To Patagonia or not to Patagonia

23 April – 11 May 2011

What could possibly peak the views of being a yard away from a blue footed boobie on the Galapagos Islands, the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, snow peaked volcano’s reflecting in one of the many colouful lagoons on the Salt Flats tour or the immense rock formations of the Quebrada? My next three weeks, that’s what. For me, travelling is about being immersed into different cultures, meeting amazing people to share your experiences with, eating rice and chicken every day, treating every night like it’s Saturday night and witnessing sites that get your pulse racing. When the hairs on the back of my neck are stood up, I forget about the horrific border crossing/New Year camping/pervert putting my hand on his willy/attempted robbery combo and my travels all become worthwhile.

Because I’d spent nearly two months in Bolivia, by which time I was due a bit of a rest, (travelling like a maniac and spending a couple of day in each place is no fun), I’d gone slightly over my time schedule of a month in each country. I contemplated for so long about whether to miss out Patagonia and do it another time ‘properly’ in the warmer months but then decided that I really needed to get down there. I’m from Yorkshire, I’m used to the cold, wind and rain. The pace of moving in Patagonia is very sloooooow so you have to allow an extra week here and there. There’s nothing like leaving the W Trek to the very last minute before all the Refugio’s would be closed too. It was going to be tight.

The W Trek (the more popular section of The Circuit in the shape of a W) can take anything from four days onwards with The Circuit taking at least nine days to complete. The prize, Torres del Paine (Towers of Blue, Paine is an indigenous word meaning blue, though the towers are not blue). I set off with a day to spare in case I broke a limb and it would take longer than the advised five days.

I’d met numerous people who had ‘done the W’ and had generally had good weather and was told at a free talk about the hike that generally the winter months have the most consistent weather of clear blue skies though very cold and fresh. I was hopeful. And pleased that I wasn’t the only loon who wanted to do the trek right at the end of the season. It turned out that Claire, also English but living in Aus with her partner Tom, an English couple Ben and Emma and a Belgium called Issac would also be setting off in the morning so at least I wouldn’t be doing the hike on my own.

At the start there was the option of taking the ‘rip off catamaran’ or walk from Administration ‘an easy flat 5 hour walk with amazing views of Cuernos del Paine, if the weather is good’. The weather was horrific but the majority of us, (bar the Belgium) decided to save ourselves a few pennies and do the walk anyway, each of us carrying around 17-20 kilos. We picked up Lee from Korea who was waiting for the weather to ease at Administration. He would have been waiting there at least two days.

This was by far the worst way to start the walk. The 43km/h lashing winds from the Pacific and Atlantic literally knocked us over as we walked heavy footed across flat unsheltered land, the force of the rain whipped us so hard in the face that it felt like hail, we couldn’t even lift our heads though there was no view anyway so we just stared at out monotonous steps. Our faces were so numb that no-one knew if they had snot dribbling down their chins. After doing several hikes with sticks I’d hired them again (I don’t care if people call me an old lady – they’ve been my saving grace more than once), and I’m so glad I had them as they prevented me from falling over many times as I dug them in the ground often whilst screaming. It barely stopped raining in those painstaking five hours.

We reached Paine Grande, the Refugio where I was due to spend the second night. I still had another four hours of hiking to do as I’d booked to stay nearer to Glacier Grey but I’d already walked 18km, it was getting dark and I would have been walking on my own. I wisely paid the difference for the Refugio, the price of the rip off catamaran, and stayed with the others. I was literally soaked to the bone but at least my backpack got a bit of a clean and although it got drenched, it dried off with the strong winds. As miniature Claire could barely keep her feet on the ground, the Aussie’s arrived with about five minutes of daylight to spare, just enough time to erect their tent.

Paine Grande views, W Trek, Chile

The lake at Paine Grande, W Trek, Chile

All the refugios are in stunning locations. I went to take a look at the lake and nearly got dragged in from the winds. I’ve literally never known anything like it. Then I went to sit by the fire. Later we warmed our cockles with wine, rum and whisky though at least I had a bed to sleep in, the others were camping.

Day two and my soaking wet hiking gear got put back on. The worst thing is having to put on wet hiking boots but there is just no way that these were going to dry overnight. No pain, no game. It’s much the same as wearing high heels. Doing anything feels like more of an achievement in appalling conditions. As we were staying at the same Refugio for the second night, at least I didn’t have to cart 18 kilos with me on the 22km round trip to Glacier Grey.

Route towards Glacier Grey, Day two, W Trek, Argentina

Glacier Grey, W Trek, Chile

Although it pissed it down for most of the morning a tiny bit of sun peaked out when we reached the glacier though it was so windy that we could only stay at the view point for about 10 minutes, whilst trying to eat our lunch with frozen hands. I’m so glad I didn’t do the walk the previous night as it took over four hours and wouldn’t have been safe in the dark. On the way back Korea’s leg seized up, ‘When I go on long hikes I can’t walk for about a week after’, he tells me, ‘Errm, maybe you should have thought twice about doing a five day hike at the end of the season, in the middle of nowhere, with no guides patrolling the park and hardly any other tourists around too’. We head back painstakingly slowly but I can’t leave the cripple and end up giving him my sticks.

Day three and my soaking wet hiking gear got put back on again, boots seemed wetter. The cripple is still in bed. ‘Go, I’ll hold you back’, he whimpers. ‘OK, bye’. Today is the longest day of hiking but on the plus side we can leave our backpacks at Campsite Italiano and head up the middle section of the W, Valle Frances. There is no sign of the Aussies so I head out with the English. It’s raining again.

7.5km and a couple of hours later we reach Campsite Italiano, a free campsite but you can see why it was free. There were no working bathrooms or facilities, one shelter, merely a hut strewn in crap and abandoned sorry looking collapsed tents on the ground. We hung up our bags of food in the trees so the starving mice wouldn’t gnaw there way through our backpacks and set off to Valle Frances.

Snow up Ville Frances, W Trek, Chile

The blizzard starting to kick in on the way up Valle Frances, W Trek, Chile

It had finally stopped raining but as we climbed higher it started snowing, then it got heavier, then it turned into a blizzard. For some reason we were still eager to carry on but when we bumped into the Belgium with a guy from the Cayman Islands they told us that they’d turned back due to an open bit of land and a heavy blizzard making trekking almost impossible. We carried on for a bit longer then decided we should head back especially as it would be a few hours before we reached the viewpoint but then the chances of seeing anything would be very slim.

Views from Refugio Cuernos, day three, W Trek, Chile

Views from Refugio Cuernos, night three, W Trek, Chile

The weather finally picked up a bit and it was a pleasant stroll to Refugio Los Cuernos again set in an amazing location. ‘We have a problem’, the guy working at the Refugio tells me, ‘…we have not tents so I’m afraid you’ll have to sleep in a bed for the same price.’ ‘That’s outrageous’, I moan.

I hear screaming and a loud bang whilst in the shower and upon asking ‘Que paso’, (what’s happened/going on?), the guy working there picks up a dead mouse by it’s tail and dangles it above his gaping mouth. The chef lets out another screech. Other than that it’s a pleasant night in the cosy Refugio where we polish off most of the rum and whisky as we sit by the fire. There is no sign of the Aussies, (the other’s seem to be dropping like flies) but we figure they probably stopped at Campsite Italiano for the night, poor buggers. We also decide that we might try and get to Torres del Paine in one day and back down to the final Refugio which would save me from getting up at about 3am and walking in the dark on my own for four hours just to see sunrise there. (Because I’m not carrying my own tent, I can’t stay at the campsite nearest to the towers meaning the only option is to do the hike in the morning/middle of the night). We work out that it’s about 30km, yeah easy, especially as we’d only hiked 18 hours on day three.

Sunrise day four, W Trek, Chile

Sunrise day four overlooking lake, W Trek, Chile

I get up and I leg it with the English. The sunrise it awesome and finally it’s a really clear warm(ish) day; it’s such a joy to walk today, good job as we have 29.5km to go. We barely even have time to stop to take photos. A few hours later we reach Refugio Chileno, the nearest Refugio to the towers though annoyingly closed already, but at least we can dump our bags. We stop for lunch and a cup of tea to warm us up and the Belgium pops up about five minutes after we’ve sat down. He’d like some tea too but doesn’t have a cup but it’s OK because he’s nearly finished eating a jar of jam with a spoon. I offer him a teabag as we watch remnants of jam floating about in his jar of hot water. He happily accepts.

It feels like the last hurdle and I’m really excited even if darker clouds are starting to loom but I can see some blue sky trying to poke through. We pass a couple (day trippers) as we cross a bridge and attempt to find the trail which isn’t so easy. It’s really marshy and wet and we have to scramble up some parts with loose gravel. So glad I’m not doing this in the dark on my own, I’m thinking. We finally see orange paint on the barks of trees and get back on track. A few minutes later we same the same couple casually walking over a bridge ahead of us. ‘Why did you take the horse path?’ they ask us.

We get nearer, just an hour to go with the last 45 minutes being a ‘scramble’ though it’s not so bad at all, and then we reach the ‘scramble’. It’s steep and rocky and so windy that we’re clinging to the loose rock for dear life. There doesn’t seem to be an actual path and we can’t scramble up one behind the other as rocks tumble down the side of the mountain after we’ve stepped on them. Again the safety precautions in South America are top class.

Torres del Paine, Day four, W Trek, Chile

We peer over the ridge and see the most spectacular sight. I get goose pimples though mainly because it’s freezing. Torres del Paine in it’s full glory with a turquoise lake below, still cloudy but it’ll do. We stay there for less than five minutes as it’s so windy there is every chance that we’ll get blown off and there is no shelter. My woolly hat actually flies off my head but I managed to grab it while it’s airborne.

Torres del Paine from Refugio Chileno, day four, W Trek, Chile

Then the skies clear while back at Refugio Chileno. After a sugar hit we set off for the final hurdle, around 6km but the longest 6km ever after already walking 25km. I can barely lift my feet towards the end but feel elated that I don’t have to get up in the middle of the night and do the grueling walk to see Torres del Paine, especially as it might rain too. It’s dark by the time we reach Refugio Las Torres and the others have to put up their tent in the dark, I’ve hired a tent so luckily it’s already set up for me. The guy who shows me the tent has kindly bought along a beer for me but then invites me for a beer in the bar, ‘errrm later, after a shower.’ ‘They’re not working’. ‘Well after food.’ ‘There’s food in the bar.’ ‘I have food, goodbye.’

We cook dinner. Belgium is eating a huge pot of undercooked white rice. ‘Do you want some herbs and spices to put in that?’ I ask him. ‘It’s not about the quality Claire, it’s about quantity. I’ve seen that you have been eating none stop.’ ‘Whaaaaa, piss off Belgium, that was energy to get me through this’. I’d been really anal and packed up snack bags of bits of cereal bars, fruit, nuts, seeds, chocolate and sugary sweets in zip lock bags and rationed daily for the hike. I can’t believe Belgium was judging me though he was right, I was eating constantly but it’s the one time I don’t feel guilty for eating chocolate. Later we congratulate ourselves on completing the W with a couple of tetra packs of red wine, not actually too bad, so long as you don’t start on the good bottled stuff.

Not a bad view while waiting for the bus, day five, W Trek, Chile

I almost freeze to death in the tent and keep waking up to add an extra layer, and then there are no more layers to add. The amazing views make up for this though.

Glacier Perito Moreno, Argentina

Glacier Perito Moreno, spot the boat! Argentina

Next stop was a bus across the border to El Calafate, Argentina, the gateway to see one of the only glaciers in the world, Perito Moreno, that’s growing at a rate of two metres per day. Huge blocks of ice fall off the face daily with thunderous crashes; the sight and sound is immense. We’re at the National Park for almost six hours but I could watch if for hours and hours. The only downside of El Calafate is the stinky Greek guy in our hostel who just reeks. It smells as though he’s been festering in the same bed for weeks though he’s only been there for a few days.

I work my way back up towards Northern Patagonia and the Lakes District in Argentina breaking up the 22 hour bus journey to Bariloche with an uneventful day in El Bolson where we went hiking to some uneventful sights, then to an uneventful Artesania market, then to an uneventful beach in the National Park. ‘Bohemian and arty’ is the description the Lonely Planet gives El Bolson. The only boho thing about it is the crispy Argentine selling crap at the overpriced Artesania market. ‘You won’t want to leave’, continues the Lonely Planet. We left within 24 hours even though I was booked into the hostel for two nights but then I was a bit scared of staying in the dorm on my own with a creepy Argentine who after chatting with for five minutes wanted to marry me and move to London.

My first impression of Bariloche wasn’t that great, though probably due to the fact that I was staying at an unwelcoming hostel. I got in late, everyone was already in the tiny bar downstairs, had something to eat, felt a bit scared and went to bed after I managed to step over the exploded contents of a backpack including giant bras and what appeared to be size 8 Converse. I quite like trying to second guess who my room mates are from their ‘stuff’. Some messy bitch with big tits. Turns out Irish Niamh is a right good laugh. We meet over breakfast and she apologises for the chaos.

Niamh has already met Louise, who’s birthday it was that day and Tori who Louise was sat next to on a loooooong bus journey from Buenos Aires. Got that one to look forward to. We end up hanging out for a week or so and turns out very eventful, though only after I move hostels after my second night and end up staying at a really good welcoming social hostel, 41 Below, which funnily enough, everyone moved to after starting off at Pudu. The staff at Pudu were almost crying when I left, the owner stating, ‘Winter is finally kicking in’. ‘Nah, your hostels just shit’.

OK view I guess, Cerro Campanario, Bariloche, Lakes District, Argentina

Cupcakes and tea for Louise's birthday, Bariloche, Argentina

Louise's birthday dinner at The Hobbit, Bariloche, Argentina

How to make a normal night ace, add foam, Bariloche, Argentina

Sunrise at the Civic Centre, Bariloche, Argentina

The National Geographic claims that the view from Cerro Campanario in Bariloche is one of the top ten in the world. I figured this was like one of the million ‘Seventh wonder of the world’ claims. Whatever Schmeographic. Schmeographic, I eat my hat. We were literally blown away with the beauty of the 360 degree view over the Lakes District surrounded by snow capped peaks. It was truely incredible and the perfect weather helped. (The picture above doesn’t do it justice). We stayed there for about two hours having a very long lunch. Back in Bariloche we treated ourselves to cupcakes and a proper cup of tea. (My first cup of tea that tasted the equivalent of Yorkshire Tea for six months). It’s nice to hang out with just girls sometimes as there is no way that you’d ever see a group of guys oooing and ahhing over cupcakes. For Louise’s birthday meal we went to a really cute restaurant called The Hobbit for meat. I couldn’t decide so got the trio of meats. Such a bloke thing to do. (I am actually turning into a man. I looked at myself in the mirror the other day and I’ve got such fat cheeks that my jaw looks like David Coulthard’s). We sank red wine at the hostel then a few of us went out and what was a mediocre night turned out to be hilarious thanks to a few cans of foam. We even got a bottle of champers bought for us which we sipped in the VIP section but I should have known better than taking it. Of course accepting champagne = groping allowed. Still it was a hilarious day. As I stumbled into the hostel at 6am my nightmares began of how I would manage the killer bike ride with Niamh at 10am.

I didn’t get up until 10am, and was still pissed from the night before. I still had to check out and move hostel and by the time I got there Niamh had only just got up and was feeling a bit worse for wear too so we went for an easy hike to the beach, in the rain. We cook a roast dinner and I make an apple crumble much to the disgust of fellow travellers in the hostel. Yum.

Glacier Negro, Bariloche, Argentina

Pretty autumn colours on the hike to Glacier Negro, Bariloche, Argentina

The next day we hired a car to see Ventisquero negro (black glacier), black because the glacier picks up dirt and sediment from it’s surroundings, basically a dirty glacier. The drive was amazing in itself but when we got to the National Park we got lost and attempted to hike up a closed path. We figured we’d gone too far so headed back, past a view point which we thought about stopping at but it looked a bit crap so carried on. The next thing we know all these white mini buses are passing us going where we’d come from and realised that what we thought looked a bit crap was actually the glacier. We decided to walk as the petrol was running low and there was no where to fill up on the way back until we got back to Bariloche by which time it would be too late. After the 6km hike passing autumnal trees, we reached the Glacier just as a million other tour groups arrived. This is the beauty of having a car, so you can prevent arriving at the same time as the tour groups. We sat bemused. At least we got a bit of exercise. I drove back, really badly. I think Louise was pretending to be asleep as she couldn’t bare to watch.

Refugio Frey, Bariloche, Argentina

I wanted to get a long hike in before I left and my god I got just that. We were told that the walk to Refugio Frey was a good one with amazing views at the end. Three lads from Ireland also came along though nearly missed the bus as they were so laid back. Us girls were there about 30 minutes before the bus arrived eagerly waiting, the lads were buying their tickets in the office as the bus pulled up. Us girls were arguing over who would use what tupperware the night before, the lads hadn’t bought their lunch and all the shops were shut from where the hike started. Us girls would at out salads, the lads would just eat whatever carbs were on offer at the Refugio when they arrived. Us girls gassed for most of the way up, the lads had a ghetto blaster perched on one of their shoulders, actually they were mini speakers but it sounded like a ghetto blaster.

We raced up like the clappers. Some parts were tough but it was good to get a sweat on and the view at the top was pretty spectacular.

There was an option to walk via the lake on the way back so we decided on that as it’s always more interesting to do a loop. And what should have been a four hour hike up only took us two hours 20mins so we knew we could get down in about an hour and a half, besides, going via the lake would only add a few kms to the journey. Myself and Niamh set off first, leaving the lads who are still eating their three courses of carbs. We start running down, and then I sprained my ankle. I hobbled on. We were no where near the lakes for ages and turned out to quite a boring walk and even more boring because we missed the turning off and ended up going completely off track and walking through marshy land. The path and footsteps had disappeared and were replaced by the odd horses hooves. The only option was to trace our steps back along the boring walk with my sprained ankle. We’d completely missed the turning and were relieved to get back on track only to end up getting lost again as the signs weren’t clear. We ended up adding about 10km onto the walk, not ideal with a sprained ankle and all the while it was starting to get dark. We decide to give hitch hiking a go and stop to ask locals with vehicles where the bus stop was. ‘We’re so tired, we’ve already walked 17km today.’ I whimper. ‘Well if you’ve managed 17km, I’m sure you can manage the other 2km to the bus stop.’ And then the bastard drives past us later and has the cheek to wave. We don’t end up waiting that long for the bus but we do miss our stop when in town and end up heading out of town. It’s now dark and my ankle has seized up and I can barely walk so we decide to get a taxi that almost crashes. ‘What the hell happened to you girls’, the lads ask us. Turns out they’d walked via the lake, done a tricky scale down a mountain to the beach and still managed to get back before any of the girls. Well they’d picked up lost Louise who was happy to hear the ghetto blaster on the way.

The whole hostel are bleary eyed over breakfast the next morning thanks to a couple shagging in one of the dorms and a party on the landing, about a metre away from all the dorms. I give myself a day off to rest my ankle and go for more cup cakes.

Later Emma and Ben from the W are in town so come round to the hostel where we get through tetro pack after tetro pack of red wine and the night fades into oblivion.

I feel like death the next day but being hungover on 22 hour bus journeys is a good thing as at least you sleep for most of the way, even if you’re tight and go for a semi cama. However I have to get the match sticks out as for the first two hours as the scenery is amazing and there is a kitchen on the bus which gets me rather excited. Then I fall to sleep and hope that the next time I wake up I’ll be in Buenos Aires………….Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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OILA (Only in Latin America)

18 March 2011 – 22 April 2011

There are some things that would only happen or I would only let happen whilst in Latin America. Before you start speculating, I don’t resemble one of those smelly hippy travellers, I don’t dreads or even worse, one scanky dread wrapped around my neck, hairy armpits, any rainbow coloured items, dogs, musical instruments, a artesania stand and I haven’t changed my name to Blossom either. I have however, let myself go. It’s impossible to try and keep to a routine unless it consists of eating at least three types of carbs daily, drinking every night, getting little sleep and taking the odd photo on an organized tour. I had a little cry the other day while I was soaking in some hot springs alongside another family. I realised that I was the spitting image of the short stumpy father. Midriff so rotund that feet are no longer visible, (goodbye Chanel nails, I can’t reach you), what could easily be mistaken as moobs, rugby players legs and none existence hips. I have basically turned into a overweight minger.

For that guaranteed sausage shape make sure that no fruit and vegetables are consumed for a few months and that there are at least two types of carbs, something fried and nothing remotely green on your plate (a garnish of brown iceberg lettuce is acceptable) for every meal. Wash this down with a fizzy drink like Inca Kola, so you can look like a toothless local with an luminous tongue. Then wipe your mouth with a napkin the size of a quarter triangle sandwich that resembles crispy greaseproof paper that you used to get in underground toilets at the seaside that would make your arse bleed. Only in Latin America (OILA).

Is that tinned tuna? Flight from Puerto Montt to Punta Arena, Chile

Whether you like it or not, your diet changes dramatically whilst travelling. Before I left, I donated several tins of tuna to a friends cat that had been in my kitchen cupboard for a good year, (I refuse to eat tinned tuna as I think it’s vile, I know many of you would disagree with me here) though whilst travelling I’ve consumed about five tins of the stuff. (More than I’ve consumed in my life time up until my travels). I even got tinned tuna on my flight from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas which I was disappointed about as I secretly love flight meals but I coped. It has now become palatable. I would never consider touching meat that you could slice with your finger but on the Salt Flats tour we got served Spam, which actually, smothered in mustard wasn’t too unbearable. On a recent bus journey we got served carpeechi, (yes I’ve just made that up), but somehow carrots, peas and other delights had been rolled in pummeled chicken. A 7mm cross section of it was served up on some rock hard rice accompanied by a stale roll, got presented beautifully on a bit of polystyrene and got called dinner. Bar alcohol, few liquids are consumed as going to the toilet for that twice daily toxic wee is never a pleasant experience. The only positives are strong thighs and being able to hold my bladder for hours.

Here I average about 20 seconds sorting my hair out and even use shampoo and conditioner in one, one less bottle to carry and saves time. I desperately need a haircut but judging from the dodgy signage outside of hairdressers I have refrained from getting it chopped. In Sucre I stayed in a friends hotel and got really excited to see a hairdryer for the first time in 5 months, washed my hair, started blow drying it, got really bored, gave up after two minutes then wondered how much of my life I’d wasted drying and straightening my hair. I have also started to use soap to make my dry skin even dryer but it lasts longer than shower gel, takes up less room, weighs less and it’s cheaper. Even the debossing of pubes no longer bothers me. (Lie, it really bothers me). I wear make up about once every two weeks. Back home I might run to the corner shop without make up on but with a scalf wrapped around my head but it’s nice that travellers don’t judge you out here and take you for who you are, this might be the reason why I’ve barely met anyone.

After sending a jumper and my poncho home I had to stock up on some sort of warm item as I headed toward Patagonia where the choice included rainbow jumpers or jumpers sporting leaping llamas. I went for an Betty Suares/Icelandic style/Christmas jumper in a bright blue so now I truly resemble a proper traveller, not that I ever look like a local. It’s one thing wearing it out here but would I wear it back home? Mmm, probably not. It’s like when you go to a festival and buy a stupid hat, get home, wonder why you wasted a few quid, then use it to scrub the floor.

I am now literally wearing clothes with holes in as they’ve all been destroyed in the laundrettes, wear no accessories, (back home I’m known as the Queen of Accessories), bar my GBP9.99 Argos Casio watch and some 20p wrist bands (this limits the chances of getting my arms chopped off and my accessories stolen), I have been clubbing in flip flops and sometimes I don’t wash for days (though this is only when a shower is not available). Clothes always get at least five outings before they get washed (though not pants). Mmmmm, but OILA.

That’s enough about the smelly sausage.

OILA would you find restaurants with gaping holes in the ceiling, a stained curtain separating the none flushing seat-less toilet from the dining area, poo stained toilet paper wafting past you that’s in a waste paper bin, towers of stock balancing like giant Jenga in corners and interesting hygiene. Back home these elements would have shut down restaurants in a flash but they are the norm over here, especially local joints in the Andean countries. You can always be sure that your first, second, (always have at least three choices to avoid disappointment) third, fourth, fifth and pretty much the rest of the menu will be unavailable so I’ve now learnt just to ask what ‘Que hay?’, (what is there?).

This isn’t true for all countries though. I got the shock of my life when I crossed over the border from Bolivia to Argentina which took hours though was a breeze compared to the Ecuador/Peru crossing. As a national holiday in Argentina was looming, there were hundreds of locals getting away for a long weekend. I got chatting to a father in the queue who was trying in on whilst his wife was chasing after their two mischievous young children who were darting in and out of impatient people’s legs in the queue.

Last luxury bus from Bolivia to Argentina

Argentina bus complete with kitchen

Upon entering Salta in Northern Argentina I witnessed tree lined avenues, smooth roads (you could consume a drink without having to worry about knocking a few teeth out – this is probably why the locals up North have no teeth), clean streets, road markings, people drinking cafe lattes complete with pinkies out, on decorative plazas whilst using wifi and even posh metal bins. This extended to the restrooms where a toilet seat, soap, toilet paper, air freshener and even a towel to dry your hands on was usually available. Both Argentina and Chile are so European where in Argentina apparently only 1% of the population are indigenous and in Chile apparently just 5%. Argentineans are so friendly which probably extends from their curiosity and 99% of the time will be happy to stop and help. Minutes after stepping over the border my taxi driver had invited me to his house for dinner. My first activity in Salta consisted of visiting a Artesania market on a Plaza where I discovered the life stories of the majority of the vendors there.

Being super excited about the red wine and meat (and the steak) I believed that myself and Argentina would get along just fine.

Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina

After effects of an earthquake last year, Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina

Cool rock formations, Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina

Cycling back pissed on Mr Hugo's bikes after the wine tour, Mendoza, Argentina

These were once themal baths! Aconcagua, highest mountain in the America's, Mendoza, Argentina


Aconcagua, highest mountain in the America's, Mendoza, Argentina

I’ve yet to sample an amazing bit of steak in Argentina, although it’s widely available it’s difficult to get a good bit of meat, the Malbec I tasted on the vineyard bike tour outside of Mendoza wasn’t that special and I’ve not seen a single hot Argentenian. How disappointing. After hunting for these three elements in Salta, Cafayate (I at least got to see some amazing scenery on a tour to the Quebrada from the sweet town well renowned for its vineyards and wineries that you can visit), Tucuman (merely a stop over point to break up a looooong journey) and then Mendoza where upon stepping into the party hostel and only hearing English speakers and trying to remember who the hell recommended the place and then getting bombarded with about 5 millions tours that I should do whilst watching an employee scribble ‘Empanada Party tonight’ in her best Comic Sans-esqe writing onto a giant whiteboard and blinking frantically to try and remove the dollar signs from my eyeballs I feigned illness so that I could breath, lie down and start planning my trip to Chile.

I’d had to rearrange my trip slightly, one because I needed to get to Patagonia quickly so the only activity wasn’t skiing, and the other to accommodate Lollapalooza festival in Chile’s capital, Santiago. So I decided to do the North of Argentina, reluctantly skip the North of Chile, head South from Santiago including taking a cargo ferry with old locals and cows to catch a glimpse of the fjords then come back up through Argentina towards Buenos Aires.

Delicious seafood in Valparaiso, Chile with Janet

Cute Valparaiso, Chile

After a couple of days seeing the sights in Santiago (though not the beautiful mountains encasing the city as they’re hidden behind thick smog), I headed to the cute boho port of Valparaiso with really good street art everywhere and realised that everyone within a 200km radius of the festival was heading there at the weekend. After hearing Pa-Panamericano about a million times I was so ready to hear some decent music and with not a bad line up I was really excited about the festival, especially as I had to miss ATP just before Christmas. During my first couple of days in Santiago I feel smug by going and buying my ticket directly to cut out all the booking fees though not so smug upon my return to Santiago where I find out they were offering BOGOF simply by purchasing an energy drink because the tickets weren’t shifting. Damn, OILA.

Lollapolooza festival, Santiago, Chile

Empire of the Sun, Lollapolooza festival, Santiago, Chile

Well, OILA would you have a two day music festival with, bar the music, the next most important element missing, the booze. What sort of a festival is that? I heard from locals that punters went to ‘inspect’ the venue the day before and were literally burying bottles of liquor in the ground. With the weather being absolutely scorching for two days a pint of beer in one’s hand would have been perfect. The one plus was that I didn’t spend half the festival in the queue for the portaloos. Cypress Hill were fun, James are getting worse by the minute, Empire of the Sun put on an amazing show and everyone went crazy, The Drums were awesome, The Killers surprisingly disappointing but ALL LA’s know ALL the words to EVERY song so I think they all enjoyed it and I quite liked Kanye West. After we heading straight to a bar to sink some beers.

Pissed Jeremy and amused Julie, Lollapolooza festival, Santiago, Chile

Me and Julie watching Devendra Banhart after the drama of getting in, Lollapalooza

Day two I wore my new pouf dress which makes me look pregnant so had no trouble smuggling in a bottle of rum down my pants. The other option was to get pissed before entering but this would have meant drinking a litre of vodka with breakfast which didn’t sound that appealing though Jeremy who we were with thought it would be a good idea and was hammered by midday when we met up with him. Slightly annoying though as we kept sending him off to get us some free coke for the rum but he kept forgetting. (Love you Jez) And then his horrible hangover kicked in a few hours later and he stole all my water.

It was the first time that Lollapalooza festival (usually held in Chicago) was to take place in a Latin American country. It might well be the last time too. OILA have I witnessed such poor safely precautions, (and I’ve been to a lot of festivals though safety in general here isn’t really a very high priority), basically there is none which although is better for beautiful scenery shots, can be pretty scary at times too.

The first main act that everyone wanted to see on day two was Devendra Banhart and stupidly he was playing in the tiniest indoor venue. As we headed over all sorts of commotion was going on as armed police on horseback galloped past us. Hundreds of angry fans were forced behind barriers as we waited for the punters to vacate the arena before we went in. After a long wait the gate was finally opened and fans forced down the barrier, got elbows out and charged in. It’s the nearest thing to a stampede that I’ve ever experienced. There were lost shoes and clothing barely visible in the sandy ground and shouts of ‘cuidado’ (careful) were swallowed by angry screaming fans. The metal fence that was charged down was completely destroyed and lethal metal poles were protruding out of the ground. I’d be very surprised if everyone managed to get in unscathed. My friend, Julie, lost her shoe but wisely kicked it as far forward as she could and just managed to retrieve it while people watched their footing over the spiky assault course. We were amongst hundreds who managed to get into the sweaty arena where everyone was fanning themselves down with their program. I was just starting to get over the shock when three fat topless locals dripping in sweat came and positioned themselves behind us to make us feel uneasy again.

The Drums, awesome, Lollapalooza festival, Santiago, Chile

To try and avoid further stampedes we arrived early for The Drums but end up waiting for two hours. There were no signs of the barriers this time just armed police on horses lined up side by side. Every time the gate opened and one person came out the crowd would surge five paces forward. It was well worth the wait, The Drums were definitely one of the highlights. After the bottle of rum, I even found myself enjoying a bit of Kanye action. Again we head straight to a bar after for beer. A little later a girl we’re with deliberates for about an hour whether or not to have anything to eat (a bloke would have finished a three course meal in this time, no questions asked). I say I’ll share some empanadas with her so we order one portion of six. The waiter is rude, unfriendly and doesn’t even bring us a menu for ages, reluctantly takes our order then brings us a plate of six each after about a half an hour wait, the girl complains and he takes away both plates of empanadas and the condiments. Blokes would have just eaten the six empanadas each. Never mind, I didn’t need the extra 3000 calories.  The customer is always right here too. OILA.

The following day was a well deserved ‘rest day’ where I finally sampled an amazing bit of steak, though it was slightly overcooked. I like my steak running off the plate but the locals are literally scared to serve it blue so it usually comes out rare. After a cultural day of museums the next day with Julie we sample some cocktails followed by beer in the afternoon and I nearly miss my bus to a friends hotel near Lonquimay in The Lakes District. This however might not have been a bad thing as a very old crispy grandpa who was sat next to me kept trying it on. Crispy pops kept holding my hand and resting his head on my shoulder while I tried to sleep and upon fending him off he’d offer his shoulder instead. I should have realised that he’d want something in return for accepting his breakfast biscuit. I’ve never been so relieved to get off a bus. OILA do men not take no as an answer.

Lonquimay volcano hike, Lakes District, Chile

Monkey puzzle bark, Lonquimay volcano hike, Chile

Baby llama, Suizandina, Chile

Parque Nacional Conguillio, Lakes District, Chile

It’s nice to see Rodman again who I met in La Paz (we bonded as we had the shits at the same time) and I’m treated as one of the family at the amazing hotel, Suizandina, where he’s working. The Lakes District (known for it’s numerous crystal clear lakes with reflections of the snow capped Andes), has a huge Swiss population as it’s so similar to the Alpes so the majority of the accommodation resembles cosy Swiss wooden cottages. Hostels suddenly improved 50 fold in Chile, as did the breakfast with cold meats and cheese, homemade wholegrain bread, homemade jams and marmalade’s, cute homely touches and fires crackling all day. As a friend of Rodman’s I’m invited to have lunch with the staff every day and actually end up getting all my food for free including a cheese fondue, yum, but this is in return for getting roped into working there. I’d only been there a day before they had me painting their signs on the roadside, cooking for the guests and staff one night and designing a 100 page Powerpoint (I’ve used PP once in my life) document on a German PC (I only know one German word, shizer and I hate PC’s; they’re not a design tool) with instuctions in Spanish. (I still have basic Spanish). Believe me, it’s one of the most challenging and frustrating things that I’ve done whilst I’ve been out here but it went down well and it was nice to stay put somewhere for almost a week and feel like part of the family. I still managed to get out on a few hikes, make friends with the imported llamas, soak in some thermal springs (where I saw my double) and visit the nearby National Park with Rodman where we witnessed beautiful lakes, mountains and volcanos.

Volcan Villarrica on a freezing morning, Pucon, Chile

The 100 page PP document turns out to be a breeze compared to the hike up Volcan Villarrica (one of the most active volcano’s in Chile) that I do from Pucon after, further South and still in the Lakes District. I haven’t once felt like giving up on anything that I’ve done out here but the day hike up the volcano is easily the toughest thing that I’ve undertaken. This is mainly because there were not enough breaks with the company we went with where the guides kept whooping our asses to go faster just so we’d be one of the first groups to the top. As most of us had to wait at least 5 days to do the hike because of the weather, there were about 25 people in our group meaning that by the time the last person stopped for their break, the first person’s hands were frozen, and yes it was seriuosly cold.

I was laughing at the group in front of us as they were all wearing balaclavas, (it’s common to see a local wearing a balaclava down the street, OILA) though after getting cheek chaffage from the wind lashing snow onto my face, I wish I’d invested in one. Although towards the start of the hike I was fifth in the line, by the time I got to the step carved out by the leading guide it has disappeared and it didn’t help that there was a huge lumbering guy in front of me who was really heavy footed and was literally just saving himself. At one point I had to use my icepick to get into the recovery position (highly embarrassing) as I started so slide down the volcano. The girl behind me saved me by pushing me up by my arse, nice sight for the rest of the 20 in the group who were wondering what the hold up was (yup, my arse). Upon eventually acending I see the first groups rucksacks at the top of the volcano and am so relieved it’s over but then realise I still have ages to walk as my group are walking to the other side of the volcano, damn them. The acid gases escaping the volcano are so intense that they burn my throat but there’s no getting away from it, I have to breath. The views are immense and I finally smile when I open my lunch box and see a boiled egg that I completely forgot about.

Why are you walking over there you bastards? Volcan Villarrica, Pucon, Chile

Smokin' Volcan Villarrica, Pucon, Chile

Volcan Villarrica, Pucon, Chile

The final stages of Volcan Villarrica, I've never been so happy, Pucon, Chile

After inhaling more fumes we put on giant plastic nappies in preparation for the exciting sliding down that everyone is looking forward to. The first slide is so steep that I’m cacking my pants. We received a good 20 seconds of training and safety, OILA, and some people turned out to be pretty good while others not so good. Everyone watched and laughed at anyone that took a bit of a tumble. I manage to stay on my arse for about 3 seconds, feel like I’m going at 50mph and then start the acrobats, lose my sunglasses and my ice pick (much to the disgust of the guides as they have to retrieve my items). Everyone is laughing at me at the bottom and my friend, (not anymore) Isabelle, is annoyed that she never filmed it. The next slides are not so steep and I’m going that fast that I have to scream at people in front of me to get out of the way before I crash into them. I’ve never been so happy for something to be over but glad that I did it though not so sure whether I actually enjoyed it.

Termas Geometricas, Pucon

Termas Geometricas, Pucon

Geek by the waterfall at the Termas Geometricas, Pucon

I’m so glad I wasn’t abe to do the hike on my birthday, three days prior, like I wanted to. Rightly so I chose an activity at the other end of the torture scale, eat cake, have a massage and visit the termas geometricas which were amazing. I’ve been to quite a few thermal baths which are usually a fitting end to a tour though it’s generally the first chance of a wash after a few days of hiking and they’ve all been somewhat brown and murky with floating plasters and balls of hair passing you every so often so I wasn’t too bothered about heading to these but after reading raving reviews about them I decided to go.
The 17 pools of varying temperatures were set at the bottom of two mountains covered in trees with a massive waterfall at the end of a broad walk and a smaller one which was the 8 degree plunge pool. I got in three times and each time that uncontrollable yelp ejected from my mouth. Good for the circulation I kept telling myself. ‘Chica loca’ (crazy girl), the locals kept telling me. It pissed it down for most of the day so outdoor thermal pools were the perfect activity.
A few of us head out for dinner and drinks in the evening and I find myself getting dragged behind the bar by the barman to choose a shot with my choice of two liquors in it after he’s already made me down a random shot and bought us all beers. On the way home the crazy Dutch boy, Remy who is staying at the same hostel entertains us by picking up the dogs that are escorting us home and piling them on top of each other and then we eat most of the breakfast that has been laid out for the morning, especially for Remy as he’s supposedly leaving early but doesn’t. Remy gets the blame for it in the morning and decides to leave but then he did flood the bathroom too.
  The stay dog situation is interesting in South America; they are everywhere. The last time I was in Paris visiting a friend, we talked about how good it would be if you could hire a dog to accompany you home late at night so single females wouldn’t be forced to take taxi’s everywhere, pick them up from kennels, have them take you home, attack anyone that looked suspicious and then walk back to the kennels nearest to your home, rather like BoJo’s Bike Scheme in London. This is sort of the case in South America. Dogs generally seem to be friendly (they’re usually just after food) and there’s always two or three that will walk down the street with you. They’re not so friendly if you are on wheels though. They go mental and bark like crazy and try and eat your rubber for a good mile or so. Sometimes dogs do entire day treks with you too, all of them know the trails. I have been lost on trails before and paw prints have saved me more than once. Not such a pleasant sight was when I was in Pucon where I witnessed a gangbang in the bushes with four males dogs on one poor bitch. Actually thinking about it they’re always on heat. What else is there for stray dogs to do other than eat and shag? You never seem to see puppies though and some of the dogs surprisingly don’t look that mangy and skinny. I’ve come to the conclusion that they eat their offspring. OILA.

 Something that has been really frustrating in South America is spending hours in bus stations and agencies, shuffling from one to the next in the hope of trying to organise the next stages of my trip. I reckon I would have saved about a month if I’d been able to book transport through a website with a current timetable, up to date prices and having the option to pay by card. Something that resembles this service for buses is only available in Argentina but I still don’t trust it 100%. I ended up waiting weeks to see if I could get a boat down to the South of Chile from Puerto Montt (not a good place to hang, I chose to stay at the cute port town of Puerto Varas instead 20 minutes up the road), to get a peek of the fjords, (one of the things I was looking forward to seeing the most) with information that the boat might go, might not, then got cancelled, timetable changed, boat might go, might not, boat reduced in size by 90%, prices changed, boat might go, might not…. all the while the wet weather was beginning to loom over Patagonia. The idea was to get the boat down to Patagonia via the fjords, then go hike happy ‘doing the W’ (five day walk in the shape of a W to Torres del Paine) but I was running out of time fast before winter kicked in and all the Refugio’s on the W closed.

Palifitos, (cute colourful wooden houses built on stilts), Castro, Chiloe Island, Chile

Wood shingle in Chiloe, Lakes District, Chile

Ivan making pasta the Italian way

On the plus side, while I’m waiting for the boat that never came, I got to visit the Island of Chiloe (famous for it’s numerous wooden churches dotted around the Island) just south of the Lakes District and situated in Northern Pagagonia. I spent a few fun days in Castro (largest settlement on the Island) known for it’s colourful wooden houses called Palifitos, built on stilts that hug the shore. And then it was back to stinky Puerto Montt where the only way I would fit in the W was to fly down to Punta Arena, in Chile, (again booking the flight is a two day activity in itself,) miss out on going to Tierre del Fuego and further South and have to get the bus straight to Puerto Natales. Time to buy some thermals.

Before arriving I’d booked a really cute hostel over the phone. ‘Dime’ (tell me) the woman on the other end of the line shouts. I can’t bring myself to use the command form, which is commonly used here, as I just feel that it sounds rude. OK well maybe ‘dime por favour’. I guess it beats the English fluffyness when answering the phone ‘Good afternoon, this is Steve, I’ve just had a cup of tea, scratched my arse, watched Deal or no Deal, Jones, how can I help you?’ LA’s don’t mess around. OILA.

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School girl errors

28 January – 18 March 2011

School girl errors to me are those annoying decisions that make you want to stamp on the spot while screaming and tearing a few hairs out until someone tells you to grow up. This has happened a little too often in Bolivia for my liking. When I was a kid it was different; I used to have a quiet little tantrum in my mind. I remember once when my eldest sister got a nice new shiny pair of shoes for school from a proper shop and I got the pikey pair that mum had picked up from the market where one was discoloured from the sun and also a big on the saggy side as it was the display shoe. ´Your sister is costing me way too much money´, mum would tell me. ´It´s nice to know you´re willing to spend GBP1.99 on me mum´. I’m not sure if the shoes quite beat the pea green flammable shell suit I received from Makro that I used to wear with my hi tec trainers also from Makro. My sister would freak if she was given shoes from the market but I gratefully accepted them. This has completely backfired as my sister always get the nicer gifts whereas my mum reckons she can still palm anything off on me as I never complain. Well times are a changing, I´m having real tantrums now.

I felt like I was in La Paz forever and not good when you only have 30 days allowance in the country. It´s one of those places where you can easily get stuck, not because people fall in love with the city or that there is an overwhelming amount to do, but because it´s the place to go out and party till the… afternoon. Why did I have that extra drink (well those few several drinks more like) AND that dirty burger off the street before going out AND leave my cardigan and scarf in the bar and then have a multitude of different liquids of a variety of viscosity’s fly out of every orifice for the next 24 hours, have to fester in them for the whole day in the most vile hotel room EVER, AND then not be able to get up and book my tour to the Amazon for the following day meaning I would have to stay in the most vile hotel room EVER for yet another night? I barely even had the energy to drag myself down to the reception to say ´one more night´ (because I love it here so much). Upon finally checking out after four nights, which was supposed to be one night, (the night before I stayed at a vile place also which was expensive, for Bolivia, but as this place was only GBP4.50 including breakfast I thought I´d put up with it for one night) the pervert on reception asks when I´m coming back to, ´never´, although he knows I´m telling porkies as I´ve already told him I´m going to the Amazon where the flights return to La Paz.

After leaving the amazing and peaceful Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca, arriving in La Paz was a bit of a shock to the system but sometimes a city is where you just need to ´sort shit´. I tried to buy tampons on Isla del Sol, no chance, inch thick towels were all that was on offer. ´They´re very good´, the man in the pharmacy/mud hut tells me. ´Errm have you used these before?´I ask him. ´Hehe, my wife uses them´. If you fancy a bite (of one of the only four dishes available in all the restaurants) after 8.30pm, no chance either. Trying to withdraw money or pay for something on a card and you just get laughed at. So I sorted out my shite in La Paz. This included running around the city trying to find out if my scalf and cardigan were still at my friends hostel which all my friends had vacated. I never knew how attached I was to my scalf but after deciding to send my alpaca poncho home, (if an item isn´t used at least once every two weeks it has to go) my scarf was now my blanket on overnight buses, and ask any girl, they can´t live without a black cardigan. With a stroke of luck I finally got both items back though it took hours.

I spent another day trying to find a box, wrapping paper, cards, marker pen, scissors and sellotape to send some stuff home and succeeded after half a day by finding all the items in different shops. Back home you´d just go to the post office. I sent home about a quarter of the clothes I´d bought with me. Carrying around four bags was just getting ridiculous. My none practical (can´t wear them for longer than a week without turning grey/beige) white tops got the chop and then I received the ´what to bring´ list for the Amazon, light, preferably white coloured tops. Bollocks. I´d also got this idea in my head that I´d buy a bigger day pack as mine is pretty small and not big enough for two/three day trips and send my small back pack home with all my clothes inside but after been given wrong directions to travel shops I gave up on that idea. (Locals here would prefer to give you the wrong information rather than just accept that they don´t know). My parcel was all packed up and at the post office by the following morning. Late afternoon I stumble across a million travel shops with hundreds of day packs. Grrrr, how annoying and then I go to the witches market and buy two cute leather bags. So after attempting to send a bag home and offloading I suddenly had an extra three bags to add to my already four bags. About as comical as my library of 10 books. I ran back to the post office just to see if my parcel had gone and it was sat there looking am me all hand stitched beautifully like a work of art in a rice sack by the sweetest woman ever. I walked out and had a tantrum. Sending two bags home was nearly as much as the 4.5kg original parcel.

Would you like a window or an isle seat? Plane, La Paz to Rurrenabaque, Bolivia

All ready with my dark clothes (100% more likely to get eaten by mosquitoes) for the Amazon I headed off on the smallest plane ever. You could even see the pilots it was that small though not so much fun when we went through turbulence and the pilots start panicking and randomly flicking numerous buttons. I´d reluctantly booked a Pampa tour (you get to see more animals) rather than go into the jungle (where you don´t see that many animals – this was literally all the information I got) in La Paz, (I was promised it was more expensive booking the tours in the departure town I was flying to) though nearly paid hundreds just to go and stay with a local family in the Amazon because it would be more interesting and all the agencies offer exactly the same package. As it was hundreds more I couldn’t justify it.

On arrival in Rurrenabaque I bump into a guy who I´ve seen along my travels who´s holding out to get a group together for a 5/6 day trip into the jungle (so it´s cheaper) and decides to go with the guys I´ve met on my flight who wisely haven´t booked a tour yet. Hiking with your backpack every day to head deep into the jungle, no showers, sleeping rough under a bit of tarpaulin, fishing and hunting for food and even having to build a raft on the final day to sail down stream and back towards Rurrenabaque sounded amazing. I´m going to sit on my ass on a wooden canoe for three days and hope to spot a monkey, great. As one of the lucky guys rightly put it, ´Taking a Pampa tour is like getting the train to Machu Picchu´. This is seriously the biggest school girl error I´ve made during my trip. Tantrum time. I considered cancelling my tour but I´d left the majority of my stuff in La Paz and it just would have been too uncomfortable without everything. It would have been uncomfortable enough with everything. I say farewell at breakfast and head off for my pansy Pampa tour while the others head into the jungle.

'Monkey' shouts the bloke/random/guide from the back of the canoe, Pampa, Bolivia

Down the swell of the Amazon, nests in the tree, Pampa, Bolivia

Croc with funny face, Pampa, Bolivia

Parrots, Pampa tour, Bolivia

Family living in the jungle, Pampa tour, Bolivia

Other travellers assured me that because I was expecting the tour to be crap it would actually be good. It was crap. Things started to go wrong right from the start. I was the only person out of 15 from the tour who was on time at the agency. I had to wait for over two hours in the sweltering heat (in my black long sleeve top) because Amaszonas (the airline) cancelled the early flight as there were only two passengers even though the plane was still 10% full, some girls nearly died on the horrific overnight bus so were severely delayed, others didn’t even turn up, (I now know why) and I didn’t get offered a drink whilst waiting. We got bundled into a jeep and endured a rough three hour ride, the tour operators didn’t introduce themselves, I nearly died of starvation after only a crusty roll with butter and jam (again) at 7am then waddled into a wooden canoe where again no-one introduced themselves and occasionally there would be shouts from the back of ‘monkey’ and to top it all off there was a twat in the group.

Over the next two days we head out in the canoe a few times, barely see any animals, don’t get fed enough food and it doesn’t help that there are a couple of pigs in the group, the poor vegetarians don’t get replacement dishes, basically they get the same as the carnivores minus the meat dishes but in desperation they eat chicken and powdered milk rather than waste away, we do a horrendous mosquito infested hour trek to find anacondas but only see one yellow butterfly, listen to the twat harp on about how she knows everything in the world and to be honest I find it immensely boring. Knowing it was the wet season there is always less chance of seeing animals, the only thing you’re guaranteed of is downpour and millions of mosquitoes. I have repellent with almost 100% deet though nothing will fend them off the sweet tasty treat that I am. In three days I got near to 200 mosquito bites but then I was due some fresh ones as my bites from three months ago have almost healed. If you’re thinking of doing a Pampa tour definitely don’t opt for Indigena Tours. They’re very impersonal, if you don’t know any Spanish you’re fucked, you can’t swim with pink dolphins, if you jump into the the brown water they swim off, the piranha fishing is a joke and basically there is not enough to do and see in three days. There was a lot of chill out time with the mosquitoes/a lot of beer drinking with the mosquitoes. The mosquito nets hung over the beds have a million holes in them and the bedding and mattress were that mouldy that I had to sleep on my back to lessen the intensity so I didn’t choke from my own vomit during the night. The shower was ridiculous, there were easily about 100 of the buggers flying around and all you could hear was clapping from the cubicals as the little bastards were getting squished between palms. There was no chance of not showering as the heat was just unbearable. The best site was a bit of eye candy on another tour but unfortunately his tour came to an end during my first day. Definitely head deep into the jungle. I was completely knackered from sitting on my arse in a canoe for three days; I need action.

I made everyone do catalogue poses on the Death Road, La Paz

Death Road, La Paz

I got action on the World’s Most Dangerous Road outside of La Paz. After shitting my pants on the bike ride down the Coto Paxi volcano in Ecuador I vowed that there was no way that I’d do the Death Road though with everyone raving about it and being highly embarrassed when other travellers asked what I’d done in my 8 days in La Paz, ‘errrrm I sent some pants home’, I decided to do it. It turned out to be really good fun, apart from when we all nearly got flattened by a house falling down that we were stood next to when we had our break, ‘es muy peligroso’ (it’s very dangerous), ‘you could have told us that before the house fell down’. It rained for most of the day and we all got sprayed in shit, (I now know what I would look like if I had freckles), and just as we were all really getting into it, it was over. I thought the three hour ride down would take forever but upon finishing everyone was a little upset that it was over but more relieved that they were still alive. The next section of the day, ‘chilling at the hotel pool with a beer’ wasn’t quite as glamorous as it made out on the brochure. Anyone fancy a dip in this freezing brown murk that resembles the Amazon?

I made two school girl errors that day, wearing my Converse trainers on Death Road, it was either those or huge hiking boots, but not being able to feel my feet on the pedals would have freaked me out. My wrecked Converse went straight in the bin when I got back. I lent a girl my shorts as she´d failed to bring any dry clothes with her and after freezing down the death road the last thing you want to do after a shower is put on wet cotton. The bitch flew back to NY the day after, goodbye shorts. The chances of finding a Gap in South America to replace them is pretty slim.

What else did I do in La Paz? I spend about a day trying to get into the prison with some friends and was so near yet so far but then on the plus side I´m glad we never handed over B$450 x5 to a prisoners wife (she´ll be wearing a red trousers and a brown jumper) in a different square to where the prison was and wait for her to pick us up from our hostel. ´Does my wife look like a criminal?´ her criminal husband asks me over the phone after I refuse to hand over any money until we are in the prison. I examined her, her hair was almost glued to her cheeks she was sweating that much. We were all gutted we never got in but we all knew it was a scam. I hear they have opened up the prison to the public again, booo!

Hurrah, I finally escape La Paz and head to Potosi, the mining town where just about all it´s silver has been extracted in appalling conditions. This is also the place where some 8 million men and children have died. I was in two minds about paying a visit where you can chat to the miners and ease their pain by offering them rum and cigarettes but I got some mud from the Death Road lodged under my contact lens so my mind was made up for me; I couldn’t risk getting it even more infected. The town is really pretty and I got chatting to a local lawyer in the plaza who was on his lunch break and he ended up giving me a guided tour of the town. The Spanish lessons are finally paying off. On the way up to a mine entrance we nearly knock over a blathered miner who just collapses on the road. I think if I was stuck down there I´d become an alcoholic too.

Homestay (yellow house on right) with view of the South of Sucre, Bolivia

Cute Carlita from the homestay with her shoes on the wrong feet, Sucre, Bolivia

The Eiffel Tower surrounded by diarrhea coloured wee, Sucre, Bolivia

Views of Sucre from the la Recoleta, Bolivia

Wanting to learn more Spanish I head to the pretty city of Sucre where I also planned to do some volunteer work in an orphanage for a week although it’s not very well organised. Firstly I arrive at my home stay and the family aren’t even aware that I’m turning up. I purposely chose a home stay where there were other students (there’s space for at least 7 students) though I’m the only person there. I don’t want to make the same mistake as last time where I have to be home by 6pm, get fed rice and chicken every day and am not allowed to go out. Luckily a cool South African turns up a few days later so I’m not on my own. The home stay is a really good set up with amazing views of the South of Sucre, huge balcony, upper floor to ourselves (thank god I was the first to arrive so I didn’t have to sleep in the dingy dungeon) and most exciting of all there is a kitchen so I can cook for myself.

The next two weeks or so consist of me conducting a human experiment on myself where I barely eat any chicken, rice, bread, butter and jam but mainly fruit and vegetables. My body is so not used to it but I’m now aware more than ever that fruit and vegetables make you fart like a trooper. This isn’t so good when you have constant diarrhea which I seemed to obtain as soon as I stepped over the border. Everyone did warn me although I thought I’d built up a stomach of steel from four months of travelling. Even so it was so good to cook and eat healthily for a bit even though it was cheaper to eat out for every meal.

I was excited about my lessons as I can converse in a bit of Spanish unlike when I first studied though I have an interesting experience.

Day 1 – Monday

8.45am – Supposed to meet my teacher.

9.30am – I get told that she’s called the school to say there are complications with her daughter and would I return at 10.30am.

10.30am – Return and she’s still not there.

11.00am – She turns up. She says she’s going to show me around Sucre though we’re actually just walking to her house where she’ll conduct the lessons as the classrooms in the school always get filled up it the morning. (Note to teacher, how about we start in the morning so we can get into the school?)

11.45am – We arrive at her house and she announces that she has to pay for her daughters private education and that she needs picking up from school.

12.00pm – We pick up her daughter and walk back to her house.

12.30pm – She tells me that she’s arranged to meet her friends for lunch and invites me along. I figure I can practice my Spanish but they pretty much ignore me. I chat to the waiter more.

1.30am – On the way back to the house she has to do something important at the internet cafe so I escort her daughter back to the house.

2.00pm – She returns and we commence lessons even though they were supposed to finish an hour ago.

3.00pm – After an hour she asks me to leave claiming she has documents to sort for a university but promises that the next day I’ll have four hours of lessons in the morning and that we can start at 8.30am.

3.30pm – I sit in the park and do my homework. The volunteer work hasn’t been sorted so I check out Sucre and meet some friends for dinner.

Day 2 – Tuesday

8.30am – I arrive at school but CBA (can’t be arsed) is not there.

9.15am – CBA turns up (I’ve learnt that Bolivian time is always at least half an hour behind). CBA says she’ll show me around Sucre where I can practice conversational Spanish and shows me the University where she studied.

9.45am – I wait around in the University where I realised that CBA is actually applying for a job and that this is the final day for applications. CBA hasn’t even filled in her form and we have to go to another building where she receives help. She hasn’t even got a pen, I have to lend her mine. During this time she’s too busy catching up with fellow teachers who are all applying for the same job so I don’t have any conversational Spanish. She’s told to return in the afternoon.

11.30am – CBA asks if I’d like to go the Mercardo Campesino where many of the Indiginous people in Sucre work and live, she’ll show me traditional materials that they have on sale there. CBA show me some wooden spoons.

12.00pm – CBA is upset to find that a man who owns a store is not there and is frantically enquiring about when he’ll be back. We walk around and inspect the various dried corpses including llamas that locals bury under their houses to bring them luck and the medicinal offerings that are tailored to solve your problems/worries that need to be burnt.

12.20pm – CBA is excited to see that the man who resembles an Indiginous BA Barrackers (gold is dripping off him) has returned and sits down with him and picks up some sort of medicine. Ah I get it CBA, this guy is some sort of Witch Doctor and you’re not interested in showing me that market at all, you’re basically just doing your chores.

12.45pm – We head back to the centre on the bus where I shove my homework under CBA’s nose. I’ve only got through marking about a quarter of it (I have to mark it myself too) when we reach our stop and CBA tells me that she has to apply for this job so there’ll be no lessons in the afternoon but promises that I’ll get my full four hours the following day. I tell CBA that I’ll go direct to her house for 8.30am in the morning to save time.

1.00pm – I sit in the park slightly peeved off, look at my unmarked homework and wonder if it’s right. I still don’t know to this day. My volunteer work still hasn’t been organised either as the Director hasn’t replied to my email, grrrr.

Los chicos from the orphanage, Sucre, Bolivia

Day 3 – Wednesday

8.30am – Early start as CBA’s house is a good half hour walk way. CBA’s neighbour let’s me in and surprise surprise CBA isn’t there. I chat to CBA’s neighbour for about an hour – it’s the most Spanish I’ve used in the last three days of lessons.

9.30am – CBA calls her neighbour saying that she’s going to be busy all morning and will I return at 2pm for lessons. Errm I don’t think so CBA you stupid cow. I believe CBA might just be taking the piss a little. I have a little tantrum then head to the Language Academy and complain about her and demand a different teacher and state that I want to do voluntary work. With only a 30 day stamp on my passport and hmmm spending a little more time than anticipated in La Paz and with most of Bolivia to see I was running out of time and couldn’t afford to spend another week studying. I managed to change my teacher and get volunteer work in the orphanage organised for that afternoon.

3.00pm – Go to the Orphanage where introductions are few and far between and I just have to get involved. The Orphanage is made up of 80 boys ranging from about 10 to 18, some of which don’t have family though some do which is probably harder. A few of the kids clothes are so old that they’re about to fall off them but this doesn’t bother them. They all seem really united. Some appear that they’re trying to kill each other but I just laugh it off and believe that they’re simply play fighting. I help them out with their homework (in some cases I´m no help, many of the boys are really bright) though figure I need to brush up on my long division skills.

Day 4 – Thursday

8.45am – My new teacher turns up at Bolivian time. We walk to her house and have almost four hours of lessons. Hurrah! I finally learn something though it’s more of a refresher course.

3.00pm – The kids at the Orphanage ask if Bruce Lee is my dad, I tell them that he isn’t and no I don’t personally know Jackie Chan. Have loads of fun with them and help them out with their homework. There are some that I would seriously like to kidnap, although some are smelly they are soooooo cute.

Day 5 – Friday

9.30am – Lessons were supposed to start at 9am but there is a bus strike and my teachers flat is really far away. I apologise for turning up at Bolivian time. Have another good lesson though my new teacher puts me in a really awkward position and asks me to claim that I only had three hours of lessons with her rather than seven over the past couple of days so that I can pay her some of the money directly and pay her more per hour rather than paying the school a fixed fee. She claims that it’s better for me as I need the money when I do the Salt Flat tour but she’s thinking about herself. She comes up with lots of possible excuses as to why I only had three hours like, ‘you had a stomach ache and decided that you had to go to the Plaza and sit and have coffee for two hours.’ ‘I think that’s a rubbish and unconvincing lie, the last thing I would want with a stomach ache is to drink coffee for two hours’. I tell her I’m just going to say that she was busy, I can’t lie to save my life. And all this just so she can earn 70p an hour extra.

1.00pm – Head to a lunch for all the students at the Academy which is nice so I get to meet some other peeps.

So after a whole week of studying and supposedly getting 20 hours I end up having just 10 hours. It has completely felt like a refresher course too and ideally I’d like to study for another week. I manage to extend my allowance in Bolivia by another 30 days a lot easier than I though and I didn’t get charged anything. I decide to stay for another week and ask to change teachers again (I don’t want to keep on having to lie) and this time I finally get a really cool teacher who I get on with really well.

At the orphanage I’m sick of telling that kids every day that Bruce Lee isn’t my dad so I pretend that he is (such a school girl error), and I’m suddenly like a minor celebrity in there with all the smelly little kids glued to me and fighting for pole position to cling onto mS. They ask me about a million questions about how he died and who my mother was. ‘I don’t know who my mother was, I never met her.’ They all stop in silence with their heads down. Later they want proof and demand that I bring in photos the next day. I dig myself into such hole that I promise that I’ll bring in photos. ‘We want to see you do kung fu’. ‘Errrm not every Chinese person is a black belt.’ ‘OK, well show us your muscles then.’ I then proceed to have arm wrestles with about 25 of the kids (I beat all of them bar one but then they are small boys), and my forearm feels like it’s about to snap. The muscle is literally rock hard. The boys seem impressed by it though.

The next day after school I have to borrow a students Mac and frantically search the web for pictures of Bruce Lee and drag pictures of myself off Facebook and merge some images together. It’s actually really stressful as I have so little time after my class but it’s actually quite fun to be working in Photoshop again, gah dare I say that I miss designing?! We actually look more like a couple in one of the pictures but hey it’s not like I’ve changed much over the past 15 years. I email the two photos to myself and then have to go to an internet cafe to get them printed off. I think they´re completely unconvincing but it´ll be fun to wind the kids up.

Upon entering the orphanage the kids run over demanding to see the photos while I´m brushing up on the lies that I´ve told them. I pull the images out and they stare in silence. I think I’ve fooled most of them bar the older kids who say that I’ve merged two picture together (three actually), and one kid says that he’s googled Bruce Lee and that he actually died years ago, not 15 years ago as I had stated. I tell him that the internet is full of crap and that he shouldn’t believe everything that he reads. I get the staff to play along though I’m not sure how impressed they are when all the kids want photocopies of the images (waste of paper and all). Some of them cut the images out, make me sign them and stick them to their exercise books next to Justin Bieber.

As it’s my last day there I bring in 100’s of pencils colouring pens and erasers to dish out. I’ve never seen kids get so excited over a pencil. They literally fight over them. I escape before I get the pencils jabbed in my eyes and so that they can´t ask me more questions about my dad.

Most of the kids in the orphanage were convinced by this unconvincing comp of me and Bruce, Sucre, Bolivia

Sucre turns out to be loads of fun and it’s so nice to get into a routine…. of going out just about every night and getting to school hungover and being told I look like crap by my teacher. She finds it highly amusing though. It’s a lovely Colonial city and perfect for studying Spanish which is what many travellers do so it was nice to have friends around and the chances of bumping into someone you knew in one of the two Gringo bars was always 100%, dangerous.

The hike from Incamachay, Sucre, Bolivia

Rock paintings of Incamachay, Sucre, Bolivia

Plan B complete with NYNC backing dancers, Pre carnival action, Sucre

Chilling with Plan B and drinking from ridiculous glasses, Sucre, Bolivia

Plan B, not sure what the girls were screaming about, Sucre

Bolivia´s answer to Edith Bowman, Sucre

Plan B fun and games, Sucre, Bolivia

On the second weekend I manage to get out of Sucre and check out some of the lovely surroundings where there are rock painting. Unfortunately it pissed it down all day but it’s still good do some exercise. Stupidly I wear my glasses, not good when it´s raining and I´m really hot so I can’t see anything for the whole day. Silly girl. It’s Saturday night and there seems to be loads going on in town leading up to carnival. We head out and end up paying to get into Joyride (one of the Gringo bars) where we see that Plan B are playing. Whooop, I don’t even like him, but how exciting! Upon arrival we find out that it’s not ‘the’ Plan B but Plan B who are Bolivia’s answer to NSYNC. Basically a rigaton covers band with dodgy backing dancers who repeat the same routine every 30 seconds. The singer has spiky highlights and shit shades and for some reason girls are dripping off him. Oh well, at least it’s drink all the beer that you can even if you do have to drink them out of stupid glasses. The band turn out to be that horrific that they are actually amazing and we end up getting pictures with the band pretending that we’re their biggest fans. And then we end up at Mitos, again. I dance with a Russian oligarch who is flying to Buenos Aires in his private jet in the morning and casually tell him that I’m making my way to BA soon (he doesn’t know that I know that he’s a Russian oligarch who is flying to Buenos Aires in his private yet in the morning). I spot a friend and go over to say hello but in the 10 seconds or so the Russian oligarch bastard is dancing with someone else, damn, should have tried harder, I have a little tantrum.

Inca face, en route to El Fuerte, Samaipata, Bolivia

El Fuerte, Samaipata, Bolivia

Butterfly 98 in Parque Nacional Amboro, Samaipata, Bolivia

Butterfly in Parque Nacional Amboro, Samaipata, Bolivia

Hike in Parque Nacional Amboro, Samaipata, Bolivia

Giant slug on a giant mouchette in Parque Nacional Amboro, Samaipata, Bolivia

It’s sad leaving Sucre but I needed to get my skates on before winter hits in Patagonia. I decided on Samaipata as it sounds remote, not built up at all and there is loads of hiking to be done in the surrounding area. I meet a couple of Germans who take me under their wing and my god they can drink and it doesn’t help that it’s cocktails, beer, wine, spirits, digestives and more beer and cocktails every night. This is not so good when we have a five hour hike to do the following morning in the National Park. They pay for my dinner and drinks for the next four days and claim they’re struggling to spend money in Bolivia it’s so cheap. I accept happily. The town is full of Germans and Dutchies, I hang out with Germans, stay at a hostel which is German owned, even the Spanish guide speaks German and we go to German/Dutch owned restaurants and bars every night. So much for using my Spanish. I end up getting stuck there for Carnival as there are no buses anywhere and I wonder how fun it’s going to be when it’s like a ghost town where there are more stray dogs than people and it’s so the type of place where tumble weed rolls by. Carnival turns out to be loads of fun though and it’s hilarious acting like a kid again armed with cans of shaving foam, well fun until I get it´s sprayed in my left eyeball and I can barely see. And so ridiculous that I decided to put mascara on for the first time in about three weeks. School girl error.

Athough Samaipata is lovely, the people are lovely, (I even get invited to a locals house along with the barmaid for an amazing lunch in the cutest house ever that this guy has built for himself), I have to get out of the place as there is literally nothing to do and risk waiting five hours for three passing buses back to Sucre that might have space but might not. Luckily there were two spaces on the second stinky bus that costs twice as much as getting there. Me and a French girl arrive in Sucre the following morning and we walk around for about 2 hours trying to find the cheapest accommodation possible. The French girl wants to settle on a shared dingy windowless box that stinks because it’s only BS25 (about GBP2.50) but after La Paz there is no-way that I’m going to stay anywhere remotely similar. We finally decide on the BS35 hostel including breakfast and all this hiking around just to save GBP1. I’m not fussed about the breakfast as it’s ALWAYS bread, butter and jam. I get shit faced that night with the boys and miss breakfast the next day anyway.

Whenever I arrive anywhere new I always make sure I have a booking and just head straight there. I hate walking around with my backpack, one because it’s fecking heavy, two I hate being a target and three, it’s saves so much time. I assume this is why a plain clothed guy whips out a card and tells us he works for the police. Then asks to see our passports, we obviously have them on us. We show him our passports then he says we need to go to the police station for further checks and opens the door of a random car with two other plain clothed guys in there. We demand out passports back and I say that we will walk to the police station if we need to with our passports. The French girls says she’s going to ask the guy in the hostel about the situation and the con men speed off.

The French girl goes in the morning while I’m pretending to be asleep and nursing my hangover which is a relief so I don’t have to spend more time with her saving pennies and wasting time. Festivities are still taking place in Sucre but there are a hell of lot more water bombs than friendly foam. After meeting a friend in the afternoon for lunch I attempt to walk back to my hostel which is only two blocks away but I can hear the crazy bands getting nearer with every corner I turn and kids are armed all the way down the street with water bombs. I attempt to go down quieter streets, bad as you end up being the sole target and in the end it took me about an hour to walk back and I was completely drenched by the time I did. I even had a bucket of water thrown over my head. I guess it could have been worse. Flour and eggs always come out to play back home.

The last supper with the boys, Sucre, Bolivia

Amazing views over Tupiza

One of the many lagoons, Salt Flats tour, Bolivia

Jeeps, Salt Flats tour, Bolivia

Lagoon, Salt Flatss tour, Bolivia

Flamingos on a lagoon, Salt Flats tour, Bolivia

Hot springs and annoying plastic bottle in foreground, Salt Flats tour, Bolivia

Cows perfectly places on the Salt Flats tour, Bolivia

Geysers, Salt Flat tour, Bolivia

Views from the Salt Flats tour, Bolivia

Salt Flats tour group in my hand

Jeep and mini peeps, Salt Flats tour

Salt, Salt Flats tour

Oooh sir, Salt Flats tour

Incomplete hotel in Uyuni with no wall, Salt Flats tour

After a delicious Italian meal with the boys and not so delicious jug of red wine that tasted and smelt of nail varnish remover that gnored away at our organs, I headed to Tupiza. I was really excited about the Salt Flats tour though a little disappointed when I found out that I was with an English couple and an Irish guy all around 50. There has been some ageism towards me (because everyone thinks I´m 22) and I guess I was doing the same. I swapped the bottle of rum in my hands for some chocolate biscuits and Twinings tea. The fellow Northern monkies turned out to be a laugh, the Irish guy was surprisingly very annoying and another one of those ‘I know everything’ travellers. ‘Give me your opinion after you’ve been there, you twat’. Being the only one who spoke any Spanish, I ended up translating for the rest of the group. ‘Mountain to your right, lagoon coming up, dog sniffing another dogs ass, man with his cock out pissing on the plaza’.

The company wasn’t so important. My face was glued to the jeep window, mouth drooling in awe at site after site after site. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such amazing scenery in all my life and the fact that we were so high up meant that there were numerous mountains and volcanos with untouched snow gleaming on the top. There’s always something about snow on a mountain top that makes people want to weep.

Day two and we´ve stopped to admire the scenery and I hear the voice of the devil. ´So are you like having an amazing time?´I raise my eyes from the mind blowing scenery to the socks and sandals, not good, then to the face, not good. It´s only the annoying in-ya-face douchebag who hung around like a bad smell one night in Sucre. Damn, he hangs around like a bad smell for the rest of the four day tour.

The accommodation on the tour is basic but the third nights accommodation is something else. An unfinished hotel with a wall upstairs missing, initially no running water, later running cold water, not ideal when everyone was promised a hot shower on the third night. It´s run by a right old hag too. After dinner I chat to the driver/guide, Abna, he and the other driver from the same company, David, need to find a garage for the jeeps and can´t risk leaving them on the streets in Uyuni as all the equipment will go missing, even the wheels. Apparently the scallies in Uyuni will take anything. (It´s a pretty minging place and was quite amusing to see how horrified everyone in the group was when we arrived there. I was warned that it was minging, choosing to return to Tupiza after the tour while everyone else got dropped off in Uyuni. Everyone’s first task upon entering Uyuni, book a ticket out of the shithole). They confess that there are no actual garages and that they are going to have to sleep in the vehicles to be on the safe side. I donate my sleeping bag to Abna after we try and smuggle sheets and blankets down from the hotel to the drivers but the hag bag spots us and we get a bollocking. ´And these sheets are dirty´. ´Errm well we haven´t actually used them yet.´ The French girls in the other group pretend that they don´t understand Spanish although they´ve been complaining about the no hot water situation all day. Hag bag is not impressed.

After all the amazing scenery I know that the Salt Flats themselves are going to be a little disappointing, especially as they´re under water right now. It was a little like arriving at Machu Picchu, the whole build up was the exciting thing, and then there were 10,000 tourists there. Everyone had said, just get there for sunrise, it´ll be amazing.

We never made it for sunrise. Abna got our group up at 4.30am, we loaded the roof with all the ´stuff´, got in the jeep and were about to set off when one of the Northerners says, ´ah I see the local drunk is here.´ ´That´s David´, I say with disgust as I get a waft of the 15 pints that he´s sunk. He´s not been to sleep or sobered up but in full pissed mode. More dramas were to follow. He´s too shitfaced to get on top of his jeep to load it, he ends up throwing barrels of petrol and backpacks onto the roof, he´s failed to wake his group up, hag bag finally did though and demanded that everyone had to get out immediately, David claims that he is OK to drive and at one points tries to demonstrate this by trying to start our jeep, we freak out, the Irish shouting, c***, David stalls, we get out of the jeep, I demand that someone from the other group has to drive which luckily a guy agrees to, we have to wait for them as he wants to follow us, David is in tears saying we are going to report him and that he´s going to lose his job, and during all this time the sun is slowly rising.

Although the Flats are under water and we aren’t able to visit one of the islands, the reflections of the volcanos in the water provide spectacular views and the vastness of the Flats is incredible. We get involved and take some comical shots.

Drive back to Tupiza, driver kindly stopped at a nice spot to take a piss, Salt Flat tour

Hike around Tupiza, Bolivia

Beautiful mountains on a hike around Tupiza, and garbage, Bolivia

Nice crack, Tupiza, Bolivia

Views leaving Tupiza, Bolivia

More amazing views on the drive back to Tupiza. The following day I go for a five hour hike for some more amazing view, cause I didn’t get enough. This is slightly ruined by the not so amazing views of garbage stroon on the mountainside. But then I get more amazing views upon leaving Tupiza and these make up for it some what.

Next stop, Argentina for steak, red wine and hot men. Lock your doors Argentinean mothers…

Posted in Travel | Comments Off on School girl errors

Endurance test

30 December 2010 – 27 January 2011

The last four weeks or so can only be described as a full on endurance test. Having to fend off men wanting to trip me off, touch their crotch, not take no for an answer, rob me, deal with unhelpful people, being given false information whilst undergoing cockroach infested bus journeys, bladder control and trying to walk for miles above 3500m on barely any sleep has really toughened me up. People who know me well know that I never stop but this has been something else. Sure, the lows have been counterbalanced with the highs. Relaxing in a hut on the beach, staying at a secluded hostel in the mountainous region of the Cordilleras Blancas in Peru with snow capped peaks as the view, being stunned by the beauty of The Inca Trail and being perched amongst The Andes in Vilcabamba could only mean that I would have a pants New Year. When is New Year ever plain sailing anyway?

It may have gone smoother had I managed to secure a seat on a bus from Ecuador to Peru or a bed in a hostel, but after being told that there was another bus an hour later at midnight on New Years Eve or failing that one in the morning at 6am to Piura in Peru and being promised some sort of accommodation in a full hostel in Mancora (beach, party town in Northern Peru – totally not my scene but I had to head there because a friend, Alexia, was due to come and meet me on 2 January in a small town nearby and I couldn´t take the risk that there might not be any buses running on New Year´s Day), I decided to wing it.

The nearest boarder crossing to Mancora is via Tumbes in Peru and after researching and re-accounting horror stories to fellow travellers all day of people arriving at Huaquillas and then having to get a taxi to the Ecuadorian Immigration Office 5km away, then another taxi to the border of Peru before being dumped and having to get another taxi from the border to the Peruvian Immigration Office 3km away whilst trying to fend off swarms of persistent taxi drivers claiming that you´d save money by letting them take you to Tumbes and dodgy money exchangers on the street before getting another mode of transport to Tumbes and then another bus usually onto Mancora, I decided to head inland and take the safer border crossing via Piura which was still easily accessible to Mancora.

After unwillingly leaving Vilcabamba and a sexy French guy, I took the bus to Loja only to be told by rude agency workers, (after being barged out of the way by even ruder local travellers, ´No I´m just standing here carrying 80 litres for the fun of it´) that there were no buses to Piura for three days. Panic time. For the next two hours I run between the two possible agencies, the even ruder Information ´Help Desk´worker and a semi helpful local who´s trying to get to me to head to the beach in Ecuador with him. It´s like some sort of rubbish game where I literally have five seconds with each person to ask them something before getting pummelled out of the way by another rude local traveller.

So, I don´t need to re-account my horrendous border crossing experience, you´ve already heard it. To make things worse, some well dressed WAG I´m sat next to on the overnight bus to Huaquillas tries to rob me whilst I´m sleeping so for the rest of the journey I´m too scared to sleep. Thankfully a Peruvian local from Sullana (the next town on from Mancora), takes me under his wing at the Peruvian Immigration Office after I ask him how much I should pay to get to Tumbes, S./2 (about 50p, the taxi driver was trying to charge me USD10). Sullana´s kindness comes at a price though as he makes throat slitting actions when he has to pay for his ticket but I don´t mind giving him S./5. After 13 and a half hours, 4 buses, 4 taxis, a 15 minute walk and a moto taxi (tuk tuk), I arrive into Mancora and to my hostel (complete with no bed) safely. And relax. I explain to the girl on reception that I´m aware that there are no beds but the manager has promised to look after me some how. She calls the manager and then asks me to take a seat. After a couple of hours there´s a lot of commotion and drilling taking place and I realise that they´re actually building a bed in one of the dorms. Amazing, now that´s what I call service. I start laughing at the traumatic journey I´ve just had. A little while later I witness six lemmings being led into the dorm and I´m left there for another hour. The traumatic journey comes flooding back. After four hours of waiting not a single person has told me what´s going on so I go and complain and am told that there is absolutely no way that they can accommodate me. ´But we´ll look after your bags while you look for something else´. ´Oh how helpful you bitch, I´m sure it´s going to be a breeze trying to find something on New Year´s Eve in a beach party town´. This is probably the loneliest I´ve felt since I´ve been travelling. My desperation is highlighted by the magnetic pull from a Worzel Gummage freak who´s calling me over. ´Stop it Cheung, what the hell are you thinking?´

My digs for NYE are a tent on a remote patch of land, ´Just around the corner from my hostel´ the owner tells me. ´My arse, it´s a good 20 minute walk away´, complete with no bathroom and a toilet/au natural hold in the ground. Thankfully two girls from Lima are also in my situation and we camp together so it doesn´t turn out to be the worst NYE ever. They don´t speak any English so I have to converse in Spanish but this isn´t a problem. We go for dinner, drinks, dance on the beach, run into the sea at midnight, avoid getting hit by dodgy fireworks flying back into the crowd and pay a fortune to get into a crap club. I meet some locals who have a crate of beer which they feed me all night which is all good as I had to borrow money to get into the crap club. I then head to the beach at around 5am for sunrise. Some pervert tries to kiss me on the beach then grabs my hand and puts it down his crotch, (Peruvian men don´t mess around). After I think he finally get´s the message I lay down on the beach and the next thing I know ´crotch boy´ is trying to get into my bag and rob me. I escape and head back to my luxury accommodation only to have to palm off another persistent Peruvian. After screaming and making a scene he finally gets the message and leaves. After two hours sleep and sweating like a pig in my sauna, the girls from Lima get up and tell me that they´re going for a shower at the hostel. They´re back within an hour and tell me that they´ve found some accommodation and feeling like death in the scorching heat they make me pack up the tent. The accommodation is a basic room with literally two beds in a policeman´s house where the only running cold water is coming out of the shower but this beats a tent any day.

The following day I book a cab and head to our hut on the beach at the earliest possible time that I can check in and it´s bliss. I sit down for dinner and will Alexia to arrive though I know she´s not due till around 11pm. A worker calls me over saying that there is a problem so I worriedly head to over to my hut only to find that Alexia has arrived early. Amazing, and a good job that she wasn´t too engrossed in Jilly Cooper or she would have missed her unannounced two hour earlier departure. (Soooo normal in South America).

Bliss, our Bungalow on the beach, Punta Sal, Peru

The next three days consist of eating, sunbathing, reading, eating, sunbathing, walking on the beach and seeing a variety of washed up dead animals including a dolphin and a sea turtle (´You´ve saved yourself $1500 that I paid for The Galapagos Alexia´), eating, sunbathing and drinking. We walk past the dolphin on the way back. ´Look´, says Alexia, ´those people are calling for help´. ´No they´re skinning the dolphin and filleting it to feed the whole community for a month´. Not a pretty sight especially for the next few hours when we´re surrounded by hawks-esque birds that give up on the small boys fishing on their three logs because they can smell fresh meat.

The view from the Way Inn Lodge, Parque Nacional Huascaran

Clear views from the loooooong hike, , Parque Nacional Huascaran

Sunset on our uber long ´Inca Trail warm up hike´, Parque Nacional Huascaran

Alexia then encounters some of the dramas of being a traveller. Not being given any solid information on how to get to Huaraz, having to trail around agencies while carrying a backpack and sweating in the scorching heat, trying to sleep on an overnight bus with cockroaches crawling all over your face, being told the road to Huaraz is closed after numerous people tell us that there are a multitude of buses, having to negotiate with a dodgy cab driver who claims he has access to the closed road, (is it a scam?), refusing to pay him until we reach our destination (we end up paying him half so he can give a cut to an agency worker), having to transfer to a collectivo (shared mini bus), but then, finally after a 45 minute cab ride we arrive at a remote hostel in the heart of the Cordillera Blancas, the horrendous journey is all worth it. We sack off our ´warm up Inca Trail hike´ for homemade food, a sauna, books and a fire. All guns blazing we plan a 28km ´easy but long´supposedly 8-10 hour walk for the following day.

After walking for about one and a half hours it starts to piss it down and doesn´t stop for the next 12 hours. We almost die walking up the section of steps and have to stop every 10 seconds because of the altitude. ´Mmmm not sure the acclimatising it working´. Our goal is to see a glacier and reach a lagoon but it´s so grim that we barely see anything and after walking forever on the never ending path we have to annoyingly turn back before it gets dark so don´t even get our reward. The only thing keeping us going are the Fizzy Cola Haribo´s I especially requested that Alexia brings out. We´re still completely shattered and can barely lift out feet. ´But Alexia, at least enjoy the amazing sunset up in the mountains´. ´Fuck off, I´m about to die´. We finally reach the road and can see the hostel like a beacon of light glowing in the distance. The workers very sweetly put the generator on early for their two hours of electricity allowance a day just so that we could see it. (It´s usually candle lit until about 8pm.)  We drag ourselves to the hostel only to find that one of the workers has gone to look for us as everyone is worried we won´t make it back. We feel bad but a little later she returns. ´I don´t know how the hell I´m going to manage The Inca Trail,´Alexia exclaims. I try to reassure her that there is no way that The Inca Trail will be as tough though I´m trying to convince myself too.

Rainbow over the Cordillera Blanca mountain range on a bus journey from Huaraz to Lima

Girls in Cuzco

Locals chilling in Cuzco

Because we´re limited with time we decide to get a 5.30am flight to Cuzco from Lima. Surprise surprise our bus to Lima is delayed meaning there is no point checking into our hostel for a good nights sleep of three hours so to make the journey smoother we polish off a bottle of rum and wash it down with Inca Kola (an luminous yellow/green teeth rotting drink similar to Iron Brew only worse, that the locals are addicted to). We´re eager to see what all the hype is about so purchase a bottle. It´s vile. We head straight to the airport, stay awake on Papa John´s, (it´s either that or McD´s or Dunkin Doughnuts. I was desperate, everyone knows how anal I am about my food), water and Shithead. We make it to Cuzco obviously looking horrendous with Spanish barely dribbling from our mouths, as we´re allowed a two hour kip in a dirty room while our room is getting prepared. Our two hour kip gives us just enough energy to pack in a full day of sight seeing, sort out the Inca Trail, get supplies, eat mounds of food, barter at markets, go to the Trail briefing, sample a local dish down ´pork street´ and pack but leaves no energy for the Trail itself and with a get up time of 3.30am we´re seriously not looking forward to it.

Views from the first day of the Inca Trail

Our army of red ants, Inca Trail

Red orchid, Inca Trail

Women in black, all kitted out for The Inca Trail

Bowls of hot water, soap and towels before lunch on day one of The Inca Trail

Day two before the killer steps to Dead Woman´s Pass, Inca Trail

Made it to Dead Woman´s Pass, day two, Inca Trail

Llama on the Inca Trail

View from camp, day two, Inca Trail

Inca Trail crew playing shithead

Well kitted out porters on The Inca Trail

The Inca Trail

Getting ready for tomato throwing on The Inca Trail

The awful build up definitely contributed to the fact that we have an amazing time in the end. The attention to detail from Llama Path (the company we chose because the porters looked really happy and they had ´proper shoes´ – this all became evident during the walk as porters from other companies were literally wearing sandals and pretty much carrying 40 kilos in a rice bag covered in tarpaulin), was outstanding. After each trek there would be a bowl of hot water, soap and a towel waiting for everyone and we´d get woken up with coco tea. They were all so professional (none of them tried it on), and our army of red ants would speed ahead of us carrying our spare pants and baby wipes and set up camp for us before we got there and even applaud us when we arrived. Respect, we just had to do the easy bit of walking 45km. Upon saying goodbye to the porters and chef I was chosen on the spot to hand over the tips and make an two embarrassing speech in Spanish which consisted of ´Muchos gracias´. (Yeah, thanks for the warning).

Machu Picchu

Yeah we made it complete with sexy Llama Path tees

After three days of hiking we were finally ready to see Machu Picchu in all it’s glory so after a 3am breakfast complete with an iced cake, (god only knows how the chef managed to bake a cake up a mountain and ice it), a bit of Shithead, pooing in the bushes, so obvious as I came back with twigs and moss all over me but beats queueing for the hole that stinks to the high heavens of piss and shit, the gates opened and we pelted it like crazy freaks to Sun Gate. (First viewing point of Machu Picchu). This had so not been the case for the previous three days but adrenaline made sure that no other groups passed us as we strode along with our elbow out. A couple asked me if they’d reached Sun Gate on the way and I could barely answer because I was breathing so heavily. We arrive at Sun Gate in record time dripping with sweat, hair glued to our faces, (highly attractive) to the beautiful vision of thick fog. Slightly annoyed but on a high from the last hour of treking/running we head down to Machu Picchu for our two hour guided tour with 6 million other people. (Mainly of the American variety with bulging fanny packs). The sun finally came out and the battery on my camera finally died, perfect timing.

We have a well deserved soak in some hot springs in Aguas Calientes after where the water is pretty murky and we believe the natural minerals are actually the sweaty and dirt off numerous hikers who have just finished the trek giving it a nice viscosity.

After an emotional goodbye to Alexia I head out with peeps from the hike where we traipse around all the clubs trying to get free drinks but only succeed in getting one. I return back to my hostel at around 6am dying for sleep and get woken up at 11.30am by the angry woman on reception and a maid telling me I have to stay for another night or get out of the room immediately. Whoops, I forgot that check out was at 10.30am. I embarrassingly leap out of bed just in a tee and pants and flash my arse at everyone waiting in the lobby (my pj’s are at the laundrette) and frantically pack in a hung over state and exit to different digs.

Monasterio Santa Catalina, Arequipa

Nuns are allowed to use their imagination right? Monasterio Santa Catalina, Arequipa

Views on the Colca Trek

Traditionally dressed vendor, Colca Trek

The cock that woke us up, Colca Trek

Day three after the killer uphill hike, Colca Trek

Colca Trek

I have a well deserved rest of the next two days before heading to Arequipa where I feel like I’ve done the city after a day so decide late in the evening that I’d like to partake in a three day tour trekking into one of the worlds deepest canyons, The Colca Canyon, (I´m obviously missing The Inca Trail). I have to get up at 2.30am. The trek is a piece of piss compared to The Inca Trail. We’re only trekking for about four hours a day and have hours of chill out time which we weren´t aware of so no-one even bought cards along which meant that we could only do one thing, drink. The views were incredible and it turned out to be a fun trip. On arrival back to Arequipa I erupted in a massive cold sore; think I may have overdone it these past few weeks.

Thinking I might be able to take it easy I head to Lake Titicaca (the highest lake in the world) though unfortunately the luanch pad is stinky Puno which I really dislike. Minging city, hostel, I can’t even sit on the toilet without getting rained on, the ‘hot water all day’ is merely a driblet, we head out for pizza which is burnt and disgusting, (not sure how they managed to burn our pizza as we were the only people in the place), I try to get a discount but they offer the equivalent of 20p off and I had arguments with at least four locals who all tried ripping me off. On the plus side my Spanish must be improving if I can have an argument but I have realised that I need to learn more abusive words.

Islas Flotantes

Amazing boats made from reeds and Inka Cola bottles, Islas Flotantes

The houses that need to be rebuilt every seven months, Islas Flotantes

My floating house, Islas Flotantes

Boat ride, Islas Flotantes

Local venders, Isla Amantani, Lake Titicaca

The kitchen of the homestay, Isla Amantani

I spend as little time as possible in Puno before embarking on a two day tour to some of the islands, the most interesting of them being the unique Uros Islas (the reed floating islands), though it’s so built up for tourists it’s a shame. A few of us take a ride on one of the magnificent boats which stay afloat with Inca Kola bottles, (one good thing that comes out of drinking gallons of the stuff). On Isla Amantani we get dished out with our families for our authentic home stay and it’s like school sports day all over again as everyone is picked bar me as I’m the only looser singleton. I end up traipsing around with the guide who’s frantically trying to find me a bed for the night. We come upon a yard where numerous girls are washing their hair in a bucket of water behind a sheet and a well built mother with three teeth and receding gums waddles over to me, introduces herself then heads into the kitchen (a mud hut with a stove) and starts cooking me my lunch. I politely get through the food without choking on the dry rice, potato and cheese slice. ‘Estuve muy rico’ (That was delicious), I tell her and she flashed her three teeth at me. Next comes the big sell where she pulls out hats, gloves, scarves and seat covers from a filthy tarpaulin bag but I can’t even buy anything as I genuinely don’t have any money (Bolivia is my next stop so I didn’t want to get any more Peruvian Soles out). I feel so bad; she put her pegs away. After chatting to her for a while I fine out that she shares a single bed with her husband and that her six other kids share the other single bed in the same room. (The seventh and eldest child has escaped to Lima to study and if he finds a bride in the Capital, is not welcome back the island as tradition is so important – and being inbred). Herself and her husband don’t work (I guess looking after six children is taxing enough), and rely heavily on tourism and homestays (there are no hotels on the island) but the distribution of tourists doesn’t seem fair and I’m the first person she’s had in a month. The families are supposed to get S./25 (about GBP6) for offering a bed and three meals but ´Peggy´ tells me that she only actually gets S./10 (about GBP2.50). I feel like stripping off just so that I can give them something. The mud hut I’m eating in while trying to stay up right on the sloping floor has a sheet over the windows (it’s freezing) and the door doesn’t even close. The bathroom is merely a bucket in the yard though there is a separate room for the toilet which is a pot placed over a hole. I hand over all the fruit and snacks that I’ve bought for myself as an offering which is raided by the kids as soon as it’s put down.

After a hike and slop for dinner, pretending to enjoy it while my stomach is killing me, I have a 10 minute rest before the big night out where we get to see a pena (traditional folk dancing complete with band). Just before I leave, ´Peggy´ waddles into my room holding traditional dress that I’m expected to wear. ‘Errrm is everyone else going to be wearing this or am I going to look like a twat?’ I ask her in Spanish. I’m assured everyone will be wearing the lovely attire. She fastens the belt so tightly around my waist that I can barely breath and my stomach is still killing. The disco can only be described as a shit town hall affair, the lights are on full blast, there are about 15 of us (including the band, ie, it´s empty) and there is a 5 year old local selling beer in the corner. Luckily everyone is also looks like a twat and oh look it appears that ‘we’ are the dancers. Family members who have escorted us to the ‘disco’ drag us unwillingly onto the dance floor for 15 minutes of repetitive simplicity. The band tease us into thinking the song is about to finish but start up again but only faster. Thankfully the band give us a few minutes to recover after each dance thought this kills the ambiance somewhat. The family members sit at the opposite side of the hall and look as though they’re about to commit suicide.

The day after our crazy night on the town (over by 9pm), we visit another island then head back to stinky Puno where we head out (any excuse to spend as little time in the hostel as possible). I get back around 2am then nearly throw up on the American next to me on the bus the following morning but luckily we are crossing the border into Bolivia and I get off for some fresh air. After my previous horrific border crossing this is a complete breeze and there are hundreds of other doing the same thing. On arrival into Copacabana I get straight on a boat and head to Isla del Sol, (Island of the Sun), still Lake Titicaca but on the Bolivian side, and supposedly the birth place of the sun in the Inca mythology. After tackling 100’s of Inca Steps carrying 80 litres (yeah thanks Looser Planet) I finally arrive in heaven; and relax…

My view for three days, bliss, Isla del Sol

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Hello Chanel nails, goodbye mud socks

12-30 December 2010

Sea lions on the beach, Espanol, Galapagos, catamoran in the background

After about a month of wearing my winter wardrobe, consisting of a red hoodie, white Converse and blue jeans, I was elated to get out my summer wardrobe, consisting of a red vest, blue Berghaus zipped shorts (slight disaster with these as the shorts have been in the wash a few more times than the unzipped bottom bits meaning it´s soooo obvious that they are zipped trousers) and white flip flops (well sort of beige now). Also my whole wardrobe is unintentially red, white and blue (flying the flag for Britain) so I´m seriously getting sick of my clothes. All my rucksacks/bags are also red, white and blue (my way of justifying the need to purchase a new bag of a different colour). Even the scalf on my bag is red, white and blue. My bikini is, guess what, red, (actually a dark pink but it may as well be red), white and blue and pretty embarassing when I have it on as people seem to think that I´ve purposely matched it to my red, white and blue belly piercing. I guess I just really like red, white and blue. Also 90 of my wardrobe is stripy and I do have an obsession with stripes. Where is Primani when you need it?

I´ve had to deal with loads of travel stress and annoyances; it´s hard work you know this travelling lark. Deciding where to spend Christmas and New Year; return to Colombia or head to The Galapagos; getting fed a pack of lies; constantly having to fob off perverts (The engagement ring I bought in Quito clearly doesn´t make a difference – dirty latinos don´t seem to take no for an answer whether they´ve got a wife and kids or not); soup or the smoke salmon starter on the Christmas menu (soup is always too filling); people not keeping their promises; blah blah blah. Most of my time seems to be spend organising the next leg of my trip and this is never straight forward. For example, an internet site with bus times or being able to pay for something using a credit card would have saved me at least a week. Actually a lot of the time paying with cash is problematic too as nowhere has change. You hand over $5 and get evils. Coins are seriously like gold dust here.

On the plus side I said hello once again to my Chanel toe nails and the scar on my leg which doesn´t seem to like the sun but it has impressed many fellow travellers and locals. Perhaps it makes me look hard. I might get a tattoo on my face so no-one messes with me. Oh and hello to my little mosquito friends too. My tan from the Caribbean coast in Colombia dropped off as it´s been really cold and rainy in central Colombia and in Ecuador, (OK, I know England pretty much shut down after the snow) but I was just desperate for a bit of sun.

So finally, sun, sea, sand and blue footied boobies on The Galapagos Islands; I was seriously excited. I originally wasn´t even going to go as it´s ridiculously expensive but after meeting other travellers who just at the slightest mention of Galap…. would start drooling at the mouth, I just had to go. It was all really last minute but finally booked my ticket on the Thursday for the Monday. On Friday there was a problem with the flights which could be resolved by going on the Sunday instead. OK fine though I had to pay for it all that day in cash and there is a limit of $300/$400 per day. Luckily I´d already paid a deposit the day before. I managed to get some more money out of a cash machine after about 10 attempts (I´m surprised my card hasn´t been swallowed already), but then had to spend the next 3 hours going to different banks to cash in all of my travellers cheques and exchange some Colombian Pesos that I still had. I queued at one bank for a good hour only to be told when I got to the front that they only cash travellers cheques on a Saturday, bollocks, I was heading out of town for the whole day the following day. Finally a Western Union changed my monies and I just scraped together enough money but it only left me about $3 for that evening so it was bread and water for dinner. Paying for stuff is so difficult here. I haven´t used my credit card once. Back home I pay for gum on my card. Phew so I finally paid after scraping every penny together and got uber excited.

Plane meal from Quito to The Galapagos

On arrival to Quito airport my smile dropped when I saw about 100 Americans, complete with bulging fanny packs, sandals with white socks pulled up to the max and booming voices, lemming it up big style as they marched behind their enthusiastic flag waving guide. After two weeks of studying Spanish I was ready to put it into practice though The Galapagos was probably the wrong place to go. It´s possibly one of the most touristy places in the whole of South America where EVERYONE seems to speak English including all the guides. ´God, where am I going?´ I think. It´s rare to even see any tourists (bar local tourists) when you move about here.

Blue footed boobie, Floreana, Galapagos

Floreana, Galapagos

Iguana, Isla Lobos, Galapagos

I finally arrive at San Cristobal airport, it´s so small that there´s not even a conveyor belt for the luggage, you have to collect it yourself after a sniffer dog has slobbered all over it. All my transfers are included so I expect see some dude with a plaque with the name of the boat on it (Vision) and my name but no, just a few random men calling out random names. I get picked up by a random man, wearing a random Galapagos tee, get in a random cab and head to a random port where I meet some travellers, Matt and Katya who are already on the boat and are doing the eight day tour, myself the five day tour, phew, I´m safe. I get my own cabin too as only two more couples are arriving later and it´s a 10 man catamaran, result. We head to Isla Lobos and go for a walk and see sea lions, iguanas, blue footed boobies, loads of other birds and sea turtles then go snorkeling where some sea lions get involved and swim with us. It´s pretty amazing how close you can get to the animals. Like a geek I´m taking millions of photos, Matt and Katya have seen hundreds of sea lions and iguanas already so aren´t so excited. I´m really looking forward to the next four days on the cruise. We head back to Cristobal to pick up the other passengers but wait, what´s this, there are six of the bastards. I´m told I´ll have to share a room in front of the new members and do some sort of Fred and Perry-esqu grunt. It´s fine though, I share with Katya but the cabins are all so small that Katya has to go into the shitshowershave room if I need to get into the cabin, I then have to clamber over Katya´s bed to get to mine (they´re parallel to each other at slightly different levels) which I can´t even sit up in as the ceiling is so low. The worst thing is that I´m like an old lady, I have to get up in the middle of the night for a wee. (Matt, Katya and myself headed out to the mainland for a few beers on the pumping Sunday night). It´s four in the morning and I don´t want to wake up Katya as I have to climb over her and she´s sleeping with her knees up and she´s not exactly the shortest person. I wait until six in the morning and don´t get a wink during those two hours in case I wee myself then have to do some sort of Crystal Maze move trying to get over Katya but in a low plank position as the ceiling is so low. I can see the crystal (the shitshowershave door handle), it´s so near. I still manage to wake Katya up while I´m in the low plank position, hovering directly over her, my bad breath an inch away for her face (not what you want to see first thing in the morning). ´Lo siento´.

Baby sea lion, Galapagos

Red crabs, Santa Fe, Galapagos

Iguana, Santa Fe, Galapagos

Red eye bird, Galapagos

Isla Lobos, Galapagos

Iguanas, Galapagos

The next couple of days are filled with feeling seasick 90% of the time, really really good food, (there is fruit, salad and veg – AMAZING), snorkeling, going for walks on different islands, sitting on the beach, seeing loads of animals including sharks and dolphins, drinking rum and getting touched up by most of the crew. They´re a really good laugh and the best thing is that I can practice my Spanish. The chef is convinced I´m Japanese. ´Konichiwa´, ´no, mis padres son de Hong Kong´. ´Wasabi?´, ´no, mis padres son de Hong Kong´. ´Ah, Jackie Chan!´ So I pretty much get the piss taken out of me for the entire time on the boat. I give it back though and practice some Jackie Chan moves on him and get ´esta chica es loca!´ (This girl is crazy).

Flamingos, Isabela, Galapagos

Hotel in Puerto Villamil, Isabela, Galapagos

On the evening of the third night we get the itinerary for the fourth day (basically the last day as I know that the actual last day is spent on airport transfers). We get to do activities until midday and then the cruise drops us off on Santa Cruz Island, minus guide, where we get put up in a hotel and dinner is paid for in a restaurant though the guide doesn´t seem to know or care about where his passengers are staying or need to go. I´m pretty pissed with the fact that I´m actually only getting three full days for the price of five and I purposely chose the five day cruise over the four day cruise to see more. I then get pissed with the bottle of rum that I´ve bought along and then have to get up at 5am for a morning hike. After complaining to Ecuador Treasure travel agency from Quito (please don´t use them) about being fed a pack of lies and them trying to blame it on the boat owner even though they sell this tour everyday, I get three nights accommodation paid for in the South of Ecuador finally. Wahooo GBP20 refund, awesome considering that I spend a sixth of my budget for eight months on a week in The Galapagos. I basically could have saved a few hundred of $$$ by booking once there, only doing a four day tour and doing Santa Cruz Island independently as there are loads of free activities to do there including going to see crispy George. Bit of a sorry sight. I´m glad I chose to see the less touristy Isabela Island though where the landscape is totally different. Saw flamingos there too which was cool as they´d disappeared from the other colder islands. The town, Puerto Villamil on Isabela was so laid back and chilled with sand on the road (it´s what I expect a typical Caribbean town to be like), hardly any cars, people on bikes and kids running around that I coud have easily spend two weeks there.

I head back to Santa Cruz after Isabela and manage to lock myself out of my room after dinner. I have my own room too so no-one else has a key. I can´t find anyone that works there, have a massive panic, need to catch a flight in the morning, check the window, oh it just slides open, jump in, feel very safe, anyone from the street can walk into the hostel, pack and realise that my Swiss army knife is missing, great. Manage to get to the airport in good time the next morning. It´s so small that there are no screens with flight information, just random announcements. I assume boarding will happen about half an hour before the flight takes off, then I hear my name get called out, apparently for the third time, whoops, get a good telling off from the air stewardess, ´Perdon, lo siento´ and she gives me evils for the whole flight but it´s OK because I´m surrounded by 100´s of Americans who were sailing with the National Geographic and they all still have on their name tags, buldging fanny packs, sandals with white socks pulled up to the max and booming voices and are just great.

View from the hostel, Canoa

I return back to Quito where it´s shit and rainy so I head to the surfer dudes paradise, Canoa, where some friends are but after arriving on the overnight bus to rain and flooded roads I think it´s probably a good idea that I should have checked the weather. (Actually I haven´t checked the weather once since I´ve been away). It  turns out that there was a storm the night before, I have to step over the broken sign at the entrance of the hostel, half the rooms are flooded and I find out that the plumbing isn´t working when I used the toilet in the bar and the floating poo is almost making it´s way onto the seat. Luckily there is one functioning bathroom in the place for EVERYONE who is staying in the dorms. My door to my dorm isn´t even working and have to access it through another dorm. This doesn´t put me off. Loads of cool, chilled people are staying there, there´s a certain charm about the place (though floating poo is not charming), it´s right on the beach, the sun comes out, I see my friends, buy fresh fish and vegetables for about $1 each in the next town, head to the beach, a few of us cook up an amazing feast later, go out drinking at the cute shacks on the beach where you can get 2for1 cocktails that are only $2 anyway, finally learn how to play Quarenta, drink run neat (the coke is in the fridge and the kitchen is locked) and understand why the hostel doesn´t take reservations because no-one ever leaves the place. Everyone is getting ready for Christmas (in just three days) and I have to make the tough decision of whether to spend Christmas in Canoa which I know would be amazing or see more of Ecuador. After studying for two weeks in Quito and being trapped there for two and a half weeks and then spending over a week on The Galapagos I´ve barely seen any of Ecuador. I do the right thing and head off very reluctantly, shed a tear (it doesn´t help that I´m seriously hung over and the last thing I want to do is sit on a bus for 12 hours) but I´m strong and I can move on.

The girls with Santa, Christmas eve, Cuenca

Cute kids at the Christmas Parade, Cuenca

Christmas parade, Cuenca

Interesting Christmas parade, Cuenca

Happy chappie, Christmas parade, Cuenca

The closest thing to a pint of ale, Cuenca

Christmas in Cuenca was really fun. After some interesting Christmas Parade action during the day on Christmas eve, (mainly consisting of small children dressed up with lots of make up and straddling a horse) getting very drunk, drinking games, ridiculous dancing in a bar, random house party with pure tequilla out of a demijohn and a late night, this set up nicely a very typical Christmas day of being completly hungover while monging on the couch, watching shit films and eating way too much. 10 of us headed out for Christmas dinner in the evening so I had my turkey although the pigs in blankets, sprouts, bread sauce, parsnips, proper stuffing, cranberrry sauce and most importantly, gravy, where all missing. They obviously didn´t know that I was from Yorkshire. We did secret santa though so I did get to open a present, even though it was wrapped in toilet paper, but was nevertheless very exciting.

The Andes, Izcayluma walk, Vilcabamba. Spot the butterfly

The village of Vilcabamba surrounded by The Andes, Izcaylua walk

The biggest bit of excitement of these last few weeks has to be arriving into Vilcabamba, famous for having residents who don´t kick the bucket though one local told me that although this might have been true 40 years ago, these oldies are all pretty much dead now. It´s amongst The Andes and the scenery is spectacular. The hostel is pretty special too and obviously owned by travellers (travellers know travellers needs). So yup I took advantage of the free hiking maps, free water, the included breakfast, pool, hammocks, restaurant, massages (amazing and so cheap, I had two in two days), tabs and cheap cocktails. Awesome, it´s a shame New Year in Vilcabamba is likely to be pretty dead or I´d stay.

Peru here I come…

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Que sabe a pollo (It tastes like chicken…)

Cuy (guinea pig), Quito

 26 November – 11 December 2010 

…hang on, it is bloody chicken, and rice. So my plan was to lose weight in Ecuador but this hasn’t happened, quite the opposite in fact. I now resemble a football thanks to the obsession with carbohydrates that the Ecuadorians have. I realise just how lucky I am having a multitude of different cuisines on my doorstep in London. Over the last two weeks I´ve had little other than chicken and (white) rice and (white) bread and butter EVERY day. (Actually my diet was pretty similar in Colombia so lets make that about six weeks). Somebody shoot me now. Ecuadorian’s don’t seem to know what vegetables are. Bread and butter is served with every meal. I thought that was just a Yorkshire thing for mopping up gravy. They seem to like their cuy though (gineau pig) which I sampled the other day. The though of it was making me feel queasy but I think it`s always good to sample the local dish. The little paw that arrive with my quarter of guy nearly made me spew. Then I tasted it and nearly spewed. 

I´ve been studying Spanish for the last two weeks, (si, mi español es todavía muy mal) and have been living with an Ecuadorian family where I get two meals a day. This should have been three but thank god I changed it to just two. With carbohydrates for every meal (sometimes there is even a selection of carbohydrates on my plate), I may be forced to get an extra seat on the flight home to accommodate my arse. It´s been pretty hard because the family think I can understand Spanish fluently, (I got told off for not waking the son up when he took a catnap for an hour and was hours late for work – serves him right for talking so fast), the two naughty kids don’t seem to sleep and like to scream a lot, the mother is so protective that she barely let´s me do anything – everything is ´muy peligroso´(very dangerous), there are that many locks that it´s like getting into Alcatraz (after two weeks I have managed to get into the home once, luckily it was the only time that the house was actually empty), and lastly I have been forced fed carbohydrates every day (extra generous portions for the guest). After a week I was gagging to leave, stay in a hostel and cook vegetables and not have to ask mum if I can go out, now sad is that?  

It’s been pretty strange having to go back to school, do homework, get up early, lay off the booze, play with the kids, be home by 6pm, have my meals prepared for me, kissing mum goodnight and getting to bed before midnight. The family are really sweet and here you can tell family life is really important (there are three generations living at the apartment), but at the same time it was just really intense. On the plus side I had my own room with a double bed for two weeks (though felt guilty as the mum had to share a room with her son and her grand daughter), and I got to unpack my stinky rucksack and put my clothes in draws – AMAZING!  

Cotopaxi Volcano

Snow on Cotopaxi

Traditional Folklore dancing at the Quito festival

More positive news – my scab has finally dropped off, hurrah! No more gaffer taping up my leg with a plastic supermarket bag every time I get in the shower, though it´s been replaced with some new wounds from Cotopaxi that I checked out the other weekend. Pretty amazing seeing the volcano and loads of mountains though not so much fun trying to climb the volcano in Converse. ‘Yeah those trainers will be fine’ says my teacher, mmmm my arse. Thanks for telling me that the trip would involve hiking up the volcano reaching over 4000m. We went down on mountain bikes though my brakes didn´t work too well and I flew off a couple of times due to the completely uneven pot holed road. It felt similar to the Power Plates that are all the rage at the moment. So, I´m nursing my bruised inner thighs right now (yes from the bike) but luckily I made it down alive. I´m now thinking twice about tackling the most dangerous road in South America on a mountain bike. 

After not consuming alcohol for eight days I was up for heading for a beer after Cotopaxi before going home but this lead to quite a few and getting back to the apartment at about 1.30am. I triedsneaking into Alcatraz but didn´t even need to tackle the front door (the top lock opens one way + the bottom the other way = logical) because the door flew open and bleary eyed mum is there waiting for me. Whoops, ´sorry mum´. I feel like a very naughty school girl. The next morning I feel like death. I wait until everyone has left the house and finally get up, planning a trip to Minta del Mundo (The Middle of the World – the equator). Damn, mum and son are back in the house and the mum tells me I´m not allowed to go there as it´s ´muy peligroso´and there are too many people there on a Sunday. I am told to go out to watch the football (Liga de Quito v Emelec in the first leg of the final of the Ecuadorian League), with the son and his cousin and another friend and they force beer down me. Although I feel like death and the last thing I need is a beer, hair of the dog is always the way forward. So a typical Sunday afternoon for me then bar the fact that I need to converse in Spanish. Easy went you´re drunk, not so easy when you´re hungover. We head back to Alcatraz after I turn down more day drinking (yes very unlike me) but I need to do my homework and doing homework pissed isn´t good. I´m bloody starving but I’m only paying for two meals a day so think I should starve myself until dinner that mum has told me is already in the fridge. However, the boys leave Alcatraz so I rustle up an egg sarnie. The boys return just as I finish, phew, close shave. I get offered food by the very insisting son. ´No tengo hambre, gracias.´(I´m not hungry, thanks). I wait a few hours and heat up my chicken, rice and potatoes. It´s so dry that I nearly choke on it as it´s so dry so cut up a tomato for a bit of wet but this doesn´t really help. There is also a slice of cake for me which is disgusting. After two mouthfuls I wrap it up and put it in a plastic bag and put it into my bag so I can bin the evidence. The bin in Alcatraz is merely a plastic carrier bag so it would have been obvious that I didn´t like it and I have to pretend that everything is `Que rica!´ (It´s delicious/amazing). I´m just finishing up my homework when mum returns to Alcatraz and rushes into the kitchen to rustle up some dinner for herself. She sets the table and puts down a plate of food. `Eat.´ Jebus, she´s made me some food (and none for herself) even though she´s told me that my dinner was in the fridge. I need to be polite and force it down. More plain rice but at least it´s not chicken. After consuming a three egg omelette and half an avocado I´m nearly sick, three meals in three hours is pretty hardcore. I have a few grains of rice and chuck the rest when mum´s not looking. Like a scardy cat I finally tell mum that I´m going out later. I unintentially head back to the house at 1am after telling mum that I won´t be late. Again I don´t need to even open the front door as it flies open. Whoops, ´sorry mum´. Naughty school girl heads straight to bed.  

The following day in Quito is the Independence Day of San Francisco, another really strange day where everything is tranquil and closed. I had to endure this on my third day in Quito too as it was randomly the day of the National Census of Population in Ecuador (the last one was 10 years ago) where nobody is permitted to leave their house until the evening. School is still open though. I have to head home straight after to go to the mum´s mum´s house even though it’s the final day of the festival in Quito that friends are going to. After five hours of watching the most confusing card game ever, (Cuarenta) where everyone seems to have their own rules, not understanding it and having to endure 25 other members of the family I´m finally allowed back to Alcatraz to do my homework. It was seriously intense stuff. Medals were involved, prises, lots of shouting and I wasn´t allowed to play. I did get offered a thimble of canelazo (traditional hot Ecuadorian drink similar to a hot toddy) and a slither of pizza though so it was all worth it. I had a similar time the previous Friday where I went out to the old town with ´my family´ to check out the festivities after turning down a chiva ride so as not to upset mum (bus full of pissed raucous peeps, complete with a band, dancing and lots of whistles). Surely it´s necessary to drink at a street carnival, but no, we just walk around, it´s ´muy peligroso´is all I get in my ear for 5 hours. ´Mucha gente´ (lots of people) ´Put your camera away, por pavor´. OK, ´can we go now please – this is no fun´. We finally stop to buy canelazo, though with no alcohol and I can´t ask for alcohol in mine because I don´t want to come across as an alcoholic. The highlight was eating an empanada washed down with a bottle of water.  

TeleferiQo, Quito

Art in Parque Ejido, Quito

Interesting wheelchairs in the Botanical Garden, Quito

Some of the impressive selection of cacti in the Botanical Gardens, Quito

The cute couple at Otavalo market where I purchased a poncho abierto

Amusing restroom signage, Otavalo trip

Fancy a bit of cock for tea? Animal market on the way

 Other things that mum says are ´muy peligroso´ include taking the TeleferiQo for amazing view of Quito, walking to the Historical Centre (The Old Town), walking for 10 minutes with my rucksack to the hostel, taking monies out of the bank (I have to ask my teacher to escort me), visiting Parque Carolina where there the Botanical Jardins are drinking chicha (I don´t tell mum that I drank two litres of the stuff in Bogota), visiting the famous Otavalo crafts market. In fact pretty much everything that I´ve done in Quito. It´s either ´mucha gente´or ´no, mucha gente´. It´s hard to find the balance of the perfect amount of people in one place. It´s been fun here but I´ve done my time.  

So the plan is to skip a few meals so I don´t get mistaken for a unique Chinese beach whale on The Galapagos Islands.

Posted in Foodie, Travel | Comments Off on Que sabe a pollo (It tastes like chicken…)

Soiled pants

13-26 November 2010

Over the past 14 days I´ve had nothing but soiled pants. Near pant wetting experiences include, finding out that Belle and Sebastian were playing in Bogota (I´m still getting over the fact that I had to sell my Bowlie 2 ticket), going to the gig and having Stuart run ino the crowd and being a mere two metres away, (I let the Colombians pounce on him – the last thing he would have wanted was some Yorkshire lass telling him how much she loved him), getting offered vegetables with a meal (they were yellow and mushy, very disappointed), seeing the enormous Andes and the spectacular scenery on bus journeys, the extensive luscious carpet of green in Valle de Cocora and finding out that a bar in Bogota had a juke box. Sometimes it´s just the simple things in life that make a difference.

I nearly wet myself laughing when this poor German girl we were with fell on her arse in a minging bar on my last night in Cartagena. I saved her cigarette but not her. Our beers went all over the place, yes, including on my pants. I went to pay pretty sharpish and the barmaid asked, ´Why are you leaving´. ´Errm because your bar stinks of dead people, it´s raining inside the bar, it´s flooded, my friend has just slipped off her broken plastic garden chair onto her arse, you gave me a flat bottle of beer with a third of it missing and refused to change it, the male toilets has merely a curtain for a door (I didn’t even risk going to the ladies), there is no atmosphere here or music and it´s basically shit, goodbye´.

I´ve also had some near shit myself experiences. The crazy taxi driver who picked me up from Bogota bus station thought he was Michael Schumacher. He also blatantly gave me a fake note which wasn´t even trimmed in a straight line. If you´re gonna make fake notes at least do them properly. I luckily got rid of easily at breakfast because the waitress was so intrigued with looking at me that she barely looked at the note. The scariest moment was when three horse started galloping towards me on a very tight path whilst on a walk in the Valle de Cocora. I had to leap onto the edge of mountain and cling on for dear life. The bus journey from Bogota to Salento was pretty hairy. Generally the drivers have been pretty good but this driver was trying to overtake everything and particularly liked doing this while going uphill and going round a bend. At one point I did think it was all over but then I realised that there were actually three lanes, phew. Just before checking out of a hostel I squeezed one out. There´s nothing worse than saving it up for a bus journey, though apparently pooing on the buses is forbidden. There´s always a sense of panic when the bowl fills to the brim but then it does usually disappear down the loo only this time it didn´t. I tried flushing it again but it was literally about to overflow. I closed the lid and ran out of the hostel. The plumbing infrastructure is really poor and poo stained loo roll doesn´t even venture down the toilet. It usually just gets thrown into an open topped bin. Luckily I didn´t have poo stained pants. I did manage to get horse manure and mud on my pants though whilst on a walk though this time I had wellies on and believe me it´s the best GBP1.70 I´ve spent so far. If only I had some in Tayrona. I got more than soiled pants when I picked up my a bag from under the bus when I arrived at Pamplona from Cartagena. My whole bag smelt of sewage, including everything in it. I was not a happy bunny. One of my torches no longer works, good job I bought three with me. That´ll teach me for getting pissed off with fellow travellers who have everything in plastic bags, rustle bloody rustle at 4am, sooo annoying. I now have all my electrical items and clean clothes in a plastic bag. However, the fact that I had to go to the laundrette was actually a blessing in disguise as it was my excuse to escape from Frothy Boy (he kept frothing at the mouth every time he spoke) in Pamplona who I met in the main plaza with his friend Coffee Boy (who bought me a coffee).

Just a regular Sunday afternoon, Cartagena to Pamplona bus ride.

Cute Christmas lights in the main Plaza in Pamplona

View of Pamplona though the picture doesn´t do it justice as the weather was rubbish

I´d arrived there the previous day though I was supposed to be there the day before but the rain had caused the mountain to start slipping away meaning it was too dangerous to travel so we had to camp at the bottom of the mountain and continue in day light. At least I saved on a nights accommodation which I was really stressing about. This is one of the issues of getting off the beaten track. Loser Planet only recommended one place so I ended up doing loads of research but because there was a University event going on and nearly all the cheaper hostels/hotels were fully booked. The hotel that got back quoted COP$160,000 for two nights. Now this is only GBP52 but believe me, COP$160,000 is ample for a weeks accommodation. I ended up just trying a cheaper hostel just on the off chance and luckily they had rooms, and my own en-suite room was the same price as sharing a dorm. ´Amazing – I´ll take it´. Upon viewing I realised why it was only GBP7.20 a night. Attempting to swing a cat in there would have killed it. The en-suite consisted of a mouldy glass compartment in the corner which was proper shit, shower, shave territory. The room was barely big enough to turn around in (I kept having to crab walk to the mouldy glass compartment in the corner and the springs on the camp bed punctured my lungs. Perhaps I should have splashed out on GBP52 after-all.

So wanting to spend as little time in there as possible I decided to take the small University boys up on their offer by joining them at the University party where some of the students would be performing.  We arranged to meet back at the plaza but only Frothy Boy turns up, no sign of Coffee Boy (who was the more normal one by far). We went to the party but it was too early and rubbish. Frothy gives me a lolly and we walk into town and climb 100´s of stairs for amazing views of the town. The University town is encased by the Eastern Andes and the views are pretty spectacular. We head back down to the party though Frothy takes me a slightly different route and before I know it Frothy is trying to lure me into his house and asking if I like Neilbarna. I eventually worked out that he in fact meant Nirvana. Frothy then kept saying ´besos, besos´. ´Lo siento, no entiendo´. (Sorry, I don´t understand), though of course although I have pigeon Spanish I have learnt the essentials. ´Yes I do have a boyfriend and he is very big and tall; Sorry I´m busy; Can I kiss you?´ so of course I knew that Frothy was asking me to kiss him. I ran off shouting ´Vamos, a la fiesta´ (Come on, let´s go to the party). The party had livened up a bit but I didn´t stay long. ´I have to go and collect my laundry before it closes´. Frothy: ´It closes at 9pm´. Shit, it was only 5pm. Me: ´Adios´.

Well who would have thought I would be saying this but I was quite glad to be heading to Bogota in the morning (especially after telling everyone that I wouldn´t be going as it would be unfortunate to get kidnapped on my first day though day 17 would be fine).  I was quite looking forward to actually having a conversation with someone in English too as I´d not met a single other traveller in Pamplona. I got up uber early and was at the bus station by 7am for the 8am bus. However, I was told the wrong information and the bus actually left at 9am. OK only a two hour wait fine, though the bus didn´t turn up until 10.20am. I was pretty pissed as it was the first really clear day with the Andes in their full glory. It was a Jim Bowen moment, ´Look at what you could have won´. Annoyingly there weren´t any seats on the left hand side of the bus so I couldn´t even get any photos and the Colombians have this annoying habit of pulling the curtains closed. I finally got an eyeful of lush green mountains and then got treated to the Andes, pretty mind blowing. (Yup, I nearly wet myself). I kept leaning over this old dude to try and take photos. And then it was dark and I had to watch the crap that was put on the TV as the lights weren´t working. Suddenly there was a lot of commotion in the two seats parallel to me. A small girl was sick. Luckily this time I didn´t get soiled pants though I had to put up with the smell for hours. About half an hour later her sister who was sat behind her was also sick. What is it with sicky children being sick next to me on long bus journeys? On my latest bus journey a small boy was sick who was sat next to me, some of which went into my shoe –  gracias. I think it could have been avoided if Shrek was put on the TV rather than Human Trafficking complete with graphic porn and gimp masks. The Salento journey showed The Orphan – proper scary shit. The Colombians don´t seem to give a toss that children might also be travelling. So I finally reach Bogota which supposedly takes 12 hours but actually took 18 hours. A good improvement on my first last long distance bus journey, Cartagena to Pamplona, which took 14 hours longer, the Bogota to Salento  journey only 6 hours longer. The first taxi driver refused to take me (Good God, where am I staying?), the second driver was a complete lunatic. The streets around my hostel (La Candelaria) were littered with homeless people with missing limbs. Maybe Bogota wasn´t such a good idea.

Pretty streets in La Candelaria, Bogota

Cool graffiti in Bogota

Are you ready for some Belle and Sebastian action ladies?

The coolest hairdressers ever in Bogota

Scaffolding in Bogota

More graffiti in Bogota

I surprisingly had a brilliant time. Thanks to bumping into the lovely Swedes, Klara and Hanna and meeting up with Jon, a friend of a friend (thanks Gill) and a local that I met in Cartagena, Davik was also a really good tour guide. Locals showing you the sites is the way forward. Jon gave me my first hangover in Colombia thanks to some filthily strong cocktails and red wine, mmm and I think I had white wine. I guess Jon wasn´t to blame for the following skin full of beers that I had though after making sure that I was back at my hostel before midnight. The second half of the night was quite different to the first of civilised cocktails, wine, Christmassy tasting truffles at a gallery event and then posh pizza in La Macarena. I did nearly soil my pants when I had to hand over COP$50,000 for dinner. (Do that math, that´s about three nights  accommodation). It could have been a very civilised evening but no! That night I found out that Belle and Sebastian were playing the following night and just had to go – what were the chances of that?! It was loads of fun. After a day of being shown the sites and hanging around student bars (living the dream Davik), checking out a party, ¨then the gig, getting to bed before 3am was pretty civilised.

My Bogota highlight was probably drinking over a litre of chicha with a straw out of a paper bag in the Plaza where it used to get drunk all the time. It´s pretty grose. I wasn´t really a fan but then luckily Davik´s friend was and he got stuck in. The night ended in highly excitable fashion when we went to a bar with a jukebox. We basically demanded that we wanted to listen to some decent music. The selection was poor though the locals seemed pretty impressed when ´Billy Jean´ came on and ´Hey Ya´ though not so much with the Greece Megamix came on. (OK we were trying to get our GBP0.07 worth).

Gah not more mud, but at least I have wellies on, Valle de Cocora

Nice usage of type on the Valle de Cocora walk

Scary trees on the Valle de Cocora walk

The amazing view at the top of the mountain on the Valle de Cocora walk

The weirdest sight, cows, wax palm trees and lush green countryside in Valle de Cocora

After another boring day on a bus, crazy bus driver who loved overtaking on a mountain, thinking I was going to die, getting stuck in an accident, missing my connection, blah boring blah but timing wise it was getting better. In total it only took two hours longer than the scheduled time. Well it was all worth it. I did a day trip from Salento to the Valle de Cocora (the famous Zona Cafetera region) which was amazing. It´s times like these that make travelling all worth while. I managed to soil my pants big time  with mud, cowpat, manure but at least I had my wellies and I certainly got my monies worth because I kept the on all night in the restaurant and in the bar where we sampled some coffee wine which was pretty vile. Even some local was pointing and laughing at us as he left. It turned out to be a very expensive night. For dinner we had soup with a random sliced banana in it, local trout with ALL the trimmings, the majority of them some form of carbohydrate or a fried item, juice, coffee wine and beer came to a whopping GBP3.90. I seriously thought I might lose some weight out here but I´m turning into a fried arepa (typical Colombian street food made from corn with various fillings and 99% of the time fried) and I feel totally carbed out.

Treated myself to a lunch before I left Salento and got a three course meal with juice for GBP1.40. ´What´s the soup?´ ´Rice´. Great – I love carbs. Mooched around the pretty town to try and burn off some lard and was forced to buy a bracelet that I didn´t want. I asked the shop owner if she had any thinner bracelets and she mumbled something in Spanish, ´Si´ I reply and she runs off down the street and comes back a few minutes later with a leather bracelet half the size, not even cut straight with random holes punched in it. Bugger – so she´s customised this bracelet and now I have to buy it. I knocked her down to GBP1.00.  Got back to the hostel and cut some stars into it so at least it´s wearable now.

Buddha Hostel, bliss, Medellin

Sunset from the Buddha Hostel roof, Medellin

The BIG night out, Buddha Hostel, Medellin

Pablo Escobar tour, the secret hiding spot, Medellin

Cable car ride to the Parque Nacional, Medellin

So I decided not to get anymore day buses. OK, so you get the nice views but it´s a waste of a day. Left Salento at 8pm to get the overnight bus to Medellin. Got the bus to Armenia only to find out that the night buses weren´t running for the next four days because of the mud slides – bollocks. I´m told that the first bus in the morning will leave at 6am. ´Is there an internet cafe nearby?´ I ask, ´Yes, but it´s not safe, do not leave the station´. OK, I´m fine with killing nine and a half hours though must not drink too much as it costs COP$900 (GBP0.32) to use the toilet which is going to add up to more than my lunch soon. There was no where safe to sleep and with all my stuff I was really paranoid so basically had to stay awake with chocolate and coffee. Luckily a bus left at 4am but still didn´t get to Medellin until 1.30pm after muchos commotion which included getting dropped off in a random place and having to walk for 45 minutes with 80 litres on my back in the rain. However, my lodgings for the next two day, Buddha Hostel were pretty amazing and I ended up wasting a day just chilling. Felt pretty guilty not checking out Medellin but the hostel was absolute bliss and I had my first proper hot shower since I left home. The first night there I also had a proper meal with vegetables and salad and no meat and it was amazing. This was nicely followed with my first solid poo in quite a while. Managed to do some cool stuff in Medellin before I left like heading out to Zona Rosa, (very different from the tranquility of the hostel), we went a bit crazy and had a beer and a sweaty hot dog while were were out, OK we did have a skin full at the hostel beforehand but it was just one of those nights) and the Pablo Escobar tour (most famous and richest Colombian drug lord ever to have lived) where we got to meet the brother of Pablo who attempted to lift me up when I had a picture taken with him but he struggled big time. Those bloody arepas.

So the plan is to head to Ecuador, not get on any day buses and diet.

…And I might just piss my pants when my scab finally drops off.

Posted in Travel | Comments Off on Soiled pants

Goodbye Chanel nails, hello mud socks

Mud socks on Arrecifes beach in Parque Nacional Tayrona

Unrealistic idyllic view of horse ride to Arrecifes in Parque Nacional Tayrona

Mmmm how am I going to tackle all this mud?

02-12 November 2010

The liberating thing about travelling is that you get to the point where you don’t give a shit. My lack of make up is enough to scare anyone off due to the eruption of boils from not consuming my five-a-day. I stink, but then so does every other traveller I meet. I´ve been rotating my summer wardrobe, which consists of two pairs of shorts and two tops, for the last 10 days. My fingernails are constantly minging. I’m now the proud owner of approximately 68 mosquito bites of which I’ve had an allergic reaction to pretty much all of them making me resemble a swollen beast. It’s taken almost a week to get over the fact that I even own a pair of Berghaus zipped trousers, let alone put them on. I´ve been clubbing in flip-flops a Tee and shorts and no make up (as if that would happen in London – I wouldn´t even head to the corner shop in that ensemble).

By day three in Colombia, after Cartagena, I was literally running through shit. After escaping a pervy Colombian, in Parque Nacional Tayrona, who was trying to arrange to meet me on a nudest beach, (I tried to pretend that I didn’t understand but quite a few hand gestures were involved in the conversation), I began the 45 minute walk to the campsite. After two minutes of being sucked into the mud in quick sand fashion and losing my shoes, I turned around and rented a horse to take me there. OK so the photos might look idyllic but believe me it was hard work, especially seeing as though I was carrying about 80 litres. I still have bruised inner thighs. (Yes from the horse). I eventually arrived in about 45 minutes covered in mud and horse shit. It’s times like this when I most look forward to a shower. However, upon closer inspection and realising that the shower was basically a corrugated metal open top shell with a holey plastic rice sack as a curtain with freezing water sloshing out of a pipe (I later found out that this place was pretty much five-star), I decided just to remove my mud socks revealing rather grey Chanel nail polish. (Perhaps it´s this season´s new colour). Upon walking back to my hammock, approximately 15 yards, I was once again covered in mud. No one warned me just how ridiculous it would be to visit Parque Nacional Tayrona in the wet season. Thank you Looser Planet. There´s nothing like getting stuck in right from the word go. I bumped into some Gringonites that I met in Cartagena so it was fun in the end even though there was about 50 inches of rain. I´m sure the beaches would have looked nice in the sun. I think the highlight was the warm gooey chocolate filled bread at the panaria on the beach and perhaps it was the dinner on the second night there which was my first proper meal in nearly a week.

The view I had to put up with for three days on the beach in Palomino

Palomino beach

La Sirena, where I was staying in Palomino

On route to a river which frames the beach in Palomino

Anyway, I’m not complaining. After the trauma I spent three days on the beach in Palomino just North of Tayrona which was idyllic and well off the beaten track. No other gringonites in sight which was bliss. The hut I stayed in was pretty amazing and so was the view from the hammock. A well deserved rest me thinks especially after all the crazyness of the last few weeks. If it wasn’t for the muscle I drafted in to help me pack two days before I left, (thank you boys – love you!), I wouldn’t even be here. Anyone who knows me will know just how anal I am at organising. I didn’t even tick off a check list I had that little time and I have a habit of creating a check list when I stay overnight at a friends. I had lists coming out of my arse but just not enough time to get through them all. I packed the most essential item, my passport, and figured I could buy anything that I’d forgotten. I have since realised that I’ve bought three torches, two pairs of scissors and other multiples. Not sure why I need eight pens. On my first night in Cartagena after going out and sinking a few, I realised that I forgot my pyjama bottoms so my fellow roomies were treated to a view of my rear.

I love flight meals! Spicy chicken and rice, Delta Airlines, London to New York

After frantically finishing packing up the flat and doing a spot of hoovering, I ran out of my flat managed to catch my train with about five seconds to spare. On route to Colombia I was treated to a selection of perms, pop socks, Skoll shoes, pizza and ice-cream as we neared NY and crap films with Delta airlines. I waited hours for my delayed connection to Bogota meaning I’d miss my next connection to Cartagena, but at least I was in New York where my bucket of rooibos tea lasted a while. 30 hours after departing my flat I was finally in Cartagena… without my luggage. Ahhh my worst nightmare! A local explained that my luggage was on the next plane, panic over. Apparently they’d let us board the slightly earlier flight to get us there quicker even though our luggage was on the right flight, not quite sure what the point was.

From what I’ve encountered, most Colombians seem really friendly, on a local bus Egg-Boy, (he had about 10 dozen eggs and a large plastic laundry basket) who I was sat next to, stuck his arm out of the window and presented me with a giant piece of watermelon, Taxi-Man who was taking me to the bus stop in Santa Marta for Tayrona saw the bus ahead and did everything he could to make the bus stop, including swerving all over the road and nearly colliding with oncoming traffic, Sick-Boy threw up on my foot on the bus, got a telling off from his mum but then was politely sick in a plastic bag for the rest of the journey, people keep offering me seats because of my scabby leg and it seems that every male Colombian wants to chat though mainly to ask if I have a boyfriend. I´ve met some cool Gringonites too. There definitely seems to be a sense of unity here and everyone is really friendly, well nearly everyone, this is the beauty of travelling on your own. I´ve already bumped into familiar faces during my first 10 days and I´m sure I will do on the rest of my trip. On my second day in Cartagena I got chatting to Croc-Monsieur (I surprisingly haven´t seen too many pairs of crocs which is a good sign), a slightly more mature lone traveller. I don´t mean to be wary of this type of traveller but I don´t want them to assume that their generosity will be repaid with some sort of Thai bride action. ´Stop touching my leg Croc-Monsieur´. If my scab has existed then he wouldn´t have been touching it.

This was about as intersting as Santa Marta got

Unintentially perfected my choice of top for the carnival action

Carnival ´The crowning of Miss Colombia´, Cartagena

Crazy Colombians and Gingos dancing in the rain at the festival in Cartagena

So, the scab. It was very much the horses fault or rather the guides. ´Yes I do have a boyfriend back home and he is massive´. (Ah another thing I forgot, a fake wedding ring – damn) I left Parque Nacional Tayrona and hired a horse once again to take me and my bags back to near enough the main entrance of the park. A lot of it was downhill so seemed harder on the way back. The bless’ed guide sent the horses the wrong way, down a tight uphill crevice. He then decided that the horses should partially turn round then take a huge jump onto this ledge. There was no way that the horses could have reversed. The first two horses managed it in front of me but guess who got the mongy horse? Mine started headbutting the crevice, didn’t even make a poor attempt at a jump, got stressed, legs collapsed and I slid down this crevice with the horse heavily grazing my leg and arm. Nice. With the help of lots of iodine it´s on the mend though I just have a minging scab on my leg and am subject to even more pointing and it´s bright orange so looks pretty scary. The annoying thing is that I was supposed to go on a six days hike (Ciudad Perdida – The Lost City) but it wasn´t worth the risk in case it got infected. I also wanted to check out more remote beaches near Panama but can´t really get my wound wet cause it won´t heal. Gah, what to do? I ended up heading to civilisation, Santa Marta, (where I was originally going to go to sort the hike from) and staying the night. I walked around town, mmm not my cup of tea, and got some serious stares. I don´t think anyone there had ever seen a Chinese person. I had small children, old women, police men, pervy men all shouting out China and pointing at me! (Apparently Colombians think that China and me are going to invade them). I could make some serious money in the circus here. I exited swiftly the following morning and headed back to Cartagena where I knew there was a festival/carnival going on climaxing on Monday when Miss Colombia is to be crowned. Mad street parties, booty shaking, boom boxes blaring (generally with rubbish music – oh how I´m going to miss indie pop), kids blacked out in tar demanding money, paint being smeared all over you and lots of shaving-esque foam being squirted everywhere. (Not so nice when stuck to the old contact lenses though). I joined the party on Thursday night which was really good fun, and bargainous at COP$12,000 (GBP4) for entry and six beers in an ice bucket. Last night a few of us went to a salsa club which was interesting to say the least, but as the festival´s on it´s pretty quiet at the clubs. So back to Gringoville it was (party hostel) till 4am.

The plan is to head over to Pamplona for a couple of days,  sounds like a really sweet town, then head towards Medellin via Bogota. Can´t get out of town until tomorrow and the bus journey takes 12 hours, better get used to moving very very slowly. I am slowly adjusting to not moving at the speed of light but it´s taken a good week. Right, guess it´s back to the festivities then….

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The fat lady is singing

It’s all over, I have officially bought a pair of Berghaus hiking trousers complete with zips, yes, you heard it, zips. I have been sucked into the practicalities of being a ‘traveller’ but rest assured I will not be returning with dreadlocks, tattoos or anything tie-dye and most importantly, I will not find myself. My Spanish lesson tonight, focusing largely on directions, went that badly that I will constantly be lost. But two pairs of trousers in one, now that is practical, or perhaps that means I can squeeze in a pair of heels… mmmmm….

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This ongoing project by Manchester designer Adrian Newell represents the goals scored in some of the worlds most prestigious football matches with simple information graphics. The dotted lines show the runs while the solid lines show the shots. I like the way random shapes are formed. What can you see in these interpretations? It will be interesting to see if the shapes change over time due to the ever changing game.

1966 World Cup Final in England. England 4, Germany 2

1986 World Cup Final in Mexico City. Argentina 3, Germany 2

2005 Champions League Final in Istanbul. Liverpool 3, AC Milan 3. (Liverpool won 3-2 on penalties)

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