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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

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

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