So we had only a month to enjoy this enormous country with a fixed date towards the end of it, the mighty carnival, the greatest party on earth and the only reason I am here at the hottest time of year. Plans soon changed from attempting to visit the Amazon, after all trying to get anywhere in this nation without a flight is the equivalent of bussing it across Europe, and boy paying those bus fares is a smack in the face. We took a night bus from Foz do Iguacu up to Curitiba and stayed with a friend of mine from my Masters, and her husband. It was great to see familiar faces and the city has some fantastic galleries, parks and Niemeyer architecture. We braved a pizza rodizio complete with sweet pizzas covered in fruits, coconut and chocolate. Not my usual choice but we gave it a try and with the distinct lack of Portuguese after crossing the border we had no idea what calzone we were being offered and just tried everything.
From there we headed north to Sao Paulo, a place we only intended to spend a couple of nights, but we got the best Couchsurfing hosts imaginable, we were their first surfers and could’ve easily been their last if we decided to stay forever! There was so much to see and do in 5 days in this massive city, 3 times the population of Switzerland. We were staying in Moema just round the corner from Parque Ibirapuera so we got to see yet more Niemeyer buildings and galleries. We even headed to a waterpark in a SESC community park on a day when the main Brazilian news channel was filming, coincidentally the same day that Seb learned that it was compulsory to wear Speedos. One evening we treated ourselves to the most expensive meal of our lives and ate at Fogo de Chao, an exceptional rodizio with the best steak I have ever had the pleasure to eat. If you can afford a luxurious blow out, this is the place to do it, pay the extra, the buffet alone is worth the price. SP and Curitiba were also two of the cities with unfinished world cup stadiums so we saw the Corinthians Arena accident remains. The nation is pretty furious about the world cup with nao vai ter copa message spray painted about town.
From Sao Paulo it was off to Paraty for a little longer than planned once again thanks to the colossal rain. But we managed to meet some fab hostel mates and venture out to the giant slip and slide waterfalls at Cachoeira do Toboga where the locals skidded down on their feet. I saw one guy slip and cut his eyebrow open but this didn’t stop anyone. Further up the falls was an 8m jump spot, something I couldn’t attempt but Seb managed it twice. We managed to get a group together to charter a boat trip around the islands on the final day with some snorkeling and sunburn!
From Paraty we were island bound for Ilha Grande, a truly gorgeous island with remote beaches in the south. We found an immaculate private room at Espaço Nativo Pousada & Hostel for less than the price of a hostel, with a smart TV and a fridge to boot. Would highly recommend staying here, a superb breakfast and friendly receptionist. Only downside of staying on an island with lots of recent development is that the power supply hasn’t been updated in decades. As a result we watched a firework display when one of the main control boxes caught fire. Maybe not the safest of situations to be near an electrical fire on an island but the electricity was back within a day. The museum in Dois Rios is well worth a visit, the story behind the prison is absolutely fascinating in the tiny museum. The walk is worth it just don’t be put off by the loud howler monkeys.
We then made our way to Rio De Janeiro City to stay with a wonderful Couchsurfing host that we luckily discovered at the very last minute in Tijuca. We had an action filled few days ahead of carnival to see everything in time. We started as we meant to go on by heading straight to Pedro do Sal on Monday night and met some other Swiss folk. The next day we bussed up to Christ the Redeemer to see the third and final world wonder of our trip. The statue itself wasn’t of any particular note but the panoramic views were out of this world. On the way back down we passed through the Sao Sebastiao Cathedral where the newly ordained cardinal showed up 10 minutes after our arrival to red carpet treatments and paps. Quite the holy day indeed. We spent the Wednesday at Ipanema beach and then climbed Sugarloaf mountain, having discovered a way to trek it and get the cable car back down after 7pm for free. We rushed back down and across down to get to the Estádio do Maracanã for my very first live football match. Flamengos were at home and obviously won thanks to the pantomimesque support. The stadium was only 40 out of the 90,000 seats full but the noise was incredible.
The next day we headed on to our second Couchsurfing host in Lapa and collected our Sambadrome tickets that were conveniently located next to the MAR which is quite possibly one of the best exhibitions I have seen since the NY Met. We spent the evening at the relaunch of a new gallery and were bopping alongside Vincent Cassel on the dance floor. On Friday we trawled the fancy dress shops to gather costumes for the next few days. It was a manic cluster of feathers and face masks but we found stuff for a number of days, before heading to Copacabana. Surprisingly the beach was really chilled out, like the quiet before the storm and the water is so cold its refreshing, and on Friday we already began our bloco hopping at a roman themed gathering with the catchiest songs.
Saturday was a hazy mix of blocos all over town, culminating in a brass band at the end of the evening which topped it all off. Somehow we were still going on Sunday and danced all day at a small electro bloco outside a club entrance, which blew the roof for us once the trap started flowing out the speakers. We sadly had to leave to get over to the Sambadrome for the first evening of the special group. The efforts of the parade were mind blowing but it was sad to see a big chief getting beheaded when it clipped the press platform hanging overhead. The stadium looks fantastic from the inside but is pure chaos outside, it is as if it was plonked in the middle of nowhere without warning. We left in the early hours, got 2 hours sleep and jumped on a flight to Salvador.
Our bodies caught up with us up north and we passed out for the entire evening and slept right through so we would be fit for Tuesday and it was worth it, however we were staying at the damp On the Rock hostel that smelled of cat pee so sleeping wasn’t too pleasant but we could have slept through a nuclear holocaust. The Tuesday parade was the last night and we joined a massive bloco following the Nana Banana float. Apparently it was their last bloco as the singer had fallen out with the band so we made the most of the superb reggae. I was through a vest but wasn’t allowed on board, probably because we were the only tourists for miles and stuck out like a saw thumb. We made excellent Aussie friends that night and had an absolute ball, our gang made the evening. We were told that splitting our carnival was like coitus interruptus if you lost the flow of partying mid way through. It didn’t stop us, we found a flight the same price as the bus and took the risk. After all we couldn’t return for carnival for at least another 3 years and we really wanted to experience the difference between the two cities. Rio was more chilled out because our host took us to the more relaxed blocos whereas Salvador was a bit more hectic as its the biggest street party in the world. They were different in their own ways and I couldn’t advise which is best, but either way stay with a Couchsurfing host to get the best experience.
The hardest part was planning where to go next before our flight from Brasilia and we decided upon the expensive resort town of Praia do Forte, the snorkeling and turtle sanctuary alone was worth the hiked room prices. The natural pools surrounded some of the best reef and marine life I’ve seen in ages, I even spotted my first sea snake. The turtles were by far the biggest I’ve ever seen and we got to witness the staff moving the oldest on a stretcher. We were sad to leave paradise knowing we had another night bus, but managed to haggle a big discount to Brasilia.
We arrived late evening the following day a good 24 hours after we left and got a lift from a diplomat, who was the only person we met with world cup tickets, 5 pairs in fact, he explained the layout of the planned city to us which is like a town planner’s wet dream.. We stayed with another Couchsurfing couple in the capital who showed us about town. Its such a bizarre model village with hoards of empty space in the centre in weekends, but on weekdays its heaving with office workers like an entirely different city. Of all of the architecture the Don Bosco church was by far my favourite, the light inside from the stained glass windows was breathtaking.
Leaving South America was a real toughy, luckily we had a stopover in Portugal to look forward to and bridge the gap back in to Europe. Its hard to express my feelings towards Brazil, after all getting anywhere in this massive country is a complete ball ache, but more disappointing is the inequality. The south is unbelievably developed leaving the north cut off and stranded, yet billions of Reais are being squandered on hosting a world cup that no one wants. The infrastructure in some of the cities is really impressive yet Rio has only two metro lines, most of which runs parallel! Its the Brazilians that make Brazil so impressive, not that there is a ‘typical’ Brazilian. Everyone on the streets looks beautiful, beating the reputation that proceeds it, with every shade of skin, hair type, eye colour imaginable. The capacity and creativity exists, the music and art is incredible nationwide. The resources are there but the capital simply isn’t the doctor patient ratio is laughable. This truly could be one of the greatest nations on Earth but there is so much fighting against it. I am anxious for the world cup, the whole world is watching and I want Brazil to shine gloriously. People should be able to express themselves at protests peacefully without police provocation. I need to return to see so much more, including the Amazon and the negatives can’t have affected my opinion too much as I already have the next route mapped out!
This short stay in Argentina would be better thought of as a giant bus crawl, and an expensive one at that. We were unable to withdraw dollars so in Tupiza so we missed out on the blue exchange rates. So in response to the extortionate prices in the bus terminal, we sought alternatives at kiosks in the towns and managed to haggle left over seats down to less than half price. Without that and/ or hitch hiking we would have been penniless in days, but at least Argentinians are feeders, you get three meals on a night bus without a stranger and his entire family sat on your lap so it was an improvement from other nations.
The first destination was Salta, somewhat hotter than Bolivia which made for a nightmare walk around the city in sweaty jogging bottoms and the heavy backpacks. The city itself is truly lovely and seriously developed, which was another shock having crossed the border. We took the opportunity to use our advancing Spanish skills to get Seb a haircut before he became any more feral looking. Luckily he lost his bedraggled Justin Bieber look but only in favour for a bizarre fringed Bill Gates look. You really should only go to hairdressers with languages different to your own if you have an interpreter on hand.
Initial impressions of Argentina was slight bafflement at the lack of visual depravity from the supposed massive crisis. We were surprised at how cheap food seemed to be but couldn’t spot any signs of serious fiscal hard times.
We took another night bus the same day from Salta to Buenos Aires, which unsurprisingly is quite a serious distance. We lucked out yet again with a nice private room in San Telmo and so avoided having to dorm it again. The district was what we hoped it would be, and we turned up on a Sunday, so the ‘cafe culture’ and street markets were rife. It has the highest concentration of decent street art I’ve ever seen in any city before. The only slight disappointment was the touristy brightly coloured La Boca, as beautiful as it may be with its New Orleans style corrugated iron buildings, its actually rather tiny. I wouldn’t even say its a barrio, more a couple of streets within a barrio. Luckily it was quiet so we weren’t fighting our way through crowds so it was actually quite peaceful sat on benches watching the tango dancers from afar. However the main corner cafe was quite a let down, the walls have been repainted, so the former primary colour glory has been covered up with muted colours. Just imagine it as how Smarties looked after they had all their e numbers removed.
Apart from the incredible markets, San Telmo also boasts some of the best ice cream and Mexican street burritos around, so it took us a while to get round to eating a steak. When we finally did, I am sad to report it didn’t exactly blow us away. Granted it was a step up from over cooked Bolivian minute steaks, but it wasn’t living up to its reputation. The city itself is absolutely enormous with a quarter of the country’s population congregating in the capital, so we were bit overwhelmed with the scale. Maybe one of the biggest regrets was not heading to one of the dockside rodizios in Puerto Madero. They were offering amazing deals for $15 that would have allowed us to sample the best meat in town, but we simply weren’t hungry enough to take advantage. Instead we hiked across town to the cemetery to see the hoards of Asian tourists gathered around Evita’s grave and the swarms of graveyard cats. The mausoleums were so grandiose but beautiful in a strange way. I felt a bit unhinged whilst I couldn’t stop giggling in such a poignant place but this lady walking around with a neck pillow just cracked me up: After a stroll around the ancient dead we crossed the road to the next door shopping complex because it harboured a cinema to catch the Wolf of Wall Street. It was surreal being in Latin America for so long and then being transported to a debauched world of 1980’s cocaine, bankers and hookers, a lifestyle that really isn’t up my street at all but they really succeed in selling it to you, which probably isn’t Scorsese’s intention but boy does it work.
From BA it was onward and upwards to Iguazu to take a look at some water falling over roacks. I knew they would be impressive but I had no idea just how loud that level of deafening surging water would be. Nor did I realise just how humid it would be, walking around the town outside of the falls was even a struggle, the humidity made you feel like you were in a perpetual steam bath and you simply sweat out the mere 5 litres of water you drink a day.
Now don’t get me wrong the falls are exceptional, the Argentinian side really is as impressive as reported, but it would be really nice to have the site to yourself. Trailing behind seas of technologically incompetent tourists using a camera for the first time in old age is an absolute ball ache, unless you witness the hilarity of someone video recording with no clue on what makes a good film. I saw a lady filming at arms length as though her arm was completely uncontrollable by her mind, she was waving the camera about all over the place, so I would love to see the final outcome. Following her was a joy compared to everyone else. On narrow walking planks you tend to get a bit ratty until you find space on a more secluded viewing platform.
Really I think my nerves were just raw from the previous night of sleep. We stayed in a 16 bed dorm, of which over 50% were Israelis traveling in a group. Now I am controversially about to rant shamelessly about something that has come up in conversation endlessly on my trip yet I never witnessed anything as extreme as this in a dorm before until now so it is justified. However I must add the caveat that profiling a whole nation based on its travelers is completely unjustified. I have met wonderful Israeli travelers on my journeys and learned quite possibly the best card game on earth (Yaniv) from this nation so I am ever indebted.
However when Israelis travel fresh out of national service specifically in a group, they should think about how they are portraying their fellow travelers. The night before the falls was the worst night in all of my traveling experience of staying in dorms. The group entered the room at 11pm, 1am, 3am and then ignored their loud alarms going off at 5am. At all of these intervals, the lights were turned on and everyone just shouted amongst themselves. At one point I woke up to a girl shining a torch in my face whilst she rummaged through my backpack claiming that she was ‘looking for a plug’. It was infuriating that people could be so rude and disrespectful whilst people were sleeping time after time. Now I’m aware Brits abroad on lads holidays or hen dos are capable of horrific events too and every nation has its bad tourism reputation, but this was almost laughable. It is a crying shame that a few people are doing such a disservice to their country by giving such a bad impression, but you can’t even approach them nicely to ask them to shut up in fear or their massive Krav Maga arms would tear your face off. This is a plea to any Israeli about to set off on travels in a large group to behave like you would in your mothers house and stop tormenting the sleep of others.
People are often too scared to broach this subject but secretly chat about it with other Israeli travelers. Hostel owners even have policies on the number of Israelis that can share a dorm at the same time.
I am sure that my ranting will come under obvious heavy scrutiny but I must assure that I am not tarring an entire nation with the same brush, we have met people from all over the world with the similar habits. It just kills me that this issue doesn’t seem to be going away. An Israeli friend explained it quite nicely when defending the situation by asking how you would act if you had been in prison for nearly 3 years. Strangely my travel partner is from Switzerland, also with a compulsory military conscription. Granted I cannot compare the duties of the two nations by any means, but I don’t see him shrugging dormitory etiquette in favour of waking everyone up in the middle of the night. I can’t imagine how bad it is to be forced into the military against your will, but when you go somewhere to let off steam afterwards, just make sure its in a private room.
Rant aside and with only a couple of hours sleep under our belt, we headed across the easiest border crossing to date into beautiful Brazil.
Crossing the border into Bolivia was almost laughable, it was entertaining having to track down staff at abandoned posts to get someone to stamp our passports. But we made it in, made a cracking deal on our currency exhange and were immediately shocked by how cheap everything seemed to be. I wasn’t too keen on Copacabana, its such a strange tourist destination for La Paz weekend visitors, but this funny little commune settlement made me giggle every time we passed it.
We awoke on the first night to the loudest thunderstorm I’ve ever known and were fairly certain that the earth was quaking. We took the obligatory ferry to Isla del Sol which should have been renamed Isla del Uvia as it was bucketing it down. A festival was arriving in town so we battled our way out to get a bus to La Paz.
The capital is a strange urban environment mixed up in its mountainous surroundings with informal housing settlements balancing on the very precipice of ultimate danger. We arrived during the middle of a festival and it was absolutely heaving and pouring it down with rain. We ended up in a brewery hostel with daily free pints of heavy stout. We found a Swiss restaurant to celebrate Seb’s birthday with cheese, both literal and figurative. First time we had raclette and spatzle in months and it was perfection. We bravely or stupidly opted for the worlds most dangerous road jaunt.
We started off in good stead, at 4,800m altitude in the freezing sunshine, and although I couldn’t feel my fingers or toes in my 80s geometric jumpsuit I felt pretty competent on the smoother roads. Then it all went Pete Tong and I went arse over tit on the handlebars. Nothing broke, I was just in shock and severe muscular pain in my left arm, so off to the van for me trailing behind the other 3 riders and our former dirt bike champion guide. I made another attempt after some diclofenic and jumped back on in the driving rain but all the slipping on the rocks jolted my arm back into its socket causing me agony so I caved and sat in the van defeated, miserable and soaked to the bone. Reunited with the others at the bottom we showered off the mud and headed back to the city in time for a night bus to Uyuni. Unfortunately I was seated in front of the worlds most irritating British girl who muttered her discontented ramblings through the night, in trying to hastily avoid her wrath I forgot my Panama hat stowed above us.
We arrived in Uyuni and ate at the delicious Minute Man Pizzeria for Seb’s birthday, proper Swiss cheeses and delicious pizzas with Chilean red, which at altitude gets you pretty tipsy rather fast, which wasn’t helpful the night before an exhausting 3 day trip through the desert.
We took a typical 3 day jeep tour starting on Seb’s birthday, we lucked out and got an amazing group of two Argentinian friends and a Colombian brother and sister, the latter had a quince the next day so we had a great 48 hours of celebrations, with cakes, champagne, balloons and lots of late night cards tournaments in the middle of nowhere. for anyone contemplating the tour I urge you to take it, the value for money is amazing if you haggle and if you get a great group you’ll have the time of your life. We formed a Spanish only speaking family and had a whale of a time, the highlight of Bolivia for sure. My favourite site of the numerous stops was probably the thermal hot springs. It was such an alien landscape and the air was unsurprisingly thin at 5km above sea level and rather cold, so warming up in really hot water was a lovely treat.
After a seriously arduous night train we arrived in Butch Cassidy territory, Tupiza, where we frolicked in the rain on horseback along the edges of canyons hoping that there wouldn’t be landslides.
At the very last minute we decided to go for it and head south to Argentina instead of whizzing through Paraguay into Brazil, leaving behind the cheap nation of Bolivia without US dollars may not have been the best financial move but we felt we had a lot more to see southbound and took the plunge. Thousands of pictures were taken in Bolivia’s odd landscapes, all of which cannot be fitted into a single blog post, so the best of the bunch can be found in the gallery.
Its very difficult knowing where to start with summing up this beautiful country in such a short post, so I’ll stick to the usual tedious chronological format and hope for the best. It all started in Lima where we made our return to official Couchsurfing after a long absence. Obviously there is a nice familiarity to staying with friends as we had done previously in Costa Rica and Panama but there is a real excitement about turning up to meet a new Couchsurfing host. You get the anonymity buzz from a first blind date but with the safety net of traveling with your partner. Sometimes you luck out (somehow in our cases, every time) and get a brilliant host. Lima was no exception, our host Diego is attempting to earn himself the title of best Couchsurfing host and he is well on his way, we had a ball. It was bizarre at first being in such a developed city with supermarkets full of foods we were craving in a while, like asparagus! We enjoyed the piratey mists once we learned that it never really rains, something that brought much amusement after running home in grey skies to avoid a downpour that would never come. We were also told that the food would be amazing in Peru, so we sampled the best of the recommended bunch pretty early on, starting with cerviche by the sea and pisco sours, which were far better than any I’d had in cocktail bars before. We stayed in the posh neighbourhood of Magdalena so I think we have a pretty biased view of the city, once you get to the outskirts its blatently obvious to see the disparities between the rich and poor. The informal housing settlements in the hills are vast. The traffic is insane, everyone wants to get ahead so they are willing to block roads in order to get ahead by a few metres, something that is explained in greater detail in my worst bus journey post. Overall we really liked the capital and were sad to be leaving our host.
We took a bus down to Ica to spend a couple of days in Huaccachina, an oasis in the middle of the dunes. As beautiful as the photos make it seem, it is just a tourist trap location surrounded by sand but there were plenty of adventure activities to fill our time. Climbing the dunes was literally an uphill struggle, the steep bank behind our hostel was particularly difficult but it was worth it to get the views from that height and good preparation for Cusco. We successfully bummed it back down, filling our pockets with half the dune in the process. The following day we went dune buggying and sand boarding, the former had a little more adrenaline involved because of the fear of being flung out of the roll cage by dodgy seat belts in the buggy. During the long wait at the bus station for ‘the worst bus journey of my life’ we met one of the coolest travelers I’ve ever stumbled upon. Ryan the solo Korean extraordinaire was hitching alone from Alaska to Santiago with less than $1000 to his name. He was camping wherever possible and living on bread and bananas and the kindness of Korean business owners. He walked the full distance from Cusco to Aguas Calientes with all his gear after 3 nights of sleeping on the bus station floor and working for food and a ticket to Machu picchu. A real inspiration of a traveller and despite being an economics and philosophy student he vehemently believed in his own market of trading love.
So I’ve written a separate post about the hellish journey to Cusco that’ll hopefully bring a giggle after our suffering, but arriving in this magical city was worth enduring a 30 hour bus ride for. Being smacked in the face by the altitude was still a shock despite all the forewarning we’d received. Its like waking up in a foreign land and body where you have to train your lungs to work all over again. Walking down the street with your backpack on becomes as taxing as running a marathon. I was straight on the coca tea to recover and muster the energy to climb stairs, but mostly to satisfy the curiosity as to whether it actually works. Simply put it does the trick, especially when little old ladies put around 20 fresh leaves in a cup. Instantly your dizzyness fades and you feel like you could conquer an Iron Man. I found my lovely friend Olivia in Hilo where she works, a beautiful little handmade clothing store akin to those on the lanes of Brighton an environment closer to the roots I know her from than Peru. It was lovely to see a friendly face with advice on where to stay in town away from the party hostels on a Friday night. We ended up in the nicest room on the top floor or El Arcano a wonderful little guesthouse in San Blas. The only problem with the location was that it was near all of the really nice places to eat. If you’re not hiking, Cusco is the perfect place to get fat very quickly as its a foody paradise. The burger joint on the corner made the best burgers, fries and homemade sauces I’ve ever eaten and worst of all we were staying directly opposite a creperia. One of our nicest ventures was to a hidden pizzeria in a courtyard complete with its own wood fired oven, decent pizzas again at last. We took it easy for a few days to allow ourselves to adjust, only taking on small hikes and making arrangements for Machu Picchu. We got a ticket without any issues, but they wouldn’t accept our student cards, so be sure to do your research before you go and get the specific one they demand and save yourself 50% on entry. Now the excitement could really build, we just had to get some rental hiking boots and a bus to Hydro.
All was well we bought enough energy bars to fuel an Antarctica expedition and took the bus to the construction site for the new dam. The sound of the water torrents was deafening, it was the most powerful water flow I’ve ever heard so an obvious location to start generating some electricity. Latin America is impressing me with its sustainable energy drive so far. Being the cheap skates that we are, we were unprepared to pay the extortionate fares for the train to Aguas Calientes so we hiked it, alongside the railway tracks. The hike took no longer than 2 and a half hours but the rain made it quite precarious at times. I clung to the rails of the slippery wobbly bridge hoping to save myself from the rapids below. We made it to the very damp tourist trap village and found a garishly loud coloured room to call home for a couple of soggy nights. We tempted fate and dared the rain to climb phutuq kusi, the mountain directly in front of Macchu Pichu. Under normal circumstances it would be a fairly dangerous hike. However we were attempting it during rainy season, alone, without guide nor gear, which made it VERY dangerous. The ladders are over 30 metres long at times and the rocks were slippy as hell with the constant surface run off and the wind and rain made you cling to the rocks from fear of the sheer drops either side. We only saw 5 other people on the entire hike and one of those was at tne entrance, the lovely groundsman who knew greetings in almost every language from around the world, including Swiss German and Romantsch, impressive little fella. The views were worth it once we summitted and we had the place to ourselves, with a full view of our next days adventure ahead, which made us all the more excited. The walk back down was a battle with the elements and we were low on water, I was trembling with fear reversing back down the slippy ladders, my white knuckles clinging on to the rungs and my heart jumped out of my body when one of the ladders came away from the wall. I’ve genuinely never been so proud of my own physical accomplishments before.
So the next day was d day, a 4am start to get to the bridge at opening time at 5 and climb to the top gate for 6. I had been set the challenge of running up the 45 minute climb to be the first woman of the day to summit. I’d all but given up when I saw other women in running shorts and trainers whizzing ahead, but I realised I was overtaking them all one by one. To my surprise upon breathlessly reaching the top I was the only bird around for a long while. My faith in humanity was then shattered as everyone proceeded to push in front of me in the queue. There really are some utter cretins on the travel circuit at times, but this took the biscuit! I tried to not let it phase me as I was about to enter one of the most astonishing wonders of the world. It was overwhelming stepping inside and first seeing Sungate. The picture postcard view without anyone in shot and the rising clouds were far more impressive than I could have ever anticipated. But best was yet to come, we got the early gate ticket for Waynapicchu and although the climb was a real struggle even for an adept mountain goat and the hillsides were strewn with loud Argentinians, the view of the valley was absolutely sensational. We stayed as long as our bodies and minds would let us, pondering the capabilities of this incredible civilisation was taxing enough without the hiking. We ran back down, picked up our bags and hiked back to Hydro the same afternoon. Over 9 hours of strenuous trekking had taken its toll and we tried to fall asleep in the taxi but the obscenely dangerous driving and lightning flashes kept us awake. We planned to reach Ollantaytambo but the bus didn’t stop and we continued all the way back to freezing Cusco.
We only spent the day in Arequipa watching a bizarre police display from a balcony in the main square before heading on to Cabanaconde in the Colca Canyon. We had a bus so overfilled with people that the brakes and suspension couldn’t cope, which isn’t a fun experience on winding roads in one of the worlds deepest valleys. We thought that the entrance ticket being pushed upon us on the bus was a scam so we refused to pay it. Turns out its legit but we were never checked and saved yourself a good hundred dollars! We met people in the hostel from Farnborough and Marazion, tiny world, and hiked the canyon before spotting early morning condors. I just spotted one before the bus loads of tourists turned up and they all disappeared which was a lucky treat.
Next stop was Puno, hitchhiking by the roadside was cold and slow going but we made it by late evening. I quite liked the town itself despite its tourist set up for the islands. Uros was extremely gimmicky but I really enjoyed the presentation on how they are constructed in the form of a puppet show. It was our last stop in Peru and I was surprised by how quickly we had sped through and how cheap it was. I knew I’d miss the spectacular food but not the altitude and was looking forward to saving a few pennies in Bolivia, so across the border it was to pastures new.
Whilst adjusting to the altitude and recovering from 30 hours sat on a bus, I decided it was high time to find a yoga class. I desperately needed to relax my muscles and prepare for the next few days of hiking ahead. We really lucked out and found a mid morning class at the Healing House in the San Blas district in Cusco.
I had an incredible class, the studio was packed mat to mat. The intensity was heightened due to being in the highlands, making your heart and lungs work that little bit harder. It was wonderful to really push yourself in a class that under normal circumstances wouldn’t phase you, it added a whole new element to proceedings.
The best bit of any class can often be a good Shavasana. Without taking that bit of time to reflect and absorb the class you don’t take stock of everything you achieve and walk out the studio unappreciative of your hard work. That class really was hard work and having an extra long guided meditation at the end really did the trick. I had the trippiest Shavasana ever! I was hallucinating my way through a Seven Nation Army video style vision. Traveling through repeated triangles with fluttering eyelids. It was truly magical and I floated out of the room. Quite possibly one of the nicest reflecting yoga moments I’ve ever had, and for that I will be eternally grateful.
Now getting caught out by a bus driver, by stupidly screwing up my own date of birth whilst trying to blag a youth fare in my hometown made for a pretty embarassing ride to work, but doesn’t come even close to the horror show that unfolded en route to Cusco. We didn’t even opt for the cheapest ticket so we can’t blame ourselves for being cheapskates. We knew that we were in for a 16 hour journey from Ica to Cusco, we were ok with that. We mentally prepared ourselves for the long night journey with inevitable travel sickness around steep winding mountain roads and the altitude sickness that would ensue, but what happened on that fateful bus was beyond our expectations.
We were scheduled to leave at 8:30pm, which is preferable because I always manage to sleep on a nightbus, or any bus for that matter. But quelle surprise it arrived late and left the terminal over an hour late, so we knew we were already at least one hour behind schedule. Something you budget time for in these situations so no biggy. Now I normally suffer horrendously with travel sickness but the tablets I bought in Mexico work a treat. I thought they’d just be a placebo to mentally convince me out of throwing up, but they really do the trick. Sadly the other people around us didn’t have such supplies, particularly the kids who were sick in their laps whilst asleep, causing all their parents to request my dwindling tablets. Great start.
We then realised that we had been stood still for some time in the dawn mountainous mist. We had only made it to the foothills when we joined a line of traffic backed up behind a truck that had broken down diagonally across the bridge ahead. Clever drivers as Peruvian’s are, deemed it necessary to overtake and fill the oncoming lane, meaning that both lanes were backed up on either side of the bridge, making recovery nearly impossible. So we waited there for sevaral hours until everything had manouvered nicely and we could pass.
Fine, we could deal with that little mishap, whatsmore the slow ascent was helping us to slowly adjust to the altitude. We stopped for a rest in what seemed to be a cock fighting ring due to the dead chickens laying everywhere and one monstorous cockerel that was pecking the living daylights out of every living creature in its path. We bolted some food down after elbowing our way through the crowd and restored our sanity, to brace ourselves for the next leg of the journey.
We got back on the bus in the hope that we would make it up to Cusco by late evening. Fat chance. Why? Because the same situation unfolded yet again. This time it was a landslide and people were trying to clear the road of mud as best they could. This caused another lengthy stop, the bus was hotter than the sun because it was so stuffy from all the sleeping passengers. Those that could sleep that is, the constant watch alarm blaring at 10 minute intervals and the screaming children interrupted whatever minimal sleep was possible. I had to tell a couple of kids several times to sit down and shut the hell up in my broken Spanish, as apparently it is beyond any parent’s ability to control their feral offspring.
The bus pulled away again after several hours and we continued on our never ending path. We woke up finally in the bus terminal, only to learn that we had taken a detour to another town, and it would be another unordinate number of hours until we finally reached our destination. When we did, at 3:30am in the freezing cold, altitude adjusting confusion we learned quickly that nothing was open, including hostels, so we found the only place we could in the wee hours next to a bus station, which was obviously a brothel. We laughed in our hysteria whilst signing in at reception as a lady of the night loudly welcomed us with noises of pleasure in the room above. The hospedaje was horrific but cheap, and after a journey of over 30 hours, twice the proposed length, we knew that we could sleep through a nuclear holocaust. The ordeal was nearly over we just needed to leave at the crack of dawn and let the excitement of heading to the Sacred Valley over power any sleep deprived suicidal thoughts. We made it and lived to tell the tale, and to spread the advice that if you ever find yourself contemplating a lengthy bus through the Andes in the rainy season and your budget permits flying, take the more expensive option. Go on, treat yourself!