A Travellerspoint blog

September 2011

Bolivia – Pampas & Jungle

Bugging Out

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The rivers are the roads, the only traffic is drift wood and the neighbours are monkeys, caiman and birds. This is Bolivia’s Jungle and Pampas!!!

We left La Paz to travel to Rurrenabaque up on the edge of the national park. The flight up was pretty cool as we got to have both an aisle seat and a window seat each!!! Definitely the smallest plane that I have been on! We could actually see out of the front window and it was a good experience in itself. The flight was only 30 minutes as opposed to 20 hours in a car – there was no competition! We all said that Jeffro would have been in his element on this flight, being a recreational pilot and all.

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We got from the small airport into town and to our hotel for the night. We had to wait a few hours before we could go and give our details to the tour companies, so we nestled in to the hammocks for a snooze and some light reading.

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We spent the evening in Mosquito Bar which was the place to be in town (according to the advertisements at the hotel, airport and almost everywhere else. We got there early and they didn’t serve food for a few hours, so we just got into the alcoholic beverages until they started serving food. It was actually a really good place and lots of other travellers came in over the night. We got talking to a Czech girl who was travelling by herself and taught her how to play our favourite card game over a few drinks.

The following morning started with getting picked up for a 3 hour drive out to the Pampas. The Pampas is a large expanse of wetland savannas and grassland that runs northwest of the Jungle. As it’s is the dry season the drive was very dusty and there wasn’t much to see from the gravel road. The tour company that we went with for this tour was mashaquipe. We arrived at their accommodation and it was very basic, but we knew that we were staying in an Ecolodge so that was all part of the experience. The rooms had a cold shower, bed and mosquito net. We had started to take our Malaria tables in the last couple of days ready for now, but the nets are good for keeping out all sorts of critters including malaria carrying mosquitoes.

The accommodation was right on the banks of the Yacuma River, and as we arrived in the heat of the midday sun, a swim in the river looked inviting. However our guide, Obidio, pointed out a Caiman sitting on the opposite shore. We decided instead to snooze and read in the hammocks at the back of the building – much safer.

After some lunch which was surprisingly good, we got into a canoe with Obi Wan (our new name for him) once the temperature was cooling down. We spent the next 3 hours slowly drifting down stream. We saw SO MUCH wildlife! The Pampas are the place to come to see lots of animals because with the dryer grassland, all the wildlife congregates around the rivers. So with us quietly going down stream, a lot of the animals didn’t really bother much about us. It was so tranquil and for a lot of the time we were all really silent with only the sounds of the wildlife around us.

The most common animal were the Caiman, we easily saw a hundred or so of them either sun baking on the shore, or swimming round looking really sly. There were also Capibara along the shore which are massive rodents. They are about the size of a small pig and look just like a giant guinea pig. We saw lots of birds including kingfishers and toucans, turtles all piled onto dead branches in the water and a few different types of monkeys. It was a great way to start the pampas.

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Carley was so exited that we took her to the Pampas…

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Kingfisher

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Brown Capuchin Monkey

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Capibara

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Caiman

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Sunset over the Pampas

We went straight to bed after dinner and got settled into our beds with mosquito nets. There were no glass windows in the building, just an insect screen. It was a really warm humid night so was difficult to get to sleep, but on the other hand, laying there listening to all the Pampas sounds was great. It was like listening to one of those relaxation CD’s.

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We had an early start the next day so that we could get upstream before the day got hot again. We motored upstream for a few hours seeing lots more of the animals. We saw some really friendly yellow squirrel monkeys which came close to the boat. Obi Wan told us that its because some of the other tour operators give them food. The problem is that they don’t actually need the food, and in some cases, the food will have insect repellent or sun cream from peoples hands on it, which usually kills the monkeys after a few days.

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Looks like an easy breakfast

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The main reason for going upstream was to swim with the pink river dolphins. We got there and after getting rid of a few Caiman, we jumped into the river… We did ask a couple of times that it was definitely ok, the caiman and piranha wouldn’t be a problem? The Dolphins keep all the piranha away apparently so Leigh and I braved the waters while the girls watched from the comfort of the canoe. The water was really warm and the dolphins came close at times. There were some little sardine fish that kept biting us though and they started to freak me out a bit, so I called it a day.

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Best view of a dolphin we could get on camera

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In the afternoon it was time for some fishing. We were using some raw meat, and man, the piranha were going mental for it! Before going fishing, I had been dangling my feet over the edge of the boat to cool them in the water as I thought that piranha’s going crazy was a bit of a myth. After going fishing, I didn’t put my feet in any more. Even with the meat just barely in the water, they would absolutely savage it. We lost many hooks as they ate through the line, but I landed a couple and Hansie got one too. Luckily the guides did a good job and we all had fresh piranha for dinner that night.

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We went out for a night paddle on the river to spot Caiman eyes. When you shine the torches over the river at night you get lots of reflections from the Caiman eyes. They hunt at night so there were lots of eyes staring back at us as we went along.

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In the morning we got up early again to take the boat a few hours down river to go looking for anacondas. The Anaconda stay hidden in the grassland, usually near to water pools to keep them going through the dry season. It was a baking hot day again and by the time we got down stream and off the boat it was about 10.30 and already 37 degrees with a fair bit of humidity. We walked along the track while Obi and the other guide walked in the waist high reeds and grass looking for the snakes (I was happy to be on the track just quietly!!) We were out for about 1 & ½ hours and all we could find was one dead anaconda. It was about a 1.5 meters long and was kind of interesting to see it dead actually as we have seen plenty of alive snakes before.

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I was happy to let the guides do the finding

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We left the pampas ecolodge and took another 3 hour drive back to Rurrenabaque to spend a night. We got a really nice hotel in town that had a pool and some pretty nice little condo type huts that we stayed in. Rurrenabaque itself is a nice little town, it is really sleepy and relaxed. It sits right on the edge of the Madidi National Park (jungle) and there are a few hills surrounding the town which makes it quite picturesque.

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In the morning we had a 5 hour boat ride to take up river to get to the Chalalan Ecolodge which is on the Tuichi river. Chalalan is renowned as being the original and the best ecolodge in the Jungle. Chalalan was started by a local community (San Jose de Uchupiamonas) who lived further up the river. They had an area of jungle that was going to be used for planting fruit, however some outsiders persuaded them that tourism would be a better option. To begin with, they thought that tourist would just be interested in seeing how they hunted and lived, but soon realised that more tourists were interested in conservation and seeing the wildlife in their natural habitat. The community built the chalalan lodge by themselves over the space of a year using all local resources and opened in 1998.

The boat ride was really enjoyable, and to be honest it didn’t feel like 5 hours. The river level is quite low at the moment given it is dry season, so at lots of points they boat crew were checking the water level with a stick and having to push us over some shallow sections with big wooden poles. We stopped for a short lunch break on the bank of the river which was eventful when Leigh went into the water to get the rope for the boat, but didn’t realise the water dropped off so much. We didn’t laugh too much, but he had a nice wet pair of shorts for the second half of the boat ride. There were lots of really big trees that had fallen into the river from the wet season when the river becomes really powerful and takes some big chucks out of the jungle.

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It’s all just a little too much for some people

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When we finally got up to the spot for Chalalan, we had to take a 1.7km walk through the jungle to get to the lodge - decked out in our Haviaanas from the relaxing boat trip! This was the first taste of the jungle, and it was pretty awesome. It was really thick jungle and we went by some howler monkeys which were eating fruit up in the canopy. Getting to Chalalan was like walking into a little slice of paradise. Because they used all natural materials, it fits in to the surroundings really well. There is a big lagoon that the ecolodge is built next to. It is fine to swim in the lagoon, although as the water is used for the lodge, you needed to avoid swimming with sun cream or insect spray, as this pollutes the water. The sleeping huts were really nice with polished wood inside and personal hammocks out the front.

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Our room

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Our hut – the white hammock was our room

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Our swimming pool

Our guide for the Jungle was Yad, who was a young bloke from the jungle community. Chalalan is owned by the jungle community, and all the people who work there are from the community. He had really good English and was extremely knowlegable about the jungle. He was always asking us questions to lead into telling us about something. The first thing we did after lunch was to take a short walk on one of the many paths that go into the jungle. It was really informative thanks to Yad’s information and we saw lots of insects, flowers and different trees along the way. We found a tarantula hiding in a tree and Yad got it to come out for us.

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Whats that hiding in there

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At night we had another nice dinner, before going out for a night walk in the jungle. It was a little bit worrying walking at the back of our group given that it was pitch black behind us and there were the occasional sounds. There were lots more insects out, and the best thing was seeing green reflections from the spiders eyes staring out at us from the darkness. There was a party back in the main hall at the camp where we got some traditional drink, was taught how to eat coca leaves and danced around with the traditional music being played by the staff. Getting into bed, the rooms again had no glass windows, and the sound of the jungle while falling asleep was a really memorable experience. All in all a great first day in the jungle!

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The following morning we set out for a 5 hour hike through the jungle. We ended up doing a complete loop of the lake. We started out coming across 2 groups of howler monkeys which were making a fair bit of noise arguing over some territory. Just walking through the jungle was a really good experience, the cycle of life and death was all around us. Everywhere you look there was decaying vegetation, but out of all of this there was plant and animal life emerging. We came across some wild pigs, plenty more insects and butterflies, flowers, mushrooms and all kinds of trees.

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Yad took us on a canoe around the lake in the afternoon with the highlight being when a big group of around 100 yellow squirrel monkeys and brown capuchin monkeys were moving location at the lakes edge where we sat in our boat! I had a shower before leaving so that I could have a swim in the lagoon. I jumped in a few hundred meters from the jetty and swam back. It was beautiful especially because the water was so warm!

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At the end of the evening we went back out on the boat after dark. We spotted a few caiman eyes on the lake. The sky was so clear I even spotted a few shooting stars. We treated Yad to the boat ride to make a change for him, he enjoyed sitting at the front of the boat looking out for wildlife while the 4 of us did the paddling.

In the morning it was time to say goodbye to Chalalan. Going downstream back to Rurrenabaque took half the time as coming up took. When we got into town, we were told that our flight that evening wouldn’t be leaving as there were protests in La Paz and so the airline couldn’t get any fuel. It wasn’t going to mess up our plans too much and we had heard that this is the kind of thing to expect in Bolivia, so we went back the hotel we stayed at before and booked in for the night. After being there for an hour and just about to email our La Paz accommodation we were told that the airline had got hold of some fuel, so we would be leaving on time in 4 hours time. The hotel said they would still be charging us half the cost of the room, so we thought we may as well make the most of it so we all had showers before checking back out. We dropped off some washing for a 2 hour express clean as we were getting low on clothes. They weren’t quite dry when we picked them up but at least they were clean.

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We took the short plane ride back to La Paz and spent a night drying out clothes and catching up on the internet jobs before calling it a night.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – The Jungle and Pampas were both awesome in different ways. The pampas has so much wildlife there to see so easily, and the Jungle has the appeal of being so far away from everything. Chalalan was amazing, and its easy to see why it’s the best ecolodge there is, definitely recommend paying the extra for the experience. The food at both places was a lot better than I expected. I will remember lying in bed listening to the many sounds of the jungle for a long time to come!

Carley – I was blown away by the jungle and pampas tours. The amount of wildlife that we saw swimming, crawling, flying, swinging by, and often only centimetres away, was both fascinating and terrifying! I will never forget the giant black caiman eyes slipping quietly under water as our boat, and my fingers on the edge of the boat, glided by! I am not a huge fan of bugs and am pleased to say that the high deet insect repellent and keeping as much skin covered as possible, works a treat – no insect bites for me! One of my most memorable moments was in the early evening the four of us sitting by the lagoon in Chalalan, in itself one of the most tranquil places I’ve ever come across, and a tribe of yellow squirrel monkeys came flying across the treetops, rustling through the leaves in typical acrobatic monkey fashion, there was so many of them, with the most cute curious faces. I had to keep reminding myself that this was no zoo, this was real life in the jungle.

Tanya – We did the Pampas tour first and it was as if the wildlife came to see us cruising down the river. In the middle of the vast grasslands, the river was the only place for miles with any luscious vegetation so there was so much to see from the comfort of the boat, I cant believe how many cayman there were – and to see their eyes shining back at us from the boat at night was amazing. Seeing fireflies was cool too – I almost thought I was imagining them! And seeing tarantulas in the jungle and all the monkeys and toucans, and snakes, and butterflies… – the whole Pampas and Jungle trips were such a treat!! Carley – you forgot to mention pants tucked into socks too :p

Hansie – It was great we had the chance to be able to do both the Pampas and Jungle tours as they both had so much to offer and in very different ways. I loved the ease at which we could see the wildlife in the Pampas, cruising down the river in a boat and being able to spot caiman, monkeys, birds, capybara etc from the comfort of my chair was fantastic. However being immersed in thick rainforest on our jungle tour really was something else. While the wildlife was often harder to search out, our efforts were always rewarded. The lake in front of the Chalalan lodge was also something out of a National Geographic magazine. Another amazing trip with the crew.

Posted by dbgomes 21:16 Archived in Bolivia Tagged bolivia round_the_world Comments (4)

Bolivia – Sucre

The sweet taste of Bolivia

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Are we back in Europe? That’s the impression we got from Sucre. We got a morning bus out of Uyuni and after nine hours we travelled over some impressive countryside with big canyons and dry scenery all around. We passed through Potosi which is supposedly the highest city in the world, before getting into Sucre in the evening. There were two Swiss girls on our bus who hadn’t booked any accommodation, so they came with us to find our place.

We got to the hostel and were very happy with the place. It had so much character and was an old family house that had a big open courtyard In the middle and a roof terrace. We went down the road and had some dinner with the Swiss girls. The food was good and all very cheap.

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For our 1 full day in Sucre we decided to just walk around and see the city. We headed for a convent up on a hill that overlooks the city. It did have some good views, but we were all quite happy to be somewhere that wasn’t so cold after spending the last few days in high altitude places. We sat up at a café on the hill soaking in the warmth and enjoying the views with some beverages.

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After that we went for a walk to find somewhere for Leigh and I to get our haircuts. We thought it might be an interesting experience as our Spanish is not so great. After eventually finding somewhere I asked for a ‘numero dos (while pointing to my sides) y medio (pointing to my top)’. The haircut only cost us $2 Aussie dollars and the guys did a pretty good job.

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We walked around town a little longer and then decided to get some beers and wine to take up to the roof terrace at our hostel. The afternoon was great and we played some cards watching the sun setting before heading to another great restaurant down the road. We worked out that for about $10 aussie dollars we had enjoyed a massive meal and around 5 very boozy cocktails each!!!

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The following morning was out to the airport for another short plane ride back up to La Paz for another night before flying up to the jungle. This was our last night with Jeffro too. We went out for a meal, which again was fantastic, but unfortunately Jeffro was feeling really bad from something over the past few days.

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The AeroSur planes are all painted as different animals, the Croc was ours today

Jeffro left on his early morning flight and we got out to the airport later to take our flight north. It was really strange with Jeffro not being with us anymore. Over the last 2 weeks it was great being the 5 of us sharing the experiences and laughs. Also Jeff was our best Spanish speaker, so we will definitely miss him even more from now on!!

FINAL THOUGHTS
Jeffro – I instantly fell in love with Sucre – the city has a very Mediterranean feel with it’s whitewashed buildings and terracotta rooftops …a pleasant change from the bustling La Paz and the almost ghost-town like Uyuni. A cheap place to relax after the Salar tour….couldn’t believe that a huge meal with many drinks worked out to around A$10 per person. Definitely placing this one on my “would visit again” list.

Daniel – Yep, Sucre was great. Relaxing, beautiful buildings, great hostel, warmer weather and great nights out. Sad to see Jeffro leave, he so should have quit work too come travelling with us! The famous 5 are now down to the fantastic 4! Credit for a lot of the photos over these few posts has to go to Jeff and Carley too!

Carley – Dan forgot to mention that the hostel served lemon meringue pie for breakfast – winner! Sucre was really pretty, a major city but much quieter in terms of people and traffic, than La Paz. It’s layout, architecture and sights did remind me more of the cities you see travelling through Europe and I think that gave us a bit of home comfort. The scenery on another long bumpy bus ride was again pretty spectacular, and a break in the sunshine after chilly Salar de Uyuni was most welcome.

Tanya – Glad we managed to fit in a good night out while Jeffro was still on board (sorry to see you not so well on the last night Jeffro). Id call Sucre the pretty city of Bolivia. It was a lovely place to relax and wind down after the salt lakes.

Leigh – Sucre was as if a bit of the Mediterranean had landed in Bolivia. Lovely buildings, sunshine and cheap food and drinks, a great place to take it easy and after the ruggedness of the Salt Plains. Definitely worth the 12 hour bus ride from Uyuni and not as bumpy as expected.

Posted by dbgomes 18:20 Archived in Bolivia Tagged bolivia round_the_world Comments (1)

Bolivia – Salar de Uyuni

Can I get some more salt on this please?

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We did some proper South American travel finally, and what an experience it was! The overnight bus from La Paz to Uyuni leaves La Paz at 9pm and takes 10 hours. We booked on a Todo Tourismo bus which are the best ones you can take in Bolivia. They do have a good recline on their seats, they serve airline style food for dinner and breakfast. The journey started off with Jeffro sitting next to a really annoying bloke, he was just a pretty average human being. He kept poking the bus attendant, swearing at him lots and not trying to speak a word of Spanish but expecting him to understand his complaining. He was an embarrassment to all travellers!

Starting the bus ride was fine on the tarmac roads from La Paz, but at about 3am we hit the gravel roads. The bus maintained some serious speed on these roads and at times seemed to get airborne and really roll from side to side. I managed to sleep for a fair bit of the journey, even on the incredibly bumpy gravel, it was like being in a massage chair, but lots of other people didn’t get a wink of sleep from that point.

Getting into Uyuni at 7am though, we were pretty knackered, and we had to wait a few hours before our tour started at 10am. Uyuni is a town in the south of Bolivia, which seems to exist solely for the conveyor belt of tourist coming through to get onto the salt plain. There wasn’t much to see or do, so we got some breakfast in a place that wasn’t flash just to pass the few hours. We got back to the Routa Verde tour office and loaded up our 4wd with our bags and set off.

We picked Routa Verde as we had read that there are many dodgy operators out there with poorly maintained vehicles, lack of supplies and dangerous driving. Routa Verde generally had the opposite things said about them. Our Driver was Valerio who was local to Uyuni, had a 90’s Lexus land cruiser and spoke very little English. We had considered paying extra for an English guide, but some other people we spoke with said it probably wasn’t needed and it would be another person in the car with us which would make it even more cramped with the 5 of us plus the driver. As it turned out between all of us we could make out most of what he was saying in Spanish over the journey and it was fun to try and improve our Spanish. Valerio was good also because he spoke really slowly to help us understand.

Valerio drove us out to the train cemetery first where trains come to die. It was actually pretty interesting to climb all through the rusting steam locomotives and seeing the heat exchangers and internal workings of the trains.

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We then went onto a salt processing town just north of Uyuni, Colchani. There are 10 billion tons of salt in the Salar so its no surprise that Salt is the number one export for the country. The man there explained in Spanish that the whole process of digging the salt, drying it, treating it and then bagging it up is all manual. He gave us a demonstration from the pile of salt in his premises and gave us a couple of bags to take home and try.

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We then got onto the Salar itself and stopped at the salt farms and some natural springs for some pictures. The Salar de Uyuni sits at 3653m altitude and is the remnants of an ancient sea that dried up leaving all the salt in the basin of the sea. At its thickest point the salt is 10 meters deep and covers an area of 10,582sq km. In other words, its freaking massive!!

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Salt ready to be processed

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Natural springs in the salt

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Its not until we actually started to drive from the west coast to Isla de Pescado in the centre that we got an appreciation for the size of the salt flats. It was 63km to get to the island and in the middle of the drive the view of bright white salt all around us was really awe inspiring. We stopped at a really flat area where we got out and took all of our photographs. With the flat salt and horizon, you can do lots of cool looking photos where you play around with the perspective. It’s almost compulsory to do these types of shots, and here were our first attempts.

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At Isla de Pescado, we got to walk around for 40mins and check out the small island. It is completely covered in ancient coral and cactus. It was really crazy to be walking over all the coral covered rocks thinking that when there was a sea here, the entire island was under water and would have been so colourful with the coral and fish. Quite a contrast to how it looks now. We had lunch on the island before hopping into the 4wd and heading to the northern shore of the lake to Tahua which sits at the base of Volcano Tunupa.

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The hotel at Tahua is made out of salt and was an interesting place to stay at. It was really nice, but absolutely everything was made from salt, even the chairs and tables. We had a good dinner and Valerio joined us to eat so it was good to practice some more Spanish with him.

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The following morning it was an early start to get back onto the salt. We drove from the northern shore to the southern shore. We stopped again to try some more perspective photos and got these ones

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We eventually drove off the salt lake and onto rocky sandy earth. We stopped into a place called San Juan and got out to look at an Archaeological site. Valerio didn’t tell us much, just to meet him back over in the town for some lunch. We kind of wondered into the site and saw these large rocky mounds that had little openings in them. I climbed up the first one and absolutely crapped myself. Starting back at me was this…

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There were lots of these mounds around and once you knew what was in them, it wasn’t so bad to look in, but that first one did freak me out a bit! We spend a little while looking in them to see pottery, bones and complete skeletons with clothing in some of them.

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After some lunch we got back in the 4wd and continued south. The further we went the more dramatic the landscape became. At times it felt like we were on Mars with red sand and rock everywhere and absolutely no sign of vegetation at all. We crossed the train tracks that run to Chile just before a train came along so Valerio stopped for us to get a picture of the passing train. We passed countless volcanoes including some that are active and were peacefully just smoking away.

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Because of the altitude, at times it was bloody freezing, especially when the wind picked up. The drive went on and on as we passed by some lakes that had ‘Mucho Flamenco’s’ as Valerio would constantly say. The flamingos were really bright pink and enjoyed just walking along eating whatever it is that they eat. We topped out at 4600m along the road and there was a fair bit of ice around at points. It is quite strange and the sun can be really strong, but because of the altitude, the air is really dry and cool. We were constantly taking our jackets and jumpers off in the car but putting it all on again when we got out to see something.

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The hotel that we stayed at this night was at 4400m and for starters as soon at the sun went down it was incredibly cold. We sat in the restaurant for dinner trying to get warm from the little fire that they had going. The hotel had some snow around it and it would have easily dropped to something like -15 that night. Luckily the hotels all had lots of fleecy blankets on the beds and they were nice and warm. At both of the hotels the water was only hot at night, so we were straight into the showers as soon as we got in

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The view from our hotel room

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The final morning we left the volcano hotel at a god awful hour in the morning as we had a long day ahead of ourselves. We first stopped at some rocks that had been worn away with the desert winds, before driving on to some lakes of varying colours and then onto some geysers high in the mountains. We got above 4800m at this point and could really feel the altitude.

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Geysers in the mountains

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We got to some hot springs at the side of another lake around mid day. It was still very cold outside, but Jeffro and I got up the courage to brave the cold air. It was a good choice as the springs were super warm and a good relax for 15 mins.

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The driving for this day went on and on, but the views were always changing and the vastness of the area was awesome! We passed more lakes and mountains, and towards the end of the day we went through the valley of rocks with impressive columns of limestone rock exposed by the elements among the sand.

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Our group including Valerio

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Matching the lake colour

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We did have a few car troubles on the final day. It all just seemed bad luck. First off the car cut out a couple of times after we hit the undercarriage on a rocky part, but Valerio managed to fix this with redoing a bit of the cars wiring. Then we gave our spare tire to another vehicle which had already had two flats. As you would expect, it would be after this that we actually got a flat tyre!! Valerio kept calling into towns on the way back to Uyuni to pump up the tire. And on the final stretch of road a rock flicked up and must have taken a direct hit on the exhaust as it immediately went really loud. Valerio had a look under the car and said that there was a big hole in it. At least all of this happened on the final day and was simply bad luck.

We got back into town, had a nice hot shower in our hostel, ate at an average place in town and called it an early night after such a long day. Another bus ride was in store for the following morning.

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The last views from the epic days of driving around Salar de Uyuni

FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – The Salar was pretty awesome, I’ve never been somewhere so flat (and that includes Norfolk ) where the horizon on all sides sinks away to hide the mountains. Had lots of fun with the photo taking with all 5 of us. The hotels were cool and unlike any other place we are likely to stay in again. Routa Verde were a good company to do it through and Valerio was a great driver!

Tanya – Llama, llama - mucho llama! I was quite surprised at how much sightseeing was involved on this trip. I knew we’d get to have fun taking pictures on the salt flats – and wish we spent more time doing this in the 1 warm hour we managed to find. Although there was a lot of driving the scenery was constantly changing and there was so much to see! Valerio was a great guide and he took great care of his car and it was just unlucky that we had a few minor issues on the last day. Fab time!!

Jeffro – After the bone shaking overnight ride down from La Paz to Uyuni I was surprised to have any teeth left. The 3 day guided tour of the Salar was amazing and it is easy to see why it is high on so many travellers agenda. Electing to not have an English speaking guide was a good decision, and one of the highlights for me was attempting to communicate with Valerio the driver in dodgy dodgy Spanish. The Salar and surrounding region is an other-wordly experience that all South American travellers should not miss!

Hansie – Definitely a must do and all Bolivian adventures, the Salar de Uyuni did not disappoint. The blue skies, pure white salt lakes and vast rugged landscapes had me staring out the car windows with fascination each day. Not a one trick pony this Salay de Uyuni, we moved from the salt lakes of day one to continually changing landscapes of brightly coloured lagoons, hot springs, volcanoes, and my personal favourite, mucho flamencos.

Carley – Massage chair, Dan?! We spent a looong time on very bumpy roads on buses and in the 4WD these past few days, so it’s nice to stretch our legs and walk around a town again. That said, the scenery of Salar de Uyuni was absolutely amazing and it really is the only way to get to see these sights. I actually didn’t realise I would also be seeing active volcanos, colourful lagoons, and so many cactus, llamas and flamingos on this tour! As the others have said, we were again pleased with our choice of tour company - an excellent driver who was also a pretty good chef and knowledgeable tour guide, who also gave us a great opportunity to practice our very average Spanish. Spending that little bit extra for the hotels with hot water, warm blankets and heating was very worthwhile.

Posted by dbgomes 17:37 Archived in Bolivia Tagged bolivia round_the_world Comments (1)

Bolivia – La Paz

Lots of fun at High altitude

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La Paz is dizzying in every aspect. Its well known as the highest capital city in the world, but the city is also pretty frenetic with cars and people around everywhere! Our arrival into La Paz was done through another drawn out series of transfers. We left New York really early in the morning and flew through Bogota in Columbia through to Lima. We decided to sleep in another airport as the time to go into town and then come back in the morning was not worth the hassle. This time it was Lima airport and luckily we managed to check our bags through early so that we could get through to the departure lounge where there were some bench seats that we could sleep on. The following morning we took an early morning flight with the Bolivian Football Team (who had played Peru in a South American qualifier match the night before) through to Santa Cruz and connecting through to La Paz. Our carbon footprint from this trip already is looking pretty scary!

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The Bolivian football team

When you land at the international airport in La Paz (highest international airport in the world) you land on the AltiPlano, which sits at 4061m above sea level. We had some great views coming over the Andes to land at the airport. We got a taxi from the airport and once you drop down from the AltiPlano, La Paz city sits in a large canyon with the buildings stretching up both sides. It is a pretty impressive view to welcome you to the city.

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We were definitely looking forward to getting here to La Paz because we were meeting up with friends to spend a few weeks travelling with. Leigh and Carley are doing three months through North, Central and South America and will be with us up until we complete the Inca Trail in 3 weeks time. Jeff was also meeting us here on a few weeks off from work. We have done many awesome trips with the three of them back in Europe and were looking forward to more good memories to be made here in South America.

Tanya and I were first to arrive at our nice little apartment in downtown La Paz. We had a few hours to kill before Jeff got in, so we started to get a few things done on the Wifi. After a couple of hours though, I started to feel the effects of the dreaded altitude sickness. I came over really light headed, had a cracking headache and started to feel a bit nauseous. We walked down the road to get some take away pizza and I was hoping that the fresh air and food would help but I still felt really bad. I decided to get to bed early as the advice says to get plenty of rest. We had come from Lima which is basically at sea level, so feeling the effects should not have been a surprise. I ended up getting into bed really early to sleep off the altitude sickness. I got up once Jeff got to the apartment and felt a little better while we were catching up on the events of the last 3 months since we had seen him. We didn’t stay up too long and I was a little worried how well I was going to fare with the altitude given the way I felt that afternoon. All I can describe it as is like having a hangover from a big night - headache, little fragile in the stomach, room still spinning ever so slightly.

The following morning we relaxed in the apartment for a few hours and looked into a few things for the next couple of weeks. The sleep had cured my altitude sickness, but we all started to get onto the coca tea (made from the same coca leaf that makes cocaine) that morning to help keep us feeling good. We then headed out to see what La Paz had to offer. Luckily for us, today (Sunday 4th September) was national pedestrian day. Very few cars were allowed in the city centre and there were lots of stalls, markets and entertainment set up along the Prado, which is the main street through the city. We enjoyed seeing all the activity going on, however we walked a fair distance and most of it was up hill, so at that altitude, it is tough going. I felt pretty reasonable, however Jeff had the altitude sickness kick in pretty strongly and Tanya was not feeling 100% either. After a couple of hours walking around, we got back to the apartment and spent the rest of the afternoon drinking coca tea and relaxing so that we were all acclimatised to the altitude.

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Our cool apartment

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Pedestrian Day

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Typical dress style in Bolivia

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Painting the road while no cars are around

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Leigh and Carley arrived in the early hours of the morning so we met them after another nice lay in. After another quick catchup on whats been going on since we last saw them, all 5 of us headed out to get a few things booked in La Paz. The first thing we got done was visit a travel agent to help us fit in our tours of Uyuni Salt Flats, Jungle and Pampas and Lake Titicaca. We had looked into this stuff back in England, but it was hard to fit it all in and get flights and transport sorted. A lot of information says that it is easier to book once in Bolivia, and as it turned out the lady was very helpful and we managed to get everything booked in for the next few weeks with her (except Uyuni Salt Flats as we had a company in mind already for this).

The next task for the day was just as important! The next day was Leighs 30th birthday, so we had decided to cycle ‘The Worlds Most Dangerous Road’ to celebrate. Its basically a downhill mountain bike ride that goes from 4700m to 1100m altitude over about 69km. We booked with Gravity Bolivia as they had the best reputation from what we had seen. Tanya, Leigh, Jeffro and I booked on for the ride and Carley booked to come along in the bus and be our official photographer.

We passed some time walking around the streets before going back to the apartment to get ready for Leigh’s birthday dinner in the restaurant below the apartment (La Comadie - best restaurant in town according to online reviews). The dinner was great, I even went for Llama as my main course (got to try the local dishes). We were all really full thanks to a free desert from the chef after we sung happy birthday.

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Birthday cheers

It was an early start to meet at a local coffee shop for our day of riding the Worlds Most Dangerous Road (WMDR). We took a couple of mini busses up to La Cumbre at 4700m to get acquainted with our bikes. There were around 12 of us including us 4 in our group as well as another similar size Gravity Bolivia (GB) group and some smaller groups from other operators. The bikes were pretty beastly with hydraulic disk brakes and big shock absorbers. GB make it well publicised that they are not the cheapest company out there, but they promise that every bike is serviced with official parts after every ride and their bikes are top line bikes that will get you down the road without failure. Given that this road has had 18 bike deaths since 1998 (the last being a Japanese girl in June whose breaks failed after going with a cheaper company) we were happy to be paying a bit more for the added safety.

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So after a quick offering to pacho mama (Inca’s earth god) we set off on the tarmac road. Although we share the road with public vehicles there weren’t too many and then the ones that were on it were generally slow busses and trucks. The first 20km were all downhill on this new road and so we were basically getting into speed tucks to go as fast as we could down this relatively safe part of the road. The biggest annoyance was the incredibly smoky busses whenever they went past. You were already struggling with the thin air, and a good dose of bus smoke was not helpful. It was some good fun but a little taster of an off-road section made we look forward to more of that.

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A drink to Pacho Mama

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The tarmac road winding down the slope

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Before we got to the actual WMDR, there was 8km of flat and uphill road that we could either ride up or get the bus to take us. I felt like I had to do it on the bike – taking the good with the bad. At 4000m it was pretty much self inflicted torture. By the time we got up heartbreak hill at the end of the section, my lungs were on fire! The facial expressions on the photos below tell the story! After a rest at heartbreak hill, we were back onto the bikes for a short flat section then we turned onto the old road. We stopped here for lunch and got a rundown of the way to ride the next 45km of gravel and 600m sheer cliffs.

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The faces say it all

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So this is known at the worlds most dangerous road as up until 2006 it was the only road between La Paz and Coroico,. Built in the 30’s it goes over extremely mountainous terrain and at many points is not wide enough for 2 vehicles to pass. At this time there were on average 200 to 300 deaths per year on the road. Due to this number, it was given the name of the Worlds Most Dangerous Road by a Inter-American Development Bank report into third world areas that require funding. With the completion of the new road, very little traffic takes this road now, albeit for a few tourist cars. Along much of the road there are sheer drops of between 100 to 600 meters which have claimed busloads of people many times when it was in use.

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This is why its known as the WMDR

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The start of our ride on the actual WMDR was helped by the fact that there was a lot of cloud in the valley, which meant the stunning views were not distracting our attention from the road. It was pretty awesome fun though and we got some good long rides before stopping and regrouping again. Even once we dropped below where the cloud was, it was surprising how focused on the track you were. Many times one of us would say did the others see something on the last section but everyone was oblivious to it.

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Hansie broken down

We stopped about 15 times down the road to regroup and listen to stories of accidents (both car and mountain bike) that had happened at the particular points and to take in the awesome scenery. There was only one incident on the whole journey. Luckily it was the other Gravity group, rather than one of us. We were cruising through a section about 2/3 of the way down and our guide had mentioned at the last stop that it was in the coming couple of sections where 80% of the non fatal accidents happen. Not because its difficult, but people start to get over confident. I came around a corner to see Leigh coming to a stop behind our lead guide who was attending to a bloke on the side of the road. Us three were the first there, so Leigh and I recovered the blokes bike which was a couple of meters off the road. Luckily this section of the road was not on a steep cliff area. The guy lifted his head from the road with a grunt and had smashed up his face pretty good. The rest of our group came in and stopped while he was attended to before getting on our bus and taken back to hospital in La Paz. Our guide said he saw it happen in front of him. The guy had panicked as he was going to the edge, grabbed the breaks hard and gone over the handlebars and face planted the track. We were warned at the start that these breaks are probably the best breaks we would have used, and if you were too hard on them you will have the most common accident which is flying over the handlebars.

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Success without injury

So after the fun and incidents, we ended up in Yolosa where the road finishes. All 5 of us had booked onto the zip line here, so we changed out of the bike gear, put on a harness and hopped on the back of a truck to take us up to the zip lines. There were 3 lines, which were all really long. The longest was 500m and zipping over the valleys was an awesome sight. After the zip lining we were taken to an animal sanctuary with lots of exotic birds and monkeys which are rescued from illegal traders. We got some dinner and a hot shower here before getting on the buses to drive all the way back up the WMDR. On the way up in the car we got more stories at sections. There was one part where a bus carrying 108 people fell off the cliff while trying to pass. Absolutely crazy!!

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We were pretty exhausted by the time we were back to La Paz and had an early night and a good lay in the next morning. We were catching the overnight bus in the evening so we relaxed at a few café’s in the afternoon before getting a taxi up to the bus station. We did visit the witches markets which sell all kinds of things, but the main one being Llama foetus’s which the locals put in the foundations of their houses as a good luck charm. Interesting…

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FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – WMDR was awesome, and to be able to do it on Hansie’s birthday with him, Jeffro and Tanya was definitely the highlight! There were times where us three boys were right with each other cruising through sweeping s bends and hairpin turns with the cliffs and awesome scenery off to our left. Great memory to add to all the others we have done with them. Proud of Tanya for doing the ride after not being on a bike since getting hit by the car in the UK

Tanya – Altitude sickness was not so much fun and the headache lasted for a good 4 days. But its easy to forget about a headache when sneaking a peek over the edge of a 600m drop! The scenery was soo stunning, it was just a bit hard to concentrate on it most of the time we were cycling at full speed (full personal speed which was enough of an adrenaline rush for me). It has been refreshing to catch up with great mates and was fab to help celebrate Leigh’s 30th – HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Jeffro – I thought a one night stop in Cochabamba (2500m) would prepare me for the high altitude (3600m) of La Paz. I was wrong! My first day in La Paz was spent curled up in a ball on the bed, but thankfully full health returned in time for the ride down the famous “camino de la muerte”, what better way to spend Leigh’s birthday with a bunch of good mates! A white knuckle ride down for 60 odd km with huge drop offs to the side, a thrill I will remember forever. And if the ride down wasn’t enough of a thrill then the drive back up the road afterwards only served to remind us even more how dangerous this road actually is. Advice for other travellers, do not tell Mum you are doing this until AFTER the ride is complete.

Carley - I can’t believe that the last year of casual conversations about ‘meeting up in South America’ have all come together! It’s great to be travelling with Dan, Tan and Jeffro again, and a totally memorable way for Leigh to spend his 30th birthday. I have to say I have no regrets about not doing the cycle down death road, it was great to see the others complete the exhilarating ride but just not something I would have been confident to do, I was satisfied with my official photographer duties! Zip-lining was great fun, even the part where I crashed into Jeff and Dan on the duo line and had to monkey crawl to safety! I was impressed with the tour company and felt totally safe at all times.

Hansie - From what was already an exciting itinerary in Bolivia, meeting up with and being able to celebrate my 30th birthday with some good mates was the icing on the cake. And what better way to do it than to head down the “World’s Most Dangerous Road” on bikes, naturally. After managing to rid myself from the obligatory high altitude headache, the 60 odd kilometres of rocky white knuckle downhill riding was a great introduction to what Bolivian roads had in store for us.

Posted by dbgomes 15:07 Archived in Bolivia Tagged bolivia round_the_world Comments (4)

USA – New York

Avoiding hurricanes for weddings

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We were taking a 4 day break from South America to get up to New York for our friends wedding, however Mother Nature wanted to play a little hard ball. We had a lot of flying to do to get from Easter Island up to New York and in the end this saved us from Hurricane Irene. We flew from Easter Island at midday, had to sleep overnight in Santiago Airport before a morning flight to Lima, then on to San Salvador before getting the final flight to New York arriving at 2.30am. To say that I was wrecked was a little understating it!

We had treated ourselves to the Intercontinental Barclay, and the bed was a welcome sight! We had a decent lay in before getting up and meeting our friends Tony & Mel around the corner for some pre-wedding drinks. It had been 2 ½ years since we last saw them, so it was good to catch up on the events that have happened since they left UK. I have known Tony since I was 13 and had the important task of being best man the following day. We had a good evening of drinking and eating after splitting into boys and girls groups.

The following morning was a typical wedding morning with lots going on before heading up to Central Park for the ceremony. Mel and Tony had done an amazing job of organising their wedding from Australia and it all came together perfectly on the day. The spot for the ceremony overlooking the lake was really nice and considering a tropical storm had been through a couple of days before the weather was perfect.

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The vows were exchanged, and after a few photos we all went on a pedal bike tour of central park to get to the transport for the reception. It was a really good idea by Mel and Tony, as everyone got a bit of history and saw the sights of central park while the bridal party were getting the photo’s done!

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The reception was held at the River Café which is famous for its Brooklyn Bridge desert. We did get to experience this famous desert but that was after some amazing food all round. We were certainly spoilt for the day. We had a good few laughs and really enjoyed the afternoon before having a few hours free in the afternoon to have a nap before meeting again.

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Tanya and I spent our time with Jess and Don who we hadn’t met before the wedding, but got on really well with. We managed to sneak into the free cocktail lounge at their hotel to enjoy a few snack and beverages before heading back to meet up with everyone at the terrace at the Roosevelt hotel where Tony and Mel had organised a table for cocktails. It was a really good finish to the day and we had fun chatting with everyone and getting well into the spirit of the evening. We kicked on for a bit with Don and Jess at the end of the night to finish of a great day!

The following day, we met with most people for breakfast and then went and got a few errands done like posting off some souvenirs before meeting up with Don and Jess again to do a bit of shopping. We went down to Macey’s and got a few bits and pieces before having a really nice cheap Chinese meal with them. After that we met up Mel and a few others for some drinks and dinner then called it a night.

We had to wake at 3.30am to get the subway out to JFK airport for another long schedule of flights to get to La Paz in Bolivia.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – The wedding was great, we were really happy to be there and share the day with such good friends. Also had a good time meeting and getting to know the other people at the wedding and will be looking forward to catching up with them back in Perth when we finally get there.

Tanya – OMG I cant believe what a great show Mel and Tony put on for the wedding – it was amazing!! We had a great time in NYC although we didn’t do the touristy thing – it was a nice early holiday from the holiday 

Posted by dbgomes 07:31 Archived in USA Tagged usa round_the_world Comments (1)

Easter Island - Expenses

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We spent 4 nights on Easter Island

It’s not cheap on Easter island, much of the produce is flown in daily on the passenger flights and the larger items come in twice monthly on cargo ships. We stayed in a guest house which had cooking facilities, but with the price for cooking ingredients, we ended up usually having fresh seafood empanadas as that was a relatively cheap fast food alternative.

The guesthouse had Wifi, but the connection was very much dial up speeds (cant believe that’s how we all used to use the internet. The whole islands internet also went down when there was a bit of rain one morning)

The ‘activities’ below include the national park fee of 50,000 pesos, tour of 60,000 pesos and the quad of 30,000 pesos.

Values are in AUS $ which at present is on par with US $
Accommodation …………………. $352
Transport ……………………………. $0
Food …………………………………… $173
Activities …………………………….. $280
TOTAL ………………………………… $805

Per day for 2 people …………… $161
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Easter Island Accommodation:
Hanga Roa
‘Guesthouse Vaianny’
Web: residencialvaianny.com/us/index.php
Notes: Being welcomed at the airport with flower necklaces and Claudio being really helpful made it a good stay. Breakfast was included and was really good, varied and filling. Wifi was free but generally slow.

Easter Island Tour
Patricio Ballerino
Patricio.aotour@gmail.com
Notes: Really good guide of the island, had so much information to pass on and pointed out so many things that we would have missed.

Posted by dbgomes 07:21 Archived in Chile Tagged chile round_the_world Comments (0)

Chile – Easter Island/Rapa Nui

History 101 beneath every step

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Everything you look at on this island is an archaeological find. For instance, the first day we were on the island, a new cave was found in the interior of the island with a unique statue in it. I thought these kind of things didn’t happen anymore as us humans seem to have reached every corner of the globe! Easter Island or Rapa Nui is a pretty special place. The pace is slow and the town is small but the charm and mystery of the island is gigantic!

A 5 1/2 hr flight from Santiago into the middle of the Pacific Ocean gets you to Rapa Nui, the most isolated inhabited island in the world. We were welcomed at the airport by Claudio from our guesthouse and presented with our flower necklaces, which was pretty cool. Turning straight out of the airport you are immediately turning again onto the main street in town. After an introduction to the island from Claudio at the hostel we just walked about town and got some dinner before going to look at our first Moai statues down at the shoreline.

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We timed this pretty well as the sun was setting. Now I’ve seen some pretty amazing sunsets, and Rio was putting up a good shout, but this evening the sky was so colourful and adding the Moai to the scene, made it one I am going to remember for a while!!! I can’t tell you much more but show you some examples of the changes as the sun went down…

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That was a pretty amazing way to spend our first evening on the island, and the next day we went on a tour of the island with Patricio Ballerino who is a Chilean man who married a lady from Easter Island and has been living here for 40 years so is practically a local. He had so much knowledge of the island and could answer any question I threw at him. I would highly recommend him!

So a quick history lesson (per legend anyway) before I go into what we saw.

A long time ago, this population of people (called Long-ears for the story as they wore earrings to lengthen their ears) were in trouble because their volcanic island was sinking. They sent 7 explorers out to find a place to live. The long-ears left their island to join the explorers and on the way picked up some slave short-ears from an island on the way. The Short-ears were more Polynesian looking than the longer faced taller Long-ears. Getting to Easter Island, the Long-ears were the high society and the Short-ears the low society. The population split into 15 different tribes across the island and started to build Moai to be the earthly statue of dead Long-ear chiefs. Different tribes were specialist in different things and traded amongst themselves but the short ears were always the work horses for the tribes.

The population at its height had 15,000 inhabitants. At a point in time (around 1540), something caused a big social upheaval (maybe famine by overpopulation, deforestation from working on the Moai, revolt by the Short-ears) and a war broke out between the two races. The Short-ears came into power and began their rule with selecting their ultimate leader from the winner of the birdman contest. The Short-ears did not build Moai either during or after the war. After taking power all but 3 Moai were pushed over by the new rulers. By the time Europeans arrived the population was down to 2 – 3000. After slave raiding, European diseases and eviction for sheep farming the population dropped to 111 people and only 36 had descendants. The island now has about 6000 permanent inhabitants.

For anyone thinking of coming to Easter Island, my single recommendation is to take a tour with a local guide. The Moai are impressive but without the stories, facts and details that the guide provides, once you have seen one, the rest look the same. If we were walking around by our self, we would have missed so many things that just look like piles of rocks! I will apologise now for the lengthy blog post, but the primary reason for the blog is to be a diary for Tanya and I, we saw so much so we want to keep a good record of it. Hopefully you aren’t too bored reading along.

Patricio picked us up from our guesthouse in his classic VW van for our tour round the island.

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We stopped at a few places along the south coast on our way out to the main quarry. At Vinapu it was interesting to see that the ‘ahu’ (stage) is constructed very accurately, aligned astronomically and resembles the stonework seen in the Inca empire which poses the question did the Islanders have contact with Inca people? There is also a female Moai at this site which is very unique. The view of the coast was pretty nice along here too

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Ahu Akahanga was another stop, which has a well preserved village. The foundations of the houses and earth ovens where all around, and there was a cave used by the Islanders as a shelter here too. The Moai all along here were toppled, but there was a special Moai at this location which gave scientists the knowledge that all Moai, were given eyes once they were placed on the ahu. This is because all the Moai at the quarry do not have rounded eye sockets, and this one here must have been about to be completed at the time of the war, as it too is without completed eye sockets. This is the kind of information that we would have missed by ourselves

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The incomplete Moai without rounded eye sockets

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The cave entrance

There was another Moai laid face down by the side of the road, that we stopped at. This one also did not have completed eyes, and is actually one that was in transport at the time of the war. At the outbreak of the war, everything literally stopped overnight and it’s interesting to see all this evidence around the island.

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Almost all 887 Moai around the island came from one location, the Rano Raraku quarry. The statues bodies were made from black volcanic tuff carved straight from the side of the volcano. This was the main stop of the day and it was so interesting. At the farthest reaches of the island, the huge statues were transported up to 15km across undulating ground from this quarry. This is just one of the many mysteries that are still unanswered.

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The Rano Raraku from a distance

A lot of the Moai here at the quarry appear to be standing up and not toppled over like at the ceremonial sites. This is because they were stood waiting to be transported and the earth and mud from the volcano slid down the slope partly burying them.

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This has provided some useful information though, as scientists at some points have dug this ground away revealing that at the quarry the Moai were much larger than they were when they were placed on the ahu (18m at the quary, 10m on the ahu). Legend says that the Moai were walked to their destination, and this could explain that through walking the Moai upright to their ahu, wore a considerable amount of the rock away. Digging the earth away also showed that with protection against erosion from the elements, the Moai all had intricate carvings over their bodies.

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We spent a while at the quarry walking around as there were so many things to see that we would have easily missed if we were there by ourselves. We saw the buried statues waiting to be transported, statues about to be taken from the rock face, some that were still just impressions on the mountain. Seeing them at all stages of construction really gave an appreciation for the effort that went into one, let alone 887 of them! There was even one that they gave up on where some workers would have been killed where the rock caved in on them as they were carving a tunnel to dig out the moai.

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Sizing this one up

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This just looks like mountain, but you can see the shape of a Moai still being carved

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Another one being carved from the rock

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This is just his head remember, there is a whole body underground

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Next stop was Tongariki, which is a famous site as it has the 15 Moai (the most ever erected on a single Ahu) which were all re-erected by the Japanese after a tsunami washed away the old remains back in the 60’s. This was pretty awesome to see how they would have looked in their prime. One of the statues here also has its top-knot on (a red headpiece that all Moai had which came from a different quarry on the island).

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The 15 as well as the 16th in the foreground which was in transport and just didn’t make it

We also stopped at Te Pito Kura which has the largest Moai erected on an ahu as well as a sacred rock that is positioned at the points of the compass. Legend has it that this rock came with the first settlers from their island, but it may have even been a meteorite as it is high in iron and is magnetised.

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The final stop for the day was Anakena which has some more re-erected Moai and a sand beach which looks like it as been artificially made when compared to the black volcanic rock coast around the rest of the island. It isn’t artificial however, but formed from the coral reef near here. Luckily, when these Moai were toppled into the sand, they have been well preserved and carved features on the status are really clear.

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We finished off the day with fresh seafood empanadas watching the sunset as the local surfers were out enjoying the waves

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The next day we wanted to get a quad bike so that we could go exploring the island some more. Walking down the main street we picked one up for 24hrs use and headed for the Rano Kau volcano just south of the town. The island is basically shaped like a triangle with the 3 main formation volcanoes at each point. We got up to the rim of the volcano in no time and got a few shots before heading round to Orongo which was a significant village in the islands history.

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The view over the airport and Hanga Roa

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Rano Kau

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Orongo was a powerful village after the fall of the Long Ears, as this village overlooks the island of Moto Nui. After the war, the overall leader of the population was determined from a competition known as the birdman. At the start of spring each year the competitors would have to scale the 300m vertical cliffs, swim out to Moto Nui and wait for the first egg from the Sooty Tern. The person who successfully brought back the first egg up the cliffs to Orongo was crowned the birdman and considered sacred.

The village itself is quite large and there has been a lot of reconstruction work done on it since the western world ransacked the village for the treasures of the ancients. The view out to Moto Nui was good as the sun was out. There are also a lot of rock carvings here.

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After leaving, we took a scenic ride along the south coast driving down many side tracks which the Quad bike easily handled. We did a similar thing in Greece as a quad is much more adept at getting down rocky or sandy tracks where a car would struggle.

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And the bike well and truly paid off when we took a turn down a track on the north coast and stumble across a little bit of paradise! We rounded a corner after hopping off the bike at a stone fence and were welcomed with a pristine white sand beach and red volcanic cliffs with absolutely no one around.

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We got out or towel and sat down for some lunch by ourselves on the beach and enjoyed the feeling of being on a deserted island. It was a really special moment of the trip so far and one that I will be remembering for a while! I went for a swim in the sheltered bay and the water was refreshing and fish were swimming around me once I was up to my waist in the water. The water was incredibly clear as well. I put my goggles on and went out to the reef just at the headland for a bit of a look round under water. We reluctantly left after a good hour or so there by our self, but the afternoon was starting to get on and we still wanted to visit some of the places on the north coast that we hadn’t seen yet

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The next destination was Puna Pau, which is a red volcano that was the quarry where all the top-knots came from for the Moai. Similar to Rano Raraku, there were top-knots at all stages of production in the quarry. The colour of the rock was very distinctive, so it was easy to see how striking a top-knot would have been on top of the black Moai.

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We drove further along the road to come across the Moai of the 7 original explorers which have been re-erected. Unlike most other Moai who have their back to the ocean, these face out to sea and are aligned so that they have the sunset and sunrise directly behind and in front of them during the equinoxes.

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The next few stops were a number of Caves that the Islanders used as shelter and hideouts. Ana Te Pahu is known as the Banana Cave as it has some banana trees in the open centre. Ana Te Pora and Ana Kakenga were both lava tube type caves which were pretty spectacular. The cave entrances were very hard to pick out amongst the rocky landscape, so its easy to see how they were good hideouts. Ana Kakenga was really unique as it is right near the coast and has two openings in the cliff face that look out to sea.

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Ana Te Pahu

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Ana Te Pora

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Ana Kekenga

We got back into town and I sat and watched two of the local football teams while eating some dinner and the sun setting behind me.

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The next morning we returned the quad bike and walked back out to Ana Kekenga with our head torches as we couldn’t go inside yesterday with it being completely pitch black in there. It took a couple of hours to walk out there, but worth the effort to go inside the cave

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We spent that afternoon and the following morning just hanging around town and looking for the perfect Moai statue souvenirs. We had a good 40 hours of travelling to do to get up to New York and we were monitoring the situation with hurricane Irene hoping that it wouldn’t stop us getting there for our friends wedding.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – The sunsets, the deserted beach, the remoteness… these are all going to stay with me for a long long time. Easter island has been somewhere that I have always wanted to go from the first time I ever saw it on TV, and it didn’t disappoint one bit. It’s already started to get quite popular on the tourist trail, but I feel we were lucky to see it as it currently is, as another 10 years of tourism is probably change this remote corner of the globe, maybe not for the best.

Tanya – I loved being in an outdoor museum. There was soo much to see (in all honesty before we got there I thought there were one or two main sights and that was it). The variety of Moai’s,caves and carvings plus the natural scenery was amazing. It was also really cool to almost always be in sight of the ocean – it is an Island after all. Dan seemed to think it was pretty funny every time I grunted after landing back on the quad bike after he kept throwing me in the air at the high speeds he was going over the very very rocky terrain – my bum was a little tender after that. He also found it hilarious when I applied sun cream towards the end of the day when I was already covered in dust from quad biking and I managed to just spread dirt all over my face instead!! We had a fab time!!

Posted by dbgomes 14:05 Archived in Chile Tagged chile round_the_world Comments (3)

Chile – Santiago

It can be a little chilly in Chile

semi-overcast 12 °C
View Round The World on dbgomes's travel map.

This first visit to Santiago was supposed to be a quick airport stop on our way to Easter Island. Plane schedules didn’t agree and so we had two nights in Chile’s capital city. This isn’t a bad thing as it turns out, because we got a chance to do a few things and have a few days free now at the end of our schedule.

We got our flight out of Rio, with a quick 45min stop in Sao Paulo before getting into Santiago at around 10pm. This was our first flight on LAN who we will be doing about 9 flights with. After Iberia and British Airways (short haul plane) this is good news. Personal touch screens in each seat and power sockets in the seats... These are the little details that a nerdburger likes to have :-)

As we got in so late, a taxi was the only option. After getting checked in, we had a traditional Chilean meal of… Takeaway Chinese. Give us a break, there was nothing much around our hostel still open after 10:30!

After slightly oversleeping in the surprisingly comfy bunks, we hit the street to find the nearest metro stop to head into the city centre. First thing we noticed when getting onto the street was how cold it was. Winter in Rio felt like summer in England, but Santiago was more like we were used to. Santiago sits right next to the Andes, and the snow covered mountains are clear to see in the city. We had read that it was only a couple of hours bus to get to the closest snow fields, and really toyed with the idea of spending our day in Santiago with a snowboard strapped to our feet. We weren’t really organised enough to make it happen and if I was doing it again I would make the effort.

So with just a day to look round the city, we first headed over to the prominent hill in town. We took the funicular up the hill and looked around the top. They have a Virgin Mary statue at the top of this hill. Not sure who started this craze, but they like to put statues on hills over here. The first thing we noticed was the layer of smog that was covering the city. Santiago is another megalopolis with 6.6million people sat within this valley, and the air quality shows it. From this vantage point above the smog, the snow fields were clearly in sight, making me even more annoyed that we hadn’t made it up there.

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We made our way back down to the city and after some Japanese for lunch, we got to the central square Plaza de Armas to join a free walking tour of the city. There was a Cuban dance movement going on in the square which was really strange, but the guide Philippe said that every day there is a different movement or protest or activity happening in this square!

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We started the tour and Philippe had excellent English and explained the historical situation of Santiago from the Spanish settlement, the native Mapuche people, political turmoil and problems that have shaped Chile. It was all very interesting to hear as we walked from building to building in the city.

The group only had 10 people on the tour so we chatted with everyone on the walks. We talked a fair bit with a couple who had come to South America after working for a while on cruise ships round the world. Hayley was from Australia and Vitor was Brazilian and we had a good time chatting about Rio and our respective travel plans.

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We had a drinks break in a nice little café and had a Pisco Sour (Chilean version rather than Peruvian). They were damn strong!! I had a good chat with Philippe about lots of things and it was interesting to hear his account of the 8.8 Earthquake that hit Chile last year. We were shown the effects on the theatre which have not been patched up yet

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The tour ended at dusk up at the HILL so we decided to get some dinner with Hayley and Vitor. We went to the best seafood place in town (that’s what Philippe had told us) and yeah, it was really nice. We had a few traditional Chilean seafood dishes. It was nice to sit down and chat some more about all the places we had been to in our time and share stories and tips with each other.

We got the metro back to the hostel and packed up the bags ready for an early morning start to head to Easter Island.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – I was always thinking about how I would have liked to make it to the snow slopes while in Santiago. The tour was interesting and a good way to see the main things though and I don’t think we need to come back and spend much time here now at the end of our time in South America either. It was nice to meet Hayley and Vitor and share a good dinner with them.

Tanya – It was just a flying visit to Santiago, and only by accident really. The city was nice, particularly being surrounded by snow covered mountains. The centre is very European looking due to the history with the Spanish. Plaza de Armas had a vibrant feel - definitely worth a visit.

Posted by dbgomes 18:23 Archived in Chile Tagged chile round_the_world Comments (3)

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