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Salty Goodness

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Our bus arrived into Uyuni earlier than expected…we had to get off the bus at 5.30am and it was bloody freezing! Luckily we were met from the bus and taken to a local restaurant for some breakfast. 2 hours later we were sent on our way to find the tour office (being solo now we were getting a very different experience compared to the comfort of our group tour, where everything was done for us).

We trekked over most of town looking for an ATM and probably went into every shop to kill some time, but finally 10.30am rolled around and it was time for the tour to depart! We were in a group 11 across two Toyota Landcruisers, the one we were in looked like it was on it last legs, but still in we piled and off we went.

The first stop was a train graveyard, where old trains had been dumped 50 years ago, now rusted and covered in graffiti they have become a popular tourist attraction for all tours heading out to the salt flats. The place was heaving – of course pretty much every other person was trying to get that perfect Insta photo. It actually became more entertaining to watch the Asian tourists decked out in Bolivian ponchos take a million photos of themselves in front of the rusty trains, than look at the trains themselves. What made it even more amusing was that it was raining pretty heavily, but that didn’t deter them.

From the trains we headed to a salt factory, where most of the houses are made from salt blocks that they have carved out from the salt flats. We learnt about the process of drying the salt, grinding it and adding iodine to purify it, so it could be bagged up and sold/used as table salt. Bolivia has 2 main seasons – wet and dry, we were visiting in the wet, so of course it had been raining all AM, to ensure the houses don’t dissolve the locals have to build much longer roofs to keep the salt blocks dry. We actually had our lunch in a salt hostel, which was surprisingly warm inside…although the food was pretty average.

After lunch it was finally time to head onto the salt flats. I don’t think we have seen anything like it before, it was an infinity of what looks like a marble floor. It felt like we were in heaven, as the salt flats had a 5cm layer of water on them, so the clouds above had a perfect mirror on the ground below. Our guide said we needed to put flip flops on when we got out of the cars, given how cold it was we expected the water to be freezing but it was actually like a warm bath! We spent ages taking the classic salt flat photos as the weather had cleared up finally. When we got back in the cars and the salt water dried our feet looked like they have been encased in a salt scrub, the salt was everywhere and when it dried on our clothes they turned hard and crusty. Just what we needed as we then had a 2 hour drive to get to our hostel for the night.

The next morning it was a 6.30am start as we headed through the Bolivian outback to explore the landscape. Our first stop was a quinoa field…which was actually just a distraction when our car broke down. Our driver managed to patch up whatever was wrong but shortly after we made another impromptu stop in a small village while he attempted to fix the car again. 30 minutes later and we were on our way, with what seemed to be a botch job repair, as for the rest of the day the car was filled with petrol fumes which made us all feel sick.

We were slowly making our way down to the border crossing to enter Chile, but had what felt like a million amazing landscape opportunities along the way. One of the first was Rock Valley, a 4100m above sea level valley of volcanic rock formations…which of course Lynden had to climb (even with his broken arm). Along the drive we saw wild ostriches and hundreds of flamingos at Laguna Colorada, we had a picnic lunch surrounded by snow-capped mountains and then the rain was back. Just as we were reaching the national park, rain turned to hail and then into an epic lightning storm, which we ended up get caught right in the middle of. We could see the lightening hit the ground around us and hear the thunder crack directly overhead…it was half exciting and half terrifying.

On the other side of the storm we stopped in a volcano crater (4900m above sea level) and got to see the geysers blowing steam and see sulfur mud pits bubble. It smelt like rotten eggs and even though there were danger signs, our guide reassured us it wasn’t that dangerous, as the sulfur was mixed with water…so we could walk around them and take photos!?!

We arrived at our hostel just before dinner where we discovered they had a bar and hot springs. Unfortunately they only had red wine, so Lynden had to drink mine and then he headed down to the hot springs (with his cast wrapped in a plastic bag) with some of the others in the group to relax. There was no way you were getting me back outside into the cold after I had warmed up, so I curled up in bed and got an early night.

On day 3 after a pancake breakfast (where we discovered the amazingness of Dolce de Leche aka caramel spread) we were back on the road again, driving through the empty desert and taking in the beautiful views of the mountains around us. We made one short stop at the Green Lagoon (which wasn’t green) to take a few final photos, before we headed to the Chilean border. Well the border crossing was certainly an experience! In the middle of the desert was a small brick building and nothing much else either side or around it. We queued up in the freezing cold for about 20 minutes where a man behind a desk stamped our passports (without looking to make sure they were ours). We then sat waiting in the car for over an hour for our bus to get into Bolivia from Chile. Once onboard we drove 10 minutes through no mans land and joined a queue of 12 mini buses, where we sat again for another hour. Eventually we reached the front and were signaled inside of what looked like a giant drive through garage, once inside the doors in front and behind us closed and we were in the dark. Off the bus we got and into a room for our Chile entry stamp, then to security where they patted down our bags, asked if we had ‘fruta’ and sent us back to the bus. The garage doors reopened and we were free to go and we had officially arrived in Chile.

Within 25 minutes we had gone from the icy cold of the Chilean border to the hot and sunny town of San Pedro de Atacama. We fell in love with the place instantly, but unfortunately we only had a few hours here (just enough time for a burger and to buy a shot glass) before it was time to get back on another bus and move on.

Next stop a quick flight over to Santiago.

Posted by sdyzart 18:01 Archived in Bolivia Tagged landscapes mountains skylines animals birds honeymoon travel bolivia south_america mrandmrs

A Visit to Poo Island

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We finally made it to back to Lima! We arrived at our hotel just as our tour group briefing was beginning, so thankfully even with the 28 hour delay we didn’t miss anything. For the next 21 days we will be a group of 19 travelling together from Lima to La Paz.

After a good nights sleep in Lima (finally in a room with a fan! whoop whoop) and a lazy morning, we made the 3 hour drive down to Paracas. Our guide (Jesus) had said we were going on a ‘public bus’, so in all of our minds we were expecting a mini van, too many people and some chickens. BUT what we actually got was a pretty swanky coach, with comfy reclining seats, snacks, an onboard bathroom and movies – it certainly wasn’t a bad way to travel!

Paracas is on the coast, so we arrived into a sea-side town to find water front restaurants and lots of souvenir shops. We had a short wander around, watched the sunset and then had a group dinner together at a roof top restaurant. Our group is a great mix of nationalities – 3 Aussies, 1 Kiwi, 2 Irish, 5 English, 4 Scandinavian, 2 European, 1 Canadian and our Peruvian guide. There are 3 couples in the group (which we were relieved about) and ages range from 22 to mid 30’s, so we are excited for a pretty fun trip ahead.

The next morning a small group of us headed to the harbour to visit the Ballastas Islands, which is a national reserve approx. 30 min by boat from shore. We learnt once we had boarded and set sail that they island is also known as ‘poo island’ due to the number of birds that are there and wowzers it certainly lived up to it’s name! It smelt horrendous. However it was worth the stink to see all the wildlife – penguins, sealions and Peruvian boobies (which is a type of seabird). There were hundreds of all of them, nearly every inch of the rock formations were covered in some kind of animal.

After sailing around the islands for about an hour we headed back to land and then it was already time to pack our bags and move on to the next place.

Next stop Ica and Nasca.

Posted by sdyzart 16:46 Archived in Peru Tagged animals birds boats honeymoon #travel paracus #southamerica #peru #mrandmra

Monkeys, Mud and Jungle Life

all seasons in one day
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With the way this honeymoon is going, I don’t think we will ever adjust to South American time, as once again we were up at the crack of dawn, this time to catch a short flight over to Puerto Maldonado to see the Amazon Jungle.

Once we landed we had to take a 25 min boat ride up river to get to our lodge and it felt like something out of Indiana Jones. It was nothing but thick jungle either side of us and a brown river in front and behind. When we arrived at our home for the next 5 days we were greeted by a series of small thatched roof huts, dotted around a central lodge and 2 noisy resident macaws.

After we dropped our bags off, there was no time to waste as we were heading into the jungle to check out the local flora and fauna. Before we get to our jungle adventures, I want to set the scene a little of the Amazon:

1) It’s wet and muddy…everywhere and all the time.
2) It’s very very humid.
3) For a hayfever sufferer (aka me), the Amazon is the equivalent to sticking your head in a giant bag of freshly cut grass and pollen.

So taking all the above into consideration, I can confirm that for the last 5 days we have looked hot stinking messes and my nose resembles Rudolphs thanks to my allergies. There is nothing glamorous about this part of our honeymoon!

Our first hike started at the back of the lodge, where we learnt about the local wildlife, dodged giant ants and saw weird and wonderful plants in including one called a Walking Tree, which actually moves so it can get more sunlight (although it only walks about 20cm per year). We also were told that there are lots of poisonous and biting things in the jungle, so we should be careful. Of course Lynden ignored this and every time I turned around he was picking something up or touching something else *sigh*. Shortly after our return at sunset, the skies opened up and it was torrential rain for the next 13 or so hours! Needless to say, we got very little sleep because the rain was so bloody loud.

On day 2 we were off in the boat at 7am in the search of monkeys! Thanks to all the rain, the jungle trek was more like a swamp hike and one serious legs workout! After just 5 minutes of hiking we came across a family of howler monkeys, curled up and sound asleep in a tree. We hiked for about an hour to get to the stream that led to a lake in the middle of the jungle but en route we saw a family of brown capuchin monkeys as well as some incredible looking butterflies in all sorts of colours. We jumped into a boat and headed through the thick over hanging jungle out to the lake and what a morning we had! We saw more brown capuchin monkeys, a family of nearly 200 squirrel monkeys, various birds and then just as we were heading back towards the stream we saw something in the water swimming towards us. It wasn’t long until our eyes adjusted and we realized it was a black caiman. To start with we were excited, but this thing didn’t stop, it swam right up to the boat and then cruised it’s way up and down checking us all out, which became very unnerving. Now when I say boat, I don’t mean speedboat or something that kept us well above the surface of the water, I mean boat as in a small canoe with 6 tourists and 3 guides sat in it. The caiman was about 2.5m long, but you could see it eyeing up each one of us as it moved along the boat. It was clearly trying to suss out how it was going to get its breakfast that morning. As we headed back towards shore (caiman in tow for at least 10 minutes) we continued to see more birds, turtles and another small group of squirrel monkeys.

It felt like we had been out all afternoon, but we were back at the lodge by midday. After lunch and a short rest, it was time to head out again, this time through the jungle to a 47m high viewing platform to spot birds. And again we weren’t disappointed. We saw vultures, a pigmy owl, a toucan, macaws, as well as various parakeets and parrots. The wildlife safari didn’t stop there either, when we got back to the lodge, we had an hour to freshen up and then it was back out on the boat at dusk to see what nocturnal creatures we could spot. Within about 5 minutes we came across a group of capybara (giant guinea pigs – the largest mammals in the Amazon), followed by white caiman and turtles. It was an exhausting day and we were sound asleep by 9pm!

Day 3 we were up at 5am and hiking into the jungle to a ‘clay lick’, which is a clay wall where the local birds go every AM to eat the clay. They do this to line their stomachs and protect them against all the poisonous berries and insects that they may eat in the Amazon. It was an amazing thing to witness, we arrived just after sunrise, when the jungle was quiet and then slowly as the sun rose we heard the jungle awake. Minute by minute more noises began and soon we started to see birds flying into the distant trees and their chirping begin. We were waiting for the dusky headed parakeet to join us and eventually after lots of chirping and flying from branch to branch they suddenly all descended on the clay lick and the noise was almost deafening. Back at the lodge we had breakfast and then were back out in the boat again, this time to a local farm where we got to try various jungle fruits, none of which we had ever heard of and most of which we didn’t like the taste of, but we did get to see a family of night monkeys curled up in a bamboo tree and hold a macaw. From there we visited a traditional Amazonian tribe, where we tried shooting a bow and arrow, attempted (and failed) to spin cotton and watched the tribe leader start a fire. By lunchtime we were exhausted and luckily there were no activities scheduled for the PM, so we did nothing for most of the afternoon and then got a massage just before dinner.

On day 4, shock horror we were up at 4.30am (they do love their early starts here) and headed out on the boat again, this time to do a tree top canopy walk. The suspension bridge to get up to the viewing platform would have failed every health and safety requirement back home. That thing was old, rickety and I seriously expected to die while I was climbing up! Luckily the death trap held out and we spent the next few hours looking out over the tops of the trees for birds and watching a very lazy family of howler monkeys sleeping (they didn’t get up until 9.30am). The canopy walk is built within an animal refuse center, so we also were able to see up close some of the animals that were in rehabilitation and waiting to be released back into the wild. It was mainly monkeys and birds but they did also have a puma – which we must have been no more than a meter away from when we got to her enclosure. She was huge and looked pretty pissed off to have us stood there looking at her. As the refuse center is in the middle of the jungle it naturally attracts wildlife (who come to steal food) so as well as the captive animals we also got to see more howlers monkeys and 2 adorable little tamarin monkeys (Lynden wanted to keep one) up close. Our afternoon was spent in the pool (even when the dark clouds rolled in and the skies opened up), we just stayed in the water and chilled and then sat at the bar with the 2 barman trying to have a conversation, even though they didn’t really speak English and we don’t really speak Spanish. BUT we were there for 2 hours attempting to talk and laughing a lot. Then just when we thought our day couldn’t get any better, our guides points out a pigmy armadillo to us, just behind our room! The jungle has seriously delivered on the animal front.

Day 5 meant it was sadly time to leave the lodge and head back to Puerto Maldonado to get our flight to Lima. Unfortunately when we arrived at the airport, the airline informed us that the flight was cancelled and in short they weren’t going to do anything about it to help us or rebook us on another flight, so we should make alternative arrangements with another airline. There are only 3 flights that leave Puerto Maldonado a day, so of course there were no seats lefts that day, which meant we were stuck in the town for a night, which was very uneventful.

Now we attempt again to take a flight back to Lima to start our 21 day group tour of Peru. Fingers crossed this flight goes ahead!

Posted by sdyzart 07:30 Archived in Peru Tagged trees animals birds monkeys honeymoon travel peru jungle amazon southamerica

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