The Trip 2013 – La Paz to Mercedes

Note: This is a condensed version of the pictures I took with some added narrative. The rest of the pics can be viewed in the album Trip 2013 – La Paz to Mercedes. Each picture can be clicked to see a larger version and comment / like.

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We left our tour group in La Paz and continued on our own for the next week, time was tight as we had to be in Buenos Aires in just a few days to meet final tour group. I knew that no trip to South America is complete without a visit to the salt flats of Uyuni, Bolivia so we crowbared in a 3 day excursion into our schedule.

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The first day we visited the famous salt flats along with a train graveyard just outside of the dusty desert town.

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The salt flats were an incredible place. We had previously visited a salt farming company waaay back in Mexico some 6 months ago so I thought I knew what to expect, however I wasnt prepared for the sheer vastness of the salt plain.

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Another fact I didnt know was that just a few feet beneath the surface is a huge salt lake which is the cause of the salt plain above

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I attempted to excavate a souvenir from the lake but ended up cutting all my arm on the sharp crystal.

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As almost fascinating as the salt plain was the the skittles miracle.. I had the most incredible luck, not 1 not 2 not even 4 but 5 orange skittles came out at the same time!

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That evening we stayed at a nice little ranch style hostel just outside of the salt plains

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We were up early the next morning and back in the cramped 4×4 for another day of Bolivian marvels of nature

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We spent the evening in one of the *ahem* “best” accommodations I have ever experienced. Just look at the attention to detail with the decoration:

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Also its hard to complain when the room comes with free peanuts in the wall:

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Well thankfully we got a good nights sleep as we were due to leave at 5 the next morning. After seeing the other 4×4′s leave one by one however we started to wonder where our driver was. Turns out he needed some more beauty sleep so I had to wake him up with some loud cries of “Vamos!” (lets go), grumbling he finally awoke and we were on our way.

First up that cold morning was some thermal vents:

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Next warmed ourselves up in a hot spring bath

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Then it was a long, bumpy and dusty 8 hour drive back to Uyuni. We stopped a number of times at scenic places to take pictures

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All in all it was an interesting and incredible experience but not the most comfortable. Fortunately next up was the beautiful and comfortable city of Buenos Aires

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Buenos Aires is without a doubt one of the most beautiful cities I have visited on this trip (at least on the days we were there), the combination of the large number of blossoming purple trees, verdant green parks and old architecture made me fall in love with the place.

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Just before joining up with our fourth and final tour group we met up with the parents of my good friend and “german sister” Tina who just happened to be in Buenos Aires at the same time

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That evening we met our new tour group, another GAdventures tour of 16 people that over the next 17 days would take us from BA through Uraguay and the Iguazu falls to Rio in Brazil.

We kicked things off by taking a tour around some of the districts in Buenos Aires stopping off for lunch at a typical Argentinian BBQ place

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On the way back we visited the famous artistic flea market of San Telmo

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The following day we took the ferry across into Uraguay and the incredibly picturesque town of Colonia

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We were there for just one night before we were forced to move on, it really was a beautiful little town though and totally not what I expected from Uraguay

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After Colonia we spent a night in the capital of Uraguay, Montevideo. We didnt do a whole lot there other than a visit to a cultural centre where we saw some kids play some traditional Candombe music

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Then it was onto one of the highlights for me, a two night stay at a ranch out in the Uraguayan countryside

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I really enjoyed my time there with all the animals

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We had beautiful hot days that turned into yet more beautiful evenings

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We didnt do a whole lot on our 3 days there, mostly resting and relaxing and enjoying the natural beauty

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One thing we did however is gather wood and have a big bonfire on the last night. Dinner of T-Bone steak with red wine and bonfire with friends is my idea of heaven, all that was needed to make it perfect was a kitten..

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The Trip 2013 – Cusco to La Paz

Note: This is a condensed version of the pictures I took with some added narrative. The rest of the pics can be viewed in the album Trip 2013 – Cusco to La Paz. Each picture can be clicked to see a larger version and comment / like.

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Im now 6.5 months through my 8.5 month journey and finally reached one of the highlights of my trip, the Inca trail and Macchu Picchu. I have been looking forward to this one for a while, it started off by driving down into the Sacred Valley 1 hour outside of Cusco.

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We had the afternoon and evening to prepare ourselfs to begin the trail. We spent it exploring the beautiful Ollantaytambo and its ancient Inca ruins.

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On our mini-trail we bumped into a little troop of boys that gave us a song and dance in exchange for a few soles

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The next day it was time for the big show. The km 82 marks the start of the trail and our 4 day adventure.

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The first day was a gentle journey following the winding river. Along the way we bumped into a few animals, some in better condition than others.

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In the evening of the first day we were introduced to our team of porters. We had 28 of them to look after the 18 of us.

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They are incredible people who carry 25kg of load each and run up and down the trail as we gringos huff and puff our way around. I had a go at picking up one of the packs for a short while.

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Manageable but I wouldnt want to carry it up some of the hills on the second day. Incredibly only a few years ago they used to carry twice that amount each!

The second day of the trail was by far the toughest and had us hiking 1.2km vertically up to the summit of “Dead Womans Pass”. It was a tough slog and I was more than ready for a rest when I reached the top.

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The way down was much more interesting and I took great pleasure bounding down the stairs to reach the camp before some of the porters.

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The views from our second days camp were incredible.

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Each day we woke early (5am) and the third day was no exception though the views on this morning from the top of a short 300m hike were.

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The third day was the best day on the trail in my opinion.

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The trail wound its way around the steep cliffs and through the occasional tunnel until we were rewarded with the incredible views of our lunch spot.

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After lunch we hiked it yet further down to our third and final campsite. Just before we got there we visited two impressive terraced Incan ruins.

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The final day we woke at 3:45 and hiked for a short hour or so up to the famous Sun Gate of Macchu Piccu.

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After a little while observing the incredible view we hiked down to the famous photo spot before taking a tour around the wonder of the world

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After several hours exploring the site then having dinner down in the valley we hopped in a train and rode it back out of the valley.

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Back in Cusco we had a day to enjoy the comforts of a warm bed and good food once more

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Next up we travelled by bus to Puno then by boat to an island on lake Titicaca for a home-stay with a local family

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Before we headed to the home of the family we would be spending the night with we had a friendly gringos vs local footie match

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Afterwards we dressed up in the traditional highlanders dress and performed the ceremonial dance much to my great embarrassment

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Then it was off to the home of Blanca, mother of 3 girls and the cheeky chappy Brian

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We helped prepare meals which were cooked on a clay wood fire inside one of their farm buildings

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That first evening we presented them with some small gifts we had bought in Puno earlier in the day. They were over the moon with the pressies we gave them: Olives, Lentils, Corn, Oil, Waterbaloons, Candles, Matches, A Skipping Rope, Pencils, Washing up products.

Despite enjoying the water balloons, 3 year old Brian was hard to tear away from his favorite toy

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The followind day we helped Blanca with some of her daily chores. We took the sheep out of their pen and herded them(with difficulty) to some grass.

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Then it was down to the lake shore where we helped separate fish (and often fish heads) from the nets that had been used to catch them overnight.

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I had an awesome time on the homestay and felt privalidged to get just a small glance into how these people live thier lives. Unfortunately we could only stay one day and had to hop back in a boat back to Puno.

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Along the way we stopped at the famous floating reed islands of Lake Titicaca. These incredible structures are made entirely of reeds found in the lake. They are 10′s to 100′s of meters wide and several meters thick and can last up to 70 years. They are composed of layered reeds that must continually be added to else the ones below rot away and they sink.

I had been gagging to swim in the cold lake since we first arrived and saw my chance to take a dip.

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The next day it was across the border into Bolivia and the massive capital of La Paz

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On arrival we took a short tour of the hot, noisy and polluted city. The main attraction was the witches market. Called so because of the interesting varieties of ex-animals for sale including Llama feutus’ which are used as part of the Pachamama ceremony

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The following day we caught a bus up to 4900m and hopped on bikes and rode the famous Death Road.

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The ride was one of the best things I have done on the entire trip, even the soaking rain thunder, mud and fog couldnt dampen the incredible thrill of racing down the mountain just meters from certain death.

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The final day in Cusco I thought I would have a nice relaxing day by dressing up as Spider Man and jumping out of one of the tallest buildings in the city

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Well that’s it for this chunk of my travels and my time with 14 other people I had shared the last 21 days with. I have had so many incredible experiences enhanced by the company of those special people!

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The Trip 2013 – Huaraz to Cusco

Note: This is a condensed version of the pictures I took with some added narrative. The rest of the pics can be viewed in the album Trip 2013 – Huaraz to Cusco. Each picture can be clicked to see a larger version and comment / like.

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From the highlands of Huaraz we made our way back down to the coast and the capital city of Peru, Lima.

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We had one night and day there before joining our next GAdvetures tour group that would take us through southern Peru, ending in Bolivia 21 days late. We spent the day wandering around some of the city before meeting up with our group in the evening.

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This is the third tour I have done on this trip and is made up of 16 people of various ages and nationalities. This time there seemed to be a lot more Australians and New Zealanders as apposed to the British horde on the last one.

After spending one night in Lima we headed to our first destination of Pisco where we had an action packed day. First we made a visit to a Pisco maker.

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Pisco is the national drink of Peru and is made by fermenting and distilling grapes. We were shown the traditional way they produced it then given a tasting session of the various different sorts of Pisco they produce.

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After that we headed off to the desert to do something I have been looking forward to for a while, sand boarding.

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Unfortunately they wouldnt let us stand up on the boards so we went down the dunes on our front, a little disappointing but still fun.

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To get around the dunes we rode powerful off road buggies which were probably more fun than the actual boarding.

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In between the boarding I had some time to do what I do best in the dunes.

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We only just reached Nasca in time for the final activity that day, viewing the Nasca lines from the top of a tall tower.

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The following day we had chance to get a better look at the Nasca lines from the air. I had always been fascinated with the enigmatic lines so jumped at the opportunity to see them from above.

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They are an impressive sight though sad to see how modern man is destroying them by mining and building roads over them. We were told that perhaps in 10-20 years they will no longer be visible so I feel fortunate to have had the chance to see them.

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That evening we participated in a traditional Pachamama ceremony. This involves slowly cooking various meats and vegetables under the earth using coals and hot stones.

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While we were waiting for that to cook Alex (our tour leader) took us to an adjacent cactus field.

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Growing on the cacti was a white fungus

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This fungus is apparently very valuable as when its crushed it goes right red and is used in lipsticks and other makeups.

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The following day we headed to Arequipa, it was Halloween and one of the group member’s birthdays so we went out and partied.

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The following day we had a 2 day excursion to the Colca Canyon region. Along the way we had the opportunity to try the famous coca leaves. You roll 6 or 7 of them into a wad then chew on them.

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Its not a particularly pleasant taste and makes your tongue go slightly numb however its supposed to help with the altitude, particularly important as at points we were over 4900m above sea level!

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On the way we stopped a few times to take pictures of some of the native wildlife including the famous Peruvian Llamas, Alpacas and Vicuña

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We spent the next two nights in a small town called Chivay

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The first evening we walked around the town and some of the ancient pre-Inca ruins

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We ate dinner in the highest Irish pub in the world

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The following day we got up early to make our way to the incredible Colca Canyon

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The reason for getting there so early was so we could catch a glimpse of the huge Condors that sometimes visit the area. We were in luck as 3 of the magnificent birds turned up.

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They were incredible and huge and at times flew very close over our heads, I feel fortunate to have seen them.

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Sadly we had to return to Arequipa the following day. We had a free afternoon before our night bus so spent it at the Arequipa food festival.

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After a grueling 10 hour overnight bus from Arequipa we reached the famous and ancient Inca city of Cusco.

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Cusco was going to be our base before taking off on the Inca Trail and is the home town of our tour guide Alex, so for the first day he took us on a tour of his beloved city including one of the local markets.

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Cusco is a rather beautiful city with a lot of history and was a nice base to relax and gather our strength before we embark on (what is probably) the highlight of my entire South American trip so far, The Inca Trail and Machu Picchu but more of that in my next post!