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veritykent's Travel Blog
veritykent's Travel Blog

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Sydney, Australia

Sydney, Australia

I arrived into Sydney bright and early on Wednesday morning having spent what seemd like days travelling and all I wanted to do was get to my hostel and have a refreshing shower. It seemed the easiest way to get into the city was to take the metro so I bought myself a ticket and then squeezed in among the smartly dressed commuters and 20 minutes later jumped off at my stop. It was a lovely, fresh day and I immediately liked the feel of the city as I walked the few blocks to my hostel. Having been used to fiarly sparse and basic accomodation for the last four months, 'Base Backpackers' was like a hotel. Very clean with lots of white accessories I felt a bit out of place, but to be honest it made a nice change. It all came at a price though as one night there was the same as about three nights in Central or South America and the internet wasn't even complementary! I was given a card key for my room too which was novel so I took my stuff upstairs, had a shower and then headed out into the city around midday.
I had chosen the hostel as it was very close to the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House so it made sight seeing very easy. As I was walking towards the docks I found a nice looking hairdressers and I popped in to enquire about prices etc. They could fit me in there and then so I decided to treat myself to some much needed pampering and had the most blissful couple of hours. I was brought a hot cappucino, lots of magazines and once the foils were ready to be removed, I was placed in a massage chair as I had my hair rinsed.
From the hairdressers it only took me a few minutes to walk down to Circular Quay where I caught my first glimpse of the Harbour Bridge; it was actualy very exciting to see in the flesh one of the most recognisable landmarks in the modern world. Then taking a few more steps I saw the Opera House, also very exciting, though I thought it appeared smaller that I imagined.

permalink written by  veritykent on June 29, 2009 from Sydney, Australia
from the travel blog: Up, up and away
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Mendoza and Cordoba, Argentina and Santiago, Chile

Santiago, Chile

The bus journey from Santiago to Mendoza was pretty straighforward; the border crossings in South America are so much more pleasant than those in Central! I had met a two English guys and a girl who were on my bus and all travelling together so I headed with them to a hostel we had been recommended by someone in Santiago. After checking in and dumping our bags we went out to investigate a night market that we had seen in the taxi on teh way from the bus station. Loads of crafts stalls had been set up throughout the central park selling jewellery, leather goods, artwork and handmade choccies so we wandered round this for a while admiring all the beautiful thigns on sale. However, being Argentina, nothing was too much of a bargain so we headed off to find some supper. It was past 11pm at this point but we foudn a great little Irish Bar still serving food and I had a yummy baked potato, something I have been craving for most of my travels!
The next day Johnny - one of the English guys - and I signed up to go on a wine tour which was lots of fun! We were taken to two serparate wineries (not sure if this is the right term, but it sounds about right) of different sizes and shown their techniques and machinery for pressing the grapes and also their extensive cellars. The first one especially, which was larger and a bit grander, was enchanting with its beautiful vaulted ceilings and soft lighting. It must be such a lovely and romantic job working there! We fo course sampled the wine as well, which I have to say I wasn't much of a fan of. Mendoza's most prominent wine is a Malbec which I simply didn't warm to. It was also served very cold which seemed a bit strange to me. The first winery though also let us try a sweet Sauvignon Blanc which was absolutely delicious - I think Dads would would have enjoyed it too so I will try and locate a bottle when I get home.
After we had visited those two we were then taken to an olive oil factory which was also fascinating, though sadly because it was a public holiday we weren't able to see any of the machinery in porcess as none of the workers were there. Nontheless we were able to try loads of different olive oils, including a yummy rosemary one, which they served us with crusty bread, baked aubergine and sun dried tomatoes. Honestly, the whole price of the tour would have been worth it if that's all we had done!
That evening the English group were heading off so we all got some cheapo take out food before they left for their bus and then I spent most of the evening reading my book in the common room.
I had booked an overnight bus to Cordoba for the next evening (16th) so that day I just spent a few hours walking around the town taking photos of the park and sitting outside cafes in the sun reading more of my book. As I was on the internet JOnny happened to come online so I had a lovely chat with him on Skype - the first time in three weeks so that was nice. The I finally managed to get hold of Lals too so we also had a lovely catch up.
My bus wasn't until 10pm so I bought some food at the supermarket and made myself supper in front of Friends before heading off for my overnighter.
The bus journey was fine and I arrived in Cordoba early the next morning. I had booked a bed in a small hostel in town that the guidebook said was nice so I caught a taxi there and checked in. As soon as I had walked through the door I bumped into a boy that I had kind of travelled with in Bolivia and who had been part of our group on the Salt Flat tours. It was about 7am and he had not yet gone to bed, but stayed up from his night out so he could have his complementary breakfast and then go to bed! Annoyingly the hostel had not been able to get my bed ready yet as the girls in my room were so messy they had not been able to really get into the room, and as it was early the staff were letting them sleep a bit before venturing in. They let me have private room for the meantime and so I crashed out for a few hours as I hadn't managed to sleep on the bus and was absolutely shattered.
After finally being let into my room - in the end they put me in a different dorm as it was nicer! - I headed into town, first going to the bus station to book my return trip to Santiago in time for my flight to Sydney. Unfortunately the main square was blocked off as they were doing renovations but it was still a bustling part of the city so I bought some fruit and sat on a bench for a while, people watching and reading my book. After wandering around admiring the architecture of the cathedral and other old buildings I headed back to the hostel as it was already early evening and I wanted to see what people were up to. The best thing about the hostel is that it's quite small and so the staff cook a big comunal supper everynight and push all the tables together so everyone eats with each other - very sociable. Strangely though, they don't serve the food until 10pm so I chilled with everyone in front of the Tv until it was ready and then had yummy roast lamb with laods of lovely veg. Soemtime after supper we all headed out to a bar/club and I had my first vodka redbull since Bristol so I felt slightly nostalgic!
We got back home at about 5am so I wasn't awake all that early the next morning! However my skydive was a 2pm so I was up and ready to, very, very excited! It was only me and two Israili girls doing it with me so we all jumped in the minivan and got driven to the airfield. When we arrived we were greeted by our instructor, camer man and pilot and with only about ten minutes instruction and time to sign a disclaimer, I found myself climbing into a white and neon pink jumpsuit and having a harness strapped onto me. The other two were very nervous, and as I was not, I went first. We walked out to the plane and shoehorned ourselves in - I do not exaggerate - my instructor and I were first in after the pilot and then the camera man just about managed to clamber in after us. Apparently the plane cannot actually alnd with that many people in side and would simply snap in half if we tried so really once your in, you have no choice but to jump!
The take off was very strange, being such a light aircraft I found it hard to tell when we had lifted off the ground and once airbourne it also felt very stange. I can't really describe the sensation bu to say that I was very aware that I was sitting right in the floor of the plane. It took about ten minutes to climb up to 10,000 feet and the views were fantastic; we could see all over the city, a huge green lake and beautiful mountains. When it was time to jump my instructor explained that there would be a huge rush of air when the doors were opened and it would make quite a large noise, so not to be alarmed. It's funny, and also very apparent on the DVD footage, I wasn't at all nervous or apprehensive all the way to the airfield or on teh climb in the plane, but when the doors open it changes everything! The camera man gets out first, but becuase he obviously has to wait for you so he can catch everything, he basically just hangs off the wing until you're ready! Then my instructor shuffled me forwards until he was sitting on the edge of the plane and I was literally hanging over the edge. My shoes nearly flew off with the air rush so I took then off and gave them to the pilot - apparently a first for them. Scared is not really the right word, I think shocked is more accurate. Hanging there over the edge, looking down and realising how high I was, took my breath away. Luckuly though, you're not given that long to contemplate it as the instructor pretty quickly launches you out of the plane to begin the freefall. Once we were plumetting through the air, I lost all sense of fear and shock again and adrenaline took hold. It was the most amazing feeling, but strangely it felt sort of natural to be flying through the air. Again, the sensation simply cannot be described. Suddenly the instuctor pulled the cord so we shot upwards - well of course you don't, it just feels like you do - and then began our slow descent. He lets you stand on his feet which is great and makes the whole thing very relaxing. That is until he loosens the straps. On the ground he told us that once the chute was up he would loosed everything so it's more comfortable, however falling several thousand feet through the air at an alarming rate put this out of my mind so when he did adjust everything, I just felt myself surging forward suddenly. That really was alarming and I grabbed onto him as best I could. He calmed me however and explined what he had just done and the rest of the descent passed without incident. The landing was pretty fun too; my instructor just shouted at me to raise my legs and he does all the hard work. When he releases you from the harness all the adrenaline that had been building up the whole experience, suddenly hit me and I started leaping around and jumping in the air yelling! My instructor adctually had to tell me to calm down as he says this always happens to people and it's when they are most likely to hurt themselves simply by tripping over or something stupid like that! I ran back to join the other girls who had been cheering me on when I was landing and then sat down to collect my thoughts!
The other two girls then had their turn; it was great to watch them and actually see from the ground what I had just done. When you see them jump from the plane the freefall somehow seems faster when you're watching from the ground.
It was dark when we retuned to the hostel and I was totoally warn out even though my whole skydive had only taken about half an hour. I had supper again in the hostel and had a fairly early night.
The next day Pati arrived from Buenos Aries in the afternoon. I was sitting in the yard when she arrived and though I couldn't see her I knew who it was, as I just recognised her voice. I ran out to greet her and she hadn't changed at all, still exactly as I remebered her. We gave each other a big hug and it was clear that we were going to fall back into our old friendship straight away. After dropping her bags off in our dorm we headed out into the city and had a wonder round before finding a lovely bistro with tables on the street in the sun. I had some food and we both had a big glass of cold white wine each and spent the next couple of hours nattering and catching up on many years of news. I had totally forgotten wuite how young we were when she actually attended Moreton - it was on Lower 4. She hda come back for a month when we were older and it was then that I went with her to Spain, but still along time had passed since we had last been properly in touch.
We spent the afternoon wandering round the city and then headed back to the hostel in the early evening with some more wine and sat in the yard with lots of others chatting until supper. As it was Friday night the hostel had a big barbeque with loads of delicious meat and so many sides of mash, roast potatoes, lentils, veg, salad and other stuff that we all ate way too much! However, everybody had that 'Friday feeling' so after some more drinks in the hostel we headed out to a club. It was one of the funnest nights of my trip so far and we spent hours dancing with a group of great English boyus from our hostel. It was past 6am when we got back so we both flopped into bed and fell fast asleep.
The next day I had an e-mail from one of the boys who had just left Cordoba for Santiago, the same route I was going to be taking later that day. He said that because of snow in the Andes the pass between Argentina and Chile was blocked and they had had to get a flight from Mendoza to Santiago (they, like me, were getting a flight out of Santiago so couldn't just hang around until the snow had cleared). I did some internet research and flights were about $400, not the goodbye present from South America I had been looking for! So my day didn't start on a great note. Pati came with me to the bus station where they couldn't give any more news until later on in the day so we wandered back and had some lunch before Pati had to take a taxi back to the airport to catch her flight to Buenos Aries. My bus wasn't until almost 11pm so I went back to the hostel to relax until I had to leave. The bus to Mendoza was fine, and when we arrived we were told that the onward buy to Santiago would be going ahead but it would be a few hours whilst more snow was cleared. This cheered me no end and I eventually made it to my hostel in Santiago in the early evening. They were serving Thai Green curry for supper so I signed up for that, and then after watching a Bourne film with the rest of the hostel I headed to bed. My flight the next day wasn't unti; 11pm so I used the day to see some of the city. When I had spoken to Lals in Mendoza she had mentioned a nice park called the Cerro Santa Lucia so I went to find that - she was right, it is very beautiful and rewards those who can be bothered to climb the steps up to the top with very good veiws over the city. Next to it was a huge market so I went to look around in case I saw anything good for last minute souvenirs.
The hostel offered a taxi service to the airport but it was much cheaper to take the bus so I headed out into the city with my backpack on for the last time in South America and found the bus stop and made my way to the airport.

permalink written by  veritykent on June 28, 2009 from Santiago, Chile
from the travel blog: Up, up and away
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Valparaiso, Chile

Valparaiso, Chile

The 24 hour bus wasn't actually too bad and we made it into Valaparaiso on time. The bus station is quite a way out of town so we all bundled into a taxi, a feat (five of us and five large bags into a normal sized car) that we were beginning to perfect by now, and made our way to a street that we had been told was full with hostels and pubs! The reccomendation was a good one and we quickly found a very nice hostel with big rooms and a free breakfast, always an appreciated travellers bonus.
Despite being such a nice place, both the hostel, and in fact the rest of the city seemd surprisingly empty of people, especially other travellers. I began to feel quite glad that I had come with the boys, as I'm sure I would have felt quite lonely if I'd been on my own.
The first afternoon we walked down to the waterfront which was definitely the busiest part of the city and there was plenty of hustle and bustle to watch in the sunshine. The city is built up on a hillside so from down by the dock it looked pretty spectacular in the afternoon light, especially as the houses and building are all painted in multicolours, giving the whole hillside a sweet shop feel. As the sun was lowering we decided take one of the city's many funiculars up to the top if the hill and found a nice cafe to sit and watch the sun go down over the water.
Unfortately I began to feel very ill that evening and so whilst the boys went out I lay in front of the hostel telly feeling sorry for myself, unfortunately something that due to the ongoing sickness I did for most of the next day. I was pretty annoyed with the situation but then thought that in fact I have not really had a day off due to illness yet so I've been doing pretty well so far! It was actually sort of useful as it gave me a good excuse to stay in and upload all my photos since a good few weeks back, so a good job done.
The day afterwards though I was feeling on fine form again and we spent a lot of the day walking round the city taking photos. It was our last night in Valparaiso so we decided to have a night on the town which turned out to be great fun with lots of dancing, which I hadn't done in a while so I had a fantastic night!
The next afternoon we all took a bus to Santiago where the boys planned to spend two nights, but I only had time to spend one. What a night though......I won a pub quiz for the first time! It had been organised by the hostel so we decided to have a go and ended up winning two bottles of wine! It was actually a blissful evening as the hostel has loads of gas fires like the one we used to have in the kitcehen at home in winter so I took my portion of the white wine and toasted my toes infront of the fire watching a movie......total heaven!

permalink written by  veritykent on June 22, 2009 from Valparaiso, Chile
from the travel blog: Up, up and away
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Uyuni and the Salt Flats

Uyuni, Bolivia

So we finally made it to Uyuni, a small and pretty unattractive town which seems to be in existance simply for the purpose of being the departure point for the salt flat tours. We arrived in the late afternoon so checked swiftly into a hostel and then went out into the town to try and book a tour for the next day. The streets were lined with tour guides all offering the same trip so it was a fairly easy task. There were eight of us altogether and the jeeps only hold six, but luckily we found a company with two jeeps, one of which already had four English people booked onto it - therefore working out perfectly. It is absolutely freezing in Uyuni and I remebered Lals telling me that she needed all the layers she could get when actually on teh salt flat tour so we all headed to the market stalls and each bought another alpaca jumper and some thick gloves before heading for a very nice supper.
We met our driver at 10am the next morning - having been told he spoke a little English, it quickly became apparent that this was not the case! Luckily our Dutch friend DJ was in our truck and he spoke pretty fluent Spanish so we had a translator at least.
The first day of the tour was by far the best as this is when we saw the salt flats themselves, but before arrving there we made a quick visit to Uyuni´s train cemetary. It´s a fabulous place just outside the town where all the old and out of use trains have been dumped. It´s very strange to be driving through the desert and then come across a large expanse of rusting locamotives. It made for some great photos though; lots of running train robberies and bandits taking capture of damsels in distress! After about half and hour there we then jumped back in the jeep and headed to the Salar. Words can´t really describe it and it feels like you´re on a different planet. All you can see for literally miles is an expanse of flat white topped by clear, blue skies. Again the photo opportunities were endless. Before lunch we had seen a salt refinery, a salt hotel (literally made out of compressed blocks of salt with salt layering the floor) and a huge island in the middle of the flats covered in cacti, many of which were over about 15 foot tall. It was here, where we stopped for lunch, that we all got the chance to take the famous perspective photos - we had brought a toy dinosaur specially for this purpose so spent hours playing around with that. The boys wanted to take an evolution style picture so stripped off in the middle of the salt flats to pose for probably the best photo I have ever taken!
That evening we were left by our driver in the middle of the flats so we could watch the sunset over the salt. He went to our hostel to srop our bags off and start on supper and so we were left literally in the middle of no-where with no civilisation for as far as the eye could see. We had some portable speakers so we put some music on, some boys played chess and other catch and just took in the surealness of where we were as the sun went down. Absolutely beautiful.
We rose at 6am the next day for breakfast and soon after set out for the second day of the tour. The day was filled with beautiful lakes, multicoloured mountains and cool rock formations and we even saw flamingos right at the end of the day which was a bonus as in winter they migrate and apparently quite rare to see at the time of year we were doing the tour. For the second night we stayed in another very basic hostel with not a lot of insulation or hot water. Fairly shortly after supper and some cards most of us headed to bed as it was simply too cold to stay up. I went to bed wearing two vest tops, a long sleeve t-shirt, another t-shirt, two alapaca jumpers, a hoodie, gloves, a hat, leggings, long pj bottoms, two pairs of socks and leg warmers, and I was sleeping in a sleeping bag with three rugs yet for about three hours I was still too cold to sleep! I thought the Inca Trail had been cold but this was something else. I was told the next day that it had reached around the -20 degrees mark....wow!
The next morning we woke even earlier to have breakfast and then set off to the see the sunrise of the geysers nearbye. These were pretty cool - holes in the ground filled with bubbling mud with thick plumes of steam rising up from them. Great to see but the absolutely stank or rotten egg! It was freezing at this time in the morning too so after jumping out of the jeep to take some quick photos we ran back again to huddle in the relative warmth of the vehicle. After this we came to the hot springs where there´s a natural pool you can get in to feel the water. I didn´t fancy stripping off in the cold air but the boys all braved it and reported that it was definitely worth it. I put my fingers in and it really was like bath water.
After one more lake we had come to the end of the tour and were taken by our driver to the Bolivian-Chilean border where we were to catch another bus to San Pedro de Attacama. This was maybe my most interesting border crossing yet. Having completely forgotten that many countries tax you to leave I had only had a little bit of Bolivian money on me. When I tried to explian this to the border man (obviously in very poor Spanish) he thought I was trying to do something dodgy so snatched my passport out of my hand and locked it in his drawer. I, unsurprisingly, went mad at him and demanded it back immediately (again, poor Spanish!) which he would only do when my friend bailed me out. I have no idea when would have happened if they hadn´t been there!
San Pedro was absolutely gorgeous and had it not been so expensive I would have loved to stay longer. It was clealry built on tourism as the only things there were hostels, restaurants, souvenir shops and tour guides but the central square was just adorable as were the buildings and dusty streets. We all only stayed one night there as we were all running short of time too. I had originally planned to cross the border into Argentina to a city called Salta but buses only ran there on certain days and I couldn´t afford to wait until the next one so I decided to stick with the boys and take a 24 hours bus down to Valparaiso, a lovely seaside city two hours west of Santiago.

permalink written by  veritykent on June 19, 2009 from Uyuni, Bolivia
from the travel blog: Up, up and away
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Sucre and Potosi, Bolivia

Tupiza, Bolivia

Sucre is an absolutely beautiful city and one that I could have stayed for weeks on end I think just to sit in the square and people watch. However, there isn´t a huge amount to report from my three days there as that´s about all I did!
When I first arrived I took a taxi to the hostel that I was planning to stay at but unfortunately they had no spaces so I made my way to another one nearer the centre of the city. Similar to Copacabana and Puno, despite the popularity of the destination there´s an abundance of places to stay, but not many backpakery hostels so the place I ended up staying for the first night was comfortbale but not particularly sociable as I was in my own room. I used the day to get some laundry done and explore the city a little bit. I found it to be almost a mix between Cusco and Arequipa; many of the buildings were painted white giving the whole city a smart and clean appearance but also there were many sweet little streets full of little shops with painted wooden signs hanging outside giving the whole place a very friendly and cosy feel.
I wandered around until early evening and then wasn´t really sure what to do with myself to occupy the evening as there were no communal spaces in my hostel, (more like a hotel really) so I decided to take myself out on a date to the cinema! The film itself wasn´t much cop but was quite fun - just a smash em bash em crash em, as Dads would have called it - and after I went to a nice cafe cum bar for a bite to eat. I happened to see a group there who I had seen leaving my hostel earlier and so I went up and said hello and they invited me out for a drink with them, so in the end it turned out to be a very nice evening of pizza, beer and chatting.
The next morning I (thankfully) checked out of my hostel and went back to the one I had originally tried and they had some spaces so I moved in there for the remaining two nights. It was a much better place with a kitchen, dorms and a TV room so I immediately met some fellow travellers. The main thing to do from Sucre, sightseeing wise, is a local cement quary where they recently discovered a huge collection of dinosaur footprints. There are something like 500 individual tracks and you can also see the longest dinosaur track in the world. The ´Dino Truck´leaves from the main square so I hopped on that and althought I´m not really a dinosoaur person in particular, it was actually really interested and pretty cool to see footprints that had been made hundreds of millions of years ago.
On the truck I met two English guys called Tom and Michael and we hit it off straight away so I spent the rest of the day with them and their other friends Rory and James. We were all planning to head to Potosi next which is where the famous mines are so that evening we decided to go to a viewing of the docu-film The Devil´s Miner which follows a 14 year old boy who has worked in the mines for four years already and shows his family struggles and his work down the mine. It was absolutely fascinating and made us all pretty excited about getting to Potosi.
The next couple of days were mostly spent wandering round the city in the sun and sitting in the central plaza and reading my book. We were all hoping to go to a local market on the Sunday but there was an anual street car race being held that day so all the roads were blocked until the afternoon. It was a shame not to be able to get to the market - the largest and most colourful in Bolivia - but actually the race was really good fun to watch too. We sat in the plaza, which was packed with onlookers, all afternoon watching the cars zoom by and then caught a bus in the afternoon when the roads had re-opened to Potosi.
It was absolutely freezing when we arrived so we quickly found a taxi to take us to our hostel, a cute a cosy establishment called Koala Den which actually had gas heaters in the room - an absolute godsend! We had organised in advance to go on the mine tour the next day so we were all up fairly early to board the bus. Potosi used to be one of the world´s richest cities because of the abundance of silver mines. These lucrative resources have been mostly been used up now and the miners dig for minerals instead. The tour was a brilliant and powerful experience; we had seen what to expect from the movie we had watched a few days before, but nothing can prepare you for the reality of the harsh conditions the miners work in. We first stopped at a ´miner´s market´to buy gifts for the workers; coca leaves and dynamite mostly, though some people also bough cigarettes and the 96% alcohol the miners give to their underground god (or devil really) Tio. Entering the mine was fine but quickly the tunnels narrow and decrease in height so we were all, yes even me, were stooping. In many places we actually had to get onto our hands and knees and slide down chutes, crawl through tiny gaps and descend down rickerty ladders. It was so dusty that it was hard to breath even wearing a buff over my mouth! We only descended to level three which seemed deep enough, but apparently the mine goes all the way to level eleven. At one point we were all trying to catch our breath in the dust and wipe the sweat from our faces as it´s super hot down there, when our guide told us that this was the place where the deeper miners come to get some fresh air! We couldn´t believe it.
We were only underground for about an hour but I think we were all quick happy to see, litterally, light at the end of the tunnel when it was time to emerge, hot and dirty, from the mines. We were rewarded though with a display of explosions which was pretty fun, especially as we were allowed to hold the lit dynamite for a few seconds before our guide ran off to plant it ready for explosion. I don´t think I know many people who can say they´ve held smoking dynamite!
We had only planned spend two nights in Potosi before heading to Uyuni to do the salt flat tours as there´s nothing else really of interest in the town, however the were loads of protests going on which meant the road to Uyuni was blocked and we became stuck in Potosi for another night. After this we were still unable to get where we wanted so we decided to head to a place on the Argentinian border called Tupiza - the site of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid´s last dance - just to be moving again. Although we ended up having to stay two nights before finally being able to move on to Uyuni, I have to say there´s not a lot to report from there. It was surrounded by the most fantastic Wild West scenery but the town itself was pretty empty.

permalink written by  veritykent on June 16, 2009 from Tupiza, Bolivia
from the travel blog: Up, up and away
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La Paz, Bolivia

La Paz, Bolivia

Arriving in La Paz was literally breath taking. The road leads you in from the top and so you catch amazing views of the city stretching away below you down the edge of the valley and then up the other side again. It really is huge!
When I arrived I took a taxi straight to the hostel that I had booked into at got settled before heading out to see a bit of the city. It´s quite a modern place with lots of high rise buildings, but it´s also full of old colonial buildings too, so it makes for quite an interesting, though not necessarily pleasant, site.
The hostel was holding a French themed party on my first night, and although I didn´t have time to construct a convincing outfit, it was great fun and a good chance to meet lots of other people on the hostel. One girl Lottie and I hit it off straight away and so sepnt the next day together wandering around the capital exploring. We discovered a great food market that sprawled for several blocks and made for some fun photos. I bought lots of fresh yummies; cheese, avocado, tomatoes and fresh bread and it all came to a couple of pounds...amazing!
That evening was also quite extraordinary. Each Sunday there´s a wrestling match that the hostel organises tours to, and which, having heard the line up, nearly everybody went to! It´s basically like WWF, so not proper wrestling, but the competitors were women, men and midgets all fighting each other so it made for quite a hilarious evening and a real photo opportunity. It was really all in good taste, dispite the inclusion of a woman midget half way through, but it just so funny how much the locals were getting involved. There were cheering and booing at the top of their lungs and didn´t hesitate to lob orange peel and popcorn at wrestlers they didn´t favour! Great fun.
The next day wasn´t really spend doing much, I once again took myself into the town and explored the different markets, including one called the Witches´Market which caters to the supersticious side of the locals and sells all kinds of herbs and potions as well as llama feotuses which apparently if buried under your front doorstep will bring you good luck!
A guy called Rob from my hostel and I went to the cinema that night to see Changling with Angelina Jolie which is very good by the way if you haven´t seen it. Loki - the hostel I was staying at, is renound for being a pary hostel so it was nice for a change of scenery and a quiet alternative.
The next day I undertook the "World´s Most Dangerous Road", by far one of the funest and best things that I have done so far. My entire travels I have met people who have told me to do it when I got to Bolivia and always I would tell them that I had no intention of riding down a death road. However, when I actually arrived in La Paz I immediately changed my mind for no discernable reason and decided to sign up. We all met in a cafe early on Tusday morning and caught the bus to the beginning of the ride. Here we were kitted out with wind proof jacket and trousers, gloves, helmet, fluorescent jacket, buff and of course bike and given the briefing. This basically included the guide telling us how best to avoid accidents along the way and a few added horror stories to scare the boys into being sensible! The first 20km on the ride was on tarmac so it was a great oportunity to get used to the bikes - I´ve never ridden a mountain bike with suspension before so it felt quite strange at first. The entire route, except for a couple of very minor sections, is downhill so you only had to peddle a few times and you were flying. It was great fun speeding down the road with beautiful mountain scenery on either side and minimal traffic. Most of the vehicles were large lorries and because they were going downhill were in a very low gear and do easy to overtake.
After the first section we then hit the "World´s Most Dangerous Road" proper which is all gravel - and thus much harder to ride on, especially as you´re going down and need to constantly break. We were all quite timid at first, getting used to breaking and not making the bikes skid everywhere, so were pretty slow for the first gravel section. This changed as we went down and we all picked up confidence, but not too much as for most of the time we were cycling about a metre away from a 400-600m cliff edge! It actually didn´t feel dangerous or scary when you were riding, but it made for some amazing views and pretty daunting glances when you dared take your eyes off the track! There´s hardly any traffic on the road anymore since the completion of the new road a few years ago and I think in four hours of biking on the gravel section we only passed on vehicle. When this happens, the guide who´s at the front will blow his whistle either once or four times depending on how he assesses the situation. One blow of the whistle means it´s safe to continue riding and there´s no need to dismount. Four whistles means that the driver is either on the wrong side of the road, or is drunk and therefore we should all get out of the way until the hazard has passed!
Near to the end of the road it widens out and you can pick up quite a bit of speed pretty safely - lots of fun! I managed to break my chain about 100m away from the finish line so I had to freewheel the last bit.....never mind.
We ended up at an animal sanctuary where were allowed a complimentary beer for completing the road and a shower to remove all the dust which was blissful. We also had something to eat here before taking the bus back up the road we had just cycled down - definitely more scary than the bike ride, especially because our guide was kind enough to point out all the times there was a lovely steep cliff to the side.
I was exhausted after this so I had a bit fo food in the hostel bar and then slipped into bed and fell into an immediate and very deep sleep.
The next day I took an overnight bus to Sucre which was much better than my last overnight experience. My seat was about a metre wide an reclined nearly all the way so I could curl up and actually had a pretty decent amount of sleep. The only negative was the fact that there was a loo on the bus but we were informed a few minutes after leaving the bus station that it wasn´t working and wouldn´t be for the entirety of our 13 hours trip! The driver did kindly stop once for us though so it wasn´t too bad. One girl on the bus was convinced that they were actually using the loo for a spot of drug smuggling as she, more than once, saw a man going in and out and moving big bags of something around! Ahh the joys of Bolivian buses!

permalink written by  veritykent on June 2, 2009 from La Paz, Bolivia
from the travel blog: Up, up and away
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Arequipa, Puno and Copacabana

Copacabana, Bolivia

Well I´m a bit behind with the old blog writing so I shall catch up by doing a brief run down of my last four destinations.

I left Cuzco (sadly - I loved that city) for Arequipa on my first over-night bus which was an experience in itself. I was reassured by fellow travellers that the buses were fairly warm and I would be fine in a normal amount of clothin. It´s a very good thing I ignored this advice and took in my hand luggage nearly every item of clothing I own as well as a large alapaca rug! Although fine in the evening, once it got dark the bus was pretty darn cold meaning sleep didn´t really overcome me for much of the 10 hour journey Becuase of this when I arrived at my hostel in Arequipa, I went straight to bed for a few hours (I had arrived at 6am so there wasn´t much to do anyway) and woke pretty refreshed in my new city.

I really enjoyed my time in the "White City", so called becuase of the use of a light coloured volcanic rock called sillar for building material, however there is not a huge amount to report. It was again one of those lovely places that can be enjoyed by simply exploring the streets and taking in the gorgeous architecture - the Plaza de Armas was one of the most beautiful I have seen on my travels yet. I did take an open top bus tour on one of my days there, and although I´m not sure I learned a huge amount about the city, it was a great few hours of just looking and soaking up the scenery. I also met a fun group of boys in my hostel so generally had a very nice time whilst there!

Next on the itinerary was Puno, a short (!) 6 hour bus journey away. I arrived in the early evening so took a pedi-taxi (a bicycle with a bench attached to the front is probably the best way to describe these) to the hostel that I had picked out from the guidebook. Puno, although beginning to reap the tourism benefits, has yet to produce a decent hostel like those you find in most larger places. So this means that mosty the choice of places to stay are strange hostel-type places which look like they´re stuck in the 1950s or cheap hotels. The first "hostel" I tried was a bit creepy in that there didn´t seem to be anyone else about, and seeing as I´m travelling on my own, this didn´t much appeal. So I went to look at another one, and though the accomodation itself wasn´t much different, there was a Canadian guy sitting on the downstairs sofa who said hello to me, so immediately it seemed a better option. The next morning he and I headed to the docks and caught a local boat to the "floating islands" which are probably one of the coolest things I hace see yet on this trip. I have heard mixed reviews about how genuine they are, and by that I mean whether the locals actually do live on them or are just there for the tourists´ benefit, but that didn´t take away from the awesome engineering. A guide gave us an explanation about how they were built, but this was, of course, im Spanish so I didn{t catch everything. But from what I could gather, the reeds form a naturally buoyant bed from their roots mixing into the light, peaty soil. So the locals then pile layer after criss-crossed layer of cut and dried reeds of top of this until it froms a stable, yet bouncy foundation and then they built little huts on top for houses, schools, restaurants etc. I´m sure in the rainy season they don´t look quite so appealing, but in the sunshine they were just beautiful, and were complimented by numerous reed boats and canoes moored at the edge. Josh (Canadian boy) and I spent a good few hours on the islands - the whole community is made up of many small islands which house about eight families each - and then returned to the mainland. I was intending to stay two nights in Puno, but as Josh was leaving for La Paz, meaning my hostel would be empty, and I had already seen the main attraction of the town, I decided to head straight to Copacabana that afternoon.

The bus only took a few hours, and included a very easy border crossing (compared to the hectoc ones I encountered in Central America) into Bolivia, my sixth country of the trip. It´s much smaller than Puno and has the same set back that it hasn´t really developed any decent hostels yet. Luckily I had met two people on the bus, a French girl called Sylvia and an English guy called Stephen, so we decided to stay at the same hotel. For $6 a night we each had large, private rooms with ensuite and cable TV looking out over the lake. For a couple of nights it was absolute bliss! It was early evening when we arrived into Copacabana so after a quick shower we met up for supper and all had the trout which is caught fresh in the lake and served the same day - absolutely delicious. The main reason people stay in this little lakeside town is to visit the Isla del Sol, which is exactly what we did the next day. The island is important as it´s the birth place of sun, according to Inca mythology, and although there´s not a huge amount to do there, it makes a nice day trip. The boat drops everybody off at the north side of the island and then it´s a good three hour trek to the south side where you get picked up again from later in the afternoon. Although quite tough in the bazing sun, and at fairly decent altitude (somewhere around 3820m), it was nice walk and gave some good views over the lake. No of us could be bothered to sit on a bus after a day´s walking so we all stayed one more night in Copacabana and then made our way to La Paz the next day.

permalink written by  veritykent on May 28, 2009 from Copacabana, Bolivia
from the travel blog: Up, up and away
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Lima, Peru

Well my flight to Lima was easy as pie as was the hostel pick-up. It was very nice being greeted by a man holding a sign with my name on it and knowing I could just jump in the back and it would be safe and I wasn´t getting ripped off. The taxi journey to the hostel was actually really fun too. I remember Lala writing in one of her very first blog entries abou the bus journey from the airport in Guatemala city to Antigua where she was staying with her family and mentioning the smell of the city. I had not noticed this at all when I came off the plane in Guatemala but thought of her immediately on this journey as I too got the same sensations as she did. It was fairly warm and had clearly been raining so the ground had the swimming pool smell which tarmac does on a wet summer evening and there also a hint of burnt rubber. That little connection with Lals made me smile and immediately I felt at home in this new continent.
The hostel in Lima was great, with comfy beds and a lovely (and large) roof terrace where you could sit and have breakfast and drinks in the evening. As I was quite tired and wanted to get up early the next morning I had a relatively early night. The next morning as I was getting up the guy sleeping in the bunk above me asked what I was up to for the day and I explained that as I was only in Lima for one day I was going to go and be the ulitmate tourist and travel round the city taking photos and looking at important buildings. This obviously appealed to him as he decided to come with me. So after a yummy breakfast of orange juice and fried eggs on toast ($1) in the hostel we took a cab to the centre of the city and began our day of culture. The architecture in Lima, for the churches and grander, more important buildings, is beautiful and so I got a lot of pleasure out of simply walking between plazas looking at statues and taking photographs. Although in the early morning Lima is often engulfed in a foggy haze, during the day this quickly burns off and the suns shines brightly making everything look even more amazing.
We wandered for a few hours and then decided to visit an old Franciscan monastary, to fit in an extra bit of culture but mostly we were drawn by the guidebooks description of the bone filled catacaombs beneath! We took a tour with a very sweet, apparently English speaking, guide although he seemed fairly panicked for most of the tour and went a little pale if you asked questions and thus forced him to stray from his carefully prepared and learned script. Still it was an interesting little place and there was lots of lovely art to view and of course the catacombs. Basically the monks built mass graves (the best way to describe them) which sit open to viewers so you can see pits of human skulls and leg bones. The bones were grouped together (so skulls in one pit, femurs in the other etc) which I can only assume is a more recent arrangement but our guide didnñt explain this. The most impressive pit though showed both skulls and an assortment of other bones carefully arranged in concentric circles (original design I think) and although we could only see the top layer, apparently the bones went down a further 12 feet! It was pretty amazing actually although some people on the tour found it a bit grim.
From culture we moved on entirely and decided to give the famous black market a view. It´s a huge building filled with hundreds of stalls selling (presumably stolen) electrical good and other bits and pieces. It was a sight to see in itself but I was in the market for a new camera charger having left mine at home. Being a fairly new model of camera no-one seemed to have the actual charger on sale but I found someone who found me a fake one that was cheaper and worked just as well. Don´t worry, I tried it out on my battery before purchasing so I knew I wasn´t being conned!
Then we moved on to a huge market back in Miraflores which is the area of town where my hostel was which sold all types of jewellery, clothes, textiles and other souvenir type things. I invested in an alpaca and rabbit fur jumper to keep me warm over the next few weeks as everybody had warned me how cold Cuzco and La Paz was. It was about seven pounds, so not a bad buy really.
I spent the rest of the day drifting round the hostel, and the nearby shops, visiting a very sweet street market in the main park in the evening.
I had some supper in the hostel and joined Alex (the boy who had explored the city with me) and some others in a pub quiz team - we came 2nd! Luckily there was someone else in the hostel who was catching the same flight as me to Cuzco the next morning so we arranged to share a cab, and as I had to be at the airport at 3:30am, I had a few drinks and then made my way to bed.

permalink written by  veritykent on May 13, 2009 from Lima, Peru
from the travel blog: Up, up and away
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The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Cuzco, Peru

So bright and early on Saturday morning (5:00am) we all gathered in one of the central plazas and got on the bus that would take us to the beginning of our four day trek. I think we all slept for the first couple of hours where we got off to have some breakfast. It was freezing and I was glad that I´d bought so many layers with me, as well as hiring a thick pufa jacket from one of the trekking shops in Cuzco. It was really the first time that we´d all sat down together and chatted, and as I thought, we all seemed to get on well and there was a good feeling in the group which made the thought of fours days hiking much more enjoyable!
After a quick breakie we all hopped back on the bus and headed for the beginning of the trail, Kilometre 82 (so called as it is 82 km on the train to that point from Cuzco). We had been given duffle bags by Llamapath to fill with the things that we wished the porters to carry so we organised those and made final checks to our personal day bags before setting out on the first leg of our journey. Our guide Raul was great fun, and throughout the morning kept us laughing and constantly insisted on ´family´ photos infront of significaint locations. When we arrived at Inca sites he would make us all sit down and tell us about what the site had been used for (farming, traveller rest poitn etc) and supplied us with loads on information about the area.
I was actually pleasantly surprised by the first half of the day, and found it much easier than I was expecting to. At lunch though we would face our first surprise.....the super porters! It used to be that these men, (there were 15 for our group, carrying our things, tents, food, chairs and all sorts) before porter welfare came into play, would be allowed to carry between about 60 and 100 kilos each! Now, they are allowed a to carry up to about 50k each I think, but even so this is a huge amount. They are simply super human creatures, who start out after us, and get to the camp sites before us, jogging most of the way. It´s extraordinary to watch. Apparently each year a porter race is held where they race the whole Inca Trail, which bear in mind is taking us over three days. The winner last year completed the whole thing in under four hours! Unbelievable! Anyway, at our first stop where we were having lunch, we were all expecting some sandwiches and juice, but after sitting down in a tent with a table and stools, we were served with first an avocado starter, beautifully presented, then asparagus soup with garlic bread, followed by trout and rice and fresh vegatables and huge plates of other yummy things, finished off with coca tea. We were all astounded to say the least, and by supper time on the first evening it became apparent after a feast of vegatable soup, three different types of spaghetti and flambayed bananas for pudding, that this was the culinary level that we could expect for the entire trek.
The second half of the first day was a little harder but even so, I was finding it enjoyable rather than a struggle so arriving at camp for the firsr night was a good feeling of achievement. When we arrive, the porters have already set up our tents so we can dump our stuff inside and then they supply in with small bowls of warm water and soap so we can have a makeshift wash before ´happy hour´ where we can warm up (becuase by this time it´s beginning to get pretty cold) with hot chocolate and tea, jam and bread and big bowl of popcorn. Really, I know when Daddy reads this he will think that we weren´t camping at all, but the camps and tents were pretty basic, it´s just the amazing porter service that made it feel slightly on the luxurious side.
Happy hour and supper was always great fun, as when you´re walking during the day you are chatting a little bit but are more concentrating on placing your feet and breathing steadily. So in the evenings we all got time to get to know each other and relax. As we start early every morning, after supper we were all advised to go to bed so after brushing your teeth it´s time to snuggle up in your tent. I was obviously on my own which nice as I had lots of room, but it made it even more cold so I was wrapped up in a long sleeved t-shirt, a vest top, a normal t-shirt, then my alpaca jumper, my hoodie, a thing puffa jacket, gloves and hat, leggings, trousers and thick socks, and yes, I was still cold in the night!
In the morning the porters come and wake you up with a hot cup of tea which is lovely to warm you up before you have to venture outside, and they give you another bowl of water to have wash in. We all gather for breakfast in the dining tent which is tea and jam and bread really, and on the this morning we had pancakes aswell. This second day was the hardest day as we climbed the two tallest peaks of the trek. Before lunch we conquered the first pass which is at 4215m above sea level! It was a tough climb, but a great challenge so I was pretty pleased that I was the first in our group, including our guide, to reach the summit. On the way up you have been slaving in the sun and heat but as soon as you reach the top you are engulfed in the clouds and have to layer up quickly to stop yourself freezing to death! The scenery on the trek is contantly changing as well, we walked through rough plains, cloud forest, bleak moutainous hillside where only Andean grass can grow and then back down into cloud forest again. So every part requires different clothing to keep you at the right temperature. Also because you are so high the sun is really, really strong and without sounding dramatic, it can actually feel like your skin is cooking! We all wore high factor suncream and I kept my cap on though so none of us got burned.
The second pass, though less high was a lot worse! Half way up we were caught in a thunder and lightning storm that then showered us for about half an hour with rain and hail. Just as we were beginning to get miserable and down beat, our uide Raul runs off and returns minutes later, having caught up with the porters, bearing several tarporlins that we could thrown over ourselves. So we all huddled in our little Inca ruins until the worst of it had passed and then set off again up the moutain side. I have to say that of the whole trek it was this afternoon that I enjoyed the least. The uphill struggle to the first pass (Dead Woman´s Pass) had been tough but rewarding and I felt great afterwards but I had become cold after the storm and after the second pass we had to endure about an hour and a half of steep downhill steps. I would rather go uphill than down any day and by the end of the second day I was cold and aching and glad to reach the camp. After a quick wash in warm water and piling on all my clothes I began to feel better and was further uplifted by happy hour and then an other delicious, and huge, supper. The second camp was at a higher altitude than the first so much colder at night, and I don´t think any of us slept particularly well, but it didn´t really matter as day three was only a half day. Most tours only climb the first pass on day two meaning they have to do the second one on day three, but as we had conquered both in one day, it meant that we could relax a bit on day three. We had a bit of up, a bit of flat but a lot of down so we were all aching and ready to rest by lunch time. Our lunch stop was also our camp site that night and as it´s the place that most tours stop the night before reaching Machu Picchu there were hot showers and proper loos so we all reveled in that! After lunch it began to rain again so we were all thankfully granted a couple of hours to relax in our tents, and I think we all had quick naps before going to investigate one final Inca site before the grand finale the next day. Some of the sites were more impressive than others ans this one was fantastic. Brilliantly preserved and beautifully contsructed we were the only people there so we spent an hour just wandering through the deserted buildings before heading back for happy hour and supper.
As we had to get up at 3:30am the next day we all headed to bed straight away and, as the camp site was only just above 2000 feet it was a much warmer night, thankfully! We were awoken the next day bright and early and had a quick breakfast before packing up camp. The reason you have to get up so early on the last day is because the check point (you pass one of these every so often so the number of people walking the trail can be regulated) opens at 5:30am and it´s best to be within the first group through so you can power on through and be first to the Sun Gate. We were the second group there, an hour before it opens, so we sat and played cards by the light of our head torches until we were allowed through and then began the final push. It´s best to be at the Sun Gate, as I said, before the crowd arrive, so the last few kilometres seem like a race and we power walked solidly for 45 minutes to get there. The final climb of stairs to the top nearly killed us all, but once again I managed to get there first our of our group and was only one of about five people there. The Sun Gate is the first time you see Machu Picchu so it´s an amazing feeling as the last few days pay off. The views are incredible so we took loads of photos and then started the climb down to the site itself. All this was before the sunrise so as we walked down we saw the sun coming up over the mountains and illuminating the site.....spectacular!
The gates to Machu Picchu open at 6:00am so by the time we had climbed down to it there were already plenty of tourists arriving but everyone seemed to respect everybody else and it was pretty quiet as we all sat down and watched the last of the sun lighting up the ruins.
We spent the next couple of hours having a guided tour through the ruins which was extremely interesting and then we all had an couple of hours to wander ourselves through the site. It was busy with tourists but still fabulous to walk through such an old and important site, and it´s huge too, much bigger than I expected it to be.
Arriving home we were all exhuasted but even so, we orgainsed to meet up for supper and drinks as a final goodbye. It´s funny how much you bond with people when you´re living with them and sharing the same experiences. Supper was great, and the perfect end to a fantastic couple of days.
Time for bed!

permalink written by  veritykent on May 13, 2009 from Cuzco, Peru
from the travel blog: Up, up and away
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Playa Tamarindo and San Jose

San Jose, Costa Rica

Playa Tamarindo,as I had been warned,w as VERY touristy. I felt more like I was on a foreign holiday than travelling as they were expensively dresses Americans averywhere,s eemingly spending all theirm oney in very pricey souvenir shops! It was a great place to hang out for a few nights before my flight though. I had been reccommended the Botella de Leche hostel which turned out to be a brilliant choice. Obviously the owners have a thing for cattle because the entire hostel was deocrated in a bovine theme with cow print on most of the walls and small herds of model cows dotted around the shelves.
As I only really had one whole day there, having been travelling for most of Wednesday, I just walked around the shops and lay on the beach for most of the afternoon reading my book. I cooked for myself both evenings as Costa Rica is very much more expensive than the rest of Central America and I was trying to conserve a bit of money. The kitchen in the hostel was brill thoughand was open to the common area with big bean bags and sofas so all very sociably stuff really.
I was tempted to stay another night at the beach, but in the end stuck to my original plan and caught an early morning bus on Friday to San Jose which took the best part of seven hours but was pretty comfortableso not too bad really. I´ve got to get used to long bus rides as you can hardly get anywhere in South America without sitting on one for about that long anyway. I checked into my hostel, which again was very nice, and a perfect base for seeing the city. I explored the area near to the hostel in the afternoon and wandered round the Nacional Park which is small, but very sweet.The temperature is noticably different here in the capital, and actually, walking through the park I felt like I was at home somewhere. I cooked for myself again that evening and then just had a very relaxing night in front of a film.
The next morning I got up early(ish) as I wanted to walk around as much of the city as I could in one day. The boys said that they had hated San Jose, but I found a sort of charm to it. It´s true that it´s just a big, busy city, but I much preferred it to some of the capitals I had been to previously on my trip. The guidebook pointed out lots of plazas and lovely buildings that I should visit so I just meadered for a good few hours taking photos and soaking up the city atmosphere. I also had a small parcel and some postcards to post so I went and found the post office, which was situated in the most lovely building I have seen yet on my travels. I took plenty of photos so you can see those on flickr.
It was mid afternoon by the time I made it back to the hostel so I bought some lunch and spend the rest of the afternoon relaxng by the pool and reading my book.
I decided to be a proper traveller and not get a taxi to the airport which would have cost me about $15, and took a local bus instead which was about $1! Took a while to find it and then wasn´t entirely sure that the busd driver knew what I was talking about when I asked if he was going to the international airport, but I got there in the end with plenty of time to check in.
Funilly, when I was queueing to board my flight a girl approached me and asked if I had been on Utila about a month ago and was friend with a tall blonde girl called Alex!! She had been there and Lals had been her divemaster on a few dives. I have said it before, but it seems to happen so much travelling that you meet people again and again even weeks and countries apart.

permalink written by  veritykent on May 6, 2009 from San Jose, Costa Rica
from the travel blog: Up, up and away
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