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Reunions


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Another silly early start as we headed to the airport to catch a flight to Buenos Aires and to be reunited with SO many awesome people from our Peru tour. Unfortunately we didn’t get the same welcome as our Mendoza hotel, our BA hotel said we could store our bags but to come back at 3pm to check-in. So bags stored we headed out to check out a market that runs every Sunday and this thing never seemed to end – it was easily 6 blocks long with stalls on both sides of the street and little side alley extensions jutting out along the way.

2 blocks in, our noses picked up the scent of something amazing and lead us astray into a colourful little food court with a giant bbq that was flame grilling huge cuts of steak and chorizo sausages – of course that was lunch sorted! Bellies full and back in the market we ended up bumping into Karolina and Brigitte from our Peru tour and made plans for pre-dinner drinks that night.

It was such a nice evening and felt just like the beginning of our tour, after pre-drinks we went for dinner at an Italian restaurant, where we were also joined by Viktoria, Holly, Shane and Niamh. After a ridiculously huge dinner and being 2 or 3 drinks in, most of us were ready for a night out on the town. In all honesty I don’t remember the finer details after that point, there was $2 bottles of champagne, card games, a live musician, vodka red bulls, maybe a few shots, a very long taxi ride to the other side of town, more drinks and then a 2 hour queue outside to get into a club which never moved and at around 3am we gave up and came home.

The next morning I woke up drunk so Lynden sent me back to bed and off he went out for lunch to say goodbye to Shane and Niamh who were flying home to Ireland the next day. Once I had slept off the alcohol we headed out to explore a place called La Boca, which was a colourful district across town. Walking around there was not a single normal coloured building, every one was multi-coloured and many decorated with weird looking mannequins (we never did work out why). Our evening was very low key – Lynden had a giant calzone, which was easily enough for 3 people and probably contained a 1kg of cheese.

For our final day in Buenos Aires we had a very lazy morning (which has been a rare treat this honeymoon) and then got ourselves all dressed up for a fancy lunch at a steak restaurant called Don Julio. We both ordered steak, but different ones and unfortunately (through no fault of my own), the waiter might have given me Lyndens steak by accident, but we have no way of proving that for sure. Anyway my meal was bloody beautiful and Lyndens was average. Luckily the chocolate mousse and a glass of port turned his frown upside down.

After lunch and a quick visit to the local market to stock up on dulce de leche with Brigitte and Viktoria, we freshened up and headed out to catch a tango show. We were driven just outside of the city to a place called Senor Tango and were taken into a giant theatre that looked like a cross between Moulin Rouge and The Greatest Showman. Dinner was average but the show was amazing, firstly it started with 2 white horses being ridden around the stage and then there were flames, an orchestra (which included a guy playing an accordion), lots and lots of tango dancing, a weird mannequin accordion player floating about the stage, a guy that we thought would never stop singing and a spanish version of ‘don’t cry for me Argentina’. It was such a fun way to finish our time in BA.

Next stop a ferry ride for 48 hours in Uruguay!

Posted by sdyzart 07:19 Archived in Argentina Tagged mountains parties markets honeymoon city party argentina tango buenos_aires south_america steak mrandmrs don_julio

Mountains, Wine and Mud


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Our bus from Santiago to Mendoza was going to take about 8 hours, so to save time and the cost of a nights accommodation I booked us on another night bus. In hindsight what I completely forgot was that we were changing countries so we would need to go through border control and wow what a joy that was at 2.30am!

We had tried to ask at the bus depot how long it took to get to the border and of course things got lost in translation, so at around 1am we gave up trying to stay awake and attempted to sleep, roll on 2.30am and on comes all the lights and we are told to get off the bus. Another queue (in the cold), another stamp and then we are sent around the corner (still outside) to queue for at least 45 minutes for our bags to be checked. Cold, tired and a little delusional at this point we finally see the queue start moving, only to get through to see our bags are not there, which was good news because the Argentinian border control only check a select few bags (security seems to be getting more blaize the more borders we cross) and we were told we could get back on the bus and onwards to Mendoza we went.

We arrived at the bus depot in the middle of nowhere at around 7am and realised we had entered Argentina without any local currency, there was no cash machine and taxis didn’t allow you to pay by card #rookymistake #weshouldknowbetterbynow. By pure luck as we were walking gormlessly around the station we heard a shady voice say ‘cambio’ (which means ‘exchange’) and we were saved.

As our stay in Mendoza was over my birthday we had decided to treat ourselves to a nice hotel and we certainly noticed the improvement on customer service compared to a hostel. Firstly they served bacon at breakfast (dream come true) and secondly even though check-in was meant to be at 3pm, they had us in our room by 9am. Of course the first thing we did was shower and rest after that awful night on the bus.

Once we were back in the land of the living we headed out to explore and were delighted to find a huge supermarket, which had a proper cheese aisle. There was only one thing to do, buy cheese, meats, crackers and wine to have for dinner that night. We haven’t had good cheese in SO long. Right next to our hotel we came across a little vegetarian Indian restaurant, so decided to stop there for lunch (again we can’t remember the last time we had a decent curry) and the food was to die for, I felt like I was right back in India again.

After a night of not doing much other than eating cheese and drinking wine, we were up early for day 1 of my birthday celebrations, which was a trip to the Andes. Obviously we booked this a while ago and in hindsight if we had known how long we would spend on buses while in South America, I don’t think we would have booked ourselves on to an 8 hour bus tour. Also after seeing Rainbow Mountain and Machu Picchu in Peru and the snow capped mountain ranges in Bolivia, the Andes would need to be something pretty spectacular to impress us. If we had taken this tour in winter when it was snowing I think we would have found them beautiful, unfortunately they were just big brown mountains with boarded up ski resorts around them.

To get into the Andes, we had to go through the pre-Andes and mid-Andes (spoiler alert – they all look the same) and along the way there is very little else to see. We stopped at the Mendoza dam, which took 6 years to fill when it was built (all the water being taken from the Mendoza river) and an Incan ruin sulphur town, which was a very weird yellow ice looking thing. From there we continued to drive the winding roads into the mountains and back to over 4000m above sea level.

At the top we were right between Argentina and Chile, represented by a small Christ of the Redeemer and each countries flags. Being so high up it was crazy windy and the dust partials whipped your skin, so we took a few quick photos and then sort shelter in the small souvenir shop there. We napped for most of the drive back and had a chilled evening in (eating more cheese and wine).

Birthday celebrations day 2 was one of things I had been looking most forward to, a private tour of the Mendoza wine region. Our guide Solly picked us up in a swanky salon car and off we headed to our first winery, Casarena, which had been producing wine since 1937. By 9.30am we were half way through our first glass of rose, sat in the gardens and learning all about the wine making process. We got to visit the fermentation room, sample some of the wines that were fermenting and then do a wine tasting of red wines from different years to compare how the flavours developed. I have never liked red wine, but I think Argentinian Malbec may convert me!

At 11am (and 6 wines down) we headed to the next winery, Dante Robino, which was even older and had been established in 1920. Here we were welcomed with a beautiful sweet sparkling wine and taken on a tour of their old and new cellars. After a history lesson on the process of making red, wine, sparkling and champagne, it was our turn to have a go at creating our own blend of red wine. This is where my inexperienced palate of drinking red let me down because I had no clue what I was doing and mine tasted disgusting. Lynden however nailed the blending and won hands down in the judging, which meant he got to make and name his own bottle of wine…which he called Aussie La Creacion (Aussie Creation) and while he was doing that I had the task of writing the label.

Onwards from here we visited a gorgeous winery called Renacer for a 5 course lunch and 5 more glasses of wine. The food, the setting, the wine; everything was divine!

Thank goodness for all the food because we had a 4th winery to visit before heading home, the last one was called Trez Wines and was owned by 3 friends and was a little more rustic and simple, here we did wine and chocolate pairing and really just sat around the table with our guide and the sommelier talking and drinking. It was here that we bought a 2015 Malbec (the year we met) and planned to cellar it until our 10-year wedding anniversary (I am hoping within the next 10 years I will become a red wine lover).

When we got home we had to have a little rest to let all the food and wine go down, but the day wasn’t finished there as we had a reservation at 1884, which is owned by celebrity chef Francis Mallman. The restaurant was beautiful, we sat outside in the garden, which was surrounded by purple flowering bushes and lime trees, with fairy lights above us and to the side was the outside kitchen where all the meat was being cooked. We started with a glass of sparkling wine (because it would have been rude not to) and shared a delicious octopus entrée and a pan-fried goats cheese salad. For mains we both had steak (obviously), mine came with crispy bacon, avocado and mascarpone cheese, Lyndens came with Patagonian potatoes and a tomato salad. Needless to say it took us a while to eat it all, but we weren’t going to let any go to waste. Absolutely stuffed we decided not to have dessert, totally forgetting that we had told them it was my birthday, so out came dessert anyway with a candle in it. It was 2 shortbread biscuits, filled with dulce de leche and dunked in chocolate with ice cream. It was of course delightful and we forced ourselves to eat it the entire thing.

Our last day in Mendoza was spent at Termas Cacheuta, which is a thermal spa in the pre-Andes. The day was as you expect we sat in the hot spring pools, gave ourselves a mud bath, had a massage and then a big bbq lunch, then got back into the hot spring pools again. It was a tough day. In the evening, we had sushi for dinner and rolled into bed before 10pm.

It has been a jam-packed 4 days in Mendoza, next we head over to Buenos Aires to be reunited with some of our new friends from our Peru tour.

Posted by sdyzart 18:26 Archived in Argentina Tagged mountains honeymoon argentina wine spa mendoza south_america andes thermal_baths mrandmrs

Colourful Valpo


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Returning back to Santiago we were excited to be able to meet up with Dries, who was on our 21 day tour through Peru. I convinced the boys that we should take the bus for 1.5 hours over to the town of Valparaiso for the day, which from the photos and what I had read, it was a beautiful and colourful UNESCO seaside town.

Well the morning didn’t quite go as planned, the taxi driver dropped us at the wrong station and then when we finally got to the right station, the bus ended up leaving 10 minutes late, which meant we arrived in Valpo 40 minutes after the walking tour we wanted to do started. We thought our luck had changed when the tourist information kiosk said they had a city tour that covered all of Valparaiso and also visited Vina del Mar, so we booked our tickets and waited for the bus…which didn’t come…so the guide sent us to get a coffee…30 minutes later we returned and still no bus. So an hour into our day at Valpo and we hadn’t seen much more than the bus depot, BUT finally the bus arrived and took us to the harbour where we would meet our guide. The harbour smelt terrible and wasn’t something we would consider worth looking at, yet our guide said we had 20 minutes to ‘explore’. We ended up being there for nearly 45 minutes while one family spent forever walking around. Eventually we were on the tour bus and ready to see Valpo…well we were the only English speaking people on the bus and every time the guide gave the explanation in English everyone else on the bus started talking, so we didn’t really get much of an explanation at what we were looking at.

In short there isn’t much to write about, we went and saw the colourful street art and drove around the town. We stopped for lunch with a view of the shipping harbour and the food was terrible. We took what felt like the worlds oldest cable car down the side of a mountain and questioned if it would really pass a health and safety check! Then was back on the bus to see Vina del Mar which had a clock made of flowers and an average looking beach - we were pretty disappointed.

We headed back to Santiago around 4pm and wished we had spent the day doing something else, but it was at least nice to catch up with Dries for the day.

Now its time to board our final night bus and head into Argentina and to celebrate my birthday in Mendoza.

Posted by sdyzart 12:43 Archived in Chile Tagged honeymoon chile santiago south_america valparaiso mrandmrs

MOAI MOAI MOAI MOAI aaaaaahahaha


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I don’t think I could contain my excitement as we started to descend on to Easter Island, I have my face pressed up against the window desperate to get my first glimpse of the island.

When we landed and got off the plane, it felt like we had arrived at a tropical holiday destination. It was boiling hot, bright blue skies and palm trees everywhere. You can drive around the entire of Easter Island within about 90 minutes, so we arrived at our hotel in less than 10 minutes after leaving the airport.

We were excited to hear that we had arrived during the middle of carnival, so we should head down to the main street to watch the parade at 5pm. What we learnt this day and as we experienced for the entire time we were on Easter Island is that the locals have no bloody clue when it comes to what time things happen. 5pm rolled around, then 5.30pm, then 6pm, then 6.30pm – but this point we were bored out of our minds sat on the side of the road waiting. There were plenty of people dressed up (well more like undressed) walking along the road to join the parade and we could hear a band but nothing much else happening. At 7.15pm we decided to go and find the parade ourselves, as it was just taking too long. At the other end of the street we finally found the band who were being lead by a truck, which was moving about 2 meters, stopping, letting the band play 2 or 3 songs while men (wearing nothing more than a modesty towel and body paint) performed a dance similar to the hakka, then they moved forward again and repeated the process. If we hadn’t of gone to find the parade I don’t think they would have passed our original spot until about 8pm.

Following the band were carnival floats depicting the islands history, more dancers, other bands and lots of tourists half naked dressed up and joining in the fun. It was certainly a sight to see!

The following day we had a private tour booked to explore all over the island and hear about the ‘Easter Island heads’ which we now know are called Moai. We were told so much, I don’t even know where to start…

1) The island was formed by 3 volcanoes erupting over 750,000 years ago.
2) The island was inhabited in around 400AD by people from (they believe) French Polynesia who’s island was sinking and they needed to find a new home.
3) The Rapa Nui people consisted of 15 clans and around 40 people per clan (so approx. 600 inhabited the island at the beginning). Each clan was ruled by a clan leader, they had their own territories, they were all ruled by 1 king and all lived in harmony for around 500 years.
4)The Moai were ordered by clans to be built in memory of their past clan leaders.
5) The clans paid the builders in food and water (it was considered an honour to build a Moai).
6) Each Moai took 9 months to carve then up to a year to transport to its platform on the island.
7) The Moai were carved directly out of the mountain side and then slid down to the bottom of the quarry using logs and rope, from there the detail was finished and then they were moved to the clans.
8) On average a Moai could weigh up to 75 tons.
9) The Moai you see on the postcards that look like heads, are all at the quarry where they were carved, these ones were still in production or about to be moved.
10) They have found 887 MOAI on the island to date, only 288 reached their final destination, 397 were at the quarry and 92 were in transit.
11) Moai that reached their platform were given eyes made of coral and obsidian, which they believed held the power of the dead clan leader it represented.
12) All Moai face inwards to the island to watch over the clan, except one platform of 7 Moai which face the sea, these represent the 7 explorers who found the island.
13) A number of the Moai have a red stone top knot (which looks like a hat) which was carved at a different quarry. It was created much bigger than required then rolled to the platform, by the time if arrived it had worn down enough to be the right size to fit on the head.
We learnt all of this just within the first hour of the tour, as you can imagine we had a million questions for our guide Hugo, who had been studying the Rapi Nui culture for 38 years.

Just before lunch we visited the quarry where the largest number of Moai are, here we learnt more about the demise of the people.

1) Those of importance (royals, clan leaders, sharmans) were forbidden to cut their nails or hair and were not allowed to work. They tired their hair in top knots and held it in place with red clay (hence why some Moai have the red stone top-knots)
2) As the population grew food became scarce (they over farmed and pretty much cut down all their trees for moving the Moai).
3) The last king was considered crazy, he ordered all the best food to be sent to the royal family and what was left was for the people to fight over.
4) He also wanted to have the biggest Moai, one was carved at 9 metres tall but he said it was too small and ordered it to be broken, the second was 15m, which was also too small. The third was 22m tall but was never completed as a civil war broke out, due to the lack of food and the last king’s wishes.
5) The civil war wiped out most of the population, ALL of the erected Moai were pushed over and their eyes removed and broken to remove the clans power from its past leaders.
6) All of the Moai that are now standing are due to various restoration projects over the years.
7) At the end of the war only 111 people remained and all were related or too old to have children, so many women slept with foreign visitors to the island in order to regrow the population.
8) The production of Moai did not continue after the war (due to the lack of people and skills) and the fallen Moai were left broken, in transit or at the quarry were nature grew over and around them (hence why they look like just heads). Some Moai at the quarry are now completely covered by vegetation.

Mind blown – we finished the day with a visit to Anekena (the believed landing place of the Rapi Nui people), which is now the islands beach resort. We kicked back in deck chairs with the best pina coladas we have ever tasted and then went into the ocean, which was like a warm bath.
The next day we were back out again to learn more about what happened after the civil war, we headed to Orongo on the south west end of the island, which is where to bird man competitions were held.

1) After the fall of the last king, the birdman competition was introduced. Which saw a warrior challenge take place each September to select a new ruler.
2) Each clan leader and a select delegation travelled to Orongo in Sept, here they each put forward a warrior representative for the competition.
3) The warriors had to climb down the cliff face, swim 1.5km to a small island and wait for the manutara birds to nest and lay their first egg of the season. They had to capture this egg, swim back to the mainland and climb back up the cliff. The first to do so won the competition and their clan leader then became the new king.
4) This competition ran until around 1867.

Our tour on day 2 finished around lunchtime and we were dropped at a local restaurant for the most amazing (and expensive) lunch. I had sweet potato gnocchi with shredded beef and Lynden had a beef linguine. The afternoon weather was heavy rain, so we didn’t do much else.
For our final day we had a lazy morning and then hired a car to explore more of the island, we revisited some of the Moai from the day before which we hadn’t been able to see well due to the rain, headed back up to the beach for another pina colada and then watched the sunset over the Aku Akapu Moai near the harbour.

Early the next morning we headed back to Aku Tongariki (home of 15 Moai which represented the 15 clans) to watch the sunset. The lady at the car hire place had told us the sun rose at 7am, which we should have checked given the experience we had with the carnival start time…but we didn’t. 90 minutes later we were still stood in front of the Moai waiting for the sun to rise. Around 8.45am we decided it had risen enough and we could go and get breakfast.

Sadly after breakfast it was time to head back to the hotel, check our and head to the airport. It was around this time that Lynden realised his boarding pass said ‘premium business class’, I checked mine and it also said the same! I knew this was an error (I knew I had booked discount economy) so was convinced that when we dropped our bags off they would realise and move us back into cattle class, but nothing was said. We held our breath as we boarded the plane and then they told us to turn left rather than right and then there we were in business class, being given a glass of champagne, big fluffy blankets and a seat that fully reclined into a bed!

It was an awesome way to wrap up our stay on Easter Island, now we head back to Santiago for 1 more day of exploring.

Posted by sdyzart 09:17 Archived in Chile Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises honeymoon chile south_america easter_island mrandmrs

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

Tragedy in La Paz


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We arrived into La Paz around 3pm and found the border crossing was suprisingly easy. The security check was blasé, they asked if we had fruit, patted our bags and then sent us on our way. Whilst on route to our our new hotel, we had to say goodbye to our Peruvian guide, Jesus, as he wasn't allowed to work in Bolivia (#country_conflict #war).

We got into our new hotel (which absolutely stunk of varnish, so bad we had to change rooms as we both could hardly breathe), dropped our bags off and headed into the "English" pub next door for a feed as we were starving. Whilst we were in the pub, our new tour guide, Ruben, described the optional activities - of course Lynden heard 'Bolivian Death Road' and signed straight up...which given his track record with injuries, it probably wasn't the best idea. I passed on the mountain biking, but signed us both up for the city tour the follow day.

The next part of the blog is written by Lynden...

Woke up at 5.30am, met the rest of the crew in the foyer at 6am. Our group had 6 in total (4 girls, 2 guys and 3 of those were Aussie). We made our way through the city and after collecting our protective gear and driving for an hour, we arrived at the top of the Death Road. After a quick briefing we were ready to start heading down the 63km road, where we would go from 4700m above sea level to 1200m. To start with we headed down a tarmac road (slowly at the beginning, while we got comfortable, but quickly picking up pace). The views were amazing and the adrenaline certainly got pumping. That high up, our hands were freezing and going at a fast speed was definitely intense. After 45 mins we got back in the van to take us up a steep hill (there was no way our lungs would have got us up there on the bikes at that altitude). 30 mins later at the next summit we moved on to the original Death Road, which consisted of loose rock, pot holes, winding roads, waterfalls, stream crossings, more amazing views and about a million photo opportunities. It was thrilling, scary, intense and definitely a ride to remember.

90 minutes later we stopped for a rest and snack and had the opportunity to zipline, obviously I did it. And me being me, I decided to do it 'superman' style (harness on my back, face first). Regretted it for a second, but as soon as I was over the edge, flying over the Bolivian rainforest, my inner superman kicked in and I loved it.

Back on the bikes we continued for another hour and a half and then tragedy struck...

Coming into the SECOND TO LAST corner, I was going a bit too fast, trying to keep up with the tour guide (he was showing off), I hit a pot hole as I went around the corner and lost control of my bike and accidentally put on both brakes, causing me to go flying over the handlebars with the bike crashing on top of me. Joey (the other Aussie guy with us) was a tad too close and crashed into me and also went flying. I knew I had broken my wrist and Joey knew he had broken his collarbone. We dusted ourselves off and all of us got back into the van and headed to hospital (an 1.5 hour drive), where doctors confirmed after X-rays we had in fact broken the bones we thought we had. Luckily for me, I was put into a cast (not my first time, but my fourth time) but unluckily for Joey he required surgery and a plate to be put in. The hardest thing was having to tell Stacey that I was in hospital and I had broken my wrist, but she took it well, met us at the hospital and was surprisingly sympathetic.

Back to Stacey now...

I refused to give Lynden a sponge bath and we both agreed we would not let this ruin our honeymoon. In true Lynden style, instead of taking the painkillers he had been given, he decided beer was a better option and that we should go clubbing with the others in our tour group, as it was our last night together. The evening started with a curry, then back to the English pub for a few drinks (Lynden ended up with quadruple whisky and cokes, as the Bolivians can't measure their spirits) and after a round of 'never have I ever', 11 of us were heading to a nearby hostel for a rave/disco/par-tay. Many shots and drinks later, we found ourselves all dancing on tables, until around 3am when Lynden fell off the table and hit our friend Dries in the face with his cast, as the party was wrapping up, we all agreed it was time to go home.

6 hours later we had to go on a city tour and good god did we regret signing up for it. It was agony, plus the tour was terrible too. We took a cable car up and down, went to the witches market where they sold all sorts of pills and potions inc llama fetuses and some weird aphrodisiac formulas and visited Valley of the Moon...which was a lot of natural limestone pillars and according to Neil Armstrong it looks very similar to the moon. We walked around like zombies and then 3/4 of the way through we called it quits and left - we didn't have the energy or patience for anymore. After a nap, some water and a couple of paracetamol, we finally felt like humans again and joined our group for a final farewell lunch.

A few hours later, it was time to say goodbye and part ways with everyone, after what felt like a bucket load of tears we grabbed our bags and headed out solo to the bus station.

Next stop Uyuni for 3 days exploring the Salt Flats.

Posted by sdyzart 12:35 Archived in Bolivia Tagged landscapes mountains honeymoon travel bolivia south_america mountain_biking death_road mrandmrs

Awkward Conversations


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Disclaimer: We have skipped a blog post for our 2 days back in Cusco as on the way home from MP I started to feel unwell, by the time we arrived back in Cusco I was on deaths door. There was very little to write about as I was in bed with flu and poor Lynden ran around getting me medicine and soup for 2 days.

Getting out of bed was still hard today as I wasn’t feeling any better and the medicine the doctor had prescribed had given me the weirdest restless dreams. Luckily we had an 389km coach journey down to Puno, where I slept most of the way.

We spent a low key evening in Puno gathering groceries for our upcoming home stay with a local family on an island on lake Titicaca (the highest navigable lake in the world).

Feeling a little better we headed outside into the rain and boarded a tuk-tuk with no roof and drove down to the docks in the wind and cold. Sure enough I was back to feeling terrible by the time we arrived. We boarded the slowest boat ever and chugged along the lake for about an hour until we found the floating villages. These things were insane, mainly entirely of reeds tied on top of each other, with reed huts build on top of that for the families to live in. The locals don’t wear shoes and the floor is like you would expect - soggy rotting grass, so it doesn’t smell the best and every step you struggle to keep your balance.

The tour of the village was very quick, as there were only 6 identical huts per village. We then had the chance to try on their local dress...definitely not a fashion we will be taking back home with us!

From the village we had a 2.5hr boat ride to an island for lunch, where I slept the entire way, which didn’t really make me feel any better. When we arrived, our guide claimed the trout we would be having for lunch would be the best we would ever have...we can confirm the fish in Aus is better!

After lunch it was another hour on the boat over to the next island, which would be our home for the night. At the docks we were greeted by our host families (who didn’t speak English) and then taken to the local school (followed by the local band) where the gringos vs the locals at soccer. Our team actually didn’t do too bad, considering they had never played at altitude before - they even won a couple of games! After the game we were all dressed up in traditional clothing (still not a fashion ild wear back home) and attempted a traditional dance - thankfully it was mainly just turning and side stepping - so I think we nailed it!

That evening we had dinner with our host families and Lynden and I realised we knew even less Spanish than we thought, after saying hello and introducing ourselves we didn’t have any relevant vocab to have a conversation. Thankfully they had an 18 month old called Marco, so we mainly just talked to him in random Spanish words that we knew.

In the morning, the language barrier awkwardness continued at breakfast. Our guide had told the family I wasn’t well so they didn’t really let us help with the daily chores. We washed up and peeled potatoes and then were sent for a rest, we came back, peeled more potatoes, went for a walk and then had a final quiet awkward lunch. We did try and make conversation but our family mainly just smiled and say si. After lunch we were sent for another rest, where we sat in our room and waited until it was time to leave. We couldn’t get back to our slow boat quick enough! On the way back we had the chance to jump in the lake. Of course Lynden was all for it and jumped off the highway point of the boat, he quickly realised it was freezing cold and got straight back out.

Back on the mainland I was still feeling horrendous, so the doctor was called to come and see me again, he advised I had bronchitis so needed a new concoction of medication to make me better. So off to bed I went and stayed for the evening, with poor Lynden having to run around again to get me medicine and soup.

Tomorrow we make the 8 hour coach trip to La Paz and into Bolivia.

Posted by sdyzart 15:19 Archived in Peru Tagged landscapes mountains lakes honeymoon travel southamerica mrandmrs

Following the Path of The Incas


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The day had finally arrived, it was time to start our 4 day hike to Machu Picchu. Luckily we had a fleet of around 30 porters who would be carrying our tents, food and sleeping bags, plus 2.5kg of our personal belongings (which equates to a few t-shirts, clean underwear, toothbrush and maybe a spare jumper). We just needed to carry our water, snacks, camera and waterproofs. Even though we would only be carrying around 4kg-8kg each (the porters carry 25kg each), we were still nervous about the hike ahead.

To get to KM82 (the start of the Inca trail) we first had to travel nearly 2 hours by bus to the town of Ollantaytambo, which was a gorgeous little colonial town in the Sacred Valley. We had the afternoon here to relax, explore and shop and a few of us decided to get a last minute mini training hike in and climbed the steps at the edge of the town to see some of the Incan ruins that were nestled in the mountain side. That evening after our big hearty meal and a large glass of wine, we all got an early night, the last good nights sleep we expected to have that week.

Up early, we grabbed our day bags and boarded onto the bus to head to KM82, which is where we met our guides Charlie and Marco, our leaders for the next 4 days and finally got to see just how huge the bags were that the porters carried. We instantly felt guilty for them having to carry our stuff (the oldest porter was 72!) but then we saw them pretty much sprint off, giant bags and all and it was obvious they were much fitter and used to the altitude than all of us combined.

Now it was our turn…

Day 1
We had 11km to cover and approx. 5.5 hours to do it. The first part was a slow incline from around 2650m to 2750m above sea level. The weather was good and we had a beautiful 2 course lunch prepared by the porters in T’arayoc before then doing some steep hiking to 3100m above sea level. It was around lunch time that the weather changed and down came the rain. The only up side to this is that it made us hike quicker and we arrived into camp nearly an hour early, but we then had to sit in our 2 person tents until dinner time. So it wasn’t a very eventful evening. The porters cooked up another tasty meal – quinoa soup, followed by chicken stir-fry with rice and hot tea. We when all tucked up in our sleeping bags before 9pm absolutely shattered.

Day 2
Great it’s raining and everything in the tent feels cold and damp – hooray. But there was no time to cry about that because today was going to be the hardest day of the hike and we were all dreading it. Today we had 12km of hiking to complete, climbing from 3100m to Dead Woman’s Pass at 4215m and then a very steep downhill hike to 3850m above sea level. It was cold, cloudy, windy and wet and we had 7 hours of hiking to get to camp. Our guide recommended we get up earlier and hike all the way and have lunch at camp, so we got day 2 done and dusted. By this stage we had all found our hiking rhythm and naturally split into 3 groups / hiking paces. I am proud to say, even though we are the oldest, Lynden and I were in the lead group. We powered off after an epically huge breakfast and reached the first resting point 20 minutes earlier than our guide expected. This gave us a boost and we excitedly hiked on and managed to reach the second resting point in 58 minutes instead of 2 hours. After a round of high fives, celebratory selfies and the boys purchasing a bottle of rum from a small refreshments stand, we wanted to push on and continue the climb to Dead Woman’s Pass (named purely because it looks like a dead woman’s profile…if you REALLY use your imagination). Lynden was also super motivated by this point, as we could see the path to the summit, but mainly because the profile included what looked like a boob with a giant nipple on it, so his goal was to reach that. Onwards and upwards we went into the cloud and mist and before we knew it we had reached the summit and in all honestly we couldn’t really believe it, but another tour guide confirmed that we had completed the worst of the climb and now we just had the steep hike down to camp.

Going down was harder than going up, our knees were sore and the rocks were steep and slippery, it slowed our pace a little but not by much and Lynden and I reached camp at 11.45am (finishing the days hiking in just 4hr 5min). We were thrilled and just as we arrived at camp the skies opened up and down came the rain. As we had arrived to camp so early, the porters were still setting up, so we managed to pile 5 of us into a 2 person tent to play UNO – which got sweaty and smelly very quickly. As it got closer to lunch time and more of our group arrived, we were able to take over the food tent and spent most of the afternoon in there playing cards and talking about the hike we had all just completed.

Due to the rain once again, the afternoon confined us to our tents, but everyone was exhausted, so we all welcomed the down time to rest. After an early dinner, we all happily got an early night as tomorrow was going to be a long day!

Day 3
We woke up AND it was still wet and rainy. Today we had 16km to cover and 9 hours to complete it in. The elevation to start with was small, just a 300m climb to 3900m above sea level and then an almost flat walk to lunch before a steep hike down to 2600m above sea level. Having powered through yesterday, today we took a more chilled approached and as the weather was a tiny bit better we were able to appreciate some of the views down over the valleys (which made a nice change from just looking at cloud). When we reached our lunch stop the sun was out, FINALLY and wow did we get a lunch – it was more like a degustation – the porters had gone all out with the most amazing dishes and then to top it all off they bought out a honeymoon / birthday cake for us and one of the girls in our group. It was a pretty impressive cake – especially considering they had baked it in a pot over a camp stove and decorated it in a tent on the side of a mountain.

Another reason we had to hike slower today is because this was the historic part of the trip, as we walked pass and through so many Incan ruins and each one was different, so our guide had tons of information to give us. The most impressive ruin was just outside of camp, a huge structure built into the side of the mountain and easily 300 steps from top to bottom. The photos don’t do it justice or convey just how big it was, but we were all pretty impressed and we knew this would be nothing compared to Machu Picchu!

Finally reaching camp in the sun, it was lovely not to have to hide away in our tents again. The porters bought around our daily bowl of warm water to freshen up in (they did this every AM when we woke up and every PM when we arrived at camp), we had a simple dinner and got an even earlier night, as tomorrow was the big day and we had to get up in the middle of the night to start hiking!

Day 4
The alarm went off at 3am, up we got and dressed in the dark with just a mini flashlight to help us find our clothes. At 3.30am we were having breakfast and just before 4am we were starting our hike in the dark to queue at the checkpoint to get into the sun gate. The checkpoint doesn’t open until 5.30am, but we were one of the first groups to arrive, so what did we do to kill the hour while we waited…played 10 player UNO by flashlight. It actually made the time fly by (we are all super brutal at this stage when we play) and it wasn’t long before we were through the checkpoint and making our way to the sungate, aka the ‘entrance’ to Machu Pichu. It was a 4km hike and we were all so excited, but it felt like forever to get there. One of the final parts before you enter Machu Pichu is what the guides call ‘the gringo killers’, a VERY steep set of steps. Lynden and I were first to climb them and our guide told us to take our time and not race…so of course we did the complete opposite and ran up them, trying to be faster than each other. It wasn’t a bad tactic as we got them over and done with within less than a minute.

It was then just a short walk until we were at Machu Pichu, we walked along the path, all of us excited and exhausted and ready to see this amazing wonder of the world. When we finally got there…all we could see was heavy cloud and not a bloody thing. Of course we were all devastated, but our guide said this was very normal at this time in the morning (it wasn’t even 8am yet). So we walked out of the Machu Picchu grounds and settled in at the overpriced café just outside and waited.

About 1.5 hours and 2 decent cups of tea later our guide returned and said it was time! So back inside we went and back along the path we walked, hoping that this time when we got to see the first glimpse of Machu Picchu, there was something more than cloud. OMG we were not disappointed, this mystical stone city lay in front of us, nestled amongst the mountain peaks. Bigger and more beautiful than anything we could imagine. It was hard not to cry at the incredible sight that laid before us. At this point our poor guide lost all control of us, as we went into photo and selfie taking mode, we all wanted a million photos from this view point. He finally rounded us all up again and got our attention and took us on a guided tour through some of the most impressive parts of the city. The skills the Incas had when it came to buildings, plumbing, construction was unreal. Our guide said that today archeologists and experts still don’t understand how the Incas were able to build Machu Picchu, man today doesn’t have the same skills as these people once did.
I think we could have spent all day walking around this place and learning about the Incas, but by 12pm, the fact that we hadn’t showered in 4 days and smelt half sweaty and half damp hit home and we needed to say goodbye to Machu Picchu and return to reality.

After a lunch in a proper restaurant rather than a tent with beer and wine rather than coca tea, we dragged ourselves to the station to make our way back to Cusco and a hot shower. The train journey was a few hours and probably the fanciest looking train I have ever been on, which made us feel even more dirty, but it was nothing that cards and UNO couldn’t help us forget!

Back in Cusco, it was a fight for a shower and then an early night and unfortunately I think I am getting sick.

Posted by sdyzart 06:40 Archived in Peru Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises mountains skylines people honeymoon travel peru inca southamerica mrandmrs

Hiking Rainbow Mountain


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Well the overnight bus into Cusco was horrendous – the roads were so bumpy and winding that we all got very little sleep. Good news was that when we arrived in Cusco we were able to check into out hostel straight away – hooray.

We loved Cusco from the moment we arrived, so much so that I only took 1 photo of the place! Our afternoon was spent exploring the main square, visiting the market and eating the most epic lunch at a place called Jacks (so epic that we went back there 4 times in a 2 day period).

Our Machu Picchu hike is now only a few days away and although we are experiencing the altitude we haven’t actually done any hikes this high up. So while in Cusco we signed up to hike Rainbow Mountain, a 3.5 hour hike (each way) which would take us to 5000m above sea level (a similar maximum height that we would reach while on the Inca trail).

So guess what, we got up at 4am and drove out into the mountains and hiked up Rainbow Mountain in the cold, wind, rain and snow. Was it hard? Hell yes! But did we do it? Hell yes! Was it worth it? Absolutely! The altitude, muddy/snowy ground meant we had to step carefully but it certainly was an exhausting achievement. The mountain itself was more earth tones than rainbow – but it was nothing that a good insta filter couldn’t fix! From there our group then took it one step further and hiked over to Red Valley, which had a stunning view across the snowy mountains and over the green and red valley (Personally I thought this was more beautiful that Rainbow Mountain).

Back at the bottom, we defrosted in the van and made the 2.5 hour drive back to Cusco. That evening we all felt pretty proud of ourselves and a little more confident that the 4-day hike ahead of us to Machu Picchu wasn’t going to be so bad after all.

Next stop Ollantaytambo to start the Inca Trail. Eek!

Posted by sdyzart 09:11 Archived in Peru Tagged landscapes mountains skylines snow honeymoon travel peru southamerica mrandmrs

Sacrifices and Australia Day


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We were back in Arequipa for just over 24 hours, but it was Australia Day so we had to make the most of it!

First thing we did was sleep in – FINALLY! Then after a healthy breakfast I headed to the Museo Santuarios Andios, which is home to the frozen mummy of "Juanita," who was sacrificed in the Andes in the 1500s. The history of the Incas was fascinating and also horribly sad, as children were a common sacrifice to the gods then. The most beautiful and healthiest of children were chosen and then taken on a pilgrimage into the mountains (which often took months) where they were then given as an offering to the gods in an attempt to appease them, hoping to ensure a good harvest or stop a natural disaster.

Juanita would have been between 12-15 years old when she made her pilgrimage, from what they found with her body on the mountain (baby shoes, bowls, gold and silver statues) it was believed that she would be reborn as a god and these items would help her in her next life. Even if she did believe this, I still can’t begin to think what must have been going through her mind as she trekked in the freezing cold and high altitude to her death.

When they reached the summit, there was a ceremony and she was dressed in the most lavish of clothing and gowns. It was believed by this point most of the children were close to death anyway from the hike itself and wouldn’t have been very coherent (you hope this was the case), but as part of the ceremony they were also given chicha (an alcoholic drink made from corn) to sedate them. After this Juanita was sat down in a burial hole and surrounded by the offerings, more blankets were placed around her and one final one over her head. I hope by this point she was unconscious, because to complete the sacrifice she was then struck on the head to kill her and then buried. It was heart breaking to hear her story and then see her mummy at the end of the tour. After the museum we were all ready for a stiff drink to shake off the sombre feeling that we all had.

Within the 90 minutes we had been at the museum, the boys had managed to find a pub and were already in full swing celebrating Australia Day. Over the next few hours the entire group ended up at this pub and this was where we stayed for nearly 6 hours, eating burgers and chilli fries, making our way through the drinks menu and becoming best friends with the owner; until we had to return to our hostel to get our bags and head to catch an overnight bus to Cusco! Our guide wasn’t best pleased when many of us turned up a little merrier and louder than usual, so we all got a short telling off before quietly boarding the bus.

Next stop Cusco!

Posted by sdyzart 16:32 Archived in Peru Tagged people children honeymoon peru arequipa inca juanita southamerica mrandmrs

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