Category Archives: South America 2013/14

Into The Wild

The W Trek Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

The ‘W’ is one of South Americas most famous treks. Its located in Chilean Patagonia within the Torres del Paine national park. Its named the ‘W’ because basically the route you take represents the shape of a W. It takes the average person 5 days but is possible in 4 days for the super human. You can choose to camp or stay in one of the many luxurious refugios (lodges) along the route. You have the option of carrying and cooking all your own food or eating in the refugios. The final option is whether you hike from west to east or east to west. There are various glaciers, mountains and stunning lakes to see along the way. The trek is approximately 55km (34miles) long.

The W Trek Route

The W Trek Route

My Adventure

I had visited Torres del Paine 3 years previous on a 2 week tour of Patagonia with Gap Adventures. We spent 3 days in the park visiting the most famous of sites. I had left wanting more and decided that hiking the ‘W’ would be added to my bucket list.

I booked return flights to Punta Arenas from Puerto Montt which gave me 2 weeks in Patagonia. This would give me time to hopefully find some fellow hikers, get organised and wait for a period of decent weather. The weather in Patagonia is ridiculously unpredictable. They say you can get all 4 seasons in 1 day, and the wind is relentless and erratic. Sadly I did n’t meet any cool travelers and the weather forecast for the next 2 weeks was n’t good at all.

So I decided to bite the bullet and go solo no matter what the weather. Before I left for the park I attended the extremely informative free talk at the Erratic Rock hostel. Most of the information was common sense, such as ‘don’t pose for photos on the cliff edge in strong winds’ but I did find the rest really useful. This would be my first ever solo multi day trek and even my first solo camping experience. I was looking forward to the physical and mental challenge of surviving on my own for 5 days. Admittedly the trek is by nowhere near the hardest trek in the world to do by your own. Clearly marked trails, informative signs and well equipped camp sites make it possible for the novice adventurer like me.

My next task was to search frantically through the internet for ‘W packing lists’ as I did not have a clue on what and how much food to pack. The most common choices were soup and pasta. This made sense as packet soups are light and pasta is filling. Plenty of high energy snacks such as Snickers bars were also recommended.

I had already decided I would hike from West to east. Although the route in the opposite direction was touted as more scenic, I was told that on the west to east route I would have the wind on my back rather than my face. And this appealed to me greatly.

What I packed:-

I would need a total of 13 meals. My breakfast for the first day was sorted at the hostel and my dinner for day 5 would be back in the comfort of Puerto Natales. I would n’t need any water as the water in the park is drinkable and some of the purest and freshest in the world.

Food

  • 5 x Snickers
  • 4 x Cereal Bars
  • 1 x packet of cookies
  • 12 x Tea bags
  • 1 x Packet of Spaghetti
  • 1 x bag of chopped noodles
  • 1 x Packet of Salami
  • 1 x Packet of Ham
  • 4 x Bread rolls
  • 1 x Packet of Cheese slices
  • 1 x Pre made sandwich (Ham/cheese/ketchup)
  • 4 x meat stock cubes
  • 4 x Fruit flavor powder for water
  • 4 x Big Packets of instant soup
  • 4 x Packets of small instant soup
  • 1 x bag of trail mix (Salted peanuts/roasted peanuts/raisins/chocolate drops)
My Food for 5 days

My Food for 5 days

I hired all my camping equipment from my hostel.

Equipment

  • 1 x One man tent
  • 1 x Four season sleeping bag
  • 1 x roll matt
  • 1 x Small gas canister
  • 1 x camping stove
  • 1 x cooking set (Pan/spoon/water bottle)
  • 2 x Walking Poles

Clothes

  • 1 x Hiking trousers
  • 1 x Water proof trousers
  • 1 x Water proof jacket
  • 1 x Micro fleece
  • 1 x Long sleeve base layer
  • 1 x Hiking Pullover
  • 4 x Hiking socks
  • 3 x Underwear
  • 2 x Tee-shirts
  • 1 x Pair of Hiking trainers
  • 1 x Beenie hat
  • 1 x Sunglasses
  • 1 x Head Buff
  • 1 x Pair of water proof mountain gloves
  • 1 x Pair of light weight gloves

Total Pack Weight: 14Kg

My Menu

Breakfast

  • 1 x Cup of Soup
  • 1 x Cup of Tea
  • 3 x cookies
  • 1 x Cereal bar

Lunch

  • 1 x Pre made sandwich (1st day)
  • 1 x Ham/Salami & Cheese Sandwich
  • 1 x Snicker

Dinner

  • 1 x Big packet of Soup/Stock cube/Spaghetti/Ham/Salami
  • 1 x Cup of Tea
  • 3 x Cookies

Snacks

I would take regular snack and water breaks through out the day. I would snack on my trail mix that I had concocted myself. To make a change from water I would add the flavored powder every now and then.20140120-181347.jpg

The Trek:

Day 1

It was an early start (06.30) to take advantage of the amazing breakfast at the hostel before the 07.30 bus to the national park. The bus was full, everyone was fresh and in high spirits even if it was raining. It would take just over 2 hours to reach the park from Puerto Natales. Once everyone had paid their admittance to the park, we all had to watch a video on the rules and regulations of the park. This is because in 2011 a tourist nearly destroyed half the park by burning his shit rags and starting a huge fire.

Once all the formalities had been completed it was back on the bus to catch the catamaran across lake Pehoe to the starting point of the trek, Refugio Pain Grande. This was our first taste of the famous Patagonian wind. Strong gusts were tearing up the water of the lake causing the boat to bop up and down violently. The gusts would catch you by surprise and cause you to loose balance.

Once the catamaran arrived at Paine Grande it was straight on to the trail. Today I would hike to Refugio Grey which was 11km and would take approximately 3.5 hours. As soon as I started it started raining but at least I was sheltered  from the wind by the valley and trees. The trail gradually got steeper until I reached the top of the ridge. The wind was brutal knocking me off balance and taking my breath away. I forgot about the wind and the rain briefly when I spotted a fairly decent sized iceburg gently floating on the lake to my left. This was only briefly as I was nearly knocked off my feet to the rocky ground by the latest gust. Luckily the trail leveled out and eventually descended to the safety of the forest below. It was peaceful amongst the trees and even the distant howl of the wind in the mountains above was calming.

Me in the tent the first night

Me in the tent the first night

I finally made it to Camp Grey at around 4.30pm and quickly set up my tent. It does n’t get dark until about 10.30 this far south so I had a lot of time to kill before it was time for bed. All the refugios have camping facilities such as decent toilets and showers and even a cooking room. Campers are also allowed to use the refugio bar and restaurant if desired. For tonight I was going to cook myself. My meal of choice would be Instant Tomato soup with spaghetti and a snickers bar for desert. I would like to say I enjoyed it, but I would be lying. After dinner I hiked the 10 minute trail to see the Grey glacier. The visibility was n’t great but it was still pretty cool to see the glacier and the many icebergs in the lake. I arrived back at camp and it was still light so I decided to take advantage of the warmth of the cozy bar and ordered a small bottle of red wine. This did exactly what I had hoped for. It got me a little drunk and resulted in me getting a half decent nights sleep. It was damn cold though even with my -5c rated sleeping bag.

Day 2

I was up, had eaten and was packed up ready to leave by 9.30. Today I would have to trek back on the same trail I had come on yesterday and then join the trail towards the French valley and camp Italiano. During my last visit to the park 3 years previous I had actually hiked this part of the trail and up into the French valley, so I was n’t to bothered by the poor visibility. The trail was much wetter and boggier than I remembered though, and even with my best efforts of avoiding the mud, my shoes were still covered.

Camp Italiano was the first of the free campsites and had very basic facilities. There would me no comfy sofas and red wine tonight! I arrived at around 5pm and started the routine of setting up camp and cooking dinner. The camp was on the side of the valley and I found what I considered the only flat space available. Tonight it was Mushroom soup and pasta! No sooner had I finished eating the heavens opened. The camp site was situated in the forest so I had hoped the trees would shield us from the worst of the rain. How wrong was I. In fact it worked in the opposite away. Sure the worst of the rain was stopped but the bigger, heavier drips leaking down from the leaves of the trees created havoc on my tent. I feared the worst. There was n’t much to do at the camp site and in fact I was quite bored so I was tucked up in bed by 8.30pm. Tonight I decided to sleep in my fleece to beat the cold.

I dropped off to sleep fairly quickly and was woken shortly after by a drip of water on my head. I hoped this was just condensation created from my own breathing. These drips would sporadically wake me through the night until at around 3.30 I noticed my sleeping bag was fairly wet. On closer inspection I noticed in fact my pillow was quite wet. It was time for the head torch. To my horror I found a pond sized amount of water in the base of my tent. My worst nightmare had come true. My sleeping bag was soaked, my pillow soaked and my fleece, the only warm item of clothing I had also soaked. Luckily my camera and Iphone had survived the flood.

Day 3

The reality had hit, my trek was over. With nothing dry to sleep in or warm to wear it would be impossible to carry on another night. The only positive I could find from the whole situation was that I had already seen most of the remaining parts of the trail.

The first section of the trail was new for me as I had n’t walked it last time. It was going to be a long trek to the end of the trail where the bus back to Puerto Natales left from. I think about 18 km in total. I set off early just before 9. The day started of misty, but the sun gradually burnt it off. Ironically today turned out to be a  beautiful day. Glorious sunshine lit up the turquoise lake and finally the mountains all around were visible. There might have been a chance I could dry out most of my gear in the beaming sun, but I had a long walk ahead and could n’t afford to take the chance in case I missed the bus.

I had hoped to stop at refugio Cuernos 2.5 hours into the hike for coffee. But unfortunately the restaurant was closed. It was a quick snack and drink break then back on the trail to climb out of the valley. The huge amount of rainfall was evident as parts of the trail were flooded and like a quagmire. By this time I was n’t to bothered about keeping my shoes clean and dry so most of the time I walked straight through it. The views across the lake were stunning and the reflection of the mountains and clouds were beautiful. Although I was disappointed to be ending my trek, I was happy and really enjoying this part of the hike. It was tough though. The heat of the sun caused another problem and the trail was steep in places. I still can’t decide what is harder. Going up or going down?

Because I had left early and had changed the itinerary of the trek, there were times when I did n’t see anyone for an hour or more. It was pure bliss, so peaceful. I felt like I was the only person in the whole park at times.

The cloud was teasingly disappearing to reveal the Cuernos del Paine mountains, some of the most dramatic peaks in the whole park and they were right above my head. Now I could see what all the fuss was about. I passed various waterfalls and river crossings giving me the chance to re fill my water bottle. I even bumped into my friend and guide last time I was in the park. He was leading a group of 10 Koreans the opposite direction and was n’t impressed with their lack of willingness to follow his orders. “The last time” he said shaking his head as he left.

I finally I reached Hotel Torres, the end of the trail at around 16.30. It was a tough day and I had been walking nearly 7.5 hours and my body was starting to ache. I brought a much needed beer and waited in the sun for the 19.30 bus back to Puerto Natales. I was feeling disappointed that I could n’t finish the trail, but also glad to be heading back to a warm bed and a shower. The bus back had a totally different atmosphere. Everyone was quiet, knackered and stunk really bad. It smelt like a bus on the way back from a music festival.

Overall it was still a great experience and I would like to try another solo camping hike and some point. I had an awesome 3rd day with amazing weather and stunning views but I was done with Patagonia. For now at least.

Has anyone else had a bad camping/hiking experience? Maybe your tent leaked, was blown away or a bear ate all your food.

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3 Days, 3 Buses, 2000km

I finally left Sucre on Sunday 15th December destined for Mendoza, Argentina. It felt strange to be leaving a place I had called home for the last 9 weeks and it was even harder to leave Marion behind. But I knew I would be returning in a couple of months and the thought of Christmas around the pool in Mendoza spurred me on.

I knew before I embarked on this epic journey that it would be fairly boring, tiring and frustrating. But little did I know just how extreme it would be. First of all I had to catch a bus from Sucre to the Bolivian border town of Villazon (10 hours), then walk across the bridge to the Argentine border town of La Quiaca. The plan was then to catch the first bus to Salta (8 hours) and spend the night there to get some rest. The next day I would catch a bus to Mendoza (18 hours) and reach my destination and the place where I would spend Christmas and new year.

Sucre to Villazon

I was not excited about the fact that this 10 hour night bus was only semi cama (a seat that reclines) as I normally upgrade to the more comfortable cama suite buses for over night journeys. The bus was n’t as bad as I thought as was fairly modern. The only problem was it did n’t have a toilet! As on most Bolivian buses the driver played loud local music to keep himself awake and his passengers! I listened to my ipod for most of the night to drown out the ding. I did actually manage to get some sleep, I think the rise in altitude helped with matters as at one stage I noticed my altimeter on my watch was reading 4000m. I can only assume we were in Potosi. The only problem I encountered on this bus was the extreme urge for the toilet. Luckily we stopped on some unattractive town for a pee break. There were no public toilets here so those needing to relieve themselves had to go in the street. I took exceptionally long to finish the deed, and driver tried to hurry me by revving the engine of the bus ferociously and even resulted into pulling away down the street. Thankfully I made it back on the bus safely and we finally arrived in Villazon at around 6.30am.

The Border Crossing

Border crossings are tiresome and frustrating at the best of times, but this one in particular tested my patience. It was a 10 minute walk from where the bus dropped us off to the Bolivian/Argentine immigration office and a fairly large line of people were already beginning to assemble. I met 3 Germans who were also going to Salta and they agreed to let me tag along with them.

The system the Bolivians had in place for the immigration formalities was confusing and seriously disorganized. No one really seemed know what was going on, as the line turned into 3 separate lines nearer the office. Locals pushed and shoved and some jumped the line. Once I finally reached the office I realized why it had taken so long as they only had 1 person working there. After the stamp out of Bolivia it was on to the line next to be stamped into Argentina. More confusion followed, more people pushed and shoved and I started to get angry.

The 4 of us finally got through the border and the whole episode had taken just over 2 hours meaning I had missed the first bus to Salta. We shared a taxi to the bus station in La Quiaca. The lonely planet describes La Quicaca as a “cold windy place with little to detain you” which I think is being extremely kind to the desolate mess of a town.

The next direct bus to Salta was in an hour and a half’s time. It truly was a pain in the ass to buy a ticket. Random guys gave us various conflicting information on what companies were leaving next, all lies to get us to go with their commissioned based companies. We decided to go with Balut, the next direct semi cama bus to Salta.

La Quiaca to Salta

Finally a half decent bus. Anyone that has traveled in Argentina will know the buses are some of the best in the world. This had toilet as well! The bus was hot and the sun was beaming in through the window. The situation was n’t helped by the German girl I was sitting next to turning off her and MY air conditioning vents. The passing landscape was nice as we passed through the desert. It reminded me of the old american wild west. Rolling hillsides, cactus’ and cattle filled the scenery. The journey was abruptly stopped 1 hour after we started by a road side protest which completely blocked both sides of the road. They had set up a camp in the middle and set light to barrels and tires. Most looked like teenagers. I don’t know what they were protesting about and I did n’t really care, all I wanted was to get to Salta as soon as possible. We were stuck there for 1 hour and a half when thankfully the heavens opened viciously and sent the demonstrators fleeing for shelter. Never had I been so happy to see rain.

Northern Argentina

Northern Argentina

We set off again and seemed to stop at every little town on the way to Salta. By now I was well over the ‘interesting’ scenery and all I wanted was a fresh shower and some sleep. One other notable thing I saw on this journey was a recently hit dog. He was still alive but looked critically injured. The guilty driver had stopped to see the damage. I can only assume the poor canine died there on the side of the road.

Northern Argentina

Northern Argentina

We finally arrived in Salta at 8pm. I had now been travelling for 24 hours without hardly any sleep and I was still an 18 hour bus away from my final destination of Mendoza. I decided to stay in the 7 Duendes Base hostel. I had stayed here 3 years ago. I returned here not because I particularly enjoyed my previous stay, but because it was near to the bus station. This current stay sadly did n’t improve my views on the hostel. Thankfully the showers were powerful and hot, something I had n’t experienced since I was in Cusco, Peru. The dorms however were not so nice. It was like a sauna in there. No air con and a pathetic fan which my Australian room-mate decided was either too noisy or too cold for her comfort. This resulted in virtually no sleep for me as I felt I was constantly stuck to the bed sheets and struggled to breath in the dense humid air.

The next day I walked into the centre to visit the Museo de Arqueologia de Alta Montana de Salta. The museum houses 3 extremely well-preserved mummified Inca children found on the summit of the Llullaillaco volcano at an altitude of 6739m (22110ft). For a more detailed explanation of the mummies check out the wiki page. The museum was extremely interesting and has good explanations in English and Spanish. There is only one mummy on display at a time as they rotate them to help with the preservation. But it’s really spooky to see them face to face. They still look extremely life-like after 500 years and its as if they are just sleeping.

500 year old Inca mountain shoe

500 year old Inca mountain shoe

After the museum it was time for lunch and I ‘accidentally’ stumbled across McDonald’s! This surprisingly was my first visit to McDonald’s in 2 and a half months travelling. Surely a record for me. The good thing about McDonald’s is that it tastes the same in every country. Normally shit I admit, but there is something quite comforting about eating McDonald’s when you are 1000’s of miles away from home.

Salta to Mendoza

My bus left Salta at 15.30. It was due to arrive in Mendoza the following morning at 10am. I had decided to go in the cama suite. 140 degrees reclining personal seat and a full meal service with a hot evening meal accompanied by good Argentina wine. It was n’t cheap at around £90, but still well below the air fare cost. I watched a few movies and listened to my ipod to pass the time. I actually slept fairly well, probably due to the lack of sleep in the last 48 hours. We encountered a huge storm at some point in during the night which hampered our progress slightly. I finally arrived at Hostel Lao in Mendoza at 11am. It felt good to be back here and the place still feels like home after all this time. And it was really good to be reunited with my good friends Francisco and Mauricio. Now it was time to chill in the sun and relax in the pool while I celebrate Christmas and New year here.

Hostel Lao garden

Hostel Lao garden

Six Weeks In Sucre

So, I have just celebrated my sixth week in Bolivia’s capital, Sucre. You may ask why I have spent 6 weeks in the same place when there is so much more to see in this incredible continent. The answer is simple. Its comfy and a hell of a lot of fun. The hostel I am ‘living’ at (Wasi Masi) is a magnet for social behavior and I have been lucky enough to meet some amazing people. I had originally decided to stay here for a month while I took Spanish classes, but I just could n’t bare to leave this city and my Sucre crew. Another reason for my prolonged stay is the same reason what keeps all good guys in a place for longer than they anticipated. A great girl!! Sucre has become one of my favourite places in Latin America, possibly the world!

Caspar, Me, Arnaud

Caspar, Me, Arnaud

During my time here I have attended a rock concert with one of Mexico’s biggest bands, ‘Molotov’. I have been to watch the local football team, ‘Universitario’ smash one of the best teams in Bolivia, ‘The strongest’. I gate crashed a Bolivian student party with my fellow Sucre crew members. I risked my life watching the annual Sucre street race. I spent an incredible day with awesome people visiting the 7 waterfalls site. And just yesterday I randomly saw Bolivian president Evo Morales giving a speech in the main Plaza. All this mixed with some incredible party nights in my favourite haunts ‘Cafe Florin’ and ‘Mitos’ and the generally awesome weather has made it near on impossible for me to leave.

The Sucre Crew

Caspar: Caspar is probably my best mate here in Sucre. He is a fellow long termer and has just celebrated his 5th week here. He is from the German speaking part of Switzerland. We have shared many a good times and he can always make me laugh with his Borat style accent.

Arnaud: Arnaud is French. He has been in Sucre for a month. Together with Caspar and myself we form the 3 amigos. He had planned to buy a bicycle here in Sucre and cycle down to Ushuaïa. But he has been another victim of Sucre’s charm and just can’t leave.

German Mike: German Mike owns a popular hostel here in Sucre. I met him at the bar in Florin. I would meet him here at the same place every night. He closed his hostel for renovations 6 months ago. He was having too much fun partying to re open it. He is a really cool guy and even though he is fluent in Spanish, he still sounds extremely German when he speaks the language.

English Dave: I also met English Dave in Cafe Florin. He was cycling around South America. He arrived in Sucre a few months ago with a shoulder injury and has been here since. He has recently missed his flight back home to the Uk. He can be found trying to improve his moves in the many places here giving Salsa lessons. He introduced me to Marion.

Taso: Taso is from Toronto, Canada. He spent just over 2 weeks here in Sucre, while he partied and learnt Spanish. If it was n’t for his smooth intervention I may not of ended up getting to know Marion.

Nick & Stav: Two really cool American guys who got the whole Wasi Masi crew going. They were here for 2 weeks volunteering at the hostel. On the first night they organised a really nice bbq, and it was here I met Caspar.

Josh: Another fellow Englishman and long termer. Josh has been studying Spanish here for a month. He cooked me an awesome English roast one night and my stomach still craves another!

Dara: I met Dara on my first day here in Sucre while watching England vs Montenegro in Florin. He’s from Ireland and I still remember one of the first things he said to me. “I hope England qualify, because then I have 31 other teams to support in the world cup”. He lives here and has a Bolivian girlfriend and daughter. He his currently opening a hostel here.

Anton: Anton is a musician from London. He has been travelling for 3 years with his German girlfriend. He was in Sucre for 2 months while he wrote and recorded new music. I met him on my first day here in Florin watching the England game.

The Concert

One of Mexico’s most famous rock bands were headlining a ‘free’ concert in the city. I use the term ‘free’ loosely because it was n’t entirely the case. You had to exchange a child’s toy for a ticket wrist band. Apparently the toys would be given out to under privileged children at Christmas. I have my doubts though, this is Bolivia after all! I decided to buy a pretty cool illuminating yo-yo. However once I arrived at the ticket exchange I was told “No, Mas Grande”. In other words my toy was not thought to be a big enough gesture. Obviously there was a stall right outside selling bigger gifts at inflated prices. I decided to purchase a rather cheap and tacky plastic football. Strangely this was acceptable to the ticket dispenser and I was granted my wrist band.

The concert was outdoor. The weather had taken a turn for the worse and the night was a bit chilly. The music was n’t really my cup of tea. It was quite heavy rock but I still enjoyed seeing the locals jump around and go literally crazy to every song Molotov played.

The Football Game

A few of us from the hostel went to watch the local team play. Universitario were the under dogs to La Paz’s The Strongest. When we entered the stadium we opted for the safe seats on the corner. Here is where families sat and chatted through out the game. It lacked atmosphere and I was quite jealous of all the people stood in the hardcore end behind the goal, jumping and cheering at every opportunity. Luckily Cesar who worked in the hostel arrived and suggested we should move up with the real fans. This was quite an experience, there was a band, fire crackers and huge banner the completely covered all of us and even a local dog who had come to cheer on his team.

Under the huge banner

Under the huge banner

The game finished 4-2 to Universitario and was full of incidents. There were 2 penalties, a red card and one of the funniest incidents I have witnessed ever at a football match. The opposition goalkeeper assaulted the ball boy because he would not throw back the ball. He slapped him then kicked him in the nuts. This stopped the game for some 10 minutes while players, coaching staff and club officials all clashed with one another. The standard of the football was poor at best and the only similar standard I can relate it to is that of Portsmouth FC.

Universitario vs The Strongest

Universitario vs The Strongest

The Student Party

I was walking through the main Plaza one evening when I came across a noisy drunken street parade. It was a huge group of students, playing instruments and dressed up in fancy dress. They were celebrating the end of term and marching the street before their big party. We asked where the party was, and then rounded up a few other gringos and later crashed the party.20131126-163816.jpg

The party was in a massive hall and was completely packed full of drunken students. There was a dj playing the standard cheesy commercial dance music that every other bar plays in Bolivia. But it was good fun. The funniest moment was when a group of about 10 Bolivian guys were battling for the attention of 3 of the girls that were part of our group. They surrounded them like a pack of hungry Hyenas, all trying to delivering their best chat up lines pushing each other out of the way in the process. I would like to say they had some success, but I guess a drunk group of young skinny Bolivian boys just did not appeal to the girls.

The Street Race

This has been a real highlight of my stay here. Caspar, Arnaud and myself were walking back from our favourite hangover recovery place, Cafe Mirrador when we came across closed streets and a big police presence. We were told by an officer that there was a street race and we were actually at the finish line and the cars were due anytime. Of course we had to stick around and see it. It can only be best described as treacherous. In any western country there would be tough safety measures in place. Barriers, marshals and paramedics would be visible. But this is Bolivia, and only a handful of Police were evident. They gave a series of whistles to warn the spectators when the cars were approaching at speeds of 60/70 mph. Some diced with death by standing in the middle of the road, only moving once the car was visible. The risk of a serious accident was extremely high, but like I said. THIS IS BOLIVIA!

Street race

Street race

It was an awesome thing to see up so close. And the risk of danger only enhanced the experience. The unbelievable noise of the engines echoing around the tightly compact streets and the odor of the burning rubber made it an unforgettable experience.

The 7 Cascadas

My girl, Marion who also happens to be a tour guide offered to take a few of us to the 7 waterfalls which is located just outside of Sucre. It was a half hour bus and another 30 minute hike to the site. None of us knew what we were getting ourselves into. Once we arrived at the site Marion showed us the first pool we could swim in, with an option to jump from a 15 foot rock. But the only way to reach the rock was to scale the treacherous rock face. I love jumping from high points into water but me being a bit of a pussy when it comes to climbing and heights, decided to give it a miss this time.

The first pool at 7 Cascadas

The first pool at 7 Cascadas

It was time to move onto the next pool. To my horror she told us the only way to reach the next pool was to scale the exact rock face which I had early decided “no way”. Marion was first to go, climbing it with ease just like Lara Croft would do. We all managed to get to the top, helping each other on the way. This was my first experience of rock climbing, and probably my last! To get to the other pools more climbing was required.

Me and Marion at 7 Cascadas

Me and Marion at 7 Cascadas

But it was worth it. The natural pools were beautiful and a dip in the green colored water was truly refreshing in the baking afternoon sun. The only problem was to get back we had to negotiate the same rock faces we had early climbed up. We all made it down unscathed and all agreed it was an awesome day.

El President

I was truly fortunate to witness this event. The night previous I had been walking across the Plaza and noticed one of the main roads was closed to traffic and it was filled with brand new Police vehicles. A security guard told us the Chuquisaca Department had be given a brand new fleet of Toyota Hilux’s by the Bolivian Government.

Evo Morales and the Bolivian Government

Evo Morales and the Bolivian Government

The next day I was taking an early morning stroll across the plaza when I noticed a stage was now constructed next to the new patrol cars. A crowd was slowly gathering and an announcement over the PA system informed that the president’s arrival would be imminent. An hour and 15 minutes later Senor Evo Morales finally arrived to a ecstatic chants of “EVO, EVO” from his loyal supporters. The national anthem followed with passionate fists raised as they bellowed out their national song. There were lots of handshaking and embracing. Various officials took it in turns to address the crowd and tell the president what a good job he was doing. I’ll be honest, I never actually got to see Senor Morales speak because I was quite frankly bored with the draw out process. It was still a pretty cool thing to see though.

So, there is a round up of my time in Sucre. I am still here and I am still not sure when I will leave. Has anyone else stayed longer in a place than they originally intended while travelling. If so where and why?

The story so far…

My Route

So I have been away just over 2 weeks now and guess a little trip update is needed. To be honest I have n’t actually done all that much. I have been retracing places I have visited before in order to get where I am today, Sucre Bolivia. I will be here for 1 month where I will be studying Spanish which will hopefully help me when I eventually start working in the hostel in Chile later this year.

So I flew into Lima and spent 3 nights there and had some pretty good nights out. I met up with an old friend who helped me celebrate my birthday with me. I then flew to Cusco. The bus would have been 21 hours and for a decent bus company it would have cost about £30. The flight however was 50 minutes and cost £58. A tough decision!

This seemed like a good idea until I landed in Cusco. Cusco sits at 3399m (11.152ft) above sea level. I had never really suffered from the effects of altitude before but had always made sure I had gradually acclimatized. Lima sits at seas level and I was instantly out of breath as soon as I was off the plane. Instead of taking it easy for the next day or two I did lots of walking around the city and hiked up the white Christ statue. This literally nearly killed me and that even it felt like my head was going to explode. This also happened to be my actual Birthday and I ended up in bed by 7.30pm!

This is also when I rediscovered some of the frustrations of travelling solo. I really hoped to do some proper mountain biking here but like most tours they needed a minimum of 3 people. I left my details in the hope of others signing up. Unfortunately no one did and it was time to move on to Puno.

Puno was higher still 3830m (12556ft) and sits on the shore of Lake Titicaca. Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world and has a maximum depth of 284m (932ft). Puno itself is a fairly unattractive town and I was only going to use it as an overnight stop to break up the journey to Copacabana in Bolivia. That night I decided to have an Alpaca steak. I have had it before and really enjoyed it. This time though every mouth full made me queasy. I guess this is what you deserve when you eat your favourite animal!

I awoke the next day feeling ill. The combination of the altitude, too much beer, dehydration and possible bad food had given me the backpacker shits. Not ideal when you have a 5 hour bus journey to look forward to. Luckily I survived the journey unscathed and checked into a guest house. 40 Bolivianos (£3.60) for a private room, bargain. It would be here where I would make great friends with the toilet over the next day or two.

Copacabana is another fairly scruffy town, and is prominently here for the Lake Titicaca tourism industry. I was here to visit Isla del Sol, the sun island and because I was on a fairly tight schedule I decided one night on the island was sufficient. My welcome to the island was an extremely tough climb up the 200m Inca stairway. This was a killer with my 25kg of gear,and combined with the altitude and the warm sun I struggled to get to the top.  I spent the day hiking around some of the many paths around the island. There were some truly spectacular views and the Lonely Planet compares it to those of the Greek islands. I have never been to Greece so I can not confirm if the Lonely Planet is lying again! After a few hours hiking I kind of felt I had seen all the island had to offer and one night here was a good shout. That night there was a huge storm and huge hail stones came crashing down onto the tin roof of my bedroom. The next day I had to renegotiate the Inca stairway. Going down should have been easier. How wrong was I. The previous nights storm and turned the dust to mud and made the stone steps a treacherous obstacle. I made it down unscathed and got back on the ferry to Copacabana.

I left for La Paz the same day. I like La Paz and this was my third visit to Bolivia’s administrative capital. Here I had plans to do some mountain biking and to climb Huayna Potosi (6088m) (19974ft). My plans would be ruined yet again. The 3 person minimum struck again for the mountain biking and after reading up on climbing Huayna Potosi I decided it was n’t for me. The 1 foot wide ice ledge with a 1000ft drop either side put me off slightly!

After 5 days of waiting and partying at the infamous Loki hostel it was time to move on to my current location, Sucre. I took the 40 minute flight and it was well worth it as we flew over the city of La Paz and the Andes mountain range giving me a spectacular view of the Earth below. Although, we encountered a fair bit of turbulence and the 30 seater plane was rocked and bumped all over the place as we ventured through the clouds.

So now I am in Sucre, Bolivia’s capital. I really like it here. For Bolivia it is really nice. Lots of colonial buildings and the sun is always shining. It has decent places to eat and drink and the girls are a lot better looking than anywhere else I have seen in the country. I hope to actually get some mountain biking done her too. I start 1 month’s worth of 1 on 1 Spanish lessons tomorrow and if I don’t have a decent grasp of the language at the end then I will give up!

We had a huge storm last night, the thunder actually felt like it shook the whole room. I was pelted by hail most of the night which somehow manged to get through a half inch gap between the window frame and the roof.