13000BC. Returned to where we were staying and showered. Had a take away pizza which was more like a pie and then went and got our bus to Arica.
Woke up with a clear head for a change. Had a lazy morning and a late breakfast. Walked around the town and booked a tour for the afternoon. Visited Toconua, a small fruit growing oasis. Many of the buildings were built from laparita volcanic rock including the church bell tower. We next visited the salt flats, Salar de Atacama. Here we were able to watch the pink flamingos from a distance. Sat and watched the sunset over the mountains.