A Travellerspoint blog

The End of Days

Our journey home...

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The End of Days

I didn't intend to write any more blogs but as I started to write this I realised it would be more negative than it should be. Lima, in its defence, was never going to live up to either expectation or comparison to other places we've been. Sadly, it's a vast expansive city and not one that plays host to tourists like ourselves with much in the way of compassion. To write it off, however, would be unfair. It lacks the character and charm of other, less built up cities we've been too but we still had the best meal we've had in a lovely organic restaurant last night so it's not all bad. Our slightly biased opinion is probably born out of sadness that we are leaving and the fact that for the first time in 3 weeks we are encased in a smog filled cloudy sky and not the sunny and warm climate that we've become accustomed to.

Malecon, Lima

To be honest, we just wanted the chance to say a few thank you's. Firstly, thanks to our hosts for the last three weeks. The boutique hotel in Santiago was amazing and the staff were so good to us and made us feel very welcome. This was mirrored in so many of the places we stayed in during our time here. We're also thankful to both Edgar and his colleagues who drove us around the Salt Flats in Bolivia and Henry who was our host in Machu Picchu and especially the Porters who spoilt Yvonne rotten with their cooking. We wanted to thank all the Chileans, Bolivians and Peruvians who have patiently put up with our complete lack of Spanish and yet have always smiled and been so hospitable.

...but most of all, we wanted to thank all of you. Without your kind generosity none of this would have been possible. We have realised our dream and had the MOST amazing holiday. A trip of a lifetime that has lived up to all expectations and beyond. We are privileged to have so many friends and family around us that have made it all possible. Thanks to all of you both individually and collectively. We are really looking forward to coming home and sharing our experience with you all....you never know, I might even have a slideshow for you....ha ?

Inca Cola outsells Coke
Another busy day in the Office
The wonderful Coca-Leaf Tea that seem to be a cure for every ailment known to man
A Selfie with a Selfie-Stick Seller

Lima's version of McDaids

Ps We got home safely guys...although our bags weren't so lucky....hopefully they'll arrive tomorrow!

Posted by WelshAndy 11:54 Archived in Peru Tagged lima cusco Comments (0)

Days 13 to 16

Copacobana to Cusco and Machu Picchu

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Day 13

So today is a day for travel from Copacobana to Cusco. We were up early again having been unable to sleep under the mass of bedding afforded us. We were fed and watered and lined up to get the ferry back to Copacobana. No hassles other than a slight delay for the American family who had paid for their bags to be brought down by donkey but it and the bags never materialised! That delayed us for 30 minutes or so but we still made it by 12 leaving us 6hrs to kill in the less than glamorous Copacobana. It's safe to assume Barry Manilow was definitely not singing about this place. Think of Courttown/Tenby and add hundreds of backpackers, dozens of Tour Operators, dozens of cafe's and restaurants all claiming to serve the best Trout in town. Traffic was bedlam too. There was some sort of festival going on in town and all the taxi's from Peru were dressed up in flowers and garlands. Strangely the Bolivian Taxis didn't.



Probably the best named Tour Company we came across

Anyway, traffic literally came to a standstill, whereby people got out of their cars and went to get lunch before returning 30 minutes later with nothing having moved. No one seems to be fazed by it mind. We also noticed a few of the Peruvian Taxi's getting 'blessed' by some fella. They were opening the Bonnets and what appeared to be an. incense burner was waved back and forth over the engine...and then in a particularly cruel twist designed to break all hearts....they sprayed newly opened bottles of beer and wine all over the bodywork. There's us thinking we were in for a boring afternoon.


I went to get some Peruvian Nuevo Sol from the bank but they don't do it so I had to withdraw Bolivianos and then change the money into Nuevo Sol. I'm not going to lie to you, anyone who can work out currency differences should be a member of Mensa because I'm certainly struggling. I told Yvonne to put the Chilean coins away before we get confused....she pointed out they were Euro's. Seriously, I've no idea.

We killed a few hours and hopped on to the bus. First impressions are that its not as luxurious as the one we caught in Uyuni. It's 'Cama' alright, the seats recline so you can sleep but there's no Wi-Fi, no entertainment, no pillows, no blankets so definitely a mark down for that. We got to the Bolivian Border 10 minutes later and whilst our crossing was smooth enough, a group of English girls were left stranded. No-one tells you that you have to keep hold of your immigration card so the girls left the bus and left the luggage on it. The bus then drove over the border while we were being dealt with by Immigration so the girls couldn't get their cards. Understandable panic ensued but we all showed solidarity with them and told the hostess on the bus we weren't going anywhere until they gave them a chance to go back to immigration. Turned out, they only had to pay a "$50" fine but, of course, no one tells them this. As if that isn't bad enough the road through no mans land is lined with stalls and cars and if you're not careful, you could walk straight past Peru's immigration office without getting your passport stamped. Sheesh! We both got a few hours sleep on the bus although I was woken by him flying around the bends doing 105km on a bus marked with a 90km restriction!


Day 14

We arrived at 'The Hotel' at 5.30 in the morning and a few beads of sweat were shed as we waited to see what they had done with our reservation. Turns out they tried to take payment on my card which was a Debit Card, as it wouldn't go through they cancelled reservation instead of waiting until we got there to pay with a different card. Never known a hotel try and take money before you arrive but anyway we got sorted and threw ourselves at the mercy of the huge bed.

After a couple of hours r&r we headed out to stroll around the town. Cusco is very different to the cities we've been in so far, well the city centre is anyway. It's a very attractive place, has been lovingly restored with fabulous architecture and some particularly interesting features. It's quite westernised I suppose, reminds me of Bologna or maybe even Florence.


Of course, due to its close proximity to Machu Picchu it has plenty of Tour Operators, Restaurants and Tacky Tourist shops but, somehow, it shows the likes of San Pedro de Atacama and Copacobana that you can cater for tourists but do it in a subtle and less intrusive way. The pace of life here seems more relaxed too. We continued around the wonderful old streets and remarked on the lovely old walls. We discovered later that Cusco or Cosco was the ancient capital of the Inca empire and thus a lot of the old walls date back to those times. An indication of how beauty is only skin deep however can be seen here....


...in La Paz, people, everyday people I guess, don't like their photographs being taken, yet here they love to have their picture taken here...only to ask for money afterwards.

We checked into our tour and discovered we were to be picked up at 4am from our hotel rather than 8 as we had thought. Cue yet another early night. We did, however, find time to discover a great Organic restaurant where Yvonne stuffed herself silly! No sooner had we finished that then we walked around the corner and we stumbled across a small deli that sold gluten free bread and other lovely goodies. Needless to say, Cusco gets a thumbs up from the wife.

Day 15

..so finally, after 2 weeks, we reach our ultimate destination....Machu Picchu. The Tour began with a train ride from the town of Ollamtaytambo to Aguas Calientes or Machu Picchu town as it is otherwise known. A gorgeous train, a throwback to the golden age of rail. Even the carriages had these windows above your head so you could see the imposing mountains overhanging.

Peru Rail, Ollamtaytambo

It meandered its way alongside the river at a leisurely pace. At one point, we came upon another train that had broken down so we had to wait for several minutes while the two trains linked up. I couldn't help but think the river was mocking us as it continued its journey, unhindered, downstream (Yvonne told me not to put this in but once again I ignore her advice ?)
We continued on and eventually reached the imaginatively named station of '104km' We clambered down, literally, as there was no platform and had our pics taken by our guide Henry.

104km 'Station'

A short stroll across a rickety rope bridge brought us to a small enclosure where Breakfast was laid out on an equally rickety table. We stocked up on supplies for the trek and doused ourselves in Sunblock and Insect repellent. It had been chilly enough in the morning so we had plenty of layers on but Henry suggested we strip down to just a t-shirt and trousers, it soon became obvious why. And so we set off. Within minutes we began climbing and climbing and we were delighted we had listened as the heat instantly started to have an impact. We continued on and seemingly after every 20 steps or so we had to stop for a breather and a top up of liquids. It seems so pathetic when it's written down but I cannot underestimate just how tough this climb was. Of course, the painful nature of the walk was eased somewhat by the gorgeous scenery that was unfolding before us. Each step revealed another magnificent view of this park and looking down, saw the valley below become just a dot on the landscape.


The acoustics amongst these mountains are phenomenal, however, and even though we had climbed so far we could still hear the train and the river flow as if they were alongside us. We continued onwards and upwards, stopping only at designated shelters for more water and shade. After an hour or so, the first Inca ruins revealed itself, clinging precariously to the side of one of these monoliths. Its name is Winãy Wayna, meaning Forever Young and is named after after one of the many flowers that grows plentifully in these mountains.

Winãy Wayna

It's layered steps that were used for experimental farming apparently. As you gaze over the amazing view you start to spot one or two others and realise how vast the Machu Picchu area actually is. As we gazed in to the distance we wondered if we get a close up at some stage on our walk or whether it was too far....Henry said 'yes that's where we're having lunch in 3 hours' I mean look at it....we thought it was two days away on the back of an Alpaca yet here he was confirming we'd walk it in one morning. Clearly he had more confidence in us than we had in ourselves.

The trek continued up and down and around, each step taking its toll on our weary legs and one minute we were exposed to the increasingly hot sun and the next we were in the blissful shade of some Jungle growth. Eventually we reached this fountain which even though we couldn't drink the water, the sheer sound of it was refreshing.


I think it was Yazz who sang 'The only way is up' which was destined to become our song for the day as, amazingly by 12.30, we had reached Winãy Wayna and stopped to look back at how far we had travelled. It's a beautiful place, and a lot more peaceful than Machu Picchu itself. There are a lot of Llama's here, farmed, but allowed to graze the light grass on each step. Henry took time to explain all the different mechanisms used by the Inca's at the time, Drainage, Farming methods etc before we moved on to our destination for lunch 10 minutes further on. It became apparent at this point that Yvonne was going to have no worries about her food on this trip. We should point out that while we were struggling in the heat and altitude taking an age to climb a relatively short distance, there were two porters and and a chef who rocketed on ahead, carrying our bags, their bags, supplies, food and camping gear and getting everything set up, ready for our arrival, hours later!


We were delighted to hear over lunch that the next section of the walk was a lot easier, being predominantly level although there were still a bit of climbing left to do. The views continued to get better and the anticipation continued to rise as we knew we were getting closer to Machu Picchu itself. The walk was more in Jungle territory so we were less exposed to the Sun which was a relief. We didn't see or hear as much wildlife as we might have expected although we did spot this little fella along the way.


Just before we reached the Sun Gate, we were given one last final test up what are colloquially referred to as the 'Inca Gringo Killer'.....not a term, I suspect, that dates back to the 1400's.


Once we had safely negotiated these steps we continued on and by around 4pm or so the Sun Gate came into view. The heart started racing, and fresh reserves of energy appeared as we approached the gate. It's these moments that live with you forever but.....isn't there always a but....I have to be honest and say that the expected rush never really came. You see this was the view we expected to see....

Postcard view of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate

...and this was the view we got.

Our view of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate!

Henry looked on a bit bemused why weren't squealing with delight but the fact is you could see anything because the Sun was exactly in the wrong place. We can't say it was an Anti-Climax but we didn't get the buzz that we expected. Alpaca Tours who ran this hike have this as their catchphrase 'The Journey is the Destination' and I suspect it was very appropriate in this case.

After the ceremonial photograph taking we ploughed on undeterred aiming to get to the site before 5pm and therefore we'd make the bus to get back to the campsite. Failure to get there for 5 would mean we'd end up having to hike for another hour and a half. That was enough of an incentive to get us hopping along three steps at a time.

We made it and the sun had set sufficiently for us to get some much better shots and suddenly the place started to look as majestic as we had anticipated. By half five we were on the bus back down the winding road. At every turn it felt the bus was undoing all our hard work. 30 mins downhill in a mini-bus compared to an 8 hour climb.

Machu Picchu at dusk

We had only a few minutes of daylight left, which was spent getting ready for dinner. Needless to say, the boys had been here already for a good while and our tents were set up and the food was ready. We chatted over some great fare and got to know a bit more about Henry and the other guys on our tour Cassiano and his son Marcus. We agreed that we'd like an early start in the morning but Henry warned us that the hordes would start arriving from as early as 6am so we wouldn't get the peaceful image we had in our heads. With that we retired to our Bedouin tents and tried to get some sleep amongst the barking dogs, rumbling trains and flowing river.

Day 16

A knock on the Nylon at 5am got us up and after a quick breakfast we headed off. Henry gave us a choice, either queue for 2 hours for a bus or climb directly up from the campsite which would or should take an hour. It was a no brainer...we said we'd hike. Doh..big mistake. Cassiano said Marcus wouldn't be able for the hike so he said they'd catch the bus. Henry agreed to take them and said he'd meet us up there. Turned out when they got to the long queue, there was a colleague of his at the front who got them onto a bus almost immediately so they were at the site within 30minutes. Meanwhile someway down the mountain, Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing were huffing and puffing their way up, step by bloody step, increasingly frustrated at the stupidity of their decision to walk instead of getting a bus.

After an hour and 15 minutes we had made it. Get this, we had climbed 1350m in 75mins and had covered a distance of just 1.7km. When you think the highest mountain in Ireland, Carrauntoohil, is just over 1000m, it makes you, well, us, appreciate our efforts.


We arrived at Machu Picchu and it was magnificent, the sheer scale of the place and its dramatic setting made for some wonderful views that lived up to all the expectations. As Henry and co had got there earlier than expected we missed each other and spent an hour trying to find each other amongst the estimated, wait for it, 5000 people that visit this place every day. Eventually, we hooked up and Henry brought us around the site explaining all the intricate details as he went along. It was fascinating and a real insight. We had tickets for Huanypicchu, the imposing mountain overlooking Machu Picchu but sadly we were beaten, neither of us fancied taking that on after the hike earlier. Had we known the bus would have been so quick we'd have rather got that and left ourselves fresh for the climb up Huanypicchu but sadly we didn't have the benefit of hindsight. We continued to walk around, being both, educated and stimulated by the wonders of this place. After a couple of hours, we had to leave and head back down for the bus. Henry pointed out that he had never seen the place so busy and that was reflected in the queue for the bus back. I think we stood in the line for around an hour an a half. This was an indication of how the day was to go although we didn't realise it at the time.

Machu Picchu

The bus brought us back to Machu Picchu town and lunch was set up for us in one of the local cafes by our amazing porters. It really was one of the best features of the trek that they made so much of an effort to look after Yvonne and cooked meals that specifically catered for her needs. At that point Henry said his goodbyes leaving us with a gentle reminder that tipping is acceptable! We duly obliged. We killed the hour waiting on the train back, with a Pisco Sour and a beer , and wrote our postcards.

Peru Rail

The train station was a bit chaotic with three trains all leaving at roughly the same time and no-one knowing which one was which or which door they should be standing at. Cue mad scenes with people getting frustrated, impatient and overheated....I should point out that for once I wasn't one of them! In fact I was enjoying the madness of it all. We found our seats which had been assigned 3 rows apart for some reason. When the guy arrived to sit next to me I asked him politely if he'd mind swapping with Yvonne so we could sit together....'No' came his reply, 'I'd rather sit here' Huh??!! Much to everyone's amusement around us, he took his seat and we looked at each other wondering what just happened!!

Our first time apart in 2 1/2 weeks...?

Anyway, a romantic journey on the way to our trek in a classic old fashioned train turned into a monotonous, tedious, and long journey in a rickety old train on the way back. Same train just a different mindset. We arrived in Ollamtaytambo and met with our bus that would bring us back to Cusco. We sat unmoved in the car park for around an hour before eventually getting through the traffic and onto the main road. Another 2 hours was added onto the journey before we eventually reached our hotel, some 6 hours after the trek had finished.

All in all, we have to say, as one of the 'New Wonders of the World' Machu Picchu lives up to all expectations, and whilst it was a lot of hard work getting there and we could have done without the long journey home, overall we have to say, it was worth it.

Posted by WelshAndy 09:08 Archived in Peru Tagged mountains peru the wonders of world climbing machu picchu rail cusco heat ollamtaytambo Comments (0)

Days 9 to 12

La Paz & Lake Titicaca

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Day 9

Day 8 became day 9 overnight with a very comfortable bus journey. All sorts of goodies on board, something akin to business class on a flight. We arrived at La Paz at 6am and got a taxi to the hotel. Thankfully they had the room ready for us to collapse into....Room 101!! We lost the 6 layers of clothing that had weighed us down and had a very welcome Hot shower.

Later in the morning we headed out for a walk around the city. It's a chaotic place but fun. We felt very safe much as we had in Santiago but again strangers warned us about my camera. There were definitely people who looked a little intimidating but they were mostly the shoe polishers who walk around with balaclava's and hoodies on. I used the term 'contrast' to describe the Atacama and the Salar but it wouldn't be too far removed to refer to contrast in La Paz too. There is the contrast between the poorer areas in the city centre and the more affluent area south of the town. Also there's a contrast in the people too. There's a young and modern group who walk around in their fancy suits and a younger generation who wear the trendy American gear and baseball caps and then you have the traditional older generation who wear the typical outfits you'd come to expect in Bolivia. It's a fabulous mixture of colour and culture.











La Paz Street Scenes

We had to come back after lunch as we were sweltering in our clothes having expected temperatures of 5 or 6 degrees. As you can see it was a tad warmer than that!


Once derobed we strode out again with a fresh sense of purpose and walked the Centro district and San Pedro. We returned home laden with gifts bought from several of the vendors that line the streets around this area.

We had heard about this restaurant here in La Paz that's run by the same chap that has Noma in Copenhagan. It's called Gustu and is considered the 16th best in the world! Well we couldn't pass up an opportunity to try it out. We dressed up for the first time on this trip and the hotel kindly hailed a taxi for us. Gosh it was a very worthwhile exercise. We had the 7 course Tasting menu with accompanying drinks. Fabulous food, generally focused on local produce. It was delicious as you might expect and we came out suitably stuffed and a little wasted too! We giggled our way back in another taxi and settled in for the night.

Gustu Restaurant, La Paz

Day 10

....and on the tenth day, they shall rest. We did very little on Wednesday, taking the opportunity to recharge the batteries after a whirlwind week and a half. We gave the cultural museums a miss deciding instead to take a leisurely meander around the city's streets. We took a hike up to the top of Mirador Killi Killi (nothing leisurely about that but good practice for Machu Pichu!) and savoured the 360degree view of this magnificent city. It starts in the bottom of the basin and has slowly built its way up each side so that every inch as far as the eye can see is covered in housing. Some is precariously perched on the edge of huge gorges. The imposing Illumani mountain overlooks the city reminding them how privileged they are to be living in its shadow.

View from Mirador Killi Killi

Yvonne had read about a nice Veggie restaurant so we headed for that and had to walk down several of La Paz's bustling market areas where anything could be bought. We saw dozens of stalls selling Trout, dubiously marked as fresh, fruit stalls, hat stalls, hardware, car parts, in fact, pretty much anything could be bought. Hundreds of stalls lined the streets manned or should I say womanned by ladies in traditional Bolivian dress. Very reminiscent of Dublin's Moore Street in its heyday but on a much bigger scale. Incidentally lunch was delicious!

La Paz reminds us of Naples in Italy. It initially looks threatening and intimidating but once you peel away the layers, it's a city full of warm, lively and energetic people. They hate having their photo taken, but then don't we all, so pics are few and far between. I've been informed that they believe a photo takes away a bit of their soul so their reaction is understandable. We'd have liked to spend a couple more days here to explore the city even more but sadly time us against us. And so we bid farewell.

Day 11

Another early start as we head to catch our bus to Copacobana. Who knew that a bus journey could be so entertaining. We climbed the hill out of La Paz and reached the suburb of El Alto which is now the fastest growing city in South America. This vast metropolis went on and on and on. For an hour and a half we drove though vast swathes of newly built but unfinished buildings of all shapes and sizes draped in a layer of dust. We thought we were nearly through it when the bus suddenly turned off the main highway, whether by accident or design, and spent another half an hour getting hopelessly lost. We can only assume it was a detour but it was a bloody long one! I think half the passengers were watching his route on google maps wondering where on earth he was taking us. In the meantime, a passenger started giving out that the toilets were out of action and had a slanging match with the driver and his assistant. Great fun!

El Alto, La Paz, Bolivia

The rest of the journey passed off incident free which was a bit disappointing! We reached the point where the bus and ourselves went our separate ways. We got off and had to cross the Estrecho de Tiquina by boat while the bus came over on a pontoon. We had 20 mins or so to kill so I grabbed a bite. Contradicted all the guidebooks and bought something that, frankly, looked revolting but I was starving so I took a chance. It was a big piece of Sweetcorn with purple potatoes and some cheese that was grilled to the point that it had the consistency and, perculiarly, the taste of chicken. Some 10 hours later, I feel ok so looks like the gamble paid off. We continued on to Copacobana....not the famous one in Rio but the main connecting point for the Island, Isla del Sol. The ferry took an eternity, about an hour and a half to make the crossing and we were surprised by the number of people who arrived. All the boats leave at the same time so inevitably there's a mass arrival at the southern end of the Island called Yumani. Within minutes though everyone dissipates and head off in different directions to various hostels on the Island. We, by some miracle, had booked one that was only 187 steps up. It was murderous on our limbs, a sheer climb with all our luggage. Even though it was relatively close compared to some we still wish we had used one of the donkeys that are lined up to help! We collapsed into our room before heading straight down for some lunch and a well earned drink.

Yumani, Isla Del Sol, Lake Titcaca

After settling in, we decided to tackle the climb to the top of the cove to catch the sunset which was on the opposite side of the Island. All I can say is that had they defibrillators on the island we'd have probably used them and worn them out. Despite our preparations at altitude, this was the hardest climb we've had to endure so far on this trip. Once we.....eventually got to the top....we bumped into the American contingent we had done the Salar with and had a beer and a glass of vino. We watched the sun go down over a very tranquil Lake Titicaca and rapidly finished said drinks as neither of us were dressed for the cold temperatures. You'd think we'd have learnt by now. A far more rapid descent saw us back into our accomodation by 7. We dropped into the accompanying restaurant and had ourselves another beer and another glass of vino or 2 and were entertained by the owners daughter! We also met a couple of lovely girls from Uruguay who were exhausted after walking from the North side to the South Side today. We intend to do the return trip tomorrow. Needless to say if you don't hear from me further, you'll know we never made it!!

Day 12

We enjoyed a lie in till 8 and after breakfast tackled the climb again which brought us to the top of the village of Yumani. Our intention was to walk to the north end of the Island to spot the Inca Ruins. It was a fabulous trek in glorious sunshine which also saw us climb through some eucalyptus woods. We had it on good authority that the trek to Challa' should take around 3 hours. So we figured, a leisurely stroll there, enjoy some lunch, head back and get back to Yumani before sunset. As it turned out we had walked for over 2 hours, albeit with regular stops and we weren't even close. Another group met us and told us they had come from the other end and it had taken 2 hours. At that point we didn't fancy an 8hr round trip so we turned tail and headed back, stopping for lunch along the way. Still a healthy 6hrs altogether. A slight dampener was put on the day when I got a message from Booking.com to say that our night booked in Cusco before Machu Pichu had been cancelled. First issue we've had all holiday so can't complain. Tomorrow is a day of travel again as we head away from here at 10.30 on the ferry back to Cocacobana.



Isla Del Sol, Lake Titicaca

Posted by WelshAndy 08:38 Archived in Bolivia Tagged taxi lake san la centro de pedro bolivia titicaca sol copacobana isla paz gustu Comments (0)

Days 6 to 8

Salar De Uyuni

sunny -18 °C
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Practical Stuff

The border cross from San Pedro into Bolivia is very straightforward. Before you leave San Pedro you get brought to an immigration office where you have your passport stamped and they take your immigration card from you. I saw one guy who had left his card in Santiago cos he hadn't been told he needed it. It was no hassle, he just had to fill in a visa form or something like that.
An American family had to pay $160 for a Visa into Bolivia, something they weren't aware of.
When you scroll through the dozens of tour operators that offer the various tours to Uyuni it can be a maze of information, of claims and counter claims. There are numerous stories that Drivers regularly turn up drunk and that the Jeeps break down. We can only speak for our own experience but our drivers couldn't have been more hospitable and professional. We saw no evidence of untoward behaviour at all.
When using an Agency, in our case Kanoo Tours, they themselves use another Travel company, in our case, Cordillera Tours. As they are based in San Pedro Chile, there is often a discrepancy between what they tell you is on offer and what you actually get. For example, we were told Sleeping bags were free on the first night but the girl refused to hand them over unless we paid for them. That kind of thing happens all the time but don't let it spoil your experience.
Uyuni is claimed to be a one horse town with nothing to do when waiting for your connection. I have to disagree, the main strip is full of Commercial shops and restaurants alright but a stroll away from this area can reveal an interesting and vibrant town.
We used Todo Turismo for our connecting Bus to La Paz. Can't speak highly enough about them. Very efficient and comfortable. The Semi-Cama option is wonderful with great leg room for anyone over 6ft. There's on board entertainment, American movie with Spanish subtitles, and they provide a small dinner and breakfast. Well worth the €80 for two.

Day 6

We set off from San Pedro at 8.30 and reached the border at around 9.30. I can't imagine there are many border crossings in the world that are quite as dramatic or as high.

Border Crossing between Chile & Bolivia

We had breakfast while the bags were transferred from our mini-bus to the 4x4 and then proceeded to get our passports stamped. Mad to see about 50 or 60 people in the middle of nowhere queueing to fall in one by one into a small concrete hut. It was also quite cold too, a couple of degrees below freezing. 10 minutes later we entered the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avoroa or the National Park to you or me. Immediately we were treated to some breathtaking scenery within this region of extinct volcanoes, open plains and river basins. The first pit stop was Laguna Blanco.

Laguna Blanco

Don't know if thats our nickname for it or whether that's it's actual name but it was a frozen lake with views towards the imposing Licancabur Volcano in the distance. We have actually navigated our way around this monster having taken snaps of it from the other side too when we were up at the Geysers.

We ploughed on, literally, rather than figuratively, along the mass of carved out tracks to the next lake called Laguna Verde. The sulphuric acid and arsenic give the lake it's green hue but it's a very inhospitable place, which is hardly surprising really. One thing that stood out as you can probably see from the photographs is the amount of snow up here. It's a dry place but cold so the snow could have fallen as long as three weeks ago.

Laguna Verde & Licancarbur Volcano

We made a brief stop at the Thermal Baths which I thought were a bit more commercialised than the one we, sorry, I used on Thursday! It was a lot warmer here maybe reaching a balmy 4 or 5 degrees. We strayed towards the edge of the lake and I discovered walking on the sand was fine, walking on the ice was ok too but walking in between was a definite no-no, sadly to my cost I discovered this valuable bit of info too late to stop myself sliding uncontrollably onto my arse. I was thus covered in what appeared to be a builders mix and fully expected to dry out with my trousers in a permenantly upright position! Fortunately I was able to brush it all off and now I look like an intrepid traveler or possibly just some idiot that fell in the mud.


By this stage we had climbed to nearly 4500m and it was really having an effect. Thankfully Yvonne's diligent packing of all things medical before we left meant we had all the necessary pills to help deal with altitude sickness but just to make sure we chomped on some Cocoa leaves kindly provided by Edgar our driver.

I've said it before but the diversity in this region really is something to behold. They told us to bring our iPods on this trip so we were fully expecting to see mile upon mile of barren non-descript wilderness but it's anything but. You really couldn't take your eyes off the road for a second for fear of missing the Llama's grazing, the Mountain top that had the colouring of a just cooked Crab or the what appeared to be a sloping sea complete with jagged rocks. Trying to see all the beauty & wonder of this place isn't the challenge, trying to describe it most certainly is.

We drove on and eventually arrived at our accommodation for the night. Yes it was basic but it's limitations were forgotten against a backdrop of such scenery.


We disembarked and had a spot of lunch. Sadly despite meticulous planning on my part and reconfirming Yvonne's dietary needs there was nothing bar a salad of Tomato and cucumber for her to eat. After a little protestation by an American lady who was also on the 'vegetarian option' she got a fried egg too!

We clambered back into our 4x4's, there were 2 of them on our tour, 8 people in total which was a nice number to share the experience with. Three Americans, a Dutchman, 2 French and us.

We set off for the last highlight of the day which was Laguna Roja. Anyone care to venture a guess what colour it was?!! Once again some perculiar algae gave this lake a reddish colour but the frozen parts broke up the monotony and made it a sight for sore eyes. We climbed down the dune to the edge of the lake and were witness again to plenty of Flamingo's and one estranged Llama, who didn't seem as remotely interested in us as we were in him.

Laguna Roja & an Uninterested Llama

After around 40minutes or so we made our way back to the Ritz-Carlton and set about getting ready for dinner. Thankfully, they had a vegetarian bolognese so at least Yvonne could eat something wholesome. We haggled with the giggling Bolivian cooks about some wine and got a bottle for the table which went down very well. We finished dinner at 7 then sat looking at each other as if to say what do we do now. The sun had gone down, and with it the temperature too, -18 and everyone looked at their beds with a sense of longing. Despite being promised free sleeping bags they never materialised, so, as the place was virtually empty apart from us we stole extra blankets from beds in other rooms and layered them ten high. There was to be no moving or turning in these beds tonight but sleep we did....from 7.30pm until 6 in the morning!

Day 7

Yvonne showed no signs of Altitude Sickness and I was lucky too, only getting a headache late last night. We were up and at em early, although it was difficult to leave our cocoon....not because it was cold but because the several layers of blankets had us pinned down! We set off in a bit of a daze but Edgar had Chris De Burgh blasting out Lady in Red so that certainly shook off any early morning cobwebs.

Our first port of call was Arbol de Piedra. This was a series of rock formations that had formed from Lava in the most surreal shapes and sizes you can imagine. If you looked hard enough you could make out just about anything from the array on offer. We also stopped briefly at the mountain of the seven colours, which needs no explanation.


The road took a turn for the worse and the 4x4's came into their own. It's amazing how they survive the severe punishment they are put through on a daily basis but maybe this is their calling rather than driving commuters through Dublins streets at rush hour.

We stopped for lunch in the very aptly named Los Flamingos Eco Hotel where WiFi and Toilets were for sale. We spent a penny or should I say we spent a boliviano and gave the wifi a miss. As we ventured to each Laguna, it became apparent that each one played host to more and more Flamingo's. I was finally able to get close enough without doing a torville & dean impression to take what I hope will prove to be some quality shots. Majestic creatures. I'm glad to report that Yvonne was finally able to line her stomach with a solid lunch.


After a few more miles on the dodgy road we suddenly hit a bit of main road but we'd been led into a false sense of security before leaving said road just a few miles further on. In fairness Edgar did bring us to the base of a live volcano so we couldn't complain. In the process of taking the latest selfie I got Yvonne to sit on this luscious plant that is only found in this part of the world. Some kind of succulent. Looks innocent enough till Yvonne checked her palms and found some unspeakable goo. Still it's a nice photo.


After another long drive where the landscape changed for the umpteenth time, we realised we had reached the edge of the Salar de Uyuni. Destination Anywhere it is not. It's already got us excited for tomorrow our last day here. We arrived at our hostel for the evening and had a great time chatting with our fellow travellers. Having had a very welcome hot shower I hung out the towels to dry and got attacked by an angry cockerel who thought I was on his turf. Hopefully the only time I get hen pecked on this trip. Anyway it turns out a few of the guys are doing a similar route to ourselves so there's a good chance our paths may cross again.

It's up again at 4.30 to catch the sunrise at the Salar and then we get to Uyuni at 1.

Day 8

The last day of this wonderfully fulfilling trip began with a smash as the bottle of wine we'd bought for the journey to La Paz fell off the stool and broke. I'd hate to suggest this is the reason they have a 2inch layer of salt on the floor but it certainly helped the clean up.

We set off to the Isla Incahuasi which is right in the heart of the Salar Di Uyuni. Just before we reached the Island, Edgar pulled up and allowed us to catch the magnificent sunrise. He honed his photography skills to get us to pose in all manner of positions, Yvonne's Pilates classes proved useful, my years of throwing kegs around, however, did not. Despite my misgivings we got some great images or memories captured forever. He told us he does two of these tours every week, which is tough but it's no wonder he knew exactly how to set it up.

Salar de Uyuni (Bolivian Salt Flats)

Once the Sun was fully up we took off for the Island. Breakfast was a simple affair and we had an hour to explore the Island.

It's the home of an Inca community whose very existence has been dwarfed by the commercial nature of these tours. Despite that they live in relative peace. A climb up to the top of the cacti covered island revealed the salt flats in all their glory. They are remarkable and so vast. This part of the country is so flat that they just seem to keep going on forever. Apparently they were formed after an earthquake hit the region 50,000 years ago and the area was flooded by the sea. When the water evaporated it left this bed of salt that stretches for hundreds of kilometers. It's a phenomenon that has to be seen to be believed. I've literally run out of superlatives for this trip already so here's a few snaps which I hope will convey some of the magic of this quite special place.

Salar de Uyuni & Isla Incahuasi

After a brief stop in probably the most unspoilt section of the flats we clambered out of the 4x4 and Edgar really put his creative juices to good use. I know they do this for every tour they do but he was able to raise howls of laughter as we tried to negotiate what proved to be a very hard and jagged surface


We set off again and with the couple of hours that remained till we were dropped off at our location in Uyuni were filled with a couple of stocking fillers. A run down and seemingly disused Salt hotel (dismantled for Eco reasons) and then perhaps in stark contrast to what we've experienced in the last two days, a Train graveyard. Bizarre!

We arrived in Uyuni at 1 and have 7 hours to kill till our overnight Bus leaves for La Paz. We killed it with a few drinks in the main strip saying our goodbyes to the Europeans who were all heading back to San Pedro. We strolled around and despite people saying there's nothing here in Uyuni, we thoroughly enjoyed mingling with all the locals. Once you stray away from the Main Street, you get to see the local Bolivians going about their daily business.

Anyway, next time you hear from us will be once our couple of days in La Paz has finished. As wonderful as this has been and believe me when I say it's been the trip of a lifetime, it's still going to be nice to enjoy the comforts of a nice warm hotel room....We hope!

Posted by WelshAndy 14:31 Archived in Bolivia Tagged llama de border bolivia cold flamingo laguna uyuni salar control Comments (0)

Days 3 to 5

The Atacama Desert

sunny 22 °C
View The Adventure of two auld ones on WelshAndy's travel map.

Day 3

Most of the day was spent travelling so there's not a huge amount to add to our story so I'll dedicate more space therefore to the momentous day we had on Thursday in the Atacama but more on that later.

Goodbye Santiago...
...and Hello Calama.

We got our flight in good time to Calama, Yve noticed that the flight was more like a Kavanaghs Bus than a domestic flight as it was full of locals. Even the Cabin Stewards shook hands with the lads as if they were the best of friends as they got on the plane. We made our way to the Europcar desk. I fear my rant with the company came back to haunt me as the expected VW Golf, 1.6 was replaced with a 1.2 Suzuki Swift. Horrible little thing. Has no business being offered for rental.

Anyway we set off from a secluded Calama Airport, always easier to set off in a new car when you have a nice open road to get used to it. We hadn't been out of the airport for more than 2 minutes when our jaws dropped as the northern edge of the Atacama came into view. It was barren, bleak yet beautiful. Very lunaresque if there is such a word.

large_CDD27A19AE015D605B7B11F8B3D7618F.jpeg Calama

The view was interrupted by dozens of Wind Turbines but even they look majestic against such a backdrop. As we meandered our way to San Pedro and onto Toconao we noticed several shrines on the side of road in tribute to those who've lost their lives. One or two families had left the vehicle exactly where it was found. An eerie reminder if ever was needed to be careful.

Took a while to find the 'hotel' we were staying in....I use the term hotel loosely. It was a former military camp, where the huts were converted into accommodation. Very basic but did the job. I parked the car up and heard a thud. Only when I tried to reverse did I realise I'd driven straight into a sand dune of sorts. First dealing with the owner, was him digging me out with a combination of a spade, water and know how. We checked in and had dinner in the very sparsely occupied former canteen. Food wasn't what we've come to expect in Chile but was fine. The wine was from a source right across the road so pretty local you might say.

We headed back to our penthouse suite and got an early night as we were getting up at some ungodly hour in the morning.

Day 4

Yawn....3.45 is not a time any person should have to wake it but it was for good reason. We were heading to a place called El Tatio Geysers. We'd already established that the roads weren't signposted well so I erred on the side of caution and decided to drive into San Pedro and pick up the trail of one of the tour buses. Clever you might think. Not so as it turned out. We spent 20 minutes following a bus around the small town as it picked up one person after another. Turns out they weren't going to the Geysers at all. We scrambled our way out of town and managed to find the convoy of vehicles making their way up to the mountains. First leg of the journey was fine but once we turned off the main road, the Swift which should be called anything but, struggled to keep pace with the leaders. The road got progressively worse and pot hole after pot hole threatened to call a sudden halt to proceedings. We ploughed on, shamefully allowing one bus after another pass us by but after several nerve racking moments and 2 hours in the dodgem car we finally reached the chequered flag.

We'd been warned it was cold and we wrapped up accordingly but wow it was perishing. Within minutes the fingers were numb and threatening to fall off but as you can see the results were worth it.

El Tatio Geysers
El Tatio Geysers

Wonderful sight as these gushers spewed boiling hot water and sulphur into the freezing cold air. As dawn broke and the place became brighter so the sight became even more beautiful. It didn't get any bloody warmer mind so we headed over to the thermal baths where I braved, not the water which was lovely and warm, but getting back out again.

Thermal Baths, El Tatio Geysers

The journey up had been treacherous as the roads were dangerous and slippery but that was forgotten in a heartbeat during the trip back down. The sun was up, I could see the potholes and we took our time. We kinda had too really, the views were too good to miss. Every turn in the road revealed its own bit of beauty and that was duly honoured with the car being pulled over and a photo taken. This was the first of what will surely become many highlights on this trip.

large_CDA50F98B77950C597086AEC090D4674.jpeg large_CDA24919C77AB52BF1655F9419DE0DEA.jpeg
A romantic interlude
Iglesias de Machuca

We saw some incredible stuff on the journey including Llama's, Deer and several of those Cactai that looked like were straight out of a Sergio Leone movie.

We reached San Pedro and decided to top up the tank. Easier said than done. I'd say we used up 2 gallons trying to find THE petrol station.

After a couple of hours chilling out in Toconao...

Yvonne looking melancholic

....we headed back out to watch the sunset at Laguna Chixa in the middle of the Salar de Atacama. Flamingoes strut their stuff in these waters and made for a lovely distraction as we waited for the sun to set. The mountains in the distance turn all shades of pink, red and purple before toffing their cap and saying goodnight. Sadly I forgot my phone so you'll have to use your imagination on this one!

The Atacama Desert was a stop-over really, somewhere to pass the time until we joined the 3 day Salt Flats tour. Anyone, myself included, who thought a desert was just Sand, Sand and more Sand couldn't be more wrong. It is so diverse here and the colours are magnificent. We have been rendered speechless by just how beautiful it is. Well I was and thus Yvonne was glad of the peace.

Our final day in Chile was spent sorting stuff out in preparation for our 3 day trip to the Salar de Uyuni. Had to bring the car back, check in to the hotel, check in to the tour, buy water, buy Bolivian money, cue more head wrecking calculations. We also had to drink no alcohol and eat only a very small amount, we duly listened....

Our last Chilean Pisco Sours
Llama Burger Ladies & Gentlemen
...and Yvonne eating Llama Steak, Egg & Chips

Thank you Chile it's been great.

Posted by WelshAndy 15:15 Archived in Chile Tagged chile geysers atacama laguna toconao machuca chaxa Comments (0)

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