A Travellerspoint blog

Christmas and New Year in Buenos Aires

23rd December 08 - 2nd January 09

sunny 30 °C
View Ellie and Mike's Round the World Trip on elliemike's travel map.

After returning to Buenos Aires on a ferry from Uruguay on the evening of the 23rd we took a taxi to Milhouse hostel and met up with Kate and some of the others that we planned on spending Christmas with. A group of us drank in the bar that night and got into the festive spirit by putting some Christmas songs on the sound system at the hostel.

An English guy called Jon who was staying at the hostel put up a sign which asked people who wanted to be involved in preparing a Christmas dinner to come to a meeting at midday on Christmas eve. It was decided at this hungover gathering that Jon, Carlos and Mike would be in charge of cooking various elements of the meal for what turned out to be sixty people. We pretty much stuck to what we decided with the exception of Damien being in charge of cooking the chickens. That afternoon a group of seven of us went to a supermarket to get the ingredients. In what closely resembled a task from The Apprentice we managed to track down every item on our list. Sir Alan would have been proud.

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Carlos, Mike and Jon

The two of us went for our own Christmas dinner in the early evening of Christmas Eve. We had a parrilla (grill) and a couple of bottles of wine. Parrillas are almost as popular as Maradonna in Argentina and involve steaks, black pudding, chorizo sausage and various offal, including intestines, kidneys and even testicles (we haven't eaten testicles!). The standard of parrillas is variable to say the least and the one we had that night wasn't great but it was still an enjoyable meal.

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The Milhouse were hosting a big party on Christmas Eve and about 300 people came. It was a really fun night, spirits were high and a large amount of alcohol was consumed. Later in the night a lot of people went to Pacha but we decided that we couldn't afford the A$130 (£26) entrance and instead we carried on drinking at the hostel with some others.

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It had been a late night so most people didn't rise on Christmas Day until the late morning and early afternoon. This meant that the cooking didn't get started until later than planned. By this point Ellie had already been out for chip butties and wine with Maria.

When the cooking was eventually underway there was a flurry of activity in the kitchen with a number of people helping to wash, peel, chop, grate and do whatever else was required. Mike, Jon, Damien and Carlos took control of their respective parts of the meal, making use of the relatively small amount of oven space.

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As the day went on the drink was flowing and everyone was in a good mood. In typical Argentine style the food wasn't served until about 11pm but most people seemed to agree that it was worth the wait. The ingredients included 12kg of beef, 5 chickens, 17kg of potatoes, 7 broccoli, 7 cauliflower and 5kg of cheese.

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We had a very lazy day on Boxing Day and then on the 27th we headed to Tigre to spend a few days relaxing before returning to the city for New Years Eve.

Tigre is a town on the outskirts of Buenos Aires with a picturesque centre that has the Rio Tigre running through it. It is a popular weekend retreat with porteños (people from Buenos Aires) and so was very busy for the first two days that we were there. It was an enjoyable place though and we spent our time chilling out on the banks of the river or the garden at our hostel, going for walks and on one of the days we went to the large craft and fruit market.

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We were back in Buenos Aires, for the third time in as many weeks, on the 30th and had plans for an early night at our new hostel. Inevitably these good intentions went out the window when we visited the Milhouse and we ended up having another drunken night with the others.

We didn't do anything productive on the 31st, unless you count going to an eat all you want Chinese buffet. In the evening we met up with Diego, who is the boyfriend of one of Ellie's friends, and he gave us a tour of part of the city that we were yet to see.

Later that night we were back at the Milhouse once again for their New Year party. The DJ was playing quite a lot of electro tunes, most of which lacked basslines, until about 15 minutes before midnight when he decided to turn things up a notch. There was a good countdown to 2009 and after that the DJ played party tunes until about 2am at which point most people went to Pacha again. We went to a place where there was a night on called Fiesta Internacional, a cheaper alternative, which wasn't very good but we still had a decent night on the whole.

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On New Years Day we walked around the city in the early afternoon which was quite surreal as the streets were deserted and none of the shops were open. Things got a bit more lively later in the day and we went out for a meal with 15 others in Palermo which is a trendy barrio of the city. After the meal, or steaks as was everyones choice, we went to a bar which turned into a club as the night wore on.

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On our very last day in Buenos Aires we had more steak at lunch time then walked around the touristy areas taking photos.

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Posted by elliemike 04:05 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Iguazu Falls, Boca Juniors match and a week in Uruguay

7th - 23rd December

sunny 30 °C
View Ellie and Mike's Round the World Trip on elliemike's travel map.

We left San Pedro de Atacama in Chile on a twelve hour daytime bus to Salta in Argentina. Salta is a pleasant town with a picturesque European-style plaza in the centre and it provided us with a good first impression of Argentina. We didn't have much time there though as we had to catch a bus to Puerto Iguazú the afternoon following our arrival.

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We got off the bus twenty three hours later and immediately caught another bus to Foz Do Iguacu, the town on the Brazilian side of the famous falls. Most people only see the Brazilian aide on a day trip from Argentina but we decided to spend a night in Foz so we could at least experience something of Brazil on our trip.

After 6 months of being in Spanish speaking countries it was strange to be in a place where we had no clue how to speak the language. Despite the communication problems, we were invited to join some Brazilians in our hostel to share their BBQ and beer.

The following morning we caught a local bus to the falls. On the Brazilian side there is a walkway that has a number of viewpoints along it which provide panoramic views of the spectacular waterfalls. The final section of the walk is a bridge that takes you closer to part of the falls where you get a clearer sense of their power, and also get slightly wet from their spray.

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After this visit, which only takes a couple of hours, we crossed back into Argentina and found a hostel in Puerto Iguazù. We went out for a decent dinner that night where we sat on tables on the street and drank some nice wine which was really cheap. The standard of food we've been eating has increased considerably since leaving Bolivia!

The next day we went to see the Argentinian side of the falls. There are a number of walks to do on this side, some of which take you really close to the most dramatic falls. There is also a boat that takes you over to an island where people swim in the water and climb to the top of the hill in its center for further close up views of the falls. The Argentianian side is much more varied and interesting than the Brazilian side so we were glad to see them in the order we did.

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Towards the end of this day, whilst we were waiting for the little train that takes you up to the falls that are further away, we realised that our watches had been an hour behind for almost three days! There was a change in time zone between Salta and Puerto Iguazù that we were completely unaware of. When we were in Brazil we went for breakfast at 10.40am (they stopped serving at 10), made them give us food then we discussed how ridiculous it was that they had cleared away all the breakfast things when there was still 20 minutes left!

The day after we had seen the Argentinian side we had a night bus to Buenos Aires so decided to make use of the day and went to Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, which is a short bus ride away. Paraguay is the cheapest place in South America for electronic products so is a popular place for Brazilians and Argentinians to shop due to the proximity of their countries to Paraguay. Ciudad del Este caters for this and is quite a dirty and hectic place full of traders trying to sell almost everything under the sun. We could have got a good deal on a new camera there had we known that ours would be stolen two days later! Instead, we just bought a few cheap things from the market stalls. Unfortunately all our Paraguay photos were on the camera so we don't have any for this part of the blog.

The bus we got to Buenos Aires that night was luxurious as we got a good deal on cama (bed) seats. We were given two glasses of wine with our dinner and a liqour before we went to sleep.

The reason that we got down to Buenos Aires so quickly was to go to the last Boca Juniors game of the season (until a few weeks ago we intended to get there just before christmas). Going into this game Boca were joint top of the league with two other teams so it was possible they could become champions at the game we went to. As it turned out they won 3-2 but San Lorenzo and Tigre, the other teams at the top, also won so in the following week there was a three way mini league to determine the winner. Boca won this on the day we returned from Uruguay and we saw lots of fans celebrating on the streets by setting off fireworks.

The tickets that we got were for the second tier of the north stand which is where the most hardcore fans are. The atmosphere was really intense, and quite intimidating, with constant drumming, chanting and drug taking happening all around us. Because a number of people stood on top of the barriers that ran across the terracing hardly anyone (including us) could see the pitch, only the backs of those jumping on the barriers. It was a good experience but we only saw one of the five goals! We also had our camera nicked which obviously detracted from the day slightly. Fortunately we had most of our photos backed up and we bumped into Adam and Paula at the game so now have copies of their pictures. We also got some pictures from Kate who was at the match but in a different stand. Her pictures show the end we were in from a distance (the one with the massive flag).

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After the match we went to a nearby pub with Adam and Paula and drank with them for the rest of the night, first at the pub and then later at our hostel. We had all bought fake shirts at the game and none of them were the same; this is particularly true of the badges and the colours!

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The morning after this we got a ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay with Adam, Paula and Kate, where we had decided to spend the week before christmas. Colonia is a pretty little town with a relaxed pace and cobbled streets that are lined with trees. The appeal of the town is increased by the fact that there are a couple of beaches in walking distance from the centre.

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It turned out to be a good choice of location to relax and it felt a bit like a mini holiday within our trip. We spent our time relaxing in the courtyard at the hostel, swimming in the nearby outdoor pool, waking up late and having long, late lunches with good food, gin and tonic, wine and beer. We obviously spent some time at the beaches as well where Mike and Adam would play football with the locals.

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On our last full day we decided to visit Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. After the two and a half hour bus ride we looked around a shopping centre for a bit before getting a taxi to Mercado del Puerto, a nice part of town, which is famous for its parrillas (BBQs). We got one steak between us because of the size of them. It would of probably been enough for three people! After that we wandered around the town center for a few hours. It is a pleasant enough place and is not without its charms but isn't somewhere you would go out your way to visit. We then bought a replacement camera before getting the bus back to Colonia.

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Posted by elliemike 05:56 Archived in Uruguay Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Bolivia- Lake Titicaca, La Paz inc. Death Road, & Salt Flats

24th November - 7th December


View Ellie and Mike's Round the World Trip on elliemike's travel map.

We entered Bolivia on a rickety minibus after taking a night bus from Cusco to an undetermined point somewhere near the border. After passing through the farcically relaxed security and getting stamped in we took a second, equally clapped-out, minibus to the small town of Copacabana which sits on the shores of Lake Titicaca. It quickly transpired that there was no ATM in Copacabana that accepted foreign cards but fortunately we had enough Peruvian Soles and US Dollars to fund a stay of two nights.

On the second day that we were there we went on a day trip to Isla del Sol, an island in Lake Titicaca, and did the three hour walk from the Northern end of the island to the Southern end. Isla del Sol is the birthplace of the sun in Inka mythology and as such is regarded as an important site in the history of Inka civilisation and, predictably, is peppered with ruins. The walk itself was really enjoyable and had some amazing views but was marred to an extent by the amount of charges the locals levied on passing gringos. It got to the point that we were having to buy a new ticket every few hundred metres to be allowed access to the next part of the island. To be fair these didn´t amount to much but it did get slightly out of hand.

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The following day we got a bus to La Paz, the highest capital city in the world. This was a fairly normal bus journey apart from the point, about an hour after leaving Copacabana, that we had to cross the lake. There was no bridge so all the passengers had to get off and take a boat whilst the bus was taken over on a separate, much slower, raft.

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We ended up staying five nights in La Paz. We spent quite a lot of time just wandering around the city, especially in the area where there are hundreds of market stalls. There is one place, known as the witches market, that sells all sorts of strange things, including llama feutus´s. These are said to bring luck. On the second day we were in La Paz Clare and Maria arrived and we had a big night out with them and some others from the hostel. We ended up at the infamous Route 36 nightclub and stayed there until the early hours of the next morning.

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Most other evenings we spent time at the hostel bar where they organized activities such as killer pool and a pub quiz. One exception to this was on the Sunday evening when we went to Cholita's Wresting. This is essentially a very poor imitation of America's WWF wrestling, whose selling point is that some female wrestlers wear the traditional Bolivian dress. The costumes worn by the men included Raphael from the Turtles, a skeleton and a red indian. There was even a midget getting involved at one point. They all put on a good show though and it was worth going to.

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On another day when we were in La Paz we went mountain biking down the 'worlds most dangerous road', also known as the Death Road. The total length of the route was 62km, with a descent of 3550m. The first part of this was on a normal tarmacked road so the cycling was fairly easy. It was really cold though and we both wore two pairs of gloves! There was even snow at the top of the mountain where we started.

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It was at the half way point that the Death Road itself began. It is a bumpy, gravelly, narrow road that corkscrews down the side of a large mountain. Fortunately a new road opened two years ago so now Death Road is used mainly by cyclists and the minibuses that follow each group. Our guide told us that on average 55 people died each month on Death Road before the new road opened. No one really knows how true any of these figures are though as every group seems to get told different statistics.

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We left La Paz on a night bus and had a very bumpy ride to Uyuni due to the state of the roads. We arrived at about 5.30am (earlier than expected) and were shocked by how cold it was - it was definitely the coldest we´ve been since leaving the UK (although probably not as cold as it currently is in the UK)! We ended up going to a cafe where we had a very early morning fry up, then waited in the office of our tour company until about 11am when we set off on our trip to Salar de Uyuni (salt flats).

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Our first stop of the tour, which came shortly after leaving Uyuni, was the 'graveyard of trains', a site next to the railway line that connects Bolivia and Chile where some of Bolivia's earliest trains, from the 1850s, have been left to rust.

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Soon after this we found ourselves driving through the vast expanse of the worlds largest salt flats. The next place we visited was a salt factory where they processed the salt from the flats so that it was fit for consumption then bagged it up for sale in shops. They produce 2000kg a day. It is quite typical of Bolivia, the poorest country in South America, that the one thing they still have an abundance of fetches such a low price in the market.

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After leaving the salt factory we drove a bit further to the salt hotel. This is a building that is made almost entirely of salt that has a few bedrooms and another, quite large room, that houses a number of sculptures which are carved, predictably, from salt.

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After another hour or so of driving we arrived at Isla del Pescado (Fish Island). This island basically involved a lot of cacti, a lot of rocks, and had a path that led to the highest point. From the top there were amazing views of the salt flats but it was hard to see in what way the island resembled a fish.

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We ate some llama for lunch then all took the opportunity, provided by the vast whiteness of the salt flats, to attempt some rudimentary trick photography.

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The rest of the day was spent driving to the end of the salt flats then across some more rugged and rocky terrain to reach the hostel in which we were spending the night. The hostel was in the middle of nowhere so there wasn't much in the way of evening entertainment. We all had dinner, played Yahtzee (with dice made from salt), drank some wine and had a fairly early night.

Our first destination the following morning was a viewpoint where we could see a volcano that was half in Bolivia and half in Chile - still active apparently. The viewpoint, and surrounding area, was formed entirely of volcanic rock which was quite fun for walking and climbing.

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We then went on a tour of various lagoons. All of these were impressive in their own way and were nearly all populated by flocks of flamingoes.

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We also stopped off to see the Arbol Piedra (stone tree) which is a fairly impressive topographical feature. There were also more volcanic rocks to be climbed at this site, although climbing the arbol piedra itself was forbidden (and probably very difficult). That night we stayed at a very basic hostel which had neither showers nor heating. It got ridiculously cold and we all ate dinner in hats whilst wearing almost every layer of clothing available to us!

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The next morning we all had to be up at 4.30am so we could see the sunrise and drive to Sol de Mañana where there are a number of geysers. It was all very beautiful but because it was so early in the morning it was ridiculously cold and we weren't keen to leave the warmth of the jeep for long periods of time! Our guide told us at this point that Salvador Dali had once visited the deserts we were driving through and had used them as inspiration for some of his famous pictures.

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We then drove to some hot springs where there was a large man made bath to warm everyone up. We also had breakfast there, which was fortunately served indoors.

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We had time to fit in one more lagoon before driving to the Bolivian border checkpoint where we said goodbye to our guide and the two Bolivian girls in our group. Our guide wasn't that good though as he wasn't particularly friendly and didn't speak English - Mike ended up translating quite a lot of the Spanish for those in the group who only spoke English.

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At the Bolivian border we transferred to a bus and went to San Pedro de Atacames in Chile. This was actually a last minute decision based largely on the fact that going to Chile vastly reduced travelling time to get to our next destinations in Argentina. San Pedro is a laid back little village with dusty streets and a nice central plaza. We spent two days there enjoying the warmer climate as well as the Chilean cuisine and wine (well, we mainly drank boxed Clos actually!).

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Posted by elliemike 05:25 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

Peru - Huacachina, Nazca, Cusco and Machu Picchu

10th - 24th November


View Ellie and Mike's Round the World Trip on elliemike's travel map.

After we finally left Lima we took a bus to Ica and then a taxi to nearby Huacachina - a small village surrounded by sand dunes that has a lagoon in the middle.

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We stayed in a hostel which had a swimming pool and plenty of sun loungers which people took advantage of everyday as the weather was consistently excellent.

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The hostel quite regularly put on eat and drink all you want BBQs. We went to two of these, both times ensuring we got value for money. Especially where the drinks were concerned! We mostly drank Pisco Sour, the local cocktail of choice. Unfortunately it wasn´t a sleep all you want hostel as the loud music from the bar could be heard clearly in plenty of rooms (including ours) until about 4am.

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The main activity in Huacachina is sandboarding and we did this on our second day. The sandboarding itself was fun but very difficult and we both resorted to using the sandboards as sledges on some of the larger dunes. Many others did the same and in some ways this was better as you could go straight down without worrying about crashing so much.

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An added bonus of this trip was riding in the buggy that took us to the dunes which are used for sandboarding. The driver was crazy and went out of his way to go up the steepest dunes and over ridges with sharp drops on the other side - this invariably prompted a lot of screaming in the buggy! When the sandboarding had finished our driver took us to a secluded spot to watch the sunset which was really spectacular. All you could see in every direction was massive sand dunes which made it seem as if we were on another planet.

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We ended up staying in Huacachina for four nights but didn't do that much else. We were hanging around with some English people, Stuart & Beth and Mark & Chrissie, and spent a fair bit of time by the pool in their hostel. In the evenings Mike would play football with some of the local guys and Ellie would climb up the sand dunes. Like the other activities in Huacachina these were only possible later in the day as it was always too hot earlier on.

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After leaving Huacachina we had a (relatively) short 2 1/2 hour bus trip to Nazca with Stuart and Beth. We arrived quite late in the day, found a hostel, went out for dinner and a bit of a walk around the fairly uninspiring town centre.

We were up early the next day and got a taxi to the airport so that we could arrange a flight to see the Nazca lines. It was easy to sort out and within 45 minutes the two of us and Beth were in a four seater light aircraft flying over the lines. The Nazca lines are spread over a vast area and can only be seen properly from the air. The most elaborate ones (which are mainly of animals) are between 60 and 300 metres in length and can be made out clearly from the sky. They include a monkey, a dog, a spider, an alcatraz, a tree and a parrot. A lot of mystery still surrounds the ancient lines and no-one really knows who made them and what their significance is. Probably the most reasonable theory is that they were made by humans for religious purposes. However, others claim they were made by aliens!

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Getting between Nazca and our next destination, Cusco, turned out to be a bit of an ordeal. The bus left Nazca at 8pm and was meant to arrive in Cusco at 10am the following morning. This would have been bad enough in itself but as it turned out the bus broke down in the middle of the night and they had to wait until it was light to fix it. We didn't get to Cusco until 4.30pm (over 20 hours after we left Nazca) so essentially we lost a day! This only gave us a day to sort out a trip to Machu Picchu. We weren't able to do the Inka Trail as it needs to be booked in advance (although Ellie has done it previously), so we decided to go with the Inka Jungle trek which involves a day of mountain biking, a day of walking and a day to see Machu Picchu itself.

We left to go on this trip early in the morning in a minibus with the seven others in our group. This was going well until about 11am when we came across the first landslide. This had blocked the narrow mountain road we were driving down but fortunately it was almost cleared by the time we came to it. We were only delayed by about half an hour so this wasn't too bad. We weren't so lucky the second time though. About 10 minutes after the first one we encountered another landslide which was much larger than the first and had happened more recently meaning there were no bulldozers on the scene to start clearing it. Our guide made the rather bizarre decision to leave our bikes on one side of it whilst getting everyone in the group to run across the landslide to wait on the other side (whilst small rocks were still falling). This time we were delayed for about three hours, which was spent standing about in the rain.

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Eventually our bikes were allowed to pass but no vehicles could get round it so we had to start cycling from where we were. In the end we spent about three hours cycling to the point where we were meant to start! This is where we finished for the day. It was an enjoyable ride though which was almost entirely downhill and took us past some amazing scenery.

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The following day, fortunately, went much more smoothly than the first. The days activity was a walk through the 'sacred valley' which wasn't particularly strenuous but provided some good views of the surrounding mountains. We walked along some paths at first and then onto a railway line that took us to Aguas Calientes, the town that is used as a base for visiting Machu Picchu. We thought these were disused train tracks until we were told to stand to the side as a train was coming! We arrived in Aguas Calientes in the afternoon and had time to relax in some hot springs before having dinner with everyone from the group.

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The following morning we were up at 4am in order to set off for Machu Picchu at 4:30am. This involved walking up a lot of steps through some forest that took us to the entrance for 6am. We had a tour of the ruins about half an hour later which was quite interesting but would have been more beneficial had everyone in the group no been so knackered.

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After the tour we decided not to climb Wyna Picchu mountain (the one you can see in the photo above) which is what the majority of people do, but instead climbed Machu Picchi mountain which is something that most people are unaware is even possible. We probably only saw about 20 other people the whole time and got some amazing views of the ruins. Fortunately we had good weather so we were able to see everything clearly from the top which is not always the case as it is often very cloudy.

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When we had finished looking at Machu Picchu and walked back down to Aguas Calientes we had some ridiculously over priced pizza and some most welcome cold beer with the three Brazilian guys from our group before getting a train and bus back to Cusco.

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The day after we got back to Cusco one of our friends from home, Louise, arrived with her friend Mim. We ended up staying for another 4 days to spend some time with them. On one of the days we went on a walk around some of the archaeological sites near Cusco but on the whole we didn't do too many activities. Stuart and Beth also arrived during this time and we went for a Sunday Roast with them - our first of the trip. On our last night we all went out for dinner and the two of us had the local specialty - guinea pig. Predictably there wasn't much meat on it and it wasn't very tasty but when in Rome...

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Posted by elliemike 06:19 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

North Peru

29th October - 9th November


View Ellie and Mike's Round the World Trip on elliemike's travel map.

We crossed the border into Peru at the ridiculously early hour of 4am and then continued on to Piura where we got a bus to Máncora - a beach resort on the North Coast. The hostel we stayed in was located right on the beach and had a bit of a party atmosphere. This wasn't so good to begin with as we could have done with catching up with some sleep and the music was playing so loud we thought there was a speaker in our room!

However, we later got into the spirit of things. It was a staff members birthday so they had a bonfire and drink promotions and the celebrations went on until the early hours.

We spent a couple more days in Mancora, spending a bit of time on the beach, hanging around at the hostel and playing a bit of beach volleyball. Our last day was Halloween so throughout the day there were games such as jelly wrestling taking place. We missed the party that night as we got an overnight bus to Trujillo, but have heard rumours that it wasn't actually that good!

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The hostel we stayed at in Trujillo offered tours to the nearby pre-Inca ruins of Chan Chan and Huacas de Luna y Sol so we signed up for this the day we arrived with two others: Laura who we'd travelled down with from Mancora and Steve, an old America guy who we'd previously met in Cali.

It was a tight squeeze in the hostel owners old VW Beetle which was used for the tour, although the journey in this around Trujillo was probably the highlight of the trip. The guide didn't speak very good English so it was hard to understand what she was saying about either of the sites.

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The next morning Ellie went on ahead to Huaraz with Laura whilst Mike went to Huancayo to do some surfing. The journey to Huaraz involved some very tight corners on steep mountains with huge drops below and had some amazing scenary.

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Huaraz is a town up in the Cordillera Blanco y Negra mountain range and is a base for mountain biking, trekking and horse riding. Ellie went horse riding with Laura one day up the Cordillera Negra - the horse was very slow and tired, but got some great views ofthe Cordillera Blanco mountains which have snow at the top of them.

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After Huaraz we got the night bus to Lima where we spent 5 nights - longer than planned as some friends we'd met in Vilcabamba were coming down for the weekend. We spent the first few days seeing the sights around Central Lima and Miraflores where we were staying. Last time Ellie was in Lima 8 years ago there were large protests taking place in the main plaza so it was good for her to see it again on a normal day. We also had a tour of the San Francisco Monestry, which has catacombs under the building, and the Spanish Inquisition museum.

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On Friday, Liz and Conner arrived so we had a few drinks with them, and then a big night out on Saturday when Clare and Maria arrived too. We went out to a bar in Barranco and then onto a club in Miraflores.

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Posted by elliemike 11:57 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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