Thursday, November 30, 2006

Machu Picchu


Cuzco is beautiful, enchanting and exhausting. The capital of the Inca Empire has some of the most stunning colonial architecture you can imagine. With ruins strewn around the surrounding hills and buildings built from the preceeding Inca stones it is an amalgalm of the cultures of the conquerors and the conquered.
A mild annoyance familiar to anyone who has travelled in Sth East asia are the inscesant hawkers selling paintings, finger puppets and massages, leading to the automatic response of ´no gracias, no gracias...´
Cuzco is for most the embarkation point to Machu Picchu. For us it was no different and a 4 day trek on the original Inca Trail was to take us to the famed site.
We had heard that it was a challenging walk, but given the amount of people who do it and our good ol´kiwi camping skills we figured that it would be almost literally ´a walk in the park´.
The first days trekking seemed to prove our suspicions right but the second day was to put it lightly - gruelling.
2-4 hours of solid uphill stairs with a pack carrying all your gear and another 4000 steps on the other side lend credence to the name ´dead womens pass´.
Of course I considered it my duty to show the rest of these ´soft tourists´the way by walking at a good clip and scaling the pass in 2 hours, following this the next day with super speeds into camp. Of course by the last day I was completely rooted (to use the kiwi vernacular) and was forced to hobble to Aguas Calientes sideways down yet another inhumanly steep inca stair case with a gammy knee and an exhausted body.
The city of Machu Picchu itself was as amazign as you can imagine in terms of architecture and pure historical wonder. However the mystical jungle passes and smaller ruins on the way there held much more fascination for me. Standing on the top of the mountains proceeding the entry to Machu Picchu, looking out of mist covered jungle, standing on the very same stones that Chaskis (Inca Warriors) had trod some 600 years ago, gave the feeling of being an intrepid adventurer. Walking out of MP and seeing the $US500 ´Sanctuary Lodge´ literally on it´s doorstep, with tourists strolling a few steps up and into the compound certainly didn´t!
A must do, something I wouldn´t trade for the world. MP is amazing but the trek to get there sure adds weight to the addage that the journey is often more rewarding than reaching the ´goal´.

Isla del Sol

Copacabana - not the hottest spot north of Havanna...but the lakeside town on the Bolivian side of Lago Titicaca was our launching point for the Isla del Sol.
Stepping on to the legendary birth place of the Inca people is like stepping back in time. Once you get away from the tourists clustered around the wharves where the tour boats stop all to briefly, you are treated to villagers in traditional garb herding their donkeys, cows and sheep up and down the narrow and dusty tracks that criss cross the steep slopes of the isle. Thankfully trekking from the South to the North of the island is sufficiently gruelling to dissuade many of the ´gringo trailers´(only seventeen kilometres, but at over 4000m above sea level and with near vertical slopes, air is in short supply!)
You gasp for air ascending trails that quickly disappear into terraced gardens and have to pick your way through villages with ancient wells, walls and houses indistinguishable from the inca ruins nearby...these people are after all direct and undiminished descendants of the Inca.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Em´s Travel Log! - Bolivia



Four Score and too many tours ago we arrived in the colorful, acutely cultural, South American continent for adventures galore. Well we havent been disappointed and when I say ''too many tours'' I mean only that while Im not a big fan of them, we have had our fair share amid blazing our own trail, and have enjoyed them all immensely esp Salar de Uyuni. But let me begin where I left off - Mendoza, Argentina.

MORE PICS!!!

After two weeks in probably the most relaxed city we've been in so far we took our still relatively primitive Spanish linguistics through Northern Argentina aka wine country and stopped at some enchanting places along the way. The first being Cafayate, a quaint little town, cobblestone streets, the works, and surrounded by vineyards as far as the eye can see. Need I say more...also had a great vibe and good people, locals and travellers, to enjoy its fine produce with. Next we hoped on a bus through Tucuman to Salta. Another captivating city where we again spent most of the time wandering the gorgeous colonial streets and chilling out. (In all honesty,´chilling'out´' for me meant recovering from a bit of knock I took having consumed some dodgey chicken I ate in haste to help with a mild hangover...definitely the chicken though...5 day hangovers are impossible!).
After Salta, we decided to get our butts into gear and put some miles on the map so headed North up through the Quebrada ... a martian'like landscape with mountains rich in minerals displaying a myriad of colours. (check out the snapshots if you just want the picture tour). By this time we finally arrived in Bolivia where the real South America or more like the S.A. I was expecting to see became immediately apparent i.e. where poor meets the desparately impoverished, dogs and kids out number insects 3 to 1 and there is a potential rip'off on every street corner. But what Bolivia lacks in wealth and a municipal rubbish disposal, the country more that makes up for it with colourful tradition, big friendly toothless (or gold plated depending on thier luck) smiles and spectacular natural wonders.
Because a lot of the sights are difficult to get to as landscapes are unnavigable, you inadvertantly end up on a well beaten gringo trail, but in no way am I complaining! So we started Bolivia with a tour of the South West through more breathtaking Quebradas, lagunas of pink flamingos, desert landscapes which inspired the artist Dali, and many other high points (around 5000m above sea level) & last but no least the Solar de Uyuni ... 12,000sqkms of pure while salt plains ... largest in the world ... amazing. More amazing was the fact I managed to drag myself out of a perfectly good bed, made of salt, at 4.30am for the sunrise over the Solar. Check out the picture and you´ll see the result was more than worth it.

Sucre (Bolivia´s constitutional and beautiful capital) was our next stop and after 4 days of rugged 4x4 Jeep touring though the desert the rain was a welcome change. We enjoyed the pampering, fresh fruit milkshakes and chocolate feasting the city had to offer. Then it was on to the crazy city of La Paz before hitting the Jungle and Pampa´s on the Amazonian Basin for the wildlife extravaganza. Saw many an aligator sashaying through the water, exceptionally noisy Howler Monkeys (probably not unlike some of those you work with), pink dolphins, loads of different birdlife and a couple of capybaras (largest living rodents ... if you´ve seen the Princess Bride then the ROUS´s give you some idea of what they are like ... capybaras are more cute though and less likely to eat you). Downpoint ' no Anaconda...next time I suppose.

The final stage of travels in Bolivia was met at Copacabana, a quaint little town and a tourist haunt on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Definitely not the same Copacabana Barry Manilow is singing about ... no showgirls and dancing on bars and people getting shot...instead its the spot for seeing the Isla del Sol, a small Island in the Lake known as the birthplace of the Sun in Inca Mythology and just an all'round beautiful place.
So thats it for now, tune in next time for the tales of hiking and Inca Ruins, Sandboarding and Surfing.
Hope you are all good and happy!
Lotsa Love Emxoxox

Tarantula at your door!


Just a quick pic of my new friend outside our cabin door in the Pampas!

Into the Amazon...Part One!


´Part One´ because I´m sure we may find ourselves back in the Jungle at some stage..
However our first dabble with the Amazon Basin found us in the jungle frontier town of Rurrunabaque about to embar on a 3 day trip into the Pampas of the Madidi National Park, a mixture of Savannah and wetland renowned for it´s wildlife (in fact 10% of the worlds known bird species are found in the Park)
Our guide looked like he had just left the Bolivian special forces dressed in combat fatigues, wrap around shades and crew cut. We weren´t sure whether we felt safer as a result!
A 3 hour trip up the Yumani (which feeds into the Amazon) in an outboard driven dugout canoe gave us our first taste of the fauna and by the days end we had spotted pink dolphins turtles, caiman, alligator, vultures, capybara, ibises, pelicans, toucans, howler monkeys and capuchins which we fed by hand with bananas - remember the monkey that Ross on ´Friends´ had? Well they are much cuter in the flesh and sans dopey New Yorker!
A few welcome cold beers at the ´Sunset Bar´ (more a rough hewn lodge overlooking the river than a bar) were followed by spotlighting for Alligator and Caiman eyes from the canoe on the way back.
Rounding a bend in the river we spotted what we thought were two alligator eyes but they looked far too high off the ground on the river bank and when they started moving up and down in a very feline manner we had spotted one of the very reclusive Jaguar of the park. It defies explanation to describe the energy when you see something like that and you really do feel blessed to have been able to see (from the relative safety of a boat!) one of natures most amazing creatures.
We searched for Anacondas without luck on day two but in the arvo I´m stoked to say that I leapt from a dugout canoe into a river in the Amazon to swim with Pink Dolphins! To be in the same water that Piranhas infest, that Caiman and Alligators hunt in, with the shy and timid Pink dolphins was one of the memories I will cherish forever.
Post Script.....
MOSQUITOS. I have never in my life experianced mosquitos quite so voracious as in the wetlands of the Amazon Pampas. They rise in swarms and feast on any exposed or unexposed part of your body.
DEET becomes the cologne of choice and everyone wears long, loose, light coloured shirts and trousers to dissuade the ravenous hordes...Everyone except me of course. Not being overly bothered by mozzies and not generally getting too itchy or showing bite marks I was happy to wander around in only boardies....The first, second and third days were fine...coming out of the Jungle however I suddenly developed bite marks all over the place and have been itching myself all the way from Rurre bck to La Paz and to Lake Titicaca...nect time I will make DEET my friend!

A Tale of Two Cities - Sucre to La Paz


Well Lonely Planet was right about one more thing...Uyuni is very hard to get out of! It is also dirty, hot, dusty and without all that much to do and so hanging around waiting for the soon to be cancelled, changed and reschudeled buses had many backpackers getting even hotter under the collar than the desert justified!
BUT eventually after a 12 hour ride along gravel roads in a bus better known as a ´dust catcher´ we arrived in Sucre. The heart sinks as you enter the surrounds of the city, where the vista provides the m,ost graphic picture of abject poverty we have seen yet. It is mind boggling to see rubbish knee to waist deep coating the slopes, dotted with shacks and with sheepand pigs, as well as the human inhabitants picking through the piles for a meal.
Sucre city however is beautiful and provides a real colonial contrast to the Bolivia we had seen. With stunning hwite colonial buildings dating from the 16th century and monuments to the heroes of independance, not to mention great food, markets and CHOCOLATE it provides a welcome respite to put the heels up.
La Paz surprised me. Having usurped all the capital responsibilities barring those constitutional and judicial, I expected a bustling modern metropolis. It is this to a certain extent but there are buildings, plazas and monuments to rival Sucre and with all the cities there is colonial history that stretches back to the 1400´s.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Salar de Uynui


The worlds largest salt flat (at nearly 12000 square Km!) sits at over 4000m above sea level...and the highest we have been so far is higher than base camp on Everest...I digress...!
We stayed at a hotel made entirely of salt bricks and with salt for flooring, salt bed bases and tables and chairs! A good intro to an early morning start to see the sunrise over the plains. As you can see it is eerie...that is salt not snow and it stretches as far as the eye can see, and only punctuated by a solutary island where marooned Vizcvachas (a type of chinchilla) live amongst giant cactus up t 12m tall and 1200 yrs old!

Lagunas y Flamencos


Lagunas (heavily mineralled lakes) punctuate the desert like precious stones with snow white salt beaches. The Lagunas provide sanctuary for sea birds and flamingos marooned long ago by retreating seas. Now where desert was sea these birds cling precariously to life, scooping the brine shrimp that colours their plumes from sulphorous waters and warming themselves in anticipatin of freezing to the water of night (luckily they ahve no predators!). Check out Em at the Laguna Verde (sorry our Flamingo pics were not great!)

Como se Llama...Llama..!!!


Just a few of our Llama friends in the Altiplano!

4 Deserts in One Day!


They say in Auckland we get 4 seasons in one day...well in Bolivia you cab get 4 deserts (and more) in as many hours!
This is a land of contradiction and contrast. You freeze in an icy breeze under a burning sun. Days are cold...except when they are hot...and nights are bitterly cold.
As you climb into the altiplano you pass through miles of rust. Iron seeping from rock to form great hard and brittle sheets, looking like the vestige of a long forgotten maching graveyard.
Moss clings precariously to cliffs and Llamas roam and match the surroundings. From large shagy beasts in the more lush valleys to small antelope like ctreatures in the sandy desert.

Tupiza


Rolling into the dusty old town near where Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid met their maker was a breathe of fresh air. Bolivians we have met thus far seem to be warm open and friendly. There is certainly less hustle and bustle than Argentina and of course it si much more basic - not surprising in the continent´s poorest nation.

Monday, November 06, 2006

North through the Quebrada Humahuaca


We still haven´t managed to find any Salsa but we did find a tour with more desert...The far north of Argentina has the highest concentration of Argentina´s inidgenous population. The scenery going North through Pumamarca (see pic.) and it´s ´seven coloured mountain´, Tilcara and Humuhuaca is as per usual for the trip, amazing. We are running out of wows!. Also unfortunately we seem to be coming up against Argies in a hurry, a bit uptight and always keen to get that extra peso out of you! (Propinas - tips are expected and demanded everywhere!)
I managed to get ripped off by a Wichi Indian for a ´handmade´ knife that I saw in the next village for twenty pesos less...always the way and all part of the Sth American experience! Looking forward to a new country, new people and new sites in Bolivia!

Salta


Salta is what happens when a place like Tucuman gets it´s act together. Or perhaps Tucuman is like ´´when good Salta´s go bad...´´ Either way it´s a relaxing stop on the way North with wide esplanades and a beautiful Plaza, monuments and an Iglesia that is variously described as tacky, gaudy or stunning...we chose the later! (Check out the pic at night!)
The city is geared towards tourists which is good and bad. There are plenty of great places to eat and chill and plenty of handicrafts and works by local artisans...but of course they are priced for the tourist dollar. Getting stuck here waiting for a tour north through Injun country (sorry un-P.C. but had to do it!) meant a few afternoons sipping Licuados in the shade in the plaza Argie watching!