Saturday, November 25, 2006


There we are. Santiago, capital of Chile,where the gap in the ozone layer is the most apparent. It doesn´t offer that much, so I am taking my time to write. We are staying at a friend of a friends´house and that is quite relaxing, for a change. It was about 40 hours to get here by bus from La Paz (with a few stopovers in the middle, like a visit to an observatory. Chile has plenty of desert and many observatories, the biggest in the world even, where my friend Jaron is currently working!)

La Paz
is what it promised to be: chaotic. The capital of Bolivia, the highest in the world, is not a pretty town, but it is a pleasure to walk in. Half of it is an open air market and we wandered hours through the streets of it.

But first things first. After half a day of hearing the bus was surely going to come the next hour, we went to another town to catch it there. There we bought tickets for the 11 am bus the next day. It did of course arrive at 14:30. Luckily we were kept company by Tess and Anthony from Sheffield who had had the same crazy plan as us. In Santa Maria we had to catch the bus to Santa Teresa, which only came at 4 o´clock at night. Exhausted, but happy, we finally set off towards Machu Picchu. Three hours of walking in the mountains and 3 hours of following the train tracks (mainly looking down to step on the beams). We could feel we were already in the tropical rainforest; the weather was sticky and we were surrounded by palm trees. At arrival Sylvia and me did apparently not feel tired enough and we climbed a steep mountain. We almost reached the top after 1hour and 45 minutes, but we needed to turn back, as it would be too dangerous to return in the dark. A beautiful view, but no glance at the site from another angle...
The next day we got up at 5 to climb MP. It normally takes about an hour 15mins., but I was so tired and had not properly recovered from a nasty migraine a few days before, I could hardly climb the stairs and it took us many hours to arrive.

So...what is MP? It is the biggest site where Inca ruins were found. What makes it special is the spectacular view. It lies on a mountaintop, surrounded by high peaks. We stayed there all day and were the last to leave, seeing Lamas and vicuñas (by now we know they are not all lamas, there are also alpacas and vicuñas). We are still scared of their big teeth and their fame for spitting at people.

The way back went a lot faster...we just had to walk a few hours on the rails (Tessa and Anthony had given up by then and bought a train ticket) and after that we got a lift on the back of a truck.
Back in Cusco we tried out the nightlife. This part of tourism is fairly new to us. There are pubs and clubs that are just filled with tourists. As our days are long and active and the alarm clock going off at 6 is no exception anymore, we often don´t make it into the night..We had fun, but in all honesty going out with my mates in London is more enjoyable and the salsa level in Amsterdam is def. higher! This to my surprise, as all you ever hear in Peru is traditional love songs and salsa..

Oh and let me mention I had my stage debut in Peru. We went to a touristy folk dance show and I was (un) lucky enough to be picked out at the very end to dance with a guy. I am contemplating now whether to take this career further or not.

To conclude our stay in Peru we went to Lake Titicaca, the biggest in the world above 2000 meters. We visited the Islas Flotantes. 35 tiny islands, made of reed that grows in the lake. Also the small houses and boats are made of it as well. Overly touristy, but peculiar and springy.

The Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca was more beautiful and we spend time on the Isla del Sol with David and Petra, a Brazilian couple from Sao Paolo we had met on one of our long hikes and with whom we travelled to La Paz.

In short: of what we have seen of Bolivia and Peru was very beautiful. The food in Bolivia is better and the people are friendlier. Even when you are innocently playing with kids in the street in Peru they will ask for money and if you don´t give any, they´ll lose interest. Bargaining was always a necessity (I left that to Sylvia), as we were always charged double the regular price. It is not a nice feeling and at one point made me lose my temper (it did help). Having said that, it is ambiguous. We do have a lot more money to spend than they have. The prices are cheap. The kids are an important source of income.

Going from the poorest to the richest country in South America is interesting. It feels a lot like Europe here, in Chile. They also look like Europeans. We have been walking around in awe in the huge supermarkets with many different brands, enjoyed the fact you know hot water will come out of your shower and that toilet paper was a given.
Chileans don´t seem to be too loved by their neighbouring countries; The Argentineans we met called them ´cold´ (and the Chileans call them arrogant) and the Peruvians (our campaining friends told us) feel robbed by them. Apparently the Chileans more or less own the mines in Peru, but don´t pay taxes over it, Pisco sour is known as a Chilean drink, but in truth it is Peruvian and the train to Machu Picchu is owned by Chileans, who charge ridiculous prices for it. The village of Santa Teresa is putting money together to build a bridge, so they can break the monopoly and have their own bus going there, so they can earn some money on tourists as well..

My impression: so far Chileans have been charming with us!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


It is outrageous, but we are not sticking to our Travel plans.
It all went fine. We found ourselves slightly ahead of schedule in Chile.
Pedro de Atacama has the driest desert in the world (or at least that is what they claimed and why there was no water at night) and Arica is not a beautiful town, but it was good. We somehow relax a lot more in the city than in the country side, as there there is so much to see and do; horseback riding, excursions, mountain biking, ruins to see..
But yet again we queued for another stamp in our passports. We find ourselves in Peru this time. What can we was just too close to the border of Chile not to go.

In Arequipa we visited an Inca Mummy. Small, hard to see and ugly, but I found it all pretty exciting. Peru has a lot to offer. It is mainly based on Inca history.
The Inca Empire was the largest empire in Pre-Columbian America, but in truth only lasted about a century, from 1438 to 1533. The Spaniards, with conquistador Francisco Pizarro as its leader ended it all, destroying as much as they could and introducing the Spanish language and the Catholic religion. The language, Quechua and worship of Mother Earth, Pachamama are still in use (which does not seem to stop anyone from throwing rubbish in the streets and nature).

We have visited many ruins already, most of them found high in the mountains.
Which makes me wonder if it is altitude and tiredness, or that I am just unfit, as the walks take us a long time! Most of the ruins are ascribed as ´temples´ or as ´places of worship´. Not that much is known about their daily lives, as they did not have any writing. Most of what is known comes from Spanish journals.
The capital of the Inca Empire was Cuzco, which means ´navel of the earth´. It is named ´the most beautiful city of South America´. And it is in fact beautiful, even if it does not live up to the level of Rome or Amsterdam. All they live of nowadays is tourism. It does drive us crazy at times, as every five minutes there we are approached to buy necklaces, eat in their restaurant, join one of their excursions or pay for a photo of a traditionally dressed lady with a lama , which we have both seen in the wild. It seems to be stamped on our foreheads: Gringas.

We are now in a small town, we got stranded here, waiting all day for a bus. Tomorrow we will resume our journey, on our way to Machu Picchu. Peru is cheap, but excursions are very expensive, so we decided to walk the six hours to Aguas Callientes (Machu Picchu village) and do it ourselves...I will let you know how that will work out!

JUST ONE DAY OUT OF LIFE ( (Bray / Madonna)

04:30 AM. Alarm clock goes off. We need to leave, but the hotel owner says he has no change, even though we warned him beforehand. We feel tricked. Sylvia runs through half of Arequipa and comes back with the change and we can catch a bus to Chivay, in the Cañon del Colca . The panorama on the journey is rather boring, very dry and we go so high we see snow from the window.
Once we get off the bus we are surrounded by three different hotel owners who try to lure us to their hotel. We pick one. There we chat a bit with a girl who works there. She tells us a lot tourist come there, pay a kind of entrance fee (Boleto turistico), but the community never sees anything of it.
We hike to the next village: Yanque. It is the kind of mountain road where you bump into lamas, donkeys, bulls, horse, sheep and traditionally dressed women. While it is getting dark we arrive at the local openair swimming pool, which consists of natural hot thermal water. We shiver, because of the cold, but we do get in. At first we are a bit careful, as we only see boys, but they turn out to be lovely, as they walk us back in to the village in the dark and make sure we get into a cab. Of course this cab is overfull. We sit in the hood of the car. Since we are tourists the driver does not let anyone else in the hood...lucky hey!

The alarmclock is again set for 4 o´clock, as we are taking the 5 o´clock bus to spot condors. How much fun is that! After hours and hours of waiting I see about two, but too far away for a picture. We decide to walk to the next village. After an hour a pick up truck stops asking if we want a lift, it is still hours away to the next village. We get in -no need to say it was overfull. It is an interesting bunch. Regional elections are coming up and the are campaigning for the National party. The national party being left wing. It is unclear what they really stand for; equality, more democracy..well...Their main aim seems to be end of corruption and better care for tourists. Better care for tourists seems to mean paving more roads and lower prices for us. The driver tells us Peru is the fourth richest country when it comes to natural resources. I ask what is done for the locals that don´t live in touristy areas.I ask him if he doesn´t find it sad that in spite of that their whole economy drives on tourism. He does not understand my questions. We spend the rest of the day with them, visiting many small villages, to just arrive in time to catch the smelly nightbus to Cuzco.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Around San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.
Click on picture to enlarge.

Friday, November 03, 2006


Bolivia is a funny country. Among the poorest in the world. The population seems to contain mainly nativos (indigenes, nativos, aborigen- you choose). It has the highest everything; city, capital and is mainly known for its greatest export product; Coca(ine). It is a country rich in natural resources (copper, silver, gas..) and Paraguay (with help of Shell), Brazil and Chile have taken land away from it.

The bus is older, the windows don´t open and the driver has clearly quite some coca leaves in his cheek. De villages start to look poorer, the odour of the passengers reaches the nose with more ease and people that miss their front teeth seem to get younger and younger. We are on our way to Bolivia.We read in our Lonely Planet that Yavi, near the Bolivian border in Argentina is interesting enough for a d-tour. So that is what we do. It turns out to be the most poor looking village so far. Houses built of mud stone and that is it. The only thing it offers is one of the oldest churches of Argentina, 1690 if I remember correctly. White thick walls and a lot of gold. A Spanish control freak and a whiny Italian lady keep us company. What sadness is this all!!

We freak each other out by stories about theft and warnings we have received about the border village in Bolivia. With some tension we pass from one country to another. It turns out to be completely fine. It is very busy. Young and old is selling all kind of stuff down the street. At the bus station it is crowded and every company yells wherever they are going. We leave in again an old bus, we see no paved roads and at whatever stop kids will jump into the bus to sell food and drinks.
First thing that catches our eye is how the women look. Dressed in many layers, a wide skirt, two braids and a funny round hat. Its function is unclear, as it is too small to protect against the sun. Sylvia tells a story about an Englishman who tried to sell them in Europe, but had no success and then came to here and became a rich man. All ages seem to to carry children. Even though we are sweating, because of the heat, they pack them in warm blankets, put woollen hats on them and put the babies in their colourful cloths, which are knotted on their backs. (and when I say in, I mean, they are IN the bag).

We stop Tupiza, which turns out to be a lovely small town with a colonial main square. It is safe and clean. Funny how bad all the stories were and had almost put us off. There are three activities I want to do in South-America. The first one located me in a rather unusual spot; on the back of a horse. We rode five hours through the mountains and had the most amazing views. I had a hard time walking derriere was pretty sore!!

Time to go to what we actually came for; the biggest salt flat in the world. But first we have to get there. We are able to buy tickets for the last two places in the back of the bus. This bus is smellier and older than any of the previous busses and we sit folded in the back, while more and more passengers come in. The bus is not just overloaded with luggage, but also with people. We drive off and it takes us a long time before we seize feeling scared and we both declare we love life and each other. A couple of hours over the roads in the mountains with its sharp turns. At some point some luggage falls off the roof. We need to keep a piece of cloth in front of our face, as it is so dusty/sandy. Not to sound all negative; the view was absolutely breathtaking...
After a few hours we arrive in another town and are put into a jeep. It counts 14 passengers, a small child and the driver. Let me say that normally probably not more than 8 people would fit..!!!We are relieved to arrive in one piece in Uyuni.

We pick a company which will take us with four others on a three day tour.The Salaris is 200.000 km2 and it is simply impressive to be surrounded by a completely white area, as if you are driving through snow. I buy my first souvenir; two candle holders made of salt. Let´s see it if makes it through the 3 1/2 months we have left...We see one woman packing salt with bare hands and closing the packages with a burner. On this trip we also visit caves, various lagunas, huge rocks in the desert, loads of Flamencos and what we appreciate most; natural geysers and we take a dive in a natural hot thermal bath on 4800 meters high (which is equal to the Mont Blanc, the highest point in Europe). At night it is really cold and we have dinner with our jackets and woollen hats on!It is a beautiful tour, but both Sylvia and me feel a bit sceptical. We spent almost an entire day in the jeep and it is mostly getting on and off to get pictures. There is no other way to do it, but it makes it hard to 'feel' the environment.

We change country, as soon as we enter Chile the road is asphalted. Our bags are checked one by one. One girl hands in a bag of Coca leaves which she had forgotten to leave in Bolivia. The police laughs about it. I however am asked to come to the little office, as I was carrying the shocking amount of 4 apples. I have to sign a declaration that I agree with the destruction of them. Fruit is definitely more criminal than drugs if you ask me!