Sunday, 28 October 2012

Greetings from the highest capital in the world

Hello and from my exalted position, I guess I must be looking down on you all. This is the highest capital but it is lower that Lake Titicaca!! 

We loved Copacabana and spent almost a week there, the lake was so peaceful and the town very nice. We went on the Lake on a whole day trip with a Canadian couple Al and Maureen. We met them in Puno and then again in Copa. The trip was to the islands of Luna and Sol, sun and moon. Our boat was old and slow and the seats were nailed to the floor, and we arrived first on Luna. A tiny place with only 23 inhabitants , no electricity or bottled gas , only either candles or fires for cooking. They breed trout ( a Titicaca specialty  and grow beans, maize and potatoes. We spent and hour just enjoying the peace and quiet and chatting to the locals.

When we left Luna for the 45 minute crossing to Sol I realised why the chairs were nailed down.........even though it is a freshwater lake the wind was strong and it was a pretty choppy crossing. At Isla del Sol you could climb a big hill to look at some ruins but we walked up smaller one and sat with views of the lake drinking beer and eating trout........wonderful views of snow-capped mountains in the distance.

One day we walked along the lake shore and at the very hippy Kasa Kultura met an Argentinian woman, Christina, who made us herbal tea and we chewed the cud , looking out on the Lake. We also met an Argentinian family,who had been travelling for 2 years , in a strange looking "campervan". Copa certainly had a hippy feel to it, and from time to time an aroma too!!

We had found a local community project supporting the two islands and another village about 5 miles away. We booked another trip to go to Sahuena to see the giant frogs. We went with a local Aymara girl, Wilma, in a taxi to the village and then met a local guide at the village. She rowed us from the shore to the frog platform, on the way we talked about how they use the reeds that grow in the shallows. It is used for weaving, cattle feed and the locals chew the white must have natural bleach as their teeth are very white. We tried it but it did not have much flavour.  We only saw a baby frog, the adults get to 2 foot long, and he was easily as big as my hand!!

One lovely thing about Copa was the quality of the food, on all five evenings we ate at La Orilla a great place, with lovely evening jazz and blues music, and a short but wonderful selection of fresh food. Not Bolivian, but a great selection of vegetarian favourites like falafels, fajitas, baked aubergine etc. In a town with masses of restaurants, mostly empty, this one was full every night. The owner was a Bolivian who had been brought up in Washington DC, he was laid back but he ran a tight ship and his cooks were wonderful.

On Saturday morning we set off for La Paz on the local bus, complete with four very large buckets of trout that a local woman was taking to market. It was a bumpy windy trip and at one point we had to get off and cross a strait on the Lake on a smelly ferry while the bus went across on a barge. 

We arrived in busy La Paz and found the first 2 taxis didn't want to take us into the centre, but as always a lovely Bolivian man sorted it out for us. We have been here two nights and our hostel is fine, we have a corner room with a patio, TV ( with BBC news !!) and wi-fi. It is decorated with paintings of Bolivia on the walls. Breakfast was good this morning , a big improvement on the usual bread and jam. 

Yesterday we did our admin bits, booked a flight to Sucre for next week and for our next destination.............
We are off tomorrow to Coroico , about 2,000 m lower than here. It is where the world's most dangerous road is!! We have booked an eco-lodge called Sol y Luna, where we have a cabana and I am hoping to have a few days cooking as we have a kitchen. The lower altitude should be good and we may be able to walk, the place has a swimming pool and we have hammocks in our cabana. Quite looking forward to chilling before we head off to Sucre for our week of Spanish classes.  We then have two options about how to see the famous salt flats and we will sort that nearer the time. 

Lake Titicaca

Local women dressed for dancing at the fiesta.....and yes that is 2 crates of beer in front of them 

More lovely costumes

Giant Lake Titicaca "bay frog"

Bolivian " Cornish" pasty....Saltenas !!
I'm not quite sure if I can really discern the difference between Peru and Bolivia other than Bolivia is much less touristy, there is no real sales pressure. Its been a while since we were in a busy capital city and we will limit our time here. We come back for one night but really just to transit and get a flight to Sucre.........which sounds and looks like  a lovely colonial city.

So till next time 
Hasta luego

Norma xx

Monday, 22 October 2012

Higher and Higher and that was Peru!!

I'm writing this on beautiful Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. The sun is shining and the lake looks fabulous, we have a funky hostel with furniture and odd bits and pieces made from shaped wood. It must get cold here as the room has a brick fireplace in the corner. There is a little patio in the garden. I am in seventh heaven as at lunchtime I had a bacon and avocado sandwich........not really traditional Bolivian fare but not had bacon for about 5 weeks!!

Well we left Peru at 7.30 this morning and the border crossing was quite easy. Our last stop was Puno which is the Peruvian side of the Lake and it was awful. A huge big noisy place with terrible traffic, pollution and just a huge big tourist machine for trips on the Lake. The view of the Lake was not at all attractive and there was rubbish and the drains smelt awful. We had planned a bit more time but got out early. Our hostel was fine with a lovely big room. 

We went to the floating islands and it was interesting but once that was done that was it. On the plus side there was a bit of variation in food and I had trout with a bright green spinach sauce last night. The altitude is another 300 m higher and we struggled up 2 flights of stairs at the hostel. So that ends the Peruvian trip.......and sadly it didn't end on a high note!!

But back to where I left off last week........we were in the Colca canyon in Chivay. Chris was struggling with the height and refusing to drink coca tea which is meant to help!! Men !!

Sunday we hired a bike , a little 125cc, and drove to Cabanaconde which is at the other end of the canyon from Chivay. Boy was it hard work, we were driving on washerboard a lot of the time and coming in the opposite direction on the dirt roads were the hundreds of tour buses full of people who had been to see Cruz del Condor. Three hours later we got to Cabanaconde, thinking we might like to stay.......NOT.  Pretty unappealing place, so we had some mediocre lunch of alpaca and chips and set off back to Chivay

The condor lookout is designed for 4-500 people who get up at the crack of 4am to get there for 8-9 am to see them fly. As we got there at about 1.30pm there were three and one was directly overhead. Got only one rubbish photo but watching them through the binoculars was stunning. We were glad to get back to our end of the valley and stopped off in Yanque and had a lovely coffee in the square in a funky cafe run by a man from the big city, Arequipa. I felt like every bone in my body had been shaken up but it was good fun. We had only used half the fuel so we asked Marco if we could have the same bike on Tuesday. It only cost £10 per day , a mountain bike was £7.50!! Chris was still struggling.

Monday I made a picnic and we set off on the collectivo, with all the locals, to Yanque. There were some ancient Inka ruins at Uyo Uyo and it was only a 40 minute walk!! Yeh, if you are a mountain goat, at the altitude and in the heat it took us 1 1/2 hours.

We had brought our swimming gear and then walked down to the thermal springs. We didn't carry enough water and by we got there Chris was feeling very faint. Thankfully 85 schoolboys arrived so we sat in the shade till they finished their swim. The pool only had 2 bottles of liquid left, a corn based drink called chicha morada but it was fluid. We had  lovely peaceful time in the pool, I'd forgotten how much I miss the laguna. To get back we had to walk to Yanque, 25 minutes in the sun. Luckily a collectivo from up the valley was passing so we got that back to town. Filled Chris full of fluids when we got back. The added problem with Chivay is that the air is very dry and it dehydrates you quickly and the sun is savage.

Our host Marina had to go to Arequipa so we had the hostal to ourselves, with responsibility to lock up and let her mum in next morning to make breakfast. She was a lovely woman, so attentive and the pace was spotless. Chris crashed out and I went out to eat and had a pizza and avocado salad which was a huge change from the usual soup (with pasta), rice and potatoes. 

Tuesday we were going biking again but Chris was not well so I packed him off to bed and I got the collectivo to Yanque and visited the church and the little museum. The lady in the museum was lovely and she gave me some herbs for Chris......also another lady told me he should lie with his feet on the wall to help get blood back to the heart. By mid afternoon he perked up a bit.......tried the feet raised but wouldn't have the herbs ( they were foul!!)

Wednesday was biking again, Chris was feeling much better so we biked the other side of the canyon. It was beautiful and much less traffic, and some of it was tarmac!! I wanted to see the restored baroque churches, we did Corparaque, ( lovely place  then Ichipampa, where we had ice cream with a lovely family. The to Lari , which has the "cathedral", and we saw the museum. Lari had a restaurant, and we had only one more village left, Madrigal. It looked closed but the lad who looked after the church said she cooked every day. So I found her in the kitchen and said  was she open and could we come back for lunch after Madrigal.........she said we could but there would be nothing left!! Chris thought this was a sales pitch but as we returned she was closed-good call.......So we had "menu" chicken soup and chicken stew, lovely flavours and set off to Madrigal.

The road was terrible and the village not very appealing but the church was fascinating as it is in the process of being restored, three people are working on the project, it is the last one to be done and they were delighted to show me some of their work as they don't get many visitors. 

The biking took it out of Chris again and it was the afternoon before we stirred and got a taxi to the Chivay hot springs. Lovely relaxing time and then he relapsed when we got back........two nights with no food!! Friday was out last day and we said out goodbyes to Marina and got our mini-bus to Puno........and you know my views on that!!

At one pint I thought we would be re-arranging out plans and missing Bolivia due to the altitude but we are here now. We will have 4 or so days here and there are 2 luxury places that we tried to book for today but they were full so we might try a couple of nights there. 

Meanwhile we will just enjoy the views of the world's highest lake and get used to the change in country, its now 10  Bolivianos to £1 , which makes the maths easy.

Till next time........sorry still no photos uploading too slow !!

Take care Norma xx

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Blogging on the move isn´t so easy.........

Buenas dias de Chivay en el caƱon de Colca en el sur de Peru. Este lugar es muy bonito y estamos a 3,600metros de altitud. Fuimos ahora a Macchu Picchu y la selva y Cuzco. Esperamos que vamos a quedar aca una semana para descansar y caminar y mirar los condores. Despues vamos a lago Titicaca y despues Bolivia. Acqui es muy alta y la gente comen mucha cane de Alpaca. Disculpe no es possible con photos pero el internet es muy despacio!! Felicidades Norma y Chris

APLOGIES.......NO PHOTOS INTERNET STEAM DRIVEN and bit dark to see the keys so apologies for typos too!!

Okay folks, sorry for the gap with the blog and this will have to be an abbreviated version as we have been on the move for nearly two weeks and getting some time to write this has not been easy. Left Lima for Cuzco and so different a wonderful old colonial centre set in the Andes. We had four days getting used to the altitude and saw a few of the city sights and the Sacred Valley.

We then set off for Machu Picchu (MP) on our mini Inca trail. ( the normal ones is 4 days and roughing it in tents!!) We left Cuzco at 4.50 AM for a 2 hour drive to the train at Ottantytambo. We had the vista train with windows above to. The valley is beautiful. We got off the train at KM 104......a stop but no platform so we had to jump down. It was then a 7 hour slog up to MP, 3 hours continuous uphill in beautiful scenery and beautiful sunshine.........bit too hot for walking. We then got to Winya Wayna-a beautiful Inca site and I thought the uphill bit was over but there were 200 steps up the terraces!! After 5 hours we arrived at the 50 "Gringo steps" -which is almost vertical and you have to go up on all fours. But at the top is the Sun gate and there below bathed in beautiful sunshine was MP. It looked amazing-if a little small.

We then walked down to the site and got the bus down to Agua Calientes -which has to be the biggest rip off in Peru is outrageously expensive. We had booked an all in package which included dinner bed and breakfast but our hotel was $140 for a room the size of a rabbit hutch. Complete with feather pillows and duvet which set Chris`allergy off.........and there was us worrying about his knee!!

We visited the site the next day and had a 3 hour tour from our guide Marcellino. We stayed about another hour and then went back into town. The train back was 4 hours and tortuous but we got back to Cuzco tired and glad we had done the trek. The train was $104 return !!We had one day more in Cuzco but Chris was still ill so we moved to a feather free hostel and then set off for the jungle.

What a great time we had, 5 days and four nights. We flew to Puerto Maldonando and spent a night at the Tarantula hostel.........thankfully it didn´t come with spiders-just a friendly macaw called Pepe. One hour by road and then one hour by boat and we arrived at Inotawa lodge on the Tambopata river. The lodge was beautiful and we had a room with open balcony , high ceilings and only a curtain. The only electricity was from 6pm to 10 pm and only for the kitchen and bar area. Everywhere else was little by candles and tilly lamps. We had our own resident Betty the Bat too-she flew around at night usually when we were in our mosquito nets.

We had three full days seeing wildlife and it was lovely, fabulous bird life, tiny monkeys, Howler monkey and fabulous butterflies and even some pretty insects including a tarantula. The food was out of this world, beautiful freshly prepared juices, vegetables etc. On the first night we were alone in the lodge and then next day felt quite affronted when 2 more groups arrived. One was a group of 12 German tourists......and apologies to my lovely German friends Marlene and uwe........ they were an absolute embarrassment. Food was buffet style for all of the group together and they just ploughed in like a herd of locusts . Sometimes they were on their second plateful before other people had take their first serving. Luckily they only stayed 2 nights. They got up at 5 am to go and see the parrot clay lick and everyone was awake!!  It was lovely peaceful time with no phone, Internet or power. The days were tiring, it was like walking in a sauna most of the time. I wore one set of clothes the whole time , for outside activietes as there was no point in getting everything wet!! We were quite sad to leave and then had another night in Puerto Maldonando before returning again to Cuzco. We had booked a room at the hostel we left and when we got there they had forgotten.........I knew the system with a little pen mark on the calendar was doomed to failure!! So we had to go off and find a room.....not difficult but we didn´want the hassle. Found a nice place on plaza san francisco. We had out last meal in the lovely vegetarian restaurant and packed up ready for the next stage.

We flew from Cusco to Arequipa and got a taxi straight across a very busy, noisy and dusty city to get the bus to the Colca Canyon. It was a local bus, four hours of twisitng and climbing in the altiplano until we arrived in Chivay. We are now even higher than Cuzco and the same height as La Paz in Bolovia. Our hostel is lovely-the best yet and we plan to say about a week. It is very clean and comforable, lovelyy shower, breakfast was well organised this morning and a lovely lady called Marina who is so helpful.

So far I have not been impressed with the organisational skills of the Peruvians, how much does it take to get a cup, saucer, plate, spoon and knife onto a table????? Apprently a lot in some of the hsotels we have stayed in. We are hoping to stay a week here. It feels like real Peru, the local people have beautiful traditional dress and everyone has a smile on theri faces. I think places like Cuzco are traveller -weary.

 We hope to visit some of the valley, get a motor bike , use the local buses and do some gentle walking. Although this is only 300 m higher than Cuzco yesterday we were quite breathless. We had a lazy morning just wandereing in the main square, then ate in the market for lunch.......a local delicacy spicy red peppers stuffed with vegetables and baby alpaca with potaotes and fresh juice. We bought some fruit in the market today as we are back to the meat and carbs scenario. Tomorrow we hope to go to Yanque , to visit a pre-Inca site and partake in the local hot springs. Hoping to do this on the local collectivo.

Well that is it for to follow in about a week...once we get to Puno!!!