A Travellerspoint blog

Santiago

Wine and more wine!

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Our trip in Chile was very pleasant indeed. The difference from Bolivia was immediately obvious. The roads were in good condition and the food was a lot better. We had five nights before arriving in Santiago, one of these was on a night bus. Chile was spent mainly relaxing and enjoying the feeling of safety while on the streets of the towns we visited.

Santiago itself is a lovely city. Almost all the streets are tree lined and it has many many parks. Shelley and I had five nights in Santiago, 2 with the GAP adventures group and the other 3 on our own. We spent it eating great food and drinking lots of very nice wine. We had the best meals so far in South America. We spent a whole 15 pounds each on some meals!!! Unheard of in Bolivia and Chile but that included very nice bottle of wine and two or three courses! The last evening that the Gap group spent in Santiago we went out with a few of the group for a excellent meal to say farewell.

After the Gap group departed to continue their journey south, Shelley and I did a wine tour of two vine yards near Santiago. One, Concha y Torro, makes Casillero del Diablo, which they export to the UK. We had a couple of tastings and a tour of the cellars. The next, Aquitania, is a very small winery. We had a tour of their winery and a few tastings and ended up buying a couple of bottles. The wine they made was excellent. We have a few photos on facebook of both wineries.

All in all our stay in Santiago was a great finish to South America but we were looking forward to English speaking New Zealand.

Posted by AandSTrip 14:54 Archived in Chile Tagged food Comments (0)

Salt flat and Atacama desert

Our three day 4x4 journey across the Salar de Uyuni and the Atacama desert

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We spent a night in Uyuni a town quite far south in Bolivia and then loaded our things onto 4x4s in the morning. Seven people to a car, three cars in total. We set off in convey out into the desert to visit a nearby train graveyard. We spent a short while there before setting off towards the salt flats.

Close to the edge near the town of Uyuni we saw people who collect the salt. Huge truck loads of the stuff. Soon however we were completely surrounded by miles and miles of brilliant white salt in every direction. Even as far the horizon in some directions.

After driving for probably an hour or so in a straight line with the surroundings unchanged we arrived at a building made entirely out of salt. Inside were many salt sculptures.

Our next stop was Incahuasi, an island out in the salt flat covered in ancient coral and hundreds of huge cacti. The Cacti grow about one centimeter a year and the tallest one is 12 meters!! The vast majority of them were taller than me. Millions of years ago the island would have been submerged in a shallow sea. Now its over 3000 meters above sea level and miles from the ocean. The contrast of the brilliant white salt surrounding the island and the perfectly clear blue sky, it made for a very surreal landscape. We stopped here for lunch prepared by our driver's wife then spent a couple of hours here while people attempted to take perspective photos. Because of the unchanging, perfectly flat landscape it was possible to make things or people appear larger than they seemed in photos. Quite difficult to do well and requires a lot of patience, which Shelley doesn't have.

Our next stop was on the other side of the salt flat and would be where we spent the night in basic bunk house accommodation. Again we attempted to play the locals at football. We faired slightly better than we did at Lake Titicaca but still got thrashed.

The next day we entered the Atacama desert. A fantastic landscape with many multicoloured lakes and Flamingos wading in them. We travelled for the whole day making stops at various lakes, an active smoking volcano, and bizarre wind carved landforms. The whole landscape was vast and spectacular. We eventually stopped for the night by a windswept lake the was a deep red colour. Once again there were Flamingos feeding and also Llamas, Alpacas and Vicuna grazing around the edge. Our accommodation was bunk house again but even more basic with no running water at all and only two non flushing toilets. With two other large groups staying in the building the toilets soon became pretty disgusting.

Our final day took us to the Chilean boarder but not before stopping for lunch and a dip in a naturally heated pool on the shores of a lake high in the mountains. Siting in the extremely hot water in bright sunshine breathing in the crisp, cool mountain air was amazing. Our journey to the boarder took us past steaming vents in the ground and huge boiling pools of mud. A reminder of what lies beneath the Andes.

The boarder crossing went without incident and this was where we bid our drivers fairwell. We got picked up by a coach that took us into Chile. The first noticable difference was the perfect tarmac road which we hadn't seen the like of in almost a week. We had a very smooth trip down out of the mountains, through customs, into San Pedro de Atacama and to hot showers and flushing toilets.

Posted by AandSTrip 22:10 Archived in Bolivia Tagged automotive Comments (0)

Potosi

Mines and 95% Alcohol

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We arrived in Potosi, the highest city in the world, after a 2 hour hair raising taxi ride. I’m sure the taxi drivers in South America think they are in "Wacky Racers". The main feature of Potosi is the large mountain to the north of the city, Cerro Rico or Rich Mountain to us non-Spanish speakers.

When we arrived at the hotel it was clear that the whole city no longer had the wealth it may have once had. There were many beggars and street people around. Alex still wasn't feeling very well and so went straight to bed, I however went out to eat with the rest of the group. As the dutiful girlfriend I even brought him back a cup of warm chicken soup from the restaurant... it went uneaten!

The following day we amused ourselves by wandering around the town and by going to a "Money House" where Bolivian coins continued to be made here until 1933. Many early Spanish coins were also created here and shipped back to Spain. The Boliviano is now created in France and Canada where costs are cheaper. It is understood by many that the Minting House is one of the most important building in Bolivia.

The final day in Potosi we were leaving at midday to head towards the Salt Flats (previous blog). We decided to spend the morning down a mine in Cerro Rico. There are currently 8 "floors" of mining, much of the profit is distributed through a co-operative system. We entered the mine on one of these floors and set off looking for miners to share the goods we had bought from the local shop. Our provisions included: 1x Stick of Dynamite, 1x Fuse (for dynamite) 1x bag of Coca leaves (they don't eat the whole time down the mine, the coca stops them getting hungry) 1x bottle of 95% Alcohol (gets them drunk so they forget they are hungry and offering for the Tio.) 1x fizzy drink (for the children we may say working in the mine).

During our meanderings down the labyrinth of tunnels we met a 12 year old boy. He was working with his uncle. 12 is the youngest that he could work down the mines, by working he could support his family by working in the afternoon after being at school in the morning. We then met a 60 year old man boring a hole to place his dynamite to expose more of the Silver vein he had discovered. Alex and the other 2 guys we were with helped him by hammering a stake into the wall over and over again. It is hard work for a 60 year old, they do not normally live past 45 as the conditions in the mine are so poor. We provided the 60 year old with the alcohol and some coca leaves. He then took us to his Tio, the demon of the mines, who is worshiped daily by the miners to keep them safe and provide better quality minerals. The Tio was created by when the Spanish ran the mines to encourage the workers to be productive, there is now one in most tunnels.

It was clear that the miners really appreciated the visit and the gifts that we gave them. To help the 60 year old out I bought some silver from him, I paid double the market price and it was still only 1 pound, he was nearly in tears.

It must be said as with much of Bolivia, Potosi was not particularly geared up for tourism and so 2 days here may have been too much. Overall it was definitely an eye opener!

Posted by AandSTrip 23:55 Archived in Bolivia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Home Stay and Lake Titicaca

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Earlier this week Alex and I stayed with some local people on Lake Titicaca and lived like they do for the night. We left Puno early to travelled to Taquille, an Island in lake Titicaca. They are known as the best weavers in Peru, and have recently been told that they have to protect their weaving skills from modern techniques.
The boat ride to Taquille took 3 hours, when we arrived we had a small hike up to the "town" square. From here we wandered around and made our way to the "restuarant" When I say resturant I mean someones roof when they kept producing food, it was tasty, even if a little bizzare.
From here we had another small walk down 500 steps, good job our muscles had calmed down a little after the Inca Trail. We then boarded the boat and headed to the homestay.

When we arrived at the homestay we were met by the village band, its was all very pied piper. It was then very much like a year 7 PE lesson, you were chosen by the village president and matched up with your family. Thank goodness Alex and I werent last to be chosen. It turned out the small walk up the hill was actually more like a hike to the house we were to call home for the night. It was made all the more difficult by the 5 year old daughter from the home insisting on holding my hand. After depositing our bags in a very nice room it was then time for the obligitory football match. Needless to say I took role of cheerleader, along with most of the other girls. I was impressed when Alex was the second of the GAP people on the pitch, eager bever. Everyone did rather well given they were running around for over an hour at 4000m above sealevel. Gradually the sun started going down, so the girls took to executive decison, much to the boys annoyance, to call the game a draw.

It was then time to have dinner, before we were allowed we had to amuse the children of the family. There was a small boy aged 2, a girl as previously mentioned, 5, and an older boy who had us dumped on him as he understood very basic english. And as a 13 year old boy I imagine that he really could have thought of more interesting thing to do with his wednesday night than amuse two foreigners. Dinner Time!! We had soup to start then for the main dish we has pasta, potato and rice all in one bowl, there was so much even Alex couldn´t finish it. Before dinner we had provided then with the presents that we brought them as a Thank you for having us. We took them rice, pasta, oil, salt and tinned peaches, for the children we took colouring books and pencils.

After dinner it was a mad rush to get dressed up in the local clothes for the Fiesta the village had planned. When the british arrived at Lake Titicaca the women adopted wearing the Bowler Hat, so I looked fetching in that, as well as 4 skirts and a jacket. Alex meanwhile had a rather attractive brown poncho, wolly hat and cow boy hat on. He was very pleased with the handbag he was also provided with. We were all made to dance like fools and dragged onto the dance floor by daughters and mothers alike. No-one was left out! This charade went on for 2 hours, by the end we were all ready to climb into bed, but we still had the uphill hike, only this time it was in the dark!

We were woken in the middle of the night by a mobile phone vibrating on the floor above us (not what you expect in a community where there is no running water). We were woken by the daughter, whose name we never did learn, at 6.45 with fried bread and a boiled egg for breakfast. It wasnt needed after the large meal the night before but we ate as much as we could. We were then walked down to the jetty where we were deposited by our "family" and got aboard the boat to head towards the floating islands of the Uros people.

The boat ride to the floating islands took an hour, which was productivly used topping up the tan. The islands were very very impressive, they are man made islands used from the roots of reed beds with the reeds placed on top, apparently they only last 25 years though. They are then anchored to the lake bed and houses, also made entirely of reeds, are placed onto the island. Very impressive.

From the islands it was back to Puno. Before we arrived in Puno we were advised that its the best place in Peru for Guinea Pig, a delicacy of the Incans, lets just say Alex didnt agree.

Anyway hope everyone is well, speak to you soon!
Sorry for the spelling mistakes, I havent proof read it, it took long enough to type. x
xxxx

Posted by AandSTrip 11:27 Archived in Peru Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

The Death Road

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Yesterday I cycled the Death Road. Amazing experience!!

This is a road in Bolivia that was originally built by prisoners of war when Bolivia and Paraguay were at war. It connects La Paz to the town of Corioco.

The start is at 4600m above sea level and it ends 1295m above sea level and covers 64kms. We were provided with specialist downhil bikes with only a few gears and excellent front and rear suspension. At the start we had the option of going down the new asphalt part of taking the old road that winds down the valley below it. This was the route I took. While going down the old gravel track the was the opportunity to take small single track sections that went between the switch backs. These were very steep and in some places quite gravelly. I only came of twice very unspectaularly as I went to slow on a particularly narrow and gravelly section and slid slowly to a stop with half my handle bars buried in gravel. After this we made our way back up onto the asphalt for a long and very fast section purely on the new road.

After covering about 20kms in total we stopped for a break before the short 8km uphill section. We all decided to load the bikes onto the van and drive this bit to the start of the track that has given the road its ominous name. We arrived in thick cloud and we could only see a few meters down the trail. This began to lift as we all started out. This part of the road is thick gravel with steep drop offs into the valley below. Soon after starting we stopped to split into groups depending on speed and to look at what is know as "the balcony" which we would be cycling in just a few minutes. It is part of the road that is only just wide enough for a bus and has the highest shear drop off of 600m to the valley floor below and there are no barriers! I think if barriers were installed they would take up too much room and make the road too narrow for vehicles.

So I set off with the fast group and we raced down and across the balcony and round twisting tight corners. The ride was extremely good fun and got the adrenaline pumping. The rule is that your have to stay on the left side of the road so as to avoid any cars that may be coming up the other way on the blind corners. The left side also happens to be the cliff side with the dizzying drop offs just feet away from the line I was cycling. I was always focused on the road ahead but you could just feel the empty air beside you. Every now and then our guide would stop to show us the remains of lorries or cars in the valley below.

The road took us through rainforest, under waterfalls and through streams. All the while constantly downhill and going as fast as possible. Towards the end the road widens a bit and becomes a lot smoother. This is when we could get some serious speed up. Although the corners and just as tight and the cliff just as shear.

The ride ends at the bottom of a valley and a bar. We had a beer then got driven up to a hotel in the nearest town where a buffet, hot showers and a pool were available. I bypassed the shower and pool and went straight for the buffet and more beer.

The drive back went straight back up the route we had just come and it started to get dark and rain heavily. The bus driver did a great job of getting us back up the Death Road in one piece.

All in all probably my best experience so far and something I would gladly do again.

Alex

Posted by AandSTrip 11:20 Archived in Bolivia Tagged bicycle Comments (2)

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