Archive for August, 2011

48 hour bus to Buenos Aires

Posted: August 29, 2011 in Argentina, Bolivia

Hmmm half way through this epic 48 hour bus ride, managed to get about 6 hours sleep last night which was an unexpected bonus! I think other than my 18 hour scooter ride from Falmouth to London and back, this is the most stupid trip I have embarked on!

Lovely short lay swapped seats with me as I was sat against the windscreen for the first 3 hours. Her seat had lots of leg room, which was not being utilised, so a swap made sense.

I got to Buenos Aires safe and sound, in much better condition than I thought I would be! Checked into my hostel, played some pool, drank two beers and had an early night.

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La Paz – a city in the mountains

Posted: August 28, 2011 in Bolivia

The city sits in a “bowl,” up in the clouds, surrounded by the snow peaked mountains of the altiplano at 3,650 m above sea level, the highest capital city in the world! On paper the city sounds incredible,  I had heard many travellers rave about La Paz so I was really excited about spending a few days before my long (48 hour) bus trip to Buenos Aires. However my high expectation for the place was somewhat shattered when I arrived… I found myself uninspired and unmoved.

Other than the stench of urine in many public places, streets and door ways the city is dilapidated, polluted and dirty. I imagine that in her glory days the city would have been beautiful, as stunning as any european capital. I met a young girl working as a street vendor selling black and white stills from around the city from 1880 to 1945, I stare at images and ponder what some TLC wouldn´t do for the place. However investment, maintainance and conservation to preserve cities does not come cheap, and for the large part it is not being done. So beautiful old buildings fall into a state of disrepair, ornate facades erode and crumble and once beautiful streets become blackened and pot holed.

I leave La Paz thinking “what if…”

From Cusco I caught a 6 hour bus ride to Puno, to visit Lake Titicaca, which sits on the border of Peru and Bolivia. The lake is 3,811 m above sea level, making it the highest commercially navigable lake in the world. It is also the largest lake in South America by volume, Lake Maracaibo is larger in surface area.

The journey was quite uneventful other than the normal swerving to miss stray dogs, overloaded minibuses and herd of sheep/cows. En route we stopped for dinner, which was soup, chicken/rice/chips and a cup of tea for 75p!

Arriving pretty late I caught a tut tut to the hostel for an early night, as the Uros floating island tour started at 7.00am the following morning.

The Uros “floating islands” a group of 40 + artificial islands made of floating totora reeds, which grow abundantly in the shallows of the lake. Their original purpose was defensive, and they could be moved if a threat arose. Many of the islands contain watchtowers largely constructed of reeds. Each Island has 2/3 family units, fishing, boat building and weaving fabrics are the main trade of Islanders, which is topped up VERY nicely with visiting camera happy tourists.

The following day I visited Isla del Sol from Copacabana on the Bolivian side of the border, is one of the lake’s largest islands. It is a dry place and the terrain is difficult; rocky and hilly. There are no cars/buses or paved roads on the island, so transport is by foot or ferry boat. The main income for the 800 odd families on the island is farming, with fishing and tourism augmenting the subsistence economy.

The main visitor attraction is the 180 ruins on the island. most  dating to the Inca period circa the 15th century AD. Among the ruins on the island are the Sacred Rock, a labyrinth-like building called Chicana, Kasa Pata, and Pilco Kaima. In the religion of the Incans it was believed that the Sun God was born here, hence “Island of the Sun.”

I booked into a hostel with magnificent view of the lake and sun rise over Isla de la Luna, which is situated to the east. According to legends that refer to Inca mythology again, Isla de la Luna (“Island of the Moon”) is where Viracocha commanded the rising of the moon.

My brother and I watched a program called “Mysteries Cities of Gold,” which ran from June 30, 1986 to June 29, 1990 (I just looked that up by the way!) It was unlike anything else on childrens´ television at the time and a first introduction to feature length series, psudo Japanese/French manga cartooning and it was amazing. I quite fancied Zia the daughter of an Inca high priest, although I knew she was only a cartoon character before you say anything. And the plot…

In 1532 a Spanish orphan named Esteban joins Mendoza, a navigator, and his associates Sancho and Pedro, in their search for one of The Seven Cities of Gold in the New World, hoping to find his father. They are joined on their quest by Zia, an Incan girl (who was kidnapped by Mendoza), and Tao, the last descendant of the sunken empire of Mu…The travellers encounter the Maya, Inca and Olmecs during their journey…  They discover many lost technological wonders of the Mu Empire, including a solar powered  ship (the Solaris) and The Golden Condor, a huge solar-powered ornithopter (mechanical bird), capable of travelling considerable distances under the sun’s power alone…

Obviously at the time I did not realise that most the story was based on Inca, Maya and Olmeca history and legend but it did spark my imagnation with regard civilisations in the Andes mountains, ancient cities, unknown tribes, huge treasures of gold hiden away, etc. The image of Machu Picchu, was ingrained into my mind (although I am not sure if they used it specifically?)

Well there is no gold at Machu Picchu, but it could definately be one of those cities and was as I expected, although heaving with tourists as opposed to ancient Incans! I found the same strong theme I remember for watching as a kid, on site there is a “Condor Temple”, “Astronomy Tower” and “Sun Temple.” I could explain he reason and significance of these buildings but won´t bore you with another history lesson, but the site is built in the shape of a condor. The Incans had three mystic/revered animals: the condor depicting heaven, puma for earthly power and the snake representing the underground realm.

One happy `not so young´ boy today!

Cusco, or Qosq’o in the Quechua/local lanuage, used to be the the captial city of the Inca Empire and remained  a key city after the Spanish Conquistadors, although now the city is ruled and run soley for tourists, not suprising as the city receives 1.5 million visitors a year! It really is throbbing with travellers from the US, Europe, Japan, China and neighbouring coutries in South America. The hoards of sun burnt, hiking boot wearing, back pack carrying and camera poised foreigners can be alittle overwhelming at times, but there are SO many cafes, gift shops, restaurants, local fabric and craft markets the city does well in swallowing up crowds. It is very easy to find quite streets, indigenous vendors and ancient runs, walls and buildings.

I did a really nice city walk early in the morning, with quite a useful map pointing out al the key buildings of interest before stopping for a ham omelette and orange/passion fruit smoothie, I really have to say that the smoothies and juices they serve here are amazing (most priced fro 50p to 1.50.)

Many believe that the city was planned in the shape of a puma, the second sacred animal, representing earthly power. Machu Picchu on the other hand, in the shape of a condor, representing Heaven.

I might take a moment to mention some things I have noticed about back packers whilst volunteering/travelling here  in South America…

It is as though this twenty something, globe trotting junkie, new age, spiritual breed need to redefine themselves, as they once did as teenagers. Most seem to want to show their individuality and independence whilst remain loosley linked socially and experientially with fellow travellers. This often comes across in conversation over a beer or meal, when they are exchanging travel stories from recent epic adventures. On the one hand they listen with apparent interest, acknowledging and commending their fellow travellers on the value and validity of their tales from the road, whilst attempting to trump them by asserting how they did something similar, by no means the same of course, but implying superiority. Often taking key details or highlights they would be fool hardy to try and frown upon, e.g. Machu Picchu (here they have to concede that they were also a complete photo snapping, dollar rich sell out tourist, but there is an agreement that in some cases it is acceptable to if the experience is worth it) but then add their individual experience and choices that made it different, e.g living in a converted cow shed with a family for 24 hours, trekking along an ancient Incan route not known by anyone in the west (honestly), living solely off local food/beverages (stick insects, spider eggs, beetles, wild seeds, leaves, purified llama milk, etc.)

On this “personal journey of discovery” it can often means different things for different people, but from what I have observed…

For girls this generally means, growing dreads/shaving sections of their head, not shaving their airpits, buying over sized ethnic trousers that hang off them showning their pants, facebooking everyday to tell their friends about how they are growing in independance and understanding of themselves (while emailing their mum and dad for daily updates!) and getting a authentic indiginous tattoo (that obviously has some significant, prophetic or spiritual meaning just for them.)

For boys this generally means, growing a dreds and/or a beard (or trying to), learning to play Inca pan pipes (badly), carrying round a guitar or indigenous bongo bongo drum over their shoulder, sitting alone on rocks to get away from the tourists and meditate on stuff (not that they would normally consider such a thing back in Wolverhampton council estate or semi in leafty Twickenham) and facebooking everyday to tell their friends who they have had sex with and how drunk/intoxicated they have been getting, while emailing their mum and dad to send money due to some farsical episode in which they were conned into handing over vast amounts of money for to a tour operator that suddenly went bust and did not give them a refund…. better than them being honest and saying they spent all their money getting themselves and some astute girls, that saw them coming, pissed!

At the end of this travelling episode who knows what happens to them, how many have really “changed” and how many actually go home, get an office job, get a car, mortgage, bills and children and become the once a year, dollar rich, photo happy, middle age, 4 star hotel traveller they currently seem to reject,  belittle and deride, while sat knocking back jagerbooms, 1 pound litre beers and trying in vain to attractive like minded/attractive potential one night stands in a late night bar in Cusco?

Arequipa – P P P P PERU U U U U

Posted: August 13, 2011 in Peru

whoosh… I feel like an Peruvian already!

The irresistibly sexy city of Arequipa, known as the Ciudad Blanca (White City), is surrounded by some of the wildest terrain in Peru. This is a land of active, snowy volcanoes, high-altitude deserts, thermal hot springs, salt lakes and, last but not least, the world’s deepest canyons.

Let’s get investigating…

On my list of things to see,

1. La Catedral, the cathedral that dominates Arequipa’s main plaza

2. Casa Ricketts was built in 1738, it has served as a seminary, archbishop’s palace, school, home to well-to-do families, and now as a working bank.

3. Casona Library – Universidad Nacional de San Agustín (UNSA) within its 18th-century colonial halls and patios.

4. Monasterio de Santa Catalina

5. Theatre entrance facade

6. Iglesia Saint Augustine

7. Del Moral Mansion

8. Pozo Mansion

9. Iglesia Jesuita off the main plaza, stunning decorative entrance

10.  Iglesia Saint Dominic

So reading about the history or Arica I learn,

The city was founded by Spanish captain Lucas Martinez de Begazo in 1541, and in 1570 was entitled as “La Muy Ilustre y Real Ciudad San Marcos de Arica” (the very illustrious and royal city of San Marcos of Arica).

This city was, from 1545, the port for exporting the silver of Potosi, Bolivia. The Potosi silver mine was the largest such mine in world history, making Arica a crucial port for the Spainish Empire.

Known as the “city of the eternal spring”, it was originally a part of Peru.

Arica was occupied by Bolivia, once from 1836–1839, then again from 1841-1842 after the Battle of Ingavi (Augustin Gamarra, President of Peru made the controversial decision to invade Bolivia! His armies were repelled)

War of the Pacific (1879 – 1883) was fought between Chile and the joints forces of Bolivia and Peru (who had now made friends again.) Chile successfully took over Arica and Tarapacá (after the Treaty of Ancon) which left Bolivia as a landlocked country and Peru lost the rich nitrate territories.

And to view some of this history on my daily walk I head up El Morro de Arica, 110m over the city. It was a great place to get my bearings, with views of the city, port and Pacific Ocean. However, this headland has a far greater significance to Chileans, for this was the site of a crucial battle in 1880, a year into the War of the Pacific. The Chilean army assaulted and took El Morro from Peruvian forces in under an hour... Hoorah for the Chileans! Boo hoo for the Peruvians!

Humberstone – Ghost town

Posted: August 11, 2011 in Chile

Day trip to Humberstone,

…influence and wealth of the nitrate boom whisper through the deserted ghost town of Humberstone. Established in 1872, this mining town once fizzed with an energy, culture and ingenuity that peaked in the 1940s. However, the development of synthetic nitrates forced the closure of the oficina by 1960; 3000 workers lost their jobs and the town dwindled to a forlorn shell of itself.

Strange wandering round a town with no people in!

Iquique – Northbound to PERU

Posted: August 8, 2011 in Chile

So onto two seaside resorts fellow travellers have advised I stop at for a night of two…

The bus left San Pedro Atacama at 13:00 and for 4 hours I just crossed desert. It really is an arid lifeless place;  mountains, rocks, dust and miles of road… nothing more! The National Geographic and NASA is it the driest place on earth.

The desert comes to an abrupt end in the west, as it approaches the  Cordillera de la Costa (Chilean coast mountain range) which runs north to south along the Pacific coast of South America  parallel to the Andean Mountains in the east. San Pedro in fact is completely enclosed by these two mountain ranges.

Not disappointed with Iquique at all, my first impressions are all good, reminds me of a town that time forgot. Yes there are a couple of new resort developments and the ubiqutos glass tower blocks with arces of balconies and polished steel, but the area of my interest if the town centre, my guide summarised it well!

..refurbished Georgian-style architecture from the 19th-century mining boom is well preserved, and a pedestrianized street, Baquedano, sports charming wooden sidewalks.

Iquique is Chile´s top beach resort and a real mix of surfers, hippies and stoners, back packers, shoppers (did I mention is was a zona franca – duty free zone?) and business/property snobs!

The one thing I am not enjoying after weeks of baking hot sun and blue skies, is a rather pesky heavy mist that comes in off the sea and hovers over the town. It is blown in by on shore winds but is unable to go anyway as the entire coastal region is hemmed in by a towering Cordillera de la Costa a few hundred metres beyond the town, so it remains hazy (but warm) most the day, thank goodness the humidity here is very low.

Sight seeing on Wednesday, hmmm let me think:

Edificio de la Aduana & Museo Naval

…colonial-style customshouse, built in 1871 when Iquique was still Peruvian territory. Peru incarcerated prisoners here during the War of the Pacific, and the building would later see battle in the Chilean civil war of 1891. The Aduana houses a small naval museum with artifacts salvaged from the sunken Esmeralda, a plucky little Chilean corvette that challenged ironclad Peruvian warships in the War of the Pacific.

Regional Museum

Iquique’s former courthouse now hosts the catch-all regional museum, which earnestly recreates a traditional adobe altiplano village (complete with mannequins in Aymara dress). The surrounding chambers also have some attention-grabbing exhibits, from animal fetuses floating in formaldehyde to masked Chinchorro mummies and elongated Tiwanaku skulls.

Teatro Municipal

Jumping fountains line the short walkway south to the marble-stepped Teatro Municipal, an ostentatious neoclassical building that has been hosting opera, theater and more since 1890; take a quick peek at the painted ceilings inside

Avenue Baquedano

Avenue Baquedano is the main thoroughfare, and its northern section is an attractive pedestrian mall. A handsomely restored tram (which normally sits outside the theater) occasionally jerks its way down the avenue in the tourist high-season. South of the plaza, Av Baquedano is lined with Georgian-style balustraded buildings dating from 1880 to 1930. Among them is the Iquique English College.

San Pedro Atamcama – CHILE

Posted: August 6, 2011 in Chile

Started next post whilst waiting for my bus, so am not actually there yet…

I arrived safe and sound after an unexpectedly comfortable over night bus trip, the bus is the best I have experienced so far I´d say. I left on time at 01:00 sunday morning, slept  fair bit en route, and arrived an hour late at 14:00 sunday afternoon… delays due to the fact the Chilean border crossing agents were being complete nuggets and checking EVERY item of clothing, luggage, etc. The indignation on the face of many tired, stressed and irritable back packer was evident… especially amongst my female counterparts. Having to EMPTY their rucksacks, trawl though every item of clean and dirty unwear, tops, halter neck tops, strapless tops, t shirts, etc then repack without the benefit of having a spare two hours! *giggles*

The Andes crossing from Salta to San Pedro Atacama through Jama Mountain Pass was spectaculor! At 4900 meters it was quite a trek up and back down the otherside, for all you none mechanically minded people, engines lose a 3-5% of power lost for every 1000 feet/300metres at altitude, so we were not breaking any speed limits!