Thursday, 27 November 2008

Lake Titicaca (from all angles!)

Next stop was Copacabana (not the Brazilian one unfortunately) but the Bolivian town on the edge of LakeTiticaca - apparently not quite the highest navigable body of water in the world but close at 3800 metres above sea level. The trip up from La Paz is quite interesting as it involves crossing a small channel of water where boats and passengers are separated for the crossing. At first we were a little apprehensive leaving our bags etc on the bus but were glad we hadn´t stayed on the bus when we saw the floating planks that the buses sat precariously on whilst wobbling their way over!
Copacabana itself is not that amazing (apart from the readily available fresh trout). We, like most others here, were using it as a point to reach the Isla Del Sol on the lake (the Inca´s believe that the Sun and Moon were born in the lake - next to Isla Del Sol is Isla De La Luna). We decided to spend a couple of days on the island which was absolutely stunning. For 3 GBP per room per night we stayed in a hostel with the most incredible views and were treated to world class sunsets every night. We also walked the length of the island to see some Inca ruins at the northern end before catching a boat back to the south. We would have been happy to stay on the island for a week or more but, owing to the fact that it´s fairly remote and we couldn´t access any extra funds and also our 30 day limit in Bolivia was about to expire, we sadly had to leave.
So back to Copacabana for a few hours before crossing an amusing and hectic border by bus into Peru (ie, get off the bus passports in hand, walk down a road with donkeys and llamas everywhere and people trying to sell us all sorts including their donkeys and llamas, into a little hut on Bolivian side, back out on to the hectic street across the ´border´, into another little hut on the Peruvian side, jump back on to the bus!).

Next stop was Puno in Peru, another town on the shores of the lake. From here we visited a restored boat on the lake called the Yavari that was bought by the Peruvian Navy in the 1860´s. The boat was actually built in Birmingham and shipped in kit form around Cape Horn to the Chilean coast before being transported by mule across land to the lake! The boat was rescued from ruin in the 1990´s by an English lady who is overseeing it´s restoration. We were given a guided tour by the slightly crazy captain who, upon finding out our Birmingham connections, excitedly referred to us as ´Birmingham´throughout the rest of the tour!
As part of our wedding present from Alek and Jean Kisley (thank you!) we also visited the floating Uros Islands just off Puno which were impressive (the plan had been to stay overnight here but unfortnately you can´t do this, but we´d already eaten out weight in trout dinners on Isla Del Sol which more than made up for it!). The Islands are made from reeds and it´s a weird sensation walking around feeling the floor flex underneath you!
Next stop is Cusco and the Inca Trail.
Keep in touch!

Lots of love
Jo and Al x x

(ps yes, we couldn´t resist purchasing some ´travellers´ head gear!)

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

La Paz and Coroicco (via the worlds most dangerous road on mountain bikes)

We arrived in the capital La Paz after our first overnight Bolivian bus experience which in all fairness was not that bad. As anyone who's been here may agree it's like someone found a huge valley between giant mountains and dropped a city into it. The first thing we wanted to find out after arrival was whether we could find a cinema that was screening the new 007 film in english (we're only happy to immerse ourselves into this travelling so far!)! Once we'd satisfied our Bond hunger (together with two buckets of ice cream) we were able to start wandering around the city taking in the various thousands of market stalls, the presidential palace and also a visit to the coca museum. We also walked passed the city (San Pedro) prison where some braver travellers pay fixers for the priviledge of an illegal guided tour, apparently it's got shops and restaurants and the richest inmate enjoys a three storey cell along with flatscreen tv's in each room! We were too concerned that we may accidentally get left in there, although it doesn't sound all that bad!

After a couple of days walking the city, we left early one morning to go on 'the worlds most dangerous road' mountain bike tour (thankyou Emily and Dave!). A minibus took us up to La Cumbre, a mountain pass at 4700 metres above sea level and we all disembarked to be presented with the mountain bikes that were going to be responsible for carrying us 64km down to an altitude of 1100mabsl! After a short safety briefing, we had to pour a drop of alcohol onto the front wheel of our bikes before taking a swig ourselves as a prayer to Pachamama for a safe passage. Then we set off. The first 20km was on tarmac road and fairly straightforward although we hadn't realised that whilst most of this was steep downhill, there was 8km of uphill at 3500mabsl (ie very little oxygen!). Needless to say Jo overtook Al at this point. We then reached the turn off for the 44km of the worlds most dangerous road proper, basically a gravel track around 3 metres wide chiselled into the cliff egde with no barriers and sheer drops of 1000m waiting to eat you if you get it all wrong! (Needless to say Al overtook Jo at this point!)
Both of us made it to the bottom unscathed and able to enjoy a cold beer at an animal sanctuary. We then took a taxi with a few of the people we'd met on the bikes to the town of Coroicco. Here we stayed at Sol y Luna a pretty retreat amongst the trees of the cloud forest. It was amazing to suddenly be somewhere so green and humid after weeks at altitude. Unfortunately the downside of this is the amount of bugs and, despite using our mosquito net for the first time, Jo had a rude awakening at 2am to find a two inch long caterpillar crawling in her hair.. argh! We also had to share our outdoor shower and toilet with a frog and spider (Jo got particularly friendly with these due to an onset of Bolivia Belly!). Not sure how we will survive in the amazon proper! The views from our little garden outside the room and learning card games from Damien and Charmain (who we met on the bike ride) made it all worthwhile...

Now we are back in La Paz briefly before heading to Copacabana and Lake Titicaca.

Keep in touch

Jo and Al xxxx

Saturday, 8 November 2008


Sadly I have to report that the big beard I´d been cultivating has had to be removed. Jo was getting irritated by my new found fondness of playing with my moustache (which was handily long enough to go in my mouth). On the plus side I got to go a Bolivian barbers for a haircut which was excellent, although my limited language skills made things tricky. Before


Fortunately he had lots of pictures of haircuts (mainly from the 1980´s and early 90´s) that I could pick from. He also had a picture of Chuck Norris on the mirror so I knew he could be trusted. He didn´t disappoint

Friday, 7 November 2008

Tupiza, Potosi and Sucre

We arrived in Tupiza and checked into a (relatively!) luxurious hotel as a small treat after the last few days being couped up in a Land Cruiser. Planned activity here on Janine and Rob´s recommendation (in fact our entire trip is basically copying them!) and courtesy of Team Whittle as a wedding gift was a few days horse riding. The area is popular for horse riding with people keen to do their best Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid impressions (as they met their end in nearby San Vicente, we didn´t want to do that bit!). We went to investigate the various tours on offer and decided that our backsides may struggle with anything more than a few hours on horseback, so opted for a short tour to a local canyon. Our guide was a 13 year old Bolivian boy and the horses weren´t in tip-top condition (Hel, not sure you would have given your Vet´s approval!) but it was great fun. We rode out to some local canyons and the landscapes were stunning. After 3 hours the rain was coming in so we decided to call it a day, bits were starting to chaff at this point too! We decided that we´d do some more horsey bits later on in our travels to make up for bottling out of a few days excursion in Tupiza!Next stop was Potosi, the highest city in the world at 4100 metres (we laugh in the face of altitude now!). We spent a pleasant few days here, and took a local bus out to a local hot pool that´s situated in the crater of a low lying volcano which was cool. Our stop here also coincided with ´The Day of the Dead´ which is a two day holiday where locals remember relatives and friends who have passed away. The markets are filled with bright pink pastries that people buy to leave as gifts at the graves of loved ones (we bought one so we could take this photo and Al ate it?!?!).Unfortunately Al developed his first (and hopefully last) bit of Bolivian food poisoning thanks to (we think) a humble piece of cheesecake. A days bedrest was needed (watching the US presidential election on CNN!) before we moved on to the next stop in Sucre.

Sucre is an attractive city where pretty much every building is whitewashed. It also turns out to be a good spot to go horseriding so we opted to do a ride to the ´seven waterfalls´in a nearby valley. This time we set out with a Bolivian adult guide and two much healthier looking horses form the edge of the city. We had to pass through the city limits which means passing thousands of little kids shouting "hola". Once through this we came over the top of a hill to look down onto some lovely valleys and had to have lots of faith in our trusty steeds as we trotted along narrow paths with sheer drops of a few hundred feet one poorly placed hoof away. We then had to dismount and lead our horses down the very steep slopes to the bottom of the valley and the seven waterfalls. Once down at the bottom though we tied up the horses and walked up to waterfall number 4 for a nice refreshing swim in the natural pool (yes the water really was that colour!!) and a spot of lunch.We had to lead our horses back up the steep slope and Al´s horse was really not enjoying the experience, in 25 degree heat it was an amusing sight seeing Al trying to drag a fully grown horse up a hill! By the time we´d returned to town we´d developed some serious walking issues and any seating needed to be very well cushioned!

We also did a decent walk around some of the city´s sites and climbed to the roof of an old convent (now a school) for nice views of the city from the bell tower.

On Sunday we visited a local village 2 hours bus ride away called Tarabuco, known for it´s excellent textile market which involved lots of haggling! On the way back we jumped into one of a line of small people carriers (designed to hold 5-6 people in relative comfort) only to be joined by another 11 Bolivians for a cosy ride home!

Next stop La Paz!

Lots of love.

Jo and Al x x x