Date Monday, January 19, 2004

Peru and Bolivia

Happy New Year to everyone. I really wanted to get this all up to date before the end of 2003, but in a way it's wonderful to have to spend time thinking about the trip again.

It was really nice to spend Christmas and New Year with family and friends, but we can't say that we didn't drift back to dreaming about Sydney last New Year - on 1 January last year we set out on our road trip up the coast ahhhh!

Anyway, here's the penultimate update.

We hit South America in May and arriving in Lima, Peru, isn't the most inspriring way to start, but we'd been warned and didn't hang around... We stayed long enough to explore some good museums to be informed of the region's incredible history and culture.

A cathedral in central Lima

Islas Ballestos/Parque Nationales Paracas
After getting great advice about the highlights to visit in Peru, we along the coast to Pisco - a base for visiting Les Islas Ballestos and Paracas national park with some incredible mummies.

Our first sighting of a penguin!

We nearly got swept away in the 'Cathedral Cave' - named for its shape. We also saw a sea otter from the beach here

Next stop was Nasca to view the Nasca lines from a small plane. They cover nearly 400 square miles of desert. Etched in the surface of the desert pampa sand, are about 300 hundred figures made of straight lines, geometric shapes - most clearly visible from the air. They were supposedly built by an ancient civilization called the Nazca, but despite all the theories, no one knows exactly what they are.... It is believed they could date as far back as 300BC.

The Monkey

Near the amazing Nazca lines - in the driest place in the world - we saw some more amazing mummies. The dry conditions of the desert have protected the mummies at the Chauchilla Cemetery - believed to be from the Nazca culture between 200BC and 500AD. Sadly, the graves have been robbed for the gold and pottery, but the bundles remain in tact.

A funerary bundle

Jimi Hendrix?

Arequipa and the Colca Canyon
Next stop was Arequipa - known as the White city for its position surrounded by snow-capped mountains. It's a beautiful city. Interestingly, while we were there the country went into a state of emergency - first the teachers were striking, then the farmers and even the police joined in. We were unaffected, but we met people whose buses were stoned and we did see armed guards looking about three!

The stunning main square

Amazing blues in the 1580 citadel - now a convent

From Arequipa the main destination is the Colca Canyon - said to be the world's deepest canyon. Great training for the Inca Trail - why not walk down to the bottom of the deepest canyon in the world and then back up again! The views were stunning, but getting up at 3am to climb 1,000 meters within 100 meters distance was interesting!

The Colca Canyon and a happy group at 7am having made it back up!

Near the Canyon is the 'Cruz del Condor' - the flight of the condor a top spot for viewing condors - it was amazing to see the birds get closer and closer with such an incredible backdrop.

A condor moment!

Geography classic picture of terracing!

The Inca Trail
We arrived in Cusco and although we'd gradually been climbing, the altitude did affect us. At 3,200 meters you can feel it just climbing a few steps - so I started to worry a bit about four days' trekking! It's what everyone goes to South America for - and before getting there I'd assumed that because so many people do the Inca Trail it would be easy! Then I read about it being referred to as 'the Inca Trial' etc and became nervous - particularly with the altitude. In actual fact it's a really nice walk. The going up is easier than coming down and the views make it all worthwhile.

Cusco's main square

Views of the Inca Trail

Mark and one of the incredible flip flop wearing porters!

The highest point - Dead Woman's Pass - at 4,000m. What no one tells you is that you climb to this point then down 1,000m only to climb back up to the same height the following morning! Has nobody thought of building a bridge?

Inca ruins along the route

The sun hitting Machu Picchu - at 7am on my birthday - what a present!

The classic shot of Machu Picchu - worth every meter of the trail

Happy campers!

Ain't they cute!

Lake Titicaca
Our final stop in Peru was to visit the islands on Lake Titicaca setting off from Puno. We visited the amazing floating reed islands and stayed on Isla Taquile with a Peruvian family - who couldn't have welcomed us more warmly.

The reed islands - which are literally made of reeds

The boats used to get from reed islands to reed island

Smart sales woman of the future

Not the most flattering attire!

Our family for the night

You could have been in the Greek cyclades

From Puno we travelled to Copacobana another town on the Bolivian edge of Lake Titicaca (not of Barry Manilow fame) and got a very positive first impression of Bolivia. We soon headed to La Paz - it's an amazing site going down into a huge basin to La Paz with hundreds of shacks lining the valley. We were incredibly lucky as it was the Gran Poder Fiesta - La Paz's main annual festival. We sat and watched from rather rickety temporary seating and couldn't believe the shoes women had to dance in for the whole day!!

First view of La Paz

The fiesta - they really are shaking mini washing machines!!

From La Paz, Mark tackled a cycle trip along the world's most dangerous road - I didn't! Then we flew up to Rurrenabaque - in the jungle of Bolivia for a bit of nature watching. We got bitten to death in a very basic jungle shack; went cobra hunting; and sought out pink dolphins! We did see both cobra and pink dolphins, but the dolphins were camera shy!

The flight alone made it a worthwhile trip - we flew straight over the Andes. Given the age of the plane we were a bit worried about needing to reconstruct the film Alive! I decided Mark would be meatier than I!

Mark does Tarzan

A croc up close and personal

Ooh ooh!

Our transport - the oldest plane you could imagine landing on grass!

From Rurrenabeque we returned to La Paz and headed for Potosi and then to Uyuni to cross the salt plains into Chile.

The Salar
We'd heard so much about the salar (salt plains) trip and were not disappointed. Angela, Matt, Natash, Mark and I joined a guide for a three day trip in a Toyota Land Cruiser across salt plains and desert - an almost lunar landscape which reached almost 5,000m in altitude and minus 18 degrees celcius!

A train 'graveyard' at the edge of Uyuni

Arty shot!

The salt plain and my favourite photo of the year!

Mind bending landscape

I'm the king of the castle!

Warming up after the coldest night of our lives!

Matt, Angela, us two, Natasha and our guide - we certainly enjoyed some red wine and a hot shower on arrival in Chile!