Ciarán & Elaine's Travelog

Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy Halloween!

We`ve been on the bus from Iquique to Santiago for 28 hours! Missed Halloween this year but it wasn´t too bad, still having a great time even when we`re squashed on a coach with no movies and no food....

Sunday, October 30, 2005


We arrived in Iquique at about 10pm, found a hostel on the main street, grabbed some dinner and headed to bed as soon as we could - we were pretty knackered from being on a bus for so long.

We got up the next day, planning on having a relaxing few days on the beach and taking advantage of the huge tax free shopping centre that they have.

Unfortunately, Iquique didn`t live up to its expectations as the beach wasn`t really all that nice and we spent several hours just walking around. At one stage, while on the way to the shopping centre, we realised we were in the middle of a slum that just appeared out of nowhere, so we hot footed our way there only to find that it was closed on Sundays! We were not impressed!

One good thing was that we got to see a really nice sunset over the Specific Ocean (thats for you Rob, Bob & Peter!)

Apart from that, neither of us really liked Iquique, so we decided to change our plans and go to Mendoza in Argentina for a few days to chill out and sample some of their wine....and have more steak!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Chile, here we come!

After 2 hours sleep we were on the road again, this time going to Iquique in Chile. Firstly, we got a 7 hour bus to Tacna, followed by a 2 hour collectivo (communal taxi) across the border into Chile with 3 of us squashed into the front and 4 more in the back.

We arrived in Arica (a Chilean border town), grab a bite to eat and then back on another bus to Iquique which the guide book tells us is Chile`s premier beach resort - can`t wait!

Friday, October 28, 2005

Condor spotting in Colca Canyon

Up at 5am today for brekkie and then off to the canyon on the bus. Can`t believe it, but that marching band is still going! Seriously, they must be wrecked!

Colca Canyon is the deepest Canyon in the world and one of the best points to spot Condors from. Condors are the biggest (flying) birds and we`ve been told that they live to about 50 years, can weigh up over 10 stone and their wingspan can be up to 5 metres (approx 17 feet). They group together to push cows off cliffs for dinner - fingers crossed that we get to see one and hey, it would be cool to see a cow going over too!

The canyon is about 2 hours drive from Chivay and on the way we passed through several villages in the Colca Valley. It must be some sort of religious holiday because more than one village is having a procession and it`s only 6am! We stopped in one of the villages where people are dressed up dancing in the streets, it`s all very traditional and I got my photo taken with a llama and an eagle on my arm - that is one big bird, I could feel the talons grabbing onto my arm, could`ve ripped a lump out of me if it wanted to.

Back on the bus we continued winding our way through the valley with the Andes all around us, we stopped every now and then to see ancient Inca terraces etc - a really beautiful drive and we`re so used to getting up at 5am now that we didn`t even mind the lack of sleep!

We reached Condor Cross which is the best point to try to get a glimpse of a condor at about 8am. At Condor Cross the canyon is over 3km deep but strangely it doesn`t look that much, kinda hard to get your head around that kind of height. There is still some snow and ice on the really high parts of the canyon and and it`s deepest it is over 4km drop from top to bottom.

We were only at the viewing point about 10 minutes when somebody shouts "Condor". We can see a bird flying on the far side of the canyon but to us it just looks like a crow. When it gets closer we realise it`s a huge condor (goes to show how far away the other side of the canyon is!) It soars over our heads. It feels really magic to see one in real life they`re just magnificent. We saw 4 altogether and took some photo`s but it`s hard to get an idea of their size from the pictures.

When we arrived back to Arequipa that night Anna & Stina convinced us that it would be a great idea to play drinking games. We ended up coming home from a nightclub at about 4am - pity we have to get up at 6 to get a bus to the Peru/Chile border....

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Chivay - the gateway to the canyon

Up at 7am today to get our bus to Colca Canyon an 8am. Not all the other people that are on the tour have the same idea though and we don`t actually hot the road until 10am...we`ve missed out on so much sleep!

For 4-5 hours we journeyed zigzagging through the Andes and through miles of barren desert, surrounded by the snow capped volcanoes. We got out of the bus when we were at the highest point in our trip - we were 5000m up and the air was so thin that it made breathing difficult. It`s absoloutely freezing at that altitude, which is weird because in the city we were roasted. The breeze that blows through feels like ice.

Back on the bus our guide was telling us of the benefits of Coca leaves which are supposed to relieve the effects of altitude sickness and is highly important to the economy of Bolivia and Peru not least because it is what cocaine is eventually derived from - Coca leaves are legal in both Peru and Bolivia and the people in both countries are very adamant that Coca is not cocaine and there`s always loads of protests and you can even buy t-shirts saying I love Coca!.
So our guide is very keen on Coca leaves and tries to get everyone on the bus to chew some with ash which is an accellerant. There weren`t too many takers, so that left more for him and he was happily munching his way through the big bag. After 30 minutes or so he was completely whacked out of it, trying to make jokes, laughing randomly and not making much sense in general. He also started to come on to the Swedish girls - funny for us but cringeworthy for them!

Maybe we should have paid the extra US$2 and got a sober guide!

We arrived in Chivay, had lunch and checked into the hotel. We wandered around the town (not much to see) while the others went to the local hot springs. We were just at hot springs the week before at Machu Picchu so we didn`t go. There appeared to be some sort of religious festival going on because the church was all decorated and there was a band that kept marching around the main square.

That night we skipped the folkloric dinner and dance that was organised because, after Cusco, we`re fairly certain that the magical sound of the panpipes isn`t our thing! Instead we went for pizza, beer and card games with the Swedes in the local Irish Bar!

The band were still marching around the square when we headed home - they must be getting dizzy by now!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The White City

We arrived in Arequipa at about 8.30 am, find a hostel to stay in and go for brekkie in a cafe overlooking the beautiful main square in the city with Stina, Anna and Jim.

The view from the square was amazing - the sun was shining down (impossibly hot for 9.30am), palm trees and fountains in the square, beautiful buildings and churches and in the background we could see the snow capped peaks of the Andes - really breathtaking.
Arequipa is called The White City because so many of the older building in the centre were made from the white volcanic rock of the surrounding area. Of the 5 or so mountain peaks we can see from the square, 3 of them are volcanoes with the most recent eruption only being 15 years ago.

We decide that we want to go on a tour of Colca Canyon tomorrow so we set off with the others going to several of the tour companies to see which one will give us the best price. After 1 1/2 hours of hard bargaining, Elaine manages to get a whole US$2 off the original asking price! Wow!

We then spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the city and finished off the night with a few drinks in town with Stina and Anna...

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Bus to Arequipa

Well tonight we`re leaving the oasis paradise of Huacachina and getting a 14 hour bus to Arequipa in South Peru. Stina, Anna (the Swedish girls) and Jim (English guy) that we did the sandboarding with and hung around with in Huacachina are going too.

The bus company are security mad (which is a good thing considering everything we have is on the bus!) , when everyone was on board and just before we left, a security man from the company got on board and videoed everyone and where they were sitting with a camcorder. This is after they`ve checked and double checked our passports, oh and put our bags through the metal detector - we`re fairly sure we won`t get robbed on this bus!

An hour or so into the journey, just before the films begin our hostess with the mostess hands out all these cards with numbers on them to each passenger. A game of bingo (in spanish of course) begins... kinda strange. Even weirder was when someone won and the hostess gets them up to the top of the bus and starts an interview asking them their name, where they`re from and things like that. One guy kind of likes the attention and starts cracking a few jokes too....the buses over here are just plain weird!

After a while we realised that we had made a BIG misake in choosing our seats though. We were sitting in seats near the back and beside the toilets. Oh what a problem on a 14 hour bus journey, especially when one of the other passengers has the didn`t make for a pleasant journey - stinkarama!!

Sandboarding in Huacachina

Spent a day or two chilling out in Cusco and really didn`t want to leave cause it`s such a great place but we`ve only two weeks left in South America so it was time to hit the road again.

Got another 15 hour bus to Ica which is a small town on the west coast of Peru. We had to cross the Andes from Cusco and the majority of the drive was through completely barren desert with no sign of life for hours on end.

Reached Ica and went directly to Huacachina. Huacachina is an oasis about 4km outside Ica and the last bit of civilisation for another couple of hundred km`s. There`s really nothing at all in Huacachina except for a couple of hostels, an oasis and a bar but it`s surrounded by huge sand dunes (think Laurence of Arabia) that dwarf the buildings below them.

Our hostel is grand with a pool, a bar, restaurant and lots of hammocks to relax in, for EUR5 a night we`re not complaining! The hostel runs dune buggy/sandboarding trips in the surrounding desert which is the main reason we came here so we signed up immediately.

The buggy/boarding trip was unbelievable. So much fun. The guys driving the buggys were completely mental just tearing up and down the dunes. At times we were coming down near vertical drops, everybody screaming. It was just like being on a huge rollercoaster on wheels. Then they stop at the top of some dunes and we get to board down them - a lot more difficult than you`d think.
The `sandboards`are just glorified strips of wood with some pasta sauce rubbed on the underneath to make it go faster and some velcro nailed on the top to strap your feet into!

I prefered to lie on the board and go face first down the slope, you go much faster this way. Unfortunately, due to the amount of suncream I had on all of the sand stuck to my face and arms and I looked completely ridiculous by the end - gave everyone else a laugh though!

The second last slope was so high that when you stood at the top, the people at the bottom looked like ants, so much fun coming down that one! For the last one they left us off to walk up one of the dunes, it took forever as the sand was slipping so much under our feet but when we rounded the top of the dune and looked down we could see our hostel and actually sandboarded our way back home - so cool!

Had a BBQ and drinks at the hostel that night (all you can eat and drink for 15 soles which is about 4Euro).

Spent another day or two here, enjoying the sunshine but heading on tonight to Arequipa.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Machu Picchu

The big day has finally arrived and we`re off to visit Machu Picchu. We get the coach at 5.30am and on the way up the mountain we can see cloud forest so low that we can nearly touch it.

We reach the site at 6am but can`t see anything because the fog is so thick. Luckily after about 10 minutes the fog begins to clear and we get our first glimpse of Machu Picchu. It looks so mystical surrounded by the last of the fog and it feels amazing to be in such a beautiful place.

The sun came out and the day was scorching. The 3 hour tour of the ruins was excellent, our guide was really good and very proud of his Inca roots with lots of stories to tell. After the tour we had a few hours to wander around ourselves and we walked up to the sun gate from where there is a fantastic view of the whole area.

It`s impossible to describe Machu Picchu, it`s just one of those places that everyone should see at least once in their lives. The "Lost City of the Inca`s" really is a city, with living areas, agriculture areas, schools etc. It`s surrounded by tall mountains and looks like we`ve stepped back in time. The buildings are amazing, but the really wonderful thing I think is the way they built the temples. For example they worshipped the condor as a god and they have a temple which has the head of a condor carved in the centre and there are two huge boulders used as walls which look like the wings of the condor. Really hard to explain but just amazing to see. The Incas also used to worship the sun and the mountains too and after being there, you can really see why they would, because the place just feels so special - very magical. Its a testament to great Inca engineering that the place is still standing because over the years there have been many earthquakes in the area and it is still standing, while more modern buildings have fallen down.

It was a brilliant day, better than we could`ve hoped for and an experience we wont forget.

Travelled back to Cusco, looking forward to a lie in tomorrow after a week of 5am starts...

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu village)

We couldn´t stay too late last night as we had to be up at 5am again today - getting far to used to these early starts!

Today we went to Aguas Calientes which is the village just below Machu Picchu. The train was at 6 and thankfully this time there were no hitches (landslide from last week has been cleared away).
Sitting opposite us on the train were two police men, one of whom had a special forces badge on his uniform and a machine gun under his arm!!! eeek! After pointing to the gun and saying ok? ok? a few times he reassured me that he wasn´t going to shoot me - phew!

We arrived in Aguas Calientes about 10am and just spent the day wandering around the small town. Not too much to do as the weather was terrible. In the afternoon we decided to go to the natural hot springs (Aguas Calientes means hot water in Spanish). We arrived at the springs to discover that they were outdoors, not to be put off we got into our swimmers and into the hot water with the rain lashing down on us. The water was just what we needed to work out the last aches and pains from the rafting and looking across the pool we spotted our two police men - not so tough looking now!

Met our guide and a couple of people from our group over dinner in the hostel, then off to bed for an early night - tomorrow they´re going to wake us up at 4.45AM for the trip to Machu Picchu!!!!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

White water rafting on the Apurimac river - Day 3

Another 5.30 start for our third and final day on the Apurimac. It was a fairly early night last night (8.30!) as we were all shattered from a long days rafting. We´re really looking forward to getting out again today.

Whilst packing up our tents Ciaran & Nick discover a scorpion wandering between their feet - kind of cool to see one in real life! They gave it a wide berth and got on with the task in hand.

After a breakfast of pancakes and fruit (seriously, how do these guys manage to cook such great things in the middle of nowhere!) there are some games to warm us up. Our team is so competitive (even though it´s only 6.30am) and we win the spin and run race which involves spinning in a circle for fifteen seconds and then running 20 metres before tagging your team mate. A few more games help us to get limbered up for the day ahead - we were seriously stiff from the long day yesterday.

At last we were on the river and Pancho has a little glint in his eye, he knows we´re all up for an adventure and we know it´s going to be an exciting day. Today there will be lots of difficult rapids grade 4, 4+ & 5 so our raft leads the way.

We get through all the rapids without a hitch, do a bit more body rafting and try some more rapid surfing. At one point Pancho asks us "are you ready my little swimmers" and we know he´s got something planned.

We paddle through the first part of the rapid but instead of directing us around a big boulder in the river he sends us into it sideways. The left side of the raft is up on the rock (I´m on the right side and Ciaran´s on the left) the water´s gushing into the boat and before I know it myself and Nick have toppled out.
The water is rushing so quickly that I´m sucked under the raft and trapped between the rock and under the boat. Kinda scary! Under the water, my eyes are open but all I can see is swirling water. Above me is something hard and below me is something hard. I don´t know if I´m upside down or not but just start clawing at whatever is above my head and eventually I surface beside the boat. I was only under for about 10 seconds but it felt like a lot longer!!
Ciaran dragged me back in with such a panicked look on his face. Think he got more of a fright than I did! Everybody else took the sensible route ie. they knew exactly where I was and there was nothing to worry about. Thanks to that attitude my fear was quickly over and we were paddling on to our next adventure!

We had about 4 1/2 hours on the river followed by a BBQ lunch then it was back to Cusco. We all met up in one of the nightclubs at 11 o´clock where they showed a full video of the three days on a big screen. They had filmed our surfing - we rock!

Monday, October 17, 2005

White water rafting on the Apurimac river - Day 2

We´re woken up when the sun rises at 5.30am and immediately pack up the tents and get into our wetsuits ready for a thrilling day on the river. Unfortunately the Israeli lads don´t have as much enthusiasm as us and again we´re an hour late setting off.

Before we do anything we have a quick practice of commands from Pancho. He´s the manager of the rafting company and has over 20 years experience so we´re all quite confident. Our team is really strong and straight away we´re working well together. Just as well considering our first rapid is a 4+ (5 is the most difficult you can do). We learn throughout the course of the day that one of the most important things we need is a strong team who can communicate, work together and follow commands as some of the rapids are extremely powerful.

The morning is completely hectic with grade 3, 4, 4+ & 5 rapids every five minutes. It´s so exciting and such an adrenellin rush every time we get through another rapid, we´re having a fantastic day. Pancho is happy that we´re a strong team and decides to teach us a new command named ´high side forward´, this involves the six of us diving towards the front of the raft at the same time. This move causes the raft to stand on it´s nose and he tells us that later on we´re going to go surfing the rapids in our raft - can´t wait!
Then he lets us go body rafting which basically means going through a rapid without a boat! Good practice in case we flip or bounce out on a rapid...

Some of the rapids are grade 6 which means that only experienced guides can go through them so for these ones we all get out of the rafts and clamber over the boulders along the bank, this is easier said than done as many of the boulders are over 12 foot tall and we´ve to climb up and down them to get past! Watcing the guides go through these rapids is fantastic, they´re all so skilled in the water but even they have difficulty on some of the rougher parts.

Because Pancho is the manager, our raft is going last today to ensure that the other rafts get through all the rapids safely. This means that we are in the position to watch the others before we have to do it ourselves - really gets the adrenellin going to see what we have to do! On one 4+ rapid we saw the entire team being thrown from the boat near the beginning of the rapid. They all had to body raft through the rest of the rapid (which happened to be the longest on the river, about 100 metres). It was really rough with lots of boulders and rocks in the water and they were all fairly shaken by the time they were rescued.

We did it perfectly - such a rush!

We stopped for lunch on another beach it was SO hot and there was no shade at all so we were glad to be back on the water but one of the girls who was thrown from her raft was so upset she wouldn´t get back into her raft and we had to swap Nick into her boat and take her instead. She was fairly rubbish at paddling and following commands and as you rely so much on the team we weren´t very confident about having her in our boat.

The first rapid after lunch was a huge 4+ and we could hear the water roaring before we could even see it. We watched the other rafts go through and saw one of them trying to turn and paddle back into the rapid, the water was too strong for them and they couldn´t get back up so they turned back and finished the rapid.

Then it was our turn, we raced through the water, following the commands Pancho roared at us, this was a real tough one and as we got over the first big drop Pancho directed us into an alcove in the rock at the river bank. He told us to turn the boat and suddenly we realise he wants to take us surfing in the rapid. We´re so excited about this (except for the scared girl, who´s terrified). We charge back into the rapid with every bit of strength and energy we have. The water is churning like a washing machine but eventually we make it back to the cusp of the rapid and Pancho roars ´high side forward´immediately the six of us dive towards the front of the raft. The boat stands on its nose with the water gushing in on top of us but theres nothing to hold myself and Emma into the boat (we´re at the back with nobody lying on top of us!). We tumble forward over the boys and upside down into the swirling rapid. The water spins us around a few times before the floatation in the life jacket turns us the right way and we´re body rafting (sooo fast) through the water. The safety kayak comes after me and brings me to another raft where they pull me on board.

Meanwhile Pancho has instructed Ciaran and the lads left in the boat to get back into position. The boat drops back into the water and Pancho tells them to charge forward. They paddle like mad until they reach the centre of the rapid again. Pancho shouts high side forward and they all dive forward. This time the boat tips onto its nose and they ´surf´the rapid for about 5 seconds before the raft eventually flips and they´re washed through the rapid.

What an adrenellin rush, such a mix of exhilleration and fear it´s definitely one of the most amazing things we´ve ever done. Everyone is on a high as we set off down the river to set up camp. Can´t wait to do it all again tomorrow....

Sunday, October 16, 2005

White water rafting on the Apurimac river - Day 1

We arrived bright and early at the Mayuc office in Cusco for day 1 of our 3 day white water rafting trip on the Apurimac river. After a delayed start of about 1 1/2 hours we headed off into the mountains on a crazy hair pinned dirt track. The driver was very good, but even still the 4 hour bus ride was quite scary as the track was only just wide enough for the bus we were on. At the end when we were descending, it was just a sheer drop on one side of the bus and the driver had to do several 3 point turns to get us down the track safely.

We arrived at the river, had some lunch and then split ourselves into teams. We had been talking to a group of people outside the office in Cusco and we decided to get into a group with them. It was ourselves, Toby from Switzerland, Nick from Australia and another couple Lincoln from NZ and Emma from Australia. The other 25 or so people on the trip were ALL from Israel. We then got into our wet suits, packed our stuff into a dry bag which would be going on a cargo raft and met our guide - Pancho.

We got into the rafts and set off. The first day was just gentle rapids (grade 2 & 3) and training - what to do if we were thrown from the raft, how to upright the raft if it flipped and how to respond to the commands that Pancho would give us - forward, back, left back, right back, highside left & right etc.

We spent 3 hours rafting that day and at one stage Pancho flipped the raft, to see how we would handle coming out of the boat and getting back in. After a bit of a shock and some spluttering and coughing we all managed to haul each other back into the raft without any problems.

We then came to our first campsite (a tiny beach at the side of the river) and we tied the boats up and helped carry all the supplies and dry bags to the shore. The Israeli guys in the group were so lazy and didn´t lift a finger, letting us and the girls carry all the heavy equipment, immediately we took a dislike to them!

We set up our tent in the sand, had some dinner and tried to get some sleep on the bumpy sand, looking forward to a 6am start & 7 hours of rafting tomorrow!!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Pisac and the Sacred Valley

Today we got the bus to the Sacred Valley to see the ruins in Pisac.

They´re all completely mad for selling in Peru. They´d seriously sell anything at all if you´d be willing to buy it. Everytime the bus stopped people would try to squeeze on or put their arms in through the windows trying to sell things.
The bus was a little mini bus (probably about 16 seats) we reckon there was about 25 people on it with one guy hanging off a ladder on the side for the 32km to Pisac. Another guy was trying to sit on our laps for most of the journey! Considering it only cost us 2 soles (about 50cent) we can´t really complain that much...

We arrived in Pisac which is this tiny little town in the middle of the valley, surrounded by really steep mountains. We took a taxi 10km to the top of one of the mountains and then hiked our way back down passing through about 5 or 6 Inca ruins. The weather was just perfect and the hike although quite steep in parts was really enjoyable. We passed various settlements, bathhouses and went through tunnels carved through the mountain. At times we were walking along precipices only 2 foot wide, with a drop of a couple of hundred feet....

The views of the Sacred Valley from that height were amazing and to see how the Incas channeled the spring water into their perfectly built bathhouses and villages was something else. It´s amazing that they were able to build so well, at the top of a mountain, hundreds of years ago - modern day builders could learn a lot from them.

When we got to the bus stop to catch the bus back there was a throng of people waiting. Luckily I overheard a guy saying he´d give a few people a lift. Before we knew it we were sitting lovely and comfy in a big people carrier being whisked back to Cusco watching the sunset over the snowcapped mountains - not a bad way to end the day...

Tomorrow we´re heading off white water rafting for three days on the Apurimac river - can´t wait!!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Sexy Woman!

Cusco is at the heart of the Inca empire and is the main archaeological region in South America. Around the main square of Cusco we have seen old Inca walls, Inca churches and other small ruins.

Today we took a taxi 8km outside the city to follow a trail of four ancient sites back down to Cusco. Not to bore you with the history, but....

The first was Tambo Machay which was an old Inca ceremonial bath and is thought to have been connected to an Inca water cult. It´s amazing the way it was built, particularly the drainage and the masonary. It could really pass for modern day showers and baths.

Next we went to Puca Pucara, which is an old fort but we didn´t really find it very exciting at all. Wasn´t much different than any of the old castles you´d see around Ireland.

The next ruins was Qenko. This one was much more impressive with tunnels and ceremonial alters all carved out of a huge piece of limestone. We were trying to listen in on some of the tours and what the guides were saying sounded really interesting - condors, llamas and pumas were sacrificed on the top of the rock and the blood would flow down through the zigzag rivulets carved into the rock.

Our last stop was at Sacsayhuaman (pronounced Sexy Woman!). This place was huge and took a couple of hours just to walk around. The Incas designed it to resemble the head of the puma with the zigzag walls forming the teeth.
It´s amazing how they built this place. All of the rocks are perfectly put together and one of them weighs more than 300 tonnes. No idea how they got it up the hill and into place!

There are 8 condors on Cusco´s coat of arms because at the last battle at sexy woman thousands of people died and were left to be eaten by the birds on the grounds of the fortress - kinda gruesome!

Back to the hostel where there was a BBQ and a couple of drinks in the bar...

Thursday, October 13, 2005


Got up at 5am this morning to get the train to Aguas Caliente. From here we have a two day tour up to Machu Picchu booked.

When we arrived at the train station there was chaos with hundreds of people standing around shouting in Spanish. Unfortunately our 20 words of Spanish wasn´t quite enough to figure out what was going on. Eventually we discovered that there had been a landslide on the train line during the night. About 500 metres of the train line was completely covered and a bridge had been wiped out. This wouldn´t be such a problem except there are no roads to Aguas Calliente you have to travel there by train.

Re-booked the trip for next Wednesday, hopefully the line will be open by then...

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Taking it easy in Cusco

We´ve been in Cusco for 5 days now and we´ve totally chilled out.

It´s such a great city. Quite small with a lovely square in the centre called Plaza de Armas. It´s completely aimed at western tourists so is totally packed with restaurants and bars.

We´ve spent so many lazy days just relaxing, walking around the streets of the city and eating in trendy restaurants like Fallen Angel, where the tables are baths with fish swimming around in them topped with glass & Los Peros, where you can spend the afternoon lounging on the couches, reading and listening to music... Not a bad way to spend a few days...

Have met some cool people in the hostel and have been having a blast. Time to get going and do some sightseeing now though - getting ichy feet!

Saturday, October 08, 2005


Urrgh my head hurts so badly. Altitude sickness is giving us major headaches, feels like someone´s been jumping on our heads all night.

Got up and went straight to the bar in the hostel to watch the Ireland v Cyprus match. Seems to be a huge crowd of Irish staying here but the guys that run the place were having serious problems getting the match over the internet. We were watching it on an Israeli website and listening to it on RTE1. Both of which were full of interference and most of the time we couldn´t make out what was happening.

The hostel that were staying in is an old Spanish style villa with a courtyard in the centre and all the rooms around the perimeter with lovely old balcony. We reckon it´s a good few hundred years old and has only been renovated into a hostel since July. It´s owned by a couple of Irish lads, a kiwi and an Israeli and there´s a really great crowd here. They have everything you´d need in a hostel, bar, tv room, internet, book exchange, kitchen and they serve dinner and breakfast too. The rooms are really cosy, probably because the walls are about 4 foot thick!
It´s great that the hostel is so nice because we´ve decided that we´re going to stay in Cusco for about 2 weeks.

Cusco is a beautiful Inca city. The main city centre is in the basin of a valley, surrounded by high mountains. The view is amazing day and night.
The architecture of the city is very Spanish and most of the buildings have been up since the 17th century and going even further back there are ancient inca walls and ruins still standing right in the city centre.
The main plaza is surrounded by churches a cathedral and beautiful buildings with balconys overlooking the cobbled streets.

There is so much to see and do here. You could spend months wandering up and down the little roads and alleys. Lots of indiginous arts and crafts and so many bars, restaurants and other smaller plazas.

We´re really looking forward to a couple of weeks exploring the place and also want to go to Machu Picchu and on a three day rafting trip while we´re here.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Journey into Peru

Our 12 hour bus journey began at 7.30am but didn´t end until 11.30pm. Twelve and Sixteen hours all seem to be the same thing to the people in the bus company.

The roads leaving La Paz are absoloutely crazy. I don´t know how they even call them roads. They´re no more than dirt tracks covered in loose shale and rocks. The coach (which is about 50 years old) bumped it´s way through for about 2 hours before we even started to see anything resembling a decent road.

A lot of the time the view was of the altiplano with the snow capped Andes in the background. The local farmers still farming with such old methods, things that we had learned in history that Irish farmers used about 200 years ago. I lost count of the number of starving cows I saw pulling along old style ploughs. Llamas and Alpacas everywhere too.

We crossed over the Bolivian/Peru border which was a bit of an adventure itself with thousands of people rushing everywhere and so many police checking every last bit of documentation at least three times...

Finally we reach Peru and drive around the shores of Lake Titicaca (for about 4 hours). This lake has to be seen to be believed. It´s so beautiful and soooo big, it seems like you´re looking at a very calm sea as the blue of the water fades into the horizon.

Lucky we had a good view cause the bus broke down twice once with a huge blowout and then later the suspension went.

By 10pm we were completely starving and bursting for the bathroom. We were in the middle of nowhere so the next village we got to the bus driver had to stop at the police station to ask them if we could use the toilet.

We eventually reached Cusco at about 11.30. Checked into our hostel and had a much needed sleep.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

La Paz

Spent the day walking (or puffing) our way around La Paz. The air is so thin that we had to go fairly slowly.
Visited the witches market where you can buy all sorts of crazy potions including llama foetus´s - really disgusting! They will also run a guinea pig up and down your body to find out what ailments you have.... we passed on that one!

Had a lovely lunch in a posh restaurant and ate far too much cake.

Went shopping in the Mercardo Negro (markets) for waterproof jackets and warm clothes. Everything is so cheap here. We got gloves, hats, jackets and a bag for about EUR50. We´ve heard that Peru is fairly chilly at this time of year so may as well get the bargains here while we can.

Had an earlyish night - up for another 12 hour bus journey at 7.30 tomorrow morning. Going to Cusco, Peru.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

City in the sky

La Paz is the highest city in the world, and we are now officially 3660 metres above sea level!
The Bolivian buses aren´t like the other ones we´ve been on. Even though we were on a ´super cama´ - top of the range bus, it was still slightly dingy and no bathroom for 20hours is a long time!
The view we got in the morning was lovely - our first sight of the Andes with the snow capped peaks. Really nice.
We arrived at about 11am and decided to check into one of the hostels recommended in the Lonely Planet.
Needless to say, we were fairly knackered when we checked into the hostel, but it is a really lovely place, with all the facilities that we could need and clean rooms - just like being in a hotel. All for the grand total of about EUR8 each per night!

There´s a fair bit of a temperature difference here. It was mid 30´s in Santa Cruz and now we´re in the mid teens.
Apart from the temperature difference, the major shock was the altitude and how it affected us. When we were getting our vaccinations the doctor warned us about it and told us to listen to our bodies. I thought if we were doing something strenuous, we would be out of breath, but just after walking up a couple of flights of stairs both of us were wheezing like 80 year old asthmatics, and our hearts were racing at 100mph.

After a bit of a rest, we headed out to have a look at the city. La Paz seems like a really nice place, and we both wish we could have more time here. The streets are narrow and cobbled and very steep, as the city is built in the middle of a valley with 6000 metre mountain peaks all around.

Each street is so colourful with all the indigenous Bolivians selling their brightly coloured scarves, hats, name it, they weave it!

It´s really funny to see all the people that are dressed so traditionally. Women in gingham dresses with their hair in long black plaits and bowler hats perched on top of their heads.

Dinner was another bargain. A meal in a really good Chinese restaurant cost about EUR15 for the 2 of us...

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Santa Cruz, you´re not that far...

Arrive in Santa Cruz station at 7.30 am. Have cold showers at the station and start to realise that we could live like rock stars over here!!

For example. our lunch of 2 omelettes with chips & salad, 2 coffee´s and a sprite came to 36 Bs which is the grand total of about EUR4!

Santa Cruz is quite a nice little city with a European style square in the centre, but outside the town it´s a completely different story, with people living in litle shanty towns made up of wooden huts. Pigs and chickens roam everywhere and the horse and cart still seems to be a popular mode of transport.

The Bolivian people look so different to the Brazilians, kind of like native Americans - very indigenous looking, and a lot still wear traditional dress. It´s officially a 3rd world country, and it feels like it.

Going to get a 20hr overnight bus tonight to La Paz...

Monday, October 03, 2005

Goodbye Brazil, Hello Bolivia!

We cross over the Brasil/Bolivia border at Quijarro to find that the border police are having a siesta and have to wait 2 hours to get our entry stamp.

Then news comes in that the taxi´s are on strike (quite a regular thing in Bolivia) and there´s no buses. We´re advised to walk the 9km to the train station. buts its about 38 degrees outside and our backpacks weight about a tonne!!

We manage to hitch a ride on the back of a truck. We arrive at the station where a little 12 yr old shoe shine boy called Wilda decides to take us under his wing and we spent the rest of the afternoon being charmed by him.

We left our bags in the luggage store to be put on th train and a porterhelped us carry the bags the 5 feet from where we were sat to the room. Afterwards Elaine tipped him and gave him 10 Bs (Bolivianos) and asked for change and got 5Bs back. Only later did we realise that Elaine had just given him EUR1.40 and asked for EUR0.70 back! It´s tought somtimes getting used to a new currency!

Time to get on what is known locally as the ´Death Train´ & no joke, but the movie they´re showing tonight as we race theough the Bolivian countryside is The Amityville Horror...oh Elaine was not a happy girl!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Aye Corumba!

We eventually arrive in Corumba where we can cross the border to Bolivia. We´re going to spend 2 days here doing pretty much nothing as the trains won´t be running until Monday evening.

So we just chill out and try no to get caught by any of the 5" long cockroaches. We see a squashed spider on the path which Ciaran thinks must be a tarantula because of the size of it. Have a funny feeling that if it wasn´t dead, I would be from the fright!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Pantanal Day 4

Another 6am start, this time for a boat ride down the Rio Negro to try and spot ancaondas. Our small boat engine wouldn't start, so a 2nd boat arrives and we all get in. We're in the middle of the river (very wide - probably 250 metres) when the engine cuts out. ANother boat eventually comes to our aid and after a few minutes we're started again.

Progress is slow. I don't think the engine was able for all the people in it, so we left Carlos behind and had a driver that only spoke Portuguese.

On the way we saw a lot of dead alligators with their tails missing and being picked at by black vultures. We later found our that these alligators were caught by tourists, had their tails cut off for meat, and then were left to die...

We were in the boat for 3 hours and we cut out so many times. Each time we didn't think it was going to start again. It wouldn't have been a problem as we can all swim and had life jackets except for the fact that we were completely surrounded by alligators the entire time! I counted 17 at one stage!

The journey was difficult at times and everyone was in a panic at one stage when the propellor got caught in something and we almost went in...

Eventually the boat banked and we went in search of anacondas, led by our boat driver - who doesn't speak English, into a field of reeds followed by a swamp. The swamp was nearly impossible to walk in and at one stage Elaine's feet got stuck and she was sinking fast! Luckily for Elaine the guide and LInda realised and ran (slowly) to help her. Luckily for me I got a photo! Elaine is now officially a stick in the mud!

We were walking for about 40 mins but no sign of anacondas so we headed back. We fell a bit behind the guide as the goind in the swamp was slow - guess practice makes perfect.

We could see him along with Adi & Elad ahead, so we picked our own route to get to them. I was in front walking through the reeds when I saw a snake moving extremely quickly towards us, going for us. I was nearly on top of it before I saw it! Only about 2 - 3 feet away. We all turned and ran screaming!

The guide ran back and helped us pick a new route back. When we got back to shore, he told Carlos what had happened and he told us that it was a very dangerous, poisonous and aggressive fast water cobra! We'd had a lucky escape!

Back to camp for lunch. Afterwards we saw a dead anaconda at the shore. The stench was unbearable and it was covered in flies.

We then got a very bumpy truck back and everyone else was heading back to Campo Grande, so we said our goodbyes and were left in the middle of nowhere, hoping a bus would turn up to bring us to our next stop - Corumba...